Most companies recognize that creativity is needed to survive in the business world, but most of them are unable to integrate it into their daily lives.
This article will give us 4 things to do to cultivate creative thinking and solve problems.
Creativity is important
Until a few years ago, knowledge was what allowed a company to be a leader in its sector. Knowledge, research, training and experience were the characteristics that gave companies the advantage over the competition. Now, however, this is no longer the case.
Of course, information and knowledge are still crucial points for any business, but they are not sufficient to guarantee survival, especially a dominant position on the market.
In addition to knowledge, we must be able to adapt and evolve, responding to the constant changes and unexpected events that arise, both as companies and as individuals. Our success depends on what we are able to create.
If we look back, in the last 30 years we can find countless examples of companies that once seemed untouchable (think for example of Blockbuster and Blackberry), which nevertheless fell victim to the change, not having recognized, or not being able to face, the market changes.
Coping with certain changes requires creativity, a characteristic that each of us has. Think about when we were children, capable of creating worlds and stories. Growing up, however, we lose the habit of thinking outside the box. From school to work, we are taught to conform, to believe that there is always only one right solution, a way to deal with problems.
We often talk about creativity and innovation as if they were the same thing, but it is not quite so. Creativity is the process of finding new solutions, while innovation is what we get when we combine creativity and logic, in order to concretize our ideas.
Creativity exists in each of us, we just have to learn how to make it resurface.
It is important to reflect on how we think
Our mind responds almost automatically to situations and contexts that it recognizes, without evaluating the best solution every time.
The first step to unlock our creativity, therefore, is metacognition , or the ability to reflect on our way of thinking and controlling it.
Our decisions are generally based on five factors:
- understanding: the ability to understand and define a problem;
- ideation – the ability to form new ideas;
- reasoning: the application of logic and judgment;
- analysis – the ability to organize, skim and select the designed solutions;
- direction – the ability to make a decision and apply it successfully.
As much as we like to believe we are rational, several studies show that, in reality, our behavior is often irrational and quite predictable. Our mind is indeed characterized by certain processes, called prejudices, which influence what we do. And often it is these prejudices that block our creativity, because they lead us to think incorrectly.
Our mistakes can be divided into three categories: selective thinking, reactive thinking and supposed thinking.
1. Selective thinking. It is the tendency to seek the validation of our ideas, looking for and selecting information that confirms what we already believe in or what we want to be true. We often ignore the facts, stopping at the first answer that seems “right”. We stick to this answer, convincing ourselves that it is the best, even when the facts show us that it is not so. This leads us to focus more on what we can lose rather than what we can gain.
2. Reactive thinking. It is the tendency to react too quickly, emotionally rather than rationally. We rely on past experiences and expectations for the future, without fully assessing the situation. We are often moved by the will (or need – real or perceived) to be the first to present an answer. This often leads us to “copy” the strategies adopted by others, relegating us to the role of follower, rather than leader.
The customer is not always right. We have all heard this “secret” to business at least once. If we always give the customer what he wants, we will never be able to create something innovative. We have to be able to break the old mechanisms, giving the customer something he too didn’t know he wanted.
3. Suppository thinking. It is the tendency to accept something as true, often without proof, perhaps based on past experience or on “common knowledge”. We often convince ourselves that we know all the details of a situation, simply because we have not asked ourselves if there was anything else to know. This is a common problem when we operate in an industry that has fixed and well-established rules. We must learn to question what we know – or believe we know, and we must be willing to break some rules.
How to find the best solutions
A characteristic of many companies today is that of being “market-driven”, that is, driven by the market. However, this approach dampens creativity, because it leads us to give the market exactly what it wants, based on what has worked in the past.
The real innovators are “market drivers”, they are the ones who lead the market, finding ways to surprise the consumer with new products and services that meet new needs.
To become market drivers, it is necessary to break down traditional barriers and approaches, instead adopting a creative approach to finding solutions. The idea is only the first step of the innovative process, so let’s learn not to react immediately, but to map a path to follow, to really get to the best solution, not necessarily the obvious one.
Our path, which we call Solution Finder here, is divided into four phases: understanding, ideation, analysis, direction.
