2017.08.01 Creativity, Innovation, Part 4

If you were Michael Palin, what kind of jokes would you cook up?

No, I won't suggest inventing variations on the subject of changing light bulbs (Palin's colleague John Cleese has already covered that subject), but research suggests that if you were stepping out of you own role and imagining that you were Mr. Palin or any other recognized creative type, chance is that your suggestions might be more off the wall and probably also more plenty than if you were just pondering the subject by yourself.

As a matter of fact, the subject of lack of creativity seems to be so overwhelming that a multitude of studies have looked at what circumstances enhances creativity.

The attached article suggests strategies spanning from diversity to staying in blue surroundings because that apparently changes your mood. If the latter suggestion seems overly creative, ask yourself why so many fast-food establishments are dominated by red colors: evidently you don't want to hang out for too long and they like to get you out of there once your have paid. Blue has another effect...

On the very first suggestion, if you think of yourself as a person who has only few good ideas, producing good ideas automatically gets hampered. Conversely, if you think of yourself as someone free to go "totally out there" you are probably more inclined to pick up ideas that - although they are totally out there - eventually may channel you towards something original and useful.

Several studies have shown a correlation between studying abroad and being more creative. Why are students who have studied abroad more creative than those who haven't? While the jury is still out on why this is, the results could indicate that being open to changing one's modus operandus to fit into another culture affects the ability to think "out of the box". Perhaps other lessons are that as one's assumptions are repeatedly found inaccurate when living abroad, one learns to check them? Questioning one's assumptions works wonders for getting to alternative answers. Another lesson could be that one doesn't die from making mistakes which could lead to less fear of being found silly. (Perhaps people more willing to make mistakes are also more willing to study abroad?)

At the same time, Asian students frequently lament that when they study at American universities, a combination of speaking a second language and being culturally primed for deference make them participate less than their professors wish for. American students ask more questions - even if they rarely question "dogma". How do co-students react to any mispronunciations or other language foul ups? If you don't feel safe to ask "stupid" or "not stupid" questions, you may not ask at all.

American students are also hampered by the educational systems that expect to hear "the correct answer" more than coming up with original ways to solve a problem. Many teachers even seem not to like creative students. (More on child creativity in Innovation, Creativity, Part 1.)

The linked article suggests that brainstorming starts individually with people writing up ideas and that the biggest voice in the room keeps quiet so everybody can get time to bring up their ideas. Why? All studies and practical application suggest that feeling safe is of eminent importance for us to be creative. As soon as we feel judged, we can't be silly. For this reason it is important that we can be less judgmental while we try to generate ideas. And outside of brainstorming sessions? Is the ever increased use of KPIs and other objective measurement systems reducing people's willingness to act on issues that are not measured? Do they undermine our desires to feel we are valued human beings, not just as producers of results?

I am sorry to say that open listening, time for pondering, being non-judgemental seems to be the exact opposite way that business normally is conducted. We are - in some cultures more than other - trained at speaking up to show how smart we are. Our predisposition is for acting over debating. That is great under low uncertainty; in an ever more complex world it may not work.

Apparently, some of us feel more free to be silly if we - even just to ourselves - pretend that we are somebody else. Why ever is it so important not to be silly? After all, seriousness is should not be mistaken for solemnity or - as John Cleese says - pomposity.