Depot Talk: Redefining Creativity

The Innovation Depot started an initiative called “Depot Talks,” where founders from current or graduated companies of the Innovation Depot can share insights with the Depot community. The goal is to create a place where sharing personal stories can help foster progress for other companies dealing with similar issues. With a push from David Knight, I was asked to give the first talk on November 3.

Inspired by a talk given by Knight Eady’s creative director Buddy Overstreet, I decided to speak about creativity and what it means to be a creative. The presentation was originally given by Buddy on our annual staff retreat. The message asserted that everyone is a creative, which is a powerful concept that has defined the way I think and run this company.

I came from a family of creatives – my mom is a theatre teacher, my dad was a musician turned music teacher, and my older brother was a musician turned music teacher as well. While creative people surrounded me, I struggled to find my creative identity. I wanted to be creative but I wasn’t sure how to identify myself or my talents.

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One thing I have realized over the years is that you don’t have to be an artist, designer or musician to be a creative. I love this quote from Steve Jobs: * Creativity is just CONNECTING THINGS. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just SAW something. It seemed obvious to them AFTER A WHILE. That's because they were able to CONNECT EXPERIENCES they've had and SYNTHESIZE new things.*

As Steve said, creativity is just connecting things. Creative people take the time and make the effort to notice things. They absorb everything, and they are acutely aware of their surroundings, feelings and ideas. When you change your definition of what it means to be creative, you realize creativity is more of a mindset than a given characteristic.

Image On our staff, we have people working in roles from operations to finance to sales. While some of these roles aren’t traditionally viewed as “creative,” the success of our company depends on the creativity of each and every staff member. One example of this can be seen through our management of the AHSAA State Basketball Finals. For years, players, coaches, and fans poured into the BJCC to see their favorite team play for a state championship. Before we took over managing this event, the court looked very similar to a high school gym, just placed in a larger arena. Once we took over, we brought in a custom design floor and 70’ of digital boards to elevate the look and experience for the student-athletes, coaches, fans and sponsors of the AHSAA. All it took was applying our knowledge of the college basketball experience and applying it to our high school product.

The way we view ourselves–and our employees–matters. If you think about it, being creative is the foundation for many of the essential factors to running a successful business and having a successful life. My presentation highlighted three main points about creativity and considering yourself to be a creative:

  1. ** It spurs personal growth.** Thinking creatively moves you from inactive to active. It is the force that makes you say, “I can fix this problem” rather than “this is a problem.” Creativity is the factor that drives us to try something new and produce a positive change. You begin to see where you can help, change and improve.

  2. It increases your value at your job and keeps you relevant. Every single office, job and project has its problems. Creative people don’t accept the status quo, they seek to challenge and change it. Being creative about the pain point you and your peers experience in the workplace allows you to stand out — you’re seen as the “idea person,” innovator, problem-solver. You’re the force creating change and pushing others to do the same. When you refuse to be creative, you slowly drift from irrelevant to replaceable.

  3. Creativity breeds efficiency.This links back to one of Knight Eady’s core values — innovate and reinvent continuously. We don’t hire people who want to come in and do their job descriptions perfectly. We want people to come in with ideas. We want to have discussions about them, throw out more ideas, and ultimately produce a change that makes us all work better.

Creativity is not something you either have or you don't, it is a method of thinking, meaning you have to practice it. We must train our brains to think more creatively. And, as employers, we must create an environment where people feel empowered to be creative.

At Knight Eady, we do this by having consistent brainstorming sessions for a variety of items both within and outside of our current service offerings. Our staff retreat is another way we try to stimulate creative thinking. During our staff retreat, we ask each of our employees to give a “Ted Talk” on their life, which forces all of us to be a little uncomfortable and vulnerable but also creates empathy with each other. All of these characteristics contribute to our culture of creativity at Knight Eady. Lastly, our lunch and learns contribute heavily to the creative environment we try to foster at Knight Eady. Lunch and learns are a great way for our staff to learn how to find solutions to problems, even when they fall outside of our current scope of work at Knight Eady.

I ended the talk with a favorite phrase from Buddy: “Everyone is a creative… but not everyone has good taste.”

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