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Innovation and Best Practice
for Business Success

Established 1967

Twelve days of Christmas [Creativity] | Part three.

30th November 2015

At Ros Taylor Company we are looking forward to a really creative New Year and decided to prepare in advance. Using the 12 days of Christmas- yes we know it’s cheesy- we formulated what we need to do individually and as a company. So here’s our present to you 12 days with 12 steps to becoming more creative and leading edge (3/3).

On the 9th day of Christmas…

Having your own dancing girls, all nine of them – what fun! And fun and happiness are surprisingly great aids to creativity at work.

Anecdotally we all recognise creativity as residing in poor starving artists in garrets or the depressed, troubled genius. And of course where story exists then some truth lies. When creativity is internally focused, angst can be a driver. However, when you want to be focused externally, producing ideas for work yourself or in groups, happiness has the edge.

A psychologist at Cornell University, Alice Isen, ran some experiments looking at the effect of emotion on creative problem solving. Participants were randomly assigned to groups, one to view a comedy film, the other a documentary about Nazi concentration camps. The happy ‘fun’ group were significantly more likely to solve the creative problem. Teresa Amabile, Harvard Professor, author of The Progress Principle, conducted some research in the course of which she asked over 200 workers from seven companies to keep a daily diary of events, feelings and actions over four months. The results were remarkable. She discovered that despite not asking her research group about creative thinking they mentioned that they were much more creative on days when they were happy.

Workplace happiness was mentioned in diaries when a leader provided positive feedback on progress. There was even a carryover effect lasting up to two days. Wow if that were a pill we would be popping it! Then there’s a study carried out by Christine Porath and Amir Erez (British Psychological Society Journal 2001). A good mood has a lasting effect generating a greater variety of thinking and this led to new ideas at work. Also, when these new ideas were respected and rewarded by leaders – even if they turned out not to work – creativity increased.

Support from their leaders was an essential component in their creative workplace performance. Where there was conflict and competition at the top, creativity was reduced. Internal or ‘intrinsic’ motivation was a major factor too, with those who enjoyed the challenge of their work being more creative. Where there were promises of rewards, fear of poor evaluations, or competitiveness, the opposite was true. They were less creative. So ‘worker of the month’ schemes actually undermine creativity..

On the 10th day of Christmas…

Leaping lords; how energetic… and this inspired me to realise that creativity is an energetic process. Ideas do not exist in a vacuum and they certainly do not happen in a meeting that is tedious and delivers only information.

The challenge is- how can you make your meetings lively and energetic? The chap that turned around Avis Car Hire shortened and energised meetings by opening windows and taking all the chairs out so that people had to stand. He halved the time and generated drive. Perhaps drive to get out of a freezing room!

Having a creative process helps too because group thinking tends to proceed along tram lines. Even the best endeavours produce similar results unless you can induce new ways of looking at issues. Brainstorming in my past experience was some poor sucker at a flip chart with other team members sitting around in various stages of lethargy. Wrong! Everyone should be involved in teams of 4 or 5, all with pens, building on each other’s ideas.

The rules for energetic brainstorming are below:

  • Go for quantity not quality.
  • Don’t worry about making mistakes or coming up with the right answer; just go for as many ideas as possible. The time for analysis is later.
  • Don’t be judgemental. There are no right or wrong answers.
  • Freewheel with thoughts and ideas. Just keep the momentum going, writing down the first thing that comes into your head.
  • The faster the pace the better.
  • Make connections. Piggyback on others’ ideas. Use them as prompts. Setting two minutes to come up with ideas creates the momentum and drive to formulate fresh ideas.
  • The next trick is to choose the wildest idea, discuss what it means and gradually turn it into a doable action. This stops old fashioned thinking and challenges the team to look at unusual options. This process involves everyone; it’s fun and energetic.

 On the 11th day of Christmas…

11 pipers piping….

Have you ever tried to blow into bagpipes? In addition to being dizzy, I became immediately respectful of the piper’s skill. Creativity at work is also about becoming skillful as well as having the right attitude and some great techniques that you can use whenever possible. Creativity is for everyone in an organisation and should never be left to consultants who sweep in, give their recommendations and fly out leaving no legacy of continued activity.

