There are plenty of common traits shared by people from every walk of life, working at all levels, in each part of the world – for example, all of us eat, breathe, sleep and have imagination.
But until that imagination is applied to something, can we all honestly say that we’re creative? And what exactly is creativity? A philosophy? A work of art? Essentially, creativity is both of those things, but it can be simplified into just two intrinsically linked processes – thinking and producing.
The Oxford Dictionary definition of creativity is: “The use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.” And, compelling research suggests that if you want to ensure you’re destined for a prosperous and rewarding career in the future, you should find a way to nurture your creativity as soon as possible.
As technology infiltrates our world of work further and further, it is our innate, human skills, such as our creativity, which will hold the highest value. According to a report from the McKinsey Global Institute, the demand for higher cognitive skills, including creativity, will rise almost 10% by 2030. Personally, I think the rate of demand will rise much faster, and higher from what I see in the world of work today.
Human creativity is immune to automation. If you really think about it, this is a human skill which cannot be borrowed, replicated or programmed by a machine. Instead, it must be identified, employed and positioned in an environment where it will thrive. This invaluable skill will become essential for problem solving, strategising, and generating the ideas that will drive businesses forward. But is a degree of creativity important in every role, regardless of its core professional focus?
Near the turn of this century, American economist and sociologist Richard Florida published his much-debated thesis ‘The Rise of the Creative Class’. He had recognised that a ‘super creative core’ of workers was transforming certain industries and, that in order for businesses and communities to fully realise the power of this skill, it needed to be surrounded by everything it required to thrive.
Over the following years, the ‘Creative Class strategy’ was adopted as a business model, as progressive businesses sought to tap into this exciting and rare resource. However, much of the criticism that followed was based on where Florida believed creativity would thrive – the creative industries alone. Work that involved high tech, innovation and occupations within the arts and cultural industries was highly lauded – but what about everyone else? I’m talking about the software or web developer, who solves problems all day long, or the accountant, who can look at figures in way that helps businesses maximise the efficiency of their revenue? Customer-facing people, too, work and communicate creatively – simultaneously – in unpredictable environments.
Well, although Florida may have missed a creative trick there, you may have already noticed how employers are reacting, across many sectors. The job title of ‘Chief Innovation Officer’, for instance, has become more prominent as businesses seek new ways of inspiring their workforce. Creativity actually makes businesses more competitive, therefore individual creativity is an asset that no business can be without.
While Florida’s thesis remains controversial to this day, there is one thing he wrote that has never been questioned – creativity is essential, and it is everywhere. Another PhD, Balder Onarheim, firmly believes that “creativity is not just about art. It lies at the heart of innovation, thus it is not a superficial skill, but a necessity for human survival.”
And what do we do to survive? Alongside eating, drinking, sleeping and breathing, we make decisions. We come up with solutions to social and financial problems. And, of course, we do all this in the workplace, too – making it a fundamental quality of our skillset, whether we currently utilise it, or not.
Interestingly, Onarheim acknowledged a fact that many people forget as they grow older – that we are all born creative. Remember the last time you saw a child play with a toy, or even an inanimate object – turning it into something else entirely, using only their mind? How many times have we all seen that child take an empty cardboard box and often play with it for longer than the toy that came in it? All of us start life with this creative mindset of curiosity, a brain full of questions, and a passion for problem solving.
However, this naturally diminishes as we enter education and then graduate into work. Regular, routine practices can utterly stifle the continued development of creative thinking, which in turn, damages creative decision making and problem solving.
Ultimately, instead of learning to become more creative as we age, we excel at forgetting just how creative we naturally are. But it doesn’t need to be this way for everyone, forever. You can begin, right now, by looking at the way you work, and asking yourself “what could I do differently, today?”
And with creativity set to become the ultimate commodity for businesses over the next decade, here are several ways you can put yourself in the ideal position to build on your natural creativity and use it to your advantage in your career.
