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Creativity on a Sliding Scale

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see the word "creativity?"

Is it this?

Open work room with concrete floor, open window, and many various painted surfaces, projects, and a general creative messiness.

Or something like this?

Woman sitting at a table typing on a laptop. Table appears to be made of a flat surface supported by sawhorses. The woman and table are in a sunroom-style indoor space facing a field and likely natural water element outside. The water may be a slow-moving river or portion of a lake.

Or is this creative in your world?

Clipboard holding paper with pre-printed basketball court lines. Written on the paper is circles and arrows indicating where players should move. The clipboard is on a hardwood surface and a pea whistle sits on top of the papers on the clipboard.

What is creativity? Is it the literal sense of creating something? Taking pieces that are simply parts and putting them together in such a way that there's a new product could very well be seen as creative. If it's the same parts, same process, same output, every time; it might become more monotonous than creative. Having access to a bunch of new things that look really cool and could absolutely be something great can be fun and empowering. But if the output of using them is not something where the user sees benefit, it might not be creative either.

From a different genre of thinking, there's means, motive, and opportunity. This seems very applicable to the elements that need to be present to be creative. A person needs the means or the tools, time, and space to engage the work. The motive in this case is the drive, passion, or even interest. Lastly is the opportunity - is there a chance to be creative in the work and is it supported?

If you're the one doing the work and you're staring at your day-to-day job and just can't see where creativity can come in, you're not alone. One reason might be the "angsty artist" vision we have of creativity. You may not need change-the-world creativity. You might need change-the-view creativity. Essentially, just enough of a tweak so you can appreciate that you changed your own circumstances. Someone else might see it as a minor adjustment, but for you, it may be impactful and needed to keep you fresh in your work.

If you're a leader of others, celebrate each time people utilize creativity. Any problem that is solved required creativity to solve it. If a problem existed that didn't require a creative solution, it was probably a problem of who's responsibility rather than how to solve the problem. Example: the weekly work schedule is published 2 days late every week. Solution: ensure the manager gets the schedule out more timely. A more creative solution might be to talk with the manager to see why the schedule is late and determine if a process change is needed and if so, what would the manager recommend.

In leadership roles, if we relinquish power in coming up with THE answer, we will often see very thorough and creative solutions to problems or even improvements on existing processes. The trick is to allow creativity to happen. If you want to say "that's not how we do it," or, "we've always done it this way," then hit pause. So what if we've never done it this new way? Does that automatically mean that the current way is better than any possible new approach? If so, expect your team to not problem solve, not flex their creative powers, and very likely disengage and possibly burnout.

The concept of creativity as a preventer of burnout gives a fairly wide definition to creativity. For a person to avoid burnout, they don't need to have all fresh, all new, all day, every day. In fact, that may ALSO lead to burnout. A person needs the right amount of creativity for them in their work to keep their brain engaged and satisfied. The amounts may be very different for different people in different roles. That, if I may say so, is one of the thrills of leadership; you get to help them discover their creativity, foster it, and watch them thrive in their way!

A person who is the embodiment of I Just Want to Do My Job Well may not need a lot of creative opportunity. However, when they do bring up some kind of change or adjustment, it is very likely that they've thought about it for a while. It may be a great idea and it is also their way of showing creativity.

Opposite of this is the person who is pinballing every day with a dozen new ideas, questions, ideas for improvement. One way to help this individual appreciate their creativity is to slow them down for a slightly deeper dive. The intent is not to tell them to do less, but if they come at you with 9 ideas, ask them to choose 1 or 2 that they feel would be most meaningful. Once they've selected the 1 or 2, ask them to specifically propose what would be changed, how it could affect others (people or steps in a process), what the benefits and drawbacks might be, and how they see the change being implemented. This might seem like putting restrictions on a creative individual, but a ton of ideas with no action can amount to background noise. A person who has a lot of ideas can truly demonstrate creativity when challenged to use different strengths. Ideas come easy, planning them may unlock new creativity they hadn't used much before.

Creativity does not mean turning every single employee into a Jackson Pollack; that would be an unnerving version of uniformity. Creativity at work means each person can bring their skills to problem-solving and process improvement. Most importantly, work cultures that value creativity and allow employees to show it in their own way will likely have fewer employees experiencing burnout.

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