There’s a lot of talk about creativity in the professional world. It’s one of the most desired on-the-job skills. Whether it’s being applied to sales or marketing strategies or technological innovation, it’s something that separates top companies from the rest. In this post, we’re going to discuss the importance of practical creativity—as a job skill and a learnable trait.
What Is Practical Creativity, and Why Is It Important?
On its own, the term “creativity” may conjure visions of artists at work—practical creativity channels imagination into a professional, idea-generating, or problem-solving capacity.
It’s especially important in tech, an industry increasingly reliant on machine learning and algorithm development. You see, there’s a human-algorithm shift occurring and, “as machines/algorithms automate once-impossible tasks and replace those that are repetitive and laborious, it is likely that creativity will increasingly become a vital (and, further down the road, measurable) skill of the modern worker.”
So it’s about getting the most out of our uniquely human brains—and our so-far irreplicable skills of imagination, critical thinking, and curiosity. When companies can develop practical creativity within their workforce, they can out-innovate the competition. It’s another competitive lever they can pull.
And for job seekers, the World Economic Forum called creativity “the one skill that will future-proof you for the job market.” In fact, 94% of hiring managers say it’s important to consider creativity when evaluating a job candidate.
So, what does practical creativity look like? Are you picturing an all-hands-on-deck brainstorming session? If so…we need to talk a bit about brainstorming.
“Brainstorming is Dead!” Wait, What?
Over the past few years, there has been growing sentiment that brainstorming is dead. How can that be the case, if creativity is so important?
There are a couple different ways in which brainstorming as we know it tends to fail us. First, social and psychological factors get in the way. These go by a number of names—social loafing, social anxiety, regression to the mean, and production blocking—and wreck well-intentioned exercises meant to produce new and novel ideas. If you’ve done many group projects in your life, you’re familiar with the drawbacks.
Then there’s the dynamic of trying to make one single brainstorming model suitable for the myriad personalities and learning, thinking, and communication styles of the would-be brainstormers. And there are egos involved, and folks coming together, their minds already made up, just insisting on their own inflexible ideas…it can be a mess.
The brainstorming model’s been busted, in other words. How, then, will we (as humans) supply the practical creativity needed to compete and thrive in the modern world? By rethinking creativity.
Another drawback of conventional brainstorming is its typical lack of follow-through. People come together, generate all kinds of ideas…and then disperse. What happens next? Too often, not much of anything. In short, the practicality angle isn’t carried through.
The notion of practical creativity is all about developing creative thinking skills and applying them to innovation and problem solving. It’s about thinking big and trying to see things from new perspectives, to come up with the products and solutions no one else is talking about.
Next, we’re going to pivot, to discuss a few ways you—whether you’re an individual contributor, a seasoned C-level executive, or somewhere in between—can develop your own practical creativity.
Developing the Skills of Practical, Creative Thinking
If you’re feeling at all intimidated by the premise of practical creativity, you’re not alone. In fact, 75% of people acknowledge they're not living up to creative potential. So, how can you flex your creativity and learn more innovative ways of thinking?
Discover Your “Creative” Lane
The first step toward developing your sense of practical creativity is to figure out what your strengths are. There are a number of ways to gain insight into your own creative advantages:
Learn a little about creative thinking styles.
For example, this Harvard Business Review article defines four outcomes-based “orientations” for creative thinking with practical applications:
- Explorer Thinking for generating creative ideas.
- Planner thinking, for designing effective systems.
- Energizer thinking, for mobilizing people into action.
- Connector thinking, for building and strengthening relationships.
Learn more about your own professional strengths.
By identifying your unique strengths, you can leverage your strongest skills and apply them to professional problem solving. Gallup’s CliftonStrengths model helps you self-assess your specific talents, prioritizing those that play the largest role in your professional makeup. These are divided into categories, each of which illuminates different aspects of practical creativity:
- Strategic thinking skills (e.g., analytical, futuristic, strategic) relate to different ways of approaching (and solving) problems.
- Relationship building skills (e.g., adaptability, empathy, individualization) that can help build a framework for better brainstorming and collaboration.
- Influencing skills (e.g., activator, command, maximizer) that relate to roles within a group dynamic—and the ability to bring groups together.
- Executing skills (e.g., belief, consistency, discipline, focus) that identify possibilities and impact how ideas are put into practice.
Find Inspiration for Creative Thinking
There’s an excellent connection of insightful TED Talks on the topic of kickstarting your creativity, including:
- Author Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Your elusive creative genius”
- Global designer and educator David Kelley’s “How to build your creative confidence”
- Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant’s “The surprising habits of creative thinkers”
Make Time for Practice—and Use It
When Google went public in 2004, we learned about the 20% Time” rule. As described by founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page in their IPO letter, “We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google.”
The reasoning behind it? To, in their own words, “empower them to be more creative and innovative.” They point to product features like AdSense and Google News as examples of developments that may not have come to light without the 20% rule. They essentially found a way to operationalize creativity, making it part of the company’s DNA, a stark contrast to the often awkward and unproductive brainstorming sessions on so many of our professional calendars.
The point is that creativity can be learned. It can be developed. There are countless ways to get the creative juices flowing—and endless resources on the web for examples and exercises around practical creativity. But you have to be willing to devote the time (maybe you can’t afford, or fill, 20% right out of the gate), and to be okay with the unstructured nature—and uncertainty—surrounding creative pursuits.
Maybe Entrepreneur’s 5 Psychology-Backed Hacks That Train Your Brain to Be More Innovative will speak to you. If not, maybe Top Universities’ 5 Ways to Improve Your Creative Thinking or Inc.com’s 6 Ways to Boost Your Creative Thinking.
Creative people aren’t just blessed with sudden ideas—they’re always honing their skills, questioning old ways of thinking and doing and looking for new and better ways to replace them with. They get a thrill from playing Devil’s Advocate and from questioning, breaking down, and rebuilding things.
Moser Consulting: Partners in Creative Problem-Solving
At Moser Consulting, we’re passionate about partnering with innovative companies and individuals to help tap into their practical creativity and turn their ideas into business-transforming products, services, and apps.
These days, a lot of innovation is happening in the app industry—people from all over the world developing new solutions for age-old problems. Our application development services can help with research and assessment, strategy, UI/UX, development, usability testing, and more. Learn more about Moser Consulting and our 25 years helping our partners make their mark with practical, creative solutions.