Creativity and the Business Brain (and Why Most of Us Should be Sacked)
Your position of responsibility gives you the stress of deadlines, targets and deliverables. The development of your people, your management responsibilities and your career development weigh heavily on you. Continuing professional development, business/ competitor intelligence and your near-term product and service evolution/ development nag away at the peripheries of your to-do list and stress consciousness.
The environment in which you and your business is operating, the competitive threats and the strategic developments that you should be plotting and planning in response seem like things that are always on next week or month’s agenda.
The reality – when you make the time – is that your your day to day responsibilities drown your brain space and creativity. Like digging a hole in the sand on the shoreline, as quickly as you try and dig out the brain space, the sea water of your hard deadlines, actions and targets fills the hole. Even if you adopt a disciplined approach to your time you often get to the allotted slot for your creativity and…….. nothing…… you’re not in a creative place or mindset, nothing flows. Or even if it does, it’s a long time coming and you’re vaguely aware afterwards that there was a lot more to come if only you’d been in the right mindset.
If you’re practiced at being creative, inventive, innovative and lateral then you’ll recognise the mind set you need. You’ll know what state you need to be in to originally produce and generate new thought or ideas. You may only know this hazily through a series of post-event analyses of your most creative moments. Or this may be the first time you’ve really thought about it all that deeply. But hazily is the key, and at the heart of the dichotomy of managing creativity in business (to be clear, I’m not talking here about managing creative teams, but the extension in thinking and reasoning should be fairly obvious by the end of this post)
I’m talking about the things that all humans engaged in a business should be doing to fulfill their reason for being utilised as an asset for that business. I’m being deliberately cold and economic/ shareholdertheoryish about this description deliberately to hold a mirror up to the sub-optimal way most of us operate. What do I mean? If you think of yourself at your best. Your most creative. When you really flew……. the piece of work, at whatever stage of your life, that you produced that when you’ve looked back at it were really impressed. Really impressed with what had fused together and been born inside of you. That process from within that caused this thing in front of you to exist. These words, this idea, the sculpture, painting or design…..
That best of you is arguably what your business (be it yours, or an employee), should be getting out of you. Being frank, your value to any business is the value you deliver to the bottom line. Your utilisation as an asset for that business is arguably one of the sole functions of management. And yet how often do you do that?
You may be thinking at this point either a. But I’m not creative, or b. Why should I give the ‘best of me’ to work (particularly if you’re a disenchanted employee)?
Well here’s the gem. The beautiful thing that nature has enabled in our current evolution: we’re built to do, to create and complete. We’re hard-wired (and arguably it’s the key to our success as a species) to try and get things done. In fact, as David Allen articulates so well in Ready for Anything, and I copied out in my last post: ‘the creative, active, energetic part of me needs something to do, something that it can do and complete – successfully, now’
The reality is that most people in business default to their deadlines and in-boxes as a source of fulfilment. Things are left to the very last…. we love deadlines because they force us to end our procrastination and get on and and do, and then post-deadline we get that nice chemical reward. We love/hate our in-boxes, but spend a lot of time there, because they’re full of little potential completions…… It’s easier to sit in there and get your little hits of successful completions right here, right now. But the point is that we want to successfully complete. We want to create and to do because our brains love the chemicals pumped in as rewards for completion. We’re therefore equally hardwired to give what we default to thinking of as being the best of ourselves at work because we’re addicted to the chemicals. As any job design specialist knows, if you don’t give the opportunities to complete the reward cycle (i.e. production line without targets), you disengage and quickly lose people.
We’re also all creative: whether we think so or not. Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell make a mathematically convincing point of this in their book, Human Givens: ‘We have the ability to think analogically, that is, to think holistically, and to recognise how a pattern metaphorically matches another pattern. But we also have the ability to think logically, to break problems down and analyse them. Our conscious mind’s preferred mode of operation is logical thought while that of our unconscious mind is analogical or ‘association of ideas’, as it is sometimes called. Unconscious thinking, therefore, represents by far the largest piece of brain activity because everything of which we are not immediately conscious is, by definition, unconscious’
Soooo. The point of the point of the point (you can tell I like this subject matter…..):
We go to work or run our businesses by doing and completing things. But because we’re not consciously managing our creativity, we’re pretty much defrauding our employers or ourselves (with our own businesses). We’re spending most of our time in a relatively small, conscious, logical, analytical strip of our brains. The things that we could deliver to the greater good of the business success and the bottom line are like a hidden Egyptian tomb of riches and gold. The current leading business books and articles know that, amongst other things, our way out of any human difficulties comes from within. From harnessing our own creativity. The current scientific management hangovers from the birth of modern business need to be turned on their heads, and the wisdom of the internal crowds (your staff!) unleashed for your future corporate success.
So how do we do it? How do we stop selling ourselves short? Well, it’s taken me this long to state the problem so you can imagine how much I could wax lyrically on the answer. The truth of the matter is that we, and our businesses, are currently structurally defective in this regard. We’re pre-conditioned, as I stated above, to go for the quick win/ sugar rush of the deadlines and the in-box. You didn’t think time management was so difficult for no reason did you?
Corporately, we’ll not be sacked for this ‘norm’ of operation because it’s the same from boardroom to mop bucket operator: it’s all about the doing. The answer to the creativity conundrum is actually quite simple: we have to first give ourselves time to analyse and gather information (we’re fairly good at doing this in business), and then we have to get hazy. We have to accept and admire apparently doing nothing: day dreaming and mind wandering. For this is the way in which we can think holistically; the way we create something by matching previously unmatched patterns in a different way.
Chris Brogan, a ten year veteran of using social media and both web and mobile technologies to build digital relationships, is a master of this. As an example, his post on ‘Communications in a Post Media World’, makes my brain fizz. Look at his post on Rabbit Holes, and you get an insight into some of his ways of creating. Charlie Gilkey of Productive Flourishing writes a great post on Create, Connect, Consume which highlights the clear importance of creating in the balance of things.
So the next time you find yourself staring into space, resist the urge to do. Instead, remember the proven science that you’re adding more value this way (and that you should really get a pay rise…): ‘when people are more aroused, these ‘brainwaves’ are of a higher frequency, and are more random, more ‘desynchronised’. When they are relaxed (but still awake), their brainwaves are slower and more synchronised: the so-called ‘alpha’ and ‘theta’ waves’ (Colin Martindale)