On Cultivating Creativity and Divergent Thinking

”To think in a divergent mode requires more attention than thinking in the usual convergent style”, says the philosopher and psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.

I fully agree with this notion. In the book “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”, Csíkszentmihályi deals with various aspects of creativity. According to Csíkszentmihályi, creativity is often misunderstood, as it is a term being used for many other activities besides being inherently creative.

What is this human trait that we call creativity anyway – besides the individual’s ability to cultivate truly divergent means of thinking and to translate these into activities? And how to maintain a creative, divergent mindset – especially in the middle of the current Western culture of ours, largely building upon certain hegemonic and homogenous values of the agenda of capitalism and thus imposing upon us many written and unwritten laws, norms, regulations and rules?

According to Csíkszentmihályi, creative people are “able to integrate being open and receptive on the other hand, and focused and hard-driving on the other”. Both extrovert and introvert activities appeal to them.

An element of serendipitious discovery is always somewhat involved, it seems. “Creative people are constantly surprised”, Csíkszentmihályi says, and continues, “They don’t assume that they understand what is happening around them, and they don’t assume that anybody else does either. — It is commonplace for creative people to spot the shortcomings of accepted explanations before the rest of us do”, says Csíkszentmihályi. What makes us creative many times equals to just being non-conformist indeed.

Csíkszentmihályi also points out that creative people are typically not motivated by money or fame to but are driven by a feeling of responsibility for the common good.

There is another important social aspect to being creative.

If to think in a divergent way requires a certain personal mindset, communicating any creative divergent ideas to other people also requires attention.

What Csíkszentmihályi implies to here is that if your creative input in a certain domain fails to impress others with expertise on the same domain, it is hardly an innovation at all. To be “kind-of creative” in a certain domain is not enough – you must also be able to surprise others of the same domain and convince these people of the novelty, innovativeness and the implementation of your original idea.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, creativity involves expertise in a certain domain, acceptance of the field or individuals who act as gatekeepers to the domain, as well as the inherent personal effort and motivation.

As people that lead a life filled with creativity might know, this trait needs to be fuelled constantly – and to fuel it needs to fit in your daily routine. It requires motivation maintain this mindset in the middle of day-to-day repetitive activities that are also a fundamental part of everyday life in the Western society.

As I work in a somewhat creative field, I obviously need to be curios towards new things and trends also for professional reasons – but I attempt to organize my life around the principle of divergent activities just for the sake of fun and change as well.

I will share a few tips here of what works out for me as for cultivating creativity. This list is by no means complete and comprehensive! But I find sharing these tips might be helpful for some of you. Here’s what you should do:

 

  • Attempt to create a structure of un-structured time. Be it on my free weekends, or the regular day at the office, I attempt to organise my days so that I will have enough un-structured time on my calendar to do the activities that most appeal to me in life or to immerse in something challenging or new. This is the most important rule by far, and applying this rule to your life to at least some extent has immediate and significant effects on your creativity. In case you find this task of applying this to your own calendar an issue at first, I suggest giving serious thought to your life’s priorities.

 

  • Most creative individuals follow their own personal rhythm for sleeping, eating and working. Find out what personally works for you best.

 

  • Wear comfortable clothes. Yes, you got me right – your taste in clothing is not otherwise important. Make sure you wear what makes you comfortable.

 

  • Pay attention to your surroundings and where you spend most of your valuable time. Creating a harmonious, meaningful environment with a positive energy at home as well as at the office or at least about your own desk, certainly helps in cultivating your personal creativity and wellbeing.

 

  • Listen to the music that allows for you to concentrate on in-depth tasks and get to a flow state of mind. My personal favourite for this is electronic music.

 

  • In case you work in management, make a conscious effort to attempt to encourage creative and divergent thinking and activities in your organization and team and to apply these to any ongoing projects. Applying anthropocentric principles and co-design-methodologies might be of use.

 

  • Last – but not least – attempt to spend a part of your time each day with friends, a part of your day outside, preferably in nature, and at least a part of your day immersing in any offline activities.

 

Last week, I attended the Nordic Business Forum 2017 here in Helsinki with many impressive talks on the themes of responsibility, leadership and purpose.

What struck me most was the direct and honest anti-capitalism of Severn Cullis-Suzuki as well as hearing in more detail about Boyan Slat’s impressive plan to clear the world’s oceans of plastic waste. With all the repetitive talks included in the programme about the state of economy as well as climate change, as well as business superstars like Sir Richard Branson as well as motivational speakers such as Will Smith on stage, I feel like the event currently suffers of a lack of creativity, novelty and proper curation.

