When people ask me what I do for a living, I say I’m a creativity consultant. The obvious comeback is, “Huh?” And for that, I have an answer:
“I show business people how to use creativity and storytelling to communicate and get things done at work.”
This explanation generally elicits one of two comments, one I love and one I hate. Both start with “Wow.”
I love to hear: “Wow, that sounds fun. Do you enjoy what you do?” Yes! One-hundred-percent, yes!
I absolutely hate the other: “Wow, I could never do that. I’m not creative.”
Let’s break that down. The first part may be true. You might not be able to do what I do. I’ve spent a lifetime gathering the wisdom, experience, and confidence required to coach, advise, teach, and demonstrate what it means to bring creativity and storytelling into the workplace. My job is fun, challenging, and rewarding, and it is not for everyone.
But but that second bit … “I’m not creative” … is just flat-out wrong.
I wish, by publishing this little rant, I could eliminate the possibility that I would ever hear those words again. But I will hear them again. Probably tomorrow.
So, I’m ready with a bit of advice. A three-part strategy for anyone who wants to be creative. Here goes.
1. Stop saying you are not creative.
Banish the phrase from your vocabulary. Don’t ever say it out loud. What’s the point? Are you hoping for sympathy? “Oh, you poor thing.” Do you want me to disagree so we can argue? “Of course you’re creative.” Or will you be oddly satisfied if I agree with you? “You’re right. You suck at creativity.” None of these conversations is any fun. Let’s not have them.
Furthermore, don’t say this phrase inside your head. Self-talk is a mighty force, and your brain is susceptible to its powers. Every time you repeat a thought, you give strength to the idea. In no time, you can make yourself believe a big, fat lie.
And “I’m not creative” is a lie. Every one of us is creative. Have you ever made a meal from leftovers? Unraveled a knot in your shoelace? Made a child laugh? Honey, those are all creative acts. Without hesitation, on instinct, you do creative things. Every day.
So, if you’re going to build notions in your head, make them positive. Flip the script about your own creativity. I’ll get you started:
You are creative.
2. Change one thing.
This week, Jill and I spent a day coaching leaders at an electrical contracting company. These are earnest, analytical professionals doing serious business.
Our mission was to help them infuse business presentations with new energy and storytelling. And oh my, did they deliver! They were supremely creative. In their most lighthearted moments, they used play-acting, podcasting, and pantomime. They reimagined boring slide decks by crafting unexpected headlines, twisting topics out of traditional order, and cutting all the C.R.A.P. (Corporate Rhetoric And Pomposity).
In the final minutes of our workshop, one VP asked the question that had been bubbling under the surface:
“A lot of the people we present to expect ‘the way we’ve always done it.’ They actually prefer it. How do we use all this creativity when the audience wants something traditional?”
This prompted a conversation about making assumptions, taking risks, and how change happens. But his question is valid: When convention is the rule, should you be the exception?
For a high-stakes negotiation, maybe you don’t want to chuck the customary slide deck and go for an avant-garde delivery, complete with props, costumes, and theme music. But there’s more to crafting a “creative presentation” than the delivery method. You can flex your creative muscle in how you prepare that presentation. Write your first draft entirely on sticky notes; use the Power of 39 to brainstorm great metaphors for your solution to the customer’s problem; or translate complicated spreadsheet data into simple visuals.
In your quest to be creative, you don’t have to reimagine everything. If reinventing the output is too big of a stretch, change some aspect of the input. Adjust your process. Change just one thing.
3. Practice. Every damn day.
“Daily practice junkie.” That’s another way I often introduce myself. When I am serious about building a discipline or positive habit, I commit to daily practice. This simple—though not always easy—approach has helped me become more physically fit (daily workouts), more informed (daily reading), and more skilled (daily writing and drawing).
What if you took just one creative action every day this week?
Sunday: Cut your apple crossways.
Monday: Draw a stick figure.
Tuesday: Fold your junk mail into a paper airplane.
Wednesday: Take a different route to work.
Thursday: Build a tower of objects from your desk drawer.
Friday: Draw another stick figure. (Yes, repeats are okay.)
Saturday: Describe your day in three words.
Each day, take just a few moments to be creative. On purpose. Do the thing, and then recognize yourself for doing the thing. You are creative. Give yourself credit for each small, creative step.
There you have it. My advice for anyone who wants to be creative.
And what do I say to those who don’t want to be creative? “Good luck.” And god help you if you ever push when the door says “pull” … because without creativity, you are never getting in.