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 Brand Advocacy and the Transcendent Customer Experience

How to create brand advocacy through customer journey mapping? And what kind of a customer experience do strong brand communities promote?

Brendan Richardson, the author of “Tribal Marketing, Tribal Branding”, has stated that “the fundamental purpose of the marketer who seeks to engage with contemporary communities of consumption in whatever form is to identify, and where appropriate and possible, support the linking values that unite these communities” and to thus “facilitate” the “transcendent customer experience”.

In a paper entitled “Transcendent Customer Experience and Brand Community”, John W. Schouten, James H. McAlexander and Harold F. Koenig have stated that “Transcendent customer experiences (TCEs), which have aspects of “flow and/or peak experience”, can generate “lasting shifts in beliefs and attitudes, including subjective self-transformation” while “delivering a particularly strong form of brand loyalty.”

Brand advocacy is, naturally, the most mature level of customer commitment here, and that is always based on shared values.

A flow experience, according to psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, produces a state of transcendence, a suspension of temporal reality, and a sense of separation from the mundane, and a sense of unity with some higher plane of experience, whereas, similarly, a peak experience, as discussed by Abraham Maslow, is characterised as a sudden epiphany – both signifying a connection to a something outside the self.

Skydivers, for example, according to Schouten, McAlexander and Koenig, “report consistent types of extraordinary experience, beginning with the thrill of first time engagement” and “progressing through milestones of personal achievement and periods of individual and shared transcendence”.

According to the authors, furthermore, it is shown in studies that people engaging in outdoor activities “report dramatic life- or perspective-altering transformations in themselves”.

So what do skydivers essentially experience?

I went out with a skydiving guy a few years ago, and could not help but wonder. Extreme sports is definitely not for me. However, I can easily agree on this one when it comes to the experience of biking or hiking outdoors in the middle of nature, for example.

All of this may seem to have a religious undertone to it.

Maslow’s view on religion, however, was somewhat blunt.

According to Maslow, a religion mainly exists to provide a framework for understanding the ephemeral, ineffable nature of the experience. And the function of a religious institution, according to Maslow, is to offer texts, symbols, rituals, and a community that can act as triggers for future transcendent experiences.

Now let’s take a step back, and discuss the triggers in relation to an outstanding customer experience.

The triggers of such an experience are individual and vary – but these may include, for example, a sense of a personal crisis, a sense of romance or a sense of encountering “exceptional beauty”. McAlexander and Schouten have identified that in relation to consumption, the triggers may include sensory experiences, such as experiencing sights, sounds and smells; or a sense of “unexpectedly gratifying interpersonal encounters”, and also, intriguingly, a sense of “personal achievement” that “exceeds people’s expectations”.

It seems that great customer experiences have the power to significantly enhance people’s relationships with other people, as well as their relationship with objects, as the authors of this article suggest.

The research cited above clearly indicates that “customers desire to transcend mundane consumerism”.

This tendence is typical of strong brand communities.

The authors of this paper also refer to the dark, addictive and escapist side of the customer experience.

Colin Campbell, for example, has written about what he calls the “romantic” modern consumerism as a type of addiction, in his view caused by the global advertising industry that caters for fantasies. Max Weber’s critique of capitalism is, of course, a primary reference here.

I find brand communities and the concept of a transcendent customer experience to be ripe with yet untapped, hidden potential for promoting a more sustainable lifestyle worldwide, especially among millennials. At the end of the day, the brands that promote a healthy, happy planet may generate stronger communities and more loyal customers than brands that do not pay attention to sustainability issues.

Flow and Seductive Interactions

How to create an engaging website and increase conversion rates?

According to psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, great websites are really not about navigating content – they are all about staging an experience. The key, says Csíkszentmihályi, is a finely tuned sense of rhythm, involvement, and anticipation known as “flow”.

Csíkszentmihályi has famously stated that flow is “– being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

In a book called “Seductive Interaction Design”, Stephen Anderson takes a similar approach to designing sites and interactions, based on the psychological stages of seduction. I recently purchased a copy of this book.

In the very first chapter, Anderson lists four different aspects of an engaging and seductive experience:

  • Sequencing — we are more likely to take action when complex tasks are broken down into smaller tasks.
  • Appropriate challenges — we delight in challenges, especially ones that strike a balance between being overwhelming and being boring.
  • Status — we constantly assess how interactions enhance or diminish our standing relative to others and our personal best.
  • Achievements — we are more likely to engage in activities in which meaningful achievements are recognized.

I think each one of these factors is crucial in relation to increasing conversion rates. To me, it is sequencing that seems like the most important aspect. The tasks performed online may be complex – just consider the process of purchasing a pair of new sneakers from an online store, for example. Sequencing is especially important, when conversions require for several fields to be completed in an online form, for example.

As for the rest of the aspects, appropriate challenges certainly motivate us to take action, status is very desirable, and is what really makes us want to use the product or service, and we are definitely most likely to engage in activities when our personal demographics and previous achievements are recognized.

Applying the concept of “flow”, an engaging website presents us with personalized, interesting challenges, encourages us to take action, gives a sense of an elevated status, and highlights our achievements.

It seems to me, that all of this correlates with the emerging trends. Personal improvement is one of the key megatrends at the moment. Wearable technology is gaining in popularity, healthy foods are trending, self-help and motivational literature is increasingly being published, and new forms of physical exercise are on the rise, just to point out a few examples.

Considering this, and the concept of “flow”, the most desirable digital service design now, and the kind that increases conversions, is the type that ultimately caters for the customer’s personal improvement, while giving us a sense of a true “flow experience” of micro-moments while performing relatively complex tasks.