Overcoming Fear of Creativity in HR

How can we be more creative at work is one of the topics that keeps coming up in interactions I have with individuals at work, at conferences, and online. It can be challenging to translate desire for the ability to solve problems and provide value through innovative methods of working into actual results. This is perhaps understandable when you consider that when researching shame and vulnerability, Dr Brene Brown and her team interviewed 13,000 people, over 11,000 of whom can recall a time in school that was so shaming it forever changed how they thought of themselves as learners – 50% of those recollections related to art and creativity.

Why Isn’t Creativity More Common at Work?

Closer to home, when Joe Gerstandt and I facilitated a workshop on creativity for over 100 HR professionals At Illinois SHRM in 2014, the audience agreed that more creativity at work and creativity in HR was needed. When we asked the audience why this wasn’t currently happening, here’s what they told us:

  • We’re too busy.
  • It’s too risky.
  • We’re not encouraged.
  • We work in a coercive, conformist culture.
  • There’s a gap between what we say and what we do.
  • Creativity is perceived to be inefficient.

Four Steps to Overcoming Fear of Creativity in HR

I’m an artist as well as a facilitator and HR consultant, and as I continue to develop all facets of my work, I’ve found many parallels between my work as an artist and my job as a consultant. Here are a few doable actions to help you get over the reservations and apprehensions HR professionals have about creativity and feel more at ease with comprehending and utilizing the creative process.

#1 – Overcome Fear

Creativity in HR, Doug Shaw - Overcome Fear

When starting to incorporate the creative process into your business, start small and experiment with an idea you can afford to fail at. This will aid in removing the sentiment of being “too dangerous” that Joe and I encountered when working in Illinois.

When I think about conquering anxiety from an artistic perspective, I see trying something tiny as an opportunity to unwind and to imagine myself. As I start the process, I keep in mind that these preliminary drafts of my work are probably going to get thrown out rather than adorn the walls of some fictitious art gallery. That lessens the pressure a little.

Although most of the time we are not here to produce masterpieces, we are here to exercise our creative muscles, we frequently get stuck on the idea that our work is not good enough. When you start to approach your work in a similar manner, you can start to unwind a little and allow your thoughts to flow more freely.

#2 – Ebb and Flow

Creativity in HR, Doug Shaw - ebb-and-flow

Creativity isn’t something you just switch on and off, it ebbs and flows according to the environment and attitude around you. What are the levers and dials you need to be aware of and able to adjust in your organisation?

Often, when dealing with the challenge to achieve more with less, we feel restricted, and this tightens up our thinking, and we struggle to be creative. Yet very often, creativity is borne of constraint – we’ve all heard the saying ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

As Austin Kleon writes in Steal Like An Artist, his excellent book about creativity, ‘Creativity is subtraction – Choose what to leave out’. From an artistic perspective, I love this quote from Kit White in 101 Things to learn in Art School. ‘Drawing is about mark making – Try to use only the marks you need’. As well as using scarcity to your advantage, it’s also really helpful to try and suspend judgement when applying the creative process to work. Nothing kills people’s ability to be creative more effectively than a rush to judgement; remember that when you’re trying to encourage creativity in yourself and others.

#3 – Show Your Work

Creativity in HR, Doug Shaw - show-your-work

With more individuals having access to technology, communicating with the clever people we all know is simpler than ever. Gaining confidence in presenting your work to others as you create it might be a terrific approach to improve your efforts. The advice you receive could be as straightforward as reassurance that you’re on the right track or it might involve recommendations for how to alter your way of thinking. I frequently collaborate on projects and suggestions for improvement with my clientele. We have discovered that we frequently work better together as a result of showing each other our progress as we go. You’re good at what you do, and you could get even better if you had a strong support system.

#4 – Be Adaptive

Creativity in HR, Doug Shaw - be-adaptive

I think Henri Matisse is one of the best artists. In his later years, he perfected the cutout technique, with which he and his crew produced frequently enormous works of art made up of numerous tiny brilliantly colored paper cutout components. Matisse was able to direct his staff as they moved the parts about until the intended result was reached. Simple, lovely, and adaptable

Consider how much more challenging it would have been to create these pieces if Matisse and his crew had painted directly onto canvas. They had to start again each time they needed to move something. The possibility is that they would have continued with what they had and arrived at a less desirable result because this would take more time and be expensive.

Embedding Creative Practice in Your Work

What’s this got to do with your work? The next time you need to plan a project, try breaking the challenge down into all its component parts – and write each task element on a separate post it note. Once you’ve done that – arrange all the notes on a large piece of paper and ask yourself a few questions:

  • What happens when we play with the running order?
  • What happens when we add things, and remove things?
  • Which activities can be completed in sequence (one after the other) and which can be completed in parallel (simultaneously)?
  • Do we have the resources we need to deliver?
  • What is on the critical path and what isn’t?

As you move through the planning process, you can easily update and amend your plan, playing with it and iterating as you go. Using this simple, creative method, you can plan in a way that is efficient and responsive, all thanks to the artistic genius of Henri Matisse!

The next time you need to apply some creativity to your work, just try these four simple processes and see how easy, effective and enjoyable it can be.

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Doug Shaw

Doug Shaw is a leadership and HR consultant, facilitator and artist. He founded the UK based consultancy practice What Goes Around in 2009, through which he helps people understand and apply the creative process to their work. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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  1. Mark says

    Great article, thanks! Adapt these suggestions to the position level that you are seeking. These are not all good for Senior positions and upper middle management. Have multiple copies of your resume. One or two copies is usually not enough. Be sure to have prepared questions. There is nothing worse then to ask a candidate why my company, why my job and for the interviewer to hear silence. Be early. On time is not good enough



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