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On Being “Creative” October 27, 2011

Posted by David Dirks in Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz.
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“People who earn the label ‘creative’ are really just people who come up with more combination of ideas, finding interesting ones faster, and are willing to try them out.  The problem is that most schools and organizations train us out of these habits.”  (Scott Berkun as interviewed by Guy Kawasaki in his excellent book, Reality Check).

For as much time as we all seem to spend trying to get to the essence of innovation in ideas, products, services, or whatever, it really does come down to being willing to mix and match different ideas, concepts, thoughts, and experiences and culling out of that process the best creative ideas.  The reality though is that not everyone has that ‘mix & match’ mentality built into their thinking processes.  I also think there are a couple of important components to what Berkum noted.

We can fall victim to our own experiences…good, bad or indifferent.  Being able to step out of your own viewpoint is not easy to do but vital if you want to get beyond the concreteness of your own perceptions on any subject.  By training, we try to put every idea and thought into a category box that we think it fits in.

There is creativity in numbers (but not too many).   The power of one is never better than the power of many but you can over do that like anything else.  Over the years, I’ve found that a rule of thumb for creative problem solving is at least 5 but no more than 10.  And when you can pick a team, pick from a variety of backgrounds and areas of knowledge.  Variety is the spice of creative and innovative thinking.

Defining the problem or challenge clearly and concisely a must.  We’ve all been in those meetings where we are trying to tackle a problem but keep going in circles, never quite getting at the kernel of an idea that could potentially lead to a workable solution.  In most cases, the cause for this cluster is a lack of problem definition.

Capture every kernel of an idea or thought.  I’m a big flip-chart guy.  Put me in a room with people and flip chart and I’m capturing thoughts, ideas, and anything else that moves in that room.  It doesn’t’ have to be neat.  You can always go and sort things out later.  But capture as much input as develops during the course of the discussion….AND DON’T EDIT.  Make sure you are capturing the thoughts and ideas of others in the context they mean it in…instead of slanting it in the context you want.  After a problem solving type meeting, I like nothing better than going back to my office and paper my walls with the charts and just stare at them for a while over a few days.  That’s when ideas start to form and gel.

Prototype and test.  Fast.  Berkun notes, “The best bet is to be an experimenter, a tinkerer — to learn to try out ideas cheaply and quickly and to get out there with people instead of fantasizing in ivory towers.”

Look, there’s no ‘secret sauce’ to creativity and innovation…just plenty of hard work & trial and error.  That’s why we love to solve problems, isn’t it?