13 March 2014 | Andrew Pring
Innovative thinking and insights are important tools, so free up your ingenuity, suggests Andrew Pring, and let your ‘inner voice’ have its say.
To succeed in a fast-changing world, organisations need people to think creatively. They need people who can challenge the ways things have traditionally been done, and suggest new ways of operating.
Of course, not every work situation requires re-thinking – many regulations and rules require consistent observation. But there are many other times when it’s helpful to ‘think outside the box’.
Happily, creativity can be taught, even to people who rarely challenge their habitual assumptions and live easily within a comfortable status quo.
Old thinking habits and unchallenged assumptions can be recast by using a variety of techniques that deliver new insights into work problems. Here are a number of ways the training organisation Illumine Training suggests can help to develop personal creativity.
Don’t pre-judge ideas
Creative insights are often provoked by observing or experiencing failure. “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never produce anything original,” says the educationalist Sir Ken Robinson, and his principle is at the heart of creative thinking.
Faced with a challenge, the key is to produce as many ideas or solutions as possible before evaluating their likelihood of success. Don’t aim to come up with one ‘big idea’: quantity not quality will encourage the brain to roam more freely and creatively. Those who’ve engaged in brainstorming exercises will know that no suggestion should be ignored. As ex-Virgin marketing boss Chris Moss says: “A good idea can come from anywhere”.
Once you’ve worked on the challenge for a period, it’s crucially important to set it aside and stop consciously focusing on it. It’s time to let the brain’s subconscious go to work on the problem you’ve presented it with.
An incubation period of even a few hours while you attend to simpler, more routine tasks or sleep will allow the brain to process your ideas. A longer period for incubation will be even more productive. The idea of sleeping on a problem, and waking to a eureka moment with the answer arriving out of the blue is well founded in brain science. So don’t wait until a short time before a deadline to start thinking about a problem.
Once an idea has arrived, it needs to be evaluated and its quality and appropriateness checked before you decide if it’s worthy of implementation.
One easy way to break out of blinkered thinking is to imagine the very opposite of what you are trying to achieve. This paradoxical process can be very liberating: habitual blocks on thinking are removed by trying to produce ideas that are outrageous, ridiculous and sometimes unsafe or immoral. As Pablo Picasso said: “Good taste is the enemy of creativity”.
One example given by Illumine Training is, if the challenge is to reduce departmental costs, restate the challenge as ‘How could we significantly increase the amount the department spends?’ Employees involved in the exercise should spend five to 10 minutes producing suggestions, with all of them faithfully recorded by a scribe. The idea is to use these suggestions as a prompt for generating ideas for the real challenge. To encourage more specific ideas at this stage, ask questions such as ‘but how?’, and ‘what would that look like?’.
It sounds illogical, but many great ideas can flow from this powerful technique.
Analogies and metaphors
Making connections between things or situations that seemingly have no connection is another spur to creativity. Illumine Training suggests using pictures chosen randomly from a magazine as visual triggers to create new insights. For example, ask yourself how the picture selected, say of a crane, is like working in an office? The process is a great ice-breaker or a ‘loosener’ as staff start to appreciate their powers of imaginative thinking and have fun in the process.
The exercise is most valuable when you’re tackling a work challenge that is very familiar
and so has a deadening effect on thinking. By making comparisons with randomly selected items, the brain is freed up to think more creatively about an old problem.
The power of intuition
According to the business writer Carol Kinsey Goman, creative people pay close attention to their ‘inner voice’ as part of their decision-making process. She suggests the following ways of increasing your business intuition:
a. Practise foretelling the future: try to imagine in detail what will happen at an upcoming business meeting.
b. Imagine yourself, again in detail, doing a task before it comes up.
c. Pay close attention to feelings you might normally ignore.
d. Keep a journal of your ideas. Call it a creativity success file.
e. Visualise things symbolically when you are faced with a problem.
Use these techniques regularly, she says, and more creative ideas will be released from
One of the pioneers of creative, or lateral thinking is Edward de Bono. Of his many techniques that have helped inspire creativity, the most popular is his ‘six thinking hats’ theory. Each person, he observed, prefers to think in one of six ways, and he associated each person with a coloured hat: thus, green hat thinkers tend to be creative but may not think through the consequences; blue hat thinkers stand back and look at the bigger picture; yellow hat thinkers tend to be constructive and look for ways of making something work; black hat thinkers tend to play ‘devil’s advocate’ and point out what might go wrong; white hat thinkers tend to focus on facts, figures and logic; and red hat thinkers tend to use hunches, ‘gut feel’, intuition and previous experience.
De Bono’s theory is that if people ‘try on’ a different hat to their normal one, they will be encouraged to think about the problem from different perspectives.
• 101 Ways to Generate Great Ideas by Timothy RV Foster
• Creative Thinking In Business by Carol Kinsey Goman
• Lateral Thinking: A Textbook of Creativity by Edward de Bono