Why you need a great definition of creativity
The biggest problem I see among business owners, senior executives, managers, and all those who need new and useful solutions to challenging problems is that they usually fail to come up with new and useful solutions. One major reason for this failing is that they define creativity ahead of time in ways that are self-limiting and defeatist.
The Thinking Skills Model of the Creative Problem Solving approach is a wonderful process model that can be applied in every situation where a new and useful result is sought. However, if you approach any problem or challenge with a limited and self-defeating definition of the word creativity, is it any wonder that you may not get the results you seek regardless of how you go about it? 50+ years of research cannot help you if you are not willing to start on the right foot.
Before I go on further, I would like to make it clear that for this blog post, I am not going to worry about subtle distinctions between the definitions of the word “creativity” and “innovation”. It is my assertion that large errors in the definition of creativity eclipse any subtle distinctions between the definitions of creativity and innovation. Therefore, I choose to focus on the biggest and most serious problem first, that of limiting and erroneous definitions.
The most limiting definition of creativity that I have seen is that creativity is something reserved for artists. It is almost a byword for those involved in creativity-enhancement to complain that this limited definition of creativity is outdated, outmoded, and essentially useless. Sure there is artistic creativity, but creativity is not about the arts.
The best definition of creativity that I have ever seen is simply: “a new and useful” solution, product, idea, or “whatever” that moves someone forward along the path to resolving a problem, overcoming a challenge, or taking advantage of an opportunity. There is nothing in that definition that limits creativity to the arts. Of course, the opposite is true: there is nothing in the definition that precludes creativity from the arts.
There is another limiting definition of creativity, but more specifically innovation, is the idea that innovation is something reserved for the “high tech” sector, that creativity or innovation is related to or linked to computers, Internet, telecommunications, mobile phones, software, hardware, microchips, and associated elements. This is dangerous for two reasons.
- The first is that it appears to give a certain group license to use creativity – and, by extension, denies it to others. So, if you are fortunate enough to work in one of the above-mentioned sectors, creativity and innovation is something you need to be concerned with, therefore you can do something with it. If your life’s path has taken you a different way, then creativity and innovation are not of concern to you, and you either do not need to worry about it or do not have the same “moral right” to be concerned with it and to use it.
Of course, few would actually frame it this way. But the reality is, if for example you are in the meatpacking industry, are you as likely to be concerned about innovation from a sector point of view as you would be if you were involved in mobile computing for example? Sure, the trade magazines may talk about the latest innovation in machinery and may even discuss why innovation and creativity are important in the industry. They may highlight a company that has done something innovative – likely something related to equipment, machinery, or the physical plant itself vs. a marketing, sales, or customer partnership solution. But if you were to go around to all the readers, would you on average get a sense that there is meaningful time spent during the week focusing on organizational creativity and innovation? Likely not.
- The second danger of linking creativity and innovation to high-tech is that it tends to get your thinking moving along the lines that solutions must also involve high-tech. For over 14 years, I have been involved in implementing performance improvement initiatives and programs, some in decidedly non-high tech environments. Very few of our solutions actually involved technological components. Yet I can assure you that there was a constant and never ending need for creativity and innovation in identifying, resolving, and implementing solutions to each and every issue that arose. In fact, it was common to find that a new and useful solution to a challenge required yet more new and useful solutions to resolve implementation issues or to adjust the original solution so that it delivered its promise results. Anyone who has been involved in serious change management efforts knows this iterative loop implicitly. But the lesson remains, very few of the total changes had high-tech or IT components associated with them.
So what to do and where to go from here? The first thing is to ask yourself the deliberate question: “what comes to mind when I think of creativity?” Ask yourself this question and try to get more than one answer from yourself. If you are willing to seek deeper and find more than 10 answers to that question, you will get a very multidimensional view of your approach, thoughts, and feelings around creativity. I can teach you how to leverage the Thinking Skills Model of Creative Problem-Solving, but it is you who needs to really understand what it means to you, why you are learning it, and what you will do with it once you have learned. So, the exercise of understanding what your current definition of creativity is right now is a great first step to being able to take advantage of the material and information I will be presenting on this website over the next few weeks and months.
Until then, seek to understand what you mean when you think of or hear the word creativity. Let that awareness help make you a better student of creativity and innovation.