Tag Archives: creativity

Overcoming The Fear of Creativity

Creativity: noun. An essential ingredient for a useful and enjoyable life. The term is often used by businesses who crave its benefits, turn it into a buzzword, and then unwittingly crush the life out of it.

One of the recurring themes that comes up time and time again in conversations I have with people at work, at conferences, and online is, “How can we be more creative in our work?” The ability to solve problems, and add value through new ways of working is always in demand, yet converting that demand into results can be tough. This is perhaps understandable when you consider that when researching shame and vulnerability, Dr Brene Brown and her team interviewed 13,000 people, over 11,000 of whom can recall a time in school that was so shaming it forever changed how they thought of themselves as learners – 50% of those recollections related to art and creativity.


When Joe Gerstandt and I facilitated a workshop on creativity for over 100 HR professionals at Illinois SHRM in 2014, the audience agreed that more creativity at work and creativity in HR was needed. When we asked the audience why this wasn’t currently happening, here’s what they told us:

  • We’re too busy.
  • It’s too risky.
  • We’re not encouraged.
  • We work in a coercive, conformist culture.
  • There’s a gap between what we say and what we do.
  • Creativity is perceived to be inefficient.


In addition to being a facilitator and HR consultant, I’m also an artist, and as I continue to develop all aspects of my work, I’ve discovered lot of crossovers between my work as a consultant and my work as an artist. Here are a few practical steps to overcome the doubts and uncertainties around creativity expressed by HR professionals, and get more comfortable with understanding and applying the creative process.

#1 – Overcome Fear

Creativity in HR, Doug Shaw - Overcome Fear

When beginning to apply the creative process to your work, start small, play around with something you can afford to get wrong. This will help overcome that feeling of ‘too risky’ that Joe and I heard about while working in Illinois.

When I consider overcoming fear from an artistic point of view, I see trying something small as a chance to relax, and to sketch myself into existence. As I begin the process I keep in mind that these early stages of my work will likely end up in the bin, not gracing the walls of some imaginary art gallery. That takes some of the pressure off.

We often get hung up on believing our work is not good enough, and yet most of the time, we are not here to create masterpieces, we are here to stretch our creative muscles. When you begin to think similarly about your work, you can begin to relax a little and let your ideas flow more easily.

#2 – Ebb and Flow

Creativity in HR, Doug Shaw - ebb-and-flow

Creativity isn’t something you just switch on and off, it ebbs and flows according to the environment and attitude around you. What are the levers and dials you need to be aware of and able to adjust in your organisation?

Often, when dealing with the challenge to achieve more with less, we feel restricted, and this tightens up our thinking, and we struggle to be creative. Yet very often, creativity is borne of constraint – we’ve all heard the saying ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

As Austin Kleon writes in Steal Like An Artist, his excellent book about creativity, ‘Creativity is subtraction – Choose what to leave out’. From an artistic perspective, I love this quote from Kit White in 101 Things to learn in Art School. ‘Drawing is about mark making – Try to use only the marks you need’. As well as using scarcity to your advantage, it’s also really helpful to try and suspend judgement when applying the creative process to work. Nothing kills people’s ability to be creative more effectively than a rush to judgement; remember that when you’re trying to encourage creativity in yourself and others.

#3 – Show Your Work

Creativity in HR, Doug Shaw - show-your-work

We all know lots of smart people, and with increasing access to technology, reaching out to them is easier than ever before. Getting comfortable with showing your work to people as you develop it, can be a great way to strengthen what you’re doing. The feedback you receive may be as simple as encouragement that you’re on a good track, and it could also include suggestions on how to modify your thinking. I often work with clients, cocreating projects and ideas for improvement. Through showing our work to each other as we go, we’ve learned that often, we’re better together. You’re good at what you do – and with a good network around you too, you can be even better too.

#4 – Be Adaptive

Creativity in HR, Doug Shaw - be-adaptive

Henri Matisse is one of my favourite artists. In his later years he developed his cutout technique, whereby he and his team created often vast pieces of work, comprised of many smaller brightly coloured paper cutout elements. As they worked, Matisse was able to guide his team in placing and rearranging the pieces until the desired effect was achieved. Beautiful, simple and adaptive.

