Just recently I noticed, in different conversations, people talking about the need to be creative and how difficult it was to find the time and space to be creative. The conversations were around various topics such as creating new products, creating a website, business development etc. I became curious to explore what it takes to find the time and space to be creative. I also wondered how that might link to how we coach our clients. Do we allow them the space and time to be creative?

In this blog I am going to look at :

What do we mean by creativity and finding creative space?
Why is it important?
How do we find the time?
What links are there to coaching our clients?

Let’s first look at some definitions of Creativity.  A couple that spoke to me were:

the use of imagination or original ideas to create something

 the ability to come up with new and exciting ideas

 The words that stood out for me were – Imagination; Original ideas; New and Exciting – so creativity seems to be important, otherwise there will be nothing new in the world and there will be no onward progression.

 No matter the purpose, if we want to come up with something that is different, that will be useful, original, new, and exciting, it’s going to require us to think creatively, i.e., think differently.

Have you ever had a project that needed some thought (for thought read creative thinking) and looked at your diary and said to yourself: “There’s an hour in between two meetings… I’ll book that in to think about my project”. Lo and behold, the time comes, and having just come from one meeting, with another one coming up, the brain just isn’t going to play ball and get creative.

To think creatively and be creative needs space… real space

Thinking creatively and being creative are in fact two separate things. In essence, it’s a process, a creative process.  The creative thinking needs to happen, to get new thoughts, ideas, etc., and then it’s about turning those new thoughts or ideas into something. In order to find our creative space and place, it doesn’t necessarily happen by simply slotting it into an hour and saying: “I’ll get creative then”. It rarely happens. Therefore, ask yourself, “where do I often find my creativity and what is my creative process, and how can I cultivate that?”

For me, it’s when I am walking, alone and out in nature. However, even then it doesn’t come as soon as I begin walking. It starts with my mind clearing out all the things that I have in my head: problems, issues, random thoughts etc. until I find I’ve had some time to be peaceful and quiet. Then I can start thinking differently and ideas may come. When I write these blogs, I do best when I have been out walking and thinking about the topic, I can then come back to the office and start writing. I may well have created a time slot to do the writing, however, the creative expression needed more than a time slot. It needed time for me to be in my creative space, it needed my quiet, peaceful energy to think creatively and the environment (nature) to assist me.

In my case, nature is often my collaborator. In yours, it could be art of some sort, gardening, or some other passion that enables your mind to quieten and be able to get rid of the ‘day-to-day’. It could also be that time in the shower when your mind is gently distracted by routine habitual behaviour, suddenly an idea pops into your head. In one article I read, it was noted that creativity can also be evoked when you may have had a little too many adult beverages!! Not something I will encourage clearly!! Whenever that new idea pops out, there still needs to be the next step of what will you do with it, which also requires space and the next step in your process.

Having shared an example of my creative process, I felt it would be useful to look a little deeper at this notion of creativity and creative space. In doing a small piece of research, some of the aspects we may need to consider in finding ‘real space’ and understanding our process appear to be:

  • Time
  • Environment
  • Collaboration
  • Energy

Time is a big factor to consider. In carving out creativity time, many people will say: “I just don’t have the time, I must get everything else done first”. Yet if you don’t give yourself time for that real space, then it’s unlikely you will get that new project completed, or progress on that brilliant idea and it will remain on the to-do list. Maybe, it’s planning a week, month, or even a year ahead and being clear on the priority and what’s so important about it and why. Then perhaps it will stay in your diary. Remember, it’s not just an hour slot… it’s time and creative space – Real Space!

What about time and space when we are coaching? In coaching, our clients often come wanting to explore and find new thinking, new ideas and new actions. A few of the coaching competencies speak to creating or allowing space for silence, pause or reflection. Being silent, and pausing is helping to provide the space, not just for reflection but for creativity. Ask yourself, “When I am coaching, am I more looking to ensure the client gets to action or am I partnering with them to provide the space to think and find new answers? Am I asking data-type questions, about things they already know, or am I asking thought provoking questions and then allowing time for them to consider, think and explore? Am I ok to stay in the place of not knowing with them or are we rushing though a session?”.

The environment for creativity is very important. I am at my most creative when outside in nature. I have on occasion invited my clients to walk in nature with me if that is going to be something the client might like. It might be something else for you or others. It could be the spark that comes when taking your shower, or when doing something that quietens your mind, like art, yoga, or throwing a clay pot. Creative ideas can be spontaneous, but they still need the creative process to take them forward. In coaching, we also need to ensure the environment is right for our client. Nature can really support creativity, especially if you or your client are able to use metaphorical language. Discovering where our client’s creative space is might be very helpful. The more we learn about our clients, the more use we can be to them. As creativity is a process, our clients may have some creative sparks outside the coaching session, and then within the session, they may use the time to build upon those thoughts and to work on actions and commitments needed. Having the right environment can also be linked to time. If a client comes rushing from one meeting into coaching, then rushes out to another meeting, that in-between time really is likely not the best environment for creativity. In my case, it takes me time to clear my head when I walk, and a client may need to clear theirs before getting into their more creative space in their work with you.

When I shared where my creativity is at its best, I said that nature is often my collaborator. Being out in nature quietens my mind, and provides visual clues to spark my thinking and metaphorical clues to support my creativity. In coaching, we talk about partnering with our clients. Nature as a collaborator is my partner. In coaching our partnership provides a supportive environment that allows our clients to share freely. Our powerful, thought-provoking questions, the metaphors noticed or offered, and simply the space given by silence can really support our clients to find their new ideas and thinking.

Energy was the 4th piece of the puzzle for finding our creativity. Have you ever tried to be creative when your energy or your mood is low? It’s really hard and unlikely to happen. Walking in nature will often raise my spirits and energy. At the start of the creative process, our energy needs to be one that allows for new thinking and indeed when moving into the action stage it still needs to be high. It’s also important for that energy not to be interrupted (hence I walk in nature alone to be my creative best).

Thinking of energy in the coaching context. What do we need to do to ensure we don’t interrupt our client’s energetic flow of creativity. While they may be animated and energised, we may need to stay even more still and quiet, and yet our focused presence encourages their thinking without getting in their or its way. Do you allow your clients to really think, or do you tend to jump in with the next question or comment? This is an area we have also explored in a previous blog: Silence is Golden. Getting to know how our client’s work can really help in understanding how to support them to be their most creative self and evoke new awareness and thought.

Finally, if we think about the ICF definition of Coaching :

Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.

Our role as a coach is to collaborate with our clients to enable the time and space, the environment and provide the collaborative partnership for them to ‘evoke new awareness’ and ‘unlock their imagination and creativity’.

If you are struggling to be creative and find the time to get that project going, here are some questions you might ask yourself:

  • When in the past have, I been at my creative best?
  • What made it so good?
  • What was the environment that supported my creativity and who/what was my collaborator?
  • Who or what do I need to partner with?
  • What was my energy like?
  • What do I need for myself?
  • How did I create the time and space then, and how will I do it this time?

The next time you want to start or develop something new, and you find that it just doesn’t get going, what will you do to cultivate your creativity?

Hilary Oliver, MCC

Hilary Oliver is a Master Certified Coach (MCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She is also a trained Coaching Supervisor and Mentor Coach. Hilary trains coaches and works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability. She works as an International Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, a leadership development designer and facilitator working with a wide range of organisations. Hilary also specialises in working with organisations to support them develop coaching culture. She has been the President of the UK ICF Chapter and is a Past Chair of the ICF Global Board.

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