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Posted: December 21, 2010

Wanted: creatives

What's your passion?

Neil McKenzie

There is a lot of buzz right now about how the US is in a creativity crisis. Even businesses are getting into the act as a result of the poor economy and an uncertain future. We are fortunate that Colorado is in a great position with its large creative sector to help solve this crisis - but only if we act.

In a recent study conducted by IBM, 2010 Global CEO Study: Creativity Selected as Most Crucial Factor for Future Success , executives cited creativity as the key to success , "chief executives believe that -- more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision -- successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity."

My guess is that businesses are looking for people who can think outside the box while being able to work in a team oriented and collaborative environment. Most organizations require or even demand conformity and the shift to developing a creative business atmosphere may not come easily.

When things are going well in a business the problem is fulfilling demand and increasing productivity to get more goods going out the door. Today the problem seems to be to grow demand in a slow economy and create new products and services for today's global economy. The days of achieving a good bottom line through cost cutting are probably over. I wonder if Apple has a creativity crisis?

Recent studies have shown that measures of student's creativity have been falling for the last twenty years while at the same time IQ scores have been increasing. How we got into this position is not as clear as the trend of the creativity scores. It could be our education system, our society not valuing creativity or business's building organizations that run on too much conformity - it's probably a combination of all of these.

Some ideas on developing and harnessing creativity:

If you are a creative person
• Congratulations! - your skills are in short supply.
• Continue to develop your creative skills and look for ways to apply them to other problems/areas.
• Develop a basic understanding of how business works and a few business courses will make you more valuable whether you work for yourself or someone else.
• Help and encourage others to use and develop their creative skills.
• Support and participate in organizations that foster creativity.
• Make sure your bio or resume has the words "creative, creativity, or creative problem solving" in it.

If you are a business
• If you are serious about the need for creativity in your organization - then act!
• The problem or opportunity starts with the people you hire - make sure you are hiring the right people.
• Your corporate culture may need an adjustment - are you ready to hear opposing views or ideas?
• Set up systems that encourage and reward creativity in your organization - it isn't that hard!
• Support and advocate for public policy which supports creative programs - good examples are Colorado Creative Industries and Colorado Business Committee for The Arts.
• Try giving your people time off for creative activities - you just may find a big boost in productivity.

What we all can do
• Support arts and cultural education in our schools. Studies have shown that students who have arts as a part of their general education perform much better in school and are more likely to graduate. Students with arts in their curriculum also fare better in business and in life in general.
• Be an advocate for the arts in our political arena. We all know that our state and local budgets are challenged to say the least. Having funding to help solve the creative crisis should be given serious debate and then acted upon.

An example of meeting the creative crisis challenge
Right now many people and organizations are working to take advantage of Colorado's creative resources and building our creative future. The Center for Innovation at Metropolitan State College Denver is just one example of how we can meet the creativity challenge.

The Center for Innovation is a unique program designed to teach entrepreneurship, innovation and creative problem solving to its diverse students. The program is unique in that it is offered to undergraduate students of all disciplines and it is separate from the business program.

One of the more innovative courses taught is Creative Problem Solving, where students gain real world skills and learn teamwork and collaboration. A major part of this course taught by David Sandusky is what is called the $20 Challenge. The concept is simple, groups of students are given a $20 interest free loan and about six weeks to identify a problem and turn the solution into a business venture.

During the challenge period the students learn:
• Leadership and communication skills
• How to deal with stress, deadlines and tight resources
• Problem solving skills
• Confidence and passion for their project
• A sense of teamwork, collaboration and group dynamics
• Satisfaction of turning a $20 loan into a $150 - $500 return on investment

At the end of the challenge there is a distinct change in how the students approach problems and a desire to become more involved in their school, community and business. A huge part of their success comes from the passion of their teacher David Sandusky.

What is your passion to help develop Colorado's creative sector and solve the creativity crisis?

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Neil McKenzie is an author, educator and consultant to artists and arts organizations in the areas of business and marketing planning.  His recently published book, The Artist’s Business and Marketing ToolBox, was written to take the mystery out of business for artists and other creative professionals. He has more than 30 years experience as a management consultant and corporate marketing executive working with hundreds of organizations including some of the world’s top brands. Neil is a visiting professor at the Center for Innovation at Metropolitan State University of Denver, where he developed and teaches Artrepreneurship; and at University College at the University of Denver, where he teaches the graduate course, Marketing for the Arts.  He is a frequent guest lecturer to artists and organizations in the creative sector and writes about the creative economy including several articles for Americans for the Arts, a national arts organization.  Neil can be reached at 720-339-3160, or






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Readers Respond

It is true that the arts will teach creativity. However, as a former Principal of the Denver School of the Arts, we found it was extremely important to integrate the arts into the general core, but we also integrated the general core into the arts. That is the key to success. This can also be done with any passion a child might have.Teachers also have to be integrated within themselves so they can see how this process really works.We need to change the way we teach! We must expect more from students and we also must support them and our teachers who are using a very experiential and integrated methodology in their classroom today. That is what The Educational Reform Network (TERN) is trying to show those teachers who are doing this kind of education. By Michael Bautista on 2010 12 21
Take a closer look at Google. They allow their employees to dedicate 20% of their time (paid by the company) for personal or creative projects. How does this affect their bottom line? A lot of those pet projects become REAL products for the company (most of the projects within Google Labs started this way). And, everyone gets to be a part of a growing community at work where creativity is encouraged, not stifled. By Jeff Taylor on 2010 12 21
Thank you, Neil, for shining light on creativity and creative problem solving as a differentiating skill set. One of the greatest benefits we are learning through chances we take to be innovative is people and a culture (classroom, business or community) become ALIVE! Hiring for creativity and providing trust and autonomy might just save your business! By David Sandusky on 2010 12 21

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