Creativity is the application of imaginative thought which results in new solutions to problems
Goodman, M (1995) Creative Management. FT Prentice Hall: London
To look where everyone else is looking and see what no one else can see
Duggan, R. (1997) Innovation Translators: Private Communication
Culture and education can be inhibiting factors to creativity. As children we learn by touching things, trying things out and making mistakes. Later formal education, training and employment – following set procedures – tend to chip away at our creativity over time.
We tend not to be good at creativity because we don’t often practice it – but the more we do it the better we get. Changing ideas brings conflict as well as insight, which people can find threatening. Typically re-patterning is difficult as we tend to add extras rather than shake up and start again.
The right mix of people in a project team can encourage the sort of creativity needed in a project. Group brainstorming sessions are an ideal backdrop for generating creative ‘out of the box’ solutions – getting all the ideas out but not allowing anyone to stifle creativity by criticising. Once ideas start coming these can really snowball – putting together out of the box ideas to form new creative solutions.
In any project – and particularly when challenging existing processes and looking to develop new ones – creative thinking can be invaluable in facing up to problems and coming up with possible solutions when there were no obvious ones. It can also fuel a sense of excitement and achievement in thinking ‘out of the box’ and stimulate bigger and better ideas.
Manchester Metropolitan University found a creative way of fostering dialogue about process across mixed groups of administrative and academic staff by developing a board game entitled Accreditation!. The aim of Accreditation! is that players learn about the processes involved in course design and accreditation, and have the opportunity to discuss the issues that arise when trading off quality and timeliness, while still being responsive to a range of stakeholders.
The game board is freely available under a creative commons licence, and the board and cards (including editable versions) are available for download from the Design Studio.
A HEFCE Good Management Practice project led by the University of East Anglia developed the ‘iLab’ concept as a tool for use in strategic and project planning, research and teaching in higher education.
The iLab concept is based around three elements:
- Providing a dedicated space that in no way resembles normal working conditions. The features which characterise it are privacy, multiple media for working, including whiteboard walls and technology to capture thoughts and ideas, and a distinctive design of layout with decoration
- Facilitating co-operative ways of working which encourage the contribution of all. This includes collaborative working tools such as electronic meetings software (for brainstorming, list building, information gathering, voting, organising, prioritising and consensus building etc.) and the use of a variety of facilitation techniques to stimulate and capture this contribution. Such tools have the additional benefit of relieving the groups of the need to stop and write things up as they go – both ideas and plans are captured in the process of working
- Using facilitation techniques to stimulate open, creative thinking, and to lead the group in focussing and extracting useable outcomes from this thinking. “What might happen, what might we do?” is combined with “How could we bring this action into reality?”
The three elements combine to generate a process in which management development is integrated into real planning and problem solving. Regular exposure to the iLab environment encourages managers to try different starting points and to ask different kinds of questions – essentially the process of ‘learning the habit of innovation’.