In Action, Change, Leaders

“Creativity comes from looking for the unexpected and stepping outside your own experience.” – Masaru Ibuka

I was fortunate enough last week to attend a conference where one of the speakers was Erik Wahl. Three things struck me as I listened to Erik speak. First, he’s a phenomenal speaker/artist. Second, I was reminded how critical creativity is to everything we do, every success we have in business. Third, very few businesses (or individuals) take creativity seriously enough or attempt to cultivate it.

We cannot hope to achieve the things we want in our organizations without being creative. I used to be a fan of the saying, ‘If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten’. I know think that saying is hopelessly false. The truth is that if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get less than you’ve always gotten, and it’s only going to get worse. The world has changed and is changing faster than it ever has. To think you can do anything now the same way you’ve always done it is ridiculous. Only new & creative ideas are going to keep your business moving forward.

Unfortunately, most of us (individually and as organizations) have bad attitudes about creativity. We think it’s an innate talent that only other people have, and that there’s no way we could ever be creative. That’s just not true. Creativity is something we’re all born with, but we learn (are taught) to ignore it as we get older.

Even if we think it’s something we could learn to do, we just don’t make time often enough to actually be creative. There are so many things going on in our organizations on a daily basis that we get sucked into routine, mindless tasks because they’re urgent. And, realistically, there are a lot of those kinds of things that have to be done. But if we’re going to lead our organizations, we’ve got to make time for creativity. How often do you sit quietly and just think? How often do you just sit and brainstorm ideas? How often do you do nothing other than try and think about new ways to solve problems or take advantage of opportunities? For most people the answer is ‘not very often’.

So do it. Put it on your calendar. Go to a specific place. Listen to music, go outside, whatever it takes. The point is, if you’re not practicing creativity then you’re not going to be much of a leader. And another thing – make sure your people are doing the same thing. Their ideas are going to be at least as important as yours in the future. So make sure they have time to create them. Communicate constantly about the importance of creativity, of stretching boundaries, of pushing back against accepted ways to do things. Make sure they know how much you value their creativity.

Don’t get stuck doing tomorrow what you did yesterday. Success in the future will require new ideas & ways of looking at the world. Make sure you make time to be creative. Like any other valuable skill, it takes practice. So practice it. And start now.


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  • Mark Ellsworth

    A great message, Matt. Too often people, many of them company leaders, cringe at the thought of being creative. If Innovation is the lifeblood of today’s successful businesses – and I believe it is – then little innovation can happen in a place where there is no creativity.

    • Matt Heemstra

      Absolutely right about innovation. I think a lot of those ‘company leaders’ are just afraid (of lots of different things, probably). Until you lose the fear, neither creativity nor innovation are possible. Thanks for the comment!

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