Creative autonomy: a cornerstone of creativity

(This is the 5th of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

What does autonomy mean?

Autonomy is commonly used in a political context to define self-governance:

  • Autonomous countries maintain the rights (and responsibilities) to manage their own political direction and control.

From a personal (non-political) perspective, autonomy refers to a psyche of independence and self-determination:

  • Autonomous individuals get things done in their own unique ways. They even doubt many norms that have been established by others.They are rule-shakers rather than rule-takers.

Are you a rule-shaker – comfortable questioning norms and assumptions to “see what shakes out?” Do you enjoy working independently, and not following the crowd? Are you self-confident, occasionally to the point of stubbornness? If so, you are exhibiting traits of creative autonomy.

Creative autonomy balance

Creative autonomy: a corporate challenge

But autonomy can sometimes conflict with collaboration. Highly autonomous individuals want to be “cut loose” from the constraints of corporate bureaucracy.

The paradox of creative autonomy in organizations

That can create a paradox for many organizations. Collaboration suggests (or requires) conformity. That, in turn, can limit autonomy. Defying conformity — being autonomous — is consequently a foundation of many creative minds.

Numerous studies have shown that autonomy has a positive impact on individual creativity. For example, a recent article in the Journal of Creativity and Business Innovation highlights prior research and meta-analyses documenting the correlation between creativity and autonomy. Yet, collaboration is nearly always important to move from a creative idea to a final innovation. Companies need employees with both skill sets.

Tips to increase creative autonomy

Let’s start by listing a few ways to increase autonomy.

First, take control of your own plans and tasks. Don’t wait for others to “assign” everything to you. Identify barriers in your work or home life that restrict your independence. Determine what you can and can’t change. And then plan and follow through on reasonable changes.

Second, boost your self-esteem. Stop worrying about what other people think. Stop comparing yourself to others. In fact, seek out dissenters occasionally rather than always surrounding yourself with people who agree with you. (While this may challenge your ego in the short term, it can boost it in the long term.)

Third, be more positive. Compliment other people, (including dissenters). Learn to graciously accept compliments, as well. This establishes a cycle of positive thinking (and/or breaks a cycle of negative thinking) that can raise your self-confidence.

Fourth, do more things alone. Every so often, go to the museum, a movie, a restaurant or some other place by yourself. Take the opportunity to observe and absorb things you might miss if you were part of a group.

Fifth, allow yourself to be independently, spontaneously creative. Pursue something that is a bit outside of your comfort zone.Take responsibility for your own success. Invest in yourself through books, presentations, and tools to spark your creativity.

Finally, maintain a do-what-it-takes work ethic. Relish achieving what others deem impossible or impractical, even if it means creating a new path to get there. And  be comfortable as an autonomous, independent thinker.

Once you are comfortable with autonomy, strive for a balance between individuality and conformity.

Balance creativity autonomy and collaboration

As a rule-shaker, decide which rules you want to follow and which you find questionable. Challenge assumptions that everyone takes for granted to see which ones survive. And challenge yourself to be objective rather than stubborn.

Learn to communicate effectively. Listen to others and share credit for their contributions to your creative ideas. Beware the dangers of unhealthy pride and take care to avoid being a one-person relay race. Value the perspectives of others.

As you observe and listen to others, you increase your perceptiveness to the world around you. I refer to that as being “tuned in,” as I’ll describe in the next post.