Creativity: is it really only for artists?

By: Eva Szekeres, MA, PCC

“The things we fear most in organizations – fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances – are the primary sources of creativity.”    -Margaret J. Wheatley

Most people tend to think creativity is only for artists. But when we think about how to approach a problem – we all need to use our creativity, otherwise we keep repeating the same things and bumping into the same obstacles. If we want to come up with something new, we need to cultivate and tap into our creative vein.

Some of the most creative and successful companies like Pixar are teaching us useful practices for fostering a creative and innovative environment in organizations.  For example, they give their “creatives” a lot of freedom to make their own decisions. They also create a safe environment for them to share unfinished works with peers, who can give them candid feedback which they are free to take or not.  They reflect and analyze on previous projects, what went well what went wrong, and draw valuable leanings to prevent future risks on their next projects.


“You can’t just give someone a creativity injection. You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and the get the best out of them.”  – Ken Robinson


Some of the suggestions that you might consider when you would like to generate creative ideas in your organization:

Empower your people to be creative. 

Give them control over every stage of idea development when working on a new project.

You can assemble cross-company teams to generate new ideas. Your responsibility as a manager is to find the right people who can work effectively together and form a team which can function in a healthy way together. Help them to solve problems.


Create a peer culture.

Encourage people throughout your company to help each other produce their best work. Establish practices which make it safe and natural to share unfinished ideas so people don’t feel threatened or embarrassed to share something incomplete. People bounce ideas off of each other and hearing those sparks can raise the stake for others. Communication among peers makes it very inspiring and this atmosphere makes people even more creative.

Free up communication.

One of the most important things in promoting a creative environment is freeing up the channels of communication.  When we are dealing with a complex project, the most efficient way to deal with problems is to trust people that they can address difficulty directly, without involving their manager or asking permission.  As a manager, you have to be comfortable with the fact that you are not always the first to know about something, or walk into a meeting and hear something new and be surprised. It takes a lot of trust in your team and willingness to take risks, but it also empowers people and increases their engagement in the project.

Craft a learning environment.

Creativity cannot be without learning and taking some risk. You need to reinforce a mindset that we are all constantly learning, and it is not only okay but also fun. At “Pixar University” they train people in multiple skills, and offer different courses so people from different disciplines can interact and appreciate what each other does and what they can learn from each other.

Get more out of post-mortems.

Most people don’t like to look back and analyze what went well and what went wrong after a project has been finished. We tend to move on and jump right into the next one. However we can learn enormous amount from reflecting and analyzing.  It can be as easy as: list the top five things that you would do again and the top five you would rather not do.  If you look at the positives and the negatives, it creates a safe environment to explore the different aspects of the project. Participants can bring in lots of data about how often they had to redo something for instance, which stimulates discussion and challenges assumptions based only on subjective impressions.

You might also want to reconsider the ways you are giving feedback, if you want to generate more creativity around a project, as feedback can easily deter people from being creative.

Withholding criticism is a good way to start; not judging ideas too early.  Keep in mind that Creative Feedback is not Performance Feedback. The core difference is that creative work is about producing something new where job performance is about achieving known goals. It is very different when you are trying to achieve an existing standard and you know what you are being measured against. When you are trying to create something new or unique, it is impossible to suggest what it should look like in advance.  Try to create a conversation instead of a top-down direction. You need to shift your assumptions about who has the power and who has the expertise. Creative feedback has to be rather fun, safe, with lots of possible directions to pursue. Both sides need to develop ideas through tremendous amount of questions and answers. It can feel difficult or uncomfortable compared to a usual well-structured performance feedback session. You need to explore and expand your idea space.

“The organizations of the future will increasingly depend on the creativity of their members to survive. Great Groups offer a new model in which the leader is an equal among Titans. In a truly creative collaboration, work is pleasure, and the only rules and procedures are those that advance the common cause.” – Warren Bennis





To work with Eva to explore ways to bring creativity and innovation to your workplace, contact her for a complimentary consult.