- Logic can solve problems, but creativity often requires a leap of the imagination
- Creative ideas often don’t make any sense at first
- Just because an idea is illogical doesn’t mean its ‘bad’
During my recent visit to Malawi I had the pleasure of speaking at seminars and workshops to a large number of charming and very interesting people. My aim was to try and provide some of the latest thinking on Creativity and Innovation in an organisational context and to try and encourage the people I met to use alternative modes of thinking.
Keen readers will remember the 'How do you get a giraffe into a fridge' test that I used last year (click on the giraffe to the right to revisit it). I used this on my audiences and was pleasantly surprised to find that answers were richer and more numerous than elsewhere. It is not right to say that Managers get the answers wrong but their responses are generally poorer than young children. My African friends did very well indeed so I began to wonder why this was. Was it a coincidence?
One of the central themes of Creativity is play, and education systems are designed to help us pass exams and be less creative. We then have to undergo a degree of 'unlearning' to be playful in the workplace. Keen followers of TED (see www.TED.com) may be familiar with the thoughts of Sir Ken Robinson. Click here to view his moving and entertaining talk, but only if you have 20 minutes to spare!
In our so called developed countries we have extensive educational systems, whilst in developing countries the systems are often constrained to keeping young people in school and teaching basic skills well. Yet there has been an explosion in many developing nations within Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. In Cuba, trade embargoes have meant that motor engineers have created substitute brake fluid from shampoo and sugar whilst I have seen young boys in Africa change tractor tyres with only a few levers, a hand pump and some soapy water (no mean feat).
This natural creativity is present in us all when we are born but seems to remain only in countries where there are 'light touch' education systems. You may be thinking 'what about the effect of culture?' This is where things get a little complicated. In young people the two main drivers of Creativity are:
- An education system that does not stifle or judge
- A culture that allows play and lets 'children be children'
As we grow up, different factors come into play which are mainly cultural. This often means that:
- In developed countries we are keen to be creative and innovative but we have lost the tools to work this way – our solution is to undertake even more training
- In developing countries, people have the natural tools but social pressures sometimes inhibit the ability to be critical or express radical thoughts openly – some people are just too polite. The solution may just be to overcome these personal barriers
In my view, the developing countries could have the edge but it will be a close run thing. The situation is obviously more complicated but these points should give us all food for thought. Any feedback is always welcome!
There are a number of things that can be done to ensure that creative workshops go with a bang or at least a colourful fizz and meet the objectives so carefully set out for them. Here are a few more suggestions to build on those I gave you in a previous article.
Invite appreciative inquiry – the good news is this, you don’t have to teach people how to be creative. They already are. All you need to do is facilitate the process that helps people access the part of themselves that is already creative. One way to do this is to help participants recall a time in their lives when creativity was flourishing for them. Known as “appreciative inquiry,” you are simply allowing participants to wax lyrical about past successful creative ventures – no matter how small. These animated reflections will really get the creative juices flowing.
Don’t think, do! – brainstorming sessions, are “head sessions,” requiring a significant amount of thinking. But that is not the only way to get at good ideas. In fact, one of the best ways to quicken the appearance of good ideas is to “not think.” Mozart used to exercise before sitting down to compose, the holder of the most patents ever liked to swim underwater before he invented and Socrates used to take his students for a walk. Somehow, these seemingly mindless excursions free up brainpower. The best and fastest way to accomplish this is with hands-on, interactive problem-solving activities that have high relevance to the brainstorming challenge or group dynamic.
Tell stories – story telling is a great way to help people get insights and make creative connections. That’s why great teachers, since the beginning of time, have used parables to make their point. The stories we recommend you tell are what we call “teaching” stories – that is, intriguing stories with a moral. Or, they may be business-related stories concerning best practice or interesting case studies relevant to the brainstorm topic. It can be useful to intersperse these stories throughout your session, especially after participants have been working hard and need a breather.
