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Leadership 2016: Prepared to Feed Your Creativity?

Ballet Dancer

“Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it.”  —Twyla Tharp, Ballet Choreographer (@TharpTwyla)

It’s a perfect quote for the beginning of a new year.

While many people greet 2016 with shiny-new resolutions and ambitious to-do lists, it’s easy to feel a bit overwhelmed. As leaders, we are bombarded with the latest ideas and trends. We’d like to take them all in, to feed our creativity with endless sources of inspiration, but we also wonder what is really relevant. How do we identify the creative sparks that will measurably increase our personal and professional success? And how do we know what input to disregard?

Legendary Choreographer Twyla Tharp artfully described this challenge in her quote. Without the right preparation, we can’t see the opportunities that are hidden in the information clutter. And if we can’t see them, we can’t use them or incorporate them into our work. Tharp was brilliantly “tuned in” to dance, music and style, but her breakthrough success came from identifying transitions in entertainment and changing audience tastes. When she blended contemporary music with classical ballet performances, she broke new ground in the arts. Tharp was always creative. But when she made it a point to feed her creativity with information outside her area of expertise (marketing and consumer trends), that broader perspective was instrumental in positioning her as a true trailblazer.

One important thing to note here: feeding your creativity is not simply a task for choreographers, graphic designers or musicians. Every person in every industry can benefit (along with their organizations) by applying creativity to develop new solutions and fresh approaches. Maybe it’s the operations manager who alters his communication style to dramatically boost his inspirational vision. Or it’s the sales leader who uses a metaphor to create a visual image her team can get behind. The advantages of creativity apply to us all. So how do we capture those?

To feed our creativity in business, we need solid preparation.

Being prepared means making a plan to fill our brains with nourishing resources, not just mental junk food. (It’s no coincidence that this concept parallels another resolution shared by many people at this time of year.)

Leaders who strategically feed their creativity pay attention to the latest business trends and think about how those might impact the bottom lines at their own organizations. They look at new inventions or technology used in different industries to find potential game-changers for their own. They talk to their customers in greater depth. They tune in to interesting ideas emerging from society, their communities, universities, from entrepreneurs, and their relationships—all within the context of applications for adding value to their organizations.

Using that context is the key. The process of being prepared to feed our creativity involves using a “leadership filter” to sift through the endless barrage of information and ideas that could send us into overload. With the right preparation, we can narrow down the ocean of creative input to find the splashes of real genius with actual possibilities to improve our success.

One of my clients was bright and talented, but she had forgotten about the importance of feeding her creativity and staying connected to the bigger world. She was so bogged down by the details of her metrics and the operational details inside of her business that she was completely missing outside information and perspective that could have taken her to the next level. She was ignoring industry trends and opportunities that could have been leveraged for greater profit. The light bulb turned on when she realized smart ideas for business growth were all around her; she simply needed to open up and see them.

Sometimes, the best sources for feeding our creativity in business come from non-business-related activities. Read more fiction. Visit a museum or attend a ballet. Treat yourself to a change of scenery, whether that’s a quick walk around the block or a weekend getaway. Leaders who draw inspiration from the broader world around them are often better prepared to take action and get results.

So how will you feed your creativity and improve your leadership in 2016? What current resources give you the greatest inspiration? What new resources can you explore and use for a fresh stream of ideas? Where can you find the “raw materials” with the greatest potential to impact your success?

Wishing all of you a creative and prosperous 2016!

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