Are there secret artists in corporate America, and why are they hiding?
By Theo Edmonds
January 25, 2023

In a fast-paced, constantly-connected world, it can be easy to forget that not everyone is as open as we might think. There are still plenty of people in conservative corporate America who stay “in the closet” about their creative side for fear of judgment. But why? Is it because they’re afraid of being seen as different? Or is there something more to it?

Corporate America likes to celebrate creativity, but most leaders are really scared of it.

Corporate America likes to tout the power of creativity in driving success, but many leaders are hesitant to embrace it. It’s understandable when you consider that creativity demands risk: embracing the unknown and being open to elements of surprise can be daunting for a culture that prizes consistency and predictability. However, research suggests that when humans are involved, the notion of predictability is just a story leaders tell themselves through a hazy lens of modern cognitive biases at work. 

That said, those willing to take on fresh challenges often reap tremendous rewards as they push past the boundaries of what was once thought impossible. Think of all those things we said were “impossible” pre-February 2020. Then, we pushed through them. Just a couple of years later, many of the things said to be impossible are fairly commonplace in our everyday lives. To be truly successful, companies must lean into their creativity to keep up with the pace of ground-breaking innovation being accelerated through shifts (technological, behavioral, etc.) in culture.

When conformity is the name of the game, creativity is often seen as a threat

In a landscape where conforming to the norm is rewarded and creativity is seen as a liability, it’s hard to stand out. Spurred by advances at the intersection of neuroscience, technology, and culture, the fast-growing field of creativity science is clear that creativity is an asset to individuals, companies, and entire economies. Creativity can open up new solutions to perceived problems and inspire new ideas and energy for solving deeply entrenched challenges. Those with highly developed creative skills don’t just churn out products – they create milestones and elevate teams in ways that go beyond linear processes that are the “go-to” in business. In a time of multi-verse companies and multi-dimensional strategies, perhaps we should reconsider the unintended consequences of forced sameness.

In the Weeds of America’s Business Story

When we think of business in America, shows like Succession are often conjured up. I love how the messiness and bravado of the show ignite some terrific storytelling. But, perhaps a better snapshot of reality for most entrepreneurs and innovators (who are not in the 1% of the 1%) may be the show Weeds. The show’s opening theme song “Little Boxes” by Pete Seeger, is a 1-minute crash course in the cultural norms that have helped shape how we “do” business in America.

Weeds basic premise is around a suburban mother who turns to dealing marijuana to maintain her privileged lifestyle after her husband dies. Despite the surface-level trappings of suburban success, she finds out just how addicted to the “performance” of success her entire neighborhood is.

It’s one of those shows that cause us to ask the question, whose imagination are we living in? The stories we tell send messages. Over time, the media we consume subtly shapes what we believe is possible and valuable in our lives. Then, human behavior kicks in and we begin to perform what we see.

Being an artist has generally not been the path to executive success in business. From Wall Street bankers to doctors and lawyers, I would wager there is a huge community of artists that hide that part of themselves away from their colleagues. But, as these secret artists go about their week, they’re taking breaks from the daily grind to draw, write stories or compose musical pieces. Although the underlying dynamic between artistic expression and business goals can be difficult for those flying under the radar, these innovators find themselves uncovering new artistic inspiration in unexpected places—the boardroom, conference calls, and emails—not just in a studio. (And vice versa.) But who are they, and why are so many of them hiding?

It’s time for artists everywhere to come out and be proud of their creativity!

It’s normal to feel anxious when making yourself vulnerable, and this fear is understandable in our modern, competitive world. Because of the wide range of expectations that form our collective idea of what success looks like, people are often afraid of being judged or rejected for sharing aspects of their experience that differ from what they perceive to be valued by their peers.

I am proud to be part of the LGBTQ+ community. Since National Coming Out Day began in 1988, I have experienced firsthand the power of visibility to generate breakthroughs, both big and small, that were once deemed “impossible.”

Artists in corporations across America need to come out and celebrate their artistic side. All too often, artists in conservative professions work in the shadows instead of showcasing their hard-earned creative skills in the light of celebration. Creative professionals shouldn’t have to fear anxiety or judgment; everyone deserves to show off the fruits of their labor with pride. Come out and own the artist part of who you are!

What if Employee Resources Groups (ERGs) in companies expanded and became Creativity Resource Groups (CRGs)

With new technologies and the digitalization of the world, companies are facing a changing landscape. To stay ahead, companies may look to Employee Resources Groups. But what if those groups went further and became Creativity Resource Groups? These resource groups would not just be about unifying personnel under a shared culture – they could double as creativity incubators. Ideas generated within these groups would have the potential to become inspiring products or services that revolutionize an entire industry. This could lead to some serious innovation in corporate America and encourage businesses to diversify their efforts further. In this way, Creativity Resource Groups can help spark a transformation among employees while allocating resources more efficiently toward developing game-changing projects. This approach is among a targeted handful of innovations being pioneered by the University of Colorado Denver’s Imaginator Academy.

Most people in corporate America play it safe because they’re afraid of being judged. This fear of rejection prevents them from expressing themselves fully and reduces the innovation output of a company. It’s time for artists hiding in plain sight to come out and be proud of their creativity! We need more Employee Resources Groups that focus on creativity so that everyone can feel comfortable expressing themselves.

What do you think? Would you join a Creativity Resource Group at your company?

By Theo Edmonds
Culture Futurist™ | Creativity Strategist | Conceptual Artist | #WorkplaceWellbeing Researcher | Entrepreneur