“I’m not creative” is a defensive strike, stated loudly by those wishing to dissociate themselves from Strange Artistic Types. Fear not, opening up to your sleeping creativity will not immediately have you spraying anonymous politico-art statements on the side of bridges or get you suspended from a gallery ceiling while people throw paper balls at you. Here is a fact. To think creatively you do not have to be an Artist.
Yes Artists have finely tuned their creative thinking skills, which they use in the pursuit of Art. But you too can get your creativity out from under the dustcovers of primary school, which was the last time most of us were encouraged to use it, spritz it with a good dose of WD40 and get cracking on directing it in any way you want. But to do that lets first understand what it is, how we can improve it and then how to put it to good use.
By nature humans are creative. We are curious, we challenge, we play with ideas, we experiment, we investigate, we invent, we innovate, we imagine, we change, we conceptualise, we solve problems. That is how humanity has developed. And the ability to use it is one the most critical life skills we can develop. We have a monopoly on it. No animal or supercomputer can compare to our capability to think creatively. And if you are choosing a career or business, find one that has infinite capacity to expand on your creativity. Creative Thinking can’t be outsourced to China. Developing it will keep you constantly in demand. It differentiates you from those who are bound by logical, traditional, linear thinking and systemized, number crunching, rule-laden productivity. Build your creative muscle and it will give you the edge. Be the one to generate ideas and procedures, notice how elements can be improved and implemented to make the whole more efficient, more enticing, more in demand.
David and Tom Kelly of the innovative global design company IDEO, responsible for Apple’s first mouse and Proctor & Gamble’s stand-up toothpaste dispenser, have written a book called Creative Confidence. In it they tell the story of a guy called Doug Deitz who helps lead design and development of high-tech medical imaging systems for GE Healthcare, an $18 billion division of one of the largest companies in the world. His multimillion-dollar CT Scanners peer painlessly inside the human body in ways that would have been considered extraordinary not that long ago.
A few years back, Doug completed a project on a CT scanning machine that he had spent two and a half years working on. When he got the opportunity to see it installed in a hospital’s scanning department, he jumped at the chance. Standing next to his new machine, Doug talked with the technician who was operating it that day. He told her that the CT scanner had been submitted for an International Design Excellence Award—the “Oscars of design”—and asked her how she liked its new features.
Doug was patting himself on the back for a job well done, his question somewhat rhetorical. What happened next certainly wasn’t what he was expecting. The technician asked him to leave, so that her patient could have her scan. He walked out into the corridor and saw the frail girl walking towards him, gripping her parents’ hands, visibly frightened, her parents no less anxious; all in anticipation of her having to climb inside Doug’s machine. As the family passed by, Doug saw the girl was crying.
In all his self-congratulation Doug had never considered what it was actually like for a child to lie down on the sliding base and be maneuvered into the claustrophic, cylindrical tomb, having to be completely still and alone whilst bombarded by unfamiliar mechanical sounds. In fact most children had to be sedated in order to lie still long enough for the equipment to do its job. It had never once dawned on him that using his ground-breaking machine was so utterly terrifying. The incident shook him to the core. Rather than an elegant, sleek piece of technology, worthy of accolades and admiration, his innovation was the source of anguish and misery.
Doug consulted with his friends and colleagues, wracking his brains for a solution. Someone suggested he attend a week-long executive creative education workshop that would test and challenge his perceptions. He was introduced to the idea of human-centred approach to design and innovation. Instead of thinking about the function and aesthetics of his machine, he thought about the child who was to use it. It re-invigorated his creative confidence. He experimented and played with the concepts that arose around the child’s experience, building on a cross-pollination of ideas with the others in the group. He learned to look outside of his usual frame of reference.
Back home his creative instincts took hold as he talked to child life specialists and paediatric experts and he studied children at play, absorbing what engaged, inspired and excited them. What he came up with completely transformed the children’s experience. He created his ‘Adventure Series’, turning the CT scanning machines into an adventure, decorating them as spaceships or pirate ships, with the staff in character leading the child in the starring role, onto their voyage. The amount children needing to sedated during the scanning process was dramatically reduced.
With a spin of creative thought he learned to design not from his ego but from the perspective of the child. He boosted his creative mindset and challenged himself to push beyond the status quo. When we do this we build our creative confidence and we are able to increase the span of our vision. We can have a greater positive impact on the world around us in our lives and at work as we approach problems with our children, our partners, colleagues, and clients, with empathy and intuition.
Creative thinking opens us up to a whole realm of opportunities. Look at The Internet, Space-travel, the Wheel. Wherever we turn we come across the results of someone’s creativity. We are surrounded by potential waiting for us to grab hold of it and turn it into something life-enhancing. The more we look, observe and question the more we can make the most of our lives and our businesses. How can we make money while we sleep, how can we eat more healthily on a budget, how can we stay youthful looking without injecting rat poison into our skin, how can we help our children to develop their ideas and become independent confident young people, how can we avoid getting miserable in the winter, how can we find our passion and purpose, how can can we get more fun out of a longstanding relationship, how can we revamp our wardrobe, how can we grow our business without working ourselves to an early grave?
By asking questions we can instigate and manifest positive change. Using our creative thinking skills we develop a more active and less passive role in our own lives. We implement, cope with and adapt to change. By building our creative muscle we will trust our intuition, act on our instincts and be in the driver’s seat on a journey of opportunity, growth, fulfillment and transformation.
So next time you are stuck, ask yourself, how else can I think about this? Write down the problem and brainstorm all other possibilities, keep asking why and how, challenge your first responses, talk to other people, research other approaches, don’t accept a solution until it takes you to where you want to be. Understand it is a process of questioning, challenging and transforming, all in the pursuit of something better.
If you want to feel good, work well and build a better life, invest in a Creative Thinking coach who will work with you to develop your creative thinking skills. Email me on Lou@createlab.co.uk
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