10 Strategies For Boosting Creativity

Creative strategiesNot just Creativity, Innovation too! Here are my top ten ways to help your business get along in challenging times.

  1. Knowledge is a key Innovation component. Use what you already have and try to learn from as many different sources as you can. Read things you might not normally read or do things that you might not normally do.
  2. Many of the rules of creativity touch on judging. Build up rather than say ‘yes but’ and try to see things through the eyes of others.
  3. Many business people only ‘see’ things that are written in documents. To get different views why not model in some way (play doh, Lego, rich pictures) or perform some sort of visualisation for which many scripts are available.
  4. Allow time for things to grow. When experimenting, keep going around the loop if no final decisions need to be made. Try also to take some time out to reflect on what you are doing or to let your creative ‘right brain’ continue to work.
  5. Use all of the methods at your disposal to see what is going on around you. This means your physical senses as well as any ‘information gatherers’ that you employ.
  6. Doing is better than thinking so do lots! If you are managing an innovation project get your hands dirty. Don’t be afraid to go off a a tangent if you feel like it. Innovation only fails if you do nothing.
  7. Save yourself time. Don’t wander all over your marketplace looking for niches, simply look at your competitors and look in the places that they are not.
  8. If you work in a company that deals with one or more strands of continuous innovation then ignore this suggestion! If you are involved in an innovation programme then beware of creating too many ideas! Once you have got as many as you need, stop generating ideas and get on with evaluating them and put them into action.
  9. Be careful of ‘givens’, the rules that everyone accepts as true for no good reason. Patterns are good though as they help us deal with lots of thoughts at once, stopping our heads from exploding.
  10. If you are stuck, try redefining or reframing your issue in some way. You might like to just look from a different perspective or maybe use metaphor
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Entropreneurship – Leadership for Today

live with ambiguityEntropreneurship is a term that I have invented to describe the qualities and behaviours required for the type of leader that all organisations need NOW. This is why I strongly believe that in calling it Leadership for TODAY not tomorrow. Who wants to wait for something that is going to improve the fortunes of their organisation?

So what are we talking about? Borrowing Entropy from the second law of thermodynamics we have the concept of chaos or randomness which always increases. I am not suggesting that we make our organisations become ever more chaotic. I would like to give you two ideas to think about for now.

Firstly, you may remember a science experiment at school that introduced you to Brownian motion. Particles within smoke were shown to dart around like the lottery balls on a Saturday night Lotto draw. We also know that when people are allowed to interact then ideas tend to be created, modified and come to life. By increasing the ‘organisational temperature’ we can increase the likelihood of of people interacting (rather like our smoke particles). This means more ideas (and also an improved culture).

Secondly, we cannot let chaos or ambiguity increase indefinitely, nor should we waste our time trying to control it completely. Let us use another metaphor here. Imagine we have a flammable material in a barrel with no openings in the barrel. Once ignited, the barrel will explode unless we spend more and more energy trying to contain the fire/explosion. What if we do try and contain the flammable material but leave an opening for combustible gases. We are not now expending so much energy but we have now built a rocket!!

Metaphor is the best way to express the ideas but they do translate readily into business. We do not want traditional constraints (managers) but want visionary leaders who will allow a certain degree of organised, focused and healthy chaos. The leaders will set the direction but the organisation will actually be run by those at the sharp end.

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Getting To Grips With Metaphor

understanding metaphorKeen followers of Agatha Christie’s fictional character Miss Marple will be familiar with her technique of mapping happenings of the wider world with things she could understand that occurred in her own village of St Mary Mead. So already we have a list of things that metaphors can help us with:

  • Giving explanations to those unfamiliar with a concept
  • Examining problem situations from an alternative perspective
  • Reframing situations
  • Communicating concepts to a wider audience
  • Learning or making sense of a concept that we are not currently familiar with

Another interesting use for metaphor is within stories and for use as a more sophisticated business tool but that is an article all of its own. But how about the application of metaphor, will it work for everyone and will it work everywhere?

We can use metaphor directly in:

  • Business
  • Politics
  • Creative Industries and the media
  • Any other areas that rely on human interaction

Metaphor works best when individuals can ‘connect’ easily with metaphors i.e. they are used to metaphor or storytelling and their lives are not littered with distractions. In developed countries we are buried underneath mountains of gadgets which we either rely on to automate our lives or which we take great delight in exploring in detail – we either want it to work or we want to read the instructions in detail. We do not wish to know that our new MP3 player is like a pepperoni pizza (or perhaps a more appropriate metaphor). I am speaking generally here, those who are emotionally intelligent will be using metaphor regularly.

In developing countries there is less technology and less complexity in life generally (but life is often very hard) and so people are often closer to their emotions. Storytelling and metaphors will work well here and have a very powerful effect.

