On Creativity and Trust

If there is one theme that keeps showing up when we discuss Creativity, it is the need to let go. Quite a few Core Practices in the c.os model are based on the idea that a creative setup is often messy and less structured, that not everything could or should be planned, and that detours and surprises are playgrounds from which creative insights emerge.

Letting go means not only to acknowledge the fact that you cannot control everything but to embrace it and turn it into a creative playground. What is less spoken is that letting go requires multiple levels of trust. And if letting go is essential to Creativity, trust becomes a basic requirement in any creative setup.

Trust Your Team

Whether you are in a partnership, a small team, or a global organization, trust is essential to achieving joint goals. Without trust, people cannot genuinely and effectively work together — they will forever just work alongside each other. In the context of Creativity and the need to let go every now and then, trust becomes even more significant. And it starts with creating a safe space to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and articulate crazy ideas.

Imagine members of your team challenging the path you have chosen to take toward a specific goal. Imagine them questioning the goal itself. In a low-trust setup, your immediate reaction might be defensive. You might think “they are not team players,” or “they question my authority” (if you are the team lead), or “they are just looking for excuses to avoid doing the work.” Theoretically, any of these options is possible. If this is indeed the environment in which you operate, something fundamental must change before we can even start discussing Creativity.

But, let’s assume you don’t have any reason to suspect this is the case. What reaction will the mere act of challenging assumptions or questioning the path or the goals trigger? If you dismiss it and tag it as “going against the team or the organization,” your team will get the message: they will probably avoid repeating these kinds of statements in the future. But challenging assumptions and breaking boundaries is one of the core practices of Creativity. Your team members are most likely raising such questions for genuine reasons — because they really want to succeed, even if it means (especially if it means) taking some unconventional turns in the journey. If you dismiss or discourage it, you cannot expect them to generate creative insights and ideas.

In an organizational environment where goals are often the primary concern, let alone the key factor in performance evaluation, trusting your team to do something that seems like a setback is not trivial, even if you are full of good, trusting intentions. One way to overcome this is by defining fuzzier goals that don’t dictate the path.

But even if you cannot control the goals and they are strictly defined, it is up to you to create a trusting atmosphere. Without taking this leap of faith and exploring some unknown playgrounds, the best you can hope for is traditional, expected results. Creative breakthroughs are not likely to occur without trust. Trusting your team doesn’t mean everything will succeed and result in amazing breakthroughs 100% of the time, far from it. When you take the creative path, the outcome is not guaranteed. If it was, there was no issue of trust. Trusting your team means trusting their intentions and intuition and taking a risk in terms of the results.

Does that mean you and your team should take any risk? Of course not. Trust does not mean walking blindfolded into the abyss. Trust means to create a safe space for asking questions, challenging assumptions, exploring opportunities, and deciding which of them to pursue. It also means to take the chance that they will not succeed. When you create such a space, your team will continue to explore and generate creative ideas, even if not all of them are being implemented.

Trust Yourself

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Whether you are part of a team or work alone, you should first trust yourself. We should take the same leap of faith we expect our partners, colleagues, and managers to take. If you don’t trust yourself to explore uncertain paths with the inherent risks (and opportunities) they have, you will not utilize your creative potential.

Once again, this does not mean you should take any risk without considering its potential impact. Planning some safety nets is always a good practice. But if you don’t trust yourself to take any risk, and you stick with the proven, known path, you are not likely to experience creative breakthroughs.

Trusting yourself is more challenging than asking for the trust of others. If you are just starting your creative journey, you will need a safe setup for that. Your colleagues, your friends, and your team can help you create this safe playground. Trusting yourself and being trusted by the people you work and share your life with reinforces one another. When both you and your partners value the journey, you build a better creative setup and increase the chances of better results.


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