The Creative Leader Series: Part 6

Great leaders not only value the ideas of others, they create the necessary space and environment for those ideas to percolate and evolve.

When it comes to building creative and innovative organizations, there is one messages that constantly stands out.

Creativity is a collaborative act.

Which is why it is vitally important to avoid, what both Austin Kleon and David Burkus refer to as the fabled “lone genius” myth. A dangerous and detrimental deterrent to engaging and sustaining creativity and innovation within individuals and across organizations.

According to Austin Kleon in Show Your Work, “If you believe in the lone genius myth, creativity is an antisocial act, performed by only a few great figures…” For which he continues, “The rest of us are left to stand around and gawk in awe at their achievements.”

Which is important for leaders and organizations to internalize.  When we buy into this fabled myth of creativity it can diminish not only how we perceive creativity and innovation to work, but how we attempt to engage it within our people and organizations.

In his book, The Myths of Creativity, David Burkus refers to this same idea of the “Lone Creator Myth”.  Burkus shares, “It’s the belief that creativity is a solo performance and that the story of innovations can be told as the story of a single person working fervently on the new idea.”

Which is an ideal that most of us have internalized and mentally stamped in regards to great creatives, or creatives in general. We’ve romanticized the process. Which is unfortunate and can often lead us to a twisted and unrealistic view of how creativity and innovation occurs. And while it sometimes may exist in this form, creativity is most often not about the lone individual, hidden away in some small space, hunched over, working feverishly over some great idea or piece of work that they will eventually unveil to the world at some future time. Rather…

Creativity is a collaborative act.

Whether it is in how Burkus views creativity as a “team effort”

”Once we realize that creativity is a team effort and understand how to develop the most creative teams, we can generate even more great ideas.”

Or Kleon’s reference to Brian Eno’s idea of “scenius”, in which…

”Under this model, great ideas are often birthed by a group of creative individuals…who make up an ‘ecology of talent.”

For which Kleon adds,

“Scenius doesn’t take away form the achievements of those great individuals; it just acknowledges that good work isn’t created in a vacuum, and that creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds.”

But either way, we must begin to better understand that…

Creativity is a collaborative act.

When we start to see creativity and innovation from this viewpoint, it changes how we engage in and outside of our organizations. We begin to understand that sharing does not take away, but adds to the ideas and creativity that we have. As individuals and as organizations. Which takes us back to that old adage, the more we give away, the more we get back. And we begin to start to seeing creativity less in the sense of that lone, individual act and more from of a connected, collaborative process.

To engage and build more creative and innovative organizations, we have to begin to change the story and “myths” that often surround these two forces. When we begin to understand that creativity and innovation is a collaborative and social act, when we acknowledge that we enrich our creativity and ideas when we share often and broadly, we can hook into two of Google’s “Eight Pillars of Innovation”.  Which also align closely with the work of Austin Kleon in ‘Show Your Work’

“Look for Ideas Everywhere”


“Share Everything”

Which speaks to the idea that creativity and innovation are not lone acts. They stem from collaborative activities where we gather and share, building and gaining from one another. Connected and engaged. Gaining and giving, simultaneously. For which we must remember…

Creativity is a collaborative act.

It is not enough to have great ideas, if you never choose to put them out there where people can see, grapple and engage with them.

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