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Non-profits, manufacturing companies, government agencies, even churches exist within a context. As that context changes–and it is changing at an unprecedented pace–we need creative people to help us address these changes. But can organizations develop creative people? In this post I want to share competencies to look for when looking to develop creative people.

More than twenty years ago, Charles Handy pointed out that we can debate all day about the reasons for the accelerated rates of change the world is experiencing, but “what we cannot do is pretend that nothing has changed and live in a garden of remembrance as if time had stood still. It doesn’t and we can’t.”

Here is my list of creativity competencies. You probably have some things to add to the list. Please do in the comments section below.

  1. Dialogue. This is the ability to engage in rational debate. One of the most frequent barriers to creativity is that people don’t know how to listen to one another. People often pretend to listen to others, but all the while simply waiting for an opportunity to insert their views. This practice of talking past one another is not conducive to creativity because people are protecting themselves from new ideas. New concepts cannot penetrate this kind of environment.
  2. Non-linear Thinking. For centuries, Western culture was dominated by linear thinking that is characterized as sequential, logical, and analytical. This is great when times are not a-changin (to unquote Bob Dylan). Linear thinking requires keen memory, factual accuracy, and rational analysis. Non-linear thinking, on the other hand, has multiple entry points, multiple possible outcomes, and a more random path from one to the other. The process of non-liner thinking is more chaotic and intuitive. Non-linear thinking, however, is often a better fit for the real world because the real world is organic. It does not fit into a linear mold.
  3. Tolerance for Ambiguity. One of the greatest hindrances to creativity is the inability to tolerate ambiguity. Ambiguity is that uncomfortable feeling we get when ideas have not yet been resolved; the first impulse is to solve the problem, close the issue, and go back to the familiar world we once knew. The problem is that creative ideas most often surface during this period of uncertainty. The sooner we resolve the issue the fewer alternative options we will have considered. Ambiguity creates opportunities for change.
  4. Using Visual Imagery. We think in images before we think in words. Images precede conscious awareness. They are not rhetorical devices for illustrating or explaining our ideas. They are prior to our ideas and they convey immediate, subconscious, meaning. Because it is pre-rational, imagery can serve as a vehicle for making innovative connections; they enable us to momentarily lay aside our fixed interpretations of reality, distance ourselves from current concepts, and look at problems from a fresh perspective.
  5. Discernment. In the Bible, the newly appointed King Solomon asked God for “discernment to understand justice” (I Kings 3:11) and God granted his request. One of the key functions of organizational leadership is to facilitate discernment, the capacity to separate good ideas from bad ideas, reality from fancy, legitimate from illegitimate. Not everything that is new and innovative is good. It is therefore proper that the creative process conclude with an emphasis on discernment so that the door to positive innovation remains open while the door to destructive innovation is tightly closed. The ability to know the difference may be the most important leadership skill for the times in which we are living.

Today’s environment requires creativity. The skills of creativity enable us both to innovate and also to discern. Together, these two activities enable us to accomplish our goals.

Dr. Waddell has led workshops on creativity. If you are interested you can contact him at DrGregWaddell[at]gmail.com. Please share you thoughts in the comments section below. What creativity skills would you add to the list?