Category: Blog

What Is Creativity?

what is creativityWhen you think about Creativity, what springs into your head? Does my question encourage you to think of names of great artists, engineers, philosophers or technologists?

The more down to earth amongst you might like to tell me about your father whose home-brewed beer was ‘extraordinary’ or your grandmother who filled her house with culinary delights whenever you visited.

Are both of these groups of people creative, or neither?

Stay with me as I delve a little into some of the theory regarding creativity.

Theories in this area tend to differentiate Creativity (creativity with a capital “C”) from creativity (creativity with a lowercase “c”).

And what is the difference? The former is basically to do with the ‘big stuff’, the scientists and well known creative thinkers. The latter is actually much more interesting.

This creativity can take many forms and may even involve nothing more than making a few tweaks to a recipe, directions or set of instructions. Even though it’s appreciated or experienced only by your circle of friends and family, you feel good about having an impact.

Some common features of creativity include originality, effectiveness, surprise, divergent thinking, and discovery. You don’t have to be an artist, then, to be creative by standard definitions because you can be an inventor or original thinker in fields such as science and technology. In fact, an artist might not be creative if they simply paint the same things using the same paints and subject matter.

The other question which only popped into my head the other day is ‘for whom is this creative’? To what does this creativity refer?

If I have created an exciting new gadget in my shed, I have been creative. Do I need to show this to people and get their feedback? Is it essential for our creative efforts to be appreciated or commented on to make them creative?

What then happens when others perceive creativity in our efforts? This is beginning to get deep I know but please bear with me.

Let us consider one more idea about creativity. Children are very creative. They turn everyday items into suits of armour and swords and create the most detailed and multicoloured drawings. Is this just childish naivety or do these expressions of creativity have a real meaning?

Creativity research has often detailed primary (self-expressed) and secondary (recognised by others) creativity. Is it actually possible to split creativity like this?

More recent research has brought new ideas to the table. “Primary” creativity that is unique to the individual and “secondary,” which begins when an audience is “in dialogue with” the creator.

So primary creativity contains things like subject matter, medium and significant outcomes (works of art or inventions).

For secondary creativity, the outcome reaches an audience which, in turn, produces the secondary outcomes. This could be an interpretation or experience.

At this point, I shall leave the theory behind but you can see that there are a number of dialogues going on here which can continue for some time.

This has an impact on how we as speakers, trainers, consultants (and even my engineering friends too) deliver to the world. It is not good enough to dream up an exciting new concept, we have to think about the interactions that will take place as our idea is shown to the world.

Be cautious also, the interactions are not always started by ourselves! Our audiences can be creative in their responses.

Innovation Constipation – Are You Sufferng?

innovation constipationInnovation Constipation? It sounds painful, is it?

The answer to this question really does depend on your definition of pain. We are not dealing with a medical condition here, just using it as a metaphor.

The employees of a business will not experience pain although stress and discomfort might feature if they have to forgo pay rises or worse, experience redundancy.

The most important thing is to think of what a lack of innovation might do to your business. Will it stop it growing (or growing as intended)? Will it lose out to competition and shrink? Will you lose out to competitors when tendering for opportunities?

A business can embrace innovation to varying degrees. See my previous post about creating a super chameleon.

At the very least, Innovation could lead you to:

  • New products, services or processes
  • Greater advantage over competitors (knowledge cannot be easily copied)
  • First mover advantage (you will be looking externally)
  • Leveraging your most precious assets (employees)

There are many more things that Innovation could do for you but this is sufficient for now.

So, without doing an in-depth diagnosis of your Constipation (the Innovation variety of course), can you see if you have a problem?

The answer is yes, and it is surprisingly easy. Innovation depends on a supply of existing knowledge and new shiny ideas. Somehow, they must meet and be investigated, prototyped or captured for future use if not useable right now.

It is possible to do a full-blown analysis of Innovation potential, knowledge usage and creativity climate for really serious businesses but a simple analysis can be done by simply answering the following questions with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

  • Do you have an effective way of capturing and evaluating ideas (a suggestion box ranks as a ‘no’ I’m afraid)?
  • Does every employee have an opportunity to contribute ideas (be honest here, asking ‘have you got any ideas’? at a weekly meeting or performance review counts as a ‘no’)?
  • When evaluating ideas do you ensure that all employees can provide an opinion/evidence (senior managers gating ideas is a ‘no’ here)?
  • When initially evaluating an idea do you ignore cost?
  • When initially evaluating an idea do you ignore risk?
  • Do you have a method of assessing the value of the knowledge of employees?

Really you should be able to answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions. One ‘no’ might not be serious but the more you have, the more problems you are likely to have.

