“The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more of our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work” – William James, Philosopher and Psychologist
Businesses succeed when new ideas are created. Innovative products and creative marketing strategies have vaulted companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft to the forefront of today’s global marketplace. As a result of this, creativity in the workplace is valued more than ever before. In fact, a recent study completed by IBM of 1,500 CEOs from more than 60 countries found that creativity was the most important leadership quality.
Creativity is a huge asset in the business world, but often the creative ethos runs afoul of traditional business structures. Without discipline, creativity can run wild, decrease productivity, and negatively impact teamwork. Harnessing creativity into systematic routines that direct creative minds towards a specific end is vital.
We all have seen the image of the creative thinker slumped over his desk working by lamplight in the wee-hours of the morning. This can be the result when creativity is not paired with discipline and purpose. So how can we merge creative thinking with problem-solution structures that serve productivity and success?
While creativity and discipline may seem like polar opposites to most, in reality, a creative mind can't achieve its full potential without the principles of discipline and structure.
Embrace Ambition, But Encourage Commitment
Creativity often goes hand in hand with ambition. Creative people readily accept challenges in areas outside their own expertise, hoping to push themselves to new heights. Because of this, creative workers are a real benefit to a company. Sometimes an unfamiliar and fresh set of eyes can provide a unique perspective and innovative solutions, whether you're looking at a marketing campaign or a new product design.
Unfocused ambition can present a dark side, however. Without discipline, ambition can cause creative minds to either step too far outside of the box or to undertake too many tasks. Creativity applied without direction or to the wrong sort of task quickly depletes itself and ceases to become valuable. Todd Henry, author and founder of Accidental Creative, explains, “If you make too many agreements with yourself you will eventually fail to keep some of them. This has a snowball effect on your confidence and energy for your work.” Discipline in its most simple form means making an agreement with yourself and then committing to keeping that agreement.
For creative minds, discipline means managing agreements effectively. Creative people often are excited by ideas that either “wow” immediately or present a serious challenge. They infuse their work with energy and exhilaration. Setting clear goals and meeting them one at a time allows creatives to expend that energy where it counts. Discussing the creative mindset, Henry explains that working on too many projects at once “robs resources from other potentially valuable work and begins the downward cycle of frustration and confusion.” Structure can be a challenge for the creative brain, but it protects and focuses creativity in a very valuable way.
Develop and Emphasize Routine
To ensure that your most creative minds are working towards a given end or result, encourage them to structure their time and work towards clear, stated goals. Often times, great creatives lack a clear direction of where they are going with their work and projects. They can work for hours, days, or even weeks completing certain projects but have no clear END to justify the MEANS. Routine and discipline are needed for creativity to thrive. Creating a set schedule and working on some form of a routine helps creatives to understand the beginning and the end in more manageable forms and focus their talents to achieve them.
Some of the greatest creative minds in history all believed in a disciplined routine. Beethoven sat down every day at daybreak, regardless of season, and composed until 3:00pm. Franz Kafka started writing at 11:30pm each night, and Mark Twain awoke at 5:30 am, ate breakfast, and wrote until 5:00 pm. Stephen King once wrote,
“The purpose of the repetitive model of working is to induce creativity, just as you go to bed at about the same time every day to induce sleep, you will show up at your desk at the same time every day to induce great creative work. Once a habit is formed, your mind will be conditioned to ‘dream creatively’, leading to much greater results compared to showing up for work hap-hazardously.”
Work Smarter, Not Harder
Discipline means understanding the next steps of your work. The best way to do this is to create problem-solution type assignments for your best creative minds. Henry explains this problem-based model saying,
“The key is to get very clear about next steps, and to center your work around clear problem statements so that you understand what you’re accountable for. Clarity trumps certainty, always.”
Creative minds often work best in short bursts as well. Setting both a work goal and a time goal is a great way to jumpstart creativity and also encourage productivity. As Eric Wahl explains in The Art of Vision, “You must understand that you have a limited time to use your creativity, and this realization makes you much more productive and much more skilled.”
As creativity and innovation become the make-or-break component of the success of a company or product, corporate procedures are evolving to support creative workers. By creating an environment where your most creative minds focus their work on defined, time-specific goals, you free them to do their best work and provide the greatest value to their team as well.
Do you have any strategies for encouraging creativity? Let us know your thoughts by tweeting @eidsonpartners.