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How to Unlock Your Family’s Creativity

The Big Idea

Chances are, your kids’ lives are filled to overflowing with required activities – most of which are directed by an adult, most of which require the kind of conformity and rule following that stifle the development of the skills kids need, including creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking, to thrive and prosper in today’s increasingly competitive, rapidly changing world.

As Rebecca Shambaugh confirms in this HBR article, How to Unlock Your Team’s Creativity [1:], Creativity is an increasingly essential leadership competency “yet only 25% feel they are living up to their creative potential and an overwhelming majority of executives — 94% — are unhappy with the innovative performance of their company” according to Mckinsey [2]

As parents, we have the opportunity to be strategic and intentional about fostering the development of creativity – and all of the Top 10 Skills - in our kids, at home, starting now. The tips the author provides to unlock creativity in the workplace can be applied to unlock creativity in your family and classroom. They mirror the approach outlined in START’s Leadership Framework.

In so doing, our kids will develop the emotional intelligence, intrinsic motivation, and essential skills that fosters initiative, meaningful connection, and valued contribution at home, at school, and ultimately at work and in life.

Here’s how to do it

What The Research Says

The World Economic Forum [2] identified these 10 skills as essential for success in 2020:

2020: Top 10 Skills

  1. Complex Problem Solving

  2. Critical Thinking

  3. Creativity

  4. People Management

  5. Coordinating with others

  6. Emotional Intelligence

  7. Judgement and Decision Making

  8. Service Orientation

  9. Negotiation

  10. Cognitive Flexibility

The skills fall into the categories of Resourceful, as we’ve defined them in our START research – and along with the skills in the categories of Responsible and Resourceful, they provide our kids with what’s required for them to live, creative, self-directed, purposeful lives.

Responsible: I know what to do and step up to do it.

1. Self-Direction: They see the big picture. They set appropriate goals, and they take initiative and ownership to do the work necessary to achieve them.

2. Ethics: They choose right over wrong — even when choosing right is harder and no one is watching.

3. Global Awareness: They understand the perspective of others who may have needs and views that are different from their own.

Resilient: I know why I’m the one to do it, and so stay with it, even when it’s hard.

4. Grit: They recover from setbacks and they forge ahead. They are willing, eager, and able to take on worthwhile challenges even when it is hard.

5. EQ: Their social and emotional awareness and skills enable the productive management of themselves and their relationships.

6. Social Responsibility: They put their talents to work to make a difference in ways that are meaningful to their community and to them.

Resourceful: I know how to do it, and I know how to work with others to get it done.

7. Critical Thinking: They have the knowledge, skill, and discipline to conceptualize, analyze, and synthesize information that leads to meaningful and productive decision making and outcomes.

8. Creativity: They have the knowledge, skill, and discipline to apply original ideas to generate meaningful value.

9. Communication: They persuasively give and actively receive essential information.

10. Collaboration: They work with and leverage a group’s talents to realize shared goals.

Even at the youngest ages, our kids benefit from experiencing the meaning and context of these skills and from putting them into practice. For example, a three-year-old learning to play well in the sand box, sharing toys, and taking turns is developing her skill in Global Awareness, while an 18-year-old is learning to understand the perspective of others in different communities,

cultures, and countries. By noticing, naming, and acknowledging these skills and their precursors, we reinforce the importance of their development and make the skills accessible to our kids for future use.

How To Take Action

In How to Unlock Your Team’s Creativity, the author recommends four, practical tips:

Avoid getting hemmed in by process

“An over-reliance on systematically following rules can shut down collaborative brainstorming, as some may feel they have no flexibility to express outside options that run counter to the standard process and way things have always been done. If this is the case, try removing the limitations of particular procedural structures during creative sessions, so that everyone can feel freer to contribute without bureaucratic constraint.”

Facilitate spaghetti throwing

“To facilitate experimentation and encourage people to see what sticks and what doesn’t, work on creating an environment of psychological safety — where Heidi Brooks from the Yale School of Management says, a leader “walks the talk and doesn’t simply ask people to voice outside-the-box thinking, but also demonstrates the same behaviors himself or herself.” To inspire creativity, leaders should also encourage healthy conflict and debate. Instead of micromanaging, empower others and give them the reins to explore and take risks, which can lead in unexpected directions.”

Reveal “sticky floors

As a leader, part of your role in managing teams is to use emotional intelligence to determine whether any team members are unknowingly holding themselves back from tapping into their talents and full potential. If even one person hides their creative light under a bushel, the whole team suffers. Take a proactive approach to address this issue: help the team member become aware of the sticky floor, and offer coaching and support around expressing innovative ideas within the team setting.

Encourage a growth mindset — laced with mindfulness.

This leadership challenge calls for guiding people to step out of the norm, crack their old assumptions, and stay open to new possibilities for creative insights. Many of today’s leaders have lost their ability and the bandwidth to pause and prioritize what’s important, or to put time aside to plan and be creative while inspiring others to do the same. Yet this omission is a mistake, in light of research that reveals that meditation awakens creative impulses in several ways, from improving working memory to increasing cognitive flexibility, as well as brainstorming ability. Increasing mindfulness can be as simple as taking a walk in the middle of the day while focusing on your surroundings. Avoid the tendency to multi-task by getting rid of tech distractions at set times for free-form thought, and engaging in a simple breathing exercise, following the rise and fall of your breath to oxygenate your brain and ignite creativity. If the simple act of pausing to breathe and reflect can drive a whole team’s creativity, then it’s a step worth implementing.

From our START research, we know that day-to-day life is filled with development and Training opportunities. Training represents the fifth step in the START model: Strategy, Tactics, Assessment, Routines, and Training.

Capitalizing on Training opportunities, we can provide our kids with the essential skills they need to become Responsible, Resilient, and Resourceful leaders, able to manage their own work and to develop their own Routines. In addition to modeling and teaching the START Leadership language and processes, building training into everyday activities reinforces the leadership mindset, provides tools that can scaffold and build over time, provides opportunities to earn privileges (not rewards), and builds self-assurance.

These skills can be refined by age and then practiced and reinforced at home with increasing sophistication over time. Training opportunities can be woven into daily life. Games, projects, chores, and selected books and movies can be used to support the development of each of the essential leadership skills. Once established, the leadership language and processes developed through informal and formal training establish vocabulary that kids can use, build upon, and take with them as they move through school, college, and into the workplace and life as adults.

Learn more in the START’s leadership handbook and workbook for parents and families [4]

The Results

Intrinsically motivated and emotionally intelligent, the kids raised with this model demonstrate more meaningful, engaged behaviors at school, at home, and ultimately at work when compared to the extrinsically motivated kids for whom behaving, performing and achieving, and building a résumé for college admissions are the defining objectives. They experience broad success without sacrificing well-being, and they become the leaders we hoped they would be, able to contribute creatively in their chosen field.

References & Links

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