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For Business
April 29, 2014

Can you make creativity happen?

It’s tempting to buy into the idea of a ‘creative muse’ that swoops in at random and drops a great idea into your lap.  But when your job is to be creative, to innovate, and to come up with solutions, an unreliable muse just isn’t good enough.

So can you make creativity happen, and if so, how?

Brainstorming sessions are one of the most common ways we try to come up with ideas. But as most of us have experienced, they don’t always work. In fact, they can be pretty painful experiences: a room-full of people trying to force out good ideas, watching and judging each other, the introverts being drowned out by extroverts.

So is brainstorming proof that creativity can’t be forced, or just an example of the wrong way to approach it?

Dr. Tony McCaffrey would argue that it’s the latter. He suggests ‘brainswarming’ as the right way to approach coming up with a creative solution to a problem as a group.

Ants work alone when they’re looking for food. They leave pheromones traces behind them, to pass on the information about what resources they’ve found to help guide the rest of the colony, and make the process of finding food more efficient.

Brainswarming woks the same way; you work separately, approaching the problem in different ways, bringing different perspectives, then share your findings and resources, gradually refining towards a solution to the problem. Write down the problem you need to solve on a whiteboard, then sit silently as a team, writing down relevant resources and ideas, before comparing notes, and refining towards a solution.

Another approach to making creativity happen – and one which has stood the test on time – comes from James Webb Young. In his 1939 book, A Technique For Producing Ideas, he proposed a five-step plan that many creatives still swear by today:

  1. Gather raw material – build yourself up a big stockpile of ‘raw material’ or interesting ideas that you can combine into new ones.
  2. Digest the material – get to know your material, look at it from different angles, and see how each one might fit with others.
  3. Unconscious processing – put the idea out of your head, and occupy yourself with other things.
  4. The a-ha moment – a solution will emerge, probably just when you’ve forgotten about the problem. Write it down.
  5. The idea meets reality – test the idea out, build it, polish it, and let other people provide feedback.

Your Nokia Lumia can really help at the gathering and digesting material stages when you pair it with an app like Evernote or OneNote – bookmark articles, take photos and write notes. When you come to the digesting stage, if you’ve organized all these snippets of ideas in notebooks or with tags it can really help you to find that new combination of ideas you need in order to find a solution to a problem.

Environment is just as important as process when it comes to supporting creative thinking. Here are some tips on how to create the right atmosphere for creativity in the workplace:

  1. Time to explore – encourage people to go out and do new and different things, to read, to explore – this increases the chances that they’ll bring back unfamiliar inspiration.
  2. Permission to think – people need time to think, and also for unconscious processing. Or in other words: time when it looks like they’re not doing anything. Teams need to feel supported and like they won’t be in trouble for spending time in thought.
  3. A balance of support and honesty – sometimes good ideas start off weak and need support to bloom, other ideas need to be vigorously pruned back. You need a balance of providing support and honest feedback to make sure the best ideas come to the forefront.

What do you think of these ideas? Do you think they could help make creativity happen? Let us know your take on the debate.

Image credit: creativedc