Check out my ten ways for communicators (and indeed managers) to exercise the creative right side of their brain to develop new skills and capabilities for the Conceptual Age. From watching Star Wars to understanding human motivation, these are real, practical steps you can take to add a new creative dimension to the way you approach your work. My contention, given the name of this blog, is that communications professionals have the skills and the potential (and the position in the organisation) to offer so much more to improve the way we communicate in corporate life … and to play their part in building a culture of openness, collaboration and innovation.
1. Go to an art gallery. Exercise your right brain by looking at a painting; it’s a great non-linear way to take in a message. When we look at paintings we don’t start at the top and read left to right, our eyes wander randomly and we build the story from what we gather. We can learn from that.
2. Watch Star Wars. Or Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. In fact, just about every action movie ever made. Look at how the story is structured: Normality – something happens – the call to action – the quest – obstacles – the big test – the hero overcomes – the prize – normality again. It’s the story of life and a story playing out in your organisation right now. We humans were telling stories long before we had email. The culture of your organisation is formed by hundreds, indeed thousands, of stories. Don’t underestimate the power of a good story, well told.
3. Read Shakespeare, or if you prefer, watch it. Take in what happens when good writers with great imaginations unleash their creativity. Listen to the words, the meanings, the descriptions. Marvel at the use of colour, wit and emotion. Let’s face it, a lot of modern day writing is pretty bland – and on the blandness scale, nearly all corporate communication is falling off the edge – so take a trip to the other side of the scale and remind yourself that writing can be a thing of beauty.
4. Be a hedgehog. The ancient Greek philosopher Archilochus once said: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” This is what our right-brain is good at … connecting up all the little pictures to see the big picture. Communicators should be able to see and articulate the big picture, to show how things connect, to see what really matters. There’s so much going on in every organisation…. but what’s it all part of?
5. Be less creative. That’s right, be more creative by being less creative. What I mean is, don’t feel the need to over-complicate your message. Keep it simple and learn from history. Winston Churchill didn’t say “We’ll engage the enemy in armed conflict on the sand covered area adjacent to the sea” and Martin Luther King wasn’t known for saying “I possess a succession of images, thoughts and emotions as involuntary visions occurring during sleep”. Keep it plain and simple, nothing fancy.
6. Learn how to have ideas and how to encourage others to have them. Innovation is what happens when an idea is put to good use, but the idea itself is the outcome of a creative process. So learn some creative thinking techniques. There are plenty of them out there – six thinking hats, systematic inventive thinking, brainstorming, greenhousing, random worlds, river-jumping etc. (Unashamed plug: I run workshops on ‘how to have great ideas’ … more information at www.fourthcorner.co.uk)
7. Be funny. Oh come on, we all take work a bit too seriously don’t we? And yet there’s plenty of evidence to show the health, wellbeing and productivity benefits of laughter, games and humour. When you play, you are activating the right side of your brain … the creative side. Gaming is becoming big business for organisations wanting to get a message across or teach new skills. Humour is a proven deflector of criticism, hostility and tension. It helps communicate difficult messages. Let’s face it, laughter is no laughing matter.
8. Grow down, not grow up. Want to see the most creative people on earth? Then visit a nursery or kindergarten. As their brains haven’t yet been hard wired for pre-judgement and conformity, children are the original free-thinkers. Give them an expensive gift and they’ll play with the box. Leave them in the garden and they’ll turn it into a jungle, an alien planet, a fairyland, a battlefield, a wedding. It’s pure, unfettered creativity. Then we go to school and have it knocked out of us. Then it’s off to work, where any remaining sense of creation is suppressed, frowned upon or allocated to a 30-minute brainstorm. We need it back. We need more play at work.
9. Learn the art of empathy. Medical students at progressive med schools in the US and Europe are being taught the art of narrative medicine – understanding the patient’s whole story. Instead of rushing to match current symptoms with hard-earned left-brained knowledge, new doctors are being taught empathy. By understanding a patient’s whole story, and how they are as people, they are better able to use their right-brain to connect the pieces and form a balanced diagnosis. The lesson for communicators is to understand your audience. Get to know them and their lives. Call it narrative leadership.
10. Understand motivation. Offer someone money to come up with an idea and you’ll be disappointed. Entice a team with a bonus to meet a deadline and you’ll never get them to go the extra mile for nothing again. More money doesn’t motivate … as a rule. Instead, evidence proves that what gets people up in the morning is a sense of purpose, a life of meaning, the warm glow of satisfaction that comes from doing something good, helping others, being creative, being part of a good team doing great work. So communicators, choose your words carefully.