By Mike Wagner
David has invited me to be a guest blogger. Thanks, Dave for this opportunity and your encouragement. You can learn a bit more about me at www.OwnYourBrand.com.
She started crying. You don’t see that much in business seminars, but when I ask people in the marketplace to “draw a picture” it sometimes happens.
I have conducted this lesson with thousands of participants in settings ranging from 300 employees in the power industry to 35 CEOs in Palm Springs - who would rather have been golfing.
The exercise is a simple one and not original with me: I hand out a standard sheet of paper, on which is a large square, and the simple instruction, “Draw a picture.” After everyone has finished their drawing, one of the questions I always ask is, “What was your internal dialog? What did you say to yourself or mutter under your breath?”
It’s interesting as people “come clean” about what they thought and said. I want participants to see that in most cases they were self-censoring their creative ability. Many have significant “Aha!” moments as they realize how they’ve been building barriers between themselves and creative thinking.
Typical responses include…
“What does he want me to draw?” Translation: “What’s the ‘right answer’? What does it take to get an ‘A’ in this class?” It isn’t easy to find innovative solutions if there is only one right answer to a challenge.
“This is silly.” Translation: “I don’t want to look foolish. Since I don’t know what he wants from me, I’m going to look dumb and I can’t let that happen.” Conformity is a false sense of safety; assuring that no one looks the fool. Yet some of the most workable solutions start out as some of the wackiest.
“I’m not creative. I can’t do this. I can’t draw!”
The young woman sitting in front had said it loud enough for me to hear, “I’m not creative… My sister is the creative one… not me!”
I challenged her contention by asking her to do a little imagining with me, “Imagine you are a little girl again. You’re playing by yourself in the yard or living room. The adults in your life, mom, dad…guardians, are watching you as you play. Can you imagine them saying to each other, ‘Look at her. That’s so sad. Our little girl was born without creativity!’”
In a light-hearted way I was trying to show her it wasn’t true - she was, and is, creative, like all human beings. Instead it became a moment of self-awareness in which this accomplished professional discovered she had been telling herself a lie for a very long time. She began to weep at the realization.
We live everyday with the passive effects of the “I’m not creative” lie. It affects our business, our brands and our customers:
- Colleagues reluctant to appear foolish, add nothing to meetings and projects
- Customers leave without a word of feedback
- Co-workers settling for safe “sameness” rather than expressing “wild and crazy” ideas that just might work
There will never be a shortage of people willing to call creativity a “crock” and embracing your “bohemian self-expression” as a waste of time and money.
Don’t ratify their censorship of your creativity by telling yourself a lie. Sing your song, build your business, re-invent your industry… draw your picture.