Have a look at the list below as see if you have what it takes to become a creative organisation.

  1.     Attitudes
  •          An attitude of inclusion and diversity.
  •          Rewarding failure to encourage ideas.
  •          Tolerance of risk to pilot the new.
  1.     Techniques
  •          Mind Mapping to enable issue finding
  •          Brainstorming.
  1.     Skills
  •          Assessing teams for creative styles.
  •          Assessing ideas for utility.
  •          Dissemination of solutions and actions.
  •          Using a creative process.

Any organisation requires all three to succeed creatively but the skill of using a creative process is really important. I get the feeling that companies would like people to come up with innovative ideas without recourse to creativity. It can’t be done – you’ll just get old recycled ideas.

In previous Christmas days we have talked about attitude and techniques now you require some skills. You need two different types of thinking for creativity: exploratory and critical The latter is more prevalent in the workplace than the non-judgmental freer kind of thinking associated with creativity.

First, you must analyse the problem, then generate possible solutions, next choosing and implementing the best solution and finally evaluating the effectiveness of the solution. This process alternates between the exploratory and the critical. Some additional skills are twisting when you turn things on their head.

For example, if you did nothing, what would happen to the problem? If you weren’t a trained professional how might you think? If you were a Martian what would that be like? Think about your goal or issue differently or from every angle. Twist it upside down and end up with a different view. When faced with a wild solution don’t cast it away because the unusual is challenging. Instead try a bit of noodling. Talk about your reservations and then examine what might be good about the solution. There is usually something useful even in the most extreme ideas.

Some ideas and solutions may require further work, so let’s hatch it. Hatching, yes a bit like an egg, requires the idea to be placed in the back of the mind, slept upon and then re-examined. The time to hatch is when there is the germ of something good but it is perhaps not compelling enough, not different enough. Hatch it overnight and see what you get in the morning. I’ll bet its better.

On the 12th day of Christmas...

On the First Day of Christmas I asked you to click on our link to discover your personal creative style. You will now know if you are a forager, an explorer, a synthesiser or a disseminator. If you are wondering what I’m talking about click the link below and complete the quick questionnaire now.

Creativity Survey

So a diverse team, with all creative styles represented, will perform better. However, the different styles don’t always see eye to eye.

Foragers love seeing opportunities in everything and have a constant flow of ideas about the directions the business could go, but since they really don’t like the detail, they tend to initiate ideas but don’t close them which will drive others mad.

Explorers love concepts, brainstorming, unusual ideas as well as the big picture so they don’t do much detail either.

Synthesizers on the other handare essentially practicalwant everything to be correct and focused so they may be thoroughly irritated by both the Foragers and Explorers who are still enjoying discussing and collecting their ideas.

Disseminators are great at getting buy in and just want the job done, finished and out the door which might irritate all of the others.

Of course understanding where everyone fits in a team helps to reduce confusion and conflict, allowing team members to play to their individual strengths. It gets back to selection and the human tendency to have people around us who are like us, when we know that what functions best is diversity.

A creative process

Foraging starts the creative process when a team has to look for ideas or issues to solve. This first research step is followed by exploring all sorts of solutions then testing these solutions and synthesising them into doable actions until finally you are at the dissemination stage and the solutions are instituted throughout the organisation.

Clearly some are better at stages of this process than others but all stages must happen to reach a compelling solution.

I was working with the HR department of a large accountancy firm. It was going to make people redundant as part of a cost cutting exercise being initiated throughout the firm. Managers discussed all the ingredients of the situation and were going to proceed to the best and most humane way of carrying out the downsizing – an example of foraging straight to dissemination without any exploration or synthesising.

Then one of the managers said hang on we’ll just have to rehire when the various year-ends happen at different times around the world. What a waste of money. That stopped the group in their tracks. They brainstormed other solutions with the outcome of an ingenious programme of peripatetic accountants flying around the world to help out at year-ends…. and no one was made redundant. Without a bit of creative thinking that option would never have been considered.

Of course when you get a solution like this then you really do have to bring in the equivalent of 12 drummers drumming.  I got there in the end!

Celebration of success is compelling and increases the chances of getting more ideas and more fun.

So have a Merry Christmas and a Creative New Year.

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