The hidden talent of every successful community leader

Renewal Project by Margaret Myers

Creativity can play a role in transforming neighborhoods

 

 
 

Last week, in honor of the New Year, we invited you to take Monica Kang’s 30-day challenge. For one month, we challenged you to do something creative for at least 5-10 minutes every day. When you do this, Kang said, you learn to be more open until it becomes a natural part of your life.

Why focus on creativity? I’m not an artist, you may say. Kang, a Washington, D.C., entrepreneur, believes we could all stand to exercise our creativity more. Being creative means being open to possibility and learning to be resourceful, she said, especially when trying to solve a particularly tricky problem.

“It helps when you have a culture and a community that recognizes the importance of creativity and innovation,” she said. “You learn to realize that sometimes [a solution] just doesn’t work … and when it doesn’t work, what does that mean? What are the things you’re constantly learning? If there’s a community of people who all feel like that, it’s so much more powerful, and so much more exciting.”

As the founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox, Kang helps her clients harness their own creativity, not only professionally, but in their daily lives.

We spoke with her recently about how communities can reap the benefits of their leaders’ creativity. Here is an excerpt of that conversation, edited for length and clarity:

 

How do you define creativity?

MONICA KANG: InnovatorsBox’s core mission is to redefine creativity, and that’s part of the reason why I’m really excited about the community and the work. I say “redefining creativity” because currently there’s a stigma that being creative means a certain stereotype: that you have to be artsy, that you have to be doing something, that you can’t be analytic. That’s not true. Part of that redefining mission was also not just helping people understand the truth of how powerful creativity is, and how important it is in one’s life, but actually how you access it.

Imagine where the country—or even the community—could be if everybody felt just a little bit more creative and realized that was an important skill set, like how we all go to the gym.

 

How can creativity impact a community?

KANG: First I would say it helps when you have a culture and a community that recognizes the importance of creativity and innovation. When one describes one’s self as creative you are saying that you know how to defer judgement, you are open to possibilities, you know you have to work with constraints, but you want to find a solution based on what you have. So you learn to be scrappy, you learn to be resourceful, you learn to be understanding.

When you have a community, who supports—even if someone says “I have this crazy idea”—then that crazy idea becomes a more realistic, plausible idea when you have a community that supports [creativity].

And No. 2, it’s really important because of not only the possibility of finding better solutions, but actually making them lasting. At times, we see these great ideas come up, but the challenge is for it to last. If you have a community and a culture that supports that, even if one or two oppositions occur. And so I think permitting that lastingness is equally important. That’s the kind of support a community can provide.

How can community leaders tap their creative sides?

KANG: Being creative and being innovative doesn’t mean that it’s just learning how to ideate better, or designing a better product. It’s a lifestyle; it’s a way of living and a way of thinking, and once you learn to get in that mindset, you start to see the changes happening in everything else that you do—not just professionally, but personally, and when that intersects, then you see an impact.

Something as small as the reason why we do Joyful Hours (InnovatorsBox’s version of happy hour) is to debunk the notion that you have to network and say, “Hi my name is…” in a traditional sense to get to know people. We demonstrate that by creating those spaces and helping people realize that, no, you don’t have to just say “Hi my name is so-and-so and this is my job title, this is how I am.” I would say, No. 1 is acknowledging that there are so many different ways to go about it, and also knowing that you have the creative potential.