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Why We Can’t Demand Creativity

When we are faced with a problem, we think all our energies must go into trying to solve it. Keep at it, focus, focus! Keep staring at the problem until we find the logical solution. It seems like we might be going about it the wrong way.

Persistence is incredibly important. If we give up when we hit the first brick wall, we will never advance, we will never create and the world will stand still.

Creativity is more necessary now than ever. Not to grow bigger, get richer or increase our output, but just to survive. The world is evolving, throwing up challenges we’ve never encountered before. Challenges which change every day in nature, in size, in complexity. How can we keep up?

That’s where imagination and creativity come in: problems, now more than ever, don’t get solved in the old ways. 10 years ago, we might throw money at the problem: now there is none to invest. Decisions are being made that solve today’s problems leaving the challenges that tomorrow will bring unaddressed.

Meanwhile, people in organisations are being told “to get creative”, to have ideas, without being given the time and space that creativity needs. Managers, team leaders and “bosses” are still demanding that people be creative. A friend of mine who is shadowing a manager at the moment, shared with me some examples of a very dubious management style. The woman she is observing rarely gives any positive feedback. All her feedback is negative criticism which comes in the shape of public scolding and telling off. Yet in meetings, she will tell her people: “I want you to have ideas!” Meanwhile, she tolerates no failure so everyone is scared to death of taking risks, including having ideas that might be inappropriate or even “bad” ones.

I’m a creative person. Many of my ideas arrive in the shape of artistic projects but I’m also good in a crisis, good at devising new ways of working and creating learning packages in different forms. But tell me to

have an idea

and my brain freezes.

However,  if you present me with a problem and give me 24hrs to think about it, I’ll come back to you with a few things to try out.

During those 24 hours, I will write the problem down. I will gather data, read some articles, surf the web. I will ask others what they think, I will sketch out what the solution will look like. I’ll do all that and more.

But the best solution won’t emerge during all that activity. It will appear the next morning when I’m having a swim; or when I’m daydreaming, standing on the bus; or when I take my 20 minute walk around the park.

Moments of insight are preceded by the same brain activity as that which takes place when we are relaxed (for more on this see Jonah Lehrer’s new book Imagine: How Creativity Works). Maybe that’s why when we concentrate really hard on a problem, riddle or puzzle, we can’t solve it.We’re staring (literally or not) at the problem and our brain is constantly pushing hard. Problems which need new solutions can’t be solved by feeling the pressure all the time. To solve them, relaxing has to be part of the process.

Putting people under pressure to be creative might help those who work best when they have an adrenaline rush or when they are afraid, but if you want sustained creativity to get you through the tough times and help you excel in the good times, you have to give people space. (Plus, the stress will eventually have negative effects.)

Space to see the world beyond the four walls of your organisation and its issues; space to let their eyes, ears and minds take in different points of view; space to pursue an interest outside their industry; space to relax to let their brain process the information coming in and dig further into their brains to make the unusual connections which will put i

The need to operate through change may cause panic; this panic might generate stress which will prevent us from finding moments during which our brain can relax and our subconscious help us in putting it all together. No matter how much you thrive under pressure (if you do), remember that not everyone can solve problems and create new solutions without finding some time to disconnect. Be sensitive. Be creative.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2012 in change, leadership

 

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