Critical thinking has long been touted as the essential skill for success but in our new rapidly changing business environments– it is not enough. Creativity moves beyond synthesizing and evaluating by adding a higher level of thinking skill. This is not a new idea. In 2010, an IBM survey of 1,500 key executives spanning 33 industries rated “creativity” as the factor most crucial for success.
Creativity is our most precious resource and our most inexhaustible one. Developing the creative skill is like building muscle. You lose muscle if you don’t use it and you build muscle by lifting weights and continuing to use the skill. Practicing and continuing working on your creative abilities will strengthen your creativity skill.
What exactly is creativity? Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. It is an idea turned into action. It is seeing a problem in a new way and finding hidden patterns, making connections between what may appear on the surface to be unrelated phenomenal and to generate solutions. This puts two processes to work: thinking and producing. If you have ideas and can’t or don’t act on them you are not implementing the practical and usefulness of your creativity skill.
Viewing creativity as a practical, learnable skill is a big change from thinking that creativity requires a bit of magic, waiting time or a creative title.
What is a good framework to practice developing your creative skills..
1) Identify the problem or challenge.
During the first step of creative problem solving, it is important to get an initial working definition of the problem. Although it may need to be adapted at a later stage, a good working definition makes it possible to describe the problem to others who may become involved in the process.
Begin by finding simplicity in complexity. Start by clearly identifying the specific problem or challenge than study the problem and get to the key, base root of what is causing the problem or challenge.
Looking at the problem in terms of challenges and barriers can offer an effective way of defining many problems and splitting bigger problems into more manageable sub-problems. Sometimes it will become apparent that what appeared to be one, single problem, is more accurately a series of smaller problems.
If you misstated or don’t perceive the accurate problem at this stage than it is difficult to come up with a creative breakthrough.
2) Gather data.
If this problem has been around a long time then analyze ways that others have tried solving the problem. How and when did the problem surface? Why did the solution not work or was not ideal? Why was the idea not accepted or acted upon? Was the idea disregarded too soon?
Also try to understand everyone’s interests in solving this problem or challenge. Interests are the needs that you want satisfied by any given solution. We often ignore our true interests as we become attached to one particular solution. The best solution is the one that satisfies everyone’s interests particularly if this solution affects your team. This is the time for active listening.
3) Generate ideas.
This part of the process should be uninhibited, spontaneous, top of mind idea generating.
Begin by capturing all ideas. No critical analysis at this point. Have fun and let your imagination as well as team members generate as many ideas for alleviating the problem as possible.
If you are working in a group outline group criteria for idea generating. These criteria include leaving critiquing any idea out of the picture, there are no”bad” ideas capture them all and no naysayers. This is a time for building on the ideas no matter how ridiculous or if it has been tried before.
Sometimes people wonder where the “so called” creative population find their good ideas. The answer is usually buried in all the bad ideas that we don’t see or hear. The creative process is like finding a gem among many worthless rocks. Much of the rock has to be discarded to find the real gem. It takes time, perseverance, and the ability to cast your self critical side away and just list any and all ideas.
In a later phase, much of what what you generate is thrown away, but that does not make the digging a waste of time. If you ‘cannot think of anything’ and having difficulty with this inspiration phase, perhaps you or your team are too critical, or expect good ideas to come too quickly. Don’t allow yourself to stop at the first good idea instead allow time to fully explore.
This step will become easier as you practice it.
4) Now take a break.
Let the ideas incubate. In this step, leave your ideas alone, your subconscious will still ponder the ideas in the background.
If you are working on several projects, it does help to let yourself switch between the projects but only if this doesn’t cause a break in concentration. The break helps when you have “hit the wall” and feel that you can’t go further. It also gives your subconscious time to work on any problems encountered, it will also distance you somewhat from your ideas so that you are better able to evaluate them.
Many good ideas have occurred while outside taking a walk, exercising, in the shower or stuck in traffic. I keep a writing pad and pen with me at all times.
Other ways to increase creativity..
Get moving. Studies prove that cognition and creativity improve with just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. The type of movement doesn’t seem to matter just so it is has a cardio benefit and enough movement to get the blood moving. The boost of a 30 minute cardio workout lasts for 2 plus hours after exertion. For those who are just starting a “get moving” program” it is best to start slowly and work up to a 30 minute goal. Even starting with 5 minutes and then increasing in 5 minute increments over a series of weeks is a great way to get started.
Sleep on it. Whenever Sir Isaac Newton had a particularly thorny problem he always worked on it just before he went to sleep. He said “I invariably woke up with the solution”. There are no guaranteed but keep that notebook and pen close in case you wake up with a solution and don’t want to forget it.
Here your ideas are sifted through and evaluated. The best ideas are selected or are combined with others for stronger, better ideas.
At this point, invite your self-critical nature slowly back into the process. This phase allows for cool analysis and judgement. However it should not be so critical as to inhibit productivity entirely. Remember, the ideas you have are only ideas, not complete solutions – you should not expect too much of them. It is where the ideas can take you that counts, not just the ideas themselves.
Try to stay away from ideas which are familiar instead keep open-minded to explore those ideas that will best achieve the objective of solving the key problem.
If you are working in a team there is a balance between critiquing team members ideas but not demoralizing team members by being overly critical. Give feedback that enhances further creativity and does not crush it. This applies to all team members.
By the end of this step, you and your team will have a top list of ideas or a combination of several ideas.
In the evaluation phase you examine your remaining ideas/solutions for strengths and weaknesses. Consider how the idea could be improved.
Hardly anyone gets things perfect the first time.
At first, Many people may dislike the evaluation phase. Actually, the evaluation phase can be very rewarding, and no work of real merit will be produced without it.
Create an action plan and test-drive your innovation or idea.
Implementing solutions generally requires convincing others that your idea has value and incorporating your solution effectively. And, having your team buy into the solution so that as revisions or changes are needed they will help and not hinder the process.
You and your team need to be positive and persistent, deeply committed and engaged, and ready to respond positively to any shortcomings.
8) Agree on contingencies, monitoring, and evaluation.
Conditions may change. Make contingency agreements to account for unforeseeable future circumstances (If-then!). How will you monitor compliance and follow-through?
Create ways to evaluate the ideas and their implementation. (“Let’s try it this way for three months and then look at it.”)
Effective problem solving does take some time and lots of attention. A problem is like a curve in the road. Take it right and you’ll find yourself in good shape for the straightaway that follows. Take it too fast and you may not be in as good a shape.
The creative process is hard work and yet can be fun and definitely rewarding. There are also many benefits of practicing the creative skill including greater achievement, career advancement, more earning potential, recognize and solve problems more easily and quickly, and making a difference.