When are you most creative and innovative? Your first gut reaction to that question might be to give a time of day (such as mornings when your mind is fresh). Or, you might answer the question by linking it to a place or location (like outdoors or in a highly creative environment). Or, you might even connect it to a group of friends or employees who carry a certain innovative DNA. All of these are well and good, but I believe creativity and innovation is found first and foremost in a particular sweet spot known as your “strengths.”
In his book, Go Put Your Strengths to Work, Marcus Buckingham observes, “…each of us is at our most creative, our most innovative, and shows our best judgment precisely in our areas of greatest strength” (p. 9). So if you want to be the most creative and innovative, consider three keys:
1. Self-Awareness – First, you must know what your strengths are. You cannot intentionally boost your creative juices if you are unclear about your strengths, gifts, abilities, and passions. Self-awareness defines the boundaries where you are most engaged, most alive, and most creative.
2. Strength-Alignment – Knowing your strengths is great, but bringing alignment between your strengths and your work is absolutely essential. Alignment results in leverage. By aligning strengths and work you’re able to invest more time in your sweet spot and therefore more strategically leverage your strengths for organizational growth and excellence.
3. Strategic Application – Self-awareness and strength-alignment help you choose the strategic application of your strengths. You are most creative and innovative when you strategically apply your strengths to discussions, brainstorming sessions, and activities that will most benefit from your mix of strengths. This means you need to volunteer your strengths to areas where you can add the most value and withdraw, if at all possible, from those areas where you have the least to contribute.
I’ll give you a personal example. My five strengths (according to Strengthsfinder.com) are “Strategic,” “Maximizer,” “Focus,” “Achiever,” and “Input.” When taking the assessment a second time, “Futuristic” jumped into my top five. One way I strategically apply these strengths is by leading or participating in teams that evaluate organizational health, set direction for the future, or develop strategies that maximize results. In these environments, I am most creative. In fact, in these settings my mind is fully alive and I feel completely energized.
My “Maximizer” and “Futuristic” strengths are able to pinpoint fresh ideas and envision innovative options to maximize the effectiveness of the organization. My “Input” gives me loads of information, data, and learning to draw from as my “Maximizer” and “Futuristic” kick in high gear. My “strategic” strengths is able to sort through the options and identify the best path. My “Focus” keeps me fully engaged on a clear outcome. And my “Achiever” drives me to work long and hard to deliver the best results. In this situation, my mind is fully engaged…creative, innovative, and full of possibilities.
However, if you take my same strengths and drop me in a support group meeting with people seeking recovery from emotional abuse, I’m useless. In that environment my creativity is non-existent. Is that because one meeting is more important than another? Not at all! My strengths and passions simply come alive in the first scenario yet feel completely depleted in the second scenario. For you it may be the exact opposite.
The strategic application of your strengths directly impacts your level of creativity and innovation. Carefully identify your strengths using a tool like Strengthsfinder. Then, create as much alignment as possible between your strengths and your work. Those two steps alone will make it easier to strategically apply your strengths. And the by-product will be an environment where your creativity and innovation soar.
Question: How do your strengths stimulate your creativity?