Disappointment and Creativity :: Leadership Bedfellows



You ever wish you were more creative?


I think of leadership as inherently creative. Leaders solve problems, they carve pathways into uncharted territory, the rally people from diverse backgrounds with radically different gifts to work together toward common goals. Everything about the job requires seeing beyond what’s right in front of you to imagine and pursue what might be possible. There are no formulas or simplistic rules.


Leadership is creativity in action.


However, there are lots of days when most of us just don’t feel very creative. Days when that spark of inspiration feels more like a fart of fatigue. There are plenty of moments when the chores of organizational responsibility bury our desire to do something bold and fresh.


Times of destabilizing change or disappointing circumstances might be the best friend your “creativity engine” ever had.

In my last post, I wrote about cultivating the habit of experimentation. About the power of a blank check and a “get out of jail free card.” I want to dive deeper into that theme and potentially flip the switch on how you engage times of destabilization and disappointment.


Think of it this way. When our plans or dreams are interrupted, we have no choice but to return to the drawing board. When external obstacles or circumstances (or pandemics or elections or economics or whatever) throw a roadblock in our path, we’ve got no option but to take a detour. What could happen if we took those detours looking to discover things we would never have seen had we just kept our head down plowing forward along the original path?


Going back to the drawing board, taking a detour, finding a different way forward… these moments are pregnant with creative possibilities.

Times like that kick us out of the box we’ve been in and force us to look at things differently. The very fact that we cannot follow our original plans is an invitation to a creative alternative.


Look, I know the emotional landscape of disappointment can be tough. It’s tough for us as leaders and it’s tough for those we lead. So, don’t go it alone. Gather a group of people and invite them to add their voices and fresh perspectives to the process of exploring the possibilities before you. When our hands are tied our eyes are open to see things we have missed before.

Let’s get practical. Here are five ways to engage in and invite others into some fresh creative thinking.

  1. Brainstorm with abandon. Your former plans are now just old wallpaper. Get people together around a white board and have fun pushing every boundary of perceived impracticality aside to see what you can come up with.

  2. Experiment with freedom. You are in unknown waters, so experiment with temporary ideas. Everyone knows that during times of uncertainty it's a fools errand to try and create a permanent plan.

  3. Dream and Dream again. You can’t follow your original dream, so get out of the box, or blow it up entirely, and give yourself permission to dream about things you were too busy to consider before.

  4. Bring new voices into the creative process. Most of us get used to working with the same group of trusted voices, but this is a chance to experiment with a new way. Invite people who are outside your normal bubble to join the dreamscaping party and watch to see what their fresh perspective brings.

  5. Play with totally absurd ideas, even if it is just for the energizing joy that absurdity can bring. You never know what new vantage point you’ll create in the process.


Give one or more of these a try and then write me a note.

I’d love to hear how it goes.


Photo Credit: Jamie Street on Unsplash


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© 2020 by Gary Mayes