In the years that I’ve been using songwriting as lens through which organizations examine and improve their innovative and creative skills, I’m sometimes asked if there are specific innovations that my programs have produced. My consistent answer is that my work is about encouraging a culture of innovation and creative confidence more than it is about the nuts and bolts of specific innovations. While it’s easy to see the results of successful innovations in the shape of improved products, services and processes, I believe that there are powerful intrinsic benefits to cultures of innovation and creativity that go above and beyond the innovations themselves. I’ve listed a few of these benefits below.

1. Innovation and creativity boost morale

What I have witnessed again and again in my work with organizations is that once people are reconnected with their latent innovative and creative instincts, their morale improves significantly – and immediately. There’s a power in remembering that we all have something new and interesting to contribute. Once belief in our own creativity and ability to innovate is in place, morale follows as a natural result. It should come as no surprise then that I’ve observed a straight light between innovative cultures and workplace satisfaction.

2. Innovation and creativity improve productivity

A second superpower that cultures of innovation and creativity possess is that they’re observably more productive. It’s a relatively simple equation. Innovation and creativity add excitement and engagement to our work and from there it’s a natural progression to working harder and getting more done. When you’ve put something of yourself into the world, the motivation to further your cause is significant. Productivity for its own sake is often a dry and uninspired endeavor but productivity in service of original and creative effort is what gives our work meaning. 

3. Innovation and creativity are self-sustaining

Innovation and creativity can be enhanced not only by culture but also by the physical environment in which they take place. Organizations who prioritize their actual spaces to enhance innovation are, in essence, creating a virtuous circle. The more innovative and creative the space itself, the greater the likelihood that innovative and creative work will be done there. In this way, the culture and workspaces of organizations can reinforce and improve one another.

Conclusion

Looking at innovation and creativity solely as methods to create new products, services and processes discounts the greater benefit to organizations as a whole. When an organization embraces a mindset – and culture – of innovation, the advantages are significantly more powerful and pervasive. Instead of the benefits from a specific innovation created by an “innovation team,” the entire organization’s morale, productivity and even its physical environment improve. All this to say, it’s the big picture of incorporating innovation and creativity into an organization’s culture that is worthy of genuine consideration. 

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity programs for business teams and organizations.

Organizations pride themselves – and rightfully so – on their productivity. Getting more work done in less time is deeply satisfying and often the key to profitability. On top of that, productivity is significantly easier to measure than progress on innovation. All of this makes productivity the tantalizingly easy place to focus an organization’s attention. However, without consistent innovation in the face of a rapidly changing business environment, what’s productive today might not be productive tomorrow. As a result, it is essential to incorporate creative practices into an organization in order to make innovation possible. I’ve spent close to a decade doing just that. While I don’t get into the nuts and bolts of specific innovation projects, I do remind organizations that they are all capable of creativity on a deeply human level which inspires them to keep innovation front and center. Below are a few ways that incorporating creativity inspires organization-wide innovation.

  1. Creative practices translate to the culture

Innovation isn’t just about a select few individuals who have been tapped to create inside of an organizational but, rather, it’s about infusing the innovative spirit company-wide. When I lead organizations through the process of learning to write songs, I’m often working with everyone from the C-Suite down to the front line staff. In this way, no matter what an individual’s role in their particular organization, their ability to create is nurtured and placed front and center. This goes a long way towards reminding everyone that innovation is a part of a company’s DNA.

  1. Creative practices build creative confidence

A funny thing happens when a group of people engage in an activity that proves to them that they are creative. Their confidence in their own creativity increases dramatically. I’ve surveyed multiple songwriting programs across scores of participants both before and after and their creative confidence increased, on average, by a mind-blowing 51%. We’re all creative as children but the emphasis on productivity in the workplace allows our innate creativity to atrophy. However, simple and actionable creative exercises work wonders when it comes to reminding everyone in an organization that they’re truly capable of creativity. This confirmation and the resulting motivation in inspires, again, leads to an organization-wide focus on innovation. 

