How do you promote creativity in an organization run by conservative left-brain thinkers who don’t like creativity?

Written by Linda Naimen from Creativity at Work

I’ve been asked variations of this question a few times lately. Here are some tips for encouraging creativity in a conservative environment.

Left-brain thinkers want logic and reason, so you need to build a case that appeals to their senses and mitigates their fears. As Cicero said over 2000 years ago, “If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my language.

I find if I can present a groundbreaking idea with flawless logic, I will get buy in, if the client sees value in it. On the other hand, if the organization has a toxic culture, or senior leaders have zero interest in creating a culture that supports creativity, there is no point in offering creativity training. You will only make matters worse.

Here are some strategies you can use to influence left-brain decision-makers to get on board with creativity, or any other innovative initiative.

Figure out your value proposition

What is the purpose of your initiative? What point do you want to make? How will this creativity initiative (innovation) benefit your organization? When Louis Mobley introduced creativity training at IBM in 1956, the purpose was to develop great leaders. He realized that IBM’s success depended on teaching executives to think creatively rather than teaching them how to read financial reports. He wasn’t promoting creativity for the sake of creativity.

Gather the information you need to support your cause.

  • What are the goals of your boss? Your organization? How will your initiative help achieve these goals?
  • Before attempting to sell your idea to your boss, listen to his/her views on creativity. Get input from your team as well. What are their objections? Fears? Concerns? How can you address these?
  • Speak the language of your boss. If the word creativity is loaded, try alternatives like whole-brain thinking, integrative thinking, big-picture thinking, designing, and envisioning.
  • Find examples of success, especially from your competitors. Find out what works in other companies and what doesn’t. This will help reduce the fear of introducing something new.
  • Evoke fear of failure if you don’t innovate. Give examples of successful organizations that grew complacent and suffered the consequences of disruptive innovation. Eg Kodak, and RIM.What are the consequences if you don’t develop creativity and apply it to innovation?
  • Evoke inspiration: Re-frame challenges as opportunities. Offer a big picture view of a desired future, and what success will look like.
  • Map out your expected ROI on creativity. Examples of ROI on creativity training 

Develop a rationale for creativity your boss will find irresistible

Explain why creativity matters and how you can put it to work. For example:

  • Creativity is the number one resource for achieving a competitive advantage.
  • Creativity is inherent in all of us, and it is a skill that can be developed and managed.
  • In today’s climate of intense competition, relying solely on logic, analysis and problem-solving skills is insufficient. Creativity provides new and better ways to solve problems, and inform innovation.
  • Creativity requires integrative whole-brain thinking; right-brain imagination, artistry and intuition, plus left-brain logic and planning. We need to develop integrative thinkers who can think critically, analytically, and imaginatively if we are going to find opportunities for business growth.

Build on these using specifics that apply to your organization.

Now that you have done your homework, make your case:

  1. Your value proposition: State the challenges your face and the opportunities for growth. Be succinct.
  2. Provide three possible solutions with advantages and disadvantages of each. It’s easier to say no to one idea than three. Give credit to your boss and team if they contributed to your ideas in your data gathering process.
  3. Present your recommendation and rationale. Include feasibility and factors for minimizing risk. Give examples of success in other organizations. Appeal to the heart as well as the mind by evoking emotion with stories, metaphors, and images.
  4. Invite feedback and avoid being defensive. Think of any negative feedback as a challenge to re-frame your cause and find new approaches to creating a solution
  5. Ask for agreement on action


Read How to Save your Idea from Getting Shot Down

Watch entrepreneurs make their case on TV shows like the Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank.

Can Creativity be taught?

The Future of the Training Department
ROI on Creativity Training

Workshops on Influencing for impact
Get coaching to develop your leadership skills

Register for my workshops at Royal Roads University:

Get to the Heart of Collaboration: An Arts-Based Approach to Teamwork
Fri, May 11, 2012

Whole Brain Thinking: Cultivate 21st Century Creativity and Leadership
Thurs – Fri, May 31 – June 1, 2012

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How do you promote creativity in an organization run by conservative left-brain thinkers who don’t like creativity?

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