Creativity and the CEO

by Susan on January 16, 2012


How much should the CEO contribute to a company’s creative process?

The CEO should be the Chief Creativity Officer of a company.  S/he can do this in two ways.  First, the CEO needs to be creative in approaching the problems and opportunities of the business.  Creativity is a muscle.  Some people are born with a naturally big one, meaning that they don’t have to do much to come up with creative ideas.  Others, though, may need to work out to sculpt and strengthen their creativity muscle.

Here are some ways strengthen your creativity muscle and contribute to your company’s creative process more:

1.  Once a month, pick up a magazine that you don’t normally read, in a subject matter area that you don’t spend much time learning about.  If you love to read design and shelter publications, buy a copy of the latest Popular Science.  If you only read heavy news magazines, try a tabloid or a fashion magazine.  Stretch your brain by forcing yourself to read every word, including all of the weird ads in the back.

Then, write down five things you’ve learned from your adventure in someone else’s reading list.  (I became a die-hard fan of Fast Company and Psychology Today by doing this several years ago, and I can’t count the number of ideas and insights I’ve brought to my business by broadening my reading.)  You can do the same thing with blogs, too.

2.  Every once in a while, do an in-depth review of the Facebook or LinkedIn profiles of five friends, preferably some you aren’t that close to.  By exploring their job histories and interests, you will most likely find something surprisingly interesting.  Bonus points if you meet one of them for coffee.

3.  Give your brain some time to rest.  You should make it a priority to get enough sleep, which studies say can improve your memory and brain function.  You should also give yourself a few blocks of time during the week when you are doing anything but working.

Vegging out in front of the TV is one option, but I prefer a mindless physical activity to really help clear my head.  Some examples of this are cleaning out your closet, wrapping gifts, or polishing silver – all of which can also help eliminate stress!  Whatever you do, unplugging for a few hours a week is like a breath of fresh air for your creativity muscle.

4.  When you really need to ramp up the creativity, try this exercise.  Fill a bag with ten different random items from around your house or office.  (Have your spouse or kids do this for you to make it more interesting.)  Reach in and blindly draw one out.  Using the object you’ve chosen as inspiration, come up with as many ideas as you can in ten minutes.  As an example, say you’re trying to come up with a creative marketing idea.  If you draw a pencil out of the bag, what creative marketing ideas are sparked by that?

  • Approach the National Carpentry Association for a partnership deal that gives a “buy one, get one free” pencil offer to their members.
  • Playing off the eraser, launch a “nothing’s set in stone” campaign to producers of faux tile, granite, etc.
  • Simply enough, print your slogan on pencils to give away at trade shows.  Everyone gives out pens, so a large pencil could stand out.
  • Taking your brain through the process of coming up with a lot of ideas fast, even if some of them are lame or silly, flexes and builds your creativity muscle.

In addition to being a creative force and actively contributing to your company’s creative process, a CEO should also foster an environment of creativity among the team.  This means more than just saying, “Be creative” to everyone you meet in the hallway.  As CEO, you can create ways to help your people be creative.

For example:

  • Put together an inter-disciplinary email list, and send out periodic requests for ideas on specific topics.  You might ask for recognition ideas or thoughts on why the XYZ widget isn’t selling well.
  • Don’t only rely on the leaders of your departments to provide answers.  Reach into the ranks to see what fresh eyes can bring to a problem.
  • Set up an anonymous way for employees at every level to submit ideas, in case staff fear chain-of-command backlash from their leaders.  Also, have a non-anonymous way to do it, like an “” email address, so that those who aren’t afraid can get the recognition due to them for a good idea.
  • Don’t bail out your subordinates all the time.  Just as parents do their children no favors by failing to teach them self-reliance, the CEO and other leaders of a company prevent their teams of using creative problem solving skills when they swoop in and solve every problem.  When someone comes to you with a problem, make sure they also bring two solutions.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Beth January 16, 2012 at 3:27 pm

This is a great reminder. I especially like the idea of having someone bring two solutions for problems. I think leaders often feel that they are obligated to be the Problem-Solver-in Chief and fail to get others to grow in this area.

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