  1. Creative practices diminish the fear of failure

When I first began leading organizations through my innovation and creativity programs, I significantly underestimated the fear that people in the business world have of appearing foolish in front of their peers. As a lifelong creative, I assumed everyone understood that the good ideas are just on the other side of the failed attempts and bad ideas. Once this concept is understood via a creative practice, the fear of failure lessens significantly. Seeing failure as a part of the creative and innovative process allows organizations to move forward with less hesitation towards new ideas and innovations.

Conclusion

Creativity isn’t solely the domain of a chosen, gifted few. It is our birthright as human beings. Incorporating creative practices into an organization as I do via my songwriting programs or in countless other ways can – and will – inspire countless innovations. With this this kind of upside, why not take a chance and encourage creative practices inside of your entire organization?

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity programs for business teams and organizations.

In the previous two parts of this article, I covered, in-depth, the first two steps teams can take to build their creative confidence. As a reminder those first two steps are:

  1. Rally around a common cause
  2. Leave your comfort zone (a little)

Now, I’ll conclude with one of the open secrets about improving creativity and creative confidence which is the power of collaboration.

Step Three: Collaborate on creative efforts

Collaboration serves as a powerful antidote to resisting creative work. Any creative effort shared across a team – especially a diverse team – will feel not only less intimidating but also more inspired. By combining the perspectives and contributions of all team members in service of a creative goal, the end result is invariably more inclusive and satisfying to all involved.

As a team’s leader, it is critical to make sure that these collaborations take place in an environment of psychological safety. The very best creativity has a significant tolerance for “out there” ideas and contributions that, in and of themselves, might not be the right ones but can lead to surprising and highly effective solutions. In my songwriting collaborations with platinum-selling, GRAMMY-winning artists like Ke$ha, Keb’ Mo’, Lisa Loeb and Grateful Dead Drummer, Mickey Hart,  it is often immediately after a seemingly “out there” suggestion that a lyrical contribution will get us to the heart of our song’s message. By contrast, critiquing a lyric idea (or any idea for that matter) during collaborations can result in shutting down an artist’s willingness to make themselves vulnerable which is the source of the best and most moving ideas. One of my favorite examples is when I sat down to write with Broadway Star, Crystal Monee Hall (Rent), and the first words out of her mouth were, “I’m a little bit tired of singing about love.” Instead of dismissing or even ignoring Crystal’s concerns, I simply suggested we make her exact words the opening line of our song. Collaboration on any creative endeavor whether in the arts or a brainstorming session around a new product or service works best when it honors vulnerability and trust. When the two exist together, the results will undoubtedly bring the participants’ creative confidence to new heights.

Conclusion

I’d like to wrap up this three-part series by restating the definition of creative confidence. Creative confidence is a willingness to accept the temporary uncertainty and chaos that comes with creative exploration due to the belief in your ability to achieve what you set out to do. What team leader in their right mind wouldn’t want their team to be able to handle chaos and uncertainty and to believe in their ability to achieve their goals? Creative confidence is like jet fuel for a team’s motivation and productivity. Even better, building a team’s creative confidence can be broken down into the three steps below:

  1. Rally around a common cause
  2. Leave your comfort zone (a little)
  3. Collaborate on creative efforts

Take it from a creative professional whose been working with business teams for close to a decade and, all modesty aside, can routinely boost a team’s creative confidence by over 50% in the matter of an hour, this stuff really works.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity programs for business teams and organizations.

In part one of this article, I explained the significant business implications of creativity and outlined the three steps teams can take to build their creative confidence. 

As a reminder, the three steps are:

  1. Rally around a common cause
  2. Leave your comfort zone (a little)
  3. Collaborate on creative efforts 

Now let’s dig in with a more in-depth exploration of steps one and two.

Step One: Rally around a common cause

Without a reason to come together and improve a team’s creativity, it’s hard to inspire individual team members to buy in to the idea. This is were rallying around a common cause can be the most helpful. A common cause can be anything from building a culture of innovation, preparing for a future company-wide transformation or any one of an infinite number of big-picture challenges that require a creative mindset. The cause itself is less important than the team’s commitment to whatever cause they choose. 

For example, when I was brought in to work with an airline whose cause was coordinating their disparate teams, they wrote a song using the metaphor of geese flying south for the winter. The song, called “If You’ve Got My Front, I’ve Got Your Back”, helped them add emotion and storytelling to their cause which made the exploration of coordinating their disparate teams much more motivating and memorable.

