Getting comfortable with uncertainty during “normal” times has always been hard. But the COVID-19 pandemic has really put us all on edge and challenged us to evaluate how flexible and comfortable we really are with uncertainty.
Over a period of weeks, we have seen leadership in action that is heartwarming with adjusted employee benefits, enhanced safety regulations and clear, empathetic communication. We have also seen disappointing leadership in action with abrupt layoffs, the absence of clear guidance and communication and decision-making focused on self-survival.
I have spoken with many leaders, business owners, entrepreneurs, educators and professionals who want to be more forward-thinking and courageous in their workplaces. Yet they are unsure of how to do so when the stakes — and emotions — are so high.
As someone devoted to understanding creativity in the workplace, I want to share a few insights for how rethinking creativity can be a game changer for navigating this time and the many uncertainties that lie ahead.
- We become what we consume.
When you understand that your brain is like a sponge when it comes to consuming media, you start to assess how you are spending your energy and how it can directly impact what you are feeling and processing. Just like your physical body is influenced by exercise, sleep and nutrition, your creative muscles are influenced by what you read, watch, talk about and even daydream about.
Knowing this at the outset, I knew that the more media I consumed, the more upset, hopeless and angry I might feel. Since I can’t control what my colleagues say or what my social media friends share, I started taking small steps to monitor what I was consuming. I sought out friends who I knew were optimistic, forward-thinking and were exploring how they could grow from this pandemic. These interactions lifted my spirits and influenced how I viewed my own work in the changing landscape. I also scheduled time each day to read books, watch documentaries and listen to talks to give me a positive boost of creativity. I even started an interview series to learn how my friends and colleagues from all over the world are positively processing this time. Jim Rohn is often credited with saying, “We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” So, the question is, how can you shift your energy and surround yourself with positive people in order to stay creative and courageous?
- My curiosity can lead me to reframe my thinking.
Being curious is critical to being creative. So whenever I feel stuck or unsure of how to process something, I use the phrases “I wonder…” or “I noticed…” to reframe my thinking into a curious approach. With COVID-19, I found it even more helpful to use this as my guide to stay curious and to learn with each interaction or observation. For instance, a disagreement with a colleague over email turns into “I wonder why this is making me upset?” A trigger I felt from a social media post turned into “I noticed how his message upset me.” This reframing helped me powerfully transform any moment into an opportunity for learning and growth. It became an exercise in resilience and helped me focus on staying curious and creative — instead of impulsive, overly emotional, or in some cases, hopeless.
- Innovation is meant to be messy.
When creating something new there is no blueprint. Each and every path to innovation and creativity is different and can be messy. Knowing that there is no one right way to bring your idea to life can feel both liberating and scary. What really matters is how you steer through the messy road. This is why identifying your strengths, weaknesses, constraints and resources are critical to your innovative success. For instance, you may not control the budget or timeline, but perhaps you can control who joins your team.
During COVID-19, whenever I felt stuck I would go back to this insight to focus on my knowns, unknowns, resources and constraints. This helps me define how I prioritize my day, how I communicate and how I set milestones that are reachable instead of setting myself up for failure. I cannot control how long it will take to create an effective and safe vaccine, but I can control what type of content I create and share with my community, and what types of programs I build to help others build their creative skills.
In short, rethinking creativity in the workplace is understanding how to rewire the way you think, and create, in order to be more open-minded, flexible and able to see possibilities when others see only pandemic-driven constraints.
This is why in my work, I emphasize that the best forms of creativity stem from your ability to understand how the way you choose to think influences every outcome. Our mindset is powerful. Whether it’s a pandemic, the Fourth Industrial Revolution or other complex issues that arise in the workplace, change — and chaos — is inevitable. It’s critical that we can reframe the way we navigate this uncertainty by harnessing the power of creativity.