Creative autonomy: another cornerstone of creativity

(Creative autonomy is the 5th of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

Creative freedomThe essence of autonomy

Which of the following in each pair is likely to be more creative?

  • Entrepreneur or salaried employee?
  • Retiree or overworked jobholder?
  • Citizen of a market economy or citizen of a totalitarian regime?

Let’s think. The first person in each dyad has more “freedoms.” Entrepreneurs have more control over their work status. Retirees have more time flexibility. Democratic citizens have more rights. In theory that should increase their propensity toward creativity. Why? Because autonomy (or freedom) has been shown in many studies to have a positive impact on individual creativity.

But of course, it’s not that simple. Autonomy does not cause creative output. It’s a contributing variable. Nevertheless, it’s an important factor to include in this series on creativity traits. Let’s dive into creative autonomy.

Personal creative autonomy

Think about the last time you experienced truly uninhibited creativity. It doesn’t matter if it was a musical or artistic effort. Or product development. Or landscaping. Just think about the emotion of being saturated with creativity. Chances are you felt in control. You didn’tCreative autonomy within organizations feel a need to ask permission. You had a vision and no one else was pulling your strings. That’s creative autonomy.

In political parlance, autonomy means self-governance. It refers to independent countries that are free from external control or influence. Note the word external. Controls, resources and skills are still necessary to function; but they are primarily internal. Autonomy (i.e., self-governance) requires knowledge and skills to be self-sustaining. Otherwise everything falls apart.

So it is with individuals. Autonomous individuals get things done in their own ways. But they DO get things done. They self-govern because they have several virtues. A vision to move beyond ideas. Unshakeable confidence (sometimes) and a belief in self. A broad understanding of what’s required for implementation and why.

Balance autonomy and team creativity

Highly autonomous individuals want to be “cut loose” from the constraints of corporate bureaucracy. They are rule-shakers rather than rule-takers. They are comfortable questioning norms and assumptions to “see what shakes out.”

That can be a challenge for business. Companies strive to reduce risk by using templates and protocols and procedures. Yet these standard operating methods are often the constraints autonomous individuals abhor. A balance between laissez-faire and authoritarian approaches is necessary.

Task autonomy – the degree to which individuals control how to perform creative tasks – can exist within the context of established goals and outcomes. And communication and coordination among team members must co-exist with the autonomy. Otherwise team creativity suffers.

Increase your personal creative autonomy

Here are  a few tips.

  1. Control your own plans and tasks. Don’t wait for others to “assign” everything to you. Identify barriers at work or home that restrict your independence. Determine what you can and can’t change. Follow through on reasonable changes.
  2. Boost your self-esteem. Stop worrying about what other people think. Don’t compare yourself to others. Avoid always surrounding yourself with people who agree with you. (While this may challenge your ego in the short term, it can boost your autonomy in the long term.)
  3. Be more positive. Compliment other people (including dissenters). Learn to graciously accept compliments, as well. This establishes a cycle of positive thinking (and/or breaks a cycle of negative thinking) that can raise your self-confidence.
  4. Do more things alone. Go to the museum, a movie, a restaurant or some other place by yourself. Observe and absorb things you might miss if you were part of a group.
  5. Be independently, spontaneously creative. Pursue something a bit outside of your comfort zone. Take responsibility for your own success. Invest in yourself through books, presentations, and tools to spark your creativity.
  6. As a rule-shaker, be aware of rules that govern your behavior. Challenge assumptions that everyone takes for granted. But also challenge yourself to be objective rather than stubborn.
  7. Maintain a do-what-it-takes work ethic. Relish achieving what others deem impossible or impractical. Even if it means creating a new path to get there. And be comfortable as an autonomous, independent thinker.
  8. Finally, once you are comfortable with autonomy, strive for a balance between individuality and conformity. Learn to communicate effectively. Listen to others. Share credit for their contributions to your creative ideas. Beware the dangers of unhealthy pride. Take care to avoid being a one-person relay race. Value the perspectives of others.

Where to from here?

As you observe and listen to others, you increase your perceptiveness to the world around you. I refer to that as being “tuned in,” as I’ll describe in the next post.