Imagine how much more difficult production of these pieces of work would have been if Matisse and his team painted straight onto canvas. Each time they needed to reposition something, they’d have to start again. This would take extra time and prove costly, so the likelihood is they would have pressed on with what they had and reached a less satisfactory conclusion.


What’s this cut out stuff got to do with your work? The next time you need to plan a project, try breaking the challenge down into all its component parts – and write and draw each task element on a separate cut out, or sticky note. Once you’ve done that – arrange all the notes on a large piece of paper and ask yourself a few questions:

  • What happens when we play with the running order?
  • What happens when we add things, and remove things?
  • Which activities can be completed in sequence (one after the other) and which can be completed in parallel (simultaneously)?
  • Do we have the resources we need to deliver?
  • What is on the critical path and what isn’t?

As you move through the planning process, you can easily update and amend your plan, playing with it and iterating as you go. Using this simple, creative method, you can plan in a way that is efficient and responsive, all thanks to the artistic genius of Henri Matisse!

The next time you need to apply some creativity to your work, just try these four simple processes and see how easy, effective and enjoyable it can be.

This post was first published over at Blogging4Jobs in July 2015

The Art of Listening

I’m in the middle of preparing some illustrations for a client, one of which needs to represent good service. I got stuck for ideas, so I asked Twitter for some visual cues to help describe what good service looks like. Among the replies, Meg Peppin suggested that because good service comes from paying attention, I should explore the Chinese symbols for listening. My curiosity aroused, off I went – and here is my attempt at representing what I found.

Chinese Listening

Acrylic paint and a stiff brush may not be the best tools to use – but if I’ve got this even vaguely close to the mark, this set of characters represents ears, eyes, undivided attention, and heart. Meg described it to me as paying respectful attention. This feels like a lovely, useful way to capture the essence of good listening so I thought I’d pass it on.

I had another go at the drawing this morning, this time using ink.

Chinese Listening 2

Thank you Meg, and everyone else who offered suggestions.


Half Way To The Hundred

Some of you might remember that at the beginning of December, I shared my early thoughts on my experience of #100HappyDays. 100 Happy Days is a simple commitment to share a photo of something that makes you (or in this case, me) happy, every day for 100 consecutive days. Here’s what I noticed when I first wrote, after day 14:

Happiness is indeed elusive, and when found, best left to purr quietly in the background. Don’t make a fuss or it’s likely to move on again.
Experiences trump things.
Family and friends – when they’re happy, you are more likely to be too.
Belgian Beer is lovely, but on a Monday night, maybe not so much.

Today is day 50 for me – I’m half way to the hundred. Here are a few of the photos in my collection, taken around Christmas time. If you click the image it will take you to my Instagram feed where I’m keeping the photos.

100 Happy Days Snapshot

The challenge of finding something that makes you happy each and every day is proving interesting, particularly on days when I don’t feel particularly happy. For example – I had a bout of manflu in the run up to Christmas and had to resort to a photo of slippers, tissues and packets of cold remedies one day!

Having got half way to the hundred, I am now less surprised that so few (only around a quarter) of the people who start this challenge, finish it. Keeping stuff going is tough, and I know I often set out to achieve things that fall by the wayside. Do I feel happier as a result of this experiment? I feel like my mood has lightened overall across the time invested so far, and I am starting to enjoy an occasional quick flick through the photo album as well as continuing to contribute to it. I am currently mindful to turn the experiment into a hard copy photo album if I can find a suitable, inexpensive way of doing it.

I’m currently working on a number of regular, repeatable ideas with a general wellbeing theme, in support of my small things make a big difference philosophy – and this is one of them. Keep on Running is another, and although that experiment concluded on New Year’s Day when I walked my 111th mile over 36 consecutive days, it has now folded into something new, more on that soon. I’m not yet sure where all this is taking me, and I am sure that I’m learning a lot and enjoying most of it.

Happy Friday to you.