“I need to be able to read the room and know exactly what they should do next. I need to be able to depart from the plan with 100% confidence and intuit accurately where to go.” That’s a super smart social entrepreneur with ten successful years behind her, telling us about her challenges when facilitating high stakes workshops.
So what does she need? To “read the room” is to perceive the tensions, the possibilities for disruption, the potential for flow. It’s completely tangible if you’ve been in enough adult learning or dialogue environments. She also needs to know, with certainty, what to do next to shape that immaterial reality, to guide it towards vitality and productivity — towards being productive. What does it mean to sculpt this invisible but nevertheless perceptible “medium?” It’s the stuff of art. We call it “social creativity.”
As leaders, we have to understand how creativity works — not only conceptually, but also experientially, as practitioners. IBM’s 2010 Global CEO study found that 1500 top CEOs interviewed around the world considered creativity the number one capacity required of present and future leaders. But knowing it’s important is not the same as building real-time, reliable, genuine and robust creative capacity.
Is reading the room and pivoting from the agenda an instance of creativity? Absolutely. Creativity depends on knowing one’s medium (oil paint for the painter, clay for the potter, etc.) — in this case, an ability to perceive her audience’s states of comfort, buy-in, and well-being — the medium Otto Scharmer calls social fields. Creativity also includes the know-how of shaping that medium — for example, to deviate from the workshop agenda in the moment in order to take a group to the next level of shared understanding, commitment, or whatever the aim.
With confidence. IDEO’s David Kelly talks about creative confidence; he teaches it by taking clients through creative processes. So creativity is not only possible to learn — it’s also not that hard to learn. It takes a bit of courage — and also, clearing away of misconceptions.
Let’s start with a biggie. One of the most common misconceptions about creativity is that it is primarily a method of problem solving. Creativity and problem solving are related, but not synonymous. Problem solving focuses on attacking or fixing the cause of a symptom — but doesn’t necessarily focus on bringing to life something innate and potential.
Creativity, on the other hand, expresses and represents what is real and possible, but not yet there. It produces something that embodies and communicates what otherwise is felt and experienced — but not yet shared. It is a communication of, and ultimately, a communion in, qualitative experience. When Picasso painted Guernica, he didn’t do it to solve the problem of an empty wall. Art isn’t necessarily made to solve — it’s made to connect.
The social sculptor’s work is enabling that qualitative experience, that connection. Our creative medium isn’t oil paint or clay, but instead, the sum total of connections among human beings to each other and the natural world: the social fields.
Another misconception about creativity is that some people are creative, and others aren’t. And while not all beginners can draw (or write, or paint) equally well, it’s just as true that every child is creative — it’s just a matter of helping that creativity grow. Creativity is innate in every human being — it’s just that we don’t practice, don’t learn. We become rule followers and menu-bar navigators. Anyone can learn to be creative. When artist Marina Abromovic sat with more than 500,000 people during her performance The Artist is Present, her goal was to meet her visitors, she said, with “unconditional love.” An everyday act, though admittedly, not a simple one.
Many artists have realized that their work is primarily about connecting with people, not about making products. Their creative work is to shape social fields. And they have much in common with other leaders and change makers who take up the work of social creativity.
And now we’d like to hear from you. What are your interests and needs regarding creativity? Leave us a comment — and please share with your friends!