When we work from the assumption that people are creative, resourceful, and whole, we quickly realize that creativity often gets blocked, perhaps devalued, and even dismissed by many people. Figuring out what blocks it, what prevents it from happening, and what it takes to break through is something we have found it is important to study.
To do that, we've invited a University of Illinois graduate student, Jeff Bogue, to work with us to help uncover what gets in the way of leaders using the best of their creativity. Jeff is completing a Master of Science in Technology Management (MSTM) through the Gies College of Business. At the end of his article here, he asks some questions - I invite you to reach out to chat with him.
Here's what he has to say, enjoy!
Creativity: That thing that, over the course of a decade, I felt slowly slip away, has crept back up on me in what seemed the most unlikely of places.
I believe that everyone is naturally creative and that hurdles pop up along the way that make us feel less so. Think about a time when you had to write something for a class, for work, or for fun, but as soon as you sat down, couldn’t put pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Something gets in the way, and it could be many somethings, but what are they? Despite it all though, you finished writing it. You pushed through the block. Jumped the hurdle. Maybe it was a deadline that did it, or you went for a walk to clear your head, or found inspiration form listening to your favorite album. But you did it.
No matter who you are or what you do for a living, I believe that people are naturally creative, in big and small ways. The easiest place to see this is in children. They play pretend, build pillow forts, and draw whatever comes to their imaginations. I cannot recall a time when I was little where I was in a creative rut. There was no pressure to create, it’s a kid’s natural state. As adults, it’s easy to find creativity on full display in fields typically labeled as “creative,” such as film, music, the arts, and so on. Creativity also plays a key role in scientific breakthroughs and feats of engineering. It’s even visible in more mundane ways. How many doorstops have you improvised out of a shoe or a book, or found clever ways to reach the remote because the couch was just too comfortable to get up from? That’s creativity too.
Growing up, I spent practically every waking moment playing with LEGO and drawing all over school notes, homework assignments, and really any piece of paper I could get my hands on. Art class was always my favorite, with band in close second. I took as many art classes as I could in high school and went on to pursue a degree in Industrial Design. An art degree. Something happened to my creativity along the way though. It was like a campfire slowly burning out to nothing but embers. Nearly four years after finishing my undergrad, I still haven’t worked as a designer, let alone in a “creative” field. I was back at home, living with my parents, with my seemingly useless art degree, working as a café manager, feeling like a waste of space, and even worse, feeling stuck. I tried to work on new projects to keep my design portfolio fresh, but I didn’t have any more energy. My creative drive was completely gone, and if nobody wanted to hire me as a designer, I not only didn’t feel good enough, but also felt like I wasn’t creative anymore. I’d lost a part of myself and didn’t know how to get it back. Then out of nowhere, something started to fan those flames again.
I’m now in the midst of work toward a master’s degree in business, a discipline that I’ve always seen as the antithesis to my passion for art and design. Art and design were always these free flowing, community based, egalitarian endeavors full of creativity. Business, on the other hand, looked, from my vantage point, to be a bureaucratic hierarchy of narrow-minded clones in dull suits, desperately trying to climb the corporate ladder because there was a gold watch after 30 years of sitting in a cubicle. Nothing about that sounded creative to me. Business always asked, “how much money will that make me,” while art always asked, “how will that affect us?” Artists hate corporate suits, and by extension, I wanted nothing to do with business. Then why am I, the proud recipient of an art degree, studying business? If my design education taught me one thing, it that there are multiple sides to every situation. I’m studying business to gain institutional knowledge about the subject in order to not just be an armchair expert, or a misinformed critic. The further along in the program I get, the more frustrated I become with contemporary business practices, but I’m also beginning to see striking parallels between creativity, and success. Keep in mind, this is not simply monetary success, but also individual success, and success that lasts.
Over the next couple of months, I want to discover what the hurdles are that get in the way of us meeting our creative potential. I want to find out how to overcome them, and how to harness that rekindled creativity in order that we might incorporate it into how we move through our lives. I’m going to be looking to some of the most influential minds in the arts, design, science, computing, and yes, even business, and look at the psychological, environmental, and societal aspects that influence creativity. I’m not sure what I will find, but if I know one thing about creativity, it’s that it never happens in a straight line.