The one thing all creative people tend to do is reject the notion that “creative” and “artistic” are the same.
In other words, creative people know that creativity finds expression in many ways.
Because you can be a creative team leader or a creative scientist or a creative TSA agent or a creative marketer—which means only that you look for new ways of doing things.
So you, too, are creative—or you have the capacity to be.
“A myth is that you’re either creative or you’re not,” said Sir Ken Robinson in a 90-minute video talk and Q&A at MarketingProfs on the nature of imagination, creativity, and innovation in organizations.
Sir Ken talked about why innovation is critical to businesses (“if companies don’t evolve, they die,“), and how imagination and creativity are the sparks that ignite it.
That sounds a little vague and amorphous and high-minded, doesn’t it? But HOLY WOW… it so wasn’t.
Sir Ken Robinson is My Thought-Leader Spirit Animal
I’m one of those people who gets antsy at webinars. I might go into it with a commitment to focus and pay attention. But next thing you know I’m scrolling through Instagram or Snapchat or tripping deep into the rabbit hole that is Facebook….
But last week I was zero percent tempted to wander away during Sir Ken’s talk.
Part of that was Sir Ken’s delivery: He’s hilarious and articulate. That makes the big concepts he talks about feel accessible and real and suddenly relevant to all of our lives, instead of huge and amorphous.
If you don’t know him, Sir Ken is an internationally recognized authority and speaker on creativity and innovation in education and business. He’s the most-viewed speaker on TED.com with multiple talks totaling more than 40 million views. He is also the author of two bestselling books.
I came away from Sir Ken’s talk feeling inspired to do things differently within my own organization as well as in the world itself. After the webinar, things almost looked different to me, as if turned to a new light.
And when’s the last time that you had that reaction to a marketing webinar?
To paraphrase Eliza Doolittle here: That ‘ardly. Hevver. ‘appens.
Yesterday I published my takeaways on Sir Ken’s full talk over at MarketingProfs. You can check it out there.
Below, I’m excerpting a section I particularly loved—on creativity—in part because it reminds me of my own philosophy about writing: You might not think of yourself as creative, or you might not think of yourself as a writer, but we all have the capacity to be either (or both).
And yet, the structures in our lives—schools, organizations, companies—don’t give us permission to be creative.
Here’s a dramatization Ken shared from an elementary school in Israel, in which students were challenged to create a drawing the “right” way versus any old way:
The lesson is this: If you limit options, you get narrow results. “What people need is permission,” Sir Ken said. “The way you frame a task matters.”
In an organization, he added, “Culture is about where you lay the lines of permission.”
Death Valley is the lowest, driest, and hottest area in North America. It generally appears brown and barren and very, very dead.
But when the conditions are right—as they are every few years—you get something spectacular:
Very often, Sir Ken said, “the seeds of possibility are waiting for the right conditions to come to life.”
‘Creativity is the applied wing of imagination.’
Why does creativity matter in the business world? Because it’s the result of imagination and it’s the root of innovation, Sir Ken said.
Innovation is the drive to find new ideas and new ways of doing things, to launch both new products and better processes. “But you can’t go straight to it,” he said, because the foundation for innovation consists of two things: imagination and creativity.
Imagination gives you the freedom to consider alternative views. Creativity is about applying imagination to existing systems—to challenge what we take for granted. It’s the process of figuring out if your imagined and original ideas have value.
“Creativity is the applied wing of imagination,” Sir Ken said. And innovation comes from the application of that creativity in an organizational context.
Create a culture of innovation by looking to improv comedy.
So how can your organization start creating a culture of innovation? Start by not limiting options, as in the example of the schoolchildren. In a corporate setting, that might come from banning no or but during company meetings, as Pixar does.
“Creativity is a process, not an event,” Sir Ken said.
Support a “yes and…” brand of improvisation at your own organization, Sir Ken suggested—as in comic improv, when the actors accept what those around them suggest and work with it. You accept what you’ve been given and build on it, saying yes and instead of no or but.
