E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Mastering the Art of Creativity in the Workplace

Gran Canaria - Puerto de MoganIf you would ask me what’s that single component I keep missing within the corporate world more and more by the day to help enhance both the innovation and open knowledge sharing processes, amongst several others, I would venture to state that single one missing component would be creativity. I am sure you would all agree with me that creativity on its own is perhaps one of the most precious things we have, as human beings, and which makes us all, each and everyone of us, for that matter, rather unique. Yes, indeed, we can all be creative on our own. Yet, if you look into the business world there is very little creativity going around apparently. Do you know why?

It’s as if we were educated, and told, consistently, over the course of decades, to not think out of the box, to stick to the given rules, to follow that inertia of accepting the status quo that has dominated that business environment as it is today and eventually to just keep quiet, since you never know what’s going to happen and for that matter you surely don’t want to stand out too much. It’s just as if you were told to even stop thinking on your own, because you might even get creative and that could well be frown upon with the argument that, you know, you are not working hard enough anymore. You are being creative, therefore you become dispensable. Careful where you are going… Your boss, all of a sudden, sadly owns your own decision making process. And you get stuck. For a (long) while. Does it ring a bell?

Over the course of the last few months I have been reading a good number of articles that, thankfully, are starting to question such status quo of neglecting creativity at work and we are seeing how there are more and more blog posts, articles, dissertations, inspiring presentations and what not that have helped us understand how Creativity (With a capital C) helps us accelerate, through both acts of playfulness and mindfulness, the process of how we share knowledge across and, more importantly, how we collaborate together in a much more effective manner by being capable of sharing ideas openly, build upon each other’s thoughts and eventually get work done in ways we would have never expected or assumed possible. Creativity is all about making the impossible today’s new reality, after all.

To me, it is, basically, just an opportunity to feel empowered enough about how your own thinking process, as crazy and wild as it may well be, can help make a difference in today’s corporate world by helping address and fix some of the most burning business problems. Yet, when you look into it, creativity is still not embraced as something very much necessary within the corporate world and I suppose after watching a particular short video clip, I am now starting to understand why: for creativity to flourish in a working environment the less constraints we have (As in the less right answers we have), the much more effective that creative process will be. See? That’s where the problem comes up, because, in general, the corporate world always aims at putting together constraints and live by them. Regardless. And the larger the corporation, the much heavier the constraints. 

But what would happen if that wouldn’t be the case? What would happen if, all of a sudden, businesses out there, in general, would tear down apart their own constraints and allow for knowledge workers to let creativity flow and thrive again? As usual, the answer is within our kids. Take a look into this particular short clip, that lasts for a bit over 2 minutes, and which explains, quite nicely, what I mean above with the kids always having the answer in terms of taking simplicity of a complex task into new levels: 

Goodness! Is that it? Can it be, indeed, so simple? I mean, can creativity make such a huge difference by just getting rid of the constraints, of the right answers, of not giving people enough freedom and autonomy and just let people use their imagination to achieve optimal results? Well, that seems to be the case and I am glad that video consistently demonstrates it rather well. 

It reminds me of an article though I put together over here as well, in this blog, about three years ago where I was also reflecting on the importance of creativity in the workplace but from a presentation that John Cleese, the one and only, I know!, did back then under the suggestive title of “The Source of Creativity“, where he talked not so much about constraints, but about boundaries, which is perhaps a softer concept in principle that helps expand further on with that flexibility towards the creative process. 

And this is just something really fascinating, because apparently those corporate driven constraints will eventually need to transform themselves into those human boundaries imposed by knowledge workers, who may have a better context for that creative activity anyway, resulting all in all in them establishing the rules, the guidelines and the modus operandi of what needs to be achieved, which also reminds me of this delightful blog post by Maria Popova quoting another two different video clips from John Cleese himself, once again, (Highly recommended going through both clips, by the way!) and with one killer quote that I think pretty much nails it in terms of how we can bring forward that whole creative process (And thinking) back into the workplace. To quote: 

This is the extraordinary thing about creativity: If just you keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way, sooner or later you will get a reward from your unconscious.

Perhaps that’s what it is all about. That the corporate world, once and for all, stops resisting creativity and becomes a bit more gentle and friendly towards it, to then leave it down to knowledge workers themselves thrive on what they have already been doing since an early age: “a way of operating” from their unconscious.

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  1. Awesome Topic, loved the video. Those kids are better than I am at ‘free’ thinking. I agree with the quote also but the issue sometime is that corporate timescales do not allow for the luxury of letting a problem ‘rest’ until a solution appears. As for the issue of creativity and the corporate world. I suspect the corporations are a bit like people. They start small, young and very flexible. There are no rules and the mantra is ‘just do it’ so people adopt a variety of solutions to problems. They are creative. Then the business grows and just like most people, it becomes important to structure thinking to prevent chaos. A structure evolves and structures must adhere to certain limitations in order to be stable. Those same limitation also inhibit the original creative thinking that created them in the first place. Eventually businesses, like people as they grow older and approach retirement, become established and require security. They becomes more averse to risk, preferring instead the safe route that is not very creative.
    Some businesses get around that by using the money acquired during their life to acquire more nimble and creative companies and integrate them into the bigger picture but I suspect that does really make them creative any more than drinking the blood of the enemies you kill in battle will really make you stronger, and probably stifles the original creativity that created the acquisition because of the imposition of new ‘rules’ that result from being part of the larger corporation.
    To shareholders, creative equals risk and shareholders don’t like that until you have proved you are good at taking the ‘right’ kind of risk. They want predictable so in general the corporate business model itself stifles too much creativity.
    It’s a bit like fashion. Everyone wants to look different so that they stand out but only in acceptable ways. So called ‘famous people’ (Lada Gaga, Madonna etc) push that to the extreme in order to stand out but for most others it’s still about conforming to some extent in order to ‘fit in’ with some established (even if fringe) social group. Very few people really want to push the limits or if they do, social pressure around them like family or work status etc; prevents them from doing so.
    Can you be creative in the larger corporate world? I believe you can be but in general it is not going to be prime enabler for the business in spite of any messages to the contrary.
    I’d also add that I don’t think innovation and creativity are the same beast. The automotive industry is innovative in that it explores lots of new technology and uses it in new ways but creative? Nah! Cars are still petty much four seat sedans with the engine up front. The only thing ‘creative’ about cars is the shape and that’s more of a ‘fashion’ statement than anything else.

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