As a dad with two young daughters I am continually in awe whenever I watch them at play. The creativity and imagination that they so easily slip into is something completely unique to kids, and something that becomes increasingly more alien to us as we step into adulthood. Even more amazing is their willingness to invite others in to their world, confident that the invited will not only lean in to this creative play but build on what has already been imagined.
Forgetting How to Play
This view of creative play couldn’t be more different when I work with clients. There is often a very real level of discomfort many adults experience when they are asked to generate and express themselves creatively. Research shows that when you ask a room full of adults if they consider themselves to be creative, on average only half the room will raise their hand. Yet if you were to ask the same group of adults if they consider themselves to be analytical, an overwhelming 80–90% raise their hand.
Why is that?
Creative thinking is all about generating ideas and possibilities, and then putting those things out into the world to be shared and leveraged with others. Many adults link being creative with being artistic. But this is incorrect. Art is simply a mechanism for expressing creative thoughts. Creative thinking is far more encompassing, and focuses more on the imagining of what is possible and the diverging of ideas.
In contrast, critical thinking is all about assessing and analyzing. Where creative thinking focuses on suspending judgement of what’s possible, critical thinking focuses on passing judgement to narrow down on the best way forward. Many people who perceive themselves as lacking creativity just simply lack the confidence to be creative, not the ability.
But here’s a little known secret about creativity. It’s no more or less a skill than playing an instrument, performing a martial art or learning a language. It is a learned ability, and therefore the more you do it the better you get at it.
“Creativity is something you practice, not just a talent you’re born with”
Tom Kelley, Founder IDEO
In a world where we are constantly surrounded by uncertainty and change, being able to analyse problems without being able to create a solution is no longer helpful or meaningful.
We have new age concepts such as Design Thinking, Lean Startup and Agile that are all the rage, and when done properly enable us to uncover real problems and create impactful solutions. However far too often they lead to mediocre and unfulfilling outcomes because of our inability to switch back and forth between generating and refining the information we require.
The key to reducing uncertainty and arriving at the best possible outcome is being able to balance both creative and critical thinking.
Remembering How to Be Fearless
So what is it that happens to us as we move on from childhood and step into adulthood? Why do we lose the creativity that burns so bright in all of us as kids?
The answer is as simple as it is uncomfortable. It is fear. Fear of judgement, fear of rejection, and ultimately fear of failure. It is a fear that doesn’t exist in children because of the inherent difference with which children and adults view failure. To children, failure is simply part of a process to learn new information that will help shape the world around them. The end result of this process is growth, and the more they fail and learn, the more they grow.
Many adults on the other hand view failure as final. It is viewed as direct reflection of their own inadequacy rather than a challenge to overcome. A personal criticism rather than an opportunity to learn and better themselves.
But as with almost all fears this fear is a learned behaviour. And if something is a learned behaviour then it can also be unlearned. The people and organisations that will succeed in the future and truly change the world are the ones that understand this. They are the ones who are fearless and open to change, and ultimately aren’t afraid to channel the inner kid that exists within all of us.
About the author: Josh is Head of Design & Innovation at Hypothesis Consulting, a people focused digital transformation business. By helping clients follow an evidence based approach focused on the end customer, he is able to embed innovation across their business and uncover new opportunities to lead their industry. He is a passionate believer in the power of technology and investment to enable large scale social impact and economic empowerment.