Creativity is embedded in every facet of our lives. Your mobile phone, the internet access that makes it possible for you to read this article, your clothes, your shoes, the building you are in or the road you walk on are all varying forms of creativity.
I introduced these first because many of us have stereotyped perceptions of what we think creativity is. Creativity to many is an artist painting a masterpiece or Fela Anikulapo-Kuti writing and producing Beasts of No Nation or Steve Jobs getting an epiphany for the design of the iPhone. Many think creativity is some grand event that is perhaps the birthright of a few we refer to as “creatives”.
This discourse has two intents. For one, the idea is to break the myth around creativity; to disbar the notion that creativity is the exclusive birth right of a select few and that if one isn’t born with it, one then resigns self to fate and concludes that life didn’t deal one a fair card. If you are in this category, I will show you how to be creative.
Creativity, like leadership, is more pronounced in others such that we tend to think they were born with it. But, in the same vein, it can be learned and developed. The second intent is to show those who already know they are creative how to handle that creativity and to avoid a situation where one’s own creativity becomes a liability. I will show them how to build a system that thrives with minimum contribution from them.
In the beginning, God made man in His image. God is the master creative and He made a deposit of His being in everyone. He made trees and in the trees are paper, furniture, etc. God made some sticky dark substance which He hid several thousand feet beneath the ground. In that substance is energy to power our cars and planes, cook our food and do several other things.
God started the creative process but left its continuity to us. About 100 years ago, the director of the US patent office said that all that could be invented had been invented considering the number and diversity of patents filed with the office he managed. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
The first step to being creative is believing you are creative. Say it to yourself till your brain accepts it.
Secondly, while creativity sometimes happens in leaps and bounds, many times, it comes in small increments. Such increments come in packets with different adjectives – smaller, faster, better, bigger, quicker, etc.
Thirdly, be ready to experiment. You may not get desired results the first time you apply yourself, but keep pushing the limits of self and, with time, you will get better at being creative.
For those who fancy themselves creative, you have scaled the first barrier – the confidence/belief barrier. You know you can do it and you have exercised your creative muscles. Even when you think the work isn’t spot on, the encouraging remarks you get from clients and peers make you smile quietly.
However, there are two challenges creatives struggle with and I will show you how to overcome them. I will identify the first challenge as the curse of perfectionism and the other as the inability to harness creativity in others (and letting them lose with minimal input).
Most creatives suffer the curse of perfection. They expect and demand high levels of consistently high performances of themselves (this is not a bad thing in itself). So let’s assume you make clothes. You sketch a nice design and proceed to bring it to life. The clothe comes out looking good but all you see is that the pattern didn’t come out exactly how you sketched it in your book.
Or say you are drawing up a business plan and you keep going through it, adjusting the figures, fine tuning your assumptions, dotting I’s and crossing T’s, and postponing launch dates because you feel something is not just quite right.
Get over yourself. Perfection is a myth and it doesn’t exist. It is better to strive for excellence and the beauty of excellence is that it’s a journey; not a destination. To overcome the curse of perfection, put the best of your effort into any activity but also bear in mind that the outcomes may not align a hundred percent with your expectations.
The factor that holds you accountable and allows you live with yourself is knowing you put in the very best of your efforts into the process. You gave it your best shot. The beauty of creativity is that no one knows what your original intents are and whatever is seen after production still makes a huge impression.
As a teenager, I was part of a dance group and I remember this event we once had. We had prepared, rehearsed and assumed we were ready for the big day. These were the days of cassette players and we had carefully recorded the song we were dancing to. For reasons we don’t know, on the day of the performance, the tape skipped towards the end of the song cutting out about 20 seconds of music and disrupting our well-choreographed dance routine. We all went into freestyle mode and managed to survive the remaining seconds of the performance.
When we got backstage and angry at what we assumed was a poor performance, our music director joined us and told us we did great and we actually got a standing ovation (which we hadn’t noticed). We kept complaining that our routine didn’t work out right and that the song skipped. But his reply was that no one sees rehearsals. They only see the performance. In this case, they would assume that the freestyle was in the original plan. When you think your work isn’t up to scratch, remember that a mistake can be an inspiring twist or design.
The other challenge faced by creatives is getting the creative process going without being in the driver’s seat and with minimum interference or input. We think we are the only ones who are creative. Some of us think that without us the work won’t get done.
Understand that everyone brings something special to the table and the sooner you allow your team contribute to the creative process, the less stressful life indeed would be.
Here’s how I infuse creativity into teams I lead. Beyond giving instructions, I explain my rationale, my thought process, the reasoning behind my actions. I explain why I adopt a particular approach or material over several other alternatives. What I then do is sell my ideology to the teams and give them a front seat view into how I do the things I do. I then allow them take creative decisions with support here and a slight nudge there when it deviates from our standards.
These small decisions grow the confidence with which team members take on bigger creative responsibilities. Most creatives are micro managers and that limit one’s capacity to scale. This traps one into coming to work every day to a job one doesn’t enjoy. It can even hinder one from completely relaxing when on vacation with one’s family.
It’ll be a sad loss of the creative force in a business if, for any reason, you are incapacitated and can’t work. Teach your team to be creative or allow them express their creativity. It is the key to scale and profit from your creativity.
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Photo Credit: Venture Africa