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Risking Failure Is Key to Your Creative Success
Bentley’s PreparedU Project is dedicated to preparing millennials for success in business and in life. This series provides insights into ways that objective can be accomplished.
Creativity is about connecting the dots. You see things other people do not. You think in new and innovative ways. You take risks and fail and try again and fail better. Until you succeed.
As inventor Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”
“It’s all about coming up with ideas,” says Aylesworth. “A primary goal of a business school must be to nurture creativity.”
The business world agrees. The Knowledge Economy has been supplanted by the Creative Economy, according to BusinessWeek. Creativity and innovation must become the new core competency in order for the country to remain competitive in the global market, it says.
In a survey by the American Management Association, 500 CEOs said the skill most necessary to survive this century is the ability to practice creativity and innovation.
You cannot have one without the other, says Teresa Amabile, who heads the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School and is a leading researcher on creativity and business innovation.
“Creativity and innovation are different stages in the same process,” says Amabile. “Creativity is the initial production and development of novel, useful ideas. Innovation is the successful implementation of creative ideas.”
But teaching business students to enter the creative process is a challenge. Too many young people are focused on getting the right answer and getting it done rather than exploring possibilities, says Aylesworth.
Creativity begins with building a foundation of knowledge in a particular discipline. You master a way of thinking and learn to be creative by experimenting and questioning your assumptions, he says.
For instance, Van Gogh, Edison, and Steve Jobs mastered their fields, and then with open minds, drew on lifetimes of experiences to make brilliant new connections.
In one of his graduate-level courses, Aylesworth asks students to self define as creative or not. The creatives are told to go to the left side of the room. Nearly all of the MBA students go instead to the right. He hates to see this. Everyone is creative, he says. Or, at least, everyone has the potential to be creative.
The rest of the semester is spent helping students reclaim the mental flexibility that Aylesworth says has been lost to years of schooling focused on finding a single right answer.
For the final project, he says, “Show me your creativity” — and, at first, the students panic. They ask: “What are we supposed to do?” “What are we supposed to create?” “A product? A business plan?”
Just create something new and useful, he says. Learn to set out with the optimistic belief that although you cannot see where you are going at the moment, the way will become clear and the effort worthwhile.
Developing this ability is difficult for people across the U.S. Eight in 10 people feel that unlocking creativity is critical to economic growth, according to an Adobe study on creativity. Nearly two-thirds say they feel creativity is valuable to society. But only one in four people says they believe they are living up to their own creative potential.
The good news is that, with time and patience, it can be learned. Back in the classroom, Aylesworth reports, an amazing thing happens. Students begin to produce work that surprises them. They create paintings, music, infomercials, and, once, a highly successful one-man play. They let go of their need to set defined objectives and meet them. They enter the creative process.
Learning to struggle with ambiguity is difficult but invaluable, says Aylesworth.
“I tell my students that you’ll never create anything if you do not take chances. You’ll do the same thing over and over and get good at it. You’ll avoid risking failure. The problem is that to a hammer everything starts to look like a nail,” he says.
“Life is not a standardized test. There are no single right answers. One answer might be a hammer, yes. But a second might be a saw. And a third might be an orange, which is to say, totally unexpected.”
- Countless books about creativity. My current favorites are “Funny Business: Build your Soft Skills Through Comedy” by (Bentley alum) Bill Connolly and “Creative Confidence” by Tom and David Kelley. But there are lots of them.
- Take an improv comedy course. One (of many) place that offers them is ImprovBoston.
- Take a walk, or a “saunter,” as one of my colleagues, Gesa Kirsch, puts it. But don’t just walk: Notice things. You never know where inspiration might strike.
Meg Murphy is a freelance writer.