We all want it — that flash of insight that solves a problem, makes us essential, pumps the adrenaline up a notch, and gives the world a chance to see that unique twist of mind that makes us a creative leader! It’s not just the inspiration, either, we crave the innovative vision to make our ideas work, to smooth the way, to be the person on the #TedTalk stage, making the world go round in a whole new way.
So how do we get there? And live there? And lead there? (How do we get to Carnegie Hall?) You guessed it — or maybe you didn’t — LEARN TO FAIL.
Failure is the seed that feeds the creative process. It’s the stumble that makes inspiration and innovation look easy. It’s the shoe under the shine of every PR machine for every creative leader, from Steve Jobs to Gandhi.
Of course, we all start out believing we’ll succeed, knowing on some bottom-line authentic level that we are creative. That helps, too. Because then we have the courage to practice, which is also very, very important.
Steve Roesler says the source of creativity is to really know your creative skills— are you best at creating, imagining, or inventing? Then it’s easier to do that voodoo that you (naturally) do so well. And this is a great start, because once you know which one you’re best at, you can do that with some success (there’s the confident part), and then learn to fail at the others until you really fall on your face and find that creative pot of gold that is a side-effect of doing the right thing at the wrong place or time (or vice-versa!)
Creativity expert Ken Robinson says what we really need to do is forget everything we learned in kindergarten (and all those years of schooling!) to remember how to be creative. In his Ted Talk, he says:
“Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. Am I right? They’re not frightened of being wrong. Now, I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original — if you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this, by the way. We stigmatize mistakes. And we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities. Picasso once said this — he said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.”
DCulberhouse says doodle! Make like Leonardo DaVinci and sketch, draw, doodle your way out of that conceptual box. Why not? It’s better than texting in a meeting to remind your husband to pick up the milk, or yessirring your way out of that great idea! And when they ask why you drew those bunnies, and why so many, just say, DCulberhouse made me do it!
OK, then — how do we lead so others can be creative? Manage so our companies can be innovative? Make a space for others to invent and imagine? That’s even more challenging than doing it ourselves (unless you believe that followers will eventually play the monkey-see, monkey-do game of emulating leadership, more a hope than a given in the business world….)
Break through creative blocks in your organization. Frank Sonnenberg says the four killers of creativity are: keeping people in the dark, dictatorships, unrealistic time frames, and procrastination. (I say, that’s going to hurt, because if you’re the leader, it’s your habits that have shaped the organization or department. You have to be willing to get more creative, too!)
University of Chicago economist David Galenson says, cultivate employees who are willing to experiment, even if it means they might fail: It can feel like a professional risk for managers to support employees who are experimentalists and therefore take longer to develop their creative output. “In our society,” says Galenson, “once you’re famous, you’re always famous. If a dean gives tenure to somebody great who never does anything again,” no one will criticize her. But with experimentalists, who haven’t yet delivered in such an obvious way, “you need to stick your neck out.” (Thanks, Huffington Post!)
And of course, we have to let our followers/colleagues lead, and fail, and lead again, and fail again! Just like we have to let ourselves do the same thing. Dammit all.
I wish it wasn’t that easy — I mean — hard to lead creativity. My knees are bruised, and at times, so is my resume. My head gets achy and my notes are sketchy and I could tell you some stories of that rollercoaster ride! Like the time I turned my lecture hall into a night at the improv, and nobody learned anything but me! (But what glorious chaos!) Or the time I did exactly what the big boss asked me to do, in a whole different way than she asked, earning her respect but having to do the whole job over again because the system, the system, the system! (That was a late night…. but later I got to change my job description (and a little corner of the system) for the better.)