1. Understanding . If we fail to correctly define and articulate the challenge or problem we face, the risk is to find ourselves further with an unsuitable solution, with potential disastrous consequences.
The first step is always to try to describe the challenge or problem, listing not only what the objectives are to be achieved, but also the obstacles and barriers we may encounter. Let’s make a list of what we know for certain (facts), what we believe (assumptions), and what we need to find out (research). We use the 5W1H (who, what, where, when, why, how) to get a more detailed picture of the situation.
2. Ideation. With a clear picture of the situation, we can move on to the ideational phase. This is the moment when we have to get rid of any preconceptions and limitations, letting our mind vent freely.
A very common exercise at this stage is brainstorming. For years it has been hailed as a key part of any business, but it is often implemented ineffectively, if not downright damaging. To be effective, you need to implement a strategy that combines individual thinking with group sharing.
An excellent approach is to divide the brainstorming sessions into three phases: individual ideation, discussion in small groups, collective discussion. Organizing small breaks between one phase and the other, in which we physically move away from the meeting room, can facilitate a process of “incubation” of ideas, in which it is our subconscious that deals with the problem.
Here are some “rules” that can make our brainstorming sessions effective.
- Focus initially on quantity – the more ideas we present, the easier it will be to discard the obvious ones.
- Look for bizarre and unconventional solutions, eliminating any barriers and preconceptions.
- Suspend your judgment, trying not to give any kind of evaluation to the ideas, in order to allow even the strangest ideas to emerge.
- Combine ideas with each other, however distant and disconnected they may seem.
An approach that seems to work, regardless of the sector in which we operate, is to take our problem and completely change perspective. Here are some concrete examples.
- Turn the problem upside down, facing the exact opposite. Switch from “what can I do to earn more customers” to “what can I do to lose customers?”. Once you find the solutions, turn them over, and you will often find new approaches to solving the initial problem.
- Describe your problem with a metaphor. For example “Reduce bureaucracy in the office” could become “Remove the weeds from the garden”. Once you find the approach to solving the metaphor, try to apply the same concept to the initial problem.
- Use a three-step approach: sensible ideas, senseless ideas, union of ideas. In the latter, put together one of the sensible ideas and one of the senseless ideas: the results are often surprising.
The brainstorming process must be completely free from any type of evaluation and judgment, it simply serves to collect as many ideas as possible.
3. Analysis. The next stage is that in which we carefully analyze the ideas born from our brainstorming. Here it is important to remember that there is not necessarily a single acceptable solution, and that we must also be open to considering different approaches than usual.
The first step is to take each idea and evaluate it under two aspects: the emotional one (how does it make me feel?) And the rational one (is it a sensible and practical idea?). Then we proceed to draw up a list of pros and cons. In this way, we will have a complete overview.
Another useful exercise is to make a list of all the forces that will play against or in favor of our idea. The opposing forces could be difficult permits to obtain, or leaders who would hinder the project, while the favorable forces could be the ease of implementation, or the greater income.
4. Direction. The final step, where ideas become actions. This is the crucial step to move from theory to practice, communicating the details of the operation to everyone involved.
Communication is a crucial aspect of this phase, so here are some tools that we can use:
- SMART objectives – this method, now omnipresent in the business world, is excellent for formulating clear objectives;
- outlines a plan of the necessary resources: money, time, people, material, knowledge and skills.
It is important to integrate creativity into daily life
Innovation needs not only creativity, but also excellent decision-making skills. If we want to always be ready to innovate, we must be able to generate, discuss, develop and implement ever new solutions.
While decision-making processes are well integrated into day-to-day work management, we need to make sure that proper space is given to creativity. Above all, managers, who are often far from this first ideational phase, must recognize its importance, and make sure that their teams have the necessary time.
Choosing the moments to devote to creativity is not easy and we must try to integrate them in the best way, so that they are not interrupted and that they do not take time away from other activities. That’s why it is important that our calendar, as well as that of the team, has well-defined moments to devote to these activities.
The creative process is not simple and is often interrupted by problems, failures and obstacles. It is important not to be discouraged, instead learn to accept even what may seem to be failures, transforming them into opportunities for learning and growth.