By Jane Carroll Andrade
When Amy Climer speaks to groups about creativity, she starts by asking for a show of hands: “How many of you consider yourselves creative?” Usually, about half the people—even in a roomful of artists—raise their hands. That was the case during her talk, “Deliberate Creativity: Three Elements of Innovation,” at the Legislative Summit in Nashville last week during the special Legislative Staff breakfast.
Why do so many doubt their creative prowess? The hesitation comes from a myth that creativity is the ability to draw, Climer says. She went on to dispel that myth and offer attendees tools for cultivating their own creativity.
Climer defines creativity as “novelty that is valuable.” Value transcends economic worth. An idea or product can be emotionally valuable, providing “a better life that is not quantifiable financially.” Creativity with economic gain is “innovation,” although Climer uses the terms interchangeably.
For those who believe creativity is innate, Climer says studies show creativity is about 22% genetic.
“A hard worker can be three times more creative than someone more innately creative,” she says. “Creativity is a skill that can be nurtured and developed like any other skill.”
Climer, who hosts a podcast called “The Deliberate Creative,” says creativity should be nurtured because it is crucial for moving society forward and finding solutions to problems. She cited how Sears Roebuck took advantage of the U.S. Post Office in the early 1900s to send clothes and other consumer goods through the mail to the many Americans living in rural areas. When another innovation—the internet—emerged in the '90s, “Sears was perfectly poised to capitalize on that," she says. "They’d already done it. They could have been Amazon. But they did not. They got complacent.”
The lessons? Creativity is not an option. And you have to be deliberative to be creative.
“We all have an obligation to create,” Climer says. “As legislative staffers, you have an obligation to create.”
Climer told attendees deliberate creatives must practice honing three things:
- Mindset. The main thing blocking creativity is your inner critic. Climer encouraged attendees to first listen to their inner critic, then imagine the mindset they want to embody, and consciously work on fostering that mindset. We all fall victim to our inner critic, she says, quoting another trainer who claims that “an overactive inner critic is the No. 1 mental health problem globally.”
- Skillset. Climer says to get past your inner critic, you must understand the difference between divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is generating many ideas, while convergent thinking is seeking the best one. The problem is that we often skip the divergent step and try to find answers or solve problems too quickly, before exploring all the possibilities. “If you were raised in the U.S., you are an expert at convergent thinking,” Climer says, pointing to school tests that are focused on students finding that one right answer. She suggests taking a lesson from the world of improv comedy. After someone offers and idea, follow it with, “yes, and …,” which is useful when grappling with problems. “Now we’re building on ideas rather than shooting them down.” And don’t engage in both kinds of thinking at the same time. Set up a meeting just to engage in divergent thinking. “Save convergent for later,” she advises. “You have to have both, but you must separate them.”
- Toolset. Climer says listening is a key tool for achieving creativity. When searching for answers, consider borrowing from anthropology’s ethnographic interview technique, in which one immerses oneself in a situation, listening carefully to stakeholders’ points of view. She also recommends a simple idea: Instead of verbally brainstorming, write suggestions down on a Post-it. “Your brain can’t hold all the ideas. It’s important to see them all.”
Climer says the good news is that everyone has the ability to be an “amazing deliberate creative.” But it takes mindfulness. “Creativity is a skill and you have to practice it.”
Jane Carroll Andrade is a program director in NCSL’s Communications Division.