“We all have the capacity to perceive in new ways, to do new things and to feel free to create the future we want to see, rather than feel restricted by the future other people want.”
Marci Segal, Founder, World Creativity and Innovation Day, April 21, now a United Nations International Day of Observance.
Marci Segal began her education in creativity in 1977, attending the International Center for Studies in Creativity in Buffalo, New York. She learned there are no quick fixes to creative thinking; it can be fostered, taught and all of us possess the capacity to think creatively. “When I think about the subject, I see it as a natural process. Each one of us is the result of a creative act,” explains Marci. “We evolved from a combination of genes never combined before, so we have that energy within us. It’s that natural.”
This was a striking opening to a discussion that took us through the evolution of her ideas on creative thinking and ultimately to the founding of the World Creativity and Innovation Day, April 21 (now expanded to a week beginning on Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday, April 15). “People used to say to me, ‘I’m not creative’ or creative thinking was ‘just fluff’,” says Marci. “I received every criticism you can imagine; each strengthened my resolve and fired me up to prove it isn’t necessarily so. We have been taught to be critical thinkers and unfortunately that means we are quick to criticise ideas, closing down their evolution and creating an environment where people are scared to voice their own.”
Everybody is capable of expressing their creativity, and it needs to be nurtured rather than squashed. “Unfortunately there is no magic wand to wave for you to suddenly become creative,” says Marci. “It’s about doing something different, shifting your mindset and embracing ideas.“
For example, when you run an idea generation session in the office, collect many ideas and narrow the list to ones you like. Then encourage people to evaluate the short-listed ideas in this way: say three things they like about an idea, and three things they like about its future potential, even if they hate it. This difference in approach encourages the idea to evolve as new combinations of thinking and perceiving occur. It starts the ball rolling positively. People feel free to discuss other possibilities. From this position you can go forward to work through objections and other obstacles to the idea and discuss ways to strengthen the idea or a derivative.
Marci calls this her ‘Angel’s Advocate’ approach, deliberately inspiring a more positive mindset in workshops. “New ideas need to have a soft place to land,” says Marci. “When people are comfortable and happy in their working environment they tend to share more and allow themselves and their colleagues to think more creatively. There is a positive human engagement dynamic at work here as well. When people hear others say what’s good about their idea and the positive potentials they perceive, they feel as if the listener paid attention to what was said. It’s affirming.”
“In 2001 I saw a banner headline in the Canadian National Post Newspaper that said ‘Canada in Creativity Crisis: Study’,” says Marci. “Well, it angered me and made me think: wouldn’t it be great if people knew how to use their natural ability to generate new ideas, make new decisions, take new actions, achieve new outcomes and welcome imagination and new perspectives? That’s how World Creativity and Innovation Day, April 21 was born and has been its focus ever since. So many said they didn’t have time for creativity – now they did – a calendar date to use it.”
So, what if you are one of those people who believes you don’t have a creative bone in your body? Or what if you are a leader looking to inspire using creativity in problem solving in your team? We asked Marci for advice on how to foster, spark and free creativity and how to use the upcoming World Creativity and Innovation Week, April 15-21 as an opportunity to do something different.
1. Create a corporate challenge
“Challenge your competitors, your suppliers or even your customers, to raise the most money for charity and encourage your employees to come up with new and interesting ways to fund-raise. This is a great way to bring new people together and make new combinations while raising money for a good cause.”
2. Launch creativity awards
“Incorporate awards for creative thinking at corporate awards ceremonies. Who do you know that is especially creative in his or her own way? Or who, through their positive attitude, inspires others to unleash their creativity? Find ways to celebrate them and highlight the value placed in creativity and creative thinking.”
3. Inspire debate
“Practice the fine art of debating without attacking and practice building on ideas. Split a group into pairs and then give them a subject to debate. They must debate the merits of all the attributes that make their particular item the best in the world. It takes discipline and practice. The benefit of this exercise is that each time a positive is found in a differing opinion there is greater opportunity to find new ideas and creative solutions.”
4. Create a new frame of mind
“Invite colleagues to do something different in their daily routine. They could take a completely new way to work: new route, carpool, different time. Or you could take your team somewhere totally new for lunch and invite people you don’t know too well with you. Breaking your routine is a great way to spark new ideas and get your creative energy flowing. Reward different.”
Finally, for any who struggle to get into the right frame of mind to be creative, get in flow and release your creative energy, Marci had this to share: “Recall a time when you felt at your most creative and remember the conditions in place at that time. Find a way to recreate those conditions, or very similar. Pay attention to what works for you to feel free to express new ideas, new decisions, new actions and achieve new outcomes. Remember what happened before, including the emotions you experienced. Also, be aware people express their creative energy uniquely. Some people are great at understanding the challenge, others at having ideas; some people are great on developing solutions and others brilliant at executing. Know where your strengths lie, work with them and partner with others whose strengths are in different areas. Collaboration rocks!”
Find additional ideas to inspire creativity at work and all the information on how to get more involved with World Creativity and Innovation Day, April 21 on the website. To read about how Dropbox is helping teams unleash their creativity, head here.