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Risk-taking reality

blue sky

I am working with the University of Bradford to think about creativity and it’s got me thinking about risk-taking.  If creativity is about doing something new, something fresh, something novel, then inevitably it includes a degree of risk: the risk that the idea won’t solve the problem, the risk that it’s different to expectations, that risk that comes with offering something of yourself.  Risk is scary.

There is a constant call for more creativity in business but an apparent disconnect between the encouragement to take risks and day-to-day reality of most of our jobs.  In most of the jobs I know, failure isn’t welcomed – taking risks, genuine risks that might not work out, is something most of  us, when our livelihoods are at stake, will avoid.

The creativity that is demanded of us at work is often borne out of urgent need, forced on us by unforeseen circumstances and problems: necessity is the mother of invention afterall.  However it is ominous risk-taking when we’re forced into a corner.  And although the pressure usually produces something, it may not be the best solution.

The other form of creativity isn’t necessarily reactive but open – seeking and imaging new opportunities – not firefighting but fire starting.  Wildly successful companies such as Apple, Google and alike dedicate enormous time and resource to creativity through R&D.  It is their success that demonstrates the need to experiment and enables them to do so.  Gratuitous risk-taking is usually the preserve of the comfortable and confident.

So what does this mean for our daily lives?  How do we find that comfort and confidence to be creative in our workplaces and homes?  Crucially, I think it means working together.  Generally ideas are instigated by an individual but refined and polished through dialogue, that is it takes input from other people to turn a spark into a fire.  The dialogue doesn’t have to be collaborative to improve an idea, competition is a great motivator too, but teams will ultimately pull themselves apart if they’re not working together.

Working together requires us to have confidence in our own contribution.  We can all be creative because every one of us has something unique to offer. Each of us views the world from a particular perspective that is shaped by our individual lives.  No-one else can see things the way we do.  It gives us something special to present; we should take confidence from our own idiosyncratic experiences.  And the diversity of a team is a fertile space for ideas but it needs protecting.

Most of us need dedicated time, space and a clear purpose to be creative.  The framework created by these elements gives us a secure and structured place to experiment.  We need to be able to explore foolishness and the unconventional, to turn things on their heads and look at them from a different perspective if we want to discover something new and, like the magic circle of play, these boundaries help to set us free.

The last aspect of acheiving confidence and comfort in teams is the clear and immutable agreement that “we’re all in this together.”  The group needs to give credit where credit is due and share collective responsibility for both the risk-taking that succeeds and the risk-taking that doesn’t.

Thankfully in a commited culture of creativity, even the risks that fail provide the fertiliser for the next big idea.  There are always blue skies eventually.

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