By Ray Luther, Executive Director, Kelley MBA Program
“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try” – Dr. Seuss
I work with a number of young leaders who aren’t creative – or at least that’s what they tell me. They equate creativity with a high level of artistic talent, or design capability, rather than the ability to transcend a norm and move towards a new way of thinking. So, I gently challenge their claim and suggest they find a way to notice their own form of creativity. This often leads to a good coaching conversation. I push them because I believe we all are creative, and it’s simply a matter of noticing how. In fact, when we lack the ability to notice our unique form of creativity, how we naturally express it, we hold ourselves back from personal growth and renewal.
My own creativity lies in finding new ways to think about strategic challenges, especially as I work with leaders responsible for organizational choices. That’s why I’m drawn to the fields of executive coaching and leadership development. That’s also why I love working with young MBA students, or in fact anyone at any level that works on strategic issues. I’ve practiced this form of creativity my entire life, obviously in different contexts through various life stages, and I’ve been rewarded for it. I consider my form of creativity a key personal strength. And while I find myself creative in this way, it clearly doesn’t carry over to artistic talent. In fact, here’s a picture similar to my best artwork….capturing the flex was particularly hard:
Are there any downsides to practicing creativity when you believe you’re not creative? Honestly I don’t think so. Maybe you become more vulnerable to potential criticism, maybe it leads you down an unintended path or two. But for me practicing creativity is about thinking differently and attempting to solve problems in new ways – which are good things. I’ve certainly had my share of bad decisions coming from my own creative process, but each of those decisions have also enabled me to learn more – and become better at my creative practice.
What are some ways you can notice your own moments of creativity? First, make sure you do indeed recognize that everyone, including you, has moments of creativity. Maybe your creativity doesn’t show up at the start of an activity as a big idea, but rather in the middle of a process when efficiency is lost. Or, maybe your creativity shows up as you collaborate on a team and find a unique way to get along leading to a better outcome. Again, it’s about noticing those moments when you help produce something outside of the norm or a slightly new way of thinking. Even small moments can have a big impact.
In noticing your own unique form of creativity, I’d suggest allowing yourself to be more vs. do more. Creativity isn’t driven by sheer will alone. Many of our most creative moments happen when we least expect it. Our brains are working to make connections that we don’t see on the surface. Moments of inspiration, times of challenge, purposeful pauses and moments of rest can help us be creative as the best versions of ourselves. Maybe this is the soul of creativity? Whatever it is it’s important that we take the time to notice when a creative moment happens for us. Sheer will rarely leads to better creativity, but noticing when we’re creative might just help us practice even better on a daily basis.
I love seeing the creative output of artists and designers and I’m amazed by how their minds work. When I’ve had the opportunity to work with artistic creatives I’ve always walked away with a new way to look at the world. True genius in many cases. But, if we look carefully, we all have the power to notice our own creative expressions a bit more. Be, create, notice and learn.
“Your Unique Creativity” was originally published on Linkedin Pulse on September 6, 2015.