“… But I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”

Gina Zoia | Content Director and Curator

Discover how to foster creativity and innovation in your leadership role with ELEVEN's programs. Read on for valuable insights.

This isn’t an uncommon reaction when a situation requiring creativity is posed.  It may seem creativity comes more ‘naturally’ to some, but it isn’t the sole remit of a few. We all have the capacity to ‘create creativity’ when we understand a little more of how it works.

I’m not sure anyone knows what they’re looking for until they find it.

Kiera Cass, The Heir

When we’re problem solving, particularly as adults, we’re drawing on a wealth of information from experience, otherwise known as working memory. Our brain assesses the problem in front of us and draws on the relevant neural pathways, which contain the encoded historical information needed to solve it.

Think about what you did yesterday. If you cooked a meal, chances are your brain went into recall mode to access the relevant information needed to cook your ‘MasterChef’ dish. What about future planning? If you think about what you’re going to cook tomorrow, your brain will still go into recall mode, utilising the well-worn neural pathways to help you plan. Therefore, most of our thinking is often a reorganization of existing pathways.

Cut to the revered chef and restaurateur Massimo Bottura, author of ‘Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef’ and chef patron of Osteria Francescana, a Michelin 3-star restaurant and number one on the world’s 50 best restaurants list for 2018.  A number of his signature dishes are described using the emotion they evoke rather than the ingredients they use. ‘Oops, I Dropped The Lemon Tart’ is a metaphor for Southern Italy; “keep space open for poetry in your everyday life with which you can jump in and imagine everything.”

Bottura uses a simple technique to help his team think differently. At any given moment, he’ll walk into the restaurant kitchen and ask the team to create a dish based on a work of art. Anything from Lou Reed’s, ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ to graffiti he has seen on his way to work. This method isn’t particularly unique, but it creates the conditions for his team’s thinking to wander beyond their ‘known knowns’.

I am a collection of oddities, a circus of neurons and electrons: my soul is the trapeze artist and the world is my audience.

David Arnold, Mosquitoland

Why do leaders need to create the conditions for creative thinking to occur? Have you ever come up with a great idea while showering, going for a walk, or participating in your favourite hobby? Chances are dopamine, a neurotransmitter and crucial for forging new neural connections, has been released in greater quantities. This makes you feel happier, focused and more energised. Conversely, cortisol and other ‘stress’ hormones have been suppressed. When the dopamine state is in play, the brain cements new connections more easily, stress is low and the brain is free to play, creating a larger and richer network from which to draw on.

How does Bottura’s leadership in creativity do that?

  • He encourages a shift in perspective
  • He fires up the imagination
  • He creates safety for experimentation
  • He signals that it’s ok to be playful
  • He has created an accessible method his team can use for themselves without his prompting

Bottura’s approach conveys how leaders can role model different ways their teams can embrace creativity. They may require a structure or framework to encourage them initially. However, practised regularly, it will become habit for them to switch into creative thinking without prompt.

Unfortunately, conditions that stifle creativity are all too familiar.

Working under threat – unreasonable expectations and workload, dismissal of ideas, and fear of experimentation keep the brain in anti-creativity mode.

Cynicism – people who’ve ventured into the vulnerability that creativity requires may have had negative experiences and now only strive for self-protection. 

Analysis paralysis – this can stifle spring boarding and connection-making vital to the process of creativity.  

This is why knowing how to create conditions for teams to invent and innovate while minimising threat responses is an important leadership skill.

At the still point, there the dance is.

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

In both of ELEVEN’s Executive Leadership and Future Leaders programs, we create a space for our leaders to explore the ‘still point’, so their own insights and creative thinking can emerge. Experiencing this ‘still point’ gives our cohorts a chance to appreciate what type of environment they want to create for the type of expansive thinking they want to encourage within the people around them. 

How will you create the conditions for creativity to flourish in your world?

Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it yet.

Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Creativity is one of the attributes that’s explored in ELEVEN’s world-class Executive Leadership and Future Leaders programs.

If this blog post has made you curious about how you can be better at being a creative leader and at creating a safe space for your people to do the same, contact us here.