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Embracing Discomfort: The Importance of Inclusive Environments for Creativity and Innovation


I've been pondering a lot about the importance of creating an environment where people feel that whatever comes up is okay. I don't just mean whatever comes up professionally, like the next task on the list or the next checkbox we need to check off, but also what comes up beyond that - what comes up through discussion and what feelings are arising. Sometimes we don't realize that the emotion, anxiety, or discomfort we're feeling is actually a source of wonder, creativity, and curiosity. We're so trained to not use that part of our brain that it feels strange when it happens.


However, to truly innovate and think outside the box, we must allow ourselves to feel and explore discomfort. It is often in these moments of unease that our most brilliant ideas and solutions arise. Being avant-garde - thinking outside the box, allowing things to touch our hearts and change us - means that we're allowing creativity to flow. It's not being weird or odd or indifferent, though indifference can often be an element of creativity. It's when we start to feel indifferent about something that we begin to wonder if it can be different. For me, discomfort is where my creativity grows, especially when it comes to practices and structures that are not inclusive.


As someone who values inclusivity and equity, I find myself experiencing anxiety and discomfort when I witness or anticipate oppression. For instance, at work, a new individual who is an expert in her field but has not worked for our organization before is being asked to do a comprehensive presentation to a very important decision-making group. The presentation is about how our organization has weathered the last two years and in that resilience, how much work we've done and how we intend to continue the work.


But it feels patronizing to have to ask for more money when we've already accomplished so much in the face of extreme adversity, and the feeling of patronization is not just for myself but for others as well. It also feels rather uncomfortable for the newest member of our organization to be giving this presentation, especially when the labor was done by others.


Everyone wants to feel included, valued, respected, heard, and trusted in a space, whether it's socially or in the workspace. However, when we find ourselves in spaces where we don't feel that way, discomfort can arise. Recently, I've been experiencing discomfort for an individual who appears to be the obvious choice and spokesperson for this upcoming presentation. Additionally, I can't help but feel like there's an element of tokenism in enabling the newest member of our organization to share "our" story.


Do you recall being placed in random groups during elementary or junior high school to work on a project? Typically, someone automatically assumed a leadership position, while the rest of the group assigned roles based on their understanding of each other's strengths. However, there were times when a shy individual refused to disclose their abilities out of fear of being taken advantage of or thought of as wierd or odd. I was that person.


As I got older, I gained more confidence and slowly became a leader in these types of groups. But I still remember the feeling of not wanting to speak up because I was scared of being taken advantage of or ostracized. I still feel that at times even as an adult. Creating an inclusive environment means allowing everyone to feel valued and needed, regardless of their level of confidence or assertiveness, that's what leaders do.


Inclusive environments are critical for cultivating a sense of belonging among all members of a group or organization. When everyone feels valued and needed, they are more likely to contribute their unique strengths and perspectives. This, in turn, creates a culture of respect and appreciation for diversity, leading to greater creativity and innovation.


From my perspective the obvious choice for the presentation should be the individual who held the organization together during the most challenging moments, demonstrating a true commitment to the work and its values. I think it is also essential to consider who has demonstrated a true commitment to the organization and its values. These individuals should have a deep understanding of the organization's goals, challenges, and successes, as well as the ability to communicate this information effectively. In doing so, we are not only showcasing the strengths and contributions of our colleagues, but also practicing inclusion by valuing and recognizing their hard work and dedication.

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