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

The Value of Design Sprints Explained

Many companies are now becoming software driven and they need to deliver genuine value, build useable, intuitive and desirable interfaces so that people can operate them quickly and effectively with their mobile and other devices. This is harder than it seems and takes a great deal of time, skill and talent to achieve.

Design sprints bring people of various backgrounds together to collaboratively find solutions within a highly complex system of business, technical, and human context to ultimately result in products and services that people need and desire and are happy to make part of their lives.

How to succeed in delivering a design sprint and wherein lies the value of design sprints to begin with?

I recently had the chance to skim through a few excellent books on this topic. In “Sprint – How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days”, Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz from Google Ventures explain and outline the Google 5-day Sprint method.

It all begins by setting the stage – outlining the big issue you wish to solve in a week, getting your sprint team together and scheduling a sprint room for the five days.

As for the sprint team or the group of people participating, no more than seven people, with the facilitator not included, is recommended for the sprint. Based on my own experience, this is the ideal group size.

Who then, is needed to participate in the sprint? Knapp and others recommend, that the group includes these people, in addition to the Facilitator:

  • Decision Maker – such as the CEO, Product Manager or Chief Design Officer
  • Finance Expert – such as the CFO, or a Business Development Manager
  • Marketing Expert – such as the CMO, or other qualified person in Marketing
  • Customer Expert – one who regularly meets or chats with customers
  • Technology Expert – such as the CTO or any other person with expertise on technology
  • Design Expert – such as the Design Strategist, the Designer or the Product Owner of the software

Sometimes, some of these roles can be combined. But Knapp and others emphasize, that a Facilitator must be the one that keeps things running, keeps track of time and tasks, and leads the sprint on. It makes sense to hire one or two professionals for this task. Also, some extra experts can be invited to participate and give their views and insights on the issue on the very first day.

It is highly recommended by Knapp and his colleagues that each day, 7 hours with a 1-hour lunch break is spent on the sprint. This will allow for 6 working hours for the group each day, divided between various scheduled tasks.

Knapp recommends starting the sprint each day no earlier than by 10 a.m., so that everyone is present having already checked their emails for the day, as well as being very persistent that no laptops, phones or tablets are allowed in the room. If anybody needs to take a call, they can take it outside the sprint room.

Sometimes, the group may have to reframe the original issue to be solved with human perspective and empathy. For the very first day of any sprint, Knapp and others suggest setting and agreeing to a long-term goal is needed. Challenge mapping is recommended, but picking a target for the sprint is equally important.

Before setting out to pick the target for the sprint, it is paramount to ask the group of people participating, where the company wishes to be in six months, a year, or even five years from now. Sometimes, there may be a long-term strategy involved, but it is recommended to allow for some time for discussion on this topic.

In “The Design Studio Method”, Brian Sullivan emphasizes that preparation largely determines success when it comes to sprints, and suggests scheduling a Problem-Definition Meeting, before the sprint. I find, based on my own experience in facilitation, that this method might work better besides or alternatively combined with the Google 5-day sprint.

Arranging a Problem-Definition Meeting before the design sprint incorporates several benefits:

  • Defining and outlining the original issue, problem or opportunity you wish to solve during the sprint, before the sprint team gets together for the first time
  • Understanding any prior existing requirements or commitments
  • Explaining the methodology of the sprint to the key stakeholders
  • Identifying any such pieces of information you may need to do some research on beforehand
  • Securing alignment between the key stakeholders of the company
  • Committing key people to participate in the sprint beforehand
  • Determining the schedule and scope of the sprint

Sullivan also lists the various advantages of a cross-functional team:

  • Diversity – With a variety of people from different departments, you will have unique perspectives based upon each person’s expertise.
  • Cohesion – Participants complete assignments together using their individual talents to further the bigger goals of the team.
  • Synergy – With a variety of perspectives, the interactions of the group should lead to a greater creativity, as people build upon the ideas of others.
  • Consensus – Your project will have a final plan for execution, or at least a product vision set in place.

The core mission of design is to seamlessly translate business efforts and technology into products and services that deliver human value. At the end of the day, products are simply tools and services that are part of a human ecosystem of tasks and much deeper — almost spiritual — human drivers. Products and services empower humans and enhance human abilities.

There still remain organizations that see design thinking as unnecessary rather than essential to driving organizational change and innovation. Without doing proper research on the customer’s lifestyles and needs and then generating and evaluating various design ideas in a group of people with diverse expertise, in design sprints, however, your product or service might fail in delivering value to the target customers.

This, to me, sums up the value of professionally prepared and facilitated design sprints.

Read more in an article “How Using Design Thinking Will Fix Design Thinking” by Bert Brautigam:

https://thenextweb.com/contributors/2017/04/27/design-thinking-will-fix-design-thinking/

Get “Sprint – How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days”, 2016, by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz”, or “The Design Studio Method”, 2016, by Brian Sullivan on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Sprint-Solve-Problems-Test-Ideas/dp/1442397683

https://www.amazon.com/Design-Studio-Method-Creative-Sketching/dp/113802256X/

Contact Iiris via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/iiriskonttinen/

Visit the Steps Helsinki website (only in Finnish): https://stepshelsinki.fi/

A Structure of Unstructured Time

How to create and cultivate an innovation-oriented culture?

Soren Kaplan, the author of the bestseller “Leapfrogging”, says that most corporate visions and missions sound alarmingly alike, emphasizing sales. According to Kaplan, instead of concentrating on making profit, we should be focused on the way we want to change the world, and put people first.

This sounds like a plan for creating original innovations, as well as making the world a better place for all. But how to create a truly innovation-oriented culture at the workplace, a culture focused on the way the world needs to be changed?

In his article “6 Ways to Create a Culture of Innovation”, Kaplan gives us a few good starting points. First of all, when attempting to create an innovation-oriented culture in your organization, it is essential that the people working there have got enough time to spare for experimenting and becoming “intrapreneurs”.

Kaplan says this calls for creating a structure for some “unstructured” time in the organization level. Google is one of the companies that gives its employees about 10% “free” time to innovate.

Kaplan says that providing free time for employees to experiment with new technologies, products, or processes can catalyze the next big thing. Nevertheless, he also states that too many companies—and the consultants they hire—attempt to over-engineer the innovation process. In my opinion, a consultant is perhaps only needed for convincing the management that driving intrapreneurship and creating an innovation-oriented culture and workflow is a key factor in any organization’s success.

If your organization were to adopt “the Google workflow”, each employee working a 40-hour week should use approximately 4 hours per week being an intrapreneur. How to make this happen? It seems there are several ways to implement this kind of workflow. One easy way to start focusing more on innovation is to begin or end your working day with approximately 45 minutes of “unstructured” time.

However, I believe the most valuable innovations are created together with others. What I would add to Kaplan’s suggestions is getting a group of diverse people from the organization together to act as a team of intrapreneurs whenever creating new products or services, as well as getting the customers deeply involved in the process of innovation in order to co-create value.

This, to me, seems like the most feasible way of putting people first, and it might help in focusing on the various ways to be the change we want to see in the world.

Read more in the article on innovation by Soren Kaplan:

http://www.fastcodesign.com/1672718/6-ways-to-create-a-culture-of-innovation