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Creativity, a poorly understood yet necessary value in business

Sophie Morin
Creativity, a poorly understood yet necessary value in business

The development of the cognitive abilities that enable creativity is similar to that related to the acquisition of any skill or even competence.

It all starts with some basic misconceptions, such as:

Creativity is an exclusively artistic (or aesthetic) dimension.
Creativity is a gift.
Hence the following question:

What is creativity?

Most writers on creativity suggest a definition that reflects different perspectives but shares commonalities. Some are strictly related to the "product" or outcome of creativity, while others relate to the cognitive strategies involved or the "process". The following definition combines these two fundamental aspects and adds the notion of need.

"Creativity is the ability to produce a new, original, and useful artifact that meets an identifiable need, by recombining previously integrated concepts in a different way."

It is therefore a process that achieves a result. Clearly, the development of the cognitive abilities that enable creativity is similar to that related to the acquisition of any skill or even competence. Whether it is dance or aerospace engineering, it is essential to learn from the experts and practice over and over again (and again) in order to achieve a satisfactory level of performance.

Associating creativity with art is therefore restrictive and limiting it to a gift is elitist because it is inaccessible. Picasso, like Einstein, both devoted (literally) years to developing their skills in their respective fields of work. One was not born knowing how to hold a paintbrush, nor the other knowing the result of 2+2. However, they were interested in certain subjects, which they studied and in which they progressed.

However, creativity does not equal innovation. Creativity occurs upstream and innovation is the result, its commercialization.

Can creativity be learned?

Let's leave Picasso and Einstein aside and come back to the reality of the common man. We all have the potential to become creative if we accept to leave an artistic-innate understanding.

Becoming creative is possible: like any learning, creativity is developed by understanding and practicing basic activities related to it. It is never too late. The widely accepted notion that we lose neurons (and therefore intelligence) after age 25 is false. Neuroscience has shown that human beings are capable of learning throughout their lives. What's more, learning could delay the development of certain diseases (such as Alzheimer's).

By accepting that creativity is not a gift, but the result of hard work, it becomes accessible again. Picasso and Einstein were above all great workers.

It is true that, as with many personal characteristics, such as a sense of rhythm or leadership, our genetic makeup plays a role. However, it is minimal: with the right training and an encouraging environment, everyone can improve their creative potential. In a nutshell, one could say: learn to walk before you learn to run.

Let's give two simple but telling examples.
For the first, think of the person who has to make dinner for four on a weekday evening when there are only a few disparate ingredients in the fridge. This person will have to be creative to serve a proper meal. They can do this if they have been gradually taught and encouraged to do so. It is this learning, experience and rudimentary understanding of the kitchen that will enable him to be creative in the kitchen.
For the second, put yourself in the shoes of the ground engineers of the Apollo 13 mission who had to scramble to develop a new filter system, which the in-flight team could assemble themselves, with the means at hand and zero spare parts provided. Managing to fit circles into squares is pretty creative, isn't it? And if they managed to do it, it's because they had a thorough knowledge of the tools and processes available for life in a space capsule.

How to be creative in the company?

First, by understanding creativity, as explained above.

Then, by setting up adapted training and creating an environment that favors it. This implies being aware of the pitfalls to avoid. It is not enough to say "think outside the box" or to organize a brainstorming session, so that all of a sudden brilliant and original ideas start flowing like beer from the keg that has just been tapped.

Creativity is a skill that can be developed both professionally and personally. Companies must consider it as the result of a medium or even long-term development. An organizational culture of creativity should therefore be established and valued in a systemic way, just like good physical health for example. Let's go to the gym to keep fit and go to the "creative gym" to develop our creative "muscle". It takes time, motivation, dedication and most of all a lot of fun to practice.

Here are some suggestions for building an effective foundation:

  • Understand the underlying processes to get rid of preconceived notions.
  • Learn and practice different approaches to ideation (such as SCAMPER, biomimicry or random stimuli).
  • Practicing creativity without a "real" objective, only to practice the method because the notion of performance (solving a concrete business issue) can hinder the learning of the method.
  • Writing an observation book (personal diary of anecdotes, conversations, images, opinions, etc.) allows and encourages the development of the faculty of observation as well as the critical spirit necessary to improve one's creative potential.
  • Playing serious games with colleagues helps to build new brain connections that promote creative thinking (we are talking about games designed precisely with this cognitive objective).

Can an expert be creative?

At the risk of disappointing: yes and no.

No: expertise can be detrimental to creativity. The expert is convinced that the idea will not work (he knows it has already been tried, or he has already anticipated the possible impacts, or his expertise prevents him from having the openness needed to welcome new ideas, etc.).

Yes: expertise is essential to creativity because you need to know the box before looking inside or outside of it to identify new solutions.

This is why practice, combined with awareness of possible biases, is essential to create the right conditions.

In conclusion

Research on creativity has established models and tools that can be used in training programs. They are therefore applicable to any sphere of work and business. Organizations can take advantage of them to develop the creative skills of their employees.

However, it is first important to understand the essence of what we identify as creative and especially why it is so for us. If the company wants to create a real, deep and lasting impact, the development of creativity must be an ongoing concern, beyond mere training workshops, because there is no magic formula.

If the path towards more creativity has its share of challenges, the game is worth the candle because the benefits for the company are multiple: group cohesion, efficiency of ideations, better potential for innovation... Well integrated into the activities of the organization, the process of developing creativity is motivating, dynamic, enriching and entertaining!

To go further :

Creativity: putting ideation at the service of the organization

Contact us

To learn more about our new services or to talk to us about your skills development needs, contact Cyrielle Renard at 514-380-8237 or by email: crenard@technologia.ca.

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