Creativity is the most important capacity you can cultivate right now as a leader and as a human being committed to living a more conscious life.
Let’s look at five reasons why creativity must be high on your list of personal development goals.
But first, let’s be clear on one thing: creativity isn’t just art or dance or making things. Everything we do in life is creative if we don’t know how we will do it. Meaning, if it isn’t a clear set of steps we already know, we must use our creativity to navigate the unknown journey from point A to point B. One great example of creativity in action in our everyday lives is in how we navigate relationships in general. We’ve all tried to be in relationship from a place of thinking we know what’s going on with another person and acting accordingly, only to clearly be shown we were wrong — really wrong. In hindsight, we might have wondered how we got it so wrong. But the truth is that we often harbor expectations and judgments about a situation or person without evening realizing we are doing so. It’s these expectations and judgments that cloud the fact we do not know. They are there to help us not feel the discomfort of not knowing.
We exist in an unknown sea with only small islands of surety. Life is truly a creative act.
If we keep this at the forefront of our understanding and develop our capacity for creativity in order to be in the unknown consciously, we will thrive. These are five reasons why.
1. Creativity is essential for health, happiness, and success.
This is one of the five assumptions that Michael Ray and Rochelle Myers started with when they created their course Creativity in Business at the Stanford Graduate School of Business back in 1980. Ray, along with Myers and others, taught the course there for twenty-five years. I’ve been teaching it for fifteen to various groups and organizations. The course has thirty-seven years behind it and continues to be a life-changing course because it is based on a variety of ancient wisdom traditions.
This assumption boldly states that the ongoing expression of one’s creativity — this essential personal resource — is necessary for a healthy, happy, and successful life. Creativity, then, cannot simply be an add-on. I’ll explain why, although it will be slightly esoteric so bear with me.
Creativity is your essential nature. It is the foundation and basis of who you really are. Your nature is creative. The world is a creative place. And I’m not just talking about art. Art is one area of expression, but there are many more.
If you are not expressing your true nature, but rather expressing a false narrative of who you are, then you’re not going to be happy, healthy, nor successful. No one who denies their true nature lives a truly happy life.
You might argue that you don’t have to be completely yourself to be successful. And I might agree if you define success in such a way that doesn’t reflect your own values. But if you live your values and express your creativity, you will absolutely know a success that cannot be taken away from you, that will not leave you as you age or if the love of your life walks out the door tomorrow.
As a facilitator and teacher of Creativity in Business and its many offshoots (such as the work I did with families affected by 9/11 and community members of Newtown, CT directly affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy), I’ve found how coming directly back into relationship with one’s creativity offers a direct-enough reconnection with self to help with the healing process of trauma and deep grief. This reconnection is powerful work.
And this reconnection is powerful in everyday learning situations. Some of the students I’ve taught for the past ten years at Stanford University Continuing Studies have personally thanked me for reconnecting them with their childhood roots — not just the magic and joy of childhood, but also the deep roots of spiritual traditions that honor creativity as a vital, essential aspect of a well-lived life.
Standing on and living from this deeply rooted foundation of self allows for more risk taking, the following of dreams, and vision fulfillment.
2. Creativity enhances relationships — perhaps the most creative area of any human life.
Creativity fosters compassion and collaboration, two important capacities for healthy, happy relationships, whatever kind of relationships they might be. Compassion is one of the organic qualities of our essential nature. And our ability to collaborate comes out of both our creativity and our compassionate, empathetic nature that is at the heart of healthy emotional intelligence.
Your creativity is your essential nature or Essence. Some ancient wisdom traditions such as the Sufi tradition see that Essence has particular qualities that we all possess. They are not unique to one person but rather essential qualities of Essence itself.
What are these qualities?
Compassion, Intuition, Strength, Power, Will, and Joy.
When you express your creativity, your expression is infused with these qualities.
Think about it. If compassion is readily available, then necessary behaviors such as collaboration, trust, mutual support, and resiliency are also then more readily available within relationships, families, teams, and organizations. And with these, relationships can flourish.
