Sunday, August 29, 2010

Creating Creativity

Earlier in the month, Tony Schwartz, on the Conversation (one of the Harvard Business blogs) wrote a piece  called Six Secrets to Creating a Culture of Innovation.

It's geared towards those running a business, primarily, but I thought it might be interesting to consider how a loan wolf artist like myself might use the 'secrets.'

The first secret is 'Meet people's needs.'   Well, that's something I have no problem doing: if my inner man says, in the middle of writing something, I'm hungry, I send him off to the kitchen (which is conveniently placed a couple of metres away from my computer).   He can make as many cups of tea or coffee as he likes in a day - or finish off that fruitcake someone obligingly gave me...him.   If my inner man has unmet needs, I know about them pretty quickly, as you can imagine.   I can't always settle them immediately, (especially if the fruitcake was finished the day before) but I do my best.

The second secret (how can these be secrets if he's telling us them?) is 'Teach creativity systematically.'   According to Schwartz there are five well-defined, widely accepted stages of creative thinking: insight, saturation, incubation, illumination, and verification.   I read the blog post the link in the previous sentence takes you to (it's very irritatingly bringing up some oddball codes on my browser) and I don't particularly disagree with these steps.   Although when she (someone called simply, Maria) says, "The first stage of the creative process is finding or formulating a problem. The tricky part about this stage is that it requires creativity in itself," I kinda feel that there's a bit of a catch 22 in there somewhere.   However, these stages are worth considering - once I've dealth with one of my inner man's unmet needs.

The third secret is to nurture passion.   I have to be excited about what I'm creating.  Don't give me some mundane work to do; my inner many won't stand it.  He'll hive off to the kitchen again.

This ties in with the fourth secret: make the work matter.  There's no point giving me a job writing about cashmere mittens for women if I don't have some excitement about aforesaid cashmere mittens - or about women, if it comes to that.   But if you can get my creative juices going when it comes to cashmere and mittens and women (and not necessarily in that order), you're on the way.

Provide the time.  This is the penultimate secret (another secret Mr Schwartz doesn't mention is include slightly more obscure words in your blog posts).   I try to give my creative person all the time in the world.   What does he do with it?  Fritters it away on Twitter or Facebook or writing blog posts of an inane nature, or checking his emails every few seconds, or playing another round of Scrabble online or seeing if anyone's paid him for anything in the last week/day/hour/second.   I can be a slightly tetchy boss at times.

Finally we have: Value Renewal.  Mr Schwartz says that human beings are not like computers; they can't be left on day and night flicking meaningless screen savers across their faces.   Human beings need to expend energy and then relax.  Expend and relax.  In the relax stage they recover their creative juices and get ready for another hack at the problem in question.   And at the same time, miraculously, while they're whiling away time making the fourteenth cup of tea/coffee, or playing 'fetch' with the puppy, or checking out the Guardian sports videos, all sorts of remarkable creative breakthroughs are taking place.   When that cup of coffee is drunk, or the puppy worn out, or the videos have proved to be not as exciting as the Guardian made them out to be, then you'll find that the brain is just itching to go, full of new insights, ideas, stuff you can use.  Or not.

Sometimes this creative incubation stage just doesn't get itself going quite as quickly as you'd like, and a whole day, or week or more can be whittled away while the incubation is going on.   However, you can fool the brain by working on some other totally unrelated project in the meantime, and give it a double job to do: incubate on project one and project two simultaneously. 

The brain may happily mix these up - and according to all creative writers this is a good thing.   Just make sure that at the end of the day that project 1 winds up with creative solutions to itself and not to project 2.  Unless your boss also thinks that's a good thing.  

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