Research Paper By Marie Lenail-Chouteau
(Corporate Coach, MALAYSIA)
Creativity has become one of the most important competitive factors in the business and corporate settings. Being creative and innovative, serves the companies to differentiate their products and services and to sustain an attractive competitive position, which is essential for the companies survival in the today’s economical environment.
Therefore, creativity is one of the most important skills to possess and develop within organizations. “Although execution and engagement are highly valued, CEOs have a new number one priority: hire creative managers. Creativity is seen as a key to successful leadership in an increasingly complex world.” According to the IBM 2010 Global CEO study (1500 Chief executives throughout the world interviewed about creativity within organizations) one of the most important leadership qualities over the next five years is creativity (60%), integrity (52%) and global thinking (35%). The IBM report adds, “Success requires fresh thinking and continuous innovation at all levels of the organization”. In order to survive, organizations need innovation, development of new markets, find new solutions, new ideas.
While companies search for the best creative people to hire, whatever their business activity is, they also need to develop the creativity of their managers in place and to offer the greatest environment for it. Companies need to create a context that encourages employees to immerse into the creativity experience and, in fine, develop patterns of creative behaviors towards all level of the organization; a place where people develop a sense of trust, overcome their mental blocks, and give their best to come up with new ideas.
What is creativity?
Creativity can be defined as “a phenomenon whereby something new and in some way valuable is created”. It is the act of finding hidden patterns and analogies, making associations between unrelated facts to create new and feasible ideas.
As stated by Professor Teresa Amabile, “within every individual, creativity is a function of three components: expertise, creative-thinking skills and motivation. Can managers influence these components? The answer is an empathic yes through workplace practices and conditions.”
Talking about these three components, expertise constitutes the knowledge and experience, which link the person to the subject. The expertise helps the person to give a direction to his/her first research on a subject and also develop a critical point of view on things.
Creative thinking skills represent how the person can stretch his/her ideas and opinions on the subject. As divergent thinking, it involves creative generation of ideas and helps the person to see the potential instead of the problem, the reasons to act rather than the reasons not to act. People with divergent thinking approach problems from new angles, challenge assumptions and always look at the positive side of new ideas.
Theresa Amabile adds, “Not all motivation is created equal. An inner passion to solve the problem at hand leads to solutions far more creative than do external rewards, such as money. This component-called intrinsic motivation-is the one that can be most immediately influenced by the work environment.” If we look at great ideas discovered in the past, most of the people were not paid to have this idea and had not a sense of responsibility to it. They were more likely passionate, motivated by the results and finding connections between items and concepts. In his article “How Do People Get New Ideas”, Isaac Asimov states, “Probably more inhibiting than anything else is a feeling of responsibility. The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all. The great ideas came as side issues.”
Incentives linked to task completion rather than creativity can reduce creativity. The incentives need to emphasize that creativity is the goal. When companies find the right balance between environment, incentives and sense of purpose they encourage creativity.
Everyone has his/her own definition of creativity. When asking a person on how creative he/she is, the answer we can hear is “I am not this type of creative person”, “I am not creative at all” or “My job is not a very creative one”. The coach needs to give the space and opportunity to the client to define creativity. Putting his/her own words on what creativity is constitutes the first step to help the client to gain awareness on his creativity potential.
How to work on the concept of being creative with clients?
- Ask clients to share their experiences at work when they found a new idea and explore the situation, the steps before getting the idea, the feelings and the results.
- Search for motivations and purpose in these experiences.
- Identify mental blocks such as the desire of being original, the fear of judgment and failure.
- Bridge the experience of creativity with the definition of it.
Once the clients realize that they have already been creative, they gain awareness that everyone has a creative potential. The solution to bring more creativity in people’s life and work is to help them to overcome their fears of failure and judgment and to master the creative process.
In his Ted talk Tales of creativity and play, Tim Brown asks to the audience to draw their neighbor in 30 seconds. He asks then the audience to show the drawings to their neighbors. At this time we can hear a lot of “sorry” in the room. Tim Brown explains that most of the people fear the judgment of their peers. If you do the same experience with kids, there is no embarrassment at all, he says. When kids are in a trusted environment and they feel secure they are more engaged with openness than adults, they show more resilience.
What if “we turn our 5 years old on”?
