by Andrew S. Cook, Ed.D., PCC, GroupWorks Global Consultant and Coach

Everyone is creative.

Yes, everyone is creative. Creativity is an innate skill each of us is born with. In fact, researcher George Land, PhD, conducted a landmark study in 1968 that showed 98% of preschool-age children possess genius-level creativity. Shockingly, that number dwindles down to 2% by adulthood.

Land reasoned that society – with its systems and their accompanying rules and boundaries – has a way of snuffing out human creativity over time. We tend to laser-focus on results without considering how we got there. Conformity is praised from an early age. Restraint and reserve are highly-valued qualities in social settings. Even our educational system supports curricula with concrete milestones over those whose results are less easily-measured: when cash-strapped schools cut programs, Art is usually the first program on the chopping block.

Perhaps society has it all wrong. A global study conducted by IBM in 2010 identified creativity as the most important attribute in “successfully navigating an increasingly complex world.” And the past two years painted creativity as a veritable superpower. It’s become clear that our very survival depends upon people who are creative – those with the keen ability to devise wildly innovative solutions for new problems.

The Creative Leader

Nowhere is this need for creativity more apparent than in today’s workplace. The fallout from the Great Resignation has intensified competition among businesses for the best and the brightest.

Although we are  “hardwired” from birth, creativity does not emerge easily in adulthood; it needs to be stimulated, appreciated, and, sometimes – retaught. Fortunately, much like relearning a physical skill after an injury, humans can relearn those creative skills they once had in childhood. Savvy leaders are reaching for tools – like books, courses, and coaching – to increase their creativity to help them deliver on the dual responsibility of keeping their teams, and themselves, engaged and thriving.

We are finding the most successful leaders are deliberately supported in using creativity to adapt to change – both at the organizational level and by their leadership coaches. And more organizations are catching on to the fact that leadership coaching – with its on-the-job emphasis on employee learning and development – is one of the most effective tools in retaining talent and in building leadership capacity within the organization.

The Creative Organization

Modern organizations are faced with increasing pressures to innovate in order to remain competitive. Creativity plays an essential role in the organization’s activity and growth. For an organization to excel and thrive in today’s competitive environment, it is incumbent for its leaders to find ways to unleash their employees’ innate creative potential. This could require a shift in the overall culture for companies with a structure that favors focusing on the bottom line -an environment in which decisions are made quickly to meet the needs of customers and shareholders.

Allowing space for divergent thinking is an investment that allows for creativity to flourish – and this often means arriving at better decisions. Arriving at a goal is an iterative process. Creative organizations know to make room for failure – the best idea isn’t always the first one out of the gate. These are the ideas that become building blocks for organizational innovation, change, and competitiveness.

Coaching for Creativity

When coaches begin to understand their own creative strengths and learn to harness them, they are able to enhance their coaching effectiveness by helping clients “unlock,” or open up their way of viewing the world. These coaches are in a prime position to help clients identify and subsequently modify the relationship between the right-brain and left-brain approaches. Most importantly, they can help clients remove creative blocks that get in the way of innovation.

Coaches who have a growth mindset and are committed to learning about their own creativity are able to enhance the experience for their clients far beyond traditional coaching. Rather than relying only on traditional coaching techniques, creative coaches are able to add out-of-the-box tools and skills to help their clients by using tools like role-playing, storytelling, physical activities, improvisation, and visual expression.

It’s clear that coaches who view themselves as creative professionals and know how to leverage those particular strengths have an edge in bringing creativity into the coaching environment. There are free diagnostic tools online, like Reisman’s Diagnostic Creativity Assessment (RDCA), that provide insight and data about a person’s creativity.
RDCA scores participants on the following 11 creativity factors:

  1. Originality (unique and novel)
  2. Fluency (generates many ideas)
  3. Flexibility (generates many categories of ideas)
  4. Elaboration (adds detail)
  5. Tolerance of ambiguity (comfortable with the unknown)
  6. Resistance to premature closure (keeps an open mind)
  7. Convergent thinking (comes to closure, evaluative, critical, logical-thinking)
  8. Divergent thinking (generates many solutions – related to fluency)
  9. Risk-taking (adventuresome)
  10. Intrinsic motivation (inner drive)
  11. Extrinsic motivation (needs reward or reinforcement)

Coaches who know where they score on any of these factors are in a better position to understand their own creativity, and, in turn, to help clients bolster their own. For example – seeing scores that show you are likely to come up with lots of interesting ideas (#1, #2, and #8), but prefer a measure of certainty when implementing them (#5 and #9), gives insight into your perception, predicts how you may be inclined to respond to situations, and helps you leverage your strengths.

Making Room for Creativity
Ideally, everyone could be open to seeing themselves through a creative lens. Even those who find it difficult to get past seeing themselves as less-than-creative can keep creative approaches in their arsenals and can surround themselves with those who have a talent for brainstorming and problem-solving.
The creative mindset allows us to look at situations differently and think, what can we do to solve or improve? Allowing space for creativity gives us permission to experiment with imperfection.
Coaches who see the value in bringing their own creativity to the client relationship help clients tap into their own ability to perceive and access their potential. Perceptions are powerful: a person’s belief in their own creative capacity has a marked influence on their self-image. And the perception that an organization supports creativity has a marked influence on what everyone is able to bring to the table.

Adapted from Cook, Andrew (2017) Examination of executive coaches’ use of creativity in their coaching practice, Doctoral Dissertation, Drexel University