Creativity and innovation are critical to corporations. This is as true of a corporation’s strategy development as it is for product development. This is true for how a company thinks about itself, as much as how it conceives of the world at large. It’s time to review the conventional wisdom about business, brands, and consumers and to recognize that rewarding creativity is the only way forward.

The cognitive processes creative people engage in to create meaning are common across cultures and hierarchies. Let’s explore twelve keys to unlocking creativity in the business world.

1. Curiosity

Curiosity implies respect for how things are, not what one assumes. The business-as-usual stance is the enemy of curiosity. Creativity is where particularities reign over generalities. Creatives have the persistence to bore into “the real” and wait for it to reveal its authenticity.

Curiosity, exploration and discovery, of course, presume prerequisites.

2. Self-Knowledge

The blossoming of creativity in a commercial environment requires a person who has found a place in the world of work that enables him to pursue that which is his true nature. This employee must meet: (1) a corporate hiring practice that selects people for how their self-story fits and evolves along with the corporate story, and (2) an executive cadre that encourages creativity.

3. Interdisciplinary Experience

Creatively, self-knowledge and expertise requires many different kinds of experiences. In addition to one’s expertise, familiarity with two disciplines is better. Ease with two cultures is better than one. Cross-fertilization between fields/worlds allows one to abstract differences and commonalities, to know when a difference makes a difference. Experience in different domains provides greater acuity to see the boundaries of one’s vision.

4. Sensuality

Creativity requires access to the experience of your own experience, not skimming over one’s experience. This demands sensitivity to what one experiences, moment-to-moment. A creative person lives life on an emotional roller coaster. They want to be aroused.

5. Openness

Creativity tacitly assumes that inspirational experiences can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time. Voices, places and situations are critical grist for the innovation mill. The creative person “goes with” the currents suggested by this openness and is the first to present colleagues an inkling of an idea because he wants feedback.

6. Directed Serendipity

Creativity is a process. The creative person is like a billiard ball that careens in different directions that he contributes to but does not wholly define. Then he meets the next something and his reaction is, ‘That makes me think of….’ Now he is on to something. This flexibility is how creatives turn crisis into opportunity.

7. Blank Sheets

Creatives are intrinsically inclined to put aside dogma, convention, and tradition. They start with the basics, as if never having heard the present problem. A blank sheet means that all assumptions and definitions are “on the table.”

8. Problem Structuring (Before Problem Solving)

Creatives give themselves leeway to segment a problem. They respect the creative process and do not succumb to external pressures. They do not worry about being wrong (yet). Problem structuring entails having more questions than answers and being playful in framing approaches.

9. Subjectivity (Over Objectivity)

Creatives know objectivity is a false ideal. Rheir only agenda is discovery. What Creatives live the experience they are focusing on, and in doing so; turn data into memory, and memory into blood (see Rilke’s poem, Blood Memory). Corporations should harness this drama.

10. Flow

Creatives thrive on the flow – letting the process “cook,” rather than trying to control it. They exist in the “middle” of it. Mark Morris, considered to be the most creative modern dance choreographer living, has a habit of standing inside a dance as he creates it. When steps are made from the inside, the primary concern is for how they feel on the body.

11. Stories

Creatives think in story form with a relational structure that connects plot, character, circumstance, and progress. Creatives look at relationships between data points, which helps them deal with complexity and structure a problem in multi-dimensions so ideas arise regarding underlying patterns and principles.

Creatives move from models of operation to narratives that provide context, and then to meta-stories (stories about stories) that transform data.

12. Metaphorical Thinking

Metaphor allows one to play a cognitive trick. I know “Thing 1” and I don’t know “Thing 2,” so I’ll “move” Thing 2 over to Thing 1 and call it Thing 1. This cognitive leap frees one from the here-and-now so metaphor can be deployed in the service of future scenarios. Metaphor gives the creative room to put things together that usually don’t go together. Moreover, what’s admissible as input to the metaphor-making process is often seemingly off-topic. Creatives create with a childlike sense of delight, without cynicism. It’s fun when your “doing” equals your “being,” when you fully express the authenticity of human nature, and the nature of things.

As Wynton Marsalis said, “The world is perfect when you’re playing.” For the corporation, which recognizes and cultivates the Corporate Creative, more good things happen.