Good communications programs require strong creativity. I don’t mean the pointless search for a single killer idea, but the huge leap of applied creativity required to develop an entire communications platform.
But creativity is misunderstood. It’s not simply an innate quality but a process; and a delicate one at that. Thankfully our understanding of creativity is evolving, as those who have been reading Jonah Lehrer’s recent articles and book Imagine – How Creativity Works can attest.
So what are the New Rules of Creativity?
Here are six new findings about creativity:
1. Brainstorming is broken – The uncritical process of producing many ideas in short order doesn’t actually lead to better ideas. It leads to more, worse ideas. In fact, the whole ‘green hat’ approach while much gentler on the ego, doesn’t necessarily yield sharp ideas. A critiquing process where weak ideas are quickly rejected and better ideas are refined generates better outputs. Creativity thrives in conflict. It does introduce confrontational dynamics to a meeting which need to be handled maturely, but as long as it’s not personal, the cost is worth the uplift in quality.
2. Individuals should brainstorm on their own – and in fact, are likely to come up with more ideas than a group can. Further, those ideas are likely to be better and more feasible. This suggests that brainstorming should not start and stop when the meeting ends. In fact, people should bring ideas to the meeting, then also allocate time to develop further ideas after. There should be an expectation of the pre- and post-creativity, and a way to capture the results.
3. The team has to include strangers – but not too many. This was the finding of sociologist, Brian Uzzi, who studied the creativity of Broadway plays. He found that the best plays were developed by teams consisting of just the right mix of people who work closely together and others who were only loosely connected. He called the measurement of this connectedness ‘Q’. Complete strangers have no common framework on which to collaborate (low Q). Close friends have too many similar ideas (high Q). A creative team has a mid-range of Q, so there is a sense of cohesion but not over-familiarity.
4. The team needs to be in close proximity – If you’ve ever tried a brainstorm over the phone, you’ll know it often doesn’t work. Group creativity demands proximity. The non-verbal communication intrinsic to a creative session cannot be replicated by phone or videoconference. You need to be on the same wavelength, accessing right-brained connections which is a hard state to achieve unless the team is personally present.
5. Chance encounters spark creativity – Good ideas are born from unusual connections. These connections often take the form of lessons learned in one industry or function, which are then applied to an unrelated, but similar, challenge. To stimulate those types of connections, you need chance encounters within the organization. Departments, teams and projects need to be mixed up under the same roof. Central resources, like cafeterias and restrooms, need to be centralized to encourage such accidental conversations. Pixar is a good example of a company which is using the fabric of its building to encourage this behavior, sparking creativity.
6. The best ideas don’t always happen in the office – but in the rather less glamorous car/shower/toilet. We all know that. But few organizations take their creative team out of the office for a walk. The change in perspective creates new connections and the physical activity provides creative energy.
There are lots of tactical tips to help us become more creative (from consuming more Omega 3s to painting the walls blue). Those may nor may not work for you. The trends above have been scientifically researched to increase creativity. Those are the new rules – until you go out and break them.