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Getting Creative at Work: It’s Not Just for the Select Few

February 15, 2019

Creative abilities

Are your team members reining in their own creative abilities? In a society that views creators with reverence, people may assume that creativity is the province of a select few who are struck with “lightning bolt ideas,” according to Allen Gannett, author of The Creative Curve: How to Develop the Right Idea, at the Right Time (Penguin Random House, 2018). This notion of the heroic creative is “wildly destructive,” Gannett said in an AMA podcast. Other people may feel that they don’t have a chance.

Gannett, chief strategy officer at Skyword, believes that many people stop being creative before they start. He suggests that managers can get the best ROI from their coaching time by helping employees overcome this limiting mindset. “One of the things that I think is really important for a manager is being able to coach your people around these sort of socially conditioned obstacles that people have put on themselves,” he said.

Promoting “uppercase creativity”

Gannett talked with AMA about “uppercase C Creativity,” in which we create something that is not only new (that is, lowercase c creativity) but also valued by society. He shared these ideas:

Look to make incremental improvements. A fascinating pattern emerges when scientists study what drives consumer preference, Gannett said. People are driven by two urges that seem to be contradictory: the urge to find things that are familiar (reducing risk), and the urge to seek out things that are novel (promising reward).

Since consumer preference is driven by a mix of the familiar and the novel, creative ideas don’t have to be radically new. You can balance the familiar and the new through incremental or marginal improvements. “Great creatives—people at the top of their fields—are actually some of the most comfortable with imitation. They know that everything is a remix. They know that everything is taking something and adding a new twist to it,” Gannett said.

Become consumers of creative ideas. We may think of consumers and creators as being different sides of the equation. But consuming new ideas is critical to the creative process when you’re developing products that are remixed or that reference the past, Gannett noted. “You find that the prolific creators are also prolific consumers,” he said.

Rather than reading a little bit about a lot, he added, great creatives read a lot about a little. They go very deep in one niche to ensure they understand the texture and nuance of that field.

Solicit feedback early and often. Great creatives understand that creativity is in part a social contract—a relationship with the audience in which you want people to care about and experience the creative offering. “One of the things they do is…solicit external feedback very, very early and often,” Gannett said. “They do it over and over again.”

Listen to the podcast with Allen Gannett.

Visit the AMA Edgewise library for podcasts on business and management topics.

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