Liz Kimball with her husband Michael Balderama | Photo Credit: Studio 22 Photography
Can you think of a time when you felt like your most creative self?
I love hearing people answer this question. They talk about particular collaborations, classes, work projects, or a beloved mentor or coach. When they answer, their faces inevitably light up and their voices blossom, saying things like…
It was so fun and collaborative. I surprised myself and was inspired to try new things. The space was free and full of possibility. I felt like my voice mattered.
It feels good to be our most creative selves. And we never forget those experiences.
Now, imagine with me a moment—what if your current workplace could feel the same way? What if it could feel like the most creative environment in your life? What impact could that have on your employees’ well-being? And on your energy as a leader? On your company as a whole?
We talk about the need for ‘creative innovation’ at work, but creativity can feel like a mysterious and elusive land that only a precious few know how to get to. We’re not given much guidance about how to access it beyond installing a ping-poing table, or a brightly colored platitude on the wall. And yet, one of the most pressing questions of the knowledge economy is: how do we build a culture where everyone’s creativity can truly flourish?
One of my first jobs out of college was teaching ballet to four and five-year-old's. One particular student, Ava, would walk into class with a big, bright smile and dancing eyes, exclaiming: THIS IS THE CLASS WHERE WE MAKE MAGIC IN EVERY MOMENT!
Each week, Ava returned with even more enthusiasm than the last, and with a new list of ideas and curiosities. As a result of her infectious joy, teaching Ava’s class became the highlight of my week. My teaching practice significantly started to improve without extra effort or hustle on my part— a true example of what I call the Positive Cycle of Creativity, and what poet Maya Angelou calls the ‘contagious’ quality of creativity.
I made a vow that for the rest of my life, I would do whatever was in my power to create rooms where people felt like magic was possible. Because we all have our own combination of enthusiasm, wonder, and creative fire burning within us, and, when we’re in environments that ignite this spark, we effortlessly catalyze greater expansion, better ideas, and infectious delight in each other.
One of the most wonderful (and sometimes maddening!) rules of creativity is this:
We cannot control the results, we can only create environments in which results can happen.
And: the more we try to control the results, the less exciting results we experience.
This is why telling people to just be more ‘creative’ and ‘innovative’ is a great recipe for how NOT to get them to produce more genius ideas. The truth is, people don’t need to learn how to be creative (we all know this intrinsically), but instead, spend time in environments where their creativity can blossom.
I define creative well-being as the ability to trust your creative voice, vision, and ideas, and regularly act on and share them.
When I’m helping a person or an organization to develop this, I invite them to think about the three C’s—Curiosity, Consistency, and Courage.
With that in mind, here are three tips you can implement today to catalyze greater creativity in your workplace:
Tip #1: Make the curiosity bigger than the fear
Fear and creativity are like sisters—when creativity shows up, so does fear. Fear must be acknowledged as part of the creative process, but not consulted as any kind of contributing voice at the table. And one of the most powerful ways to quiet the fear voice is to turn up the voice of curiosity.
When leaders model curiosity, they send the message to their teams that it’s safe to to do same. Therein lies the key to empowering employees to be curious.
Practical ways to do this include grounding big projects in a core question, using open-ended prompts like: What’s possible...? And What if…? and regularly expressing that you don’t have a predetermined idea of what the result will be but that you’re curious to see what happens.
Tip #2: Utilize the life-changing magic of consistent creative practice
Spending a few one-off brainstorming or ideating sessions can yield some interesting ideas, but they won’t inspire lasting creative confidence in your team. Creativity is a muscle that must be worked regularly, and building consistent structures for creativity is essential for catalyzing creative excellence.
What would be possible if you got your team in small groups to brainstorm 50 new ideas each week, for an entire year?
It’s important that the consistency feels doable and not overwhelming—I invite my clients to implement a daily creativity habit of turning off their devices and engaging in some form of focused creativity for 15-minutes a day. While it can seem like a small commitment, over time, the results have been truly life-changing.
Tip #3: Create a culture of courage
We are all afraid that our ideas are stupid, and that our projects will fail. Using our creativity requires immense vulnerability.
Creating a culture of courage means inviting people to regularly engage in the brave act of sharing their work and ideas, and providing encouragement when they do.
This last part is key, because our ability to share our voice and ideas in any given moment is dependent on the way we felt the last time we shared them.
If you want your people to be their most creative selves, create a culture where they feel seen, heard, and encouraged.
Here’s what I want you to remember: any environment can be a highly creative environment, and we all have the power to create one.
Now—over to you. What’s one thing you can do today to catalyze more creative well-being in your workplace?
Want to take this to the next level? Sign-up for The Creative15—my free 15-day creativity challenge to spark creativity in 15 minutes a day.
On Wednesday, October 27th, 2021,
Liz & Laura will be chatting about Creative Well-Being.
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