Finding a common cause for your team requires an awareness of the goals and challenges your team is currently facing. Simply asking your team members what difficulties they’re contending with is a good place to start. Encouraging team members to face these ideas head on begins the process of thinking more creatively about possible solutions. It’s important to note that this approach can be applied by leaders and teams in a variety of ways beyond a songwriting exercise. By thinking laterally about an essential idea or challenge, teams will open up new and previously unexplored ways of thinking. This exploration can take a variety of forms. One approach for thinking laterally that I’d suggest is the haiku. This form of poetry is a particularly good approach for exploring a team’s common cause as its brevity and structure (three lines of five, seven and five syllables respectively) make the creative approach accessible to all. Once a team shows themselves capable of this kind of creativity even in an exercise as simple as writing a little poetry, the boost in creative confidence will naturally follow.

Step Two: Leave your comfort zone (a little)

Creative work, even for professional creatives, can feel daunting so it’s no wonder that teams are resistant to creative work. That being said, part of the magic of creativity is that it unlocks a part of us that only lives outside of our comfort zones. While executives who participate in my songwriting program routinely describe themselves as “not creative,” what they really mean is that they’re unfamiliar with how to access their latent creativity. In response, I break down the songwriting process into its component parts of metaphor, verse and chorus so that it becomes a simple exercise with clearly defined parameters. Once the rules for exploring their creativity are defined, the teams’ initial discomfort disappears. Without exception in the almost a decade of songwriting programs I’ve facilitated, every team succeeds in writing the lyrics to a song and – in spite of their initial hesitation – enthusiastically sings their newly-written song together.

The teams’ resulting exhilaration is the natural consequence of going beyond the boundaries of their typical daily work and comfort zones. While this can feel overwhelming at first, the rewards in the form of an increase in creative confidence are worth a little, carefully-scripted discomfort. Also, once teams realize that they’re capable of small steps outside of their comfort zones, their confidence and motivation will lead to a greater willingness to take calculated risks in the future. If you’re unsure of what constitutes leaving your comfort zone, perhaps consider the haiku approach suggested above . This is a low-stress yet unfamiliar challenge that will nudge your team to use their beginners’ minds. But, really, any challenge that doesn’t allow your team to rely on their existing knowledge or expertise will do the trick.

In the third and final part of this article, I’ll explain how collaboration on creative efforts is an genuinely effective way to build your team’s creative confidence.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity programs for business teams and organizations.

Counterintuitively, I’d like to begin an article about creativity with some hard numbers. In a global poll on creativity, Adobe Systems discovered that companies investing in creativity by increasing their funding in the areas of marketing and design are 78% more likely to see an increase in productivity and 73% more likely to be financially successful. They also discovered that companies who prioritize creativity outperform their peers in market share and revenue growth. In other words, creativity is a core skill that must be developed company-wide because it’s simply good for business.

It’s important to recognize that traditionally creative arenas, like marketing and design, aren’t the only ones that can benefit from an investment in creativity. Even so, many businesses fail to prioritize creativity and, thusly, the creative confidence of their workforce. For those unfamiliar with the term, creative confidence is a willingness to accept the temporary uncertainty and chaos that comes with creative exploration due to the belief in your ability to achieve what you set out to do. The fact that many businesses are resistant to creativity has less to do with its value and more to do with not knowing how or where to begin. 

As a professional songwriter, I have taken my decades of experience in the creative trenches and translated them into a way to develop the creative confidence of leadership teams. This way they can take advantage of the powerful benefits that this creative confidence provides. To that end, I’d like to provide three steps that all teams can take to build the creative confidence of their members.

The three steps are:

  1. Rally around a common cause
  2. Leave your comfort zone (a little)
  3. Collaborate on creative efforts

Also, as a way of measuring the effectiveness of the above three steps to building creative confidence, I conducted my own survey over fifteen songwriting presentations and scores of participants. I had participants rate their creative confidence on a scale of 1-10 both before and after our session and my survey showed that by utilizing the three steps of rallying around a common cause, leaving their comfort zones and collaborating on their creative efforts, the average individual’s creative confidence rose a staggering 51%. The key here is not a songwriting exercise specifically but, rather, the demystification of the creative process so that bright, productive people can gain a deeper understanding of how to incorporate creativity and creative confidence into their daily work.

