The Core of Creativity

Posted  | 1 Comment(s)  |  by Kris Girrell

These are tough times and tough times require more than buckle-down tough measures – they demand new and creative responses. But often when faced with this demand, we seem to draw a blank. It is as though the nature of organizations and building better business practices are orthogonal to innovation and creativity. In coaching we note that the use of creativity is one of the more difficult skills to develop – almost as if one is either born with it or not! Yet even Howard Gardner lists the creative mind as one of the five essential “minds” for survival in his recent book Five Minds for the Future.

We may, however, be looking under the wrong basket to find the source of the problem or its solution. While we may be sucked easily into a debate of whether we can, in fact, teach creativity, it might prove more beneficial to look instead at what prevents or suppresses creativity. Watch children for even just a few minutes and you will note that every one of them is brimming with creativity. They can make a toy out of anything. A box becomes a house. An imaginary friend talks back to them. And scribbles on a blank page of paper are a magnificent rendering of fish flying at sunset! Kids are naturally creative – we are born with it. Thus the question becomes, “What happened and what shuts down our creative powers?”

If we begin working with our clients on unlearning those structures that were practiced in school, the ones where we learned to follow the rules, do it by the book, avoid making mistakes and color inside the lines, we can actually release some of that native creativity again. Einstein is credited with once saying, “The core of creative genius is the ability to suspend all the rules.” I think he nailed it. Building creativity is more a matter of unlearning and unleashing than teaching or training that lost skill. Human nature is at its core, a creative and innovative organism and all those rules and structures clogged the flow, like so much plaque in our arteries, until our creative vein has become sclerotic.

Organizations loathe failure and push processes down to near zero-defect levels, all in the name of effectiveness, efficiency and almighty profitability. But if we are to rebound from the aftermath of our recession of the last year we will need to break free from the bonds that squelch creativity and innovation. It happened before; it will always happen. However, it may be our honor and our privilege as coaches to hurry the arrival of the next creative geniuses by helping them suspend the rules a bit more effectively.

Goethe said it best of all (and unfortunately I will have to translate and paraphrase from my memory of reading Die Leiden des Jungen Werther many years ago), “I’ll tell you why creativity never bursts upon us like the floods of springtime; it’s because of the civil engineers living on either bank who know so well how to build levees to control its flow.”

Kris Girrell
Career Partners International

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  1. Anna Nalewany's avatar
    Anna Nalewany
    | Permalink
    One of the reasons creativity is in short supply is because it requires a lot of free time and a playful what-if? type of atmosphere.

    Cutbacks and deadlines are not conducive to fostering a creative approach.

    As the article mentions, being creative means you have to be willing to fail.

    By the time an organization becomes very large and successful, failure is no longer an option. Only ideas that are within the limited purview of past successes can be considered.

    Those individuals who are strongly committed to creativity will rarely join the corporate world, Steve Jobs aside.

    Anna Nalewany

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