Conjuring Creativity.

Create | Verb: bring [something] into existence (Oxford Dictionary).

Innovate | Verb: Make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products (Oxford Dictionary).

Creating and Innovating. Most of us probably have an image of how a “Creative Person” looks, sounds and behaves. It’s those t-shirt, blue jean, sneaker wearing kids sitting on a bean bag. Creative and innovative thinking is however very real and very important in solving real-world problems and it is serious business.

Kelly and I recently hosted an OD Networking Event with a group of professionals. We meet to share knowledge and tools, build relationships outside our own networks and understand more about others’ roles. In essence, we have REAL conversations about REAL issues facing OD professionals today.

Our chosen topic was: How can we, as OD professionals, look to the research on innovation and creativity to encourage people in business to solve people problems in a different way? We discussed empirical research relating to ‘creativity’ blockers, techniques for stimulating creative problem solving and when you can use these techniques as an OD practitioner. So what did we learn?

Creativity blockers. As humans we often experience ‘functional fixedness’ (Dunker, 1945). This is a cognitive block that prevents us from perceiving an object in new and obscure ways, which is required for problem solving. Instead, we become fixated on the ‘meaning’ or ‘functionality’ of an object or for example a resource, process or project. This inhibits our ability to look at the situation from different angles and make changes. For example, when an employee is not meeting expectations and we perceive them as a lost cause, we are unable to find new ways to solve the problem if we cannot move beyond our fixation that they are only an ‘underperformer’.

Techniques to stimulate creative thinking. To overcome creativity blockers and engage people in problem solving McCaffrey (2012) has suggested that people need to “rely on the obscure”. McCaffrey’s Generic Parts Technique (GPT) works off this principle and requires people to label the generic parts of an object, without referring to the object’s meaning or functionality (e.g., a candle comprises of wax and string, however if you were to say ‘wick’ that would imply it is to be lit). McCaffrey’s (2012) research has shown that participants trained in this technique solved on average 67% more problems than a control group. By discovering new or infrequently noticed aspects of a problem, we are likely to produce alternative solutions.

So what do we do with this in mind? When faced with a people issue and you or leaders are ‘stuck’ in seeing it one way consider priming the brain for creative problem solving with techniques such as McCaffrey’s GPT. Priming the brain of your team, your clients and even yourself is important for situations that involve complex problems. Example situations include:

  • The team or organisation are going through change
  • The organisation is experiencing a restructure
  • When executives need encouraging to be open to learning
  • Building and motivating teams
  • Solving people problems

Creativity and innovation are not unobtainable characteristics. There are ways to challenge your thinking and generate innovative solutions to complex problems. 

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