For the purpose of this article – Creative Acumen refers to the juxtaposition of soft skill development, a key aspect of which is self awareness, with highly developed analytical abilities.
Is Creative Acumen a slippery subjective energy or a quantifiable and assessable object?
The short answer: it’s both.
The long answer – please read on …
During the first international mountain bike expedition around Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo – a joint venture between Bike Beyond – a company I Co-Founded and Co-Directed, and British Expedition/Training Company, FieldSkills – we came across a python.
A cacophony of hysterical voices shouting instructions alerted us to the scene – and what a scene it was. A villager was hanging onto the end of 1.5m of taut horizontal muscle that was failing around violently.
Another villager was trying to cut off the python’s head. Not an easy task when your target is moving in mid air and desperately trying to defend itself.
My business partner, Justin Riedy, had grown up with snakes in Southern Africa. His father had been a herpetologist.
Justin stepped into the fray, took the python behind its head and allowed it to curl around his arm. Everything went quiet – the villagers and the python were looking much more relaxed.
The villagers were grateful for Justin’s handling of the snake – no one had been injured and they were genuinely in awe of his skills.
Snakes were something Justin cared deeply about. He took every opportunity to connect his audience to his passion – snakes. As he did this, he was the consummate professional – Sir David Attenborough could not have done a better job.
Justin exuded integrity, motivation, confidence, resilience, perseverance, drive (some of the soft skills that make-up Creative Acumen).
As Justin recounted snake stories, facts, technical knowledge – expert know-how (hard skills). He:
- listened to villagers’ stories
- took time to explain details, ask questions, and gain insights into village life
- made no attempt to dilute/change his attitude towards reptiles in the face of different, and sometimes hostile, attitudes
- made every effort to pay deference to the insights and experiences of the villagers, and
- made connections between his experience/knowledge and those of the villagers.
Through the exchange, banter, debate and discussion of diverse experiences, attitudes, beliefs and knowledge – about snakes -the villagers and Justin connected to each other. It was at this point, the atmosphere around the group, and the snake, transformed.
The initial sense of fear and frenzy – that we first encountered – had morphed into one of:
- playful curiosity
- respect – for Justin and the reptile
- confidence – people were learning and working together.
This energetic transformation happened in minutes; and Creative Acumen was at its CORE: It included the Soft Skills of:
- leadership – with a lower case ‘l’ and Capital L
- integrity – from everyone
- passion – it helps to overcome fear
- professionalism – a key part of which are excellent communication skills
- ethics – everyone involved displayed a sense of morality towards each other, and to the snake
- drive – enthusiasm is infectious
- perseverance – requires patience as well as fortitude
- confidence – to trust ourselves and others
- inspiration – we can’t all handle snakes, but we can, if we are feeling confident, open ourselves to inspiration’s magic
- resilience – an ability to trust ourselves, enabling us to view things differently, and, hard technical knowledge.
It is not easy to step into the unknown when fear and hysteria abound, but information ownership, including self awareness, can lead to a sense of empowerment.
To the empowered – the unknown is pregnant with potential. It is something to be embraced, not shunned or prematurely terminated.
Which brings us back to the python. It was beautiful, but its fate was unknown – and termination was a definite possibility.
It was in the energetic moment thrown-up by the unknown, and fuelled by a passion to harness that energy – that an idea came to mind.
The snake’s release could be an opportunity to bring tourists to the village. The villagers listened and built upon the idea. They could offer the tourist group a village dinner, perhaps a short night walk into the surrounding jungle or look at a Long House?
Justin could supervise the snake’s release. We had a satellite phone so we could get a message through to a nearby training facility – reception wasn’t always guaranteed, but it would be quicker than a boat trip.
The training facility, ran by local Dusun tribes people, was frequented by European tourists – and they were very excited to be able to offer a snake release viewing opportunity accompanied by a traditional dinner.
The villagers were excited, the snake – under Justin’s supervision – was carefully placed in a dark, warm spot (in a sack) until its release audience, and night, arrived. The village sprang into ‘snake release festival’ mode.
The evening was a great success – for everyone, including the snake; it calmly slithered off while Justin spoke about its release/departure behaviour.
In fact, the evening was such a success that the training facility suggested further evenings with the villagers – that didn’t involve the release of a sleepy python.
Plans, structures, strategies were drawn up – so that these evenings could be put in place on a regular basis.
I had been continually amazed – as we tried to mountain bike around the Mt Kinabalu (taking 3 days to do 5 km at one stage) at the nimbleness and dexterity of the rubber tappers.
Villagers relied on the tapping – to them it was a matter of survival – income. To me, it was an extraordinary mix of hard learnt artisanship, adventure racing, survival (move-over Bear Grylls), team work, technical expertise and sheer drive and tenacity.
When I suggested that tourists might like to have the opportunity to walk into the jungle and learn about how they ‘tap’ – the villagers laughed!
Rubber tapping was, however, a much more reliable/safer option than potential snake releases – and was added to the tourist’s village experience.
How does this story pan out in terms of acumen: Creative and Business?
