Creativity in Leadership: the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, and to create meaningful ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc. “Innovation is the result of creativity untethered by conformity.” – ICAN 2015
We recently began a blog series on critical leadership skills as shared with us at the 2015 ICAN Conference. The 2,300+ conference participants redefined the role of leadership and learned four key traits that leaders will need to carry companies into the future and serve their ever-changing workforce. Creativity being one of them.
Creativity  is a critical leadership skill because if we don’t harness new ideas then we’ll stagnate. In order to achieve creative change we have to disrupt the status quo. We have to do things differently and break free from business as usual.
To help us get in the mindset of redefining traditionally held beliefs, graffiti artist Erik Wahl  gave the opening keynote presentation on the critical skill of creativity in, well, what can only be described as a creative way! He stripped off his jacket, threw on some upbeat music, and gabbed a handful of paint. To my amazement, after about 5 minutes what began as blobs of color on a canvas was transformed into a beautiful portrait of the Statue of Liberty.
Erik then asked the group who could draw, and out of 2,300 people perhaps only 10 raised their hands. Erik then asked us to imagine asking the same question to a pre-school class. Just envision a group of kids with their arms stretched as far as they can go, jumping up and down saying, “Me! I can draw! Let me show you!!!!”
What happened to that passion? “Creativity,” Erik says, “is a practice. The more you tap your imagination, the more natural it becomes.” Our challenge as leaders- or really anyone- is to retain our passion for creativity. We have to look for ways to be disruptive of our day-to-day. We must re-think what things are and see them for what they could be. Do not settle for accepting that the way things are is the way things should always be.
How do you tap into your creativity and inner-passion? Drawing, traveling, experiencing new things- these are all ways that a person can break out of their comfort zone and tap into their creative side.
Another way is to use Crayola crayons. Erik shared with us a study from Yale University  that showed crayons were in the top 20 most recognized smells of the adult experience. They can help us to unleash our passion by mentally triggering a time when we were less bound by rules and expectations, a time when we were only inhibited by the boundaries of our imagination. Erik believes in the power of crayons so much that he bans pens in all of the strategic planning sessions that he leads, and instead provides all participants with a package of crayons.
Perhaps the most important part of Erik’s presentation, to me, had nothing to do with how to tap into my creative side. He touched on the importance of balance in teams! Erik said that while creativity is absolutely critical, so is the need for being analytical, logical, and systemized. The best case scenario is to partner both styles of thinking. To take a whole brain approach. Because when you do so, you’re setting yourself up for a more productive and successful initiative.
Organizations are made up of diverse people with preferences for different types of thinking. Some people will have a natural love for the creative process. They have a preference for Conceptual thinking; they’ll bring great big-picture, visionary energy to your team. But remember that a Conceptual preference does not equal creativity. Each one of us has the ability to be creative , and we are all creative in different (but equally valuable) ways. So be sure to include all thinking styles when setting up your team.
And no matter our thinking preference, we all find ourselves in a creative rut now and again. When that happens- take out your box of crayons and tap into your inner-child! According to Erik, “Thinking like a kid” will help you to see the world from a new perspective.