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Creativity: An Essential Soft Skill

There are a few skills that are important in nearly every job or career—organization, the ability to communicate effectively and take initiative, just to name a few. But perhaps the most important soft skill anyone can have in their repertoire is one so quickly ignored and rarely discussed: creativity.

What is a soft skill?

Perhaps the best way to define it is to look at what it’s not: a hard skill. A hard skill is a specific, easily defined, and quantified ability such as typing speed, a completed degree or technical certificate, or the ability to write code. A soft skill, on the other hand, is an ability that’s much more personal and less measurable—yet still very much essential for performing or excelling at a job or task. In fact, it’s often soft skills—including creativity—that give successful people their edge.

What does creativity as a soft skill look like?

Again, it may be easier to first look at what it’s not: a hard and fast rule. In other words, creativity isn’t something that will look the same in every environment or need. It’s not easily boxed in. That’s both the beauty and the challenge of it! Creativity—much like water—can flow and take the shape of where and how it’s needed. But—again, just like water—creativity can only do this when it’s not boxed in. This is why the ability to “think outside” of the proverbial box is so valuable. Creativity is what allows us to think up possible solutions that have never been thought of before. Want to innovate? Cultivate your creativity first.

How can creativity help you?

If only paint brushes, drawing supplies, or lumps of clay pop into your head when you hear the word “creative,” stop right there. Creativity actually starts well before any of these various tools even come into the picture. Sure, traditional artists are certainly creative. But the scope of creativity is far more broad. To be creative simply means to be able to think in new ways, to be able to bring a fresh approach or perspective to situation or problem, and to be able to tap into potential—yet not-so-obvious—solutions. When we begin to view creativity for what it truly is, how it can help us becomes obvious, too:

Creativity can help you come up with potential solutions to challenges, increasing your ability to troubleshoot and effectively problem solve.

It can help you communicate with others in various different ways, strengthening your ability to articulate your thoughts and ideas with others.

It can help you find and utilize untraditional ways to meet goals and accomplish different tasks.

It can help you turn perceived hurdles and roadblocks into opportunities.

How do I gain creativity as a soft skill?

Chances are you already have it in your skill set. You’ve just likely overlooked it or not paid it much attention. Time to change that—and highlight and exploit it to its fullest. To identify some of the ways you’re already creative, take a look at my previous post: You’re Already Creative—You May Just Not Recognize It.

But by far and away the best way to strengthen your creativity is to strive to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. (Certainly a case of “easier said than done,” for sure!) Creativity, by its very nature, requires us to head into ideas and spaces we’ve never been before. It leads us to adventures off the beaten path. That’s the whole point. It can be a very liberating, exciting, but uncomfortable and scary place to be.

When it comes to creativity, there is no clear cut “wrong” or “right,” black or white. Instead there can be a wonderful—and beautiful—rainbow of shades of gray. Creativity means anticipating—and even welcoming mistakes. It includes making an effort to view mistakes not as negative hurdles, but as opportunities and potential solutions, an albeit unexpected event that just might lead the way to something that’s never been discovered or created before.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? So, how do you get to this level of comfortability with meandering through the unknown?!

There’s nothing to it, but to do it. You allow yourself to be afraid and apprehensive, but you do it anyway.

Personally, I’ve found a number of concrete ways to practice and develop this skill myself. But one of the most effective has been drawing and doodling with a pen or marker and not a pencil—at least some of the time. (This takes away the temptation to simply erase my mistakes, and forces me to work with and around my mistakes.) Another way to do this is to embrace more open-ended activities. When we participate in tasks that do not have a clearly defined end product or even instructions, sure it can be scary and even a little confusing. But we remain open to where our own thoughts and creativity can take us.

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