You Have Creative DNA, How Do You Live It Out?
In business, we often undervalue the power of creativity and those who make it possible
We all have creative DNA. It’s the instinct and capacity for ideas that exist outside the status quo, the confines of our environment or industry, or even historical ‘best practices.’ We all have it. For some of us, exercising it is natural. For others, tapping into it takes a courageous act. Regardless of how you feel about putting it to work, your creative DNA is an essential part of your capacity for innovation. Whether micro or macro, progress doesn’t happen without new thinking.
The problem is, creativity is rarely viewed or embraced properly, particularly in the business environment. There’s a long-held misperception that creativity lives exclusively in the realm of the arts. That presumption believes that, even if it has a place in a corporate environment, creative DNA dwells in a very specific realm — like the marketing department or among those whose job it is to lead brainstorming sessions. That belief not only limits innovation, but it also can limit the business.
The Historical Domain of Creativity and the Real Domain of Creativity
The immediate correlation between creativity and the arts is deeply ingrained. We even label certain sectors, like film or music, and the artists, musicians, and directors who lead them as “creative” industries. While the portrayal is accurate for those professions, it is also limiting. Creativity is holistic and creative thinkers have a place in every organization. Neglecting to embrace that wider definition puts the organization at risk of missing out on important ideas and the ability to produce new things.
If creativity is actually about how we engage the imagination and new thinking to create processes that bring new things into reality, it’s as applicable to the business world or our personal life as it is to entertainment or the arts. As a leader, tapping into your own creative abilities and bringing them out in others could very well be vital to your organizational health and business success.
A Marvel of Creative Output
Jon Favreau is a well-established and celebrated actor, writer, producer, and director. Much of the Marvel franchise has developed under his leadership. Most people would agree that alone would qualify him as creative and innovative. I agree but would argue that what also makes him stand out as one of the best contemporary creatives is how he has adopted technologies to bring the Mandalorian to life. He had to figure out how to deliver the big screen, epic expectations of the Star Wars franchise in a TV series format with less budget and less production time. His innovative, creative approach to embracing technology to solve problems showcases his creative DNA as much as his admirable abilities to write, act, and direct.
One thing that Favreau shows so clearly is that exercising creative DNA in (any) business is as much about the approach, problem-solving, and creating a productive culture as it is about idea generation. The innovation process is so much bigger than a brainstorming session (particularly because many of them are done poorly and without any truly creative perspectives). Don’t get me wrong. Brainstorms and idea generation sessions are essential. I’m just saying that creativity is not limited to these activities. To me, it’s far more critical to have leaders who are willing to approach problems creatively.
This is why it’s so important we develop STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math) talent. Including the arts brings a dimension to these creators that is capable of producing so much more value than we can produce with technology and science talent alone. The benefit and power of this holistic creativity training are seen in the rapidly growing gaming industry. Years ago, Todd Harris (then COO of Hi-Rez Studios), walked me through the studio to see how a game is made. We toured the development environment, which was rich with artists and designers who made amazing visuals to tell stories that were engaging and deep. None of their work was possible without the technologists who, in many cases, were just as innovative and creative. They had to be to make the stories come to life within the constraints of networks and systems for millions of users. The creative magic happened when it all came together.
Seeing Ourselves as Creative
Many times, when I interview people for roles in my organizations or in my work showcasing innovative leaders (and sometimes just for conversation), I will ask them to rate their creative DNA on a scale of 1–10, with 1 being analytical or process-driven and 10 being highly creative. The truth is that the question is a bit of a trick because it’s absolutely possible to be simultaneously analytical and process-driven AND creative. The question really is about perception.
I asked my good friend Jeff Hilimire that question during one of our podcasts recently. Jeff is an entrepreneur and author. Those who know him will tell you that he constantly is buzzing from idea to idea with great “creative energy,” sparking new ideas and activity on what he touches. Nonetheless, he responded to the self-ranking saying that he perceives himself as more process-driven and pragmatic than creative. The reality is he is both. He likes process and organization, and he leads an organization that prides itself on being sought after by the world’s best companies for their creative problem-solving. Creativity and ideas are literally written into the culture of his agency. It’s how they innovate and grow, and how they help their clients to innovate and grow.
Jeff isn’t unique in this disconnected perspective. I see it with many of the leaders who come through the Disruptor Studio. Some, like chef Ford Fry, you would expect to be creative. (And he is.) Others, like Atlanta United president Darren Eales (who has a law degree), may surprise you with how they embrace the creative culture and act as a catalyst for creative thinking for his organization.
I think that so many of us get our own sense of our creative potential wrong because we have a mistaken orientation of what being creative means, especially in business. To help people see that creativity can take many forms and that treating yourself like a creative thinker is part of your capacity for creativity, I think of creative capability in business in a few basic categories:
- Curators are the bridge between creativity and the realities of business. They are akin to movie producers. Their most important role is to make the space for creativity and to connect it to business strategy and growth.
- Provocateurs are productive disruptors whose job it is to chart new ground. They think differently and push boundaries. This is a challenging role that is critical for innovation.
- Artists and Designers are the creatives who are labeled as ‘creatives’ and unfortunately often undervalued outside their work as writers, designers, graphic artists, etc. They may be seen as ‘business adjacent,’ but their thinking is essential.
I am a curator of stories and ideas and a provocateur who enjoys being a catalyst for disruptive thinking. I can make strategic connections that may be unlikely but create creative and innovative perspectives. I am not an artist but I tremendously value creative work. If we were making a movie, I would be a producer who dips into writing and directing. It’s how I help to inspire new thinking while giving others the room to create.
Whichever category you identify with, the important thing is to harness the power of your creative DNA is essential to drive change, transformation, and growth.
Do you see yourself in one of these categories? Is it as obvious? Or is it more subtle? Perhaps you’ve never thought of yourself as someone who creatively solves problems. Start by looking at where creativity shows up in your work.
Across my career journey through corporate, entrepreneurial, and civic organizations, I’ve seen that real creativity is about connecting disparate threads to make something new. It’s about having the courage to put your creative DNA to work to solve problems differently and get beyond norms and being vulnerable enough to know that it might not work and that others need to be included and involved.
What is your creative power?