1. Feed your brain by disconnecting
Did you know that you’re more likely to have your brightest and best ideas when your mind is elsewhere? And this doesn’t mean while focusing on a spreadsheet at work. It’s those simple, everyday tasks like taking a shower, going for a walk or allowing your mind to wander into a thoughtless – but ultimately thoughtful – daydream that can be the perfect way to discover inspiration. This is a concept Manoush Zomorodi explains brilliantly in her Ted Talk.
Similarly (and this really takes us back to childhood creativity), play – both in and out of work – can be crucial. Simple games like ping-pong or squash have us problem-solving and strategising at high speed, while most of us also carry one device that excels at quickly slowing our creativity.
When it comes to your smartphone, you shouldn’t be afraid to switch off your notifications (as Bruce Daisley, EMEA VP at Twitter recommends in his recent podcast), check your emails only at specific times of the day, and turn it off completely a good hour before you sleep. By getting into a routine of not using your phone, you’ll quickly become more productive when you are using it for work emails, document sharing, and planning your day. These periods of short, digital detoxes will also allow your mind the space to start to think more creatively, as explained in this Entrepreneur article.
Lastly, think back to the last really good dream you had. Could you imagine coming up with such an exciting and immersive adventure? Well, you did, and you weren’t even awake at the time. The link between good sleep and creativity is already well established, hence the term ‘sleep on it’, and the link between smartphones and poor sleep is also widely recognised by professionals.
2. From a deep sleep, undertake deep work
Deep work is the ability to work consistently on a demanding task, using complete focus and free from distraction. When performed regularly, deep work is a big boost to creativity, as you spend longer periods of time thinking about one item of work, or one problem.
You might think you already do this, but distractions come in many forms. For instance, did you know that the average person checks their email more than 70 times every day, and switches between tasks on their computer an incredible 566 times?! Plus, if you haven’t rested properly, you’re much more likely to give in to those hundreds of distractions as your mind wanders in a way that’s only ever detrimental to creativity.
3. Change longstanding habits and routines, inside and outside of work
If you’ve been in your current role for a relatively long period of time, you may have found yourself in a bit of a rut, and this stagnation will naturally be hampering your ability to think creatively. As Priscilla Claman says in Harvard Business Review piece, “The first few months on any job can be exhausting as well as exciting, so people naturally set their work lives into a groove after a while. In time, that groove can turn into a rut. And people in a rut can develop habits that kill off their own creativity.”
Now is the time to take a step back and think about those longstanding habits and routines which may be negatively impacting your creativity. Is there any part of your working day, or in fact, the way you do things in general which could be changed for the better? Could you be more proactive in sharing your knowledge and ideas with others? Could your workspace do with a refresh? Does the way you conduct meetings need a rethink? Take a step back and look at a typical working day for you: how can you mix things up and thus allow your mind to become more creative? Question everything and every process, and you’ll soon start to feel yourself becoming more engaged, inquisitive and more innovative.
And this advice doesn’t just apply to inside of the office. There are changes you can make outside of the office which will positively impact your creativity. For instance, when was the last time you listened to a podcast, or attended an industry event? When was the last time you made a conscious effort to meet new people, try new things, and reflect on what you’ve done? Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone will automatically push your creativity.
So, I’ve come to the end of my blog. I hope I’ve highlighted for you that being creative isn’t just important for those who have stereotypically ‘creative’ jobs. Far from it. It’s important for all of us, no matter what we do. And, in order to secure our long-term career success, it’s important we recognise this, and take proactive steps to embrace and build on the natural creativity we’re all born with – before it slips away.
Karen is a Director and recruiting expert at Hays Accountancy & Finance. She provides strategic leadership to a team of 400 accountancy and finance recruitment professionals across 100 UK offices. With 20 years of finance recruitment experience, Karen has a track record of recruiting top finance talent for businesses across a range of industry sectors, and is a trusted industry voice on career planning and market insights.
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