Banning no and but might “sound trivial,” Sir Ken said. “It’s really not.”
“Creativity is a process, not an event,” he said.
If you’re a creative leader, he added, it’s not your job to have all the great ideas. Instead, it’s your job to allow those you lead to contribute their own creativity.
“Take that weight off yourself,” he said.
And when you do, chances are you’ll see the seeds of possibility multiply and bloom into gorgeous.
I could not love this more.
Ann Handley says
Me too, Dee.
Vinish Garg says
Loved it. I would add another common denominator for all creative professionals specifically in content. Most of us were laughed at, or were reluctantly accepted when we started. Isnt it? 🙂
Rodolpho Tato Camargo says
Brother You couldnt be more right!
Sean Carpenter says
Thanks for sharing these thoughts and takeaways from Sir Ken Robinson. I too, get distracted in most presentations. Heck, just reading this post, I minimized it to check for something in email that your words reminded me of and I added two notes to my iPhone for follow up (thanks for the inadvertent reminder).
But I also should thank you for the inspiration (via Sir Ken) to start seeing things beyond the written or spoken words we are confronted with.
Ann Handley says
Thanks for your honestly Sean… I struggle with that, too, as I said.
Sir Ken rocked!
Drew Griffin says
…like taking a warm refreshing shower of awesomeness. I throughly enjoyed this post and the perspective is enriching. The weight that fear applies to creatives or potential creatives through ‘structure’ is tragic. For the entrepreneur, the fear of failure or being too structured can be equally damaging….
This gave me a lot to consider today. Thanks!
Ann Handley says
Big thanks, Drew. Hope you’re feeling refreshed after that shower. And clean. 🙂
Rebecca Denyer says
Superb article Ann, Sir Ken is a personal favourite with me too, the way he challenges education and the social norms is fantastic.
I am very excited to have found your insights and will be reading more. Thank you.
Tanvi Gala says
I absolutely love this one! Especially these lines:
“Creative people know that creativity finds expression in many ways.”
“Culture is about where you lay the lines of permission.”
Ann Handley says
I loved that last one, especially. Thanks for swinging by, Tanvi!
Josh St. Aubin says
I really love this concept Ann. Creativity in problem solving allows us to look at a situation from every available angle, not just the ones we’re familiar with. However, so many people are afraid of being wrong that they swap innovation for safety. We need to embrace failure not as failure, but as learning and let people feel safe and embrace mistakes. Until then, creative thinking will always be limited to a certain extent.
Ann Handley says
So true, Josh.
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” — Jack Canfield
Hugh Culver says
So good! Robinson is a master at taking “Duh” concepts and bringing them to life. I was right away thinking of my daughters (poor dears) who got me for a father. Hopefully they can still draw outside the lines.
Ann Handley says
Sometimes “duh” concepts are only really “duh” because someone else frames them for us.
Show your kids that video! 🙂
Jodi Murphy says
Every human being has the potential to be creative – all that is needed is the permission to do so! Everyone has the capacity for intelligent, creative thought. It just needs to be nurtured.
Katherine W. says
I really enjoyed reading this article! Great viewpoint on the concept of imagination and creativity. I agree too with the thought of everyone contributing their own creativity — that is how some of the best ideas are made!
Justin Techo says
I really enjoyed reading this. Very inspirational part about Death Valley. It is a very different viewpoint on creativity that really makes you think more about it. A viewpoint that I certainly would have never looked at it from.
Jenna R. says
I could not agree more with this blog post. Creativity is SO important in the marketing world today. I struggle with calling myself “creative”, but this blog just made me feel more creative than I ever have before. When you said creativity was the root of innovation it really made me stop and think. That line could not be any more true! Everyone is creative in their own way and that is what makes today’s developing businesses so unique and interesting. Overall, this was an amazing read!
Richard Mathis says
This is a really great post. Being creative is an indisputable advantage. It will help in different spheres of life: while socializing with friends, for writing school essay, to get the job. That is why it’s necessary to work on your creativity.