Tag Archive: Creativity

According to an IBM study of 1,500 CEOs conducted in 2010, creativity is the most important quality of 21st Century leaders. Creativity and the creative process are hard to define, and can vary depending upon the nature of the work you are doing.  However, we do know certain characteristics common in creative people:

  1. Woman light bulb1The “Creativity Muscle” – The capacity to be creative is like a muscle – it either strengthens with use or withers with inactivity.  So you want to be creative? Take time to read a book, paint a picture, write a song, or snap a few photos – and do it consistently.  Don’t have time? Close your eyes and visualize something completely from your imagination – a vacation paradise, a fictitious form of transportation, or a prehistoric animal. Do it 5 minutes a day.  Everyday!  (THINK MUSIC AND ARTS EDUCATION ARE A WASTE OF YOUR CHILD’S EDUCATION TIME?  THINK AGAIN!)
  2. If You Believe You’re Creative, You’re Creative – Have you heard the quote, “Those who believe they can and those who believe they can’t are both usually right?” Creativity studies show that people who believe that they are creative tend to be creative. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Besides, we’re all born with the ability to be creative. If you doubt it, watch a group of 4-year olds when a teacher tells them to take out their crayons and a blank sheet of paper.
  3. Be Fearless – Creative people are fearless, and don’t worry about mistakes.  If you’re a manager who tends to have punitive measures in place in your organization, whether formal or informal, you’ll get consistent results from your employees.  Consistently mediocre.  Until the rewards of innovation are greater than the consequences of failure, your organization will never foster creativity.
  4. Awareness – There are ideas all around you.  Do you ever notice them?  Drive down the street.  Every sign you see – someone made the decision which color it should be, where precisely it should be located, and the font of the lettering.  Most great ideas are spawned by simple observations.  If you’re sleepwalking through life, you’ll never make them.  That cashier at the convenience store where you stopped for coffee this morning – what was her name (she had a nametag, I’ll bet), what was she wearing, what color was her hair, and how many people were in the store at the time…See what I mean.
  5. Reset Button – In his book The War of Art author Steven Pressfield discusses the mindset of the artist.  Paraphrasing – the artist doesn’t define his or herself by a particular piece of work.  They understand that it’s just one item and tomorrow there will be another blank canvass, ball of clay, music manuscript paper, etc.  Some efforts will be better than others, but it’s just a process.  Like a cornerback in football who just gave up a touchdown pass or a pitcher who gave up a home run, shake it off… AND GET BACK TO WORK!


Virtually every creativity expert concurs – all children are creative, yet we often lose our capacity for creativity as we get older and diminish our creative activities. That brings us to today’s music and arts education advocacy quote of the day:

“Creativity is like a muscle. It gets stronger with use, and withers with inactivity. If we cut music and arts education funding, where will our children exercise?” 

- Craig M. Cortello

by Craig M. Cortello (Article available for reprint with author and website acknowledgment)

Developing an innovative spirit in the workplace doesn’t require extraordinary measures. Managers can experiment with simple ideas that merely break routines, allowing your employees permission to drop the façade that we all don to some degree when we punch the clock. Here are a few ideas that will help you lighten things up for your staff and get their creative juices flowing, if you have the courage to take the leap:

1. Dart Board
Start every staff meeting by allowing everyone a shot at the dart board. Best shot gets to kick off the meeting, appoint the moderator, or tell what they did over the weekend. Starts things off on a playful note and gets your people out of their chairs. For safety purposes, stick with the magnetic or Velcro variety.

2. Colored Markers for the Flip Chart
Sounds simple, but we are programmed from an early age to correlate the amalgamation of colors with the awakening of our imaginations. If you need further evidence of this phenomenon, observe a classroom full of first graders the next time a teacher instructs them to put away their math books and take out their crayons. And experts agree that the key to creativity lies in the ability to awaken the child inside each of us.

