Creativity is the most powerful competitive advantage an organization can have, which is why companies need to hire employees who know how to foster new ideas and fresh thinking. As the world continues to advance, businesses without creativity at their core will fail. To stay competitive, businesses must continue to invest in the further development of their creative sector; innovation and economic growth are sure to follow.
As Michael Noice wrote in Entrepreneur, “Business success today goes to the entrepreneur who can come up with the most creative solutions … [leaders] want to gain an edge by doing something no one else is doing.” A 2014 Forrester Consulting survey showed that 82 percent of companies consider this creativity skill a formidable benefit to their business. Results of a recent IBM survey of 1,500 chief executives worldwide show that creativity is the most crucial trait for success—more so than management skills, discipline, integrity, and vision.
Unfortunately, creativity is waning in schools and among upcoming generations. By the time students enter into industry, they have been conditioned to conform and do not understand innovation. In a test of 1,600 children at age five, 98 percent scored at “genius level creativity.” However, scores dropped as the age of the children increased, and adults scored only 2 percent on the same test.
To combat this, authors and business people have adopted local schools to bring creativity resources back. For example, I work with author and creativity specialist C.R. Stewart, who formed The Britfield Institute to encourage innovation, creativity, leadership, and entrepreneurship in classrooms across the country. This year, Stewart will visit more than 250 schools and speak directly with young people to interact around real-life stories that inspire their imaginations and encourage them to experiment in creative skills such as imagination and problem-solving.
“But I’m not a creative person,” you say. With respect, we respond, “Yes, you are.”
Creatives aren’t just artists or musicians, nor does creativity require unlimited resources, a perfect process, or a disregard for self-control or limits. Creative potential can be fostered, improved, exercised, and brought to fruition in any person’s life—anyone in any department at any level of any organization.
An advisor to the world’s leading organizations on unlocking creative energies, Sir Ken Robinson explains that creativity is nothing more than “the process of having original ideas that have value.” Creative thinking can be applied to any human pursuit on the planet. Math, science, technology, government, business, culture, communication, teamwork—all these areas need creative solutions and always gain from seeing the world in a fresh way.
God & Creativity at Work
By creating humans in his image, God endowed us with a similar capacity to create and innovate. Scripture shows how the Holy Spirit often participates in acts of creativity, whether on his own or through a believer (Gen. 1:2, 2:7; Ex. 31:2–3; 1 Cor 4:7). God “commissions” or “calls” us to create and innovate based on the talents he bestows by his grace (Jam. 1:17; Ex. 31:1–5; 1 Cor. 12:11; Heb. 2:4). From musicians to scientists, problem-solvers to public speakers, executives to mailroom workers—everyone is creative by the grace of God (Ex. 31:4–6; Rom. 12:6).
He doesn’t just give the calling, though. God also provides the knowledge, ability, inspiration, and opportunity to fulfill that calling. Our mandate as Christians is not to separate our creativity into spiritual and secular types—or even artistic and non-artistic types. Rather, we are to see the world and everything in it as opportunities to continue the innovation that originally came from the hand of God himself.
What Kills Creativity
Unfortunately, many people often confuse productivity with busyness—and busyness with competence. This can make it torturous for a linear-thinking person to join in a nonlinear process like creative brainstorming. Additionally, what employees consider impossible might merely indicate where they can’t emotionally afford to fail. In creative problem-solving, though, a mistake is valuable information about what to try next. Research suggests that creative people make more mistakes than others, but they also make more attempts and come up with more possibilities.
Psychologist Teresa Amabile’s research identifies the main creativity killers, particularly among children:
- Surveillance: Hovering and constantly watching workers
- Evaluation: Workers worry about judgment from others
- Competition: Certain win/lose situations (see research for distinctions)
- Over-control: Micromanagement; prohibiting exploration
- Pressure: Grandiose performance expectations
- Time: Needing to hurry to reach a deadline.
What Does Creativity Look Like in the Workplace?
We can expect creativity and innovation from people who are:
- Comfortable with ambiguity. They expect change as part of their business strategy. They even invite disruption in the form of innovative ideas that replace outdated methods.
- Courageous and passionate. Creatives will take risks on unprecedented ways to change the department and/or organization for the better.
- Intentional. When the Forrester study asked participants how they pursue creativity in their businesses, more than half said they hold regular brainstorming sessions.
- Insightful and imaginative. Creatives encourage innovative ideas from their employees. This imaginative element inspires workers and results in greater productivity.
- Self-aware, grace-filled, and humble. UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior found that “creative changes exist at the edge of chaos.” Creativity always increases when risks are rewarded and failure is received with grace.
- Able to present complex ideas dimensionally. A self-proclaimed “Ride Guy” for Disney, Paul Baker suggests using physical materials to explain a complex idea or vision. Baker once sent hundreds of pages of engineering drawings to reviewers with an attachment of a PEZ dispenser, lots of refills, and a track layout scaled so the ride car was the size of a PEZ candy pellet. Reviewers could visualize the coordination of the ride by moving the candies around the track layout (and they enjoyed it, too!).
The increasing need for innovation and creativity should change how we organize and distribute work. A company’s future depends upon how well it acquires, interprets, and acts upon information. Since people have been made by a creative Father and endowed by him with creative skills, we are obligated to recognize and implement creativity in everything we do—to the glory of an innovative God.
Editor’s Note: On “Flashback Fridays,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This post was previously published on July 8, 2019.
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