Why you need to worry about creativity

It constantly amazes me how short-sighted some leaders are. I’ll tell you what I think.

Last week I was booked by the CEO of an organization that wants me to highlight their annual conference in October. The topic of the introductory topic is Production under pressure. After we agreed on the details for the main program, I asked him, “What do you have on the agenda to help your team think more creatively?” (I have a great hands-on session on this topic that I thought might fit well.)

“Oh, we don’t need any of that creativity,” he said. “We don’t really do creative work. Besides, I don’t want my people wearing clown noses to work and sit on chairs with sacks.”

Wow.

This CEO – a very successful man – equates “creative thinking” with “wearing clown noses to work”. That’s sad. But it is even sadder that this is not an unusual reaction. Many leaders see “creative thinking” as just another “soft” disposable skill.

This, despite the fact that:

  • Tesla Model S is the result of “creative thinking”

  • Hershey almond bar is the result of “creative thinking”

  • Double-entry bookkeeping is the result of “creative thinking”

  • The iPhone is the result of “creative thinking”

  • Agriculture (and its by-product, civilization) was the result of “creative thinking”.

I’m pretty sure neither Elon Musk, Milton Hershey, Amatino Manucci, Steve Jobs, or Thog Thogson wore clown noses (though Musk and Jobs may have been sitting on baggy chairs). (Also, while I can’t prove that the guy who invented agriculture was called Thog Thogson, you can’t prove that he – or she – wasn’t.)

The simple fact is that everything that has ever made a profit for any company in history is the result of creative thinking.

Soft skill? I think creative thinking is the main skill!

And when there is pressure – when there are serious consequences on the line – you want people around you who can think creatively. Why?

Because things don’t always go the way they should. You’ve heard the saying about “best set plans,” have you?

When things are not going well, especially when the outcome is important, you want – no, you need – options. And, just like the iPhone and Hershey bar, the options are the result of “creative thinking”.

But listen, don’t take my word for it. Rent a copy of Apollo 13 and watch that scene in which engineers in Houston had to improvise the interface of a carbon dioxide purification device to keep astronauts alive. The success of that mission (sorry – spoiler warning!) Is what happens when pressure and creativity intersect.

There is no industry, organization, or team on earth (or in space) that cannot benefit from creativity.

And there is no leader on earth (or in space) who should not care about creativity.