The first John G. McCoy-Banc One Corporation Professor of Creativity and Innovation and of Marketing (Emeritus) at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, Ray is a specialist in new paradigm business, creativity, innovation, and marketing communications. He has produced more than 100 publications including ten books such as Creativity in Business with Rochelle Myers, The Path of the Everyday Hero with Lorna Catford-Tarcher, The Creative Spirit with Daniel Goleman and Paul Kaufman (the companion book to the PBS series of the same name, inspired by his Stanford course “Personal Creativity in Business”), and most recently, The Highest Goal.
Morris: When did you begin teaching the “Personal Creativity in Business” course at Stanford and to what extent have your perspectives on creativity since changed over the years?
Ray: I began teaching the course with Rochelle Myers in the 1979-80 academic year. But I really started my work in creativity with research during my undergraduate and Ph.D. in social psychology work at Northwestern and in teaching courses there in Advertising, Advertising Management and Advertising and Communication Research. My concepts of creativity changed dramatically from the Northwestern times and my early years at Stanford to our starting to teach the creativity course at the business school. The main change was from seeing creativity as a predecessor of innovation and an issue of getting ideas and solving problems to seeing creativity as personal development and bringing out one’s inner resources. I’ve become convinced that this kind of personal creativity is the key to dealing with a new world that is constantly emerging in business and all walks of life. In fact, I am convinced that we are talking about a paradigm of creativity.
Morris: Many people insist, “I’m not creative.” Your response?
Ray: We assume in our work that everyone is creative, but we are using a different definition of creativity than is implied when people say they are not creative. We believe that people are being creative if they are bringing out their highest inner resources to improve their lives and those around them. Those who are living from their core, and doing what they are destined to do, are being creative, no matter how mundane their work or profession might seem.
Often when claiming that they are not creative, they mean that they are not artists, musicians, writers, athletes, or any other media types demonstrating creativity. Or they know someone who always seems to have a lot of ideas and know that they can’t match that.
We all have a tendency to idolize those who create what we see in the media. I think it’s better to use these people as models rather than idols, especially when these people have aspects of their lives that are similar to us. Then we can take their inspiration as we go on to be creative in our own way in our own lives and companies.
Morris: Although creativity in business is highly desirable, is it not at least as important to think creatively in one’s personal life?
Ray: The more I do this creative work the more I realize that business is about people in groups being creative in their own way. If business creativity does not allow individual development, then it isn’t sustainable. But if business creativity means people bringing out their best and developing that, then amazing things can happen—not only for the business but also more importantly for the individual and the surrounding community.
We encourage people to bring their creativity to bear on six personal challenges—discovering purpose and career, dealing with time and stress issues, developing and maintaining good relationships, achieving personal/professional balance or synergy in life, finding true prosperity, and bringing one’s own creativity into the business and life. Unless people are continually dealing with these challenges, they are not bringing out their best and are not of much use to anyone, particularly themselves and their organizations.
Morris: In your opinion, what must be done to create a workplace environment in which creative thinking is not only encouraged but also indeed nourished and supported?
Ray: When I’m asked that question, one of the first things that comes to mind is that old line about breakfast: “The chicken is involved but the pig is committed.” I believe that you have to have long-term commitment to create creativity in an organization. In all the organizations I know that developed a culture of creativity, someone, often a small group of people, made a commitment to people development in the context of enriching their business. And just like the pig and the bacon, this can be a difficult process at times, that’s why the commitment is necessary.
At the same time, you must set up measurement of results and celebrate small victories as you go along. I have observed that any creativity initiative gets about an eighteen-month grace period. If there aren’t any tangible results in a year and a half, despite the strongest commitment, someone in the organization is going to start questioning the whole program. But that’s not all. In one of my articles in which I define “creativity in business” as individual enlightenment within organizational transformation, I mention six heuristics for developing a creative culture:
1. Work with leaders within the organization.
2. Develop creativity within a vital initiative.
3. Make creativity a long-term commitment with short-term payouts.
4. Develop individual creativity within a relevant working group.
5. Deal with deep personal challenges.
6. Keep an eye on the prize of overall organizational objectives and world effect.
Morris: How does creative thinking differ from innovative thinking?
Ray: Someone once said that innovation is a done idea. I agree. I believe that creativity is the individual development and conceptualization and that innovation in an organizational sense is implementing ideas and intentions that come from that creativity. So in a sense, creativity is more a leadership function and innovation is more a managerial function.
I believe that if one can understand one’s false personality or ego, then they can develop self-awareness and the manifesting of that self-awareness is leadership. Such a leader sets up the mechanisms within which creativity can flourish, and managers turn this into innovations in the marketplace and society.
But you should take all this with a grain of salt, since in real life creativity and innovation are intertwined and so are leaders and managers. It’s never as clear-cut as I’m making it sound. It’s, as you know, much more dynamic, chaotic and fascinating in the way it plays out. That’s why people have to operate more from their inner essence; it’s the other constant that copes with the legendary constant of change.
Morris: In Creativity in Business co-authored with Rochelle Myers, you and she suggest that in order to understand the essence of business as art, it is necessary to “get to know your inner resource.” How?
Ray: That’s a wonderful question, because it inspires rich answers, enough for a book or two. Rochelle Myers and I developed our course to answer that question and wrote that book. There are a few steps to take that will not only help you to know your inner resource but also to bring it out into the world.
The most important thing you can do individually and organizationally is to pay attention to your own creativity. Sports psychologists call this muscle memory or paying attention to your perfect performance. In your own life you can notice when you do something that works right for you and celebrate it. The more you do this, the greater the probability that you will act creatively in future situations.
You can pay attention to your own creativity by doing what we call “live-withs” in our work. A live-with is a heuristic or generalization for learning and discovery such as “Have No Expectations,” “Pay Attention,” “Ask Dumb Questions,” “See with Your Heart,” or “Be Ordinary.” As you can tell, these live-withs can be challenging. But if you live with each of them for any period of time, such as a week, and then reflect upon them in writing or verbally with another person and get feedback, you will notice shifts in your behavior toward a more creative life.
We tie each live-with with each of four tools of creativity (i.e. having faith in your creativity, developing an absence of negative internal judgment, precise observation, and penetrating questions) and six life challenges (i.e. finding your purpose, dealing with time and stress, developing generative relationships, creating synergy and balance in your life, finding true prosperity, and bringing your individual creativity into the world).
Both individually and organizationally, the live-with “Ask Dumb Questions” can propel people into penetrating questions, which in turn can change the way you do business for the better. And “See with Your Heart” can transform difficult relationships into productive ones.
You can discover and manifest your creativity by being conscious of your own creativity through the technique of live-withs, particularly when applied to the four tools and six challenges. Also remember to share this with others and get feedback so that creativity is in the air, especially within your organization.
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