Stay tuned in parts two and three of this article for an in-depth review and description of the three above-mentioned three steps.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity programs for business teams and organizations.

These days, my job is leading organizations and business teams through the seemingly impossible task of writing and (heaven help us) singing a song in a sixty-minute session. When I first started this work, all I had to go on was my thirty years of experience in the creative trenches and a gut instinct that, given the proper tools, anyone can tap their innate creativity. Nine years later, that gut instinct has proven to be correct. Now, when I’m faced with the familiar “oh, I’m not creative” protest that I hear more often than not, I have good reason to believe that statement is false. Below is my accumulated proof that we’re all creative.

The Definition

I think the first place to start would be to more closely examine your definition of creativity. There’s a common misconception that creativity means you can paint a masterpiece or write a GRAMMY-winning song when, by definition, creativity is simply “the use of imagination or original ideas.” Creativity looks different for each one of us whether it’s reimagining a product or process in your workplace or writing a song. Simply tapping into your innate urge to contribute something new and different to the world, will rekindle the creative fire within. 

The Empirical Evidence

Before leading my first executive team through my songwriting exercise, I – along with the organizers of the event – prepared all kinds of contingency plans for what would happen if the team couldn’t write a song. Not only did that team write a song but so has every single one of the scores of teams and organizations I’ve worked with since then. What this comes down to – and what I love about my work – is the demystification of the creativity. Taking bright people and breaking down the creative process into its component parts for them is my simple and repeatable exercise in unlocking creativity in even the most reticent participants.

The Fear

One of the first things I noticed in my work was that I’d clearly underestimated the fear that people felt once they were told they’d be writing and singing a song. However, I’ve come to realize that this fear does not mean people aren’t creative. If, in fact, creativity was simply impossible, there’d be no fear but rather a shared understanding that nothing was going to happen that day. It’s my contention that the fear I often observe comes from the understanding that we’ll be entering uncharted territory together. That is a very different thing than not being creative. In fact, it shows me that people care deeply about creativity and want to do well when faced with the seemingly daunting challenge. On the positive side, that initial fear also adds to the exhilaration and joy that I see time and again in the participants once they’ve demonstrated their creativity in the tangible form of a finished song.

Conclusion

My mission, such as it is, involves showing bright, motivated people that creativity can be yet another arrow in their respective business quivers. The ability to engage your imagination and bring original ideas to the table is more than a “nice to have” skill. It’s critical to business growth. The good news is that we’re all capable of exactly these kinds of contributions and it is my privilege to contribute to the collective creative confidence of the organization and business world.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

When I started my business around bringing innovation and creativity to organizations, I quickly realized that far different from my perspective around change, obstacles and failure (shaped by over three decades as a professional creative), business teams and organizations saw these three areas very differently. Having not had the benefit of working on their collective creative confidence, organizations tend to value the status quo, older, more established problem-solving methods and they also tend to have an inordinate fear of failure. What I have found, however, is that with just a little nudge in the direction of creativity, perspective on the above challenges can change dramatically for the good.

Change becomes normalized 

There is a belief that the status quo is safe which is not only incorrect but also a dangerous misconception. While it is true that the status quo can be comfortable in the short term, change is, in fact, the natural order of things. There is a long list of failed companies who  denied and/or resisted change in favor of the status quo. By exploring creativity and accepting the accompanying disorder and chaos that is a necessary part of that process, we can accept and normalize change. With that significant shift in mindset, creatively confident people and organizations thrive in an ever-changing business environment.

Obstacles can be approached with new solutions

I’ll start this observation by roughly quoting Abraham Maslow who stated, “if the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.” Obstacles (aka problems) come in a variety of shapes and sizes that don’t lend themselves well to “one-size-fits-all” solutions. Creativity is designed to give those who use it a varied and effective set of tools far beyond Maslow’s hammer. Creative confidence offers a broader range of problem-solving approaches which can make obstacles seem far less daunting.

