As someone who has made his living in industries requiring creative solutions from myself and others, I’ve experimented with many ways to inspire creativity. Here are four ways companies and organizations can ensure they are getting the most creative bang for their efforts. The first question to ask is “What is creativity and how does it happen?” Steve Jobs is quoted as saying “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” If creativity requires the subconscious to make connections of seemingly unrelated concepts to form new ideas, I’ve found that the best creative efforts require some attention to these four elements.
1. MAKE IT DESIRABLE.
What happens when our brain makes an illuminating neural connection? There is a release of neurotransmitters associated with the sensation of pleasure, mostly dopamine. Also, Gamma rhythms appear to be involved in a higher mental activity. This “AHA!” reward promotes further neural activity, and in my case, creates desire and dependency on the “creative high.” In his book, Imagine – How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer refers to it as a recursive loop. So, for creative-dependent brains, you need to establish clearly the opportunity to be creative and experience the exhilaration of transformational ideas. The bigger, the better. Usually, this involves painting the picture of a utopian future involving a glorious creative achievement. This vision sets the stage for the highest possible neurochemical reward and desire for participation. Utopian scenarios, while seemingly impossible, are desirable by presenting excellent opportunities for creative problem solving and expression. For my post on how Google taps into employee creativity and problem-solving click here.
2. MAKE IT ENJOYABLE.
Enjoyment needs to be both physical and psychological. A pleasant environment, whether that involves stimulation or isolation, allows the rational brain to take the back seat to a fun-loving, irrational mindset. Likewise, encouragement, enthusiasm, and positive vibes coming from a collaborative environment keep people from being too defensive and self-conscious. As stated by Seth Godin, “fear is the enemy of creativity.”
3. MAKE IT POSSIBLE.
At the center of making the impossible possible is hope. Desire without hope is frustration. It is essential that there is hope for achieving your creative goal. I can be motivated to go into battle and charge the hill with a rousing speech, but the likelihood of failure will diminish hope, and I’ll save my creative energy for future opportunities. This means I make sure the best creative ideas can survive the onslaught of naysayers, pessimists, and pragmatists. Sometimes this requires an accurate brief that has aligned all the stakeholders. Other times it requires strong presentation skills and the ability to ensure the project is well funded. Attention to keeping the goal achievable will encourage the output of creative energy.
4. MAKE IT REWARDING.
Like most endeavors, people like to be recognized and rewarded for their achievements. The need for rewards is especially true about creative efforts. Creativity is very often evaluated by subjective means and hard to identify. Was that creative? Was that excellent? Doubts and insecurities are overcome by recognition from recognized experts, leading to a plethora of award organizations found within the arts community. Here is a list of 77 design, digital, and marketing communication competitions in 2015-16. Awards not only acknowledge and reward a high standard of creativity, but they also fuel confidence and reinforce the willingness to take on even greater challenges. It’s also important to acknowledge creative efforts that may not have produced the best results. Failure is an essential part of the creative process. And when we give birth to our concepts, it’s a personal expression of who we are. You need to find the beauty in every baby if you want people to keep reproducing. Which brings us back to step one and the recursive loop.
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT
They shouldn’t be taken as an exploitive “carrot and stick” approach, but rather a way to let people and companies fully realize their creative potential. Google has their Moonshot Thinking approach to inspire employees. Other companies draw the best out of their employees through development, environment, and recognition. Every industry has a creative element and enabling that skill will be essential in the upcoming years. The World Economic Forum recently released a FUTURE OF JOBS report identifying creativity as the third most important skill for employees in 2020. Inspiring creativity is not exploitation; it is empowerment.
One of the best books I’ve read relating to creative management and motivation is Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull. Ed chronicles his path from animator and technician to co-founder of PIXAR. During his leadership, PIXAR and DISNEY enjoyed a creative revolution that set new standards in creativity and box office returns. Read the book. I guarantee it will stimulate neural connections and the dopamine reward will be AWESOME!
Other books of consideration:
Cracking Creativity, The Secrets of Creative Genius – Michael Michalko
Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman