Newsletter Article Header: Let's Make 2014 the Year We Embrace Creativity

2014: The Year of Creativity

December 26th, 2013   |  

Anyone in a creative field will recognize the following pattern:

You’re asked to come up with creative ideas—new and exciting ideas. Thrilled, you assemble your team. Then, you present your ideas to your client or your boss or whoever, and they balk. They start making changes that drag your innovative concepts back to mediocrity. You’re disheartened and you know that this project isn’t going to break any new ground.

The situation seems unfortunate, but you can’t blame the person who’s curbing your creativity. According to several studies, we’re not really all that fond of creative ideas. I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s true. People avoid risk, and creativity is risky. Society also values conformity, because that’s how you get a predictable and cooperative civilization. Creative minds tend to venture beyond the norm, so by making that dangerous idea safe, a person mitigates hazards and increases social capital.

It’s true that we worship creative people who have already proved themselves successful. We respect in retrospect. Innovators like the oft cited Steve Jobs or mad artists like Van Gogh are viewed through the eye of history—but where there are these grand successes, there are more failures, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid when we water down creativity. But why not take a different path?

If we want to embrace creativity in 2014, we need to embrace risk—we need to embrace failure. The willingness to fail, to be vulnerable, is really the seed from which great things come. To highlight this, the well-known TED speaker Brené Brown called TED a failure conference, because everyone who has a story worth telling has built that story from the rubble left after repeated failures.

Don’t be scared. I’m not saying that you’ll inevitably crash and burn, but I’m telling you to get comfortable with risk if you want to do great things. Bigger risks can deliver bigger results.

Creativity doesn’t have to be about complete, unmitigated risk. It’s all a matter of degrees, and you can put strategies in place to limit the chances that everything will explode (figuratively, of course, unless you’re a physicist).

First, early in a project, ask what the goal is and how much you are willing to risk. Get the decision makers on board with a little adventure. Make sure everyone understands what you’re trying to accomplish and what the potential pitfalls are, and make sure everyone is aware that hesitation is a natural response to the inherent risk of doing something creative–they shouldn’t feel bad about it, but they shouldn’t overreact to it either.

Next, have an alternate strategy in place or ensure that your creative solution can be scaled back if things go awry. This way, you’ll be able to implement a safer option quickly if your risky venture goes south.

Keep the risk at an acceptable level for the project at hand. Maybe it’s not a good idea to take a huge gamble while printing an instructional brochure, but creating your corporate conference messaging might be the time to take a small chance in the hope of achieving something new, something better.

Understanding why we hesitate in the face of something new will help you muster the will to keep moving forward. Be brave, be smart, and let this year be the one in which you embrace creativity and all the risk it entails.

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