Where does Creativity happen?

Inspiring meetingsThis is a question that often passes our lips. Where does Creativity happen then? One possible answer is ‘everywhere and anywhere’ but really the original question ought to be better framed. For instance are we talking about where creative activities might take place within an organisation? Maybe we are talking about the mechanisms by which individuals might come up with creative ideas or which parts of the human brain are being used?

So I shall try to shine a light on both of these areas.

Traditionally Creativity would have been found in areas such as Marketing or Product Development, or rather that is where you would have been told to find it and where employees would have been given permission to be creative. In fact Creativity can be found (and always could be found) in all parts of an organisation. The big difference is that now we know that all employees can be creative independent of their job function. This means that in order to tap into this creativity the mechanisms that are used to capture and recognise ideas must have a greater reach.

There are also issues of permission and the ability to handle ambiguity for those in management positions. Things are no longer confined to neat boxes.

But where does creativity happen for individuals? The actual ideas are formed in our heads (the easy bit) and then we have to externalise them somehow (often the hard bit). We can be creative anywhere but creative situations fall into a small number of categories. We are often creative when faced with adversity or tight deadlines. However, over do the challenges and we often give up. The right amount of pressure is critical.

Creativity is often found where there is some sort of tension (not necessarily war like tension). People with varying backgrounds and opinions will often create the right atmosphere as long as they can respect the viewpoints of others.

We can be creative individually but often need to dream or daydream. Either that or distract the part of our brains that screams ‘no you can’t do that so that the creative part of your brain can have a party.

These are only my opinions. It does not really matter where creativity happens just as long as it does.

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Creativity And Chaos

Chaos and creativityAccording to an anonymous quote I read recently “Chaos is not merely a mindless jiggling, it’s a subtle form of order”. Chaos theory is closely linked to creativity so I will provide a brief introduction. In reality there is no chaos, just different levels of order!

There are some fundamental concepts which I first need to point out:

  • The key for us to perceive or observe order is perspective
  • There can be order in apparent randomness
  • It only takes a very small change to move from a chaotic system into an ordered one and vice versa. Such events have been labelled as a ‘strange attractor’.

Imagine you are inside a system which appears chaotic, for instance an atom. You will observe electrons whizzing around your head like insects in a random fashion. Step up a level and you will notice that everything appears more ordered. If you step up to the molecular, you should notice that things will appear more ordered still.

In science lessons at school we have all observed Brownian motion. Here molecules apparently move in a random fashion when heated. Later we discovered that they conformed to a mathematical formula after our teachers conducted a random walk experiment.

It seems that if we can attain a high enough vantage point then we can indeed ‘separate the wood from the trees’. Slip low down and once again we become lost in chaos.

How can we make use of this knowledge within our organisations and businesses? Well layers of hierarchy do remove those at the top from the apparent chaos. At each level those within the organisation must learn to recognise the patterns of the adjacent level.

Insert too many layers and you cannot see what is happening, and if we insert too few will result in brains frazzled by complexity. For an organisation the implications are profound. To improve the performance of an organisation we must do a little pruning. We must remove some of the layers that build up over time that merely act as sticking plasters.

Too many attempts to interpret or understand is a little like Chinese Whispers, and then to make sure we have it right we begin writing everything down as procedures and red tape takes over. We then restore order, but we may lose creativity forever.

We must learn to walk that fine line between complexity and order that allows us to both implement a strategy and make use of chaos at the same time.

This is the key principle of the creative organisation.

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Coffee With Derek on IMAN FM 02/03/2017

My weekly radio show Coffee With Derek broadcast on March 2nd 2016 on Iman FM. Business Creativity and Innovation, a little music from Dire Straits plus an interview with Caroline Palmer from Raising The Baa – Leadership and Management training using Sheep.

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