Creativity: The Intersection of Observation & Independence
We typically associate creativity with people whose talents manifest in easily recognizable and consumable ways. Artists, musicians, dancers, chefs, children and athletes are commonly referred to as creative. There are others whose creativity is just as relevant, even if it’s not as readily apparent or observable. Teachers, scientists, leaders and volunteers are in this group.
One of the primary differences between these two groups is kind of creativity they exhibit. In the first group, the discernible creativity is usually an output or result (i.e. the what). A painting, drawing, song, dance, meal, imaginary friend or a play on the athletic field. In the second group, creativity exists more in the process than in the end itself (i.e. the how). A teaching technique, a scientific research method, a leadership style or a process efficiency.
Regardless of whether it’s demonstrated as a ‘what’ or a ‘how’, creativity is valuable. Sometimes it’s innate, and sometimes it’s learned. For some people it flows easily and for others it’s a challenge to unleash. Creativity is an essential part of society and its forward progress. In business, creativity is what drives innovation, strategic differentiation and performance.
What is the Creativity Intersection?
Creativity is the intersection of observation and independence (see Intersection 15 image below). When commenting on creativity we frequently say something simple like, “That’s creative.” In my experience, the sentiment accompanying that statement can be admiration, surprise or envy, all in the vein of, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
I believe creativity starts with observation because it requires perspective. Observation sparks ideas. From there, a creative person finds ways to let the proverbial juices flow, either in the same direction as what they’ve observed or in a completely new direction.
When the result of creativity is an improvement on something that already exists (i.e. a product, process, recipe, sports play), observation becomes an important prerequisite. Without observation, the person wouldn’t know what did or didn’t work well previously. Observation is an accelerant for creativity.
Similarly, in situations where the output of creativity is something completely new, it’s most likely that the person observed a gap. Something was missing, which was only known because of observation. Opportunity comes from observation.
Intersection 15: Creativity = Observation + Independence
Creatives are traditionally thought of as independent thinkers. This is because creativity, by its nature, assumes distinctiveness and differentiation. In business, creativity is the outcome of independent thinking applied to observation when it comes to innovation.
Independence, in this context, has an element of limitlessness to it. Anything is possible, and pushing that boundary is encouraged and valued. On the flipside, dependent thinking feels constraining and limited. This isn’t to say that creativity can’t happen in groups, where there tends to be more dependence on others, rather that it shouldn’t be forced. Creativity in a group setting occurs when individuals have the freedom to apply their own independent thinking to the group’s opportunity.
Independence strengthens creativity in terms of genuineness and possibility.
What Can Leaders Do?
Leaders should look for ways promote creativity and not squelch it. Given its impact on innovation, differentiation and performance, creativity likely plays a key role in any successful organization. Recognition that there are times when creativity may not be in the best interest of the team, project or company is also important.
The best leaders create a balanced environment in which creativity is fostered while work gets done and progress is made.
Wrap Up & Up Next
One of the most significant contributions individuals bring to an organization or team is their creativity. It draws on each person’s own unique experience and their ability to apply observation and independence to a given opportunity.
Next time we’ll examine the 16th intersection of performance, which is the Execution Intersection.
In this series of articles, we explore The Intersections of Performance, of which there are 30. The Intersections of Performance framework is based on the experience and insights of Brett Simpson, Managing Director of Elevate Simply, over his 20+ years of leadership in large and small organizations, and as an entrepreneur, advisor and investor.