Reading through the list of questions, it might seem that I have a thing about letting everyone have a say or perhaps a downer on senior management. This is not so. These indicators are themselves indicative of many other things that might not be going quite right within your business.

If you are alarmed by the state of your Innovation Constipation or want to measure the potential of your business or organisation to innovate then please get in touch.

No More Change Programs – Meet The Super Chameleon

super chameleon, no more change programsNo more change programs? Really?

You are thinking that I must be out of my mind. Of course, a business needs to change according to the various market and competitive conditions that it faces.

A business does have to change but I believe that it is perfectly possible for it to change itself. Why is this not a popular point of view? Well, many businesses do not believe that they can stand on their own two feet or have not yet acquired the know-how to do this.

Secondly, there are a number of very large consultancy companies that stand to lose a lot of revenue from managing change programs.

So how can this be done? Well, it is a process that I call ‘Creating The Super-Chameleon’. Everyone knows the classic trait of a Chameleon, which is to adapt to its surroundings, to blend in. Well, I advocate creating a super chameleon, one which adapts automatically, but also one which stands out.

Such a business will adapt to market and regulatory conditions, create new products, services and processes as necessary and also change its structure when it no longer is appropriate for the business that it is in.

So far so good but how on earth can this be? The answer is (conceptually at least) very simple. The answer is ….. Innovation.

I don’t mean new shiny gadgets or electronic wizardry, but a change to behaviours and organisational culture. Such behaviours exist in many social enterprises or businesses where employees have a stake in the company. Sadly most of our larger enterprises have yet to see the light.

One of the initial issues is that this idea appears to clash with the concept of Lean which is popular just now. Many bosses, in an attempt to please shareholders are cutting costs. The more flexible organisation will, of course, have a certain amount of overhead costs.

It is also true that the workers at the ‘coal face’ often have a better idea of how to remove cost or improve performance than those seated around the boardroom table. Senior managers will say that workers do not have sight of company strategy and so do not fully understand what has to be done.

So, get some of your workforce involved!! For a good example of this, I suggest reading ‘Maverick’ by Ricardo Semler. This is just part of the story.

This is too small an article to provide a complete blueprint but below is a list of things that you need to consider. Break them down into their constituent parts and they are all possible to achieve.

Your list of things to ponder should contain:

  1. Removing as many of your hierarchies as possible. By all means, employ skillful Leaders and Managers but do not add layers simply because your managers need managing. Your Chameleon works on lines of communication not lines of control, so the flatter and more open your business is, the better it will work.
  2. A method of scanning the external environment and feeding the data directly into the decision-making process.
  3. Some idea of the skills and knowledge within the company that is currently not used  (e.g. someone with an HGV licence, skills in mechanics or welding).
  4. A method of identifying and diagnosing ‘problems’
  5. A method of gathering ideas and know-how and generating new ideas and know-how and storing it for future use
  6. A mechanism for disseminating and gathering information (a bit like the ripples on a pond but going backward too)
  7. A mechanism for allowing play/prototyping so that any new ideas can be tried quickly without the need for committees etc.
  8. A method of spreading this new way of working (linked to number 6 above) according to your business sector and company size.

There are many more things but the thing to remember is that each of these will be different according to the type of business that you have.

Beware of blindly copying what most call ‘best practice’. I know of many successful companies that are visited by those wishing to achieve the same success. They copy the open-plan offices, cool meeting rooms and expensive technology but miss out the unseen and most important aspects (culture, behaviour, etc) as well as not understanding the context in which all of these factors operate.

If you like the sound of this way of working or want to measure the potential of your business or organisation to innovate then please get in touch.

How To Become More Unreasonable

be more unreasonable, alternative thinkingNo, this is not a manual to enable you to annoy your colleagues and friends. If you have not read Charles Handy’s great book ‘The Age of Unreason’ then now is the time to acquire or borrow a copy.

Basically, Handy applies different modes of thinking to generate what some might call strange ideas e.g. don’t pay hospital consultants more, let them work less (you need to read the book to find out why).

Anyway, the aim is not to apply reason to problematic situations but to apply the opposite – Unreason (or non-traditional thinking).

Much of our thinking and hence rulemaking flows from a simple assumption without this ever being challenged. We take this as a given when in fact it might not be.

Here is an example. I was driving home from the other end of the country and was getting a little frustrated by the traffic.

I have driven around much of the UK at varying times of the day and night and it is fair to say that at certain times the roads are gridlocked and at others, there is hardly a car or lorry in sight.

Why can’t we schedule movement of freight so that it is evenly spread throughout the day, making a more constant demand on our road network?