Invite humour and playfulness – the right use of humour is a great way to help people tap into their right brains. Indeed, “haha” and “aha” are closely related. Both are the result of a surprise or discontinuity. You laugh when your expectations are confronted in a delightful way. Please note, however, that your use of humour must not be demeaning to anyone in the room. Freud explained that every joke has a victim and is used by the teller to gain advantage over the victim, that is, it’s used to affirm power. And we know that when we’re getting into the realm of power and the yielding of power, we are using our left-brains. Even more important than “joke telling” is a free flowing sense of playfulness. Everyone likes to play. The more you can achieve the goals of your session by interjecting playfulness into the process, the better.
You’ve heard the talk, read the book, bought the T-shirt but what practical steps can you take on Monday morning to help creativity to flourish?
To start off, here are a few ideas. However with your new found idea generation skills, you should be able to think of lots more.
- Create space (physical and time) for idea generation
- By cutting down on non essential meetings
- Avoiding micro managing staff
- Allowing time for ‘play’ or to make mistakes (within reason)
- Allowing interaction between individuals (at the coffee machine or water cooler).
- Adopt simple techniques for modifying existing products or services
- Think about having after action reviews to ensure that you avoid re-inventing the wheel.
- Look at reward systems to encourage know-how to be shared and for salaries and bonuses to promote team working.
- Hold curiosity meetings where people are allowed to ask ‘What if?’
Small organisations without boards could consider having an informal board of trusted acquaintances who will give advice in return for a meal, say.
Start looking at methods of gathering ideas that will encourage new ideas not just complaints (avoid the baggage of the traditional suggestion box). Ensure that contributions are recognised and that the process is transparent.
So what? You may say, these are not very creative. Well they are if you have been doing something else. Creative or alternative thinking does not mean playing with brightly coloured balls all day long. It means selecting appropriate techniques and methods from as wide a variety as possible and matching them to the task in hand to get the best results possible. Another reason to expand your management toolbox is to engage the widest audience possible. That person who yawns at meetings where documents are discussed might participate where a storyboard is used. Someone whose help you seek may apparently talk in riddles but they may in fact be using metaphor, try using their language.
One other thing to remember, just because the words ‘problem solving’ are used it does not mean that you have to have a problem to be solved. You may need to reframe a situation i.e. get another perspective, either to be able to change it or make sure that you have left nothing out.
Let’s look at the categories that techniques fall into:
Exploring/defining – such techniques can be used to try and find solutions to problems but they can also be used to find out more about an individual or group of people or try to create a shared understanding of a situation with abstract boundaries such as a vision or mission statement.
Idea generation – these techniques do exactly what it says on the tin. Brainstorming type techniques can be used to generate a large number of possibilities whilst nominal group techniques or modelling can create a shared idea amongst a group of people.
Screening – instead of just sitting around trying to vote for a preferred solution or rely on gut feel, there are a number of techniques that can help you such as bullet proofing.
Planning and prioritising – not quite planning in the true sense of the word but some of the screening techniques can help you prioritise and something like a storyboard is actually a plan (but without the small print) which can be turned into a readable document or used as a storyboard for PR or communications purposes.
Neither creativity itself nor the issues that demand creativity are tidy or controlled. To handle this, you need a mental framework that is 'forgiving' of a necessary degree of confusion, ambiguity, uncertainty or contradiction, providing, of course, that a sufficient core of structure can be extracted from it to allow your activities to proceed. This article looks at the areas that managers seem to find most troublesome and suggests some skills and abilities that may require development.
There are five areas of ambiguity that managers find particularly troublesome:
- Where the significance and reliability of information is problematical.
- Where it is unclear at what level the problem needs to be tackled.
- Where different value orientations lead to political and emotional clashes among key players, inside and outside the organization.
- Where contradictions and paradoxes appear.
- Where symbols and metaphors, rather than logical arguments, are used to advance a position.