George Land, founder of a research and consulting institute to study the enhancement of creative performance, conducted a study for NASA in 1968. The assignment was to test the creativity of NASA’s engineers in order to detect the most creative people of the company and to assign them within team to solve the toughest problems. The engineers had to look at problems and come up with new and innovative ideas to solve them. After conducing the study with adults, George Lands decided to give the test to children and created a sample of American population with 1600 children. He used the same assessment he developed for NASA to test the imaginative capabilities of children ages 4-5 and discover that 98% of those children scored as creative geniuses; for 10 years old children: 30%; for 15 years old children: 12%, compared to just 2% of adults (age of 31 years, over 1 million tested). This shows a trend: the older we are, the less creative we think.
To be creative requires divergent thinking, generating many unique ideas and then convergent thinking, combining those ideas into the best result. The divergent thinking is seen as an accelerator and helps to develop imagination and generating possibilities, while the convergent thinking can be seen as a brake. It is shown as making a judgment, censoring and criticism.
Children use both thinking at the same time. When adults are asked to think about new solutions several mental blocks appear and we can hear things like “that’s crazy”, “That’s wont work”, “we already tried that”… a kind of negative attitude and lack of self-confidence, mixing evaluation with imagination.
A common argument is that we are all born creative but our creative potential has been fostered by habits, rules and regulations, education and conservative thinking; all barriers to imaginative thinking and innovation.
Land observed that we don’t learn to be creative; on the contrary, we start out creative and learn to be uncreative. To approach problems and fin innovative ideas, he advised to “turn your 5 years old on, to tap into the imagination that everyone of you have”.
Talents and creative confidence
The trick to creativity […] is to identify your own peculiar talent and then to settle down to work with it for a good long time. Everyone has an aptitude for something. The trick is to recognize it, to honor it, to work with it. This is where creativity starts, wrote Denise Shekerjian.
Creative people have a great sense of self-awareness; they understand their purpose and role in the society. They are willing to change their assumptions and beliefs about how to do things. They do not kill ideas before these spread. They know what are their talents and the areas where they feel more comfortable, efficient, involved and willing to overcome obstacles.
In the Encyclopedia of creativity, a list of several creative attitudes helps us to understand part of the success of creative people. Here is an excerpt of creative attitudes:
- Awareness of being creative,
- Boldness and risk taker,
- Independent thinking,
- Search for meanings,
- Comfortable with the unknown,
- Attraction to complexity,
- Challenge assumptions,
- Able to unlearn,
- Great judgment capacity.
Exploring talents is helping clients to realize what their highest strengths are and use them to belong to and in the service of something larger than they are. The coach helps clients to define what kind of creative person they are.
- Explore how clients process information. Do they like to pay attention to small things or to the entire situation?
- Help the client to realize how important is the environment. Ask the client to describe that kind of environment, which help them to be more creative, where they feel at ease.
- Explore reactions when risks arise. How do they react if they need to take risks? How do they face a problem?
- Explore the root cause of finding solutions. Where do they find the energy and motivation to overcome obstacles?
To develop creativity confidence, the coach needs to ask the clients to share wins and successes in finding new ideas. David Kelley, explains how making one step at a time (called guided mastery in Albert Bandura research) and a series of small successes help to overcome our fear of failure and build confidence. When people gain confidence they understand that failure is part of the creative process, they make better decision and develop a sense of great judgment.
The role of the coach is to help the client to reach that place of confidence through several steps.
- Help the client to get started. Clients will clarify the problems they encounter in the workplace and identify the difficulties they have with being creative.
- Work on goals setting. What does the client want to do with creativity? What does the company ask for? How important is it? This will help clients to understand the challenge they face.
- Capture the experience. As explained above, giving the space to the clients to share their experiences and explore where creativity was hidden in those experience is a step to gain creativity confidence.
- Search for purpose and meanings. For finding the energy and motivation for being creative people need to be able to answer to the “why” question. Why are you doing it? What fulfillment are you searching for?
- Share wins and successes. What new ideas did you find in your previous experience? What was the result? How did you experience it?
- Introduce the creative process. Once clients have started to build the creativity confidence, the coach can propose them to share ideas around the creativity process. What was the process, which leads you to this idea? Could you elaborate on steps? During which step did you feel the most comfortable?
