Overheard: “I’m not creative”

Before the holidays, I gave some ideation homework to the marketing core team I lead at work, thinking that the time away from the office would be a great opportunity to take a step back to let the mind flow freely to enable creativity to flourish.  We’ve been stuck on a particular problem and had already gone through a couple of very productive ideation sessions before the break.  I believe I had created a safe environment where everyone participates, there is permission to laugh and get out of functional boxes, and there is a team atmosphere where ideas are built and owned by the team, not one individual.

The homework was a guided imagery assignment whereby one inhabits an imaginary world in order to create the opportunity for a subconscious-conscious connection or message.  I asked each member to find some quiet time alone, become our persona, and read through a script I provided where they were to imagine themselves in a grassy area, with a path that leads to a tower.  Along the path they were to find a piece of paper and then proceed into the tower where they encounter a person they trust, have a conversation with this person, and receive a gift from this person.  I asked them to write down the images and scenes that came to mind, as well as the experiences and discoveries on this journey.

The session took place yesterday.  First, I must say that I was so impressed that every single member of the team did their homework. That says a lot about the team’s desire to tackle this problem and attempt something different and potentially uncomfortable.

As we were about to get started, one of the team members – we’ll call them M – said, “I did this, but it’s official: I’m not creative.”  I was startled because M is very creative, yet had somehow convinced his/herself otherwise.  I asked a different team member – C – to go first in the hopes that M would feel more comfortable.  C vividly described his/her images and scenes, and we were all pretty blown away, everyone’s eyes lighting up and the ideas starting to percolate.  M was now comfortable and described his/her journey.  It was amazing!

I said to M, “See, you are creative. Everyone is creative.”

I truly believe we all have the capacity to be creative.  You, your friends, your parents, your colleagues, your children.  All of us.  The problem is suppression of our creativity, which can occur because we are are running too fast and focused on meeting the next deadline, or we are bombarding ourselves with negative, discouraging thoughts, or we don’t feel we are in a safe enough environment to express ourselves.  It is important to recognize that when we suppress expressing ourselves we inhibit the creative process.

One of the best ways to get through this is to take a step back from the task at hand, pause, and use creative tools such as guided imagery, lateral thinking, or role-playing.  I’ll be tackling some of these tools in upcoming posts with some guidance on how to lead teams through ideation.  In the meantime, practice expressing yourself.  If you are in a leadership position, empower your teams and colleagues to express themselves by creating an  environment where they feel comfortable participating. And the next time someone says “I’m not creative,” reassure them with positive words and follow through by pausing with them to help them express themselves.

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