You Have to Ask Yourself One Question: "Do I Feel Plucky?" (Well, do ya?)
Whether you find yourself in a leadership role or a creative role — or perhaps yours is both — it's increasingly clear that what we'll refer to as creative courage is a prerequisite to real, sustainable success.
As Sam Palmisano said when he was CEO of IBM (2004),
“Either you innovate or you’re in commodity hell. If you do what everybody else does, you have a low-margin business. That’s not where we want to be.”
How many times have we heard something about the crucial need for differentiation within the financial services market?
Forty-six million, seven hundred thousand. Forty-six million, seven hundred thousand times. Approximately. Give or take.
Or how many times have we heard about the fact that consumers largely view the financial products and services credit unions and banks provide as commodities?
Well, to avoid becoming "just another financial institution," organizations have to create something noticeably, experientially, consistently, sustainably different.
But here's the thing. That takes — and allow me a moment to double-check my notes here to be sure I have the correct, very technical term here — yes, here it is: guts.
Audacity. Daring. Dauntlessness.
Or perhaps you'll appreciate another of my personal favorites: pluck.
What is Creative Courage?
It seems like the more rapidly our respective roles, organizations, and markets accelerate, the more easily we can see how important it is for leaders, designers, creatives, and professionals to develop creative courage.
Creative courage is the ability to summon the courage to (1) as a leader, create solutions to daily, complex, and ever-changing problems; and (2) as a creative, create and ship your work/art to clients and a world in need of things being made better, simpler, more delightful, and more beautiful.
Creative Courage: A Prerequisite for Future Success
In fact, an IBM Global CEO Study found that when more than 1,500 Chief Executives from across industries and around the world were asked what skill or attribute would be the most crucial to navigate our increasingly complex marketplace and world, their answer was — drumroll, please — creativity.
How to Cultivate Creative Courage
As human beings, we can grow and cultivate the creativity we each have inherent by doing several things. Now to be clear, each of us is and will be creative in different ways; but each of does, in fact, have the ability to exercise creative effort.
Remembering you're human — and more than remembering it, embracing it — frees you from the burden of feeling like you have to be perfect all the time. It makes it possible for you to try things. Humanness is the foundation for all sorts of things necessary for creativity. Like, for example...
Be Ok with Getting it Wrong Sometimes
You've got to try things. You've got to. But too often, we're prevented from doing so by one of two things:
We're paralyzed by trying to perfect a thing.
We're paralyzed by the fear that a thing won't be a home run.
So we don't try it at all; and consequently, we'll never know whether any of those things might have been amazing had we tried them. Or maybe those things wouldn't have been amazing themselves, but a subsequent iteration of those things would have been. Or perhaps an idea someone else had as a result of seeing those things — perhaps that thing would have been amazing. There's just no telling. But all of that involves risk, uncertainty, and the vulnerability that's inherent in humanness.
Learn from Others Who Exhibit Creative Courage
Find others who demonstrate creative courage and learn from them. Does it come naturally to them? Or did they/do they have to cultivate it? Is it a mix of the two? If they cultivate it, how do they do that? What steps do they take? Even for folks to whom it comes more naturally than others, it's likely that there are things they do to put themselves in positions so that they're well-prepared to bring those abilities to bear on situations. Observe. Listen. Ask questions. Be humble. Learn. Repeat.
Study Creativity. And Courage, for that matter.
Yeah, I know. "Studying" doesn't sound very fun at all, but we often study things we're into or that we want to get better at. So invest the time and effort into learning more about creativity and courage.
Study Other "Stuff"
You see, here's the thing. In order to be creative, your mind has to have "stuff" from which to pull and then apply to the various situations in which you find yourself.
The problem most of us have is that we fill our days so full of other stuff that we have little to no time to actually give our minds the fuel they need to be creative when the time comes.
Then, Practice Creative Courage
Yep. Practice. Make stuff. Create stuff. Write. Paint. Give yourself practice work scenarios. Learn a new skill. Anything that makes you have to exercise creative ability. There are some other specific tools I use with teams and leaders who are working on growing into more creative, innovative, higher-performing teams and leaders.
Coach Others Toward Creative Courage
This is especially true if it involves teammates whose ideas may be different than yours. You want to take the lead in creating safe space for others to show creative courage and give ideas that may very well be different than yours. Everyone benefits when a team's environment is such that teammates can engage in healthy conflict around ideas.
How Can Organizations Affect Creative Courage?
Yes. And here's how.
Make Time for Teams to be Creative
If we want people to be creative, or to exert creative energy toward organizational issues, we've got to give them time and space to do that; and sometimes (not always) that may rub up against going as fast as possible. But creativity requires time sometimes.
Give Teams an Outlet
Related to the above, give your teams direction — a target, if you will — for their creative efforts. Got stuff going on within the organization? Problems that need solving? Put your teams' minds to work!
Give Teams Permission to Try Things
Teams need to hear, see, understand, and feel — over and over again until it's the norm — that you want them to try things, even if sometimes they might fail.
Make Sure the Default Answer isn't "No"
A lot of times, our minds are tempted to think of all the reasons why an idea won't work. Well, if teams experience that enough, they'll quit bringing ideas to the table. Another version of this is when certain elements of teams or organizations are the default "no" people. So whenever ideas are brought up, it's a safe bet that they'll be met with a "no" from those folks. That's not environment that encourages creativity.
Recognize Creative Courage, Whether it Works Out or Not
Sometimes, creativity needs to be recognized on its merit, even if the idea itself hasn't had time to work all the way out yet. Further still, sometimes creativity needs to be recognized even if it doesn't work out at all. There's something to be said for someone who's invested enough in the team to think something through and to be brave enough to bring up a creative idea.
What About You?
What have you seen work? Leaders, what do you do to encourage creativity on your teams? What are the biggest obstacles you experience related to being creative, and how do you overcome them? Let us know in the comments below!