Recently, the founder and CEO of a highly innovative marketing company confided in us that he wished, “…somebody would invent a new word to replace ‘creativity.’” He went on to share numerous stories about how misunderstood, intimidating and at times, paralyzing the “C-word” had become in his organization. And apparently he and his staff are not alone. The same phenomenon seems to be occurring in organizations everywhere.
What our CEO was verbalizing is an emerging zeitgeist in business today, a condition we call, CTPA (Creative Thinking Performance Anxiety). CTPA is a particularly nasty variety of unexpressed stress and dis-ease experienced by individuals and teams when they are put on the spot to think “outside-the-box” and deliver fresh, new ideas.
And these days, who isn’t being pressed hard to think more creatively?
Over the last decade, creativity (the driving force behind innovation) has emerged as the single most important competitive edge for success—a fact recently reconfirmed by IBM’s much-publicized 2010 CEO Study. Those companies that excel at creative thinking (the Apples, Googles and Nikes of the world) are thriving in today’s challenging economic environment, while their less creative competitors are scrambling to reinvent themselves and somehow remain relevant.
But when we speak about creativity, what are we really talking about? Or perhaps more importantly, is creativity (by any name) an ability we all possess… or a rare and special talent possessed only by a fortunate few?Researchers have actually tried to develop a reliable IQ-like test to measure an individual’s “CQ” (creativity quotient); but not surprisingly, those attempts have proven futile. It seems the subjective, non-linear, shape-shifting nature of creativity defies standardized measurement.
What does it mean to be creative?
The word creativity comes from the Latin word cero, which means “to create or make”. So every time you or I create or make anything (i.e., create a blog entry, prepare a meal, build a sandcastle, doodle on paper, or build the next online social networking phenomenon) we are being creative. We actually engage in acts of creativity every day. In fact the activity is so second nature, most of the time we are unaware we are even doing it.
Creativity vs. Artistic Ability
A common handicap facing many business people today is the self-limiting belief that they are “not creative.” Chances are those who subscribe to this belief may mistakenly associate creativity with artistic ability.
They say things like, “I’m not creative; I can’t even draw a stick figure,” “I’m not a good writer,” or “I don’t have a creative bone in my body,” That attitude perpetuates the myth that you are either born with it, or you aren’t. While many creative people do posses artistic ability, a far greater percentage of the world’s population of creative thinkers do not.
For example, Steve Jobs is lauded for being visionary creative genius; yet, can you recall ever seeing a single painting, sculpture or artistic performance created by him? Ever downloaded any music he has written or performed from the iTunes Store? The same can be said for other innovative geniuses like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.
History has proven time and time again that anyone, anywhere, in any profession, can conjure up an “A-ha!” flash of creative insight, with the power to transform lives, markets, societies, or even the course of history. That includes you and me. We all possess that divine spark of genius within us.
The traits of highly creative people
Creativity manifests itself in many forms. There are highly creative teachers, CEOs, mechanics, salespeople, technicians, accountants, politicians, doctors, lawyers, cobblers and chimney sweeps.
Anyone who engages in his or her field of endeavor with a spirited sense of curiosity, wonder, sensitivity, imagination, playfulness and a willingness to question the status quo, possesses the traits and characteristics of highly creative people.
How many of those creative traits do you recognize in yourself?
The inner game of creativity
In sports like tennis or golf, we know that an “inner,” intellectual and emotional understanding of the game and how it is played is just as important as good “outer” physical technique. The more you contemplate, and then practice those things you consider, the easier it becomes to master the game. The same is true of creativity; with thought and practice you can cultivate your skills of observation, intuition and imagination. The more you master the inner game of creative thinking, the more innovative and effortless a problem solver you will become.
The creativity game is one of developing the confidence, discipline and skills necessary to push beyond any self-limiting beliefs about how creative you are, or can be. It is about stepping up and playing a bigger game, in order to unleash the creative genius within you. In the words of psychologist and author, Gerald G. Jampolsky, “A truly creative person rids him or herself of all self-imposed limitations.”