The creative process
The creative process can be divided in four main steps: Exploration – Association – Experimentation – Action. The process needs to be used as a roadmap, it helps to know where to start and not get lost along the way. The creativity process needs to be ruled in order to get results, especially when working with a team.
Step 1. Exploration
During this first step, which is more likely to be an alone time, like a sponge we accumulate intellectual resources, we collect facts, knowledge and experiences, and use the expertise we have on the subject. Then we investigate goals, options in all directions, turn ideas upside down, go back and forward, search for quantity.
The mindset to develop needs to be a childlike and playful one. Be able to unlearn, empty yourself and doubt everything. Sharpen your senses such as listening and observation and don’t be influenced by others ideas, at this stage, we need to stick to your authenticity and keep an independent thinking.
During this step we are the explorer who is curious, able to embrace the unknown, challenge all assumptions and don’t take things for granted.
Step 2. Association
Find right associations and connect ideas and concepts together is not an easy part. In the search for association we need to take the time to look at details, search for patterns, repetitive behaviors and reflect on “What should follow?”
We need to search for new ways of putting old things together and generate ideas. The culmination of this association step is the illumination. “If we so define the Illumination stage as to restrict it to this instantaneous “flash,” it is obvious that we cannot influence it by a direct effort of will; because we can only bring our will to bear upon psychological events which last for an appreciable time. On the other hand, the final “flash,” or “click” … is the culmination of a successful train of association, which may have lasted for an appreciable time, and which has probably been preceded by a series of tentative and unsuccessful trains.”
During this step we are the artists, we search for meanings, we formulate our own idea about the subject with our own style and identity.
Step 3. Experimentation
During this step we decide if the idea is worth implementing and if the timeline is right. We question our assumptions and make decisions. We need to be able to embrace uncertainty, and have confidence in our project for taking the right decision.
By developing a critical and analytical eye we are willing to answer to the question: is the idea feasible in a real world?
The builder is the one who will search for the best possible case feasible in a real world. By building and experimenting he/she is assessing the idea and trying to find the best solution.
Step 4. Action
There is no creativity if there is no result. We need to know when we are done. Action is the step, which leads to the final result. The warrior will do what is necessary to reach your objective and to remove obstacles that stand in the way of bringing idea to completion.
Going through this creative process means that we need to assume the right role (explorer, artist, builder, warrior) at the right time.
- The process can support clients to boost their creativity. The coach can accompany the clients through the different steps and also help them to adjust the process to their own way of being creative.
- Explore the client’s creative process. Before introducing the creative process to clients, the coach needs to ask client how does their own creative process looks like.
- Propose a role-play around the four main creative styles (explorer, artist, builder, warrior). Think of a recent project you worked on or were responsible for. What were your roles? How comfortable were you with each of them? How creativity roles can help you or your team to deliver an innovative idea?
During this creativity process several feelings can bring you far away from your objectives. It is important to take time to reflect, to ask for feedback, not to give up with the first failure.
Tim Brown, 2008. Tales of creativity and play.
David Kelley, 2012. How to build your creative confidence?
George Land, 2011. The Failure Of Success. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfKMq-rYtnc
Amy Tan, 2008. Where does creativity hide? http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_tan_on_creativity
Michael J. Gelb, 2014. Creativity on demand
Roger Von Oech, 1986. A Kick in the Seat of the Pants
Encyclopedia of creativity, 1998.
Isaac Asimov, 2014, essay from 1959. How do people get new ideas.
Josh Linkner, 2014. How Kids Lose Their Creativity As They Age (And How To Prevent It).
Vanessa Loder, 2014. Creativity Made Simple - 5 Steps For Outside The Box Solutions.
Joshua Rothman, 2014. Creativity creep.
Helen Walters, 2013. Why we need creative confidence.
IBM Institute for Business Value, May 2010. “Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study”
 Excerpt from IBM Insitute for Business Value, “Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study”, May 2010
 Source: Wikipedia
 TM Amabile, Harvard Business Review, Oct 1998
 Denise Shekerjian, Uncommon Genius, How great ideas are born, 1991
 TED Talk, How to build your creative confidence, 2012
 Graham Wallas, The art of thought, 1926
 Graham Wallas, The Creativity Question, 1976