#001: Cultivating Creativity with Amma Marfo

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World-class creativity consultant, Amma Marfo, joins Todd Stewart and Bob Calise to discuss how she became the go-to expert that colleges, universities, and organizations from across the country hire to heighten their creative potential. She also explains how anyone can shift their mindset to easily become a creative thinker. We highlight how her career path went from event planning to working in student affairs, to becoming a freelance writer and speaker, now author, to quitting her job and becoming one of the leading experts on creativity in the workplace.

Amma Marfo’s Quick-Hit Career Timeline

Amma studied Communications in college

Has anyone watched Bewitched? Well Darren Stevens worked in advertising and that’s what attracted Amma to the field. She thought it was awesome that you could pick what people sold and get people to want to buy that item. She studied communications largely with the goal of becoming an advertiser.

Became an event planner for two years

After college, Amma spent two years in professional event planning. One year for the Parks and Recreation department in Clearwater Florida, and then another year doing events for a Community College. When she was working at the community college, many different opportunities appeared: She managed a building, advised student government, and she really liked working with students so she decided to go back to get her masters in education, specifically to work with college students. The degree was a Masters in College Student Affairs

While working in student affairs at Florida State then Emmanuel College Amma opened up doors by writing on the side

While Amma was working in student affairs she had a side gig – writing at night about introverts in higher education. What fascinated her, and what she wrote on, was building learning opportunities in schools for introverts, career opportunities for introverts, identifying leaders who are introverts, etc. Her writing became so popular that she got a lot of writing and speaking opportunities about introverts. She then wrote two books on this topic and started to think that this could be a new career for herself.

Amma decided to work for herself

Amma was getting more speaking and writing gigs because of her side project about introverts. So she thought to herself, “If I could give more time to this, I could probably get more speaking and writing opportunities.” She was right. However, before she took the plunge into full-on entrepreneurship she talked to a lot to friends and family about this possibility. She asked questions like:

  • How do you make this financially feasible?
  • How do you structure your days?
  • How do you make sure things are getting done?
  • How do you make sure you have work on a consistent basis?

After answering these questions, Amma quit her job and started working for herself. We dive more into this decision of quitting and starting your own job in the podcast. Check it out!

Amma explains the mind-shift that can help you become more creative

Find the right people to help you and your organization become more creative.

This goes against what we normally think because typically people think about specific characters as icons of creativity, not groups as a whole. To empower yourself, look for people who are either an ally, advocate or an activator. It’s key to note, that these people are in higher positions than you. Find these people and surround yourself with as many of them as you can.

  • Allies – Someone who agrees with what you’re saying.
  • Advocates – Someone who can restate what you’re saying to decision-makers, or help you articulate it in a way that will appeal to the decision makers.
  • Activator – Someone who isn’t showing you where the door is for the next opportunity, and they’re not really holding it open either…they’re kicking the door down, walking in first, and saying, “I want to help this person.”

Broad Mindedness

The ability to recognize that whatever you’re working on can be solved by pulling ideas from other places. So if you’re an engineer, the solutions to your problems might be within your domain of expertise, but it might also be in education, art, or marketing. Be open to finding multiple sources of information and inspiration from other areas. Those tend to be the most creative ideas.

Execution and the fear of failure

Have you ever heard of the Made for TV Problem? Amma sees this a lot with infomercials. So many people have the same idea, but no one ever executes on it. She argues that people who don’t have fear of failure are more apt to be creative. However, in order to get past that fear, she argues that workplace environments are the first to change. She see’s many workplaces environments that only rewards people who succeed and punishes those who fail. Companies will improve their inner creativity if they can lower the burden for what failure feels like and better normalize it in a way that empowers employees to try new ideas. Praise people for trying new things even if they don’t work.

How to evaluate a new creative idea?

Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Who could this idea help?
  2. Who could this idea hurt?
  3. How can I frame this idea that maximizes the “help” and minimizes the “hurt”?

If people want to be more creative, what is one thing they should focus on?

A big part of being creative and continuing to be creative is constantly doing things that you’ve never done before. Talk to someone you’ve never met. Talk to someone who you don’t think you have anything in common with. Pick up a book that you might not pick up otherwise. Doing something out of your routine is the first step to being creative.

Connect with Amma and say hi!

Check out Amma’s Books: