By Dr. Bjorn Mercer
Program Director, Communication, Humanities, Music, Philosophy, Religion and World Languages Programs, American Public University
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As a leader of people, you want your employees to be creative. Creativity is a skill that employers desperately want their people to possess.
This skill, mixed with innovation, helps every company and institution to move forward, be competitive and possibly develop the next big thing. But as a leader, do you teach creativity to your employees or do you encourage it?
What Is Creativity?
The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) says that “creative thinking is both the capacity to combine or synthesize existing ideas, images, or expertise in original ways and the experience of thinking, reacting, and working in an imaginative way, characterized by a high degree of innovation, divergent thinking, and risk taking.”
Through this definition of creative thinking, there is a lot you can do to truly demonstrate your creativity. With practice, employees can become more creative.
The Development of Creativity Starts with Overcoming Self-Doubt
One of the difficulties of being a truly creative person is that people do not believe they are creative. As Robert Evans Wilson stated in a Psychology Today article, “after years of socialization — especially during the formative years of school in which we were taught to conform — most people believe that creativity is a gift that only a few are born with.”
Years of socialization and doubts in your ability to be creative are steep barriers to overcome. Wilson describes the three characteristics of creativity:
- Believing you are creative.
- Flexible thinking.
- Being exposed to new experiences and viewpoints.
The first characteristic of being creative is being confident in your own creativity. How do you gain confidence in your creativity? That is a tricky question. In our lives, there are many different ways in which we increase our confidence:
- Doing something we care about (more engagement)
- Having a positive social structure (positive feedback)
- Having a healthy outlook on life (positive outlook)
- Constantly learning from mistakes (not letting failure stop our growth)
Confidence in our own creativity can be built with the same methods.
The next characteristic of being creative is flexible thinking. We all think we are flexible, but are we?
Over time, we have been taught to think in certain ways, to approach problems in certain ways, and to not make waves. Flexible thinking is the ability to see a problem from multiple perspectives and to consider outcomes that might be unorthodox and even risky.
Wilson notes, “innovators readily abandon traditional ways of viewing things and go off in new directions…they are willing to take risks and to break the rules.”
Finally, the last characteristic of being creative is being exposed to new experiences and viewpoints. Socialization and cultural norms can inhibit people from being open to new experiences and viewpoints, but being open facilitates personal growth.
It is a cliché, but we must sometimes view the world like a child, look at the world around us and be open to play. Different ways to be exposed to new experiences and viewpoints include:
- Learning a second language (new viewpoints)
- Learning a musical instrument (new experience)
- Learning a new subject such as math (new viewpoint)
- Learning weight training and the challenge of pushing your body (new experience)
There is no one way to expose yourself to new experiences and different ways of looking at the world. We have to constantly be in search for growth.
We’re Competing with Computers, But They Lack the Capacity to Be Creative
Competition is good. Competition pushes us to improve and provides us with motivation.
Healthy competition is also essential to create an engaged and high-performing team of people. But competition in the job market can be confusing; it is never one-to-one and a meritocratic job market is not real (it is a nice dream). Competition in the future will be especially difficult, because all of us will compete with robots and artificial intelligence (AI).
Robots and AI will take over some jobs in the near future. For instance, robots will be used to complete dangerous jobs, drive cars and trucks, do highly repetitive jobs, and work in jobs where computers are just more accurate than humans.
For many of these jobs, especially the dangerous ones, robots performing that work will be a benefit to society because it will make the world safer. But the reality is that we have to figure out how to stay competitive in a world that will not need basic labor or even basic reasoning skills from humans anymore.
This is where creativity sets humans apart from robots. As Anna Powers stated in an excellent Forbes article, “Ultimately a computer lacks imagination or creativity to dream up a vision for the future. It lacks the emotional competent that a human being has. Thus, creativity will be the skill of the future.”
Developing Creativity as a Foundational Skill
When we are thinking about our own professional development and competing for our next job, we need to develop creative thinking as a foundational skill. Approach creativity in the same manner as writing or oral communication; you need to constantly practice these foundational skills to improve them and to adequately describe them in an interview.
To develop creativity as a foundational skill, take up a hobby. Learn the guitar, paint, learn to dance, take up photography or do something that is creative. There are many traditional and non-traditional activities available to you. By doing something that is practically and literally creative, you can then transfer this knowledge and experience to your work life.
Learning how to be creative takes hard work, intrinsic motivation, confidence, flexible thinking, and the ability to be exposed to new experiences and viewpoints. But when you have that creativity, you can be innovative, demonstrate divergent thinking and take risks.
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About the Author
Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. He writes about leadership, management and why the humanities and liberal arts are critical to career success. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music.
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