Thoughts on “creativity”

Two recent items have sparked some deep personal introspection into the consistently hot topic of “creativity”. I’d like to scaffold my thoughts on top of them into some operating personal theory of sorts…

First, the SVP of Customer Experience at Citrix, Catherine Courage, brilliantly articulated a design executive’s perspective on inspiring business people to own up to their creative potential (which she argues is a “birthright” of everyone, not just a select few). She described various conditions and qualifiers that enable creativity within businesses, like building a physical space, following a design process, embracing iteration and risk. Catherine’s TEDx talk is really quite good and worth your 15 minutes!

No doubt, having an executive (including your CEO and executive leadership team) advocating for the right conditions, backed by money, people, and tools/methods to materialize the results, is essential to fostering a culture of creative thinking and increasing the probability of breakthrough solutions. Without executive support you’re simply doomed to fail badly or suffer ongoing disappointment and attrition of talent.

Second, I saw this question on Quora asking for a succinct description of the “creative process” into just a couple sentences. Dave Malouf, renowned design thought leader & teacher, supplied a thorough multi-step explanation of how a creative process unfolds, based upon user-oriented design thinking, with observation and insights manifested via synthesis, models, stories, conversations, and iteration towards a result. Excellent!

Incidentally, that reminded me of a quote in Managing as Designing: “Creativity needs a design process to structure it, giving focus on humanistic aims.” There is an order to the madness that provides coherence and constraints, not just “100 monkeys with typewriters” trying to come up with Hamlet…ostensibly grounded in user-oriented motives and themes (via empathic methods). 

So, organizational executive-backed conditions for creative activity …Check. A descriptive, structured process based on user-oriented goals…Check. 

But there’s gotta be more to it, right? Yes, there’s the neurological element of synaptic connections, feeding your consciousness (“priming” as it were) with tons of data and context, having heroes/mentors to train and offer confidence and guidance, tools and methods of execution to manifest and execute the results. Anything else…? 

I believe all that is for nought (or only yields perfunctory results) without heart, soul, and passion. In a word, you gotta believe. It takes a personal commitment, that feeds into the collective team. The power of belief complemented by the struggle of overcoming, guided by focused discipline (habits, routines, sources) that shape and engender, truly bringing alive, your creative potential and powerful outcomes–that’s the golden key IMHO. Any “cultural creative” (musician, artist, writer, etc.) will tell you that it’s quite difficult to be creative “on demand”, very taxing emotionally and spiritually, while also uplifting and rewarding. There’s a bit of a heroic quest in being reluctantly drawn to the creative endeavor, anticipating some vague vision, working through the grind of making it happen and potentially failing in a very big way, encountering tremendous resistance by others, too. There’s incredible risk and fear and hope and joy. It’s a powerful roller-coaster of upheaval and delight, towards the final deliverance of a awe-inspiring outcome, shared collectively with a team and individually. There’s the consequence of growth, renewal, achievement that results from a truly creative act.

The struggle in particular is essential, as this is where one’s integrity and authenticity comes to bear, staring down the twilight of one’s soul in the depths of midnight itself (at 2 am usually), banging your head against the table (or the team becoming frustrated, questioning the merits of this escapade, this risky jaunt of a trip), and powering ahead through it all, via sheer force of heart and will, believing (“trusting the process” as d-schoolers often say!) that this darkness will give way to the emerging light of imagination, lighting a spark in the individual or collective mind, that blazes with a fury inexhaustible of all creative possibilities towards final resolution and delivery…and even then the embers glow on, smoldering yet ready to be re-lit for the next creative challenge.

It’s that gut-level stuff of heart and soul vividly manifest in passionate effort that enables “creativity” to transpire at all, resulting in something everyone can be proud of, and reap the benefits. 

So, what does it take to “be creative” for innovation efforts back at the office? Executive support, user-oriented design process, and passionate, soulful belief to achieve. Simple, right? ;-) 

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