Failure is not permanent

In creativity, it is understood that failure is an inherent part of the process. Familiarity with failure has multiple benefits. First of all, knowing that failure is necessary for the ultimate success of any endeavor, serves as a powerful reminder that failure to be expected and not feared. Secondly, for the creatively confident, failure isn’t seen as an end but rather a step along the road to innovation. In other words, failure is not permanent. Knowing that this is the case goes a long way towards allowing us to take the kinds of risks that build highly successful businesses.

Conclusion

One of the many magical powers of creative confidence is it’s ability to reframe what might previously have seemed like a negative situation into an opportunity for growth and success. Change, obstacles and failure and just three examples of the above. I’d like to conclude by quoting Tom Kelley, a partner at the world-renowned design firm IDEO. 

At its core, creative confidence is about believing in your ability to create change in the world around you. It is the conviction that you can achieve what you set out to do. We think this self-assurance, this belief in your creative capacity, lies at the heart of innovation.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

Comfort zones are, you guessed it, comfortable. We have all the answers, we know how things are going to go and we like it that way. Who could blame us? The problem is that reality – and growth – doesn’t buy in to the idea of the status quo. In the real world, entropy reigns supreme. A quick definition of entropy is “a lack of order or predictability.” And given that entropy is the natural state of things, thriving in this kind of ambiguity begins with accepting that there are good reasons why ambiguity can lead us to successful outcomes. I’ve listed some reasons below why there is real power in embracing ambiguity.

Ambiguity is the hallmark of creativity

Creativity is all about coming up with new approaches to age-old challenges but creativity is rarely – if ever – a neat and clean process. In order to bring something new into the world whether it’s a song, a product or a business strategy, ambiguity is a necessary part of the process. By accepting that the creative process is going to be messy for a time, we can remove some of the resistance we have to our creative work. Ultimately, by living with and working through the ambiguity, we will arrive at novel solutions which would have remained unattainable had we insisted on coloring inside the lines.

Ambiguity is a necessary precursor to innovation

While ambiguity is a critical part of the innovative process, we can console ourselves with the knowledge that it is only a part of that process. However uncomfortable the ambiguity and chaos inherent in innovation may be, ambiguity isn’t the final destination but rather an essential part of the journey. By taking a longer view of the innovative process, we can come to understand and welcome the ambiguity that can lead to truly dramatic and lasting innovation. Attempting to shortcut the process by either avoiding or minimizing the ambiguous elements will only result in half-baked or ineffective innovations. It is only through accepting ambiguity that we can find our way through to the other side.

Ambiguity leads to breakthrough

Speaking of the other side, breakthrough is the ultimate goal of any effective creative or innovative endeavor. That being said, breakthroughs don’t come cheap. The fee for breakthrough ideas and strategies is the discomfort that comes from swimming around in the “soup” of uncertainty and confusion. However, paying that fee can lead to significant change and success. While it might not feel like it at the beginning of the process, ambiguity is a fee well worth paying.

Conclusion

In my years spent in the creative and innovative trenches, I’ve never found a shortcut that avoids ambiguity. I’d be lying if I told you I don’t still feel a tremor of uncertainty – and even fear – before I lead an organization through the ambiguous process of writing a song about the critical organizational challenge they’re currently facing but my experience tells me that a little bravery in confronting ambiguity goes a long way towards successful and consistent innovation.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

In any organization, collaboration is a key to both improved productivity and heightened creativity. In other words, we all know the importance of effective collaboration but, oddly, it’s not a skill that is singled out for improvement. The assumption is that since the stakes are high and collaboration is known to be helpful, we’ll all collaborate and collaborate well. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Collaboration is based on the bedrock principles of trust, courtesy and support but in the heat of battle these can go out the window to the detriment of everyone involved. When I lead businesses and organizations through the process of learning to write songs, what I emphasize beyond the improved ability to innovate and greater creative confidence is the power of effective collaboration. I’ve listed a few things to remember if your hope is for a positive and productive collaborative experience.

