What does creativity mean to you, your boss, your clients?

The chart below, drawn from research done by the American Association of School Administrators and Americans for the Arts, shows the difference between how employers and school superintendents interpret what creativity means.

How do you understand creativity?  Is it the same understanding as that of your colleagues, friends, customers? Does it matter?  What if it did?

What if having a similar understanding of creativity was shown to have a positive influence on breaking free new thinking in teams and organizations and on attracting and retaining customers and talent?

It might look like this: With the intent of bringing creativity to their operation, an organization develops its definition of creativity, identifies what supports it behaviourally, puts programs in place to support it, establishes metrics to measure it, develops practices to support and encourage it.  It produces results that customers are attracted to buy, and draws and retains talent from its industry to work there.  Competitors seethe with jealousy.

Sounds simple, it’s not.  There’s not enough time in the business agenda to allow that to happen and besides, creativity is confusing, right?

People’s Choice Definitions of Creativity

People who study the subject tend to agree that creativity means novelty which is useful. Their studies dig deep into ways that novelty is produced and how usefulness is measured. Creativity Professionals have a good understanding of the theory, research, and practices. They behave in ways that support people accessing their creativity at will.

What about folks who spend their time in other pursuits, hobbies, occupations? How do they understand creativity? In these days of the crowd voting for winners (e.g. Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, People’s Choice Awards, user rankings, political elections) I went to Google to find out.

Search #1: what is creativity? Princeton’s worldnetweb is the number one hit. It’s definition: the ability to create.  Great.  They use the same word to describe the meaning I’m looking for.  Other top-listed entries are pretty abstract, open to interpretation, not too actionable, and certainly not easily transferable into the workplace.

  • a mental and social process involving the discovery of new ideas or concepts, or new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concepts (Wikipedia)
  • the process of developing new, uncommon, or unique ideas (National Association for Gifted Children)
  • using imagination rather than imitating something else (Oregon department of education)
  • the technology used to create a banner or other type of advertising material (allaboutjazz, advertising glossary)

Search #2: Another search, this time for what is creative.  Same Princeton link appears first, and again, they define the term by using it: having the ability or power to create. Other top ranking entries are mostly definitions of creativity, except for this one from Wiktionary that favours marketing. Ugh. Is that why so many immediately link and stay firm that creative means marketing?

  • A person directly involved in a creative marketing process; The product or products of a designer directly involved in a creative marketing process; having the ability to create; original, expressive and imaginative

Search #3: I’m getting frustrated.  One more search: what is create? Pay dirt! Or is it?

  • make: make or cause to be or to become; “make a mess in one’s office”; “create a furor”
  • bring into existence; “The company was created 25 years ago”; “He created a new movement in painting”
  • pursue a creative activity; be engaged in a creative activity; “Don’t disturb him–he is creating”
  • invest with a new title, office, or rank; “Create one a peer”
  • create by artistic means; “create a poem”; “Schoenberg created twelve-tone music”; “Picasso created Cubism”; “Auden made verses”
  • produce: create or manufacture a man-made product; “We produce more cars than we can sell”; “The company has been making toys for two centuries”

Not very explicit, nor welcoming. I’m giving up.  There’s no one way to understand creativity, creative or create from a people’s perspective.  No wonder the superintendents and the employers in the study above have different interpretations of what creativity means.

Bringing Clarity to Creativity at Your Organization

Interest in the subject is rising exponentially, particularly because of the focus on innovation. More and more creativity consultants are pounding the pavement, weaving in and out of the web; business schools are including it in their curricula; advanced degrees in creativity are being granted at a higher rate than ever before. Pop icons for the topic such as Sir Ken Robinson, Richard Florida and Dan Pink are growing in popularity and are influencing our take on the subject. (where are the women in this, eh? would a woman’s perspective and focus on the subject be different than what these fellows are saying?) Each has his or her recipe for creativity success. Who to follow? Who knows the truth?

Recently I read that truth is what two or people agree is true. And, seeing that the people’s choice definition of creativity is all over the map, why not invent your own truth for what creativity is?  It’s worth a shot for your organization to become its own creativity authority.

Why it’s Important

When you have an understanding of creativity in your environment you can plan ways to use it more often, to support it, affirm people who leverage it, feel confident that you can adapt to and invent new ideas and new decisions. You’ll have a base of understanding from which to measure and  balance both attaining novelty and strengthening usefulness.

Here’s how: Have a conversation about creativity and what it means to you and your colleagues. Describe what it looks like in your workplace. Use the attitude of doing research rather than asserting that one person is right, another wrong.

See what ‘tags’ emerge. Make your own organizational, team or office ‘creativity cloud’ or mind map. It’s a good place to start. You might want to hire a Creativity Professional to facilitate (not dictate) the conversation and bring you up to date on the research as leverage for your conversation.

Warning: This creativity conversation could be challenging, threatening and enlightening. Points of view on the subject vary tremendously. People are often stubbornly married their points of view and do their best to convince others to adopt them. That’s not what this is about. It’s about collecting stories, impressions, ideas, perceptions about creativity that could positively impact how you do things to create an exciting new future.

There are those who believe creativity comes from a supreme being, or that only some people have it, others don’t.  People with different personality type patterns interpret it differently.  Men and women have different insights as well. Upbringing, including family life and school are influencers too, among other factors such as one’s occupation, education or discipline. My favourite bias about creativity comes from the field of psychology that continues to relate creativity to mental illness or drug use.  Thing is, everyone is right. What a hoot, eh?

For whatever reason, we’ve resisted talking publicly about creativity for centuries.  The taboo associated with it, however, is shifting; the subject is on the cusp of becoming mainstream. Many are looking for answers, clarity, paths, insights, results.

Until there is a well-defined understanding of creativity, as well-defined as, say, accounting, I offer this simple equation to use to your advantage: New ideas + New decisions = Creativity. Now go out (or in) and get some.

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

Like This!