NASA did a longitudinal study testing the creative potential of 1600 people from the ages of 4 to 5 through to adulthood. These are their findings: 1) At ages 4 to 5, 98% tested at the creative genius level; 2) Five years later, 30% tested at the creative genius level; 3) Ten years later, only 12% tested at this level; 4) Reaching adulthood, only 2% of the original sample group tested as creative geniuses. However we interpret these results, it is at least fair to say that there is something about how we grow up and our education that diminishes our creativity, imagination, and wonder. Creativity is core to our original design. We are all creative in some shape, way, or form - though most of us may not feel like this. The key is reawakening and rebooting that creative genius in all of us; it’s about becoming a child again.
Perhaps as a leader, you don’t consider yourself naturally creative and wonder if you can lead your team in creating anything new. Or, you are imaginative but do not know how to lead your team in the creative process because it is so intuitive to you. Here are some steps or practices you can take to unleash your team's creative power and capacity, including yourself.
Encouraging: At the outset, we need to provide an environment where our team feels they are permitted and encouraged to be creative, think out-of-the-box, innovate, and imagine; that no matter how odd, outlandish, or weird some ideas may get, there will be no judgment or criticism. As an important sidenote: when the brain operates in judgment and censoring mode with regularity, its power is diminished; but when creativity is permitted to reign freely, the brain lights up with brilliance. The return to child-like wonderment is valued and championed!
Imagining: As leaders, we need to give space for people to both wonder and wander, to imaginate. According to research, there are two key ways to catalyze imaginative thought and ideas: 1) Listen to positive-mood-inducing music; there is something about music that activates our imagination in ways that other activities do not (what music works best for your team - let it play as part of your creative sessions); 2) Get outdoors into nature; sitting on chairs in a room around tables is not conducive to igniting imaginative thought. When we get outside to walk through a forest path, beach, or up a mountainside - it helps to provoke and catalyze imagination. Whatever you do for your team, make sure music and nature are involved in some way as part of the imagining process.
Challenging: Central to the creative process is challenging the norm. It’s all about divergent thinking and disrupting the status quo. There are two arenas to challenge: Process (the how) and product (the outcome/result). Do we want to challenge the way we do things, the outcome we want (or are getting), or both? Both types of questions are beneficial and instructive in the creative process.
What kind of creativity or change do you want to bring about? Is it a tweak, an iteration, or a creativity involving something completely new from the ground up? Do you want to improve your ‘candles’ or take the leap and create a ‘light bulb’?
Focusing: As you begin your creative conversations and brainstorming, you may populate your whiteboard with multiple ideas, which is excellent. However, at some point, you will need to bring focus and zoom in on fewer ideas. If there are fewer ideas to work with, it will be easier to move forward. Team members may feel overwhelmed by the many and multiple ideas generated and feel stuck. Part of the focusing journey is what is called grounding; what are the specific problems or concepts you want to address, and what are the top 3-4 ideas that best address them from your team's perspective?
Collaborating: Creativity happens best in a community where relational and psychological safety exists, where people are empowered to share their ideas freely and openly - thereby sparking others to generate additional ideas. Healthy communication back and forth between team members can also refine ideas, bringing them close to a place of experimentation and activation.
Failing (Forward): Try and try again, and then try again. This is the mantra of the creative journey. Experimenting is critical to flourishing creativity. We have heard it said in various ways: failure is the inside lining of success and growth. We don’t like to fail; failing school grades was never a goal to strive for. Failing and learning from our failures is part of the terrain of launching and developing new ideas - we need to normalize this. It’s interesting to note that the word "fail" carries the idea that something is “missed” - partly because something is missing. So, when we experiment and have a failure, we need to ask, what was missing here that led to this outcome? Finding that missing piece may very well be required for creative success.
Persevering: Overnight success rarely happens; if it does, you can count on it lasting only a short time. Catalyzing our creative genius requires that we stay in the process for the long run, the long game. Keep on keeping on, as they say! Set healthy and realistic timelines, but don’t rush the creative journey. Be persistent and determined, and give it time. As James Watkins put it, “a river cuts through a rock not because of its power but due to its persistence.” Or said differently, a river’s persistence is its power.
At Chemistry Staffing, we love the creative process and are passionate about bringing creative solutions to your staffing and ministry needs - or, more importantly, being a catalyst for your creative and innovative thoughts and ideas to shine and flourish! In the words of Jodi Picoult, we want to help you imagine and wonder like a child who thinks with their brains “cracked wide open.” Please reach out to us if we can be of service and support to you - whatever your staffing or strategic needs may be!
Dr. Allan Love