(Un)productive Company: Friends and Foes of Creativity

Creativity is, by nature, collaborative and is impacted by the company it hangs out with. Meet Creativity & Co!
Creativity is, by nature, collaborative and is impacted by the company it hangs out with. Meet Creativity and Company!

Creativity is inherently human.  It separates us from any other species on the planet; we’ve been wired to create. 

Why does it often feel like some of us have more creativity than others? Why can following through with creative ideas feel more daunting than an army obstacle course? (More about army obstacle courses in our previous article.)

Creativity is not a solo operator; it works in collaboration with friends. Unfortunately, if we let them, it also attracts a few disruptive foes that can undermine its good intentions. 

Meet Creativity and Company: six characters that Creativity attracts and can either turn innovation into implementation or sabotage the process!

Creativity At Work Requires Curiosity

Neuroscience studies explain that Creativity is wired into our brains. Thanks to the expansion of our prefrontal cortex, we can rise above our instincts, make intentional decisions and imagine things that don’t yet exist.  

Creativity is at the root of all innovation, from new vaccines to marketing campaigns to re-imagining workplace culture and leadership. 

However, Creativity isn’t about being lucky or how well-developed your Creativity levels are. People who seem to tap into their Creativity effortlessly have acquainted themselves with Creativity’s two best friends: Curiosity and Courage.

Creativity, Curiosity and Courage carry through amazing projects from an initial spark of innovation to the finish line of ambitious execution. 

Curiosity’s role is to nourish Creativity with new inputs and ideas, and to bring in an outsider’s perspective. 

Sometimes, Curiosity’s inputs come at unfortunate moments, such as at the finishing line of a project. That unpredictability serves a purpose: it keeps Creativity’s mind flexible by constantly forming new neural pathways and safeguarding against getting stuck in a rut.

In writer Jack Kerouac’s words: “We need new and unusual experiences to think differently.” 

Creative Leadership Is Born from Courage

If Creativity and Curiosity tried to make amazing things happen between them, they would be stopped by one important obstacle: Fear. 

Courage is like that slightly older, more experienced friend who takes Creativity by the hand in a tough spot and guides them through turning their amazing ideas into action. 

Courage is also an invaluable friend to lean on during setbacks! They make it easier for Creativity to reconnect with Curiosity and try again after things don’t go as planned. Courageous leaders also know how to cultivate this culture and attitude in their teams so that they can quickly jump back on their feet after so-called failures. 

Scepticism Kills Creativity

However, Creativity doesn’t have the luxury of always being surrounded by its best friends. They attract some mischievous operators in the field who try to sabotage their motivation and aspirations. 

Are they also unsettling your team members?

One of the most frequent visitors is Scepticism. As soon as it hears Curiosity share a new idea, it blares, “That’s never going to work! Have you thought about…?” and adds a list of obstacles and risks.

Scepticism prefers being the critic than the creator, and loves finding the gaps and blind spots in everyone else’s plans.

Self-Doubt Raises Bets

Sometimes, if Scepticism is ignored the first time around, it can raise the stakes and pair up with Self-Doubt.

Self-doubt is even sneakier than Scepticism because it operates in hiding. It doesn’t publicly point out all an idea’s faults and weaknesses, but it has people questioning and second-guessing themselves silently inside their minds. 

  • “Do I have what it takes to run this project?”
  • “Who am I to follow through with a restructuring?”
  • “This marketing campaign idea must be silly, otherwise someone else would have already suggested it.”

When team members and leaders ask themselves these questions, it’s Self-Doubt at work, trying to cancel out all the brave progress made by Creativity, Courage and Curiosity. 

While Scepticism and Self-Doubt aren’t always wrong, constant negativity kills many ideas that could have become real game changers if given a chance. 

Fear Of Uncertainty Depletes Leaders’ Confidence

Why are these foes of Creativity so powerful if humans are born to create?

Our built-in tendency to create competes with our equally built-in tendency to be risk-averse and avoid uncertainty. That makes the third foe of Creativity so powerful: Fear of Uncertainty. 

Fear of Uncertainty can throw a spanner in the works when innovative and creative thinking is needed. 

Fear of Uncertainty loves tidy, unambiguous, risk-free solutions, even when they are dull and unlikely to make a real difference. They make smart people say things like “We’ve never tried anything like that before” or “But that’s how we’ve always done it!” to keep them from asking the right, albeit difficult, questions or venturing into those unknown, ambiguous terrains where real innovation and progress so often happen.

Procrastination Sabotages Hard Work

Finally, if things slip through the hands of Scepticism, Self-Doubt, and Fear, the final foe will try one last attempt to stop Creativity: Procrastination. 

Technically speaking, Procrastination doesn’t oppose any plan, change or innovation. It silently organises an “Italian strike” and keeps things moving as slowly as possible. It also tempts the team members to take all the possible detours that can keep them from working on meaningful things.

It doesn’t want us to do the deep, unrelenting work that implementing Creativity’s ideas requires. 

Professor Ellen Winner describes deep reflection as “a craving for intellectual stimulation matching their cognitive requirements in the same way that the physical body craves food and oxygen”.  She highlights the importance of persistence in “overcoming the many obstacles in the way of creative discovery.”

If Procrastination were to choose, we wouldn’t even consider going there! Why don’t we sort out all the files, have another coffee, and finish that report first instead?

How To Become More Creative at Work?

I’m sure you recognise some, if not all, of these friends and foes of Creativity. As an artist and creative entrepreneur, I regularly deal with them all. 

Fortunately, we aren’t at the mercy of friends and foes coming and going as they like, but we can consciously nurture Creativity by strengthening Curiosity and Courage. Recognising ourselves as creators, acknowledging that mistakes are part of the process and fostering Creativity in our everyday lives brings us to life and connects us to who we are. 

“By replacing the fear of the unknown with curiosity, we open up to an infinite stream of possibility. We can let fear rule our lives, or we can become childlike with curiosity, pushing our boundaries, leaping out of our comfort zones and accepting what life puts before us”, encourages writer and speaker, Alan Watts.

Awareness of these disruptors is step one in supporting Creativity, Curiosity, and Courage in the workplace. Knowing they exist and being able to recognise them when they arise is the first line of defence.

An easy point of entry to explore the ways Creativity manifests in our lives is one of the Collaborative Art® Team Art activities. Being short, snappy and hands-on, they allow team members to tap into their inner creator and gain confidence in their skills to call on it when needed. 

As Plato stated, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”.

For leaders interested in cultivating their teams’ Creativity, our Experiential Learning solutions or interactive keynote speeches can offer a way to exercise their creative thinking muscles.

I would love to hear how your organisation nurtures Creativity, Curiosity and Courage to keep Scepticism, Self-Doubt, Fear of Uncertainty and Procrastination in check. How do you design your work environment to support creation and innovation?

About the Author

Steph Fonteyn is an internationally exhibited artist, corporate facilitator and the founder of Collaborative Art® team building. She ties together the fine threads of creativity, courage and leadership to provide her clients with transformative team-building and workshop experiences. Her mission is to empower professionals worldwide to tap into their inherent creativity to be better leaders and bring about change.

Steph founded Collaborative Art® in 2011 to unite teams around a shared vision through art, and she has developed innovative techniques to unlock both the creative and collaborative potential in teams. With her artistic talent, public speaking skills, HR experience, and team-building expertise, Steph has become a respected figure in creativity, communication, and leadership.

As an award-winning public speaker, she has shared her expertise on creativity and courage at various events, including TEDx in 2015.  

Steph splits her time between creative artwork and supporting companies through creative, collaborative team-building activities. She lives in Switzerland, near Geneva.

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