Three Ways to Squash Creativity

by Lynn S. Schwebach
There is a tiny woman standing in the gap of this abstract image. That’s me confronting my “Ninevah.” You could also say that’s me feeling overwhelmed and without creativity—an emotion that everyone in every job experiences.
Artists go through the same ups and downs as anyone in any job. And believe it or not, nurturing and feeding one’s own creativity parallels how managers nurture—or squash their employees’ creative ideas. In fact, artists do not own any secret processes that feed creative output. In addition, the same “downers” that discourage corporate teams and individuals discourage those we consider “society’s most creative.” Harvard University Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration Teresa Amabile has spent her career studying creativity. She currently teaches in Harvard’s Entrepreneurial Management Unit, and researches and writes on the link between creativity and meaningful work. Distilled from her publications, and most specifically from a Harvard Business Review article titled “The Power of Small Wins,” written with independent researcher and author Steven J. Kramer, she and Kramer outline what drains creative output from employees. After reading this article, I saw a direct connection to what Amabile and Kramer unpack in this article on workplace creativity to my life as an independent artist. Here are three creativity killers identified in the article that apply to artists:

Number One

Dismissing the importance of a worker’s contributions, work, or ideas. If workers perceive that managers or team leaders are ignoring suggestions or ideas, or dismissing contributions as trivial or unimportant, the meaning a worker finds in his or her job rapidly declines. As artists, we often dismiss thoughts, ideas, or those “Aha!” moments of clarity. This is  a mistake. Don’t dismiss any of your thoughts or ideas as unimportant, wacky, or crazy. Write down thoughts regardless of how “out there” they appear. I recently told another artist that I throw away a lot of work, and he told me to NEVER throw away anything. It was the best advice I have heard in a long time. Going back and reworking ideas generates unexpected, and often surprising successes.

Number Two

Frequent and abrupt reassignments of work. Continually changing work assignments, especially before a worker has the chance to complete a project, destroys a sense of ownership. Projects that go unfinished or fail to reach the market because management cancels them seriously impact a worker’s sense of meaning—leading to reductions in overall innovation and creativity. As an artist, I struggle with this concept a lot. I often have several ongoing projects. But what I have found is that this is okay, as long as I get back to finishing each one. Sometimes that means prioritizing and forcing myself to work on something I pushed aside. There isn’t anything more satisfying (creative) than to see a finished work of art, and nothing worse (creativity killer) than to see several paintings stacked in a corner collecting dust.
Scanned artwork2forweb
This is a painting that I posted to Instagram for feedback. I also asked a few of my go-to feedback gurus for advice. Not only did I get positive comments on this piece, but someone suggested baby and kid t-shirts as well.

Number Three

Failing to keep workers informed. Basically, continuous and honest communication between management and employees, and between employees and customers, where applicable, remains one of the best ways to keep workers feeling an inner sense of meaning regarding their work. As artists, we work in isolation and solitude. I honestly can’t always tell you if a painting or idea is a success or not. So I have two to three individuals that are my “go to” for feedback. Also, post your work to Instagram and ask for feedback. This is the best way to get a number of people from across the world looking at your work and commenting. Without the honest input from others, I would have framed and tried to sell artworks that weren’t ready to hit the market. Whether you work in a corporation, as a company manager, or for yourself, creativity directly affects the bottom line. Remembering what nurtures your creativity as well as what annihilates it will keep you (and employees) engaged in meaningful, satisfying work. For articles on how to boost your creativity, read How to Increase Your Creativity and Create A Life. Enlarge Your Heart. Grow Your Brain.  To visit my Etsy shop, go to Schwebach Arts on Etsy. To visit my fine art website, go to Schwebach Arts. Follow me on Instagram: @schwebacharts

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