3. Music Creativity
Ask each team member to write a 4-line verse to a song that relates to their job duties, hobbies, business ideas, etc. Go around the room and ask them to sing, rap, or simply recite (military cadence perhaps) their verse. Print the compilation in the next company newsletter to get a little PR for your department or office (others in the organization might want to transfer in when they realize that you’ve given your staff permission to have fun).

4. Music Creativity II
Ask your staff to bring in a CD with a song that describes their personality, work attitude, or how their weekend went. Play excerpts before the meeting for a laugh.

5. To Serve Mankind
Ask your staff to convey what they did over the weekend that was a service to another person, charitable organization, or noble cause. Vote to determine whose action was most heroic and award a gift certificate to the winner, let them leave work early on Friday, or take a longer than usual lunch break. This will encourage your staff to think of new ways to develop a sense of community. It will also help your people feel good about their co-workers, get to know them better, and give them a sense of pride in the organization.

6. Vocabulary Expansion
Ask your team to bring a rarely used or obscure word to the next meeting. Have them use it in a context that is applicable to your business.

7. Memory Exercise
Read a list of 10 or 15 things, preferably something related to your business, your industry, or to a customer and give an award to the person who can commit the most items to memory. This exercise can help your staff become more familiar with your organization and with your customers. Memory development is also a key to developing new customer relationships that will help your business prosper.

8. “If I Ran This Place…”
Ask your staff what they would consider the ideal job, the ideal workplace, and the ideal location. You can’t transform your place into utopia, but you might gain some insight into feasible, marginal changes that will improve things. Now that you have them thinking without barriers, ask them what they would do first or different if they ran the company, office, or department. This one takes some courage and is not without risk, but you’ll be surprised by the answers.

9. Show and Tell
Have your staff bring something that they’ve created, that they are proud of, or from their childhood that the group would find interesting or funny. Demonstrate an interesting or unusual talent, perhaps. We loved this game when we were in kindergarten, and for some reason they made us stop playing as we got older.

10. Top 10 Lists
Until David Letterman decides to pursue intellectual property infringement, go ahead and try this one. Give a topic at your staff meeting, and ask for the answers the following week. Remember to keep it clean and non-offensive. Have your staff rank the answers and use a point system to determine the winner.

We would never ask our employees for quality without offering the resources, direction, systems, and commitment to develop procedures that ensure improvement in that area. Yet we ask employees for creativity or to “think outside the box” all of the time without giving another thought as to how to initiate the creative process. Take the first step and give your staff permission to shake things up a bit at your office. You’re likely to see some changes – for the better!

Previously we posted an impressive list of CEOs of Canadian High-Tech Companies who signed on to a letter advocating liberal arts and a balanced approach to education. We later posted an additional list of CEOs and executives advocating the arts.

Looking for more CEOs and Business Leaders to get on board the arts advocacy train. Any high-ranking CEOs and executives willing to support the following simple statement will be acknowledged here:

“We support funding of arts education as core subjects in our educational institutions. The 21st century workplace requires innovative and creative minds, and arts education is a critical component in the development of the skills necessary to compete in a global marketplace.

“Our employees with a diverse education have increased their value to our companies, our economy, our culture, and themselves.”

“The greatest innovations often come when you leave the harbor of predictable outcomes and sail into the sea of uncertainty.”

- Craig M. Cortello


Musicians are risk takers. They lay themselves on the line and subject themselves to the scrutiny of others every time they perform. Improvisation is also a risk. Yet musicians understand that risk is the only path to growth.

“Risk acceptance” – one of the 9 common lessons of music education that translate into success.

One of the 5 keys to creativity that I discuss in my presentations is visualization. Creative minds have the ability to think beyond their current reality. Think of Einstein, Disney, and Edison.

That brings us to the story of Mel Torme and Robert Wells. One sweltering summer day Mel came over to Bob’s house. He noticed a spiral notepad on Bob’s piano. Bob had been scribbling thoughts of winter to help cool him down. Mel took a look at the words and told Bob that he thought that he could write a song from those thoughts such as “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” and “Jack Frost nipping at your nose.”

