Creativity For The Future of Work
I recently had the pleasure of listening to Natalie Nixon, a creative strategist, President of Figure 8 Thinking and author of The Creativity Leap. Natalie spoke to our team at Proof Strategies about why creativity is crucial to survival in chaotic times. Natalie is an incredibly inspiring person and speaker. She has a BA in anthropology and African studies and PhD in design management. Before founding her own consulting business, Natalie was a professor of fashion management, building off her previous career in fashion design.
Natalie defines creativity as the ability to toggle between wonder and rigor to solve problems and deliver value. She aptly says creativity is about “meaning making.” And who doesn’t need more meaning these days?
The World Economic Forum in its 2020 Summit identified critical thinking, complex problem-solving and creativity among the top skills for the future. As Natalie shares in her book, creativity requires critical thinking and complex problem solving and is leading the pack in important job skills for the future of work.
Yet as children, when we’re most creative, conformity and factory-style school learning can close the door on curiosity and wonder – two core ingredients of creativity. As adults, logic, urgency, and environments where people show up having all the answers, further shuts down creativity.
The public relations industry by nature is a creative one. We’re problem solvers, story tellers, brand builders and idea generators. All of which require creativity. But in society and within far too many agencies, ‘creativity’ is often siloed in the Creative Department or is associated with artists. And while artists and ‘creatives’ have the training, discipline, and mind-bending ability to produce what many of us can’t, this is too narrow a view of creativity.
Creative mindsets and thinking must be integrated into all departments. Especially now when we’re facing unprecedented levels of complexity and ambiguity and when straight lines and inflexible plans are unrealistic. The good news is creativity can be developed and further developed across departments and levels.
Here’s the creative inspiration I took from Natalie’s talk and her book.
Both Wonder and Rigour are Necessary for Creativity to Thrive
Wonder is about awe, pausing, dreaming, and asking big questions. Whereas rigour is about our capacity to exercise discipline and deep skills, to pay attention to detail, and to spend time on task for mastery. Natalie theorizes that rigor and wonder as disciplines, exercised through inquiry, improvisation, and intuition help democratizes creativity and invite a broader group of people to engage in exercising their creative competency.
The Three I’s in Creativity
Natalie believes that when people practice inquiry, improvisation, and intuition it offers an accessible way to tap into creativity and increase their creative quotient (CQ).
- Inquiry is about building our capacity for curiosity, which as Natalie described is the currency of the future. If you want to know more about something you currently don’t understand, inquiry triggers the leap that bridges that gap. Inquiry through framing and reframing questions leads to discovery, exploration, and experimentation – all of which are connected to creativity. Natalie describes inquiry and curiosity as the root of wisdom and the precursor to empathy. Through asking new and different questions, we can understand where people are coming from. These are things we value at Proof Strategies so much so that our approach to clients includes Ask Better Questions.
- Improvisation is about building on ideas with minimal constraints. With improvisation there is freedom to experiment, and rules (rigor) and fluid structure that helps you to correct course and embrace and learn from mistakes. When we’re in improvisation mode we’re being adaptive, iterative, emergent, and experimental. We’re learning by doing. And true collaboration and creative synergy comes through our ability to improvise with one another. This is especially relevant these days, as we’re constantly adapting and switching gears.
- Intuition is a crucial part of strategic decision making, especially when your environment is changing. Natalie argues that intuition is a data point – and in the face of data and rationale overload, intuition is the “brain feelings” or nudges we should not ignore as part of decision making. Intuition also helps us lead with our whole selves, creatively and strategically.
Trust is Needed for Creativity to Thrive
This speaks to me as a professional and as someone within an agency that both builds and studies trust. Natalie writes: “To admit that you do not know something requires humility, self-awareness and in these times, courage. The fundamental building block for courage is trust.” When you put yourself out there to reveal that you have a question, or an uncertainty, the environment must be primed for trust and be psychologically safe. At the same time, trusting that you are valued for who you are as a person is essential to a culture of inquiry. Organizations are better set up for creativity when employees feel the courage to share not only what’s on their mind and in their hearts, but also what’s in their imagination.
Soft Skills are Hardcore
I adore this statement for so many reasons. Soft skills include emotional intelligence, empathy, and curiosity. These skills are crucial in business and in our society. They are resources we can develop to open our minds. Open minds give way to open hearts which lead to curiosity and appreciation of people and ideas different from our own. This sets the stage for what Natalie calls creative abrasion. Creative abrasion happens when different people and departments come together and collaborate to create new energy. And this is often when the true magic happens.
I’ll end with three of Natalie’s tips to spark individual creativity.
- Take breaks to daydream: Get lost. Literally. Deliberately take ‘wonder walks’ outside to a destination using a different route. Or simply watch the clouds float by. Be intentional about having these mind break moments in our work and lives. We’ll return much more invigorated.
- Be a clumsy student: One thing we can all do is to become a clumsy student of something outside our daily jobs. It will help you develop the three I’s – which helps you get better at asking bolder questions and tapping into your imagination.
- Write every day: Natalie suggests we commit to heads down, phones off writing … not for work. If you’re not a writer, disappear in a fiction novel every day.
We’re in an exciting time of change and opportunity. Leading public relations agencies like Proof are embracing this. We need creativity in times of mass disruption because this wonder and rigour enables us to think critically, solve problems, and find new ways of approaching tasks.