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By nurturing the creativity of the other we establish an environment that feeds everyone’s greater creative potential and that brings about the untapped creative potential of the organisation.

“How do I get more ideas? How can I tap into the creative potential of our team? Hoe do we make our company more creative? Let’s brainstorm.” All of these thoughts are about first degree creativity, which is everything that is directly related to the creative process and its result.

There is a wide array of tools and roles at our disposal to organise creativity. Brainstorming, creative thinking techniques, design thinking, mind maps, design sprints, we all know them. We have roles as problem owners, experts, facilitators, visualisers, wild cards, brainstormers.

The focus of how we view creativity and creative processes is on generating ideas, finding solutions, organizing the process. Clear problem statements, ideas, pivots, prototypes, MVPs, business models and action plans are possible outcomes of first degree creativity. All of this is wonderful, yet we often forget to ask ourselves whether all of this creativity happens within an environment and culture where it can and is allowed to thrive and has a place.

Imagine if we did. Let’s explore what’s to gain. Creativity evokes resistance often, doesn’t it? Creativity is about questioning the known and contemplating the unknown. As such, creativity works against the grain. It is at odds with our expectations, paradigms and views. As a result, creativity is often met with resistance and involvement of all sorts that do not help.

Like a shapeshifter, creativity appears in all kinds of forms. There are the surprising ideas or the provocative questions of a colleague. The experimental project of a team. The unexpected change in the market. The impossible assignment from the boss. A new perspective in the middle of a project. The list goes on. One moment, you or your team is the source of these and often others around you are.

They have in common: they rarely come at a convenient time, we do not understand them or the added value is not immediately clear. In those cases, creativity meets resistance in the form of criticism, well-intended advice, systems that won’t budge, sabotage out of internal politics, another idea that feels more comfortable, a reminder about the current targets or role divisions, and so on. All these things hinder or cramp creativity as it is denied the opportunity to show us what is possible.

As a result, there is an enormous creative potential that we leave on the table of organizations, individuals and society in general. I’d love for a few good economists to calculate the wealth we deny ourselves that this represents on the long term. From a qualitative perspective this feels clear.

Organizations risk not anticipating changes timely or appropriately and failing to integrate solutions and strategies effectively. Coworkers holding themselves back for the sake of their standing among their peers and management. Teams who play it safe because that fear the possible personal consequences if and when they fail. Society struggles to let go of outdated and dysfunctional patterns and systems.

The signs are good though. Creativity is gaining momentum. An increasing number of organizations recognize the direct value of creativity for their missions and results. Creativity can be seen as the new currency over data and attention. Being able and willing to deliberately apply creativity is becoming vital for organizations who wish to have a longterm place in a world of unpredictable change and opportunities.

Second degree creativity, a healthier culture

It is safe to say that culture and environment have a great impact on the degree at which creativity can thrive. People, we, make up that culture and environment which means that we can shape it.

Letting (someone else’s) creativity thrive by leaving it alone

A lot is invested already in getting value from creative processes and the creative capacity of organizations through training employees, hiring facilitators, giving executive power to designers and creatives, retaining strategic and service design agencies, implementing innovation processes, etcetera. These investments bring immediate advantages to the organization and usually investments are well protected. Which is why it is important that there is an effort to improve the environment and culture that surround the creativity of the organization. Which also applies to society in general, as well as teams and individuals.

This is where second degree creativity kicks in. Second degree creativity is about the creativity of the other. This is about what we can do (and not do) to make space for the creativity of those around you and to stimulate their creativity as much as possible. Second degree creativity can be seen as the water in which many new lifeforms sprout.

People are at the same time the source of new ideas and creativity and the environment in which other are that source. Which is why asking “how are we creative?” should always be joined by the question “how do we help others to be creative?” The resulting collective creativity that emerges with that is an order of magnitude larger than the separate creativity of individuals and groups combined.

Second degree creativity is a form of creativity that supports, stimulates and encourages the first degree creativity of others. That is also why we need to develop the ability to recognize, acknowledge and nurture the creativity in others. A bit more about that next.

First this: second degree creativity is not first degree creativity. Meaning that creativity can take all kinds of shapes and people each have their own creative styles and preferences. First degree creativity is often confusing, nonsensical and obfuscated. At the core of second degree creativity is the understanding that as an outsider you do not need to or have to understand someone else’s first degree creativity. In the first place this means to keep a distance and to not appropriate their creativity and their creative process. Practically this means no well intended advices, submitting ideas, trying to get a seat on the team, criticism, etcetera. Yes, that can be hard.

Through second degree creativity it is possible to be of value and service to the creativity of others in a variety of ways. It starts with recognizing, acknowledging and nurturing.

Recognizing, acknowledging and nurturing

Recognizing that someone is involved in a creative process is the first step of second degree creativity. They are considering new perspectives and viewpoints. They are exploring the possibilities of new ideas. They are trying to interpret the world around them differently from usual. From the outside these people and teams seem to think and behave unnaturally. So whenever you encounter this it may be a sign that they are in the middle of a creative process. It can be helpful to ask if they are.

Acknowledging is accepting that a team’s or other person’s creative process is theirs. They go through it their own way. It might not make sense to you, or you might do it differently, however that is irrelevant. This process is theirs. Assume that it makes sense to them what they are doing. Keep yourself from appropriating their process and ideas in whatever way. This can be hard. Out of sheer enthusiasm people want to contribute and participate. The opposite feeling also happens. It does not matter because it is not important how you think or feel about it because this creative process is theirs.

Nurturing other people’s creativity can be done in all kinds of ways. The easiest of them all: do nothing. Do not react, do not try to help, do not cheer, do not look away. Every response might become something that begins to cloud the creative process that the other is in the middle of. A useful approach could be the 10 – 3 – 1 rule which is the proportion between listening – asking – talking. Sometimes acknowledging that the other is in a creative process is already enough for them. Let me try a metaphor that might illustrate it. When someone is in mourning we understand that this is theirs to go through in their own way. Talking about how someone should feel or how they should mourns is probably not what this person needs right now. Now replace mourning by being in a creative process.

…get to work!

Take a few moments to imagine what could change around you as a result of second degree creativity. What emerges? What becomes possible? How would it affect the people around you and yourself? What effects can you see happening for individuals, organizations and society?

We are faced with major change in the world. Creativity can be of immense value here which is why it matters that effort is put into fully developing and tapping into the creative potential of of people and organizations.

Let me know what you think. Or perhaps you’d like to explore what second degree creativity might cause in your organization? Leave a response or contact me at

Casper Koomen

Casper Koomen