Forty minutes later, Mel Torme and Robert Wells had written perhaps the greatest and most enduring Christmas song ever composed – in the middle of July.

If you don’t believe that you have that ability (visualization), then work to improve it. Close your eyes a few minutes each day and create something from your own imagination – a vacation spot, a new form of transportation, an animal that has not been discovered. Work your imagination just like you would a muscle.

For more info on the topic of creativity, visit these resources:

Solitude, Music, Steven Pressfield, & Creativity

Cheri Sterman, Crayola Director of Child Development on Creativity

The Creativity/Memorization Ratio in Education & Assessment of the Arts

Education Dilemma: Think Outside the Box or Dismantle It? (Turning a Cliche into a Culture)

Fostering Creativity (in the Workplace)

Business Meeting Creativity Ideas

Business Creativity & the Hiring Process

Family Practice Attorney Sands McKinley

Music and the arts are powerful means of cultivating your creative abilities. But it’s important to understand that those abilities can transcend the arts, even in endeavors considered “left-brain” dominant or activities using the “logic” part of the brain. It is said that Albert Einstein played violin when contemplating complex physics concepts, and often had (physics) breakthroughs during those (music) sessions.

In this excerpt from my book Everything We Needed to Know About Business, We Learned Playing Music, family practice attorney Sands McKinley discussed how his musical background and songwriting helped him approach the practice of law and everything else in his life through a “creative” lens.

“It’s part of the filter of the lens that you see the whole world through,” he hypothesized. “So when you’re seeing everything with an eye toward creativity, an eye toward innovation, and an eye toward creating something out of nothing, that’s a far more relevant and practical reason to want to have music and art instruction in schools than trying to make people better in math.”

Sands also pointed to the aspect of the discipline required for music education and the correlation with business. As we’ve discussed previously, those who have the discipline to work at their craft are generally more creative than their counterparts who idly wait for inspiration to strike like lightning.

“The discipline and focus that you need to master an instrument – I definitely brought that to the practice of law as well as to the creation of the firm,” he said.

One reason that I believe music education is such a powerful formative activity is the diversity of that experience. From the solitude of practicing scales and the fundamentals of your instrument to the excitement of performing in front of a live audience with a combo, band, or orchestra, the music student experiences extremes that provide a well-rounded foundation that can facilitate success in so many endeavors.

In this article by Leo Babauta entitled “The No. 1 Habit of Highly Creative People,” he identifies solitude, or the ability to clear your mind, reflect, and meditate alone as a key to creativity. He provides thoughts and testimonials from highly creative minds (Article link).

The concept that creativity strikes like lightning is the exception. Creative people generally hone their skills by dedicating time to their craft, and those with the discipline to do so are generally more creative.

In the book The War of Art: Break Through the Block and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, author Steven Pressfield echoes those sentiments. In this passage, Pressfield quotes English dramatist and novelist W. Somerset Maugham. When asked if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration, Maugham responded, “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

Similarly, Pressfield himself states, “There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing that’s the hard part. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”

You can read Pressfield’s extended thoughts on this topic at his website and his May 26, 2010 blog post entitled “Do It Anyway.”

Want to write the next great pop song, symphony, novel, or screenplay? Put away the iPhone, turn off the TV, find a setting that stimulates your muse, lock out the noise, and get started!

In my research for the book Everything We Needed to Know About Business, We Learned Playing Music, one of the 9 common lessons of music education that translate into success was individuality. Differentiation is an important component of a successful business in the post-information age, and self-expression helps facilitate the process of making your business stand out in a crowd.

This excerpt regarding creativity is from Crayola Corporation’s Director of Child Development, Cheri Sterman. Her thoughts regarding the importance of creativity as a vehicle of self-expression more than a vocational option echoes the sentiments that I convey in my lectures on music education:

“Creativity is not so much about children becoming accomplished artists, as it is about expressing what’s inside. Expressing thoughts and feelings through art is important throughout childhood and in helping children develop into accomplished adults. Our parental role is to encourage creative activities to ensure our children reach their full potential. As a parent of three young children, I personally feel good about the time I’ve invested in their creative development. As an educator, I’m delighted that the research supports the long-term benefits of art on children’s learning.”

