This post by Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, first appeared on Forbes.com.
It goes without saying that success requires long hours, but uninspired drudgery doesn’t amount to much. Passion may provide the fuel, and commitment and hours are key drivers of expertise and skills necessary for success. But creativity turns the key: It kicks off the ignition, allows you to access that fuel and, by seeing problems as opportunities, not obstacles, allows you to gain momentum in ways you can’t from just brute force. (Find out why problems, by the way, are an entrepreneur’s best friend.)
In an interesting post on Mashable (“Why Creativity Matters More Than Passion for Entrepreneurs”) the author says that the reason educational institutions tend to favor intelligence over creativity is because it’s more quantifiable, whereas creativity, far less so (and often looks like trouble in a young, unharnessed talent). And yet, creativity is a bigger predictor of success in the long run.
Boosting your own and your team’s creativity can help you not only come up with great ideas, but also serve your customer better. There’s a sweet spot of creativity that’s more art than science. Here’s how to know if you’re on track to tap your creative genius.
1. You implement the right kind of structure.
Roger Trapp points out in a piece here on Forbes that while execs may pay lip service to creativity, they often fall short of cultivating it. Creativity requires some structure. Referencing Alan Iny and Luc de Brabandere’s Thinking in New Boxes: A New Paradigm for Business Creativity, Trapp says that you need to do more than just tell people to “think out of the box.” Creativity requires creating new boxes, or structures, in which to develop our ideas.
>>Ask yourself: Am I being too rigid? Am I being too defensive of the way I’ve done things, for no good reason? Rigid expectations about your outcomes will hold you back. But letting go of all structure, and attempting to create outside of any rules whatsoever, can be as stultifying as rigidity. Redefine the rules to allow for some different thinking. Adopt a ‘nothing is sacred’ approach, and question what you’ve done before. Example: Maybe the traditional form of communicating–to customers, team, investors is hemming you in. Try a new form: recording vs powerpoint; infographic vs wordy doc; you get my point. One of the best performance reviews I ever gave was delivered in powerpoint; it was fun to prepare and eye opening for the recipient.
2. You thrive under pressure, but aren’t purely deadline-driven.
Ask any writer and she’ll tell you that deadlines can be very inspiring indeed. We all need that pressure to deliver—but too much stress, and you risk narrowing your vision altogether. The Yerkes-Dodson Productivity curve points out the downside to driving and staying at the height of your stress: lowered productivity every time. The concept of being addicted to stress to get things done runs counter to creativity, because chronic stress actually inhibits creativity.
>>Ask yourself: Do I act rushed, am I short with people, or do I make time to have real dialogue and show interest in others’ ideas? What can I do to model and create the kind of culture that supports great ideas and not just harder workers? Do an experiment to find out what would happen if you gave yourself a hair’s breadth more time to develop and explore an idea, rather than wait til the 11th hour.
3. You’re not just out for a win.
You can’t build anything of worth without purpose (as I wrote about here, on why your mission matters). Nothing’s inherently more valuable just because it’s “creative”; rather, creativity allows you to tap what matters in a fresh and uniquely purposeful way. In other words, the most creative efforts align with a mission or sense of purpose.
Dan Pallotta sums it up beautifully in this piece on Harvard Business Review (“What’s the Point of Creativity”). He says that while we all want to crush the competition, the “best creativity comes from a much deeper place than the desire to win. It comes from a desire to contribute to the lives of others.” This is the power of creativity: To change someone’s mind. “When you change people’s perceptions about what can be accomplished or achieved, you contribute to their humanity in the richest possible way.”
>>Ask yourself: What am I really trying to do here? What would the ultimate and best expression of my mission be? When you are able to connect creativity to that drive, you will be further ahead than you ever thought possible.
4. You’re not afraid to be a newbie.
Truly creative people are curious. And as such, they’re lifelong learners. They never get up one day and say, “Well, there’s nothing else to learn about that.” They’re always probing, thinking, wondering, dreaming. To really tap your creativity, you have to allow it to, well, not know something from time to time, so that you can become smarter.
>>Ask yourself: Am I allowing a fear of appearing stupid keep me from learning something new and vital? Have I become habitually heads-down productivity-minded in a way that’s compromising my vision?
5. You embrace change.
Habits have their purpose, but allow them to put you on autopilot and you compromise your creative muscle. The most creative people usually have some structure to ensure they protect the sacred space in which they think, envision, create, build. But they also know that changing things up, from routines to locations, can stimulate their brains in way that spark and revive creative abilities.
>>Ask yourself: What routines are serving you, and which ones are just getting you by? Put everything you take for granted about your day under the microscope. Do you need a standing weekly meeting with this or that team? Would twice a month suffice? Is staying up late checking emails, just because they’re there, cutting into your sleep and thus costing you creative thinking the next morning? Try shaking things up and you could be surprised at how much a small shift can do.