The case for creative self-expression




The need for creative self-expression may be what separates human beings from the rest of our world’s creatures. Dancing the tango, dressing up for Mardi Gras, writing poems, covering building facades with graffiti, throwing a pot, scaring friends with a ghost story, playing Debussy’s Claire de Lune on the piano, shooting a scene for a film, and dribbling a soccer ball down a field could all be considered creative self-expression. What is creative self-expression anyway? Artistic in nature – creative self-expression involves the pursuit of beauty or emotions. The process calls upon heart and intuition as much as mind and intellect. Ultimately creative self-expression is about showing your individuality. It is when your actions shout out, “Hey, everyone, this is me, and this is what I can do!” Creative self-expression lets our hearts sing; it allows others to see our essence. The summum of creative self-expression is sharing it with another human being.

Is there a place for creative self-expression in the business workplace? Indeed, creative self-expression sits at the center of certain industries and jobs – for example advertising/Creative Director, or luxury goods/Director of Product Design. Is there a place, however, for creative self-expression in industries such as banking or mining, and jobs like Controller or Supply Chain Director?

First let’s make a distinction between creativity, and creative self-expression. Quite simply, creativity is the ability to make new things or think of new ideas (artistic, or not). It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention; and in the context of the business workplace, you can replace “invention” with “creativity”. For example, when the usual solution to a problem is not working, the successful manager will use his creativity to think of a new way to approach the problem. Or, when a competitor figures out how to copy a product at a lower cost, the successful product manager will use her creativity to figure out another way to protect market share. Problem solving and creativity go hand in hand. A manager that is too rigid to be creative is a manager with serious limitations!

Creative self-expression, which incorporates the heart as well as the mind, is something else altogether. As a leadership coach, every workshop I design for the business workplace – whether for petroleum engineers or brand managers – contains components calling for creative self-expression. In my Kedge Orientation Day workshop, teams are asked to answer – via creative interpretation – the question: What is Kedge? One team makes a collage. Together, team members leaf through magazines, choose and cut out images, and come up with the lay-out. They feel, exchange, negotiate, decide, and create an artistic representation of Kedge; and then they share it with the rest of the group and receive their applause. All hearts are singing, all experience the summum of creative self-expression.

What do singing hearts have to do with meeting business challenges? By providing the opportunity to interact with hearts and essences, collaborative creative self-expression lets colleagues connect with each other in a deeper way. Expressing creatively – the search for beauty or emotion in a “hands on” way – injects a spark into the environment igniting excitement, risk-taking, fun, and joy. Collaborative creative self-expression opens us up to a more meaningful perception of each other, resulting in a team characterized by increased respect, trust, empathy, and engagement. Teams that collaborate most effectively – managers that lead teams that create new solutions to solve problems – are motivated to give the effort required – because they care about each other.

We’ve stumbled upon something here! Creative Self-Expression is the perfect catalyst for Kedge’s motto: Create, Share, Care. And a team that is able to share and care is able to create solutions to solve business problems big and small.