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Creating Space for Creativity and Complexity: A Conversation with Tania Katan

business team having creative session

Photo credit: (Flash Vector)

Tania Katan is the author of Creative Trespassing: How to Put the Spark and Joy Back Into Your Work and Life, and co-creator of the viral campaign #ItWasNeverADress -a social movement that has inspired over 60 million people to, as she says, “see, hear, and celebrate women for the superheroes they are.” 

She spoke with us recently about how leaders can foster cultures that support both creativity and the complexity that comes with the reality of diversity. 

Q: You speak about creative trespassing as bringing more creativity and innovation into less overtly innovative and creative spaces and work cultures. Do you mean specifically corporate cultures, and why is that important?

When I started going into Fortune 500 companies and even small and medium-sized companies, I’d say, “We’re going to talk about creativity.” And immediately, people would say, “But I’m not creative.”

As I define creativity, there is the “big C” of creativity as in “I’m a dancer,” “I’m a choreographer,” and “I’m a painter.” There is also the “little C” of creativity, as in “I’m a divergent thinker, which means I can come up with infinite solutions and ideas based on any prompt problem or challenge.” 

A seminal study in the book, Creativity From Constraints, by Dr. Patricia Stokes, proves that we were all born creative. We’ve spent our whole lives unlearning that. So, part of bringing creativity into the corporate culture means relearning our natural impulses and instincts to solve problems and develop new solutions. 

That’s significant for corporate culture because if creativity is coming up with infinite solutions and ideas, and you are a company that desires to be a part of the future of work or even just be alive to see that your company is functioning, then you have to generate creative ideas and solutions all the time. 

Q: Part of this work involves embracing differences and individuality, which can be challenging for many people. Growing polarization and recent backlash against JEI efforts have become increasingly complex. How do you recommend that people navigate these tensions? 

The work of creativity is to use complexities as fuel to solve problems and develop new ideas. We are complex human beings. 

We’ve got this whole jam with comfort, and we want to be comfortable. That’s not the point of life. The point of life is to be in complex conversations. Leadership needs to create spaces for complexities that demand respectful, necessary conversations. 

Q: I love that concept of creating spaces for complexity. Let’s imagine there’s a woman who is relatively new to the leadership realm. What are three practical steps she can take to create spaces for complexity? 

One is to be confident in convening diverse humans. And I don’t just mean diversity of race and culture. I also mean diversity in thought, gender expression, and backgrounds. Another step is to create trust by ensuring people are safe sharing their ideas. The third is to do this regularly so it’s baked into a system.

Q: This is Pride Month, and we know that not all LGBTQIA people feel safe expressing their differences in the workplace. What advice do you have for leaders who want to create welcoming cultures where everyone can thrive, even in polarized times? 

In theatre, we have to build a foundation of trust, clear communication, and connection quickly because we would be doing something scary and magical and live. Every company is tasked with doing something scary and magical daily, whether they know it or not. So, one key thing for leaders is to lead with that, knowing that nobody is more or less than anyone else. Everyone is necessary.

Q: In your book, you write that all you need to do to “kick ass in the working world is trust your instincts, fire up your imagination, and stop apologizing for your magic and start unleashing it in the world.” But that’s hard work. 

Yes, it is. But what other work is worth doing? Can you point to anybody who has ever changed how we think that fits in? This is the learning part. Those are our North Stars. 

So, it is big work. And it’s also really simple. It’s peeling back the onion and saying, “Look, we’re all here because we have a collective vision of success. We agree upon these things we need to do and why they’re important.” If you get there by approaching it differently, isn’t that wonderful for all of us?  Allowing for creativity leads to more productivity, greater traction, and longer retention.

Q: One of your principles is to see self-limits as opportunities to trespass creatively. How do you do that?

Take a piece of paper. On one side, write limiting beliefs. On the other side, write unlimited possibilities. I learned something similar from a coach I worked with and then adapted it, and I kept this piece of paper with me everywhere I went. One of my limiting beliefs was that I didn’t belong here. Well, what’s the positive opposite? I guess I belong everywhere. It seems like a simple exercise, but it’s impactful. It’s a way of relearning how and who we are and how we can be.

Q: Finally, one of your tools is humor. What advice do you have for those who don’t feel gifted in that way? 

A layer of humor is absurdity. People forget about that. So, if you want to cultivate your humor, start seeing everyday symbols, take one of those symbols, and turn it around upside down until you see it in a new way that makes you smile. It’s a skill you can cultivate, just like anything else.


Tania Katan
Tania Katan

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