Myths of Creativity: Un-Learning Limiting Beliefs

All innovation starts with creativity, says author, speaker, and thought leader David Burkus. Burkus shares two of the biggest myths seen in organizations regarding creativity.

Transcript

David Burkus: [00:05] Pretty much all innovation starts with creativity. Simply put, if you ask a bunch of different researchers for a definition of creativity, well, truthfully, you'll probably get 11 different definitions. Some of them will have footnotes even.

[00:26] I like to think of it as creativity is the process we use to generate novel and useful ideas. Ideas that are new or new to that area and ideas that have some level of value to solve a problem. Innovation then is how we take that idea and actually apply it.

[00:40] How we get it to be applicable in the marketplace or how we scale it inside of an organization. Creativity is the start and innovation is how we get it applied. Two of the biggest myths we see in organizations that the first is what I call the lone creator myth.

[00:54] This idea that creativity is just the result of an individual creative person or that we should hire specific for creativity and entrust that person. Or sometimes that department or that group of people. When in reality, creativity is everyone's job and creativity is a team sport.

[01:08] It takes groups of people working together from diverse perspectives, different knowledge, skills and abilities, different trainings and backgrounds. It takes a group of them working through a process to come up with the most innovative ideas.

[01:19] That actually leads to the second big myth that we see in organizations, which is what I call the cohesive myth. We have this idea that creativity should always be fun, that it should be playful, that it looks like free food and casual every day. In reality, it takes a lot of friction. It takes a lot of different ideas bouncing off each other.

[01:37] Anytime you get a diverse group of people together to try and find one solution, you're going to get friction. The best teams harness that friction, do it in a way that's respectable and use it to push their idea forward. Creativity is a team sport but it's also a full contact sport.

[01:52] In an organizational setting I think one of the biggest things that limits people's creative potential, it's another myth. I actually call it the mousetrap myth. A lot of organizational leaders think that they have the ability to recognize great ideas. They think if you build a better mousetrap, the world will be the path to your door.

[02:07] In reality, every single one of us has a bias against ideas that divert from the status quo. Ideas that are new, that take us into uncharted territory. When especially a leader reacts to one of their people submitting a new idea that shapes the social environment of the organization.

[02:20] However they react, that affects whether or not new people come to them with more ideas. What I coach a lot of leaders to say is, instead of saying yes or no to an idea, when it's presented to you from a subordinate, say what would have to be true for that idea to work and encourage that person to test it on their own.

[02:38] If they come back and they find out that all of those assumptions that are underneath the idea really are true, then it's probably safe to test. Then even if they don't. If they find that they made an assumption that turned out to not be true, you didn't judge their idea. You didn't shoot them down too early.

[02:51] You helped shape a social environment, where ideas are welcome but we are going to test them fiercely before we invest in them. In an education setting, especially in a business setting, the way to encourage students to be creative is actually to ease off and allow them to express their natural creativity. Right?

[03:07] I like to think that no one's ever met an uncreative toddler. Over time as we go through the education system, we're gradually taught that there's one right answer. What that does is it doesn't let people flex their divergent thinking muscle. It doesn't let them explore lots of different possibilities.

[03:22] Unfortunately, especially in business education, we take the same approach. There are definitely certain fields where we need you to work the spreadsheet just right, we need you to work the formula just right. There are other situations, projects and ways that people can come up with a lot of different versions of a right answer that would allow people to express that creativity.

[03:40] I actually don't think you learn creativity. I think you unlearn all of the junk that a lot of people who are trying to tell you there's one right answer. Throw at you over 15, 20, 30 years of your education and your career.

[03:52] I think it's up to business educators if we're looking to make our students more creative and more innovative, to give them a safe space to let that muscle be redeveloped.


Filmed September 2019 at AACSB's Global Accreditation Conference in San Antonio, Texas, USA.