I struggled with being creative when I was younger.
I struggled with being creative when I was younger. Drawing, painting, designing — I found all of it difficult, which is probably why my parents didn’t want to keep any of my art projects from school. One they did keep is a canvas of my life from year 9 — it is ugly (and cringy) to look at, so it lives in the loft where nobody — ever — sees it.
Being ‘creative enough’
I decided to do a GCSE in Resistant Materials (the fancy name exam boards gave to Design and Technology) to try and force myself to be creative. The coursework task was to make a desk tidy (fancy name for a storage unit) to store electricals, devices and stationery.
My first set of sketches looked basically like a chest of drawers or a bedside table. I looked at what everyone else had drawn — one of my friends had drawn a hexagonal desk tidy that would double up as a phone and tablet stand. Another person made one with built-in USB charging ports. Compared to those, my designs looked square, plain and boring.
I told my teacher that I couldn’t think of ideas that were more creative. Once she’d finished cackling (after what felt like 5 whole minutes), she sent me a bunch of links to on-market models and asked whether I would buy them.
Of course I wouldn’t.
They are ugly, ordinary and not practical to use.
I spent the next few weeks drawing, researching, binning, re-drawing, re-researching, re-binning and re-re-drawing tons of designs. To cut a long story short, I finally drew what I thought was ‘creative’ (or at least creative enough to get a GCSE).
It’s a shame I moved school for Sixth Form and the school binned my masterpiece — it might have been useful while working from home for the past 2 years.
Innovators and deliberators
I think every successful team needs two types of people: innovators and deliberators. Innovators come up with new and crazy ways to do things (how do we go from step 1 to 100), but it’s the deliberators that figure out how to hit steps 10, 20, 30 and so on.
When I first started working in 2018, I found that managers and leaders like people who can offer creative and “outside of the box” thinking. People that bring new ideas, a different perspective and a unique solution help companies grow and transform. If you’re creative — your stock will go through the roof.
What about the rest of us, though? I had always thought of myself as relatively unimaginative with ideas — I preferred being the deliberator, offering practical, rational and constraint-focussed solutions. Not the ground-breaking or innovative ideas.
Learning from the biggest and best
It took me another two years to figure out that I could be creative. But only in certain situations.
If you drop me into a meeting spontaneously and ask me to be creative or innovative, I’ll get flustered and struggle. Give me the time to consider the problem and play around with ideas and I’m more likely to innovate. Not exactly rocket science, is it?
Amazon figured this out years ago, and it’s one reason why they are one of the most innovative companies in existence today.
What do you do in your lunch break at work? Read, go to the gym, watch Netflix on your phone? If you were an Amazonian (employed by Amazon) you could go to the Expressions Lab to do needlepoint, painting or even cooking classes — it’s an escape from an Amazon employee’s day-to-day, and a chance to do something different. What happens when they go back to their day job? They approach problems in new ways. The time and space employees got away from their desks or labs mean they see problems differently. Giving Amazonians time to ‘colour outside the lines’ helps Amazon innovate.
Executives also get to attend the Expressions Lab, but often struggle to find the time and space in their workdays. Recognising that executives also need time and space to solve problems, Bezos opens all executive meetings with 15 minutes of silence. These 15 minutes are only for reading meeting materials and writing down any other questions they have. After 15 minutes, they start the discussion. Once again, carving out time and space to understand problems and absorb information helps Amazon executives approach problems in a new way and innovate.
Creating time and space is one way Amazon helps their employees to think creatively. You can read more about the other things Amazon does here.
What is the key to creativity?
So, what is the key to creativity?
Everyone has the potential to be creative — for most of us, it may be easy to be creative on-demand. Some of us may take a bit longer. A few of us may feel more creative or less creative, depending on the day.
I think business leaders need to recognise that creativity doesn’t come naturally to everyone —it certainly doesn’t for me. Team culture and my working environment are critical to my creativity.
And sometimes, simply asking the right questions and giving time can also do the trick— my Design & Technology teacher realised that was all I needed.
Happy New Year.
In Keval’s Corner, I will share three things: a song that I’ve had on repeat; an interesting book/ article/ report that I’ve read; and a question for you to respond to below. This week in Keval’s Corner:
🎵 Listen to this: Wavy — Sal Houdini
🤔 Respond to this: What is one achievement (professional or personal) you’re proud of from 2021?