Creativity Is Child's Play

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What do you do when employees act childish?

Bart Cleveland Bart Cleveland
I suggest you encourage your employees to act like children. I'm not talking about the immature, selfish behavior that we label as childish when adults display it. I'm talking about the freedom and innocent behavior of children who are unspoiled by this jaded world. There is an old saying; "out of the mouth of babes" that has some relevance here. Children speak without hesitation because they speak from an innocent heart. They call it as they see it. Sometimes propriety is compromised at their expense, but that childish innocence brings a fresh perspective. It's worth the embarrassment. I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about how to free everyone in our agency to be more creative in what they do. Originally, I thought that our greatest challenge was finding creative people, but I don't think that's entirely accurate. I've decided our greatest challenge is releasing the creative potential that lies within our current employees. I think I know why it's hard to get people to act like children? It's our parents' fault. They sent us to school.

When we were small children we created without hesitation. We colored outside the lines. We drew trees with pink leaves. When did we lose that freedom? That's right. The first grade. We go to school and we're told to color inside the lines. We are told leaves are green, or yellow, or red, but never ever pink! We are taught to fear our own imagination. We are taught the rules of everything and we are punished if we break those rules. We are ridiculed if we even question the validity of the rules. In a few short years we have been reprogrammed. We are responsible, yet dull, members of society. Have you noticed most adults don't think they are creative? Even if you do, when was the last time you felt you got to express that creativity?

It's easy to gain confidence in your creativity when you're encouraged. When I was young I never felt I had any creative ability as an artist. My younger brother was the artist. He began drawing long before he could walk. I think he put off learning to walk because he was too busy drawing. When I was a junior in high school I took an art class thinking I could get an easy "A" doing paper maché. I made a "C" in that class because I wouldn't do the assignments. All I wanted to do was paint and draw. I learned two lessons in that art class:
  1. If you don't obey the rules you won't get an "A" from the powers that be.
  2. Getting an "A" doesn't have a lot to do with success. Loving what you're doing has everything to do with success. I painted and I loved it. It made me want to create. It was worth getting a "C" to learn that about myself.

I don't think our industry's problem is a shortage of creative people; it's a lack of agencies that empower creativity. I was reading some seminar literature recently that featured Sir Ken Robinson, author of All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education, as a speaker. Sir Ken is an HR guru in England and a leading authority on the need for creativity in all industries. He maintains that creativity is not only the job of "the creatives," but of everyone in a company. Sir Ken asks why aren't more people creative? I would bet his answer is that it's not a lack of talent, but a lack of freedom. We're expected to do paper maché because that's what's always been done. But maybe the lack of creativity in our agency is a lack of responsibility on the part of agencies. Are we making creativity a part of every employees job description? Are we requiring each and every employee to demonstrate, on a timely basis, creative ideas that will push the company and the industry forward? If your receptionist does it, I promise your creative staff will do it and do it better than they've ever done it before. If my small agency requires this of every employee, it's a foregone conclusion that we will produce creative ideas in every discipline of our agency.

So let's say you put creativity in the job description of every employee and nothing happens. What then? There are two reasons that people will not exercise their creativity:
  1. They are not empowered to do so.
  2. They are lazy.

Both reasons are within an agency's ownership to control. Empower your employees. Don't squash radical thinking. Don't squash rule breaking. Reward it. Let it flourish. If you reward it and still don't get much radical thinking or rule breaking, then your employees are just being lazy. Get rid of the lazy ones. Then get ready for some serious problem solving, as well as some crazy leaf coloring.
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