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July 8, 2013

The creativity conundrum

A recent creativity workshop gets Lizzie thinking about what it takes to be creative …..


“Whatever you do, don’t use the word creativity,” was the first piece of advice we received from a speaker at the Open University creative workshop weekend I attended recently. Just to confuse me even further he then added, “And for goodness sake, don’t tell your colleagues you’ve been on a creativity course.”

Excuse my potential naivety, but I would have thought that a creativity workshop should be promoting its fundamental theme?! To make sense of this seemingly odd introduction, my mind took itself on a little wander, as it often does… Were they ashamed of this ‘creativity’ concept? Perhaps it was actually the name of a disease that had bypassed my medical training and I was in the wrong seminar (and now probably infected).  Then it clicked – they must be playing the opposites game, like you play with obstinate children when you need them to do something.  ‘How creative!’ I thought, impressed by the ingenuity. However, my fleeting excitement at the prospect of legitimately being able to partake in childish games was quickly dashed, and the truth was explained.

It seems that the process of creativity has come to have negative connotations in many modern working environments; viewed by many as an abstract, self-indulgent process, with tenuous links to productivity in an office environment. We were advised to use the terms ‘innovation’ or ‘ideas strategies,’ but never ‘creativity’ when amongst potential ‘non-believers’. I was surprised at this, and even more so to hear other delegates agree, and subsequently offer tales of their failure to instigate enthusiasm for creative exercises with their work team, but recall the resounding success of the exact same exercise disguised deviously under another title.

Having spent the majority of my adult education studying science, I never really thought of myself as a creative creature, until my dismay at the five years of vet school spent in an environment devoid of creative opportunity convinced me otherwise.  I now realise that we are all, whether consciously or unconsciously, creative in one way or another and that we should embrace this. For this reason, I’m not entirely sure where the stigma comes from, as ‘creativity’ is merely the process of generating new ideas. Whether it’s taking photos on our iPhone, arranging flowers, writing a wacky birthday card or finding a new hiding place for the front door key – we all get creative now and then.

So, what did I learn during this weekend, aside from discovering I have a talent for improvisation? In truth, I learnt far too much to convey in a blog without having to host my own web space and quit my job (which may not be too favourable with my boss, seeing as she kindly sent me on the course….), but there were a few recurring themes which I can gladly share.

  • Creativity can be structured. There are many tools and methods available to guide and stimulate the creative process. Many of us revert to the traditional brainstorming methods when faced with a problem needing a creative solution, although in reality there are thousands of techniques. Those with a scientific background may feel more at home with a more structured approach – there are matrices, mnemonics, maps, metaphorical questions, and many more techniques (not all of which being with ‘M’) which help to make creativity more manageable. www.mindtools.com is a useful resource.
  • Creativity requires us to discard our preconceptions. Our brains are bombarded with information every waking second of every day, and the only way we can make use of this information without exploding is by interpreting it in light of our previous experience, knowledge and preconceptions about the world. It has been described that we generalise, distort or delete information to be able to process it meaningfully. The older we get, the more preconceptions we build and the more information filters we obtain. This is why children are the best lateral thinkers – they have no predetermined view of how things ‘should’ be. For optimum creativity, we must discard preconceptions and regress to a more childlike state – hurrah!
  • You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome. Venture outside of your comfort zone and force your brain to think in ways it wouldn’t normally think. Taking the lead off others is sometimes a good way to start. During the weekend, the delegates were set the challenge of purposefully changing our mind-set for one whole week and living accordingly. For example, if you’re usually a glass half empty person, try overwhelming positivity for a week. You’ll be surprised at how quickly it rubs off onto your true being.
  • The power of reflectivity. Evaluate your ideas and work, reflect on your experiences and learn from them. Often creative ideas will come from slow, reflective thinking, rather than fast intuitive thinking, and there is a lot to be learnt from evaluating the creative process itself.
  •  Have the confidence to be creative! Most importantly, don’t be afraid to give your ideas the chance to mature and to voice them to others. We all doubt our own abilities when it comes to novel thinking, but often our thoughts aren’t as ‘out there’ as we assume. And even if they are, who’s to say this is a bad thing? Without the confidence to voice or act on them, excellent ideas may remain unrealised and creativity will continue to be a conundrum.

I am now a firm believer that everyone can be creative and, even more importantly, that we all NEED to be so once in a while – even vets! Maybe I wasn’t so far off with my initial thoughts of creativity as a disease; I’ve certainly been infected and am now recognising creativity creeping in to many corners of both my work and personal life.