What’s the drill – February 20: A creative confidence booster

According to Tom Kelley of IDEO, a fear of being judged is the number-one reason why we’re not more creative.

It’s not due to a lack of ability…this is a matter of creative confidence.

We all have the natural ability to come up with novel ideas (yes yes, even you shaking your head in the back of the room). But not everyone has the courage to act on these ideas.

What if we did? How could increasing our creative confidence change our self-image and our capacity to have influence on the world?

Kelley’s mission to boost (nay, rocket fuel) the creative confidence of others is one I find myself equally passionate about.

Unlocking your creative potential can start with a simple re-frame of how you present your creative ideas. Here’s an example straight from Professor William Duggan at Columbia Business School:

When we present ideas we often end by asking the age-old question, “so what do you think?”. A useful question, yes, but one that can open the door for negative feedback and instant confidence deflation.

What if instead we simply said, “anything to add to my idea?”.

Presented in this way, we’re immediately signaling that there is room for the initial idea to expand. We still expect and desire honest feedback, but with a slight re-frame we are boosting collaboration, and hopefully over time, creative self-efficacy.

How to give yourself permission to be more creative

High on a mountaintop sits the creative genius. Not to be bothered with, talked to, or talked down to. He speaks in short, punctuated sentences, rides a scooter (yes, on a mountaintop) and abstains from yellow food. Who is this person? Surely he must be creative.

If you ask me, the great divide between “the creative person” and the non-creative type is phony.

Anyone can be creative. It’s not a category you fall into, the job you are assigned, the assessment you take. Creativity starts with permission.

To be creative is to give yourself and to give others the permission to explore, to have new ideas and to follow them. 

Creative people are more comfortable with the freedom inside structure than just the structure itself. They are more comfortable exploring, less on logic and rules and more on what could be.

They take risks because they have given themselves permission to. They think broadly, in opposites, in analogies, or in obvious straight-forward methods.

It’s a shift – from a judging to learner mindset, a mechanistic or organismic structure, technical to adaptive problem solving, or whole-brain thinking. But, becoming more creative involves not just a neurological shift but an environmental shift as well.

Peter Sims talks about this in this article, “Ultimately, while basic design and creative methods can be learned much like muscles, and developed and strengthened through practice, this shift in mindset requires a different kind of leadership.”

Helping others become more creative involves giving them permission to fail, to have big ideas, to take risks and to blur the lines between who is deemed creative and who isn’t.



One link between emotion and creativity

Say you want to help a group be more creative. 

What emotion would best help the group achieve this goal?

This question was recently posed to students in a weekend workshop I attended on Emotional Intelligence at Columbia University.

The choices:

1. Happiness

2. Worry

3. Sadness

4. Anger

5. Other

What would you say? I listened as classmates, one after the other, suggested that negative emotions would fuel the creative fire.

Sure, we know that not everyone responds the same way, but could negativity really be the answer? It saddened me that this was the myth or common view floating around the University halls.

Results of a study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, set us straight.

The emotion that best helps a group promote creativity is happiness.  Why? An upbeat mood makes people more receptive to information, helps widens our lens and allows us to see connections we normally would have been closed off to otherwise.

In addition, happiness and laughter release dopamine which contributes to stress reduction.

Stress reduction and an overall relaxed state triggers responses in our brain that coincide with inhibition – and the ability to have more creative insights.

This blog post is brought to you by the letters “H.A.P.P.I.N.E.S.S” and Positive Psychology. Now go out and make someone happy!

Why Creative Ideas Get Rejected – via David Burkus

If you feel like getting your creative ideas approved and accepted is a battle, new research suggests it may not be your fault.

Creative work that’s novel and different often goes head-to-head with our desire for certainty and structure. When that certainty is well…uncertain, our natural, inherent creativity bias can rear its ugly head.

We want creativity without the risk. Can we have our cake and eat it too when it comes to creativity and innovation?

To help our brains accept new ideas, this research and wonderful writing from Management Professor David Burkus gets us thinking about how we sell our ideas:

“We now know that regardless of how open-minded people are, or claim to be, they experience a subtle bias against creative ideas when faced with uncertain situations. This isn’t merely a preference for the familiar or a desire to maintain the status quo. Most of us sincerely claim that we want the positive changes creativity provides. What the bias affects is our ability to recognize the creative ideas that we claim we desire. Thus, when you’re pitching your creative idea, it may not be the idea itself that is being rejected. The more likely culprit could be the uncertainty your audience is feeling, which in turn is overriding their ability to recognize the idea as truly novel and useful.”

