We know that sustainability can promote innovation and push businesses to save money, discover new business models, and identify new products and services. Yet, how do you create a culture of creativity that inspires inspiration in others? According to Cultivating Purpose: Sustainability Innovation and Employee Engagement, three particular qualities can cultivate an internal culture that improves and fosters sustainability innovation:
- Leadership from the top: Leadership sets the tone and helps promote a culture of engagement and innovation;
- Comfort with risk: Allowing employees to take risks contributes to outside-the- box inventions; and
- Cross-collaboration: Collaboration, whether internally, externally, or both, is a key element inspiring innovation.
These tips are more about nurturing innovation at the organizational level, but they don’t directly address the three key blocks to personal creativity: the inner critic; the comparing mind; and overthinking. Below I detail seven additional tips for reclaiming your creative confidence and reconnecting to why caring for the earth is important to you:
- Turn off the inner critic
- Leap and dive into unknown
- Dare to take risks and be willing to fail
- Use nature to inspire
- Make consistent time for creativity
- Gather available resources
- Ask for feedback and conduct a postmortem
If you want to try a fun exercise, check out my worksheet for Reclaiming Your Creative Confidence. I’m available to facilitate this process at your next conference or retreat.
Creativity Tip #1: Turn Off the Inner Critic
According to the classic book Creativity in Business: Based on the Famed Stanford University Course that has Revolutionized the art of Business, “…your creativity has been inhibited by fear, negative personal judgement, and the chattering of your mind.” It continues, “If you lack the confidence to create, you are undoubtedly tuned into the Voice of Judgement that all of us have within.” There are many approaches to destroying judgement and taming your inner critic, but the one I find work best is a mindfulness approach where you pay attention to your thoughts and bring a curiosity to them, without buying into them.
Author and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown in her TED talk Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count suggests an approach for our critic and our own self-doubt–tell it, “I see you, I hear you, but I’m going to do this anyway.” One way to embrace creativity, according to Brown, is to let go of comparison. There is nothing more vulnerable then creativity.
According to UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, mindfulness is one of the key habits of highly creative people. In addition, a recent article in BrainWorld listed meditation as one of five key habits of creative people. Tara Brach, a mindfulness teacher, provides four steps for being less hard on yourself RAIN:
- Recognize what is going on;
- Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
- Investigate with kindness;
- Natural awareness, which comes from not identifying with the experience.
Patrick O’Neill of Extraordinary Conversation’s recent blog post, The Fable of the Harsh Master, talks about the self critic and three remedies for interrupting it: self-love, self-trust, and self-respect.
Below are a few online resources if you are looking for ideas on how to get started with a mindfulness practice:
- Cultivating Conscious Leaders
- Train Your Mind, Improve Your Game: Meditation for the 21st-Century Leader
- Just One Thing
- UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center
Creativity Tip #2: Leap and Dive into the Unknown
This tip gets to the block of overthinking. When I am standing in front of a white canvas, I don’t plan it out, create a sketch, or “think” about it. I follow what ever impulse arises in the moment. What color am I drawn to? What is here right now that wants to be seen? Without overthinking, I dive in.
Creativity in Business: Based on the Famed Stanford University Course that has Revolutionized the art of Business has a chapter titled, “If at First you Don’t Success Surrender,” which quotes a business man saying, “To me, surrender doesn’t mean to quit or give up, but rather to let go of any emotional attachment to the final outcome…My mind is set free and a feeling of expansion prevails…Don’t try, just surrender!”
Don’t overthink it; follow your initial impulse and see where it leads you, without pressure and expectations of creating a masterpiece.
Creativity Tip #3: Dare to Take Risks and be Willing to Fail
Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within us All stresses “…creative geniuses, from artists like Mozart to scientists like Darwin, are quite prolific when it comes to failure–they just don’t let it stop them.” It also highlights how permission to fail and even embracing your failures will promote innovation.
According to 18 Things Highly Creative People do Differently, creative people “take risks” and “fail up”. Part of the risk is being vulnerable to being seen and risking failure. As an artist, I know my best art comes from being willing to “ruin” a piece and push the limits. How often do you let yourself learn from a failure and build upon it? After my first art class, I spent hours on a painting that didn’t do much for me. So the next semester I continued to work on it–a willingness to silence the inner critic and keep going. I ultimately sold the painting that emerged (Emerging Heart). According to Ed Catmull in Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, “If we as leaders can talk about our mistakes and our part in them, them we make it safe for others.”
Creativity Tip #4: Use Nature to Inspire
According to the Greater Good Science Center, nature can make you kinder, happier, and more creative. The more you get away from the stresses of daily life and the more time you spend outdoors, the greater your level of creativity. Being in nature has an impact on our brains and our behavior, helping us to reduce anxiety, brooding, and stress, and increase our attention capacity, creativity, and our ability to connect with other people. While you might not have time to hit the trails for a four-day backpacking adventure, try this one-hour nature-based ‘Sustainability Score’ to spark new insights.
Creativity Tip #5: Make Consistent Time for Creativity
When I committed to a weekly art class and put the time on my calendar, the consistent practice of painting each week amplified my creativity. Brendon Burchard, a motivational speaker, suggests, “Schedule the change.” Consider putting some weekly creative/innovation time on your calendar each week. According to Burchard, if it’s not in your calendar, then you won’t do it. This could look like brainstorming a long list of ideas on how to solve a key problem you are struggling with, clarifying long-term goals, identifying resources you could build upon, taking a walk in nature, listening to music, or brainstorming a list of who you could be collaborating with.
Creativity Tip #6: Gather Available Resources
Get clear on what resources you have available to create with. As a multi-media artist, my palette can range from old wrapping paper to discarded bubble wrap to molding paste and stencils. Invest in new tools–when I finally invested in some large, high-end brushes, my work went in a whole new direction. Part of the creative process is playing with the resources you have and seeing where they take you. Resources can include time, physical materials, other people, ideas, and limitations. Resources as a key component to the creative process developed by Anna and Lawrence Halprin known as the RSVP cycles.
At the spa at Cavallo Point they decided to reuse the plastic laundry bags for guests to use as bags for their wet bathing suits. Based on an employee suggestion, this idea took an existing resource and turned it into a solution that saves the spa money, reduces waste, and makes visitors happy.
Creativity Tip #7: Ask for Feedback
In reviewing the literature on creativity, one common theme is the practice of feedback. In art class, this comes in the form of a critique, which some avoid like the plague. But it can be invaluable to open yourself to feedback. What works? What should be kept? What could go? How may I develop this?
Once a project is complete, the other practice is to conduct a postmortem. In Creativity, Inc. Catmull talks about the postmortem process at Pixar–a process where they explored what did and didn’t work and attempted to consolidate lessons learned. He lists five reasons to do postmortems: consolidate what’s been learned, teach others who weren’t there, don’t let resentments fester, use the schedule to force reflection, and pay it forward.
Here are a few of the best books I can recommend on creativity in business:
- Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
- Creativity in Business: Based on the Famed Stanford University Course that has Revolutionized the art of Business
- Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within us All
TED talks to inspire creativity:
- Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity?
- Tim Brown: Tales of Creativity
- The Power of Vulnerability
- Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones who Count
This article first appeared on the Green Impact website
Deborah Fleischer is President of Green Impact, a strategic environmental consulting practice that helps companies walk the green talk. Green Impact designs campaigns to engage employees and develops sustainability communications that bring successes to life. You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact.