Innovation and creativity are often assumed to be the domain of a gifted few who are endowed with a natural ability that the rest of us don’t have. However, I’ve made a career out of proving to myself (and now others) that we’re all creative and capable of innovation. Since I’m often my own my test case, I thought I’d mention a few of the mistakes I made around creativity – which apply equally to innovation – when I was starting out. My hope is that by explaining how these errors trip us up, I can remove a few of the obstacles that prevent all of us from exploring and developing our ability to innovate and create.
1. Waiting for inspiration
I’m going to begin this section with one of my favorite quotes by mega-successful author, Stephen King. “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” This was absolutely my mistake in my early songwriting efforts. The conditions had to be just right and then the heavens would have to open up and THEN I’d start writing a song. This was just fine when I wasn’t trying to make a living as a songwriter but the moment I realized that hoping I’d be inspired wasn’t exactly a business plan, I changed my approach. I had to learn ways to go out and get inspiration so that I could create consistently. For example, I’d write down an idea for a song title every morning so I’d never be starting with a blank page. Making your own inspiration is all about small, actionable steps.
2. Trying to make things perfect
When you’re truly invested in the creative process, there’s a natural tendency to want to make things exactly right. I used to agonize over single words in a song to the point where I would bring my creative process almost to a standstill. I believe this comes from the best of intentions. After all, if you genuinely care about your work, why wouldn’t you want it to be perfect. The irony is that the harder you try to make something perfect, the worse it generally becomes. Innovation and creativity require a willingness to live with chaos, confusion and even failure before the good stuff presents itself. If you’re constantly trying to perfect what you’re doing instead of placing the emphasis on moving forward and gaining momentum, you’ll find yourself frustrated, stuck or even worse, giving up. Be easy on yourself in the early stages of innovation and save your perfectionism for later. I love the quote that has been falsely attributed to everyone from Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald to James Joyce. “Write drunk, edit sober.”
3. Thinking you should do it alone
The image that often comes to mind when we think of innovation and creativity is the lone genius toiling away in their laboratory but, in my experience, this is what scares many of us away from attempting to innovate in the first place. One of the great joys in my career has been the long list of amazing collaborators with whom I’ve been able to create and innovate. The reality is that innovation and creativity are much more likely to be team-based than an individual effort. Collaboration is about playing to each others’ strengths and diversity of experiences to come up with novel and useful ideas that we could not have created alone. I resisted collaboration early in my career which not only made the creative process harder but also made my songs decidedly less inspired. Once I realized the power of a great co-writer, my songs and career improved dramatically. This is not to say that alone time to ideate isn’t valuable but I’ve found my best ideas and had my greatest successes via collaboration.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard the phrase “I’m not creative” from members of high-performing business teams and organizations and, yet, given the proper direction each of these participants ends up undeniably demonstrating their innate ability to innovate and create. Part of the reason is that I’m there to help them navigate – based on my own experience – the unfamiliar terrain fraught with the mistakes above, however, the simple awareness of these mistakes is a good first step towards getting out of our own way on the road to innovation and creativity.
Find out more about Cliff’s innovation & creativity workshops for business teams and organizations.