Creative practice helps get us in the habit of finding new, resourceful ways to solve problems says Tara Browne
Creativity is one of the hottest commodities in the business world today. Harvard Business Review started 2019 with an issue entirely dedicated to the subject of innovation. A February 2019 keyword search on Forbes.com revealed three articles on creativity in that month alone. The creative personalities and output of thought leaders such as Liz Ryan of The Human Workplace and Shiloh Sophia, founder of the Intentional Creativity Movement, are integral to their very successful brands. And in January 2019, CNBC reported that LinkedIn now shows creativity as the number one skillset sought by employers today.
I see this as great news for administrative professionals.
As admins, we start with a FITFO – “Figure-It-the-F*%#-Out” – approach to problem solving that helps us to consistently deliver everything from last minute schedule changes to unicorns on demand. Add to that the broad spectrum of skills that we routinely add to our arsenals as needed – graphic design, copywriting, and event planning, to name a few – and administrative professionals are some of the most creative people I know.
Too many, however, have bought into the idea that if they are not traditionally talented or credentialed in some way, they must not be creative. As an intentional creativity teacher, one of the most common objections I hear when inviting people to a class or workshop is, “I’m not creative. I can’t even draw a straight line.”
In her preface to Mona Brookes’ Drawing for Older Children and Teens, Geraldine Schwartz explains how children, influenced by adult role models, “learn to value language in its oral and written form and to undervalue drawing as child’s play, thus losing a method of communication potentially rich in expression of both thought and emotion. In this way, we set aside the natural human ability to draw.” She continues:
“By the time children are ten, drawing – even for pleasure – is often relegated to the last hour of Friday afternoon, when students and teachers are too tired to do anything else. By high school it is an elective subject, and the only students who get real lessons are those whose pleasure and talent are so outstanding that they have nurtured this ability in themselves by learning to value a skill others have not dared to value. The rest of us, with the voice of judgment shouting in our heart, compare a skill cut off in childhood with those who have spent a lifetime learning to draw and say with childhood innocence, as if it did not matter, “Oh, me – draw?….I can’t even draw a straight line.”
So, let me ask you which of the following images would you say is more creative?
I’m betting that most readers will say it’s the image with the wavy line. Creativity does not particularly live in straight lines, and the inability to draw a straight line does not indicate a lack of creativity. For an admin, it probably just means that someone borrowed your ruler…and hasn’t returned it yet. All of this isn’t to say straight lines can’t be creative, but how much more expressive is the line that goes all over, and even off the edges, of the page?
Yes, You are Creative
The next time you’re tempted to say, “I’m not creative,” cut yourself some slack. The truth is, creativity is like a muscle that has atrophied through lack of use. More and more, creativity is being recognized as a valuable commodity, and you can claim it for yourself. What’s more, you can cultivate it. It absolutely gets stronger with regular use, and as with any exercise, the process makes you stronger whether it’s a gold medal performance or not.
With all the other demands on your time and attention, though, does developing your creativity really make the cut?
Benefits of Increased Creativity
Do a Google search on “benefits of creativity” and you will find a host of predictive search options, such as “in the workplace”, “in the classroom”, and “at work”, followed by endless results of listicles promising five, ten, twelve (or more!) benefits of creativity. Several of my favorites, paraphrased from Nicola Vanlint’s “The Positive Benefits of Creativity“, are:
There is no right or wrong way to be creative.
Self-awareness and self-expression
Creativity deepens access to our own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
We learn to trust our instincts and gain confidence from expressing them, which carries over into other areas of our life.
Being creative is meditative and fun, reduces stress levels and improves our quality of life.
There isn’t a manual for art or for life, we must figure it out as we go; creative practice helps get us in the habit of finding new, resourceful ways to solve problems.
For me, the biggest benefit of creative practice has been increased resilience. Throughout the challenges of my life – from single motherhood, unemployment, and professional stagnation, to dealing with the impacts of illness and addiction in my family – creativity has proven to be a safe outlet for emotions that I could not release elsewhere. Moreover, the act of putting emotions into form creates both physical and mental space so I can look at the problems behind the emotions with greater objectivity. Where I may feel stymied when a logical, left-brained analysis offers no answers, mixing in a right brain perspective can offer new insights, and lead to creative new ways of resolving the problem at hand.
In addition to the personal benefits of my practice, creativity has allowed me to tackle many projects at work that have boosted my professional reputation and led to new opportunities. For example, I have used SharePoint to redesign many reporting tools, saving hundreds of hours in analysis over the course of various projects. At my last job, this led to my being invited to join a high-level administrative improvement team and creating their first-ever training event dedicated to administrative professionals.
Can Creativity AI-rmageddon-Proof Your Career?
Perhaps the biggest career benefit of creativity, though, is increased adaptability in a rapidly changing workplace.
There’s a lot of doom-and-gloom reporting these days about “robots coming for our jobs” and predictions that AI will put vast sections of the labor force out of work, and administrative roles are often listed among the jobs at risk. However, as the Aspen Institute noted in its April 2019 whitepaper Automation and a Changing Economy, innovation has historically led, not to job loss, but to job displacement and growth. The pain point comes because the new jobs rarely if ever align in terms of geography and required skills with the jobs that are lost.
We may not have much control over the geography, but in a rapidly changing workplace the ability to adapt to the new is not just a nice-to-have; creativity and imagination can be the difference-maker between obsolescence and leading the charge.
Perhaps one of the most empowering things we can recognize in this scenario is that we’ve seen much of this before. Most administrative professionals already use processes and checklists to improve accuracy and reduce the time we spend on repetitive tasks, freeing us up for more interesting and challenging work. Cast in this light, the automation of repetitive tasks – one of the main ways that AI is already impacting administrative roles – is just the next evolution of tools that enable us as high-value contributors to our organizations.
The million-dollar question is not “how do I keep my job?”, but “how do I master these tools so I can reach my full potential at work?”
The answer, in part, is creativity.
Think back over your own life. What activities light you up and make time just fly? Whatever it is, do more of it. Consider not just visual arts, dance or music, but also hobbies and skills such as gardening, cooking and inventing: it all counts. Also, consider how creativity might apply at work. Love programming games? Maybe you can help gamify some training. Is storytelling your thing? Learn to turn data into compelling stories for more powerful presentations.
Once you’ve broken the creative ice, look for ways to go deeper. Social media abounds with free resources to help with just about any creative pursuit. Just type your keyword into YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest; any one of these platforms will contain enough content to keep you busy for a lifetime. As you find the ones that resonate with you, you will be led to even more robust offerings that allow you to really invest, dive deep, and reap the rewards of cultivating your creative potential.
Whatever your kind of creativity, though, don’t wait to claim it. Creativity is a competency whose time has come.
Brooks, Mona, Drawing for Older Children and Teens. 1991, Jeremy P Tarcher / Putnam, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc. New York, NY, USA.