Given that May and June are the months when most graduation ceremonies take place, it seems to me that now is a good time to offer a bit of advice to young people who are about to leave school and launch their careers. Such advice is often included in commencement addresses. I’ve heard many such addresses over the years, but I have never heard a commencement speaker focus on the importance of creativity. Since I think that young people should be encouraged to exercise their creativity, I decided to ask an expert on creativity to provide young people with some words of advice on this topic.
The person I asked is Paul Reali, Charlotte’s resident expert on creativity. In addition to being the co-founder of Charlotte Lit, Paul is the co-author of Creativity Rising: Creative Thinking and Creative Problem Solving in the 21st Century and the editor of many creativity-related books and journals. Paul has an M.S. in Creativity from the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State. Paul has been a trainer and facilitator for more than 25 years in the areas of creativity and innovation. Here is what Paul sent to me:
My friend Mark West asked me to say a few words to this year’s graduates about another of my friends, creativity.
We Boomers and Generation Xers can say what we want about Gens Y and Z (ahem: our kids), but we should thank them for this: they have embraced the idea of creativity as few before them. The word creatives is now in common use. A decade ago, the most common response to hearing that I have an M.S. (yes, a Master’s of Science) in Creativity was this: “you can get a degree in creativity?”
Not only that, but it’s studied in colleges worldwide. My book, Creativity Rising: Creative Thinking and Creative Problem Solving in the 21st Century (ICSC Press), written with three colleagues, is used as an introductory textbook at colleges in four countries. The book is a why-to and how-to guide to deliberate creativity, and it introduces concepts that most of today’s graduates take for granted. Of course I’m creative, they’ll say – which was not something I expected to hear from most working adults even a decade ago.
Yet there’s a disconnect, still, between how young people think about creativity and how they intend to use it. In the main, they consider creativity to be part of their lives, but not necessarily something they can bring into their workplaces. They have a point: many employers do not know how to nurture and support the highly creative people in their workforces. Yet here’s what I’d like employers and new college grads heading into the workplace to understand: creative ability is why people are hired in the first place.
It’s obvious, actually: if a company can get a computer to do the work, it does. Humans are hired to do what computers can’t: primarily, to think and solve problems creatively.
To be specific: Creativity is action taken to produce a novel (unique, original) and valuable (useful, appropriate) outcome. Many of us do this naturally; creativity is part of the prize pack you receive for being born human, says Cathy Pickens, author of CREATE! Developing Your Creative Process. Yet what our lives and our workplaces require is the deliberate application of creativity; that is, identifying problems and opportunities, big and small, and approaching them in new ways.
What Creativity Rising tries to make clear is that this is not optional. Creativity can no longer be seen as a nice-to-have or when-we-have-time endeavor. Creativity is an essential life skill and the cornerstone of today’s workplace. The world moves too quickly. Change is not just inevitable, it’s constant. Companies that do not build nimble, innovative, creatively-supportive workplaces will find it difficult to retain talent from Gens Y and Z – and increasingly from Gen X and the Boomers. And that failure will make it impossible to thrive, not to mention survive.
If I were to sum up my message for new graduates, it’s comes down to this: don’t settle for workplaces that stifle you and your creativeness. You’ll soon learn that your side gigs and side hustles are not enough outlet for your creative self. It doesn’t deserve to be placed in a box from eight to six. Seek out and help build jobs and workplaces that embrace and enhance your creativity. It’s time for creativity – and you – to take your place on the stage.
I think that Paul’s advice on the value of deliberate creativity relates not just to recent graduates but to all of us as we respond to our fast-changing and stress-inducing society. Like Paul, I think that we all should make an effort to exercise and cultivate our creativity, and one way to do this is by engaging in the world of storytelling. Participating in organizations like Charlotte Lit (https://www.charlottelit.org) and the Charlotte Writers Club (https://charlottewritersclub.org/home) can help us accomplish this goal. As I see it, creativity and Storied Charlotte go hand in hand.