Relationships with other human beings require us to be more creative than any other area of life because with relationships we are so clearly dealing with the unknown and it is the unknown that lies at the heart of human interaction. How much more unknown can things get than when that person you love is standing across from you in a state of deep grief or anger or confusion? How do you navigate these relationship challenges in a helpful way? By knowing you are creative and that in any moment you will have what is needed to respond in such a way that supports not only the other person, but also yourself and the relationship itself. This beautiful quality of compassion is available to you, straight from the heart.
3. Creativity (and its essential qualities) is the root source of innovative ideation.
When creativity, collaboration, and healthy relationships are present, then powerful innovative ideation can happen. Yes, you can innovate on your own. But oftentimes, our best innovative ideas come from working together in teams.
When I was a student at Stanford, I took courses in the design department — what eventually became known as the d.school. I remember how so much of our ideation and rapid prototyping was done in teams. And I remember how our professors exemplified great creative leadership. They offered a necessary openness and willingness to students that fostered creativity. You could feel it. Their leading-by-example was just as important as their teachings.
The simple joy I felt creating in that atmosphere taught me a great deal about the joy of creativity. True, it can seem more difficult to find that joy at work when the stakes are high, but this is our work then, isn’t it? To create work cultures where creativity is seen to be the number one capacity necessary for the vision to be met and the work to be done — cultures of joy. Innovative cultures based on creativity, compassion, strength, power, joy and the many other qualities I’ve mentioned are powerful and exciting places to work. Notice, the qualities of power, strength, and will are balanced by joy, compassion, and intuition. We must create cultures of balance, both within ourselves and within our organizations.
4. Trusting our creativity helps us balance the brain, bringing us back toward a natural, organic wholeness.
As a coach, one of the things my clients are looking for, although they might not express it in these words, is a ‘remembered wholeness’. We work together over the months to bring back into conscious awareness those aspects of self that were hidden away because they felt too dangerous to express.
Somewhere within each of us is a state of wholeness that we’ve lost touch with. We are whole. We cannot lose our wholeness. But as we grow up, we learn to put away parts of ourselves that we sense aren’t acceptable. We wall them off and then we believe we don’t even have those parts. But these parts are necessary aspects of who we are. We need them and somewhere we know this. At some point, we begin to sense there’s something out of place — that we’re missing ourselves in some way.
To be able to offer our full capabilities to our work and personal lives, we need the two halves of our brain working together. The right brain is considered to be the source of our creativity. It’s not really this black and white, but we tend to think of it and describe it this way. And often, the left brain, more logical and rational, judges and condemns the right side as not trustable. We basically fear it because we fear its mysterious nature — again, the unknown. But when we consciously move to become more creative by getting to know this capacity within us, we begin to heal this split between our logical self and the creative capacity within. This right here is a powerful, powerful avenue to becoming someone who accomplishes great dreams. When we accept ourselves for who we are, exactly as we are, we soften our judging nature and we are able to move forward with less resistance and difficulty.
5. Creativity is a key capacity in all truly effective leaders.
According to my colleague, Hal Louchheim, one of the most important things a great leader must have the courage to say is, “I don’t know.” Powerful leaders lead us through times of great conflict and unknown without pretending they know. Because of this, they are able to lead people to create brilliant visions that many might have believed were impossible.
When we are in the unknown, creativity is what gives us the confidence to come to know what we don’t yet know. Creativity carries us through this journey. When we don’t know and we admit we don’t know, we open to possibility. If we listen to what is possible and are willing to use tools of creativity, we can bring forth new possibilities that could never come out of our known logical thoughts.
It is creative resiliency and the capacity to engage with and directly relate to the unknown that allows us to bring forth something for the benefit of all. For it is in the unknown that ideas that benefit all of life are discovered. The unknown is life and if we listen to it we discover what life is trying to tell us and asking us to live.
Your creativity IS this deep vast nature within you that opens you to so many of the important qualities of an emotionally agile, compassionately conscious, and joyfully innovative human being.
If you want to be a good leader, be a truly creative leader.
These are five reasons why creativity is the most important capacity to develop right now. What are some others? Feel free to share in the comments.
If you want to know more about how to become a creative leader, connect with me here to schedule a consultation session.
I offer a six-month personal creative journey, using both the Stanford curriculum and powerful one-on-one professional leadership coaching.