Don’t Be Ignorant: Everybody Is Creative

Requirements for getting something published and circulated in media today are as relaxed as a Sunday afternoon, thanks in part to social media. Social media has us all hooked in one way, shape or form. Even those who have attempted to avoid it have succumbed to its uses and to the potential benefits that, in the end, bring us information that we may or may not hold to be true. LinkedIn is one such example. A few weeks ago I began receiving a weekly email from LinkedIn Today, reporting on the top news stories shared among its subscribers.  This week, one caught my eye, “The Six Enemies of Greatness (and Happiness).

While I have opinions about many of the six enemies named in this piece, the one that had me most riled up is ignorance. The way ignorance is described leads readers to believe that the reason we don’t achieve greatness is because we don’t know any better. On the contrary, the REAL way to achieve greatness is to identify the behaviors that get you there and reinforce them! It’s as simple as that. We know that being great at anything requires persistence, practice and creativity. While everyone knows about persistence and practice, creativity is the most misunderstood and is probably the biggest barrier preventing most people from even thinking about doing extraordinary things.

However, creativity is behavior. It is about people doing things that have never been done. We tend to complicate it by thinking that it is a brain thing and that only special people have it. In reality, practice and persistence are at the heart of creativity. An oft-used example is the Edison quote, “I found 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb!” When you accept and understand that creativity is behavior, then you will know how to increase it or decrease it.

If you are a manager or leader who needs more creativity from your employees (and who doesn’t) here are a few ideas for how you might foster it:

  • Reinforce all ideas: Any behavior that indicates a person is thinking about how to do a job better or how to find a new or improved product or service should be reinforced. An idea that seems trivial or outrageous may be the father to one that generates a more efficient process, product or service.
  • Remove obstacles that are punishing or penalizing creativity: It has been proven that the shorter the time between the submission of an idea and the acknowledgement of the submission, the more willing employees will be to offer up suggestions or share their ideas. By responding quickly, eliminating paperwork, multiple levels of approval and other administrative burdens, you increase the possibility that creative solutions will occur.
  • Form unlikely teams: Step away from traditional work groups and engage your employees to work with employees outside the usual distribution lists. By forming diverse teams, you will increase the opportunities and discover new ways to solve problems. When people with varied experiences, backgrounds and education work together, it is more likely they will come up with unusual solutions.
  • Look to unlikely people: Robert Epstein, a prominent creativity researcher, says, “All behavior is equally creative.” I agree. We never do the same thing in exactly the same way twice. Variance is the mother of creativity. This means that everyone has tremendous creative potential when properly managed. When organizations think that only certain people (professions, education and life experiences) have creative ability, most of the potential for creative change is lost and employee involvement in the process is diminished considerably.

Organizations must not accept that things can get no better; they should instead look for opportunities to reinforce creativity in their people when they see it. When creativity is understood as behavior that all can exhibit, it can be increased many times its current rates and it can and should be cultivated and encouraged just like any other behavior.