david burkus

The Myth Buster Recognizing the Creativity in All of Us!

36 I Nonprofit Professional Performance Magazine This is one of the most dangerous statements and biggest myths about creativity. It is dangerous, from a leadership standpoint, to think that only certain people have the ability to generate ideas on demand. People who think they are NOT part of that group discount themselves and their ability to come up with ideas. There is a confirmation bias here: if you think you don’t have it,you won’t.It False Leadership “We don’t have Time for Creativity.” T he idea that people don’t have time for creativity is both laughable and saddening. You don’t have time not to seek creativity. Daily things can assist in this growth. Design boards bring together the things you find appealing, to see how they might intersect in new and valuable ways. For those less visually inclined, there is the “commonplace” book. Before handheld computers and smartphones, many brilliant thinkers kept a book on hand and, when they encountered an idea, a quote, etc., they would write it in the commonplace book. Then when they needed to come up with things, there was a physical book to reference. It doesn’t take much time to increase your creativity with the visuals of a design board or a commonplace book. I use Evernote to dump anything intriguing. Ideas stem from a pre-existing framework, so exposing yourself to new ideas and saving them for future use will provide you with the framework for creativity. False Archetypes “I am not a Creative —They Are.”

I encourage social benefit leaders to examine Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma. This framework that, because we are social benefit organizations we don’t have room for innovation, can be damaging. Too often, we just assume that we should continue the way things are, within the comfort of sameness. Usually people look at new opportunities and believe that it makes more sense to maintain the present course. It usually takes an “upstart” who is ahead of the change curve to examine that niche, engage it, and grow it exponentially. Steve Jobs believed that the best way to move forward was to cannibalize Apple to change for growth. This functions the same way in the nonprofit world (though you have to stay true to your core mission and values). Organizations that play around with new concepts and ideas are more likely to thrive than those that don’t. There is a continuum between being reactive and being planners. Wherever you are, take a small step toward being reactive. There is value in saying, “Here is where we are going, but we are willing to be wrong.” As we progress, if data contradicts our plan, we can modify and change. Peter Sims calls this “little bets.” The far end of the continuum, at planning, is where we place a lot of little bets. As we learn more about what works (and doesn’t) we’ll move farther down the continuum toward the reactive end.This gives people the freedom to be wrong.That fear of being wrong typically stands in the way of a lot of people’s creative abilities. Most ideas don’t come out fully formed.Most great ideas start out terrible, but as you revise and react to feedback, they get better and better. This idea of little bets gives people permission

is also dangerous for those we call “creatives,” because it says, “Never mind your skills and talent and all of the work that you have put in to become as good as you are, it came from a certain ‘genetic code’ or something.” Thus, it undermines the leader, the supposed “non- creatives,” and the supposed “creatives.” Every great groundbreaking innovation stems from the combination of pre-existing ideas. People tend to grow expertise in one deep level area. However, creativity often emerges for those taking a T-shaped path. These individuals are deep in a specific area, but cultivate knowledge and exposure across a wider variety of exposed areas, giving a more diverse and broader perspective to utilize as the raw material for new ideas. It simply involves talking to people you don’t normally talk to, pursuing experiences you don’t normally pursue, reading things you don’t normally read, and learning things that are out of your area of expertise. That isn’t easy, but it is simple. We love doing what we find comforting, which is what we have always done. False Framework “We don’t have Room for Creativity and Innovation. We are a Nonprofit.”

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