The Secret Sauce of Leadership Creativity
A survey conducted in 2010 by IBM Global Business Services revealed that a surprising 60% of global CEOs rated Creativity as the most important leadership quality needed in the coming years. Creativity beat out both integrity and global thinking in the study of more than 1,500 corporate heads and public sector leaders in 60 nations.
In 2019 we are in arguably one of the most chaotic geopolitical and economic periods in recent history. Businesses can be disrupted and made irrelevant, if not bankrupt, in a fraction of the time of the pre-digital world.
Innovation occurs at breakneck speeds thanks to the acceleration of technological solutions and breakthroughs in every area of life imaginable.
Creativity – the fuel of innovation – is essential and more and more leaders are figuring out the obvious. According to a 2016 article in Harvard Business Review:
“…. every company wants to be at the forefront of its industry and on the cutting edge of innovation. And for that, you need highly creative employees.”
-– How Senior Executives Find Time to Be Creative, Emma Seppala, Sep 14, 2016, HBR
The process of how you bring out the creativity inherent in your employees has been the subject of much debate exploring corporate culture, openness to new ideas, flexibility in thinking, the capacity to think “outside your comfort zone”, the creativity of leadership, and many other useful ideas.
In my work as a creative and as a corporate executive, mentor, and creativity coach, I have come to realize that everyone is innately creative. It is programmed into our DNA. The fact that every human being has the power to create life itself means the power of creation is alive inside of us all along.
Some of us are fortunate to have been raised in home or academic environments that encouraged creative expression and innovative thinking. But most of us were not. Some of us discovered certain artistic skills early in life and felt comfortable thinking of ourselves as creative, but most did not.
One year after the IBM survey, I was coming to the welcome end of a two year journey that tested every facet of my physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual resilience. I had been diagnosed with cancer, and surgery was required. The treatments that followed somehow introduced staph infections into my body and I struggled with those for most of the following year. The toll this was taking on my body accelerated already troubling arthritis in both my hips, and surgery again was the only viable alternative.
By the end of 2011 I was regaining strength but also finding new motivation to create again. I had been an actor/singer/dancer on Broadway in my 20s, owning an art business on the side. As I entered the corporate world I found a love of design and within a few years was leading marketing teams of designers. But as my career progressed up the corporate ladder, the creative input I had had earlier in my career began to diminish. Eventually I realized I had lost my creative mojo, and the dire health situations I faced only made this lack all the more uncomfortable.
Even though every one of us is inherently programmed for creativity, and yet the vast majority are only using a fraction of their creative capacity. There’s massive opportunity for growth.
I believe there are several steps that any leader – indeed just about anyone in any phase of life – can take to regain, or develop for the first time, your innate creativity.
What I call the Five Catalysts to Awaken Creativity arose as I tried to regain my creative mojo in my post-surgery life:
- Mindfulness (with heart)
- Artistic Expression
Being creative in extreme or tense situations can be very challenging but I have learned in my own process, and in working with dozens of executives and managers, these five principles can get us in the right “flow” to come up with new ideas we might have never dreamed were possible.
In essence, we need to be more mindful every day of the thoughts and feelings that block our creative thinking. Things like, “I’m just not a creative type; I’m more of a numbers guy.” Or, “I’m too busy to be creative. I’ve got to get the job done.” Or, “I don’t have time to waste so all this creativity gibberish sounds so elementary school.” All those thoughts block the creative flow that is required. We also need to be fully aware of subtle signals inside and around us that could lead to creative breakthroughs.
A significant discovery I had was that many a creative block is dislodged by simply moving. Let’s remember that our lives are spent sitting for hours and hours and hours on end in front of computer monitors or smartphones. We rarely move. Creativity is energy in action. Creativity is a flow of ideas that results in a new product, a new plan, a poem, a song, a dance…. wherever the creative flow is designed to go. You can’t sit there like a data zombie all day long and then be shocked when creative ideas don’t come running your way. Get up and frickin’ move! (This is shockingly effective.)
Nature is well-known to be the muse of many an artist, poet, musician, photographer, and even inventors. It is also the source of some of our greatest refreshment — when we take a walk on the beach to “clear our head” so we can make a tough decision. Or when we go out into the sunshine after too many hours and too many days indoors. Nature helps clear our mind and allows us to feel again the natural rhythms and forces beyond ourselves. This is key to finding our own creative flow. Be like nature. Flowing, changing, creating.
Playfulness comes naturally to kids. We see kids at play creating worlds out of their imagination into the sand castles on the beach, or into the action heroes they’re scripting, or the puppets that come alive in their hands. The energy of playfulness can take the density out of situations, a heaviness and gravity that feel like lead weights around our ankles when our imagination wants to soar.
5. ARTISTIC EXPRESSION
Trying new forms of Artistic Expression gets our brain building new circuitry, circuitry that will come in handy when any creative need arises. And it’s fun! Our brain is literally creating new circuits every time we try anything new, and when it’s a creative task multiple resources within the brain are marshaled to create the solution.
You don’t have to do all five of these Catalysts every day to lead an ever-more creative life. But the regular practice of each of them can provide the stepping stones to awakening your own Creative Brilliance once and for all. Your career, your organization, and your soul, will all benefit tremendously.
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Bruce Cryer is the founder of Renaissance Human LLC, former CEO of the innovative HeartMath organization, adjunct faculty at Stanford University, and a sought-after keynote performer, strategic mentor and executive coach.
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