Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Creativity in a "Creative Environment"

We don't go to "creative" school, we aren't taught how to think like innovators, nor are we equipped with an effective set of brainstorming tools.  It's difficult in a group setting, and seems damn near impossible while flying solo.  Creativity is a necessity for us all, yet there really aren't resources out there that delve into a more meaningful process.

An agency that nominates their employee pool with the distinct label of "Creatives" rarely invests in the process for their work to actually be "creative".  We are terrible at creativity, and instead of it being a toned muscle that's been conditioned through your entire life, it's an old dusty shoebox full of mothballs, rubber bands, and other paraphernalia from a junk drawer at your grandparents house. 

Creativity in the workplace, is even more rusty— it's only dragged out of the closet when it's necessary, and it only comes in the form of pressure to deliver a solution that is directly tied to your job performance.  Typically you're tasked with a problem, maybe with a brief, or maybe just as a passing favor from a co-worker.  "I want you to take point to solve X, so we can do Y," they say.  So you schedule a meeting with the people that you think should be involved in solving the problem.

Everyone shuffles in; their body language all but groans at the task of "brainstorming".  Everyone sits down, and you kick off the meeting with a loose "fun" interpretation of the brief, trying your damndest to cut through the "corporate speak" and spark something in the process... and while you yammer away, maybe one of your more trigger-happy team members volunteers to commandeer the whiteboard and wield the almighty dry erase marker (you don't know it yet, but they've cleverly worked themselves out of having to come up with any actual ideas during the brainstorming session).

So your self-appointed Whiteboard Ambassador kicks things off writing maybe a single word on the board, or a question with an ornate question mark.  "How do we solve X?"  And then, the room falls to silence.  It's uncomfortable as hell, and no one knows what to say.  So you jump in and make a joke recognizing the awkwardness.  It diffuses the tension, but still no one talks.

So you jump in and launch a battery of questions "Okay, well how do we feel about Y?  What do we know to be true about it? What is it about X that uniquely allows us to experience Y?"  A living corpse in the corner mumbles a one word response that sounds something akin to "potato."  42 minutes have gone to the grave already and all you have out of it is "potato."

This is not creativity.  This is a drudge toward a dark cave where you're forced to tap dance in a sequenced jumpsuit for a one-man audience consisting of a sweaty, one-eyed pirate that's paying more attention to his phone than to your display of talents.

There is certainly a better way to go about this process.  In fact, I know there is.  I've experienced it a rare few times.  It feels different.  The room is safe, the people are confident, and it feels like anything goes.  Minds are in sync, and usually someone is leading the charge with enthusiasm, engagement, and knows what questions to ask, when to share a story, who to call on, what exercises to perform next, and it all gets the room buzzing... AND they can do it WHILE wielding the almighty dry erase marker.  Those creative teams are rare baby unicorns.

So how do we solve X, so we can do Y?  I've been asking myself that question the last few months as I dive more into my new found role as "Creative Director", in order to educate, facilitate, and foster the baby unicorn.  The variables of "X" and "Y" change on a daily basis, but I think right now, X is a Creativity Desert, and Y is the Oasis of Innovation- full of bountiful ideas, preparedness, and an eagerness in each team member to contribute.  I think I'm onto a more meaningful process, but time will tell.

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