Creativity: What an Office Cubical and an Artist Studio Have in Common
Creativity in the workplace.
I remember hearing that phrase for the first time and wondering, how can that be? It seemed a conundrum.
At the time I believed that creativity could only be expressed in the work of artistic people. Creativity was the expression of unique ideas and the workplace was a place to do as one was told—no ideas or uniqueness please. Singers, dancers, painters, and poets were the creative people. They weren’t found in the everyday workplace. Why would they be?
I am happy to report that I have since learned better—and it’s changed my life.
Today I am a jazz singer/songwriter and Saybrook Ph.D. student who has held a “day job” for most of my adult life. My “day job” for the past several years has been in human services, and recently I have come to realize all the ways in which I use the same creative problem-solving approaches in both my human services and artistic work.
In order to improvise a jazz tune, I allow myself to hear and try something new. I come to the work with a well-developed technical facility and courage to trust the resources of the moment. Similarly, as I craft a new solution for a problem of my human services work, I bring skill and courage to bear following the same process.
In 1971, Abraham Maslow described “The creative attitude…as a fusion with the reality being observed…a seeing of formerly hidden truth…a revelation in the strict sense, a stripping away of veils....” Some researchers have identified differences between creativity and innovation, suggesting that creativity is the creation of something new while innovation is the process of putting existing products, process or procedures to new uses or combining them in new ways. I would argue that this is a matter of semantics. Both require what Maslow described as “a seeing of formerly hidden truth” and are the results of human creativity.
Business and society both can only benefit if we celebrate and even participate in fostering the presence and expression of creativity in the workplace. I appreciate that creativity is not only found in people described as artistic and the products they produce but that everyone is in some way creative. And further, that the workplace is no less an environment for the expression of creativity than an artist’s studio. In 1998, Mort Meyerson, former vice chairman of EDS wrote, “Let us create an environment which is good for…people and watch what will happen…[as we]…tap into the experiences, the creativity, and the power of everyone in the organization.”
The good news is that the importance of creativity in the workplace is becomming more widely accepted. A recent special issue of the American Psychological Association journal, Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts was devoted entirely to research studies of creativity in the workplace. In her introductory 2011 article for the journal, Roni Reiter-Palmon wrote, “This recent emergence of interest [in the study of creativity] is a result of the recognition that creativity and innovation are necessary for organizational adaptation and survival. I would add that the opportunity to express our creativity is what keeps us interested in and challenged by work of any kind and that our organizations and our world are better places for it.