Regardless of how open-minded people are, they experience a subtle bias against creative ideas when faced with uncertain situations.”

To me, this research shares similarities with the work of David Rock and his S.C.A.R.F model of rewards and threats. When our certainty, the “C” in scarf'” is threatened we close down.

To break through, Burkus and Rock remind us to speak the language of those we are trying to persuade, make them look good by using empathy, listening, and perhaps most of all, patience.


What’s the drill – August 6: The Four Traits of Learning

Here’s a crazy idea.

What if, instead of pushing learning on people, we find ways to integrate it into their everyday lives? We take an approach to learning that makes it fun, engaging, humor-filled even… one that’s memorable, co-created, and reminds us that our ideas matter.

Recently I watched a speech by a man whose company and mission I am so excited about. In this speech he says:

“Curiosity, creativity, discovery and wonder; they aren’t traits of youth, they’re traits of learning. If you want to feel younger and you want to replicate the conditions of youth, do that.”
Adults are busy, adults are information-saturated. Learning, especially at work, can be viewed as a chore. I believe, the more we can do as educators to provoke curiosity, encourage questions and discovery, add play, humor, fun and exploration, we are encouraging people to not just learn, but to be changed by what they learn.

Break it down – A lesson in creative insight

To spark creative insight, you don’t necessarily need to start from scratch.

Staring at that blank sheet of paper for hours on end probably isn’t doing you any favors.

We find inspiration from increasing the number of associations in our brain, and according to new research , also breaking apart our items of inspiration to just their component parts.

This isn’t the first time we’ve talked about this technique for busting through rigid thinking, also known as “functional fixedness”.

To overcome your functional fixedness, says researcher Tony McCaffrey:

1. Break down the item at hand into basic parts

2. Name each part in a way that does not imply meaning.

Strip away the fixed associations that are holding you back.

In his research, subjects he trained on this technique solved 67 percent more problems requiring creative insight than subjects who did not learn the technique, according to his study published in March in Psychological Science.

Give this trick to engineer friends, and those who enjoy and crave tactile problem-solving and learning.

His research is a nice reminder to remove the limitations we put on everyday objects, and maybe even… people? Is our description or label of something or someone keeping us from creative insight and innovation and a better way of working?

To me, this technique applies to more than just design thinking. Finding your creative solution starts with building your platform. What do you already have to work with. How can you “yes, and”, or amplify these pieces to find your creative solution?

How to rev up the creativity engine at your workplace

Here’s what we know…. To rev up your creative engine:

  1. Expose your mind to a broad range of stimuli – expand your creative awareness by ingesting more remote associations in your brain. To think differently, your inspiration needs to come from different places. The more associations, and the wider the variety – the more possibilities!
  2. Don’t worry be happy – the more relaxed (and in a good mood) you are, the more likely you are to find insightful solutions to a problem.
  3. Create more opportunities for insight – direct your psychological experience inward

Inward attention + context of fresh ideas + relaxation ….  tell me more! But if it seems like these efforts cost too much money (or time) consider your competition. “Creativity in the workplace isn’t a “nice to have”—it’s what keeps companies in business”, says Fast Company magazine.

I couldn’t agree more.

Tickle the senses. Break up the routine. Encourage interaction, sharing. New experiences. Time for relaxation. A creativity room? Chalk board walls? More spontaneity.

Can you create a stimulating, and relaxing work environment that also promotes empathy across departments?

The first step towards promoting creativity at work is to make a conscious decision to devote effort and energy to it. I’d argue the only failure comes in sticking with the same old.

What’s the drill – July 17: Put this brainstorming trick into action

Did you know, IBM’s 2010 Global CEO Study cited “creativity” as the most important leadership quality for the future.

Bolster your toolkit to include strategies for creative problem solving… like this one:

A two-minute brainstorming session… it might just be the efficient tool you’ve been looking for and a go-to trick when you’re stuck in a creative rut.

Here are the rules:

1. Two minutes

2. No judgement of ideas

3. Write down everything

4. Quantity over quality

Then, take a look at your results.

Pick 3 of your ideas (trust your instincts on this one) to do another 2 minute brainstorming session, extrapolating on each idea.

Dig deeper into your creative well by asking yourself questions like — what would happen if the opposite were true? What would this idea look like a year from now? How would our competition execute this idea?

Start with the phrase… “What if” and see where it takes you. By role-playing scenarios and ideas without any fear of judgement (and just a little bit of time and energy) you’re pumping up your creative muscle by asking the  curious questions that promote self-reflection, resilience, flexibility, empathy, and sometimes… more questions.