Lisann Costello



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Non-stop creative thought needs to be supported by conversations and action, triggered and encouraged by leaders.

What does creativity mean in a leadership context? An endless row of lightbulbs flashing over your head? The ability to improvise in any situation? Close, but not quite.

An important and somewhat obvious manifestation of creativity is the ability to come up with new ideas, to see the relationships between things and connect the dots.

Every leader has a unique way of thinking, but here’s the thing: It has zero social impact. Creative thought means nothing until it becomes behavior, something others can see and be inspired by.

Take this familiar scenario: You aspire to be in peak physical condition, but when the alarm goes off in the morning to trigger your workout, you stay in bed. Your behavior doesn’t match your thinking. Therefore, you need to create the environment that reinforces your aspiration, by getting an accountability buddy who’ll meet you at the gym at 7 a.m., for example.

Likewise, leaders need to nurture an environment that promotes creative thinking and corresponding actions.

When you welcome creativity as a leader, you’re constantly seeking the new, enabling creativity within your team, and actively turning ideas into action.

Leaders ask questions to trigger innovation

Creative leaders are always on the lookout for something out of the ordinary, constantly asking questions. Curiosity, however, also requires confidence.

As children, we’re naturally inquisitive. But as we grow up and get sucked into life’s routines, we’re afraid that asking questions will expose us as impostors. This fear might block our curiosity and penchant for learning.

Many a C-suite claims to seek innovation and disruption, but at the same time they’re afraid of individuals who might follow through. Words aren’t backed up by actions. Maybe the company culture, and senior leadership teams, aren’t open-minded enough.

): adidas employee Lisann Costello is working in an open space with her laptop.

Creative leadership accepts failure as part of the process. But don’t be fooled: Creativity flourishes in an environment that encourages experimentation in practice – not on game day.

Leaders take time to be present

Creative leaders need to design a fruitful environment for creative thought and action. This doesn’t mean turning the office into an arts and crafts store, as much fun as that can be. Nor does it mean removing all boundaries, which are actually beneficial for focused thought.

It’s not just about the physical space. Enable creativity by engaging people in real conversations beyond bullet points. Take an extra three seconds to listen to a full sentence. Genuine leadership presence can have a huge impact on creativity.

A creative environment allows not only positive emotions, but also healthy criticism and skepticism. That’s how you’ll find the best solutions to problems as a team.

Lisann Costello is presenting on stage during an adidas meeting.

How leaders can channel creative ideas into action

Most people have a genuine desire to be more creative. But, in a business setting, people are expected to be creative with a purpose. Ideas need to become reality.

The role of leaders is to help channel that urge and energy, to focus idea generation into areas where it’s needed the most in the business. Only then can meaningful innovation happen.

Try this: Go richer and deeper – not broader – in creative thought. As a leader, encourage your team to consider How can I do more with less? Deadlines and budgets are on your side.

Is your organization genuinely open to creativity?

adidas leader Lisann Costello holding a pen and standing at a table in front of a textile material library in a MakerLab environment at adidas.

Creativity Checklist for Leaders

A stream of creative ideas is a good starting point, but internal thinking means nothing until it becomes behavior, something others can observe and be inspired by. As a leader, you need to create an environment that promotes innovation with a purpose.

  • Constantly seek the new by asking questions. Accept failure as part of the process.

  • Enable creativity by being present and engaging people in conversations beyond bullet points.

  • Turn ideas into action by encouraging your team to embrace constraints and dig deeper into creative thought.


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by Maria Culp 11.07.2018
Very inspiring. Love Lisann's comment about restraints actually contributing to creativity... so true.
by Maria Nokkonen Maria Culp 12.07.2018
I totally agree. Though a blank canvas might sound appealing, it's actually just overwhelming. Certain constraints help me focus and channel creativity to where it's needed the most.
by Nina Weihrauch Maria Nokkonen 13.07.2018
Agreed! I experienced that working with constraints is also more attractive and challenging as you're working on a concrete solution for a problem with existing and clearly defined resources. Without a clear frame, I'd get lost in space. 😉
by John Sparks 13.07.2018
"Encouraging your team to embrace constraints and dig deeper into creative thought" is a great way for leaders to verify that they are creating safe places to be innovative. We get this one right and I bet we will see others that are bought into our three C values.
by Judy otto 13.07.2018
Lisann's comments resonated with me. I especially agree with constraints inspiring greater creativity. Resourcefulness comes when we are forced to do more with less. Great respresentation of all 3 C's.
by Ray Deane 22.11.2018
Great segment. I re-learned about my own creativity here. I loved the framework tie-in with constraints creating the playing field and helping to form the creative purpose. As a leader, I always love asking questions to encourage engagement in group settings. Thank you for sharing.


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