Upping Your Elvis

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By Jim Lusty, Partner, Upping Your Elvis

Anyone who says they are not creative is lying - to themselves as much as to those around them. Being human makes us innately creative. Nurturing that creative spirit has become more crucial than ever. Soon it will be one of the few things that separates us from machines.

One reason we may not feel as creative as artists, writers or inventors, or even our own selves when we were children, is that many of us have spent years suppressing our creativity in favour of logic and reason. We’ve done this to get ahead in the world of work where rationality and data are seen as key to the bottom line and prized over everything else. Instinct has been subsumed by data and reason.

Big data is propelling the business world into the future and helping us to learn more about ourselves and the world around us. But we are in danger of relying too much on data to run our businesses and our lives. To put our true genius to work we should use our gut instinct on projects and decisions. This means not relying upon research, numbers, data and facts but valuing the things that can’t be counted or put on a spreadsheet. Albert Einstein allegedly had a sign outside his office which read “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.”

For creativity to prosper in the workplace, people must be given the opportunity and encouragement to play around with projects or ideas safe in the knowledge that there is no wrong answer. Steve Jobs described creativity as “just connecting things”. He said: “When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things." Time away from the daily habitual work routine helps colleagues make those connections and dismiss their inner editors.

Innovation in the workplace works best when it is within a relaxing, fun environment. We spend 99,117 hours of our lifetime at work yet only six minutes a day laughing, according to one study. Richard Branson has been quoted as saying: “More than any other element, fun is the secret to Virgin’s success”.

If we begin to associate tackling a project or answering a brief with play, the process will feel easier and more natural. It gives us space to connect with our true selves. Cambridge University recently hired a professor of Lego to research the introduction of play in education, development and learning. Play is recognised as a valuable tool for stimulating creative and innovative thinking.

We, at Upping Your Elvis, conducted a survey recently asking people whereabouts they had their best ideas. In bed, in the shower, walking in nature and travelling were some of the most common places – all relaxing environments away from the distraction of screens and our busy lives. Rarely do we have a ‘light bulb’ moment sitting at our desks.

Our conscious processing accounts for just 4% to 15% of our overall thinking, which makes our subconscious (or intuition) the most powerful source of creative stimulus available to us. Making problem solving and idea generation an enjoyable and different experience gives people the chance to relax, really be themselves at work and feel safe enough to be playful and lost. When we are in a relaxed state, free of distraction, we have access to our subconscious. And that’s when the breakthrough moments happen.

Encourage colleagues to interact outside the group dynamic, try out new disciplines, bring their side projects and hobbies to work with them, or play sports together. You could inspire them with a spontaneous gesture of goodwill, or mix up those mundane meetings - anything that disassociates their habitual behavior, boosts their energy and sharpens their focus.

It’s a well documented fact that people are wired to enjoy change and surprise (of the positive variety obviously). A good surprise jolts people awake, intensifies emotions (by about 400% according to some studies) and energises everyone involved.

A little thought about how you can surprise, excite and inspire the people you work with is always time well spent.

Jim Lusty is a partner at Upping Your Elvis, specialists in Creative Leadership www.uppingyourelvis.com @jimlusty