From the Crayola website:
The Power of Creativity: A Guide to Encourage Creative Expression

Organizations often struggle with a difficult dilemma when targeting college graduates for hire. Do you place greater credence in academic excellence, or look for the well-rounded mediocre student? Do you hire the 4.0 GPA candidate who served as student body president or the 2.9 student who carried a full-time job as a retail manager to subsidize tuition? Do you hire the dedicated research assistant or the fraternity president who organizes the keg parties and knows everyone on campus? The answer is balance.

Success in the 21st century will increasingly demand a greater mix of skills and the ability to think and react independently to respond to market challenges. In conducting interviews and assembling staff members, I’ve tried to look beyond the obvious credentials and to look for unique perspectives and experiences.

The assemblage of a melting pot gives access to a broader pool of ideas in a business world that increasingly demands creativity and innovative solutions. One diminutive office in which I worked consisted of expertise in swing dancing, triathlons, independent film, and jazz guitar, in an industry typically characterized by “left-brain” or analytical thinkers.

It is said that you’ll get nothing original from an echo. If you ask only standard interview questions that solicit canned responses, you’ll likely assemble a team adept at implementing prescriptive plans by the book, lacking independent thought and seeking constant guidance from above.

One question I ask is, “If you could have dinner with any person living or dead, who would it be and why?” I also ask questions like, “What do you do when you’re not working?” and, “What are your hobbies and interests and what appeals to you about them?” There are no right answers.

I’m only seeking to fill in gaps in the resume. For instance, if you interview a 4.0 student, you have a pretty good sense that they are diligent, intelligent and hard-working. Your concern is that they might be more comfortable hitting the books than interacting with people. I’d prefer to find that they played guitar in a reggae band, enjoyed surfing off the coast of Maui, acted as a volunteer for Junior Achievement, coached the intramural softball team, or organized a campus fund-raiser to get wireless internet service and a new sound system for the university center on campus. I’m looking for something that demonstrates social skills or runs counter to the overly conservative nature of the stereotypical serious student. I prefer to hear that they would like to have dinner with Jimmy Buffett or Jerry Seinfeld rather than Albert Einstein or Sir Isaac Newton.

The reverse scenario requires the same attention to balance. With the marginal student who is the campus socialite, you’ll want to look for dissimilar responses. Interests such as volunteering as a counselor for a Special Olympics camp, an internship with a professional service firm, reading books on leaders such as Winston Churchill or Mahatma Gandhi, or an active role in a church or civic group are appropriate. A hobby that reveals diligence, organization, or a serious side of their personality is preferable.

These questions aren’t deal breakers, but rather additional data points beyond the standard, “What are your goals, strengths and weaknesses, and reasons for wanting to work for our firm” queries. They can act as differentiators when you have difficulty separating candidates. You might also consider the current makeup of your staff. If you feel as though your office is getting conservative or “stuffy” based on the personalities of your employees, you might look for candidates that can lighten things up, or vice-versa.

Some interviewers intentionally present an intimidating façade, in order to see how a candidate handles a stressful situation. Interviews are awkward enough, however, and not at all indicative of the true work environment. Once a candidate becomes guarded during the interview, it becomes more difficult to get an authentic assessment.

I prefer to put the candidate at ease, allowing them to show their true personality. I find that I also get more revealing and honest answers when a candidate lets their guard down, allowing me to truly assess what makes them tick and whether or not they would be a good fit for our firm.

As we develop educational curriculum to prepare students for success in the 21st century, we must resist the temptation to identify them as either left-brain or right-brain students and to polarize them. We must rather move toward more balanced programs that integrate elements of each, in an effort to produce more complete or “whole-brained” professionals. And we must assemble balanced workplaces as well.


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