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How to Build on Your Creative Potential

creative potential

Research indicates that everyone is born with creative potential. But to have creative ideas when you need them requires the ironic combination of humility and confidence. Humility matters because, in my experience, one of the greatest threats to creative professionals is pride. It’s why so few artists and creatives can survive a long career. At some point, they start taking creativity for granted, and like a romantic relationship, things start to sour.

I’d rather apologize than be so timid as to never try to do anything smart or brave. — Lee Clow, advertising creative director

On the other hand, without confidence, we won’t get very far—but confidence is hard to build in the creative world. You can’t imagine the number of leaders I find who have lost that confidence. They’ve stopped asking questions about their purpose, their process, or their results. “We’ve always done it that way,” has become a mantra for far too many leaders who have stopped questioning.

Let’s face it: building on your creative potential is hard. So the question is—where are you right now? At what point did you get bought off with a raise? At what point did you give up? And perhaps, more importantly, what are you willing to do to break out of those walls?

How to Build on Your Creative Potential

1. Become the expert in your field. Read, study, be proactive in your career.

Don’t get stuck focusing on your past experience. Focus on your leadership potential—the kind of creative leader you see yourself becoming. Studies show that interviewers are drawn to candidates described as having potential (often more than actual achievement).

Tackle your challenges head-on. Your ability to offer fresh and innovative solutions to problems is essential to effective leadership. Like a muscle, your creative abilities will
 grow and strengthen with practice. 
—Tom Kelley, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

2. The truth is the world needs more creative thinking in every area of life.

We need more creative teachers, real estate agents, sales professionals, pastors, insurance executives, and office managers. We need more creative parents and grandparents. We need more creative minds in government, business, science, and the nonprofit world. In short, everyone could stand a creative overhaul—understanding a new way to do things that brings better results.

I purposely look for crackpot and harebrained ideas to see if any of them shows potential. When I talk to a vendor about my application and he says, “Oh, yeah, you use the material like this,” I usually lose interest. There is no use in trying an approach that everyone else knows about. But if a vendor tells me, “Oh, no, nobody does it that way,” I get all excited since I know I’ve hit pay dirt. —Mark Huber, research and development, Walt Disney Imagineering

3. To start building on your creative potential, start asking questions.

Don’t be afraid to try the harebrained ideas. You don’t have to be the obstinate employee on the team or the grumpy friend, but you can start looking at other ways to make things happen.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been doing it so long, I can’t stand to drive the same routes to work, the airport, the grocery store, or a friend’s house. It drives my family crazy, but I want to see what would happen if we took another path.

Little ideas like that can start you on the road to looking at life in different ways.


This article on creative potential is an excerpt from Phil’s book,Ideas on a Deadline: How to Be Creative When the Clock is Ticking.”