This month Edoardo Binda Zane, author of Amazon bestseller Effective Decision-Making* throws a light on creativity, what it can do for businesses, and why we’re getting it all wrong.
Creativity is often frowned upon in the business world. We like to think that this is the case in particularly “traditional” or “conservative” companies, but the reality it happens much more often than we’d like to admit.
So for the next 5 minutes or so, let’s try to consider why this is the case, and whether we should (or should not) be more open about it.
Oh, so you are one of those creative types, huh?
Let’s start with how creativity is perceived. If I imagine some of my previous direct and indirect supervisors, I see their behaviour and attitude: static, comfortably confined within the boundaries of their success, and unwilling to follow new, or different lines of business under the assumption that “if this is working for us, why change?” In some cases they had a point, indeed, but that is strategy, a whole different topic.
People have been using brainstorming to stifle–not stimulate their creative juices. – Richard Wiseman
Sticking to where we were – within such a team, a purely creative attitude can be considered anywhere between too daring and unprofessional. Yet, at least once a year, the team asked to sit together in a room and to brainstorm on a new strategy to follow or on a new product to focus on.
Apart from the effectiveness of brainstorming (hint: none) – can we expect a team locked on path dependency to suddenly and comfortably be creative?
Creativity doesn’t originate from the business world
There is a larger issue we’re dealing with here: businesses, any business, need to be creative in order to innovate and to remain competitive. Competitiveness can be broken down in three: having good ideas, selecting the right one and applying it well.
In other words: creating, deciding and executing.
Executing is the phase for which businesses have the most literature and experience available, whereas there is a lot less for decision-making and creativity. I have recently published a book on decision-making methods, so I’d rather refer you to that. Creativity, instead, is the phase where we information is most scarce.
More often than not, in fact, heads of companies and units don’t know how to activate a creative mode in their team. They are not to blame, of course. Being creative is not part of where they come from, unless they have a practical and deep interest in art, or music, or any other purely creative field.
For this reason, however, companies tend to often rely on “creative” techniques common in their world – again, brainstorming; but shun most of the more effective techniques available.
What isn’t often reported, especially in larger corporations, is that creativity is a science, and it can be learned and applied. Creative channels have been studied and they can be activated with the right triggers. The largest block, however, is that this knowledge belongs with psychologists, neuroscientists, artists … not with businesses.
Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties. – Erich Fromm
Therefore, the real hurdle is not so much the personal attitude of the person in charge, who is in many cases innocent – the real hurdle is the barrier between the business world and the science where creativity is recognised and studied.
Lately, progress is being made in some areas, for example in the startup world, which is much more open to different ideas and styles. Luckily larger corporations and market leaders have started to follow the same path. Think about how much IBM is investing in Design Thinking. My hope is that pretty much everyone who is left between startups and market leaders will follow on their example.
Two quick ways to incorporate creativity in your professional life
Now, if you wanted to incorporate some more creative pattern in your job, what could you do? Changing your company or team culture takes a tremendous effort and deep understanding, so while you work on that, try these two quicker ways:
1. Avoid brainstorming, find alternative methods
Quoting one of the main studies on brainstorming, it is …
difficult to justify brainstorming techniques in terms of any performance outcomes, and the long-lived popularity of brainstorming techniques is unequivocally and substantively misguided.
(Mullen, Johnson, Salas, 1991)
The social pressure in any brainstorming session is often so strong that it blocks participants from expressing most of their ideas. A decent alternative is a mixture of the Delphi Method and of the Nominal Group Technique. More on this here.
2. Give yourself and your team more time
Most of our brain’s creative work takes place in the background – literally, in out subconscious. The moments of serendipity we experience are nothing more than your associative cortexes connecting two distant concepts. As Dr. Nancy Andreasen puts it:
The creative process is characterised by flashes of insight that arise from unconscious reservoirs of the mind and brain.
Simply put – you can’t force an idea to come, and if it doesn’t come at that specific point, stop focusing on it and engage other, completely different activities – your subconscious will reward you in the end.
- Brian Mullen, Craig Johnson & Eduardo Salas: Productivity Loss in Brainstorming Groups: A Meta-Analytic Integration (1991)
- Nancy Andreasen: A Journey into Chaos: Creativity and the Unconscious (2011)
Have you ever attended or run a brainstorm? How effective was it? What would you do different to incorporate creativity in your professional life?
Creative Commons image courtesy Denise Krebs.