If the future that we see ahead of us doesn’t feel like the kind of future we desire, we need to cultivate within us a creative capacity that is capable of addressing the complex problems of our era; and it t is important to do that for both our individual and collective creativity.
Never before has creativity been such a talked about topic. To me, this sudden interest was generated by the urgent necessity of creating alternative ways of living to solve systemic challenges that are getting more and more complex. As citizens, entrepreneurs and leaders, we need to learn to nurture our inner creativity and, at the same time, create spaces that allow collective creativity to happen so that we can explore new possibilities for contemporary problems both in life and in business.
What is creativity, really?
Some words – such as creativity – can be explained in many ways, and this can turn them into a sort of cliche. I like to think of creativity as our capability turning off “auto-pilot” and thinking of alternatives when faced with a challenge or external stimulus coming up with new answers, meanings and ideas. Being creative is something we all are by nature, but that also requires training. We tend to think of creativity as if it were a gift; something that only a few selected people have. Is it really the case, though, that only some “special” people were gifted with all the world’s creativity and are capable of creating pertinent and disruptive solutions to problems?
Just as a muscle that tones as you go to the gym regularly, our brain, when exercised, is capable of developing stronger, better connections that allow us to think more creatively. As human brains are conditioned to focus on the familiar, training your creativity is mandatory. Learning something new and stepping out of our comfort zones can be exhausting and leave us feeling vulnerable, but creativity has to do with the courage of leaving old habits behind by exposing yourself, therefore, making new connections and changing your perspective on things.
That is why, for me, creativity has a lot to do with the expansion of our consciousness. It is like if for the whole time I could only see one portion of reality and, all of a sudden as if I jumped elsewhere, I start to see a bigger slice of what I could before. You need repertoire, leave your ego behind and be open to new things to have an amplified vision of the world. You have to be a sponge and absorb all new outlines the world throws at you. So, if you haven’t noticed, this is a possible but not very simple task.
Creativity as a mental model
Thinking in a broad and systemic way, when we embrace the unknown and give in to genuine creativity, we are able to abandon our ego and the feeling that our ideas are better than other’s, which allows us to see ourselves as part of something bigger and start to notice all the pieces of this complex system. We begin to notice the real needs behind challenges and the relations and connections within the system. I like to call this a creative mental model.
To create is not only to have an idea out of the blue (something like waiting for the apple to fall on your head and arrive at the solution). In my experience facilitating creative processes, I can say that there are a number of good habits that can help people, groups and organisations to think creatively arriving at new possibilities.
Below I share some great examples of Design Thinking methods that can help you work towards your creative mental model.
Creative process: diverge, emerge, converge.
In the opening phase, we generate alternatives and open discussions to gather various pints of view. At this stage, it is quite normal for people to feel lost, anguished and anxious.
This is followed by the emergent phase, what I like to call the “complaining zone” because people tend to allow pessimism to rise due to their lack of answers. People may tend to control the situation or to give up on it completely. It is important that we learn to sustain our doubts to allow convergence to arrive naturally through the group.
In the convergence phase, we start to straighten things. We evaluate alternatives, list key points, cluster ideas together into categories and arrive at conclusions. The process goes back to being light, and people should leave this exercise satisfied and able to put what they found to practice.
Innovation through DT’s pillars
To me, a creative process must count on Design Thinking’s pillars: empathy, collaboration and experimentation. When combined with stimulating environments, thought diversity and strategy, effective solutions will arise.
The first step of the creative process is getting as much information as possible, getting inspired by the system we are designing for and looking at what other actors are doing.
After studying the system – that includes speaking with stakeholders, doing field research, performing an ethnographic approach, amongst other things – we need to organise the information to make sense of what we observed. It is at this stage that we start to develop our intuition and “navigate the invisible” going through layers of complexity and arrive at an insight. In this deep creative dive, our ideas become more effective.
We have to be careful not to confuse the creative process with the very moment when ideas appear. A fundamental part of Design Thinking is the “open, explore and close” dynamic. If we try to do all of these things at once, the creative energy will be minimised.
If a person has an idea and someone else says “That is not a good idea”, for example, they are mixing the opening with the closing phase. When exploring ideas, quantity is far more important than quality, and judgment is an inhibitor. The closing stage is where we evaluate ideas and, even bad ideas can serve as a trigger for good ones. It is crucial that we know the right time to open, explore and close. By following the rules, we avoid long brainstorming sessions that generate low-quality ideas and not much collaboration amongst participants.
Tips for a good brainstorming session:
- Set an amount of time for each phase
- Set an amount of time for comments and discussions
- Create a meeting agenda ahead of time so that the whole team arrives at the meeting knowing what to expect
- Delegate responsibility equally so everybody participates
- Be objective and ludic when explaining an idea
- Be agile
- Keep the group’s energy up by doing a “standing up” brainstorming session
- Offer your team coffee and other stimulating snacks
The best ideas arise when people prototype, test and iterate them. When facing complex challenges such as the future, we need to create dynamics and protocols that can propel individual and collective intelligence so that true innovation can happen.
*This article has been translated, edited and adapted by Rani Ghazzaoui Luke.
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