Results-Oriented Creativity: A Separation of Concerns

November 15, 2011

Do you consider yourself to be creative—or know someone that is highly creative? Creativity can surface in different ways, whether it is a novel idea for a new product or a unique approach to solving a difficult problem. Creativity is a differentiator for individuals and corporations, and we all know when we see it.

But what is goes into being productively creative? And by that, I mean coming up with ideas that have merit, ideas that work. Is it better to be creative or analytical? The answer is that you need both, but you need to cleanly separate your creative and analytical mindsets.

The first step is to acknowledge whatever is challenging you, but in a constructive context. Don’t let a narrow view or definition of a problem statement stifle your thought process. Statements like, “We don’t have enough staff,” or “We don’t have a big enough budget” might be statements of fact, but the creative process needs to view these facts from a different perspective.

The creative process starts with asking how. “How might we better organize ourselves and the work? How might we get a bigger budget?” Explore the possibilities—generate ideas!

The goal is to employ divergent thinking, exploring as many possible options as possible. What you want is a lot of ideas, even if some of them turn out to be half-baked. In the words of Linus Pauling, “The best way to have good ideas is to have lots of ideas—and then throw away the bad ones.”

Generating lots of ideas one of two principles involved with brainstorming, as developed by Alex Faickney Osborn. The other is deferring judgment—since judgmental, analytical thinking tends to impair the creative process. The creative process is all about letting go, letting one idea inspire another, allowing yourself to think and explore.

So generate your ideas first. Once you have your list, employ convergent thinking to hone in on the best possible option using an analytical, judgmental approach. Analytical thinking wins the day when evaluating which ideas as the bad ones to throw away—and which ones are the winners that you want to keep and use.

I use this dual-thinking approach in creating my own editorial calendar for this blog. In fact, this past weekend I carved out a couple of early-morning hours to generate ideas by picking a broad theme and brainstorming different ideas on how to approach that theme. Some of these ideas will never be anything more than a scribbled note, while others will turn into content that you will read about between now and the end of the year.

There are times when I do some "mini-brainstorming" because I don’t have any kind of a backlog. However, I have a goal of posting twice per week, so I brainstorm a few possible topics and pick one. The winning topic based what I believe is related to existing topics, what might be of interest to my readers, and whether I can develop some angle on that topic quickly.

During this process over this past weekend, it occurred to me that my thought process itself was a good idea for a post. I’ll leave it to you to decide if this idea had any actual merit.