At first glance, you wouldn’t think that creativity, business and the arts have much in common – but you’d be wrong.
The outcomes may be different but the processes of creating something exciting, heart-warming and unique to the point of mould-breaking, have a great deal in common.
We humans are unique in imagining the future. Animals don’t do it in the same way. No Labrador planned a trip to the moon and no monkey has ever actually written anything equal to Shakespeare.
As Peter Drucker the management consultant and philosopher said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Now there are nearly 8 billion curious brains in this world wondering what the future could be like, constantly asking “if only” and “what if?” and experimenting with new ideas. It’s no wonder that changes are coming thick and fast in business and the arts that we stagger on in hopeless bewilderment.
Some people might argue that the need to focus on the bottom line and earnings per share stifle artistry. That collaborations are a sell-out. But I would disagree, even the most avant-garde projects have some boundaries. It seems to me that creativity, or at least the kind of creativity you want to share, is about risk-taking within some type of structure that connects you with the present.
If you’re riding way ahead of the pack, it’s important to turn around every now and again and make sure there’s still someone following you. Both artists and business leaders have learned to enjoy risk. They’re not frightened of it. They have the foresight to see the future differently. Once companies realise the benefits that collaborating with the creative arts make, they will see the involvement as an investment, rather than a cost.
I’ve been lucky enough to work as a theatre producer and the manager of a jazz singer at the same time as working as an entrepreneur and the CEO of a public company. I learned two things: firstly that being creative can be nurtured – it’s for everyone, even the driest accountant. There’s artistry in everything that we do, the way we lead a team and the way we make business plans and execute them. We have creativity in our DNA.
Secondly that challenges and necessity often lead to solutions that wouldn’t normally be found. Creativity comes from not knowing the answer. A company we have been working with, Collinson, have a division which enhances airline and travel experiences. The business quickly realised that when the airports shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic their business lounges weren’t going to generate any income whatsoever for quite a period of time. So, someone within the organisation had the bright idea of turning all of the airport lounges into testing areas, where incoming passengers could be tested in a short period of time to check if they were safe to enter the country. As Plato (almost) said “necessity is the mother of invention.”
In the 1950s, Walt Disney coined the expression Imagineering, the link word between creating something and getting it done. People who know him claimed that he had three different personas. There was Walt the Dreamer, Walt the Realist and Walt the critic and you never knew which one was coming to a meeting.
He even designed different rooms that he worked in to encourage these behaviours. He was disciplined enough not to let any thoughts creep in from one of his other personality types. To punctuate it with more certainty, he would bring in team members who would amplify the debate at each stage. He would only allow people to brainstorm and voice ideas without criticism in his creative room, he’d get practical in his realist room and was a fearsome cynic in his critic room. In this way he could be assured of clarity of thought at all stages of his projects.
So, what’s the best way to encourage creativity in your organisation, since everybody is different?
Not only will it help your business be more successful, but it’s also fun and worthwhile. The sense of accomplishment is life enriching.