Tag: creativity

Are You Curious?

How curious are you?

In his book The Human Edge, Greg Orme gives a simple but extremely powerful example of curiosity.

We are related to a single woman who lived in East Africa around two hundred thousand years ago. About seventy thousand years ago, a descendent of this woman gazed across the Red Sea and thought ‘I wonder what is on the other side?’ These early pioneers were so curious that they decided to find out. The rest is, as they say, history.

Since that time curiosity has been part of human nature and it has supposedly even managed to kill a cat or two!

In rich countries, the life expectancy of young people could soon be 100+ years. How can we work in the same industry, have the same interests for a working life of perhaps 60 years?

We should follow the example of a famously poor student, Albert Einstein. He himself stated that he had no special talents apart from being insanely curious.

We all learn better when we are interested in a subject but it seems that curiosity helps you to learn even when you do not find a subject either interesting or important. A final point in favour of curiosity is that without it creativity is impossible.

Let us be clear, curiosity is not the same as lifelong learning. Lifelong learning is a painfully long process that can only be assessed accurately in the final moments before your death. Imagine that just before you die, someone says ‘well then what have you learned whilst you have been alive?’. Curiosity is a condition that you carry around, an itch that you need to scratch. It makes you wonder about something so that you have to do something about it right now. So, at the end of a day you have learned something (or not). No need to wait until you die.

Learning by being curious is the main reason for the success of many well known names such as Walt Disney, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Oprah Winfrey. In many cases reading books was the key.

Can we learn from possibly the most curious person in history – Leonardo Da Vinci? His curiosity was recorded in his many notebooks. There are sketches, drawings, and lists that reveal how he thought. He knew when to wander and daydream and when to focus on one particular thing, to master it and try to make it become real.

In order to properly develop our curiosity, we need to roam widely, to get a basic knowledge of a few areas. Have you ever noticed that once you have a rudimentary knowledge of a topic, you want to find out more or perhaps even master it completely?

One of the best tips that I have come across is ‘Ask Google’.

Don’t just ask Google when you need to know the opening times of your nearest burger bar or cinema. If you daydream, Google it. Google questions as well as answers. If you turn up surprising things then Google those as well.

Curiosity is apparently contagious. Unfortunately, incuriosity is also contagious. Curiosity levels will rise and fall depending on your surroundings and the people whose company you keep. This is why Leonardo made lists of people that he wished to interview (or more likely interrogate). Many others have done the same.

So, it seems that there could also be a short cut to learning. Create the right environment, surround yourself with the right people and have a list of questions that you wish to have answered. Basically, you need to get ready to have curious conversations and avoid incurious people!

Make Sure Your Different Is Different

how different is your different

March was BC (before coronavirus) and we are now in the era AD (after disease). The virus is not totally gone but businesses and other organisations are already trying to determine how to move forward. Some will try to carry on as before and will either a) fail or b) evolve slowly. Others will realise that the world will be different and will, therefore, try to be different.

The problem with this way of thinking is that everyone else is trying to be different too. You must ensure that your ‘Different’ is not the same as everyone else’s ‘Different’. How?

First of all, let me introduce you to precept number two of my twelve precepts of Creativity. It simply states ‘Explore the givens’. When we are trying to work out what to do, we usually do not go back to basics every time. There are some things that we just assume will be constant.

For example, we might have priced up a project last year and decided it was too expensive because of the IT costs. This year, even though costs might have fallen we have not revisited a potentially beneficial project because we have made assumptions about IT costs.

This is a trivial example but we can encounter hundreds of these in a week in our workplace.  We might do things in a certain way because the Health and Safety manual says so. In fact, the manual might say what has to be done rather than how!

There are other ‘rules’ such as how a document should look or what format a proposal should be in. There are ‘givens’ everywhere and sometimes challenging these might give us the edge we are looking for.

I also teach people a couple of techniques that relate to the boundaries of problem issues. We ask the questions ‘what if’ regarding the boundaries and this allows us to unpick the problem and make it look different (and solvable).

So far, I have made it sound like we just do not conform. Well yes and no. Let us consider an actual example.

I am currently revising my book Creativity In Action and targeting at larger companies not small businesses. It goes without saying that some of the content will be different but that is not what sells books. Books are sold on looks. A book has to grab your attention when you walk up to the Business Books section of your local book store.

If you search for information on what makes a good book cover you will find a lot! The results will include the following:

  • Must include title, author, subtitle
  • Convey the tone of the book
  • Include a hint of the plot or sub plot
  • Include a photo or graphics
  • Choose the right font (how?)
  • Choose the right colour (how?)

And the list goes on. There appears to be a whole heap of collective wisdom about the best way to create a book cover.

My question is do we need it all? The main criterion is the book must say to people ‘you are curious, pick me up’. The book will then sell itself (or not).

On the flip side, everyone who is writing a book that will compete with mine could be using the same criteria. Apart from the unlikely event of coming up with the same title, they could choose a similar, font, colour or just layout.

So, which of the criteria are mandatory? Well in the case of a Business book this is probably not necessary. If someone picks it up, they can look at the foreword or introduction.

