“Give yourself permission to be you.” – Monica Kang
Monica H. Kang is the Founder & CEO of InnovatorsBox® and the Author of Rethink Creativity. An internationally recognized expert in workplace creativity, she facilitates culture transformation, leadership development, and team building in a way that is fun, actionable, and relatable. Monica works with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Her work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. in Strategic Studies and International Economics from SAIS Johns Hopkins University and a B.A. from Boston University. In this interview, she discusses her journey to founding InnovatorsBox and how she stays creative.
Q: How did you create InnovatorsBox?
“I started InnovatorsBox, which is a creative leadership firm helping companies and leaders around the world, because I realized how important our mindset was to live our best potential
I first realized this when I felt stuck in a job I loved – nuclear weapon security. No matter how much I enjoyed what I did, I got stuck, depressed, and even suicidal at the thought that I wasn’t able to bring enough purpose and I felt lost. Is this all that I could do in life?
It was not until one morning I realized I could not remember the last time I woke up feeling happy. I noticed how I started crying to work feeling so overwhelmed and that was very unlike me. This is where the mindset was key. I woke up one morning thinking – what if I walked instead of taking the bus to work? That small decision changed everything. Not only did I had to wake up earlier, check the weather, wear comfortable shoes, and realize how beautiful my neighborhood is, I also came to the office feeling more curious every day. I became more curious about all my surroundings that even the very thing I felt bored at – Excel sheets and routine tasks at work – became more intriguing and fun. As I saw how I excelled and found joy in the very thing I thought I felt stuck in, I realized how powerful our mindset is. What if more people understood how they could strengthen their creative muscles and mindset to be curious, creative, and courageous? My research found that since the 1950s, there was lots of evidence that everyone is creative, yet 87% of professionals, including myself previously, did not understand how. I was not sure if I knew all the answers, but I did know that something needed to exist so that everyone could live more creatively and to their full potential no matter where they work or live. That’s why I built InnovatorsBox. While this skill was so important, I realized there is so much stigma surrounding creativity – that it is just for the select few or only for those in arts. If it is a skill that we can all hone, how can we make this more tangible, accessible, and easily understandable? I wanted to build a home where everyone could learn how to be creative to be their full potential. And by making creativity skills accessible, I knew I could help redefine how we foster belonging and growth in the workplace.”
Q: How do you personally rediscover your creative mindset?
“The more I learn about creativity, the more humbling it is, even to myself, as it is a constant learning journey. Even when we ask questions like, ‘how can we tackle burnout?’ and ‘how can we get out of that fatigue when we want to create?’, I noticed how we are not realizing how often creativity is already in the works. In essence, creativity is thinking differently and seeing differently. So, to explore how we want to tackle burnout and fatigue differently, we are already creatively studying how we can study this common workplace pain point.
The pandemic has been a powerful time where we constantly navigate change and adapt to it. Some changes make us feel scared while some help us become problem solvers. In either case, it is important to recognize how much courage it takes for us to get comfortable with change. Still, since we are human, no matter how comfortable you feel to adopt and pivot all year, you may find yourself feeling fatigued because you have not had enough recharge time. Just like the computer, our creativity muscles need time to rest and recharge. If we are “on” all the time, then we can’t grow.
This lens of understanding about how burnout is not just simply caused by us working hard but also because how we spend time, energy, and our thoughts, really help us see how it is critical to see things holistically. We’re human beings, not human doings. How we spend time and recharge, matters. At times I may feel guilty for watching TV, but it is important to define the purpose and not always be in working mode.
Q: Where do you see yourself and InnovatorsBox in the next 5 or 10 years? Especially given COVID-19, what are some of your short and long-term goals?
As someone who started her career in public policy, I always loved thinking big. So even though we remain a small startup, our vision and heart has always been to make creativity globally accessible for all. How? I do not know yet, but I just know that this needed to exist and the vision that we hope to create – that momentum – was always there from Day 1.
I hope that InnovatorsBox grows beyond me. Today, 87% or more people around the world still feel stuck with a lack of creativity. Our work is not complete until that number disappears. We want to help as many people and companies everyday realize how they do not have to feel stuck, that they can be their true creative limitless self no matter where they work and what they do. I know how key accessibility is. Stigma around creativity remains because it is often only associated with expensive training and those with traditional art backgrounds. To make this learning available and understandable for all, in addition to the company culture and leadership in-depth training we provide, we make creativity games, online courses, and creative content to make creativity fun, tangible, and accessible. That way whether someone plays with our SPARK creativity cards, takes a course in InnovatorsBox Academy, listens to our podcast at InnovatorsBox Studios, or attends our community events at InnovatorsBox Global Community, there is a way for them to hone their creativity skill.
We are still small and nimble today – a mighty team of 20 from 6 countries – but by helping one company and one person at a time, we know we are making a difference each day. That’s how we hope to shift the paradigm – not just in one company through training but in this whole society over time. One drop of water can create an ocean overtime. We are here for the long run.
Q: If our readers only take away one message from this interview, what would you want that to be?
You can always be more creative – no matter how you feel about it! The key is you have to believe in it and make time to practice it. Without believing that you can be creative, it is harder to see how you can be who you want to be.
This is where intentional practice matters. Be patient, it takes time. We are tempted to want things immediately, but overnight success takes at least 20 years. To be healthy, we know that it is not just going to the gym that makes us healthy. We have to eat healthy, sleep well, think positively, and then exercise. The holistic approach and time matters – not just going to the gym once but exercising little by little each day will make you healthier. Same goes for creativity. At first if this feels foreign, it is ok. Give yourself permission to practice. No one will be the same. How you feel inspired, how you like to express, and what makes you feel creative will be different – and that’s great. So do not compare yourself with others. Compare you and your past and your future; keep practicing and working to become who you want to be.
As Einstein says, we often judge the fish’s capability to climb a tree. What if you were meant to be a swimmer, not a climber? Do not let others’ labels define you. Do not let any societal label define you. Give yourself permission to be you. Take the time to be curious. Yes, it will take courage to be you at times. Not everyone may like that version of you, but if we only lived trying to be like-able, how truly alive and fully living are we? Believe in yourself. Live your true creative self because that is one thing only you can do and that is a gift the world can celebrate with you together.