But what makes a good metaphor? During a recent debate it was suggested that a good metaphor for a modern organisation was a jigsaw  puzzle. I was not sure about this as it suggested to me that everyone has their place when in fact people can continue to contribute in many different ways. The originator of the metaphor then proceeded to explain it to me. When I suggested that a good metaphor should not require explanation they got a little upset!

A good metaphor should not require explanation. When someone suggests that a task or project is like ‘wading through treacle’ we instantly understand (unless we do not know what treacle is). Good metaphors should work for those who respond to different types of stimuli (audi, visual, kinaesthetic …) and be easily modified and shared. Imagine the details of a house given to you by an agent. You like the garage, your partner likes the bathroom and the kids like the garden. You all know that you are sharing the same idea but have different perspectives. Others can also share and modify different aspects (the dog loves the garden!!).

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The Power of Language in Innovation

innovation languageWe are all aware that innovation has its own language conventions rich in buzz words. At first glance this may seem like a harmless dialect that simply reflects the nature of the work we are undertaking.

Innovators, after all, are trying to communicate the promise of something that may not exist yet, and sometimes that requires some (over) optimistic decoration. Innovation is about extrapolation not interpolation and so we do have to rely on ambiguous statements.

The metaphors and other language used could signal something more important. Maybe the language is used because of a lack of hard data, or the fact an idea isn’t yet properly formed.  If we recognised this fact then perhaps we could use these communication tools only when they’re effective (or, more importantly, not when they are ineffective). A more effective use of language might allow us to gain get buy-in on important projects.

Research has shown that where people lack hard data/information, they tend to use three types of language to describe innovation concepts.

  • Metaphor is the substitution of figurative language for literal language.
  • Hyperbole is exaggerated language used for emphasis or effect.
  • Revisionist rhetoric is the simplistic, inaccurate, or self-serving characterisation of events to create or support an argument.

You can see in the wordle above some of the most common words or phrases that are used. Are you using these in your own communications? Below are some suggestions to anyone interested in communicating the potential of an idea:

Recognize how you are using metaphor. Metaphor can help focus attention or highlight key aspects of an idea in a universal way. Be careful though, a metaphor can also signal to others that you haven’t thought through your idea. Some people do find that businesses that consistently use descriptive approaches report a degree of frustration and lack of buy-in for their ideas. Metaphor should be used to supplement, not a substitute, for hard facts.

When you have a potentially good idea but lack evidence, begin with experimentation or prototyping. People are often likely to begin their pitches by putting their energy into speculative communications (using descriptive language rather than hard data), and fail to gain the personal or organisational support that they need to take their idea forwards. It is more likely that people gain support by investing in models or prototypes to demonstrate their ideas and then follow it up with descriptive communications.

Learn when to use metaphor effectively.  In many large organisations, people tend to bounce ideas off one another and gain feedback from colleagues. Where there is a lack of data, it is possible for ideas to travel far and wide as metaphor or stories.

Put hyperbole and revisionist rhetoric in their place. When communicating why an idea has potential, it might seem obvious why you should avoid hyperbole or rhetoric. Surprisingly, there are important situations where such language can be constructive. These are informal meetings or briefings where people understand that language is not intended to be taken literally. These are mostly high trust environments where language and ideas are used as springboards for creative thinking.

Language is an important of the management of innovation, but it must be used wisely.

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Creativity – It’s All About Perspective

As Albert Einstein noted, a problem cannot be solved within the same frame of reference in which it was created. This does not mean that we have to employ Einstein’s methods and shift ourselves into outer space or become time travellers, it simply means that our problem must be reframed or looked at in a new way. You can get someone else to look at your problem or just change your own perspective.

My good friend Gerardo Porras, based in Mexico, created a very useful metaphor for this very situation. We are inside our house looking out and what we see is governed by the shape of the window and the colour of the glass. To add to this metaphor, our view through the window is also governed by the laws of physics, we can only see what is in our line of sight so to look in a different direction we must choose a new window.

We could, of course, leave our ‘house’ and take in all of the scenery by turning around and looking in every direction. If we were exploring then that is exactly what we would do, but within organisations we need to make decisions and too much information can make those decisions difficult to take. So whilst we might need to change the way we look at a problem in an organisation, generating too many options or business ideas may be unhelpful.

So how can we change our perspective in a simple way? There are many creative techniques that you can use, many of which are known by different names but you can use the some of the approaches below:

  • Random stimulation – introduce a random or bizarre objector thought which will give your brain a shock (what happens if I paint it yellow?)
  • Experience the problem – create a model and walk around inside it
  • Look at the problem boundaries and then change them or blur them
  • Increase or decrease the amount of knowledge available – introduce your problem to older people or even children

Once you get the idea, you can soon work out your own ways to change your perspective.

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