At a recent corporate training I held, one of the
participants blurted out “I’m not creative. I can’t do this.” Actually, she
said that no one in her division ever asked her to be creative and it made her
It was a shocking statement, but not surprising.
Let me give some context: The training was primarily to
educate employees and vendors about certain company policies and best
practices. I mixed in a number of design thinking exercises to make the
training more hands-on and collaborative. The last part was key, since the
policies would work best when people from different silos worked together.
The last exercise allowed people to take some leaps, to
improvise and innovate, to create. It was loose enough to allow lots of leeway,
but focused enough to provide direction. The last exercise built on the
previous exercises in a consequential way.
The person in question was, in my mind, creative in her own
right. She had asked good questions during the training. She dealt with people,
often difficult people, all day, so she had to be adept at crooked paths. She
did admit she liked to organize things, a creative talent to be sure.
But to label herself as a non-creative person because no one
at her job asked her to do so is a sad statement. It’s a sad statement about
her state of mind and a sad statement about her enterprise group. What’s most
disappointing is that I don’t think this as uncommon as it sounds.
People in business are busy getting things done. Usually
they are busy doing the things other people tell them to do. The Tellers want
things done quickly. They want them done in the ways they’re used to, rather
than done in the ways that will have the most impact. That last part is
critical: that’s where the creativity comes in.
When we’re so busy doing, we don’t have the license or time
to be creative. There is no constant culture of innovation, failure and
insight. After all, those things could reflect badly on you at review time.
The problem isn’t that the woman doesn’t feel valued for her
ideas. The problem is that her managers have created or accepted that culture.
They’re the ones who need re-programming. And their bosses, and their bosses.
Not being creative reinforces a safe status quo. Since most
businesses would rather have predictability than constant innovation, they
don’t see a problem with this. It’s only when things get tough that they
realize they’re too late to change. Then things get ugly. Over the last 15
years, we’ve seen a lot of this ugliness. Unfortunately, the ones who suffer
the most are people like this woman who’s never been asked to be creative. So
when she looks for a new job, she won’t find many like her old one.
Corporate America, even Small Business America, needs a
mental reset. Competition sucks, but it is, after all, a cornerstone of the
very capitalist model we’ve all embraced. Not being creative is not an option
for the future.