This second theory is a little more compelling to those of us who aren't tortured artists and/or have bills to pay, because it implies that we could be creative again. However, many of us don't need to be re-taught to be creative, we just need to be supported creatively, especially at work. Creativity in the workplace requires context. At work creativity is not a personality trait. It arises out of an ecosystem.
Creative thinkers are not the rare commodities that we tend to make them out to be. If you are running a business and want the innovation, flexibility, and problem-solving power of creativity, you don't necessarily have to hire creative people. You probably already employ them. I define a creative person as someone who has the ability to identify and deeply understand a problem, and then solve that problem by breaking the conventions of the status quo. By this definition, tortured artist or not, all of us can probably think of plenty of individuals we know who are creative.
The best teachers are usually the ones who don't do things "by the book." The same goes for great doctors, entrepreneurs, mail carriers, and even tax accountants. All of them are in a position to know the problem well and, when given enough leeway, can find a successful solution. Even at our frog office in Austin—a veritable shrine to creative thinking—one of most creative staff members is the receptionist, Elena, who is an intensely skilled problem-solver. The fact that these professions may be overlooked as creative is in part because only certain fields are labeled "creative" (design and advertising, for example) and others aren't. This is a symptom of the larger problem, and a dangerous notion if we are relying on creativity to bolster the business world.
So what can you do? First, find the clever, original thinkers who want to do things a little differently and then give them the tools and the rules they need to do just that. Here are some tips for finding the creative people who already work with you:
- Creative people are empathic. In design we formalize this through design research, but in other fields you might find that the people who are always thinking of the human point of view (either of your customers or your other employees) are very creative.
- Creative people ask for help. Creative problem-solving requires collaboration and the understanding that solutions will emerge while working with a team rather than alone in a cubicle. Creativity rarely thrives in an environment where colleagues are pitted against one another.
Creative people ask questions (and question the status quo). Some of the most creative folks you already employ could be the ones who have been pestering you about making a change in the way you are currently working. Listen to them.
- They might be hiding. Remember that the creative people in your organization might not be the current top performers. If your culture doesn't support them, they might be feeling stifled or underappreciated.