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Can everyone be creative?

We had all of the right people in the room. The stakeholders were diverse and had varied backgrounds and agendas. We were in a non-work environment, full of natural light and un-natural looking seating. The challenge contained ambiguous elements and there were no straight forward solutions. The workshop should have been a hot-bed of creativity. We should have drowned in innovation and been trampled by dark horse concepts. But time after time we laboured and came up with solutions that were only incrementally better than the current solution. Why?

We’d taken the teams through exercises that prompted creativity and imagination. The stakeholders had imagined themselves as super heroes, had built mind-boggling structures from marshmallow and spaghetti, and had come up with 101 uses for a paper clip (many of which are illegal in some US states). But as soon as our focus shifted to the real issue, a challenge centred on the group’s business, all of this divergent thinking and unfettered creativity disappeared.  They researched process 1.0, they worked hard, then noodled for hours, they then came up with process 1.01.

So, do some people lack the ability to think creatively? Can some people never innovate but only marginally improve something? Or have we just encountered  the reality-creativity chasm?

As technologists we know about Moore’s tech adoption chasm  with its Visionaries and Pragmatists. In the practice of DT do we also encounter a similar conceptual chasm? On one side we have the hypothetical, the warm up. Here it’s OK to imagine the absurd as we’ll never have to implement it. On the other side of the chasm we have the real, the true focus of the Wicked Challenge and an area where innovation has the potential to create real value. From the coach’s perspective maintaining the creativity from one side of the chasm to the other seems natural. But why do participants often falter on the edge?

From conversations with SAP  the chasm is common and needs to be actively managed, which can be done in a number of ways including:

1)      1) Assure that the wicked challenge’s scope does not focus too narrowly. It may just be too specifically worded?

2)      2) Find exercises that are homologous analogies, narrowing the chasm. One of our coaches talked about their architecture professor making them study the structure of  leaves, ants’ nests and the structure of capsicums for weeks before moving on to building design. I ruin the  elegance if this approach by referring to it as the Miyagi approach (wax on, wax off)

3)      3) Assure that there’s no division between activities seen as “warm ups” and “the real work”, just incremental, small steps.

4)      4) If sponsors ask for “concrete deliverables  at the end of the session” evaluate whether DT is the right approach. Pressure to deliver will limit experimentation and creativity.

5)      5) For each team understand what promotes and hampers creativity. Humour may spur one group on to suggest more creative things, but others may fear ridicule.

6)      6) Assure that your facilitator understands what makes individual participants tick so that creativity can be encouraged on an individual basis if necessary.

Based on your experience, do you think that creativity can be nurtured, if so how?

With thanks to: Milan Guenther, Sajid Saiyed, Petra Meyer Andrey Elagin Martine Clemot Suzanne Kennedy Inga Wiele Florian Dreifus Meeta Patel

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      Author's profile photo Krzysztof Dziembaj
      Krzysztof Dziembaj

      Great article !,

      Let me try to give you a hint about the answer, which you will have to find yourself 🙂

      I believe that creativity isn’t really a human feature itself, rather it is an outcome of many other features such as courage , experience, knowledge and many other small things.

      By courage I mean the desire to try and fail – from my experience I can tell that most number of creative solutions cannot be implemented or do not meet the needs of the problem. So we can assume that having the courage (and desire to try again) is an important part of being creative.

      By experience I mean seeing, feeling and any other means of knowing our surroundings and things not related to our line of business. These experiences are like puzzle pieces, and even if we are not aware of that, our brain, during a problem solving session, is constantly looking for puzzles (which he has colleted) trying to connect them and give a solution.

      By knowledge I mean having the information on the line of business our problem is connected to, so that , combining all of the above, can give innovative solutions and therefore be treated as creativity.

      To sum it up, there is no simple answer to your question. Assuming the creativity is a complex thing, it can be in some way be connected to our personality and can be birth driven (e.g. Courage) and can be obtained during our lives (e.g. experience)

      With regards