These days, it seems that the words ‘innovative’ and ‘dynamic’ are legally required to appear on the homepage before a business website can go live. Everybody is speaking the language of innovation. Every business wants to ‘harness the power of creativity’.
But here’s the thing: very few businesses, and even fewer managers, want to do the legwork that makes creativity possible.
Because the dirty secret about creativity is that it’s mostly really, really boring.
Why? Because creativity is a process.
What’s more, it’s a process that’s 95% drudge work and 5% the best high of your life. The problem is that most managers chase the 5% while ignoring the 95%. And then wonder why awful branded memes happen.
When I was an actor, my job was mostly learning lines in my bedroom and figuring out how my character walked. That is, my job was mostly mind-numbingly boring. But, if I’d done all of the work, performing was like flying.
You can’t have one without the other. Trust me, I tried. As a supremely lazy human man, I have tried everything to get out of doing the boring prep. But it never worked.
There’s simply no way around it. If your goal is to make something that is genuinely creative, then you absolutely must be honest about the drudge work needed to make it happen.
Ok, you get the point. The process of creativity is not sexy. Sorry about it.
So let’s talk about some practical measures that make creativity happen. I’ve listed some completely arbitrary steps for creativity in business. Mostly because I find lists calming, but also because they entice you to keep reading.
Step One: define the thing
To achieve something, you need to define it first. Seems obvious, but how many of you business bros who talk about innovation also spend time coming up with a theoretical construct for it that can be operationalised on a granular level? Did your eyes just glaze over? Good. It’s boring, remember.
So your first job is to define what creativity is for you and your team. Here are some examples.
For my site-responsive theatre company, creativity means reimagining what theatre is and can be. It means expanding our audience’s view of what’s possible and making them look at the world with fresh eyes.
For Eight Clients, it means creating content that delights our clients and their audiences. It means taking basic facts and turning them into engaging social content.
The cliche definition of creativity is making meaningful connections between seemingly disparate things. It’s a great starting point, but it can be hard to put into practice.
Spend time on this, and be honest about what it truly is. If you skip this step, you will only achieve a lifeless facsimile of creativity.
Step Two: gather the meat that goes into the sausage
Here’s where you literally list all the things you need to make the end result possible. It’s a long list that includes concrete inputs like information, and more nebulous things like boundaries and work-flow processes.
Inputs are kind of obvious so let’s not list them, but here are some questions to ask of processes.
How will I get the information that I need? Who will give it to me? How will I know what is for internal use only and what can be shared with an external audience? How can I get what I need without sending 234 emails?
The role of processes is to make sure that, when you sit down to do the creative thing, everything you need is at your fingertips. Processes make sure that you’re not stuck in a quagmire of admin when you’re meant to be innovating your way out of a recession.
Golden rule: don’t avoid the admin. Instead, put it in front of you and squint at it. Think about how you can separate it from the creative task that will follow.
Step Three: do the thing
Just do it. If you find that you don’t have everything you need, update the processes.
But also suck it up and do it.
Another dirty secret of creativity is that it’s a practice that takes a long time to cultivate. And it’s not comfortable because it requires radical honesty about yourself and your work. Creativity asks you to navigate a mass of contradictions. It takes practice, it takes patience.
That’s it. That’s your three-step process for doing creative things.
Go forth and speak the word of what it really takes to be creative. Be honest about what creativity means for you and your team and be generous about providing the processes, inputs and tools needed to get there.