Humans are hard-wired to be creative, and that creativity should be encouraged, especially in the work environment. That was the message of Josh Linkner, an author and “innovation expert,” who was the keynote speaker at a recent industry event I attended.

Linkner talked about the need to encourage innovation and creativity in the daily work life, noting that it does not have to result in large transformative changes – it can be applied to many small things, such as how to run a meeting better. He said that everyone has the capacity to be creative, but too many companies fail to adapt and innovative, then they fail.

“We are living in a time of unprecedented change, and leaders need to constantly innovate or be left behind, “ said Linkner. “This includes leveraging the hottest technology of all, which isn’t artificial intelligence or IoT, it’s human creativity. That’s the technology that can’t be outsourced or automated. That truly becomes our source of sustainable competitive advantage -- if we’re willing to embrace it and cultivate it, organization-wide. Unfortunately in corporate America today, there is a gravitational force that’s pulling us down from expressing our true creative abilities. Our job is to fight back and encourage creativity and new ideas.”

Ironically, after listening to Linkner talk about the various ways in which employers can squash their employees’ creativity, I found myself in a car with one of the most enthusiastic, creative, and entrepreneurial individuals I’ve ever met. Normally I prefer my car rides to be quiet, but my late-20-something driver – I’ll call him Brian – was so enthusiastic and interesting that I enjoyed hearing about his plans to make his mark on the world.

Brian said he was abandoned by his parents and raised by his grandmother, who died several years ago from cancer. He unexpectedly fathered a child in his early twenties – which he said was the best thing that ever happened to him -- and his goal in life was to be the kind of Dad he never had. In order to do that, he had to work multiple jobs, which included driving for a transportation service and teaching ballroom dance. He said he used to own a dance studio but gave it up when his grandmother became sick.

When he decided to get back into it, he wasn’t sure where to start, so he started giving private dance lessons here and there. Then he approached the many golf courses in the area to see if they would be willing to let him teach in their clubhouses, which were often empty. Most said no, but one let him try it, and it turned out to be a big hit. In fact, he suggested offering a monthly dinner and dance, which has proven to be so popular (and profitable) that other golf courses are now asking him to do the same.

But Brian is not ready to rest on his laurels -- he has more ideas! He said that in driving visitors back and forth to the airport, he heard many express frustration with their inability to rent fishing equipment near the big resorts. They could sign up for a fishing tour, but if they wanted to fish on their own, they were out of luck. With a flat terrain and plenty of places nearby to fish, Brian came up with a creative way to meet this need. He and a friend are now planning to purchase a fleet of bikes, outfit them with fishing gear, and then deliver them to the guests staying at the many resorts and hotels in the area.

I wish my car ride to the airport were longer, because I could’ve listened to Brian talk all day long. What an inspiration! Here was someone who had a rough start in life, but through hard work, endless optimism, and an abundance of creativity, was able to make a wonderful life for himself and his son. I don’t think Brian is an anomaly – I think there are plenty of creative types like him in every company around the world. And if asked, most could probably come up with a number of ways to solve big problems, attract more customers, and/or improve the business. The question is, are they being asked in the first place?

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