You don’t have to do it alone

In the early days of learning my songwriting craft, I took on far too much responsibility in the co-writing process. Because songwriting was so important to me, I rarely took the time to consider my collaborators’ suggestions. This was a mistake that resulted in lackluster songs and uninspired co-writes. Over time, however, I learned to step back and make room for my co-writers’ suggestions. This worked on multiple levels. First, my co-writers felt valued which immediately improved their enthusiasm and secondly, their contributions were often significantly better that anything I could have come up with on my own. It takes a certain amount of self confidence – and even bravery – to open up your work to others but the rewards are undeniable.

Avoid perfectionism 

There’s nothing that kills momentum on a project more quickly than perfectionism. In songwriting, squeezing too hard on any one line of the lyric can stall out the entire process. I’ve learned that the best approach is to write a “good enough” line and keep moving forward with the understanding that I can always go back later once the song is complete and continue to edit and refine. All this to say, collaborations work best when no one is too precious about any one thing. We all know how important the work is but unless and until we can gain a little momentum, it will be hard to make any significant progress. 

Make sure everyone feels safe (and even expected) to contribute

Remember to keep an eye/ear out for the quiet members of your team. Everyone has different ways of working and if the process isn’t open to any and all contributions you could be missing some of the best. Since it’s rare that any of my business clients knows how to write songs, everyone – no matter what their position in the organization – is on a level playing field and is expected to contribute. What I’ve found is that brilliance can come from the least likely contributors and it’s only because they’ve been given the space – and safety – to speak up that their contributions are heard and add beautifully to the process.

Conclusion 

Collaboration is as much an art as it is a tool for good business. Taking the time to improve your collaborative skillset will pay multiple dividends. Not only will your collaborations be more productive but you’ll also enjoy them a lot more. Even though the projects your team will face are certainly serious work, I’ve found that the best efforts come when everyone is relaxed and enjoying the collaboration. I owe my most significant songwriting achievements to great collaborations and I wish the same for you.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.

It’s been clearly recognized that teams with members from diverse backgrounds and experiences are the most likely to succeed in innovative and creative areas. That being said, this diversity can add a layer of complexity given how important it is for teams to quickly establish a common ground from which to execute. In my close to a decade of working with teams in areas as diverse as banking, computers and biotechnology, I’ve discovered several constants when it comes to bringing teams together as quickly and effectively as possible. 

1. Take them out of their comfort zones

One of the great levelers when it comes to teams made up of members not only from different organizational silos but also from different levels of seniority is to take everyone out of their comfort zones at the same time. When I explain to my teams that over the next hour, they’ll be writing (and singing!) a song, it’s safe to assume that without prior songwriting experience, everyone from the CEO to an administrative assistant will be temporarily at sea. This discomfort, albeit intentionally brief, is designed to make sure that everyone understands that they’re all beginners and working from the same blank slate.

2. Give them an “impossible” project

For almost all of the organizations and teams with whom I work, songwriting is not only “uncomfortable” as I mentioned above but it can also feel practically impossible given the lack of my participants’ musical experience. What this does so beautifully is that it makes it abundantly clear that the team members will have to rely upon each other to get through the project. When I debrief with my workshop participants after the songwriting workshop and ask them what they were most scared of when they heard they’d be writing a song, one of the most common responses I get is that they were afraid they’d have to do it alone. Team members demonstrate a palpable relief when they’re told they’ll be working together. This sets the stage for a fruitful and evenly distributed collaboration.

3. Set a tight deadline

In my experience, one of the most destructive elements to team unity is perfectionism. If even one member is dead set on making things perfect, it can either discourage or silence the remaining team members. By setting a tight deadline to complete their “impossible” task, I don’t leave room for my teams to write a “perfect” song. This allows everyone to feel like they can participate without fear that their answers won’t be perfect as they’ve only got a few minutes to come up with a minimum viable product. I’ve found that this tends to unite the individual members of the team in a way that taking a full day (or even a few hours) would not allow.

Conclusion

Teams are fickle entities. When everything is running smoothly, the results can be significantly greater than the sum of the team’s individual parts. However, teams made up of diverse members have to find a way to gel before they can hope to succeed. Even the most well-intentioned team members will always need a way to find common ground with their peers. Hopefully, by applying the above tips, your team will achieve its full potential.

 

Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.