Time to pull back those curtains

One of the things that really frustrates me about work is the stuffy attitude that many people have about creativity.   Many leaders are clearly afraid of creativity.   Either they’re frightened of not being taken seriously or they’re frightened of what they might get if they encourage it.   But this totally misses the point.   Don’t talk about innovation unless you’re prepared to invest in and encourage creativity, otherwise where are all these added-value ideas going to come from?   It drives me nuts when I hear people say “I’m all for creativity, but ….”.  No you’re not.   I’ve written before about the image problem of creativity in the workplace.   People are too quick to equate creativity with the ‘creative arts’ – music, design, art, entertainment etc – and therefore they think that if they can’t draw, act or write a sonata they’re not creative.   We often don’t help by having ‘creativity rooms’ at work full of bright colours, bean bags and rubber chickens.  For some people, that’s just too soft, too trivial, too unprofessional.  “Besides,” they say, “I’m just not the creative type.”   That’s rubbish.   We’re all the creative type.   I think one of the blockers of creativity at work is the wolf in sheep’s clothing we call ‘specialism’ – that instrument of creative suffocation.    Before the industrial revolution, workers tended to be characterised by their profession – farmer, blacksmith, miller, sailor, trader etc – but the arrival of factories and mass production changed all that.   In his book, The Wealth of Nations, the eighteenth century economist and philosopher Adam Smith famously set out the 18 stages required to manufacture a single pin.   He argued that the best way to increase production and economic prosperity was to divide complex tasks into tiny isolated segments.   In the case of the pin, a single worker would probably take a whole day to produce one pin, whereas a production line of specialists, each performing one or two tasks, could knock out 5,000 pins a day.   This was the ‘miracle’ known as the division of labour.   Ever since, we’ve been obsessed with creating more and more specialist roles, ultimately producing a workforce of high achievers in specific disciplines rather than wide achievers in many disciplines.   The average big-company IT department probably has more than a hundred roles.   People don’t work as IT generalists, they work in service management, data architecture, application support … the list goes on.  In comms, we have channel managers, event specialists, business partners, change comms experts and “people who only do strategy”.    There are clearly lots of advantages to specialising in any industry, but creatively it has one big, bad downside.   With too narrow a focus, people tend to lose perspective, imagination and stimulus.   Our brain is hard wired for repetition.  It seeks certainty.   So when it comes to solving problems and finding new ideas, we can often find ourselves stifled by the narrowness of our frame of reference.   It’s like having a view from a widow obscured by partially closed curtains.  We only get to see and judge the view allowed by the curtains.  If we pulled back the curtains we see things we’ve never seen before – things that may well change our entire perspective and open up a world of ideas.   That’s what creativity is – the willingness to open one’s eyes to new worlds, new perspectives, new stimulii.    I really believe that we internal communicators can learn a lot by pushing back those curtains.   In the last year or so, I’ve tried to make a conscious decision to open my eyes (metaphorically speaking!) to the ‘outside’ world to see what I can learn as a communicator.    And there are ideas everywhere, right under our noses!   Shops, airports, sport, events, the media, travel, literature, science, philosophy, history, entertainment – they all offer ideas for creative communication in the workplace.    All we need to do is to open our eyes and use our imagination.   Creativity is not a special skill that only ‘creative people’ can do.   It’s an attitude.  It just takes a willingness to try something different – a new route to work, new magazines, new TV programmes, new sports, new conversations, breaking habits, connecting random ideas.   And a conscious effort to look at everyday things in a different light.   Don’t be afraid.

7 thoughts on “Time to pull back those curtains

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  7. El_t

    I know you were focussing on how the individual can take responsibility and free their inner creative monster (not the right word, but it sounds good!), however, creativity is not just about your own contribution, but about freeing people from constraints and letting them get carried away. The word ‘No’ tends to be more of a barrier within large groups than individual apathy or negativity. It can be common to hear, “No. That’s not how we do it,” or, “No, that won’t work. Let’s stick to the usual.”
    How do we know if things will work or not if we never even try? And how do we know it won’t work this time just because it didn’t work last time?

    It’s incredibly frustrating to hear good ideas shot down because, “That’s how we’ve always done it.” In some cases this cautious approach is warranted and completely correct, but in others (generally, internal comms) it means our communications can often be predictable, dull and ineffective.

    As I look out of my window right now the rain is ‘coming down stair rods’ and the sky is battleship grey – it fits perfectly with my mood when I hear ‘No’.
    Having said that, keep up the great blog, I’m loving it!


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