Remaining inspired to serve in the military and staying driven by honourable personal motivations requires ongoing challenges throughout a career. Whether a leader or an individual as part of a team, participating in mundane, repetitive and simple tasks will erode at a person’s best performance. Personal example to seek new opportunities or encouragement to apply alternative methods to similar situations is a leadership responsibility or can be self-induced. Either way, autonomy of thought and action while drawing upon suitable resources enhances a person’s enjoyment in solving new problems. Having the freedom to explore creative solutions presents opportunities not possible when following a routine approach. This article will discuss the value of creativity and how it can generate an impressive difference.

A Narrative for Creativity

Motivation is central to being creative or not. Amabile (1997) describes the situation when a person may be eager to devote time to being creative:

  • A strong interest in self-expression and fulfilment
  • A unique combination of personality characteristics that allows a person to stay intensely involved in their work
  • A social environment that promotes creativity
  • The interactive needs of the team and abilities and opportunities of its members
  • Empowerment is valued
  • Positive early childhood experiences

These situations may trigger intrinsic or extrinsic interests (or a combination of both) that enthuse a person to want to commit to enjoyable, rewarding and challenging tasks. The most favourable situation for being creative occurs when intrinsic motivations are high and organisations limit external controls. According to Amabile, motivation to work is encouraged in some of the following ways:

Intrinsic Motivations (Internal)

Extrinsic Motivations (External)

Enjoyment and interest

Provided by external sources

Positive skill-exercising experience

Reward, incentive and praise

Positive self-expression

Observation and feedback

Enhance a person’s feelings about work     


Freedom to explore

Rules, policies and procedures

Creativity is essential for many things in life. For example, it is a core element of advertising which shares key characteristics with leadership; both seek to attract interest and establish trust using an effective communication platform to influence people. Belch et al. (2014) explain the key purpose of advertising is to generate fresh, unique and appropriate ideas, which are not distracting and influence people to develop a conviction and take action. They support this view by highlighting the need to tap into people’s affective (emotional) domain to draw their attention. Likewise, leadership is a people centric role that requires thoughtful communication. However to be inspirational, leadership is elevated when it is fresh, unique and experimental, yet appropriate. Creativity garners interest and is able to break through problems generated by influences such as the competition, bureaucracy and self-imposed constraints. Unfortunately, creativity is rarely seen as the solution of choice to avoid the muddle of stale, bias-orientated or familiar ideas. Thinking within the realm of the unknown or unproven can unlock unrealised potential. This does not condone creativity as a loose venture; rather it should function within four questions:

  • What is the message?
  • What is the goal?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What method is needed to communicate the message?

However, leaders can easily revert to the comfort of rules instead of taking prudent risk that has a creative edge. Issues that obscure creative thought include: limitations of actual or perceived time constraints, unavailable people or resources, or a lack of motivation to try something new. These can be overcome and to suit a military context creativity can be planned and engendered through a process. This requires creative thinking to precede detailed planning to explore alternative options before locking onto one approach. This is not to say that during moments of urgency that creativity should be cast aside. Murch (2018) discusses the positive impact of innovative decisions in Making a 'Gut Call' is Okay. Actually, the value of intuition meets the first two of Belch et al’s (2014) three criteria to instil a creative environment:

  • Adopt a philosophy that does not set rules
  • Treat people at their best to encourage the willingness to think 'outside of the box'
  • Do not be constrained by strict timelines

This attention to lateral thinking, which can be reactionary but should be fundamentally considered, will assist leaders to inspire individuals and teams to avoid barriers to creativity such as:

  • Fear of failure/being different/disappointment
  • Uncertainty of the outcome
  • Resistance to change
  • Lack of education/knowledge/skills
  • Cognitive biases
  • Too much or not enough input from senior leaders
  • Lack of empowerment (Murch, 2019)
  • Diversity of the group is limited
  • Inexperienced leadership that does not understand the value of creativity

Fresh ideas are possible when people avoid these barriers and remain vigilant to not examine a process, rather explore the elements of the environment and how they interact. Albert Einstein’s Meaning of Relativity (1922) is an example of insightful and inventive thought to discover relationships between things that were previously unconnected. The Australian Army encourages this concept through its core value of initiative and its insistence on mission command. Creativity is a responsibility for all and not just those who feel a need to be creative, such as leaders and commanders.

Improving creativity

Simonton (2012) fundamentally believes creativity is a naturally occurring quality but accepts that other research shows it can be cultivated. He makes his concession based on evidence that people can harness and develop their thinking, thereby learning how to be creative. He formulates this view on three elements:

  • Creativity requires research to learn about the environment 
  • A person needs to understand the problem to ensure relevance
  • Knowledge of those who will be involved in the solution and those who will be affected by the outcomes

Lehrer (2012) supports the view that 'the creative type' is not solely an artistic person or someone who possesses an unattainable trait. He believes creativity exists in the range of 'naive daring outsiders' to experts in specialist fields. He asserts that creativity can be taught, nurtured and exercised and offers several activities in his article 'How to be creative' to achieve that development. Likewise, Belch et al. (2014) provide the notion of The Big Idea within a marketing context. This idea brings a vision to life and feeds off inspiration that blends strategy with a person’s desire to succeed. Australian Army examples of this are the introduction of Digger Works and 1 RAR’s 'Yard' training facility. Each of these were innovations, the former at the organisational level and the other at unit level, which harnessed conversations and intentions of many individuals to meet a unified outcome that filled a gap. Creative Big Ideas do not arise every day but observant, curious and experimental mindsets detect opportunities.

Mentioned previously, a creative process can capture situational information that identifies potential and with further styling original ideas can grow. Young (1975) designed a process to inspire creative advertising campaigns and recognised it as adaptable to other situations that require creativity. Typical military applications like developing alternative planning solutions, formulating mutually beneficial leadership decisions and exploring innovative technical efficiencies are applicable to Young’s model:

  • Immersion – Immerse yourself in background research and information
  • Digestion – Consume the information and think deeply about it
  • Incubation – 'Sleep on it'. Let your subconscious mull over the information
  • Illumination – Similar to when you come back to a jigsaw puzzle after a break and that elusive piece appears just where you had been looking the whole time. This is the point of discovery
  • Reality or verification – Study the idea against the problem. If you are satisfied, start detailed planning

Rest assured, all people are or can be creative. Society, which has become increasingly networked, is rich with reasons to encourage or stress the urgency for creativity. The rapid onset of globalisation, proliferation of technology, concerning climate change, increasing fragmented societies and the changing global order are forcing mechanisms for creative thought and convincing communications. The tactical necessities to operate within these strategic environments need innovative attention and action. Templated solutions that have predictable outcomes, are rigid and unnecessarily controlled will struggle to discover ideas that present an advantage.


Creativity is within each person but needs training and nurturing for it to emerge and have a meaningful and appropriate impact within a team. It should not be left to those who feel compelled to be creative, instead organisational endorsement should foster the value of innovative investment. The Big Idea is the point of realisation; however, communicating that idea is crucial to allow leadership to formulate the details and the team to understand the purpose. Like an advertising campaign, a unique perspective will attract interest and rally people to willingly involve themselves in the message. An empowered environment not stifled by rules but aligned with process will encourage creativity that is relevant and makes a difference.