Most organizations say they value creativity because it is the father of innovation, which is the engine of change. They all recognize the fact that organizations that are best at developing new (and desirable) products and processes are those that are likely to endure and succeed. Some spend billions on research and development, which is usually a creative process that looks to find different, better, cheaper, stronger, etc. products and work processes.

For many organizations creativity is much easier than innovation. Innovation is putting creative ideas into practice. You can copy others' good ideas, but as all businesses know, change is difficult, expensive, and painful.

Psychologists have four approaches to creativity:

The creative person: What peculiar set of abilities, motives, and traits together describe creative individuals. Are they born or made? Are creative people “just a bit” strange.

The creative process: This is an attempt to understand the thought (cognitive) processes that go on in the exercise of creativity. It is not so much an attempt at the who, but the how question. How does one go about being creative?

The creative situation: What are the cultural, environmental and organisational factors that inhibit or facilitate creativity? With this knowledge, one can construct situations that induce creativity even in the not particularly creative.

The creative product: This approach attempts to study all aspects of creativity by looking at those products that are clearly defined as creative.

There seem to be five related “models” in inspired creativity programs.

First, there is the muesli model. People need to unblock their creativity. They are in some curious way constipated and unable to let go and express themselves. In this sense creativity courses may be seen as cognitive laxatives.

Second is the dominatrix model. Here we are told to unleash our creativity.  Somehow one has been bound up, tied down, physically constrained from that most natural and normal of tasks, namely being creative. So courses are liberators.

Third is the arsonist model. Creative consultants and trainers aim to spark ideas and light fires. They see people as dry tinder just waiting for the right moment. Their job is to find ways of facilitating fire-setting ideas.

Fourth is the kindergarten model. The problem appears to be that we have all forgotten how to be playful. Playfulness is apparently not only a lot of fun, but it is also very productive. Thus creativity trainers help delegates regress to a time when they were happy and quite unabashed to draw pictures, sing songs, and so on.

Fifth is the jail-liberator model. The problem is that we have all been put in a sort of cognitive jail that has stopped us thinking outside the box. The trainer throws open the doors of our prison and out pops our creative jack-in-the-box.

It seems that creativity is a function of intelligence, personality, thinking style, motivation, and an environment that genuinely encourages it. We can learn to be more creative by using a few tricks of the trade.

1. Sleep on it: Come back to problems and issues. Let them fall fallow for a bit to stew and incubate. Revisit them when it suits you.

2. Read widely: Talk to all sorts of experts. Get outside your box. Talk to people who think about things differently than you do.

3. Don’t give up: Persistence is the key. Most attempts fail. Breakthroughs are rare.

4. Take a Risk: Fear of failure, humiliation, teasing, and abuse are natural enemies of creativity. Go on—play with hunches and tentative ideas. Break the rules. Take courage.

5. Piggy back: Adopt others’ work and take it further. Put things together that do not fit.

6. Identify peak times and conditions: Work out when and where you are at your best for idea generation and refinement. Set aside these times for those activities.

7. Record your flashes: Have a place and method to record all ideas—some will be worth revisiting and incubation.

8. Build your particular expertise/skill/knowledge: Creativity is always skill based. Get to the cutting edge of your chosen area. There is no substitute for this.

9. Question and probe the obvious: Take little for granted, turn things upside down, and celebrate similarities and differences.

10. Lighten up: Be playful, use humour, and have a sense of the absurd and the ridiculous.

Premature evaluation is often done unwisely. Business innovation is all about cultivating and applying creativity in a corporate culture. Some organisations welcome creativity and innovation: They have the time, money, and will to do it. However, most organisations are the opposite. Their problem is not so much the introduction of new ideas as the unlearning of old ones. They are reactive not proactive, full of hubris rather humility, risk and failure averse, against new things, and quick to judge and punish innovations.

Learning about creativity and innovation is key to your prosperity in a changing world.

About the Author

Adrian Furnham, Ph.D.

Adrian Furnham, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at University College London and the Norwegian Business School.

You are reading

A Sideways View

The Freudian Account of Leadership Failure and Derailment

What do Psychoanalysts have to say about how and why leaders fail?

What Men Desire in a Woman

What characteristics are men most attracted to in women and why?

The Psychology of Queuing

Why is waiting in line so horrid?