I believe we are all born creative. The question is – how can we remain creative as we grow up? And how can we recapture it once we feel we have lost it? As we pass through a repressive education system we can count ourselves lucky if we emerge with much confidence in our own creativity, an intact imagination or a lively sense of questioning and experimentation. And all too often, creativity becomes a special case – a magic attribute of the “creatives” rather than being owned as a fundamental capability at the core of each of our identities.
Part of the problem is that the idea of creativity itself has been put into a box. Ken Robinson, in ‘Mind the Gap’, puts it like this: “Creativity has become hopelessly stereotyped. First, creativity is associated with particular types of activities, mainly the arts. For that reason, it is thought to be marginal to academic and economic success. Second, only certain sorts of people are thought to be creative. As a result, it’s often thought that creativity can’t be taught. Third, creativity is thought to involve free and spontaneous behaviour. In that respect, it’s sometimes thought to be the opposite of discipline and high standards. On all counts, promoting creativity seems to strike some people as at best irrelevant … and at worst positively disruptive.”
Creativity, to me, involves acts of imagination that add value. In the world we are in and the world to come, we’ll need to make sense, together, of social and technological complexities and challenges we can barely imagine, and come up with new answers and new ways of making life worthwhile, safe and inspiring. This is true of business, of government, of medicine, of science, of politics, of community, of family and of us individually.
But who and what are the creatives? Creativity is not locked into the creative industries. In fact, according to research done by London School of Business and Creative London, only about a third of creatives (and by this I mean those engaged in the arts, design, music, multimedia etc.) work in the creative industries rooted in those skills. The others work in the rest of industry and government. In addition, we talk now of a rising creative class independent of the creative industries. This “Creative Class” – which makes up 30% of the US workforce – has enjoyed job growth at three times the national average and higher incomes too. Richard Florida, author of three leading books on the topic, defines the core of the Creative Class as people whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and/or new creative content. “In addition,” he says, “all members of the Creative Class – whether they are artists or engineers, musicians or computer scientists, writers or entrepreneurs – share a common creative ethos that values creativity, individuality, difference and merit.”
We all know we need discipline, coordination and intellect – with these in place, add initiative and you have a new level of competitiveness. Add creativity and then passion, and you are operating at a new level of ability. The first three you can probably buy, the last three you can’t – they are voluntary, and emerge from the conditions and encouragement you set up for them. So, how do we re-learn creativity? My own practice in education and a raft of research shows that it is remarkable how quickly, under the right conditions, we can “re-create” ourselves. I have found that in a bruised South Africa, learners often lack confidence in themselves as thinkers and creators. But, with appropriate encouragement and method, the intellectual and creative transformations are nothing short of astounding.
Skills we can learn to reclaim our creativity and practice include questioning, suspending judgement, keen observation, reflection and sense-making, experimentation and working with “fast forward failure”. When we practice open-minded, open-hearted questioning we allow ourselves to see beyond the everyday assumptions we hold. By suspending judgment we allow ourselves to accept the new. By observing well we gather more information to fuel our minds. By reflecting we allow our minds to change and see new patterns and possibilities. By experimenting courageously we test and learn quickly. “Fast forward failure” is simply trial-and- error supported by an acute focus on learning and risk management, achieved by capturing mistakes early while they are small, correcting them and moving forwards. Ambition and optimism are not easy in tough times, but survival and success demands it.
The first important step to building a more original and dynamic business, organisation, family, city or country is learning how to effectively become more innovative in one’s own work, life and strategies. Your first innovation needs to be on yourself.