How to Carve a Creative Channel on Your Team

Vince Lombardi said, “The joy is in creating, not maintaining.”  Yet, most of our organizations are geared to maintain rather than create.  Annette Moser-Wellman in her book The Five Faces of Genius claims, “The most valuable resource you bring to your work and your firm is your creativity.  More than what you get done, more than the role you play, more than your title, more than your ‘output’—it’s your ideas that matter.”  As important as creativity is, some studies suggest that less than 10% of adults are creative; that they have grown out of that area of their lives by adulthood.

Creative thinking is not necessary an original idea.  Often, it is being able to see an issue and connect the dots that were previously unconnected.  Creative thinkers value ideas and options.  Often when I am working to negotiate a deal, I want to understand the playing field I am allowed to be in.  Creative thinkers will embrace the uncertainty and offbeat.  They also will not fear failure.  There is a story of a reporter asking Thomas Edison if he was discouraged after 5,000 failed attempts to find a suitable filament for the incandescent light bulb.  Edison replied that he was 5,000 steps closer to finding something that works!  Creative people see failure as a learning point not an end destination.

John Maxwell asserts that creative thinking is a process.  It begins with a thinking, then collecting other material that relates to the thought.  Then other ideas are combined to make the thoughts better.  Next a refining process corrects problems and errors with the thoughts.  Lastly, the ideas are connected and positioned in the right context to make the idea powerful.

So as a leader, if creativity is important to your organization’s growth, how do you foster creativity, especially in the ordinary workplace of financial services?  First, you have to encourage creativity.  I love when one of the Pactola team will begin a thought with, “You may think this is crazy…” You know then it is time to put down your pen and listen.  Your team needs to know they have permission to be creative and that creativity is encouraged.  Creative people need to be embraced on your team.

Next, there needs to be trust among the team members.  Creativity always has a risk of failure.  Trust is important to foster more creativity.  Trust comes from people working together, knowing that teammates have experience launching successful ideas, and assurance that creative ideas will not go to waste. 

There must be a focus on innovation and not just invention.  The breakthrough product is great but just as valuable is finding new ways to deliver existing services in a better and more efficient manner.  Our newest experience at Pactola is our new PacPortal.  We have worked a more efficient and easier way for our loan investors and potential buyers to have access to their loan files.  It is even so easy that I can use it!  Not only will the investors be able to have better and timely access, Pactola will save valuable staff time that can be used to provide more help to our stakeholders.

A creative environment lets people go outside the lines.  Most of the boundaries we have are self-imposed.  The inventor Charles Kettering said, “All human development, no matter what form it takes, must be outside the rules; otherwise, we would never have anything new.” 

A creative environment also appreciates the power of a dream.  Encourage your team to start with a blank sheet of paper and ask, “If we could draw a picture of what we want to accomplish, what would it look like?”   You have to start with dreams if you want to accomplish great things.  Martin Luther King Jr. declared “I have a dream,” not “I have a goal.”  A goal may give us focus, but a dream gives power.  Also, when your staff is dreaming, do not let any naysayers pipe up with a “Well that will never work.”  A dream session is not a place to kill the creativity.  Dreams can be refined later. 

When I first came to this position, I visited with two dozen different CUSOs as I thought surely there was a pattern, a magic bullet, for success.  I soon learned there was none.  So then I had to begin to dream and get others around me to dream about how we wanted Pactola to be.  As we have grown in numbers of owners and employees, the dream is getting larger.  Far off accomplishments are becoming possibilities. All this is being fueled by creative people.