Creativity & Full Bucket Syndrome

As leaders, we value creativity and innovation, largely because they lead to relevant, financially viable organizations in the long-term. So why do we then do everything in our power to quash creativity in most organizations? While fear may be a primary reason, I suspect that we also value efficiency more than we value creativity.

Imagine your daily to do list and calendar of meetings as pile of rocks, pebbles and sand. Add in the list for your personal life and all of the random things that wander through your mind. Now add the daily chores of life – sleeping, showers, cooking, bathroom breaks, grocery shopping, etc. By now you have a huge pile of rocks, pebbles and sand.  The hours you have in a day have a finite limit. So imagine your day (or week) as a bucket.  Now pile in all of the pebbles, rocks and sand. If you are like most of us, you have a full bucket. Most of us look at the full bucket as a badge of honour. We’re very busy, so we must be important. We’re incredibly efficient. Every spare minute is taken up with something – texting, tweeting while driving, or walking.

The problem with full bucket syndrome (FBS), is that the bucket will break or overflow if we try to add more. How does this relate to creativity? In order to be creative, we need mental and physical space.  Time to let our minds wander, time to develop an idea to the point that it is ready to be unveiled, to be shared, to be collaborated upon. When your bucket is so full it can’t take another thing, you have eliminated serendipity – the random, the spark that you can mull over.

Creativity takes time.  According to Sarah Lewis, the author of The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure and the Search for Mastery, Thomas Edison once said to an assistant, who was appalled by the number of failed attempts at creating the light bulb, “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. When we are exploring new territory, we often make mistakes. Mistakes take time. Which is why managers often punish failure, because failure is costly and inefficient. So how do we create a culture that values failure – at least the good kind, the kind that we learned from?

How do we foster creativity? First, by giving ourselves the time and space to be creative.  The next time you decide to add some more rocks to your bucket (or to someone else’s), think about whether you have the space to be creative, to think, wonder and ponder.


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