I’ve spent the last sixteen months traveling around the country (and to Canada, as of last month) talking to people about creativity. Learning about how they approach it, what they feel gets in their way, and how much potential they believe they have to develop it. All of these conversations, combined with observations about the environments and circumstances in which people are asked to “get creative,” I’ve finally developed a manifesto – an easily summarized set of qualities – that I believe characterizes people with the most potential to be creative, as well as the environments most likely to support them.
Allies and Advisors
Allies and advisors are the people you want most in your corner, though they may not work on the actual product with you. They are knowledge of the circumstances in which you work, and/or are knowledgeable about you and how you work. Unlike the cheerleaders we all (hopefully!) have in our lives to encourage us and keep us moving forward, allies and advisors are critical as well. They will ask questions that provoke thought, share information that may be discouraging or unwelcome at times, but – and this is important – do so for your benefit and the benefit of the project and idea at hand.
Are you an ally or advisor? Do you have allies or advisors on your side?
So many of us balk at the idea of being creative because of the assumption that to create is to build something altogether new. In truth, a multitude of creative ideas are simply taking an idea or concept that exists in one space, and applying it to a new space; this competency is the essence of broadmindedness. Developing an eye toward being able to recognize where this is appropriate, is one of the most essential skills any creative can have. It can be developed by consuming knowledge and news from a wide swath of areas- not just your chosen discipline, but others both adjacent and seemingly unrelated.
Are you broad-minded? How can you start to broaden your mind?
Time now to bust another myth about creativity- despite what we see about fast-rising entrepreneurs and tech wunderkind, these endeavors are rarely solitary in nature. Even if you have a strong set of allies and/or advisors, you stand to go further with collaborators. More minds on a problem or idea allow for diversity of thought- who does your idea or concept help? Who does it potentially hurt? Developing a collaborative relationship that can weigh these questions candidly, while also yielding an arrangement that aids creativity, is the best case scenario for anyone with an eye toward solving problems- the best reason to use creativity, after all!
Are you collaborative? Who do you work with well, and what elements of the relationship make it work?
“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” -Earl Nightingale
Too many of us are easily deterred from success when it will take time and hard work to accomplish. And indeed, the fruits of your creative labor may not surface right away. Results may not come until long after your deadline (self-imposed or otherwise); at, these results may not come until after our tenure at an institution or organization is done. But committing to yielding said results, despite our ability to enjoy the benefits, is a noble undertaking. Determination as a creative means persisting even when it’s difficult, or when an element of the process changes (more on that in a moment).
Are you determined? How can you develop the determination to continue a project even when fatigue or discouragement sets in?
Personal confession: while I have good handwriting and enjoy hand lettering, I’ve always balked at drawing or sketching because I don’t consider myself to be artistic in that way. (Worth noting while we’ve hit upon the topic: creativity and artistic talent are NOT one and the same. Cool? Cool. On we go. )
Put another way, execution is what transforms a creative thought into an innovative act or product. Are you able to coordinate the people, resources, and other capital needed to take something theoretical and make it practical/tangible/real? It doesn’t have to be perfect- indeed, the fear of creativity can stem from the fear that you’ll screw it up. Make no mistake, you will screw it up. But strong execution inclination means that you understand that, and choose to push forward anyway.
Are you inclined to execute? Are you prepared to explore what might be keeping you from moving through thought and into action?
To the last point on execution- sometimes you’ll get it wrong. Other times, you may not get it wrong, but you’ll see where a change is needed. Flexibility is being willing to take that information and internalize it enough to use, but not deeply enough to discourage. Put another way, flexibility is the competency of creativity that allows you to get up after a fall, brush yourself off, and not just keep moving- but actively work to not fall the same way a second time. Even if these falls are the result of external forces- loss of personnel, funding, etc. – flexibility will pair nicely with execution to adapt and proceed anyway.
Are you flexible? What do you do when a proverbial wrench is thrown in your plan, and are you prepared to learn to adapt?
There are a lot of assumptions tied up in the use of this term; I want to therefore clarify what I mean when I use it here. Creativity is often treated, oddly enough, like a growth mindset: I either have it, or I don’t. But in reality, the skills to be creative can be taught. Believing that you can become creative, as with so many other things, is central to actually being able to do it. At the risk of sounding cliché, cultivating a creative approach to life is like a muscle; the more it’s exercised, the stronger it gets. And just as with any exercise goals you set, you have to want to achieve them to get anywhere.
After everything you’ve seen here…are you willing to learn how to be creative?
I talk about these elements, with examples and a few extras, in my Pecha Kucha on the topic (originally delivered at the 2017 NACA National Convention in Baltimore, MD):
Each session on creativity that I conduct, be it with students or staff, for training or in a workshop or keynote, is conducted with these principles in mind. It can be adapted to reach a variety of disciplines (activities and programming, residence life, orientation, peer mentorship programs, even career services and academic success), and tailored to appropriately reach many types of departments, institutions, or organizations.
In the months ahead, I’ll be sharing more about exercises, scenarios, and processes that can help cultivate these traits in those you work with- and should you ever want help in person, it would be a pleasure! In the meantime, check out this summary infographic as a brief reminder of the essential elements of creativity (according to me).