If several of the above characteristics combine, the problems begin to disrupt a manager's normal routines, and stress levels climb. Situations like these test the limits of analysis, so strictly analytical skills tend to be less relevant. Skills and procedures such as those listed below often help to provide the 'looseness' needed to manage these difficult circumstances.
- Problem-finding ability. A combination of judgement, intuition and logic that enables a manager to identify the right problem and to recognize opportunities.
- Map-building ability. The skill of generating one or more ways of conceptualizing a problematic situation, including the ability to relate the demands of the situation to organizational and personal values and identity.
- Janusian thinking. This refers to thinking that joins seemingly contradictory beliefs in a constructive way (the Roman god Janus faced in both directions at once).
- Controlling and not controlling. Knowing when to let events follow their own course versus knowing when to intervene.
- Humour that oils. This is humour that helps regulate stress and encourages creative juxtapositions, rather than biting, sarcastic, denigrating humour. Laughter is restorative – releasing tension and rejoining people.
- Charisma. The ability to stir enthusiasm, commitment and confidence. It transforms everyday activities into purposeful pursuit of super-ordinate goals and heightens people's sense of their own power and their willingness to take risks.
- The use of a core group embedded in a network of contacts and information. At the centre of any exercise in 'turbulence management' you usually find a core group – a few people meeting frequently face to face, working at least half-time in this role so that they can become really immersed in it.
- The use of domain and direction planning rather than goal-directed planning. Knowing who you are and where you want to go is inherently more flexible and better adapted to the realities of acting under stress than thinking in terms of specific, objective, measurable goals.
- Use ad hoc structures such as task forces and project teams. These temporary structures allow the organization to depart from old practices and to learn new behaviours – e.g. to examine the fundamentals of the business, or to experiment with the organization's traditional ways, or to educate key players in the new rules of the game.
Does this mean that we can all regress into childhood and that making mistakes or behaving foolishly does not matter? Of course not. What we mean in this context is that a certain degree of chaos, learning from mistakes and not playing by the rules is acceptable. But why ‘play’ and not ‘explore’? Adult creativity is closer to childhood play than you might think and also ‘exploration’ still uses our adult rules with built in mindsets.
Play has several important characteristics which I will explore further.
We learn when we play as children, in fact this accounts for most of our early learning. Can you remember some of those early lessons before you went to primary school? Play acts as a learning laboratory for trying out different internal models on an external world. This is not dissimilar to our traditional brainstorming sessions.
Is play a practical task or imagination? A child that pretends his piece of cardboard is a knight’s sword is giving a simple piece of cardboard a set of magical qualities that are potentially limitless. As adults we use metaphor in much the same way.
Play also helps our sense of independence, and shows that we do not have to be compliant. This is an essential part of basic mental health. We need to have our own world and not be simply a part of someone else’s.
Play provides a protected area for our dreams. Once in the play state we do not say ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘don’t be silly’. Does this not remind you of brainstorming and other techniques? When you are free of the rules you are playing!!
Play provides a way of managing tensions between what is and what can be. Such tension can be temporarily reduced by imagining ways of closing the gap. A classical case of this is the technique of Visualisation.
Play is often accompanied by a particular state of mind. Just as a child can become lost in a game, so adults can become lost in a problem solving state once they have left their preconceptions behind.
There are emotional boundaries for children when play. The feelings conjured up by making imagination real must be containable. The same feelings exist when undertaking adult creative workshops and thus we can not play if we feel threatened.
As children, play is our main method of making both friends and enemies. Many suggest that it is only during play that true communication is possible because that is the only time that we share our innermost feelings. Those who have taken part in worthwhile group sessions will relate to the feelings of closeness that exist.
Given that shared culture, values, myths, metaphors, visions and more are the basis of many of our social groupings both inside and outside the workplace, why do we not play more often?
Creative Business Solutions are experts in applying creative techniques such as play to business situations. To find out more about training solutions, innovation projects or our self help ebook series YES you can, just click on the relevant link.