K Street Newsletter :: Directions

July 2018    |    VOLUME 16, ISSUE 7

Creativity Considered

Creativity is a kind of holy grail for all kinds of institutions since success often depends on innovation. Whatever your area of endeavor, being the first to recognize the next big thing is a shared organizational goal. When selecting topics for Directions this month, we decided to do a Special Creativity Issue. There's so much available on the topic (and so many different ways to look at it).

If you think of yourself as a creative person, you may feel you have these bases covered. But extending individual creativity to group activities is not as straightforward as it seems. How do you transfer creativity in one sphere to general creativity in another? There are some common techniques (like brainstorming), but there are also some creativity boosters that are counter-intuitive. Read on!


Building Creative Tension

Collaboration is an important factor for creative work teams, but creative tension needs to be considered too. There are many examples of successful partnerships that were driven more by creative disagreements than an alignment of ideas. Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak clashed in terms of style and personality, but they were able to combine their strengths in visionary salesmanship and technical engineering to build one of the world's must powerful companies. There's a nice quote attributed to chewing gum tycoon William Wrigley, who said that when two people always agree, one of them is unnecessary.

In fact, research indicates you can actually boost creativity and innovation by reducing team harmony. Teams are often more creative when they have fewer resources (in terms of time, money and people). The more innovative teams are the ones that are willing to express disagreements, consider different points of view and keep working despite their internal arguments. That's why startup incubators like Y Combinator work to create pressure within a generally supportive environment. They've found that teams which enjoy too much harmony tend to become complacent. Ironically, happiness poses a bigger threat to success than a moderate degree of dissatisfaction.


Street Smarts 177: Work at creativity.

Creativity can seem both elusive and pre-ordained. That is, some people are naturally creative and others are not. That may be true to an extent, but wherever you fall on the creativity spectrum your creative chops will improve if you give them a little exercise. One tip is to set your own deadlines. A deadline can force you to make decisions quickly and focus on one small thing at a time. If you don't have the time to over-analyze a project, it helps you stay in shape, creatively speaking. Often your first take on a project will be the best one, the purest one. Each subsequent iteration can lose a little something. So throw away the doubts and just get it done.

This article adds that a change of scenery sometimes helps. Make time in your day for creative thinking, move away from your regular workstation and let your mind wander. And then write something down. You have to start somewhere, and that means putting a few words on paper. Even if your first outline never makes it to a final piece, it's a way to start moving forward. For some more tips, you might check this article, with advice on creativity from children's book author Maurice Sendak.


Procrastination and Creativity

Most people think of procrastination as a weakness since it means it will take longer to achieve a given objective. That's not necessarily true, though. If you procrastinate strategically, you have more time to understand underlying complexities and avoid risks. It may even lead to more creative ways to address whatever project you're working on. Putting off a task buys you the time to think about it in different ways, rather than narrowing in on one particular approach. Procrastination can also add value in social interactions, particularly if it makes you less prone to criticize or act impulsively.

Just be sure that you're procrastinating for the right reasons, and in the right way. If you're not taking advantage of the extra time to arrive at a better outcome, you might just be avoiding something unpleasant. That's a trait you need to work on. We haven't recommended a TED talk in a while, and there's a good one to watch on this topic. Blogger Tim Urban explains how he's never been able to shake the habit, and still waits until the last minute to get things done. It's about 15 minutes long, but you'll like it.


The Creative Drag of PowerPoint

One of the best parts of working with a team is tossing around ideas, hopefully in front of a white board. When a good session like that gets going, you can really feel the group mind in action. It might be messy, but it's fun and can be kind of magical. Today, though, more and more work teams are virtual and don't have the luxury of face-to-face interaction. They often fall back on PowerPoint as a tool for pitching ideas and forging consensus. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but people often assume that sloppy slides imply sloppy thinking. The result is that a lot of energy goes into making an idea look polished, even if it's only half-baked. And that's a drag on creative collaboration.

It's a problem if more time goes into making an idea look nice than into the idea itself. Collaborators are less willing to make positive contributions, since the more polished the slides are, the more "finished" they seem. People may opt not to suggest improvements, even if they're clearly good ideas, because they don't want to step on any toes. And that means people may go too far down the wrong path without getting input. Go ahead and use PowerPoint, but think of it as the back of a virtual napkin. Start with rough sketches, pass them around, and don't worry about the cosmetic enhancement until you're comfortable with the creative direction.





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