How about the author or title? Well, the title might be a good idea but the author is not really necessary either. Other decorations such as graphics or pictures are the type of thing that publishers might try and compete with. We don’t really care, the book just has to stand out.

I don’t know what the cover really will look like but I have included some standout book covers below (not business books though) alongside  a mock up of (a possibility for mine). As you can see, I have settled on a bold colour with a small title. Will this stick out? Let’s wait and see.

Whatever happens, I would like you, the reader, to try determine whether the rules that you follow without question, the ‘givens’, really do have to be obeyed or would breaking the rules provide an advantage for you?

Boosting Your Creativity

boosting your creativityThere are loads of different ways you can consider boosting your creativity – from small changes you can implement in your daily life to exercises that can help you develop your creative mindset.

Here are 5 very simple things that you can do to start off:

1. Change your workspace. There are many small changes you can implement in your office and daily life, to encourage creativity. Did you know that 60 % of the creative people operate in 2 or 3 different workspaces? Occasionally changing your environment allows your mind to see ideas from a different perspective and even formulate new solutions. Try to change your office workspace, or, if that’s not an option – maybe try working from a local coffee shop, library or even your home office just for a day.

2. Get inspiration from external stimuli. A simple way of encouraging inspiration and creativity is filling your office with various visual stimuli, especially if they aren’t related to your industry – interesting furniture, plants, paintings, photographs, different magazines.

3. Wellbeing and creativity. Our health and wellbeing can significantly influence our creativity. The healthier we feel, the more creative we tend to be. Consider standing desks, sleep-in policies, a corporate gym membership, fruit deliveries, add indoor plants or organise walk-meetings. According to studies, compared to sitting, walking while brainstorming can demonstrate a 60 % increase in the creative output. So, next time you need to come up with new ideas, consider taking a brief walk around the neighbourhood.

4. An office that supports creativity. Many hours are spent in our workplace, so naturally, it has a significant impact on our creative thinking. Even the layout of your office can contribute to everyday creativity. If you can arrange the office in a way that constantly makes people run into each other, it will encourage more interactions and conversations. The more people interact with each other, the bigger the chance for new, creative discoveries. Try and engineer those coffee machine and watercooler moments.

You can also set up different workspaces that support creative thinking: quiet rooms, chill out zones, rooms for large teams, or one on-one-discussions. Of course, not everyone can afford a major revamp of office space – you can start with simply moving the fruit bowl or a coffee maker to a new location or rename the meeting rooms to encourage a different type of thinking.

5. Let ideas brew. Interestingly, researchers discovered that allowing your ideas to “brew” for a while or go through an “incubation period” is important when it comes to our creative success. Even taking a break and stepping away from your project for just 20 minutes can significantly enhance your performance.

No wonder it is said that the best ideas come to us while in a shower. It so happens that the relaxing setting and absolute isolation of a warm shower makes an excellent incubator for new ideas. In fact, any other activities that make us feel good and relaxed, like exercising, taking a walk or cooking,  increase our dopamine flow, and fuel our subconscious “idea generation machine”.

Weirdos And Mavericks In Whitehall?

weirdos and mavericks in whitehallMuch has been made in the press of Dominic Cummings and his desire to appoint ‘weirdos’ to all parts of the Civil Service. I have a couple of articles written a while ago about being a rebel and also appointing them. If you are interested read Harnessing The Power Of Rebels and Become A Rebel And Boost Your Career.

Dominic Cummings ‘vision will never happen for a number of reasons.

First of all Whitehall moves more slowly than an oil tanker, and to force it to do so would not just dismantle the machinery that keeps the UK running, it would put a giant bomb underneath it.

Secondly, and more importantly, creativity cannot be left to work on its own, unless of course, you live in a commune. All creative environments have very carefully crafted ‘containers’ to nurture the creativity and also extract the output of the creative processes. In an organisation this can be hard, but in Whitehall?

Finally, what is his strategy for doing this? Will he have a large sports hall full of weirdos all throwing in their ideas or will he replace many of the people in the Whitehall machinery with his alternative thinking recruits? Too many weirdos and he risks replacing one ‘establishment’ with another.

True creativity comes from a tension (think straight vs funny in comedy) and making use of that requires people with a true understanding of the problem, not just a love of sound bites.

I cannot deny that Whitehall does deserve a bit of a shakeup but there needs to be an end goal. Whitehall is a machine that does things (like run the country) it is not a playground or a think tank. The job in hand is not unlike trying to tune a racing car whilst it is being driven around a race track.

Maybe a good plan is to start small by picking a government department that is small and possibly relatively new. Try moulding that, by introducing new ways of working and create a pilot (or prototype as some innovators might say). Then play some more.

To be truly creative the Whitehall structures would need to be fluid and I’m not sure that government is ready for that just yet.

Lastly, I have one further thought. Exactly how is this to be done? Scope it, put it out to procurement and you will simply get a spec for a very large and expensive change program which will see the big consultancy boys in lunches for a long time and will be no different from what has gone before. After all, they probably ran the last change program!!

Readers will be thinking that although I promote Creativity and Innovation  I am simply rubbishing the ideas of Dominic Cummings. The civil service requires reform, it does not require complete anarchy.

I remain both hopeful and sceptical that something at least a little weird will happen.

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.