Everyone talks about creativity today. Businesses want to increase creativity to generate new products and services, to solve problems, and to remain ahead of the competition. Yet, creativity is often elusive.
Why are We Not Creative?
Most adults say they are not all that creative. Why? We were creative and imaginative as children. My friend Karen and I used to read novels and then play-act the stories in our backyards. We didn’t say whether we were creative, but our imaginations took us well beyond the authors’ original content.
Often, we blame the school system for the diminishing creativity people experience as they advance from childhood to adulthood. There are certain materials we all must learn, though, to become successful participants in a society – reading, writing, and arithmetic. These subjects have certain rules that we do need to learn and without testing, a teacher cannot know if a student has mastered the information.
My family encouraged mastery of school, and luckily, learning the topics came easy to me. But just because I was good at school did not mean I could not be creative. I also took music lessons during my school years and learned to appreciate music as a creative expression from dozens of composers. Karen’s mom was constantly helping her with various art projects – building, painting, and gluing.
Yet when we reach the workplace, we often limit our creative expressions. Perhaps because I am not a good performance musician, I have never shred with my work colleagues that I can play an instrument. I am afraid they would find out that even though I excel at management and engineering, I’m not very good at music.
These are reasons we limit our creative thinking in the workplace – fear, ego, and feelings of inadequacy. However, many studies have shown that simply embracing our own vulnerabilities allows us to view situations from a new perspective. And when we see situations from a fresh viewpoint, we can generate novel and unique solutions to problems.
Good Boundaries to Creativity
While fear, ego, and feelings of inadequacy hold us back from generating creative ideas for new products and services, some boundaries are important to framing and constraining a problem space. For example, in PDMA Essentials Volume 3 (Chapter 1) Calic and Ghasemaghaei describe studies in which chefs are more creative when constrained to only a few ingredients. (Perhaps this explains the popularity of a number of television shows in which chefs compete for various prizes?)
Another famous study demonstrated that shoppers were less likely to purchase a jar of jam when presented with many flavor options rather than fewer. When there are too many choices, we fall back on what we already know; thus, limiting creativity.
Constraints to Increase Creativity
Teams are found to improve the novelty of solutions when given a few boundaries or constraints to an innovation problem. Consider the difference between improving plant throughput vs. improving plan throughput by 10% without purchasing new equipment.
Try it yourself. Take out a sheet of paper – right now! – and list five places you’d like to visit. [Imagine the must from Jeopardy playing…] Now, right down five places you’d like to take vacation within the next year and that are within a $5,000 travel budget. [More Jeopardy music…]
Which list is more creative? Now, try the exercise with your spouse, family, or friends who will join you on the vacation. My bet is your first vacation list has a lot of traditional travel destinations without much detail – maybe Rome, Paris, or New York City. And, I’m guessing that the list of vacation destinations generated with constraints and using the power of your team is more adventurous – whitewater rafting in the Grand Canyon, renting a houseboat in Alaska, or spending a week at a dude ranch. [Please share your ideas in the comments!]
Using Constraints to Generate New Ideas
We’ve all herd of writer’s block from famous novelists like Stephen King. Yet, when they have boundaries of characters’ personalities and story locations, these same authors tell us that the story writes itself. This is the epitome of creativity!
So, the next time you are faced with a new innovation challenge, don’t pull out a clean white sheet of paper. Draw some boundaries that force the team to increase creativity. In new product development (NPD), you may constrain the problem with market demographics, product size and shape, or service category. And, put aside fear, ego, and feelings of inadequacy. We can all be creative in the workplace!
For More Information
I recommend PDMA Essentials Volume 3 as a great resource to learn about innovation constraints in several categories, including managing virtual teams for NPD. You might also like a companion blog post on Innovation, Curiosity, and Questions.
Then, to continue building your creativity and leadership skills to address your toughest innovation challenges, please contact me about membership in the Innovation Master Mind (IMM) group. IMM is a 6-month peer coaching group that allows you to extend your NPD knowledge beyond NPDP certification and to collaborate with other CIOs and innovation managers. I also offer one-on-one coaching and New Product Development Professional (NPDP) training to help you target specific innovation knowledge areas. So, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 281-280-8717 to learn more. I love helping individuals, teams, and organizations reach higher strategic innovation goals!
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