Aha, you are now thinking but what about cars. They are a problem. Well yes, but mainly because of peoples working patterns.

What if we could arrange for workplaces to be open 24 hours a day or some at night and some during the day so that this places a more even load on our transport network?

Trains and buses could then run 24/7 but less frequently as they would not have to move so many people.

Some people might like to work at night so they could schedule more family time.

If everything worked 24/7 then we have more choices about when to do things rather than the whole world attempting to move together twice during the working day.

As you will realise, this is not a fully thought out idea, but it could be! It could also lead to changing our thinking on other things, maybe used as a springboard.

So this summer, whilst sipping a cocktail or watching clouds float across a blue sky, why not apply a little unreason to some of the issues facing you or your business?

To find out how Derek can help, use any of the contact methods on this page or read about Getting Started With Creativity and Getting Started With Innovation.

Creating An Innovation Centre of Excellence

innovation centre of excellenceSo you want to create an Innovation Centre of Excellence? Let us first check that we are speaking about the same thing!

First of all, the concept that I am describing could be applied directly to a company or perhaps an academic institution. It is however generic.

If the ideas here interest you but you have any unanswered questions then please do get in touch and I will do my best to answer them for you.

The most important concept for your Innovation Centre of Excellence (CoE) is that it touches all aspects of Innovation and if you are a business it will touch all parts of the business also. This is the only way that you can create the processes and behaviours that define and sustain Innovation. It should be obvious already that we have gone beyond the stage of the common business incubator (although these may be incorporated).

Given that the CoE is going to have an influence everywhere it must be correctly set up. Here are 5 things that are absolutely essential.

Create A Board or Steering Committee

It does not matter what you call it or how you create it but do not spend time ‘waiting for the right moment’. Do it! By all means include an adviser or two but the majority of members should be closely involved and should be rotated at regular intervals. This keeps things fresh but also helps spread Innovation throughout the organisation.

This is important so you need a major sponsor. This could be the CEO, a Vice Chancellor of a University or a Principal of a Higher Education establishment. They need clout!

Next you must start, announce your purpose, create a bang!

Creating The Bang (or a Vision if you are that way inclined)

Define what exactly it is that you want to achieve. Do you want to be the go to place for knowledge and tools or a repository for teaching materials or perhaps a breeding ground for academic theories and testbed for the latest management science?

Put these into words, pictures, song or even video but use a medium that will arose and/or capture the interest of your intended audience. For instance video might be good if you are setting up a CoE in a University and wish to ensure that students or PhD students are backing the idea.

Do not think about what current organisational structures are currently in place. The CoE must not conform to these, even if its overall governance does have to conform somehow. To be different, you have to feel different!!

Develop A Strategy (or Two)

The word ‘Strategy’ usually makes my heart sink when I see it in a business document. It means that someone has got out their dictionary of ‘grown up’ words to use, even if they do not know what they mean.

At the risk of teaching people to suck eggs, you should be creating some statements about what it is you are going to do but leaving out the ‘how’ for now. You could even write these as massive goals (see my previous blog post) if it helps.

Given that you will be including individuals from many different disciplines, you might find that there are issues with language or terminology. If you are serious for the long term then invent your own vocabulary.

Work On Innovation Culture

This is where the (slightly) standalone CoE of say, a University, might differ, although there is no reason why this should be.

Your CoE is not going to be a traditional academic institution or training function. After working out your vision and creating some strategies or goals you will need to start creating a culture that supports this.

Remember that essentially there are two types of culture, organisational (the one that grows automatically amongst your workforce) and corporate (the one that is handed out/decreed by those at the very top). I am making the big assumption that you will already have high level sponsors so that corporate culture is taken care of.

The question is, what sort of working environment and behaviours will support your vision. Do you want a reconfigurable workplace, walls that you can write on, lots of technology, collaborative workspaces and cafes?

The list is endless but your budget will not be!!

Develop A Set of Un Processes

I use the word un process because I simply do not like the word ‘process’ and cannot think of another suitable or cool word to use.

We must standardise some of the work that we do. For instance if your CoE was working with outside agencies then the interface would need to be fixed in some way. If your CoE was part of a University then your methods of interacting with academic departments or rotating staff and students would need to be fixed.

Other than this sort of thing, there should be no boundaries.

This can be neatly summed up by a conversation that I had with the Director of Compliance of a large bank. She really liked all the stuff in my workshop about using Creativity and Innovation but said that their hands were tied because of compliance. Both true and untrue.

As with many regulated industries there is a tightly defined boundary between an organisation and its customers. Just as this definition does not define what customers do when not interacting with the bank, it does not need to define the internal workings of the bank. There is much excitement to be had here!

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