Creativity. When you say that word, what type of person or job role do you think of? Artist? Writer? Designer?
Many people think that creativity is just for “creatives”. But it’s not. Everyone can benefit from being and thinking creatively. As Dave Trott, a creative director and the author of Creative Mischief, says: “Creativity isn’t a particular discipline. It’s the quality of originality and unexpectedness that you bring to whatever you do.“
Creativity is about putting new and different – often unanticipated and unpredictable – things together, which causes you and others to think about them in a new way. This isn’t just something for people who work in the creative industries. No matter what your role, you are likely to have to think creatively about the tasks at hand.
Often the need to think creatively is associated with problem solving:
Finding solutions to problems; seeing opportunities where no one else does – this is how new products and services come to be every day. The business world is littered with stories of entrepreneurs who have built businesses by being creative.
Richard Branson, for instance, started Virgin Atlantic when his flight from Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands was cancelled. Rather than waiting for the next available flight, he hired a charter plane and sold seats to all of the other passengers who had also been bumped.
After questioning why Coco-Cola could be found almost anywhere in the world but aid couldn’t, ColaLife worked with the soft drinks company to develop the AidPod, a wedge-shaped container that fits between the necks of bottles in a CocaCola crate and allows aid to be transported using CocaCola’s distribution routes.
Back in 1984, Anderson Erickson Dairy in Des Moines, America wanted to do something to help find two boys who had gone missing on their paper-round. Knowing that their milk cartons would be seen by many families in the area, they printed the photo of the boys on the packaging – and so began the practice of publishing photos of missing children on milk cartons, a tool that remained in use until the mid 90s.
Thinking creatively means questioning the norms and challenging the status quo. It means doing things differently.
This is where surrounding yourself with people just like you can become a problem. If everyone thinks and acts the same, and have had the same life experiences, you’re going to keep getting the same responses. Real creativity happens when different people from different disciplines, genders, age, race and backgrounds etc get together. Diversity is a driver of creativity.
For instance, when you bring together people who think with the right brain (sensory and emotional) with those who are more ‘left brain’ (rational and logical), brilliance can be achieved. The right-brainers have flashes of inspiration and great ideas; the left-brainers find a way to deliver the solution and keep the whole process on track. I’m thinking of visionary CEO’s working well with their finance directors, or creative directors working with planners on branding projects.
The same principle applies with skills: as the old saying goes, when the only tool you’ve got is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.
Hence why it can be really helpful for left brain people to take training in art, theatre and creative writing, and for right brainers to learn about structure, logic and analytics. Learning about difference disciplines is how new ideas are borne. We don’t always have to use those new skills but they can help get us out of stale thinking and into new ways of working.
So whether you’re a fundraiser or a finance director; a campaigner or volunteer manager, creativity could be just what you need to get out of a rut, take advantage over your competitors and help you to be even more brilliant than you already are.
Becky Slack is the managing director of the PR and comms agency, Slack Communications, the co-host of L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Workshop, France, a four-day creative writing retreat in southwest France and a member of the Lucidity Network.
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The last 15 minutes of the session was a Q&A and there were several questions on the same theme; how to get investment for testing new fundraising ideas. There was some consensus in the room about how Trustees were risk averse, how it was hard to get agreement to invest in anything new or anything perceived as risky. There were also comments about how finance directors were a barrier to innovation and fundraising.
“How on earth can we do anything new with finance gatekeepers
who are impossible to talk to?”
Before we could respond, a woman put up her hand and asked if she could answer the question. We asked what her role was and she said she was director of finance at a UK charity. We suggested she came up to the front of the room so everyone could hear her. As the only finance director in a room of fundraisers, she shared valuable experience and advice.
She told several stories about being asked to look at business plans and budgets at the last-minute, with little background or context or opportunity for discussion. There was always an imminent deadline, even if the project had been in operation for months (sometimes years). And if there is a meeting where finance is being discussed, it’s likely that the finance team are also working flat-out to get their papers ready leaving little or no time for a last-minute review of a new fundraising investment case.
She explained how she had felt disappointed at not being given the opportunity to be more involved in fundraising, and was shocked that it was perceived that finance were on an opposing team to fundraisers – when in reality we were all working for the charity for the same reason – to make a bigger difference to beneficiaries.
She was rather inspirational and certainly not impossible to talk with.
I’ve come across this last-minute situation several times and I have a theory about some of the reasons that it happens.
When I was about 13 my math teacher told me I wasn’t very good at math. The things that your teachers tell you when you are young shape your beliefs. And even though my results were above average, I have a story that I tell myself. “I’m no good at math, I’m a people person (as if the two are mutually exclusive?!) and when it comes to numbers I’ll get found out.”
Why am I sharing this? Because I’ve discovered a lot of people feel this way and many of those people are fundraisers.
It can be daunting to approach a ‘finance expert’ when your story of ‘I’m no good at math’ is rumbling away in the back of your mind. Combine that with the fundraising department story (whether true or not) that finance won’t sign anything off anyway, it’s really hard to own that vulnerability and ask for help business modeling or for critique on budgets early on – even though rationally that is obviously the most sensible thing to do – and even more so if you are unsure of your skills.
So we leave things to the last-minute in the hopes they don’t get scrutinized.
How might finance and fundraising work more effectively to change the story?
In my experience fundraising and finance have a different language, skills and experience. It’s when there is a common understanding that everyone is on the same team that the good stuff happens.
I’m busy encouraging fundraising and finance to have more coffees and conversations. If you receive one of those requests for coffee – please say yes.
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