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Creativity is hard work

Challenging times call for creative solutions, but 44’s Tom Abbott explains why getting creative means rolling up your sleeves and preparing for some serious effort…

One of the most common myths about creativity is that of the ‘creative genius’, otherwise characterised as some form of precocious natural talent. A recent video reminded me about this.

It opens reinforcing the idea that ‘some people are naturally talented’ and you don’t need formal training to be a creative genius. However, it then mentions in passing that the artist has been producing these drawings since she was a kid.


So, actually this is not an example of innate creative genius – it’s really a story of years of practice, commitment and effort.

The creative genius myth

And that’s the underlying fallacy behind the creative genius myth. Creativity does not spring from some magical source, striking the tortured genius in a moment of serendipity while they sup absinthe in their garret flat. It is a process that you learn, practice, develop and grow, often best achieved in collaboration – and it takes commitment and effort to get there.

Many years ago, I recorded a series of podcasts with poet and English professor David Morley – Writing Challenges. They were short pieces that explained an idea about creative writing and then proposed a short exercise for the listener to stretch their creativity.

The exercises were designed to push your creative muscle in the same way lifting weights trains your biceps. Conscious practice is as important to keeping your creativity healthy as the unconscious moment of inspiration.

And this principle applies as much for businesses seeking to develop their creativity.

Many of us will be sent on creativity courses – creative problem solving, creative management, creativity and innovation, creative this, that and the other. The promise is a day course will revolutionise your creativity and you’ll unlock your creative potential with tremendous results!

Techniques and tools

Certainly, learning about techniques and tools to encourage creative thinking and problem-solving is a great idea. The challenge is always the moment you step back into the office and face the reality of the day-job. Unless you carve out time to practice the techniques and principles, you may not develop the skill and confidence to really benefit from the investment.

That means leaders need to understand this beyond the context of a formal course, but also consider how colleagues need to have the space and time to practice what they’ve learned, turning techniques into hard-earned skill and building confidence in applying this.

It’s not enough to send people on courses and then sit them back at their desks surrounded by spreadsheets, reports, deadlines and operational milestones, expecting them to suddenly be creative engines.

Space and opportunity

To really get the benefit from the creativity of your team, they need the space and opportunity to build their creative muscle with the support of their line managers and leaders. Can you build a ‘creative gym’ in your business?

So, what can you do to ensure your investment in creativity delivers?

– Involve your creatively-charged employees when approaching business challenges – give them opportunities to test their newly-found creative muscles
– Encourage moments for teams to step away from the desk and think about a challenge or issue
– Invite teams to hold meetings away from the office – try new environments or a walking meeting
– Involve people from outside your team when problem solving to bring new perspectives
– Make sure other leaders are aware of the investment in the creative process and are ready to make use of the new skills
– Don’t forget to ‘murder your darlings’. Just because something is pretty, that does not make it the right solution. Be prepared to tear down ideas to make sure they’re robust and deliver what you need once the glossy presentation is removed.

Collaborative process

Remember, creativity is usually a collaborative process and it can be a hard slog. Someone will quite often find a creative spark in something that’s been ruled out as not being creative.

Building confidence in bouncing ideas makes you realise there’s no bad idea at the beginning, but sometimes it can take a while and a lot of mental muscle to find the right creative solution for the problem. It’s usually easier when a team of people lift a weight rather than a single individual.

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