The Engagement-Creativity Connection

I am the son of social activists, or what my peers call “hippies.” This means  growing up, dinner table conversations consisted of talking about problems - from potholes on our streets to statewide policies to global warming. Naturally, I was drawn towards a career that focused on solving problems and improving conditions for those in and around my community. Many of the challenges we discussed around that table we still face today, along with a host of new ones.

Through my life experiences, I have come to understand that problems are only really solved (sustainable solutions, not mitigations) when we engage all stakeholders in the process of creating solutions. We are at a time when we face many challenges and stakeholders are increasingly polarized in their thoughts on how to solve the issues at hand. This makes engaging certain stakeholders even more difficult. This is why we need become more creative in how we engage each other - our colleagues and our peers across “the aisle.” I strongly believe that engaging with one another more creatively,  we can solve the myriad of challenges we face.

Take a moment and ask yourself, “What engages me?” Some of the answers I hear when I ask this question are:

  • Humor
  • Challenges
  • Feeling like I am a part of it
  • Appreciation

The comments above help us uncover what engages humans. With training and Practice in Creative Community Facilitation, I have come to understand that the big ball of yarn that is “Engagement” is comprised of the three pillars:

  1. Imagination: Encouraging your stakeholders to use their imaginations tells them that their ideas are valid and needed, allowing them to show up fully - nuances, imperfections, wild ideas and all.

  2. Participation: When we begin tapping into our imaginations, we are self propelled to participate. Participation fueled by imagination is a powerful source of energy and change. It also creates buy-in, commitment and excitement.

  3. Commitment: When people’s imaginations are tapped and they begin to fully participate, they connect deeply with themselves and those around them, and thus the results they are working on. This fosters commitment.

These three pillars, are the philosophical underpinnings of what creates engagement. And even more interesting is this...Imagination + participation = creative expression. So it is not hard to see that creativity and engagement are directly related. Creativity is the foundation of engagement because it is participatory, builds empathy, requires deeper thinking about our experiences, and creative expression honors the basic human need to be seen and heard.

Creativity is one of humankind's greatest sources of energy. Creativity is simply the ability to have ideas and make them happen. The more we make things happen, the quicker we will create the world we have been wishing, hoping and working for. Creative ideas influence how we understand our environments and end in something new. And we all know we need something new.

Growing up, I always wondered why so many people my Grandma’s age knew how to play piano and many had pianos in their homes. Two weeks ago I finally got an answer...

“In the early 1900s piano manufacturing was one of the USA’s largest industries. At this time, group singing in homes, schools, bars, houses of worship and public places was common. In a very short time, people moved away from being active participants of culture to becoming active consumers of culture.” - Catch The Fire, Peggy Taylor & Charlie Murphy

As a society, we spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year watching people make music, dance, act and play games. But how often do we engage in any of these activities? As a society, we consume creative culture, we do not create culture.

Why do you think this cultural shift has happened? I believe some of the main reasons for a participatory to consumption culture is because creativity is risky and messy. Creativity takes courage because it asks us to put ourselves out there. Also, we live in an age of ubiquitous information and distractions. Being creative takes time, and consuming is easier than creating. Finally, we are trained to color in the lines, to not be too loud or bold. We only speak with a fraction of our vocal capacity, we only use a fraction of our facial muscles to express ourselves. This is how we have been groomed - luckily something is changing...

We are now experiencing a shift back to a more participatory culture, and our children, peers and elders are hungry to participate. We see this with the proliferation of adult coloring books, adult camps, community art convenings, paint night, flash mobs, DIY/maker-movement and many more emerging co-creative, community-based movements.

So for you business, nonprofit or government folks, the question too must shift from, “How do we engage XYZ” to “how can we better provide opportunities for our stakeholders to participate in what we are working to co-create?

The ability to creatively engage your stakeholders is fundamental to creating the change we are seeking to make and solve the problems we are working hard to solve. In next week’s blog I will share with you 5 tools you can use to creatively engage anybody.