Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Readers would be acutely aware of the pressing need for increased innovation at work. However we often don't pause to think about creating the right conditions and making the time to allow for it to occur. Recent experiments found that the initial 20 ideas people generated were the most conventional. Once they had thought of those, they were free to start dreaming up unconventional possibilities. So if you want your team to generate out of the box ideas remember you will need time and the internal and external conditions. Research suggests that there is no single magical idea that makes the whole creative process work. The ideas in this blog may help to create the moments of illumination that redirect thought or inspire exploration, but that illumination tends to start the process, not end it.
What aspects of Organisational culture are critical for creativity?
Typically people tend not to share new ideas or suggestions for fear they are seen as:
Research has demonstrated that a culture of psychological safety is the essential foundation for creativity. When you create Psychological safety in your organisation people feel they won’t be punished or humiliated for asking questions, challenging norms, talking about what is and isn’t working, expressing concerns and experimenting with unproven actions. Remember Psychological Safety isn’t group cohesion, rather it’s an environment where people are supported to respectfully challenge each other, the status quo, to have debate and take risks.
Interestingly, in the fields of scientific research, manufacturing and IT 'prototypes' are common. The prototype approach enables the testing of a product and where failure is perceived as an opportunity for improvement. In a psychologically safe workplace people can create and test “safe to fail experiments” for their ideas and plans. Thus enabling constructive debate, more analysis and idea generation, typically resulting in long term superior results.
Is there something special that creative people do?
Research has demonstrated that creative experts tend to have broader interests and greater versatility compared to their less creative expert colleagues. As the psychologist Howard Gruber has shown, rather than a dogged single pursuit of a single research question, the most creative scientists throughout history engaged in "networks of enterprise", where they pursued a large number of loosely related projects. So if you are a specialist and you want to broaden your interests or perspective try bringing others who may seem to do completely unrelated work into your problem solving process. On a daily basis our brains are exposed to lots of information from, our senses, mental images, memories and even the thoughts that just pop to mind. So to avoid overload we are wired to filter out information. Research suggests that highly creative people let more information come through those filters so that they can combine and re combine this data in novel and original ways. Finally, creative people seem to have cognitive flexibility, that is the ability to take old information and adapt it to a new context. According to Adam Grant, to be original you don't have to be first, just different and better.
Where do emotions fit in?
While the research isn’t yet conclusive, there’s an increasing body of work indicating that positive feelings may expand up the capacity of our creativity. At a physiological level, laughing releases dopamine, one of the brain’s feel-good reward hormones. That means you grow less critical of your ideas, which allows for more of them to emerge. As our world view expands, we become more flexible, innovative, and creative and are able to see solutions we would not normally identify.
“Generally, positive mood has been found to enhance creative problem solving and flexible yet careful thinking, If you have a project where you want to think innovatively, or you have a problem to carefully consider, being in a positive mood can help you to do that.”
Regular readers may be aware that of the circular relationship between creativity and positive mood, as engaging in creative activity improves your mood and wellbeing.
“Even though personal creativity may not lead to fame and fortune, it can do something that from the individuals’ point of view is even more important: make day to day experiences more vivid, more enjoyable, more rewarding. When we live creatively, boredom is banished and every moment holds the promise of a fresh discovery.” Czikszentmihalyi
What about motivation?
Motivation appears to be a central factor in creativity. Having a clear understanding of the purpose of a creative project is fundamental. However, please remember from my blog last week, you can't impose your purpose on others, it is an emotional connection to the impact your work has on the world. Interestingly it is our intrinsic motivation that is conducive to and strongly associated with our creative abilities. A key component of intrinsic motivation, according to self-determination theory, is the belief in one’s competence. Original thinkers, are confident in their ability to be creative and solve problems yet they doubt the ideas they generate. This doubt pushes them to critique their ideas and provides motivation to keep generating better options.
A final thought.
Do not look or push for that quick lightbulb moment. Early researchers found that “creative work is not a matter of milliseconds, minutes, or even hours but of months, years, and decades".
“In the heat of the moment small advances feel great, and the one’s that turn out to be crucial slip in quietly"
Pamela Allen: Mr. Archimedes' Bath
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By Scott Barry Kaufman on April 17, 2016