I would have liked to have spent much more time on networking on location and meeting old colleagues and friends besides listening to most of the talks in the event, as I feel this was of more value to me.

What most business events like this lack most is indeed a truly creative and generative atmosphere. I am looking more and more forward into attending SLUSH17 technology event this year in my hometown!

It might give you a certain advantage and an edge when it comes to business – but what is most important according to Csíkszentmihályi is that learning to be at least a little bit creative when it comes to everyday life will eventually change the way you experience life itself.

Applying some creativity to your everyday life is what – in essence – makes us live a happy and fulfilling life and gives us yet another reason to smile.

 

Get “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”, 1997, by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Creativity-Flow-Psychology-Discovery-Invention/dp/0062283251

On Generating and Maintaining an Innovative Organizational Culture

How do successful organizations cultivate creativity? And what is it that makes generating and maintaining an outstanding organizational culture so challenging?

The organization’s capacity to innovate, as well as its creativity and connectivity are increasingly highlighted as essential for success. The concepts of “innovation environment” or “innovation ecosystem” are referred to very often in this context.

When describing a creative organizational culture in more detail, case-examples of start-ups and influential Silicon Valley enterprises pop up in various publications, and it seems Richard Florida’s theory of the “creative class” is still dominating many discussions.

I believe that given a chance, any individual or a group of people can adopt a creative mindset and participate in generating original innovations.

And I think the best innovations are created by breaking the silos and getting a multi-disciplinary team of experts from different departments collaborating on a shared project, and by introducing and applying service design methodology at the workplace.

This view is based on my own experiences with co-design so far.

But I think many professionals that have experience of working in similar teams might agree.

Service design processes and methods can be of assistance in generating new, innovative concepts and in streamlining existing services — as well as generating and maintaining a culture of co-creation.

I think organizing co-design workshops based on recent analytics and research can help an organization to boost and foster a creative culture at the workplace and to refine the personnel’s capability to innovate.

Obviously, there are costs involved in gathering analytics, conducting initial research and organizing any co-design process, in terms of human resources, time and money.

However, co-creation and co-design may yield significant benefits, both internally and externally.

As I’m a planner, I have only so much to do with strategy implementation in my current organization. But I think reflecting on and aligning one’s own tasks with shared strategic objectives is important.

And similar thought should be given to the team’s role in the organization, and to one’s role in a team.

An important notion here is that each team as well as each individual is equally responsible of committing to the organization’s common goals and values as well as mutual respect.

One of the core values of my current organization is “together”.

I find that my co-workers in the FNG are an enthusiastic and inspiring group of professionals.

A creative environment is often described as “dynamic” and “open” — it supports fresh ideas, it is emotionally safe and compassionate, and its atmosphere promotes the freedom to brainstorm. In such an environment, debates are considered positive, conflicts constructive, and moderate risk taking is allowed.

As a result of this kind of atmosphere in the organization, new ideas emerge and flourish, and they have enough time and space to take shape. And even more importantly, the people enjoy working together.

Service design methods and intrapreneurship combined can yield the very best of results, when they are applied in a way unique to the organization’s culture.

Soren Kaplan, the author of the best-seller “Leapfrogging”, says that when we are “cultivating innovation”, we are, essentially, “cultivating a unique system”.

Kaplan’s notion is echoed in the recent book “Strategy That Works: How Winning Companies Close the Strategy-to-Execution Gap” by Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi. According to the authors, what makes the distinctive internal practices and capabilities of successful organizations so special is the fact that they cannot be easily replicated by others in the same field. In that sense, creating a unique organizational culture and supporting an innovative ecosystem pays off.

In the aforementioned book, Leinwand and Mainardi emphasize, that the most successful organizations:

  • Commit to what they do best instead of chasing multiple opportunities
  • Build their own unique winning capabilities instead of copying others
  • Put their culture to work instead of struggling to change it
  • Invest where it matters instead of going lean across the board
  • Shape the future instead of reacting to it

According to the authors, these are the five essential practices for connecting strategy and its execution.

Having given various issues quite a lot of thought last year in the middle of facilitating a series of workshops on our digital strategy implementation and other tasks, I eventually decided to document some of my thoughts on different topics related to my work and some of my other interests in this blog, now also found via the domain name http://lifeofaplanner.fi.

I have been surprised by the amount of unique visitors and visits here, as well as the amount of positive feedback from colleagues and other friends.

Thank you for reading and all the comments!