Business acuity is the ability to apply acumen to business contexts. It is intuition, insight, creativity, a sixth sense – directed at business: problem solving, opportunities, solutions, future visions, directions.
Creative acuity is the ability to apply acumen to any context. It is intuition, insight, creativity, a sixth sense – directed at: problem solving, opportunities, solutions, future visions, directions – life.
Business and Creative acumen collided in this example. It was Creative Acumen that led the way.
Creative Acumen changed an atmosphere of institutionalised fear, negativity, disempowerment, shock and suspicion, to one of openness, positivity, and an ability to embrace the unknown/change. It could not have done this without hard technical skills/professional expertise – in this case, snake handling capabilities.
Creative Acumen (Soft Skills + analytical ability) and hard skills (snake handling knowledge) built upon each other to generate an atmosphere where new business strategies could come to fruition. It was this atmosphere that fostered and nurtured Business Acuity. Which, in this example, translated into making the snake’s release into a business venture.
It was Business Acuity that saved the day for the snake and provided the villagers with an ongoing strategic directive that could offer them diverse capitalisation strategies and innovative future visions.
It was Creative Acumen – the integration of professional expertise, analytical ability and soft skills – that transformed the energy of the situation from disaster to opportunity. This opportunity provided the platform, and opening, for Business Acuity to blossom.
The ongoing business strategies that the villagers were developing with the local training organisation is business acumen at work – it is a healthy combination of environment, partnership, planned action and future frameworks. KPI’s, quantifiable gains, evaluations and reviews – can all be developed and delivered from this framework, BUT Creative Acumen gave birth to it.
Can Creative Acumen be measured/quantified? Yes.
The hard quantifiable data of any business will highlight the soft skill level/development/awareness of its employees, including CEO’s and CFO’s. The more documentation, the greater the structure – the more opportunity for Creative Acumen to be strategically developed – for everyone. Creativity thrives on/with structure.
For example, documentary evidence exposes – under the experienced analytical eye:
- what soft skills have been utilised
- how they have been utilised
- what triggers caused their utilisation
- the level of awareness an individual has of their soft skills
- how this information can be structured into organisational and personal frameworks – and reused, reviewed, evaluated – and implemented across any area of life experience at any life cycle stage.
In the example with the python, the:
- ongoing business strategies that resulted from the snake release
- diversity in income streams for the village
- diversification of content in the local learning environments – connected to the village
- increasing opportunities – for villagers – from the networking offered by regular contact with the local jungle training centre,
are all sources of hard quantifiable, objective – evidence based data.
Can Creative Acumen be assessed? Yes.
Soft Skills are an innate aspect of our evolutionary intelligence. We may:
- harbour diverse innate soft skills
- develop some at the expense of others
- encounter greater opportunities to develop our soft skills than others
- have more or less self awareness of our soft skill repertoire and how we support/hinder their expression,
but we all have them.
Perhaps a more pertinent question is: “What can Soft Skill assessment achieve?”
Other pertinent questions include:
i. “Are we aware of how soft skill development is structured into our daily life routines – from kindergarten to senior citizenship? Do we know how to make this implicit development explicit?”
ii. “Why is soft skill, Creative Acumen, development so important for a successful work/life balance, or study/life balance, or play/life balance?”
iii. “Why is Creative Acumen seminal to good mental health?”
Why is it important to ask these questions? The short answer …
Soft Skill development, which can lead to Creative Acumen, is crucial to thrive in a world where objective knowledge accumulation – information overload/content saturation – is in epidemic proportions at every life cycle stage. Surviving in this world is not a pleasant option, because survival means just that – surviving.
Surviving does not mean:
- a life well lived
- maximising potential
- realising purpose
- finding one’s passion
- health – mental or physical
- balance – in any thing
- success – whatever that means to you
- embracing and enjoying the extraordinary opportunities that life has to offer in the 21 Century
- continually embracing new learning experiences, adventures and opportunities throughout the life-cycle.
Surviving is stressful. It is not conducive to finding creative solutions to immediate problems, embracing opportunities, turning negatives into positives, developing innovative solutions and ideas – having fun.
If soft skills hadn’t come to the fore – in everyone – in the snake release example:
- The python would be dead
- a villager would probably have been bitten – pythons aren’t poisonous – but they can have dirty bites (like a dog or cat)
- medical help is something villagers can neither easily access nor afford
- income diversity in the village would be restricted to rubber tapping. Rubber trees are becoming scarcer as multi-national palm oil companies buy vast amounts of land
- human and eco diversity becomes compromised
- business opportunities – internationally – are less diversified (increasing global risks, including financial) …
The adage “think locally, act globally” is pertinent to this example. BUT it is NOT an example of a snake release, nor is it an example of a local business strategy born out of a happy co-incidence of circumstances. It is an example of the poignancy of CREATIVE ACUMEN to real world problems – in the HERE & NOW.
Creative Acumen is not a slippery subjective energy.
Creative Acumen is as quantifiable and assessable as its objective technical cousin, Hard Skills – and no less important. In fact, we neglect or postpone the development of Creative Acumen- in any one at any age – at our own, their’s, and the world’s peril.
For further information about developing Creative Acumen please contact