We are now living in the Age of Imagination. In this new epoch, innovation and creativity have become values lionized in organizational mission statements and job descriptions—highly-prized qualities sought after by potential employees and employers alike. In his book, The Rise of the Creative Class—Revisited (2012), Richard Florida argues that human creativity is the defining feature of our current economic life. He states, “Our lives and society have begun to resonate with a creative ethos…and it is our commitment to creativity in its varied dimensions that forms the underlying spirit of our age.”

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Creativity Is a Human Universal

But what is creativity? Creativity is about new solutions. It involves the ability to synthesize, to sift through varied ideas, technologies, and traditional approaches to uncover something better suited for the evolving landscape. 

Many of us have been socialized to believe there are creative types and non-creatives. You have it or you don’t. However, there’s a growing movement of people challenging that paradigm. Florida claims, “Creativity is not the province of just a few select geniuses who can get away with breaking the mold because they possess superhuman talents. It is a capacity inherent to varying degrees in virtually all of us.” Tom and David Kelley, brothers and partners at IDEO, a world-renowned innovation and design firm, also dispute the “creativity myth.” They believe everyone has the ability to access creativity. “In our experience, everybody is the creative type,” they assert in Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All (2013). “We just need to help people rediscover what they already have: the capacity to imagine—or build upon—new-to-the-world ideas.” 

If we’re all capable of creativity, how can we foster it? In their book The Social Life of Information (2000), John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid advocate for “communities of practice,” places where individuals can explore problems and discover solutions together in small groups. These are spaces where clearly articulated principles and cultural norms are made concrete. They guide the actions of the group. 

The d.school is an institute at Stanford University, created by David Kelley, where many of the principles elaborated upon in Creative Confidence are put into practice—often in small collectives. At the d.school, Julian Gorodsky and Peter Rubin have developed a set of principles designed to foster innovative and creative teams. Creativity is fueled by diversity in viewpoints, ethnic or cultural backgrounds, lived experiences, and even Behavior Styles (as we use at Effectiveness Institute). While agonizing at times, this creates tensions from which new ideas can emerge. Gorodsky and Rubin identify 6 maxims to help teams become more “supportive, honest, empathetic, open, and comfortable enough with each other to encourage creative ideas.”

[Read “I Respect Her But I Don’t Trust Her”]

6 Ways to Nurture Innovation and Imagination

These can be implemented among any group trying to tackle a challenge.

Innovation is more important than ever in the creative economy. And the teams and organizations that are going to thrive the most are those which encourage diversity and develop the proper relationship skills to withstand the fruitful tension of differences.