Sunday, October 16, 2011

Stimulating Creativity

I spent a lot of years studying creativity, thinking about how to encourage and support creativity and finding and developing tools that would maximize creativity in organizational environments.  When I started this journey, you could easily fit all the creativity books onto one average book shelf; now you could fill libraries with all the creativity volumes.  However, creativity remains a magical, mystical force that refuses to be pinned down on a flowchart, spreadsheet or the pages in a book.

So, I was interested this morning when Tara Grey Coste of the American Creativity Association posted an article by Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert.  If you've followed Dilbert (and who hasn't), you would expect him to say the unexpected.  And he does when he states emphatically that the best way to kill creativity is to try to stimulate it.  He makes a point that I agree with ... almost as much as I disagree with it.  And, he has such a lovely way of saying it ... starting out with:
"Creative people literally can't stop themselves from creating. It's a form of OCD." 
 I agree with this part, but disagree with the corollary when he states, " ... those who don't have it (creativity) can't get it."  This is where we bump up against the definition of creativity, a challenge beautifully taken on by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Creativity : Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention where he distinguishes between big "C" Creativity (what the world judges as creative) and small "c" creativity (that mysterious force within each of us).

It is true that some people are born with a different way of looking at things (e.g. Scott Adams and his Dilbert).  Their minds work in different ways and no amount of stimulation can make our minds work that way.  This is where Scott is absolutely right.

Where he's wrong is calling that the sum total of creativity. Every day every person exercises their personal creativity ... we create our lives, making choices, finding new ways to help our teenagers learn to cope with the world, arranging flowers for the table, building a tree house in the back yard.  Those activities may never wind up in the big "C" creativity world but they are an exercise of creativity nonetheless.

Adams states that it is hardship that stimulates creativity and making things "easy" for people actually reduces creativity.  Therefore, trying to stimulate creativity actually kills it.  The problem is the notion of "hardship" which he likens to being threatened or uncomfortable.  

Change the word "hardship" to "challenge" and suddenly it's a different world.  Give people an engaging challenge, put together a diverse group of thinkers,   and then watch creativity emerge ... big C and little c.  Think of any great project or product and behind it you will find a challenge that gave people a vision of something bigger and better.  The idea may have started in the head of one unique thinker but along the way it took the creativity of lots of people to bring it into the world.

Giving people a chance to be engaged with a worthwhile challenge is the very best way to stimulate creativity.

1 comment:

  1. I love what you've shared here Joyce. I find my 'big C' creativity is sparked when I'm close to water - but I never think of myself as a non creative. I believe myself to be creative to my core. I believe we all are, it's just some of us are more tapped into our creativity -psaobily becaue were willing to risk - looking foolish, trying nee things, experimenting, getting outside our comfort zones...