Mind the Creativity Gap

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Synopsis

For more than a decade, leaders across industries and across the globe have identified creativity as the most important skill and strategic imperative in a world where constant change is the new normal. But their actions don't follow their words. There are 7 key reasons that needs to change.

I’m going to cut to the chase before I give you the facts:

There is an enormous and concerning gap between how highly we claim to value creativity, and what we actually do to invest in, nurture, and practice it.

This is a troubling opportunity – troubling in the sense that while we know what we want and need, we largely ignore both, and an opportunity because we can change this status quo if we change our habits.

There you have it. Now, let’s dig in.

For more than a decade, some of the world’s leading collectors of data on leadership have been steadily conducting the same study: asking leaders across industries and around the globe this question – “What is most important to the future of your organization?”

Why continue to ask this question? Quite simply, because the threats and opportunities leaders face today are unlike any in history. Without exception, every organization faces the whirling blender dynamic of rapid change, increased connectivity, shrinking resources, and the dominant expectation of immediate gratification. The signals are loud and clear: if we don’t learn to do things differently, we’re going to be in a heap of trouble.

The folks asking the “what’s most important” question are among the “big hitters” and the studies they conduct are worthy of the names behind them – from Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC), Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and Ernst & Young (E&Y), to IBM and Adobe. On average, each study has a thousand respondents. The samplings are most often taken across dozens of industries and in dozens of countries. The phrasing of the question may change slightly – ‘What’s the number one skill your company needs in the future?’ or ‘What’s your key strategic priority?’ – but the thrust is the same. And, as it turns out so is the answer. The most important competency, strategic priority, or point of competitive advantage is: Creativity.

Across these reports, seven supporting themes emerge. Creativity clearly surfaces as:

1. A Key Quality. It is consistently cited as the most important leadership quality for success and a primary strategic aim (more than even the important skills of global thinking or management discipline).

2. Relevant at Every Level. Creativity isn’t simply a necessity at the top – every employee in every industry encounters challenges and opportunities, and a practiced creative mind is the most important tool for capitalizing on both.

3. Critical in Every Sector. Every industry and sector of society (not just business, but education, government, and more) faces an escalation in the speed, complexity, interconnectedness, and temporariness of what they do. Simply put, our environments are and will remain disruptive ones. The choice is whether to assume a defensive posture, or learn to thrive in this new world.

4. A Motivator and Value Maker. What draws employees to organizations in the first place and drives them to learn, grow, innovate, contribute, and want to stay? An open and flexible culture. The opportunity to create ’new’ and also to create meaning. A sense of autonomy. Work environments that invite and support these hallmarks of creativity are proven to be far more innovative, stable, and profitable.

5. One of the Few Things You Can Actually Control. While perhaps initially counterintuitive, instilling a culture of creativity is considered one of the very few proactive strategies that an organization can take to stimulate growth or stave off decline. Ironically, resources (time, money, training, and more) for supporting creativity and innovation are the very ones most organizations don’t provide or cut first.

6. The Telltale Sign of an Effective Leader. Confidence. Courage. Curiosity. Openness to ideas. Optimism. These things fuel innovative team members, partners, customers, and reputations. When a leader models these behaviors they become both priorities and realities. When they do not, organizations are destined to stagnate.

7. A Greater Social Need. It’s worth noting that the importance survey respondents attach to creativity isn’t limited to their work environments. Parents – male and female and with children of any age – overwhelmingly rank creativity as one of the most important experiences and skills their children can have. They view creativity as key to healthy development, problem solving skills, and balance and success in life. And a growing litany of scientific studies across multiple fields supports this parental intuition. See this for what it is – today’s leaders understanding what’s vital for future leaders.

And yet, even with all the agreement and evidence, a substantial gap still exists between what we want, value, and believe creativity’s importance to be and what we actually do to encourage and fuel it.

Few organizations hire, train, or create environments that promote and prioritize creativity. Few leaders set an example beyond their declarations of creativity’s strategic importance. And the few exceptions? Not surprisingly, they are the leaders viewed by their industries, the market, their employees, and their customers as having the highest likelihood of thriving in a disruptive world.

One leader, in a single organization, could read this and seek change. That would be good, but the need is far greater. Collectively, as human beings, we need to bridge the gap between “perceived need and actual use” when it comes to creativity. The very best way to do this – in other words, the path with the highest odds of success – begins with better understanding what creativity is. We must recognize the patterns across creativity in actual practice; share unambiguous knowledge of when it works why it does; and assimilate insights into how creativity can become more than just a gift we admire in a rare few, but instead a practiced skill that becomes our collective habit. We all have the capacity for creativity. Understanding that forges the first link in the span across the gap and raises the odds that the future we lead ourselves to will be one in which we thrive.

 

Larry Robertson is an Innovation Advisor and the author of two award-winning books. For more information, please visit http://www.LanguageOfMan.com or purchase The Language of Man: Learning to Speak Creativity at the same site, or wherever books are sold.

Tags: art, creativity, entrepreneurship, innovation, larry robertson, leadership

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