Creativity has been an essential component of my life for as long as I can remember. From early expense accounts to the lies I tell my wife about exercise; creativity is fundamental to my success.
The most basic use of creativity is to solve a problem or take advantage of an opportunity. As a result, all of us are creative in our own way. The rewards for creativity are obvious. The most creative among us become wealthy and successful or are sentenced to prison.
Recently, though I began thinking about sources of creativity.
Creativity as the Big Idea
The official definition of creativity, according to the Oxford dictionary, is “The use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.”
Well that’s boring.
For many of us in business, we think of creativity as the Big Idea. The Big Idea is the flash of insight you gain in the shower. It is the aha moment. In songs, stories, and poems this form of creativity is celebrated.
But this product of creativity characterized by the Big Idea is really the result of a slower, and more methodical path. There are in fact many ways to creativity.
Creativity as the product of competency.
Throughout your life by training and practice you gain skills. Often, these skills are unrecognized. Simply the product of human life.
For example, I travel extensively for both fun and work. As a result, during each trip I gain some incremental piece of knowledge on how to travel more effectively and more happily.
On a recent vacation to Portugal, with my equally (OK let’s be honest more experienced) wife Martha creativity took the form of picnics.
On our first morning at our phenomenal hotel, we descended the stairs and gazed upon the lavish traditional European breakfast buffet. For those who have not experienced this phenomenon it is wondrous. Fruits from fresh to dried, meats, cheeses, cereals, seeds, and eggs. All manner of deliciousness there for the eating and enjoying.
Unfortunately, our hotel was not located in what might be called a “high amenity neighborhood”. For example, there was no place to buy food for our planned hike.
Our choices? To live like our ancestors hiking without sustenance or somehow procuring the provisions necessary for 1st world survival.
Our creativity saved us.
You see, the buffet isn’t a display of food, it is a display of ingredients. Portable ingredients. Ingredients that can be combined to form different things to eat.
Using our creativity, my wife Martha and I liberated components of the buffet to create a delicious and travel worthy picnic lunch.
Creativity as the product of experience.
Creativity as a product of experience is like creativity as a product of competency. The difference? Creativity as a product of competency is intentional. Creativity as a product of experience is intuitive.
Intuition is the aggregation of the sum of your positive and negative experiences in life and business manifested as an idea. That’s my definition, not the official fancy definition from the dictionary.
It is difficult to trust our intuition. What’s even more difficult is to trust the intuition of others. What allows us to use intuition successfully for creative purposes is by combining the intuition formed by multiple perspectives together.
Working with others to discover a solution to a challenge or to take advantage of an opportunity is a common creative experience. From staff meetings to official ideation (#consultingslang) activities what we are doing is combining multiple perspectives and viewpoints together.
When you collaborate with your colleagues attempting to find a creative solution, you are hoping that the whole of your creativity is greater than the sum of your individual creative parts.
Creativity as the product of competition.
How many times have you looked at a person, perhaps a competitor or reviled coworker, and smacked yourself on the forehead thinking, “Why didn’t I think of that?”. For a moment you’re consumed by seething bitter jealous rage. But then you think, ah ha, perhaps I can duplicate this idea and improve upon it.
Never underestimate the power of your competitor, whether personal or organizational, to force motivate you to think differently about a problem or opportunity. Just because they are clearly inferior to you does not mean they can’t be an inspiration to you as you grapple with your own unique challenges.
Make a habit of routinely monitoring what your competitor does differently. Does it work? Does it not work? Is this something you could easily duplicate but improve upon?
You are not limited to your own creativity. Sometimes, you need to milk others for their creativity like an ancient farmer milking a dairy cow. But instead of getting milk, you create cheese. MMMMM cheese.
Creativity as the product of dumb luck.
Never underestimate the creative power of dumbass luck. From stubbing your toe to banging your head in the shower sometimes the uncertain and unintended impact of the external world on our lives produces creativity.
For example, who among us has not created a particularly unique set of profanity upon banging our shin into the corner of the hotel bed in the dark. If you tried to create this unique brand of verbally articulated anger and pain on a piece of paper, you would fail every time. But the surprise and searing pain of this external event kicks your brain into a different creative gear.
The most recent example of such an event is the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly every person and every association, because of this unintended external event, sought and successfully applied creative solutions to a wide range of problems. From virtual events to home schooling, we discovered our minds could be opened to examine the world with a different lens.
In summary, too often in business we think only individuals involved in the arts are creative. We celebrate this creativity, and we should. But unfortunately, we forget that as individuals we are creative too, everyday.
Never underestimate your own power to intentionally or unintentionally be creative. Celebrate that your own experiences, competencies, or intuition can provide you with the new perspectives or ideas necessary for success.
And if all that fails, simply ask ChatGPT to come up with ideas for you.
Just some thoughts from My Seat at the Bar.