It can be easy to forget amidst the deadlines, numbers, and rote day-to-day work that entrepreneurship has deep roots in creativity. As innovators, we breathe life into new ideas and make product imaginings into a tactile reality. Creativity is a fundamental part of an innovation mindset – and for that, we view what we produce during the creative process as a positive contribution to our teams, businesses, and livelihoods. Recently, though, I’ve had conversations that encouraged me to push this idea of positivity further, and to wonder if we can be creative in a way that benefits our communities, our clients, or our societies at large.
Not long ago, I was fortunate enough to attend an international forum on the creative mind as a new paradigm for business through my connection with the Soroptimist Organization. The event took place at the Lizari International Culture and Education Center in Latvia, and gathered over 80 people from ten different countries and across a wide swath of industries including health, fashion, advertising, and design. At the time, I was enthusiastic for the subject matter; once I arrived, I began to connect with the place itself. Lithuania is a country known for its rich history and beautiful architecture, and both were readily apparent when I arrived Vilnius. Yet, I was struck more by the warmth of its people, the artful nature of its culture, and the multilingual and creative talent of its young people.
I knew that I would be participating in a a panel centered on the role education plays in developing creativity, and also leading an interactive workshop on human-centered design and design thinking – but I hadn’t realized just how much I would resonate with the event’s other activities. We took up tango dancing to develop our intuition, practiced mindfulness activities and crystal healing amid the peace of limitless green fields, created sculptures, and challenged ourselves in drawing and cooking classes. Though disparate, all of these activities connected back to the central theme of the gathering: to connect with our inner selves, hone our creative skills, and reflect on new ways to co-create.
This last reflection was an idea that we revisited again and again through the lenses of anthropology, semiotics, economics, and psychology as we questioned:
“How do we co-create a sustainable future?”
This isn’t a question about preservation, but of balance. Sustainability in this sense means finding a way to view statistics, demographics, and numbers with empathy; it means developing young minds into creative forces capable of imagining new and unique solutions, rather than allowing them to accept those that AI churns out. At its core, this forum was meant to consider a new paradigm for the creative mind within the challenging context of our consumer economy, and develop a framework for a mode of creativity that does not harm.
This last point struck me as important. When we think of creativity, we think of something positive and productive – so how could it possibly be harmful?
The answer roots in the way we see the people we design products for. If we create with just demographics in mind or with profit as our ultimate goal, we stop seeing our consumers as unique people. Let me share an example. One of the attendees who spoke worked in dental health and dedicates his working time to making teeth for patients. If he were merely focused on getting the job done quickly or making as many products as he could, he might make identical sets of “perfect” teeth for everyone he treats. But he doesn’t, because he believes that adhering to that one subjective idea of perfection would undermine the unique personality and individuality of the individuals he treats. It may take more time and attention, but he truly believes that his patients deserve a higher degree of of creativity care than template-driven production would provide. He embraces a human-centered paradigm of creativity.
Let me be clear: taking up a human-centered approach doesn’t mean tossing thoughts of profit or long-term product development to the wayside. It’s a simple priority shift: a decision to approach the creative process with empathy for the consumer. Rather than profiling prospective customers as users, you consider them as human beings who could need the product you intend to provide. By designing products or services to suit the full person, rather than a demographic or statistic, you fulfill a greater need and make a more positive contribution to your consumer base and community at large.
This, I think, resonated with me because it echoes my own philosophy for business. Human-centered creativity allows us to build a socially-driven and sustainable business model for not just today, but for the years to come. Discussing this topic at the forum gave me hope for the future of business, as did the experience of participating in such a diverse yet connective gathering. Despite our vastly different backgrounds, experiences, and interests, every person I spoke to had a passion for co-creating a better business future. I cannot say how much the experience meant to me, or how wonderful it was that the trip coincided with Ramadan. I am now more assured than ever that the path towards a better world lies in imbuing our social innovations and creative endeavors with empathy; the giving and reflective spirit of the holy month only added to the sense of purpose and connectivity I felt at the forum. This is a time for mindfulness, consideration, and creative thought – in business and in our own lives.