Creativity – creating and killing it

I’ve been previously writing about innovation (here, here and here). Since innovation is defined as “the act of introducing something new“, it can be almost anything. But what lies beneath every single innovation is creativity.

Creativity is not exclusive to artists and a few highly-skilled geniuses in R&D teams. For instance in the field of humanistic psychology creativity is seen as a trait which is typical to all humans and flourishes when the human enjoys favourable conditions.

As every new product, method and solution requires creative thinking in order to come into being it is evident that businesses live and die on their level of creativity – the cliché example being Apple and their constant pursuit of bringing something completely new to the market (for other companies to copy). Creativity is essential to businesses. Not just to create new innovative products but also to problem solving and enhancing processes. So the question is, can creativity be increased?

Creating it

According to the vast research in the field the answer is yes. There are several small things which can be done to boost creative thinking, such as daydreaming and limiting oneself. Using the S-A-E-D-I technique might help some. Also the concept of Flow (proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi), which can be summarized as working at the very limits of one’s skills to get into a full state of concentration and focus, can be very helpful.

One particular creativity booster that kept popping up during my research was positive thinking. It may seem very naive and non-scientifical but actually there is a lot of research conducted for example by psychologists such as Barbara Fredrickson backing up this fact. One study at the University of Western Ontario proved that the participants of the study who were in a good mood after watching funny video clips performed better in a task of classifying visually complex patterns compared with participants who listened to the soundtrack of “Schindler’s List”. 

Killing it

Probably each and every one of us can name situations in which creative thinking is few and far between: overwhelming stress, emotional turbulences, fatigue. As a business manager or just someone striving for creativity you should be also aware of the less obvious pitfalls. There are a number of small things that sap the creativity: shamebad time management or external restrictions.

The organ enabling all the blue-sky thinking – our brain – is also simultaneously trying to make us into creatures of habit. We have an mental model regarding how we do our shopping (anyone else out there with major difficulties at new supermarkets?), drive a car and write an e-mail. We don’t need to think about every single step to perform the task at hand. Moreover, it happens almost automatically freeing brain capacity for other activities. The problem with this is that doing things the same way every single time doesn’t leave any space for creativity. This is also called the path of least resistance.

Exploring new ways of doing things comes always with a risk of total failure. Ask any successful entrepreneur about how they managed to build a succesful business and they will most likely tell you about several trial-and-error’s. So how to get over your fear of failure?

Management writer and entrepreneur Peter Sims recommends trying “little bets” which are small experiments to see a certain method or product works or not without the risk of ruining the whole business in the case of a failure. Writer Becky Ryan advises her readers to embrace the mistakes and to see them as guiding to the right path. She also recommends asking for help and replacing “yes” with “no” and vice versa.

An article by Mindtools recommeds fighting fear of failure by dividing big goals with bigger risks of failure into smaller, easier-to-handle subgoals. The article also encourages to imagine all possible outcomes, also the worst case scenarios, to think positively and to have an plan B.

Finally, in case you’re not already going for the “Biggest Failure Of The Month” title instead of “Employee Of The Month”, check out this TED talk.

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