Untapped Creativity

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ANAHEIM, Calif.-A powerful idea can overcome anything, according to one expert. Yet sadly, in most organizations, including credit unions, those ideas lie dormant and undiscovered.

That is the real challenge for CEOs and anyone else within credit unions who has one or more people reporting into them, according to Sir Ken Robinson, who was knighted for his work in education and who is the author of multiple books, including most recently The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.

Sharing a number of intriguing insights with an audience at CO-OP Financial Services' THINK Conference, Robinson urged CU leaders to rethink many of their assumptions related to innovation and creativity.

"A powerful idea will overcome everything," offered Robinson. "It's that power that we have to celebrate. We have this powerful facility to imagine, and by that I mean the ability to bring into mind things that aren't present to our senses."

Robinson discussed recent research sponsored by IBM that probed senior executives at large companies for their major challenges, offering his own take on each. Those challenges include:

Dealing with a More Complicated World

"I was comparing what I had as a child in the 1950s to today. Ten years ago no one would understand if you said, 'Do you tweet?" There was no social media. Remember libraries? Now we take it completely for granted. You can search 100-billion pages of the Internet on your phone, and if it takes more than 15 seconds you get irritated. The thing about technology is it isn't slowing down. It's getting faster."

But how do organizations become adaptable to and respond to change? "No company is secure or safe in its position, because the world is changing so quickly and we need to adapt. If we don't adapt, you won't survive. The real survivors are not only the ones that respond to change but help to make the change."

How To Inspire Creativity

"I work a lot in education. One thing that strikes me is that most adults in my experience think they are not creative. But all children think they are creative up to a certain age. And then that confidence starts to stop. So how do you promote creativity systematically?

"I published the Element last year. This book is based on a particular perception I've had for years, which is that most adults have no idea what their real talents are. A lot of adults aren't sure they have any real talents at all. Most people spend their lives not really enjoying what they do. They endure their lives rather than enjoy their lives. So what are you going to do with your life? It's not that long. Some people love what they do and the love the lives they lead and couldn't really imagine doing anything else. They are in their element. They have a natural aptitude.

"Imagination is the engine of human achievement. We are all naturally good at different things, and quite often we discourage our children from things they are good at because we don't feel it or see it. Imagination is the gift of human sensibility. Life is inherently creative. We create our lives. When you invest in your talents, you live a different life. The other climate crisis is we are not aware of the talents that go undiscovered, including in companies."

Misconceptions About Creativity

Robinson said creativity in and of itself is not of any value. "To be creative, you have to do something. I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value," said Robinson. "There are misconceptions that only special people are creative, that it's a rare skill. A strategy for creativity in an organization has to be everybody and inclusive.

"The second misconception is about special things: people tend to think creativity is about the arts. You can be creative in anything. Apple is famous for its products, but Walmart is famous for not developing any products at all. They are creative in supply chain management. Starbucks isn't either one. They are innovative in culture. And $5 coffee. A small innovation can transform your own business."

For CU leaders, Robinson offered a lesson about corporate environments from the natural environment. "Death Valley is the hottest, driest place in America," said Robinson. "In the winter of 2004 it rained. Seven inches. In the spring of 2005 there was a phenomenon, the entire floor of Death Valley was covered in flowers. Death Valley was alive. What is showed was Death Valley isn't dead, it's dormant. Right below the surface is life awaiting the right conditions. That's how it is in organic organizations. And without it they shrivel and go away. I see this all the time in human organizations. A new leader can re-create the culture of an organization, and culture is an organic term."

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