In times of uncertainty most people naturally become reactive. Faced with unpredictable or constant change they look for certainty and rely on the tried and tested to re-establish some sort of control over events. Many will recognise daily routines of firefighting and reacting to rapidly changing circumstances and demands as the events of the last year have dominated work and personal agendas. But, consciously choosing a creative mindset and embracing uncertainly has proven to be a more effective response for many. Even as the current crisis resolves, new uncertainties will emerge. Switching from a reactive to creative mindset is essential to create agile organisations that can prosper in uncertain times. And leaders must shape these vital creative cultures.
Creativity and creative mindsets are frequently misunderstood in business; its not about artistic endeavour or even coming up with new ideas. As McKinsey describes them in a 2018 white paper;
“Creative, or self-authoring, mind sets are an inside-out way of experiencing the world based on creating our reality through tapping into our authentic selves, our core passion and purpose.”
Instead of being driven by events and always ‘on the back foot’ organisations with a creative mindset seek to author their own destiny. Practical examples can be seen in the way pharmaceutical companies chose not to be defined by assumptions that it takes years to develop a vaccine, but instead lived in the bold declaration that they would deliver one in 12 months.
It’s true that necessity is the mother of invention, but it is a creative mindset that drives that innovation. As businesses begin to plan for an eventual ‘return to normal’ it is imperative that they create or maintain cultures of creativity to underpin the agility essential for success in today’s commercial environment. Paradoxically, the stability, control and predictability that many crave could be the biggest threats to a creative culture. Returning to what has worked in the past, using standardised practices to set targets and reaching for solutions with predictable outcomes are all likely to lead back to reactive mindsets.
Instead, leaders should make bold declarations of what the future will be for them and their companies. This may well mean putting aside the tried and trusted, the predicable and safe; the winning moves that got them where they are today. Instead, they must embrace a world of untidy evolution. Full commitment to living in their chosen future is more important than certainty on how to get there. In fact, certainly can be the death of creativity. Guaranteed results, predictable outcomes and neat project plans constrain the flexibility, flow and fun of fully living in a self-created future.
This is uncomfortable and leaders must show true leadership if teams are going to embrace uncertainly and engage with the messy meandering paths that are the hallmarks of a creative culture. Leaders must acknowledge the skills, experience and ideas of their team and consciously trade authority and control for partnership and collaboration. This ‘letting go’ whilst demonstrating 100% commitment to the declared vision and outcome will not only empower teams but create the context in which a creative culture can flourish.
Creativity is fragile. Leaders cannot impose a creative culture, but they can destroy one. It is easy to slip back into reactive modes, especially under stress. This is as true of leaders as it is of teams. There will be breakdowns and wrong turns – probably more so in a truly creative culture. Negativity, indifference and resignation will all damage commitment to creative approaches, as will fear of failure. Creativity flourishes where teams love what they are doing and have authentic commitment and belief in it. To successfully shape a culture of creativity leaders must constantly tune in not only the wider context of the organisation but listen closely to the little voices of the team. Is there real commitment to the vision? Does it align with personal values and purpose and are they empowered to be fully engaged? If not, what are the creative responses to reimagine a new route to the future?
Most people, and most organisations operate in reactive mindset most of the time. Its natural to reach for known solutions or approaches when we encounter new situations and experiences. As McKinsey says, most organisations are structured to avoid losing; making safe bets and re-using proven approaches to deliver predictable outcomes. Breakthrough behaviours demand creative mindsets – the confidence, audacity and freedom to write your own script. Embracing, practising and living this creativity is more important than ever as organisations of all types seek to recover and reinvent themselves as they emerge from a long period of crisis. Creativity is a conscious choice – take the first step now and reimaging what the ‘New Normal’ can be.
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