Our relationship status with creativity is complicated. To the outsider, we appear to be in a strong, loving relationship. Creativity was identified as the single most important leadership trait for success by a 2010 IBM poll of CEOs worldwide. We celebrate the accomplishments of inventors and strive to be like them by copying their habits and behaviors. However, looks can be deceiving. A 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania found that even those who say they are looking for creativity react negatively to creative ideas. Our bias against creativity can actually prevent us from even recognizing a creative idea when we see one. Truth be told, we are lucky if we are in an open relationship with creativity.
Creativity comes with baggage – fear and uncertainty, to be exact. Most individuals are risk-averse and would do almost anything to avoid uncertainty. The more creative an idea is, the more novel it is. The more novel it is, the greater the uncertainty we have. At the 2016 DesignThinkers hosted by RGD, Jake Barton, Founder of Local Projects, reflected on his experience of a client’s mixed feelings towards creativity. After presenting a pitch for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, the client who was originally on board began to question the project asking where people have done this idea before. Barton replied that no one had. Instead of expressing excitement at the chance to innovate, the client exclaimed that this was terrible. Barton found that nobody who feels the weight of the world on their shoulders while developing a project is excited to break new ground.
After experiencing a similar situation himself, Bob Hambly, partner at Hambly & Woolley, investigated ways to mitigate the client’s fear and uncertainty towards creativity:
Many clients experience creativity anxiety because they are unfamiliar with the design process or are unaware that one even exists. When ideas are presented without the context of the research and strategy behind him, they appear to have been spontaneously conceived without much thought. By simply outlining and clarifying your specific design process to the client through proposals, quotes, and the company website, you can make the client much more comfortable that you have a thought-out plan of action. As Erin Sarofsky, owner of Sarofsky Corp., points out, “we don’t own the software, we don’t own the final outcome, so the only thing we really own is our process.”
Presenting the research you have completed during the design process, alongside the things you have learned, provides additional ease for the client. Understanding the company’s unique position in the marketplace and who their competitors are will demonstrate you have their best interests in mind. Armed with this knowledge, you will be prepared to asked informed questions and base your solutions on facts. In addition, knowledge informs innovative ideas. Inventor Thomas Edison once said, “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Accordingly a genius is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.”
Throughout the project, encourage good, open discussions with the client. If things start to feel uncomfortable, put them at ease so you can discuss anything that is being left unsaid. Encourage them to share when they have misgivings, not only what they like. Are there any issues or problems? Having clear communication leaves very little room for misunderstandings. Misunderstandings produce inappropriate solutions. Take the time to create that trust and honesty. Sarofsky states that the industry is heavily rooted in relationships. When you are doing good work for your clients, and as they evolve in their career, your career will evolve with them. It works the opposite way too.
The world is changing exponentially, technology is not standing still, and the future will not happen around you. Clients need to understand what is currently disrupting their industry so they can figure out what they are going to do about it. Instead of fearing creativity and the unknown, it should be embraced. Bob Calvano, VP Design at A+E, suggests to use disruption as a muse for your creativity and innovation. It’s going to help you evolve – and that’s the only way you can stay relevant.