Just how original are you?

Can one “get creative” or is one born creative? I think there are elements of both, but for organizations, there are strategies to help build a more creative team and bring more creative ideas and strategies to bear within your organization.

The creative process is what excites me about work each day. I have often marveled at the power of the brain to “percolate” on a problem behind the scenes within the subconscious part of the brain, and then in the most random place (jogging, taking a shower, etc.), a refreshingly creative solution pops into one’s consciousness, seemingly, from almost nowhere. Research shows this often occurs in the morning when our minds are not yet completely preoccupied with other thoughts. Similarly, we often get frustrated trying to figure something out, to the point we just give up and let it go. Then later, when our minds are more relaxed, the solution seems to suddenly come to mind.

In his book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, author and professor Adam Grant demonstrates that the above scenario of a solution popping into our minds is no random event. Grant also elaborates on the fact that both individuals and organizations can enhance creativity and originality.

I found his information on child prodigies particularly interesting. What the research shows is that while these kids are rich in talent, ambition, and opportunity, they historically have not been the ones that generally change the world. What seems to hold them back is that they do not learn to be original. As Grant states, “They conform to the codified rules of established games, rather than inventing their own rules or their own games. All along the way, they strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers.” They can play an existing piece of Mozart perfectly but never compose their own scores, as he goes on to say. In fact, the research shows that the most creative kids are the least likely to become the teacher’s pet. I have seen that firsthand in the classroom, and teachers should really take a step back and ponder that. That is not to say that conformists are not successful. They often are quite successful and many become experts in their field; they are just not generally the ones that change the world.

I’ve often wondered about this in the way parents today have their kids interacting in what have become super “programmed” activities, where parents control every detail. Take early youth sports, for example, where the kids just show up to play rather than being active participants and creators of the game. I may sound like an old guy here, but “when I was a child,” we wondered off to the park where others slowly came out to join, and WE picked the teams, WE made and enforced the rules, etc. That fosters much more creativity, independence, and originality in my mind. This may be something for new parents to consider moving forward. The pendulum may need to swing back the other way a bit.

Interesting stuff, but what about originality and creativeness in organizations? Like the above examples, similar issues come to bear in keeping your organization relevant, particularly as technology is changing all business sectors so rapidly – something I think about constantly. I loved the quote Adam listed from George Bernard Shaw on this: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

That is not to say, of course, that you don’t need people to follow processes that are there for good reason, but as our own team members will tell you, something we constantly encourage people to do is to speak up and not be afraid to rock the boat with ideas diametrically opposed to something we are currently doing or looking at implementing. It is also one of the reasons we like to hire candidates from outside our business sector. How can you bring new viewpoints if you’ve been immersed in doing things only certain ways?

Don’t be afraid to bring in “outsiders” and those with a bit of a rebel flare. You may sometimes be challenged and wonder why you did it, but trust me, you will be challenged to look at things from new perspectives and consider alternatives. That is more important than ever in business. Original thinking and creativity is a requirement now to stay relevant for the long term.

One last note is that planning and hard work are not the enemies of originality and creativity. In fact, both of those facets enhance it.

The nonconformists that are more likely to change the world are also generally some of the hardest workers and, contrary to what you might think, they do plan ahead. Many of the successful rebels held down day jobs while working on their original ideas. The stability in one area allowed them the freedom to be original in the conception and development stage of their other industry changing efforts.

I cannot do this topic the justice it deserves in a short blog, but you owe it to yourself to delve into this topic more. You may be surprised by many of the findings Grant’s book brings up, such as that negativity and imagining the things that could go wrong can actually be of great value, rather than insisting on blind optimism from your team. Topics like that are addressed in a chapter called “Rocking the Boat and Keeping It Steady.”

If you are a client and would like a copy of the book Originals, just let me know and I will get one to you. The song selection for this blog is “Bicycles” by an original band, Elkke (formerly Emy Reynolds Band). Enjoy: