How important is it to be creative?

Is being “creative” really all that?

Creativity is intelligence having fun. – Albert Einstein


noun  cre·a·tive

Definition of creative (Merriam-Webster)

1:  one who is creative; especially: one involved in the creation of advertisements

2:  creative activity or the material produced by it especially in advertising

The current business buzzword (or one of them, anyway) is “creative”. Every company wants the next Gmail, or the next Apple phone, or whatever the next big innovation will be. And for the moment, “creativity” and “innovation” seem to be very closely linked. There’s even a lot of focus in self-labeling as a “creative” – I’ve even done it myself occasionally, although with some internal conflict over its use.

But is the idea of creativity being promoted to the detriment of the creative process itself?

Creativity is a starting point, not an end goal.

You need creativity to spark that innovation, but you need stamina and determination to follow that innovation through to a successful goal. And education might be the best way to achieve that stamina and determination.

Eliot Gattegno writes a great article discussing the focus on creativity in the corporate workforce. This is a great article as it combines many of the elements that I’m personally very interested in (creativity, education, and innovation). I’ve taken the liberty of sharing some of the points in his article below, and encourage you to read his full article from May 2017 on Tech Crunch.

The iconic author Haruki Murakami provides a great example of how important training is to the creative life. His memoir “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” is essentially one long extended metaphor comparing long-distance running to writing novels. He argues that for artists, “focus and endurance” are almost as important as talent — and far more achievable, “since they can be acquired and sharpened through training.”

In an era where some companies are hiring splashy “internet kids” off of Reddit and Instagram, it has become trendy to consider “creativity” a credential in its own right. But the evidence simply doesn’t back this up. A study in Economic Geography found that workers’ education level, not their creativity, creates most of the productivity gains associated with the so-called “creative class.” “Bohemians” (as the researchers call creative people without a college education) actually contribute less than uncreative, but educated people on the whole. While exceptions clearly exist, it’s generally education, not creativity, that really makes the difference in performance.

Even at Google — the guiding light of the creativity-in-the-workplace movement — certain much-revered creative practices have apparently become unsustainable. Remember their mythical policy that employees can spend 20 percent of their time (an entire workday per week!) on a self-directed project — a policy that led to the invention of Gmail? Former Google employee and current Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer tore down the curtain when she declared, “I’ve got to tell you the dirty little secret of Google’s 20% time. It’s really 120% time.”

Eliot Gattegno goes to say that:

In recent years, Google has reportedly been moving away from the 20 percent time idea altogether and prioritizing top-down innovation instead — projects approved by managers, etc. Some have argued that this attempt to control innovation will damage Google’s much-praised culture of rag-tag, free-floating creativity. It’s a difficult dance, the one between magic and matter. Uncontrolled creativity can result in employees losing sight of company goals; controlled creativity, you could argue, is no creativity at all.

“One doesn’t manage creativity. One manages for creativity.”

Whether you’re a worker bee or a work manager, finding the balance between productivity and creativity is practically mined with pitfalls and poor decisions. Your role as a leader is to create a working environment in which critical thinking, new ideas, and creative solutions can flow unencumbered. Sounds like a pretty difficult balance, doesn’t it?

If you’re looking for some tips, I’m not about to provide some here – as an entrepreneur working from home, my struggles lean more towards work-life balancing/distinction – but there are a lot of advice articles online you might find helpful. Some of the ones I found interesting include:

Harvard Business Review: How to Nourish Your Team’s Creativity

Focus Creativity & Productivity Blog: 3 Creative Leadership Methods to Spark Ideas

Copyblogger: Creativity Killers

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