Organizational Creativity: Building skills and processes

organizational creativity

As indicated in my prior posts, individual creativity comes in many shapes and sizes. The same is true for organizational creativity. There are numerous approaches and structural designs. However, I found one model quite practical: Teresa Amabile’s Componential Model of Creativity. According to this model, creativity depends on a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Intrinsic refers to drivers inside each of us. Extrinsic refers to external motivators such as company policies, recognition, and the environment. Organizational creativity needs to consider both.

Intrinsic Drivers of Creativity

Amabile identified three intrinsic motivators. Imagine a Venn diagram with three circles in the shape of a triangle. (See figure.) The top circle contains domain-relevant skills. Simply put, these are skills related to your area of expertise.The left circle contains task motivation. These are the duties you actually enjoy doing. And the right circle contains the right ambiance and setting to inspire you. Creativity is strongest at the intersection of the three.

Become an expert

The domain-relevant skills (top circle) include expertise or knowledge in a specific field. The expertise may be in engineering, medical technology, computer coding, industry awareness, art, music, or a host of other disciplines. These areas of expertise provide the raw materials an individual can draw on in the creative process.

  • Do you have the right knowledge to understand how the pieces fit together?

Jump into tasks you enjoy

Task motivation (left circle) encompasses the willingness to undertake a task because it is involving, interesting, or personally challenging or satisfying. This is similar to the intrinsic motivators I described in the post: What motivates the creative YOU?

  • Do you have the desire to work toward a creative solution?

Define your own sources of creativity

Creativity-relevant processes (final circle) include a host of tangible and intangible factors conducive to imagination, inspiration and inventiveness. The bulk of the items I describe in my Nine-Part Creativity Series would fit here.

  • Do you know what music, ambiance, time-frame or mental attitude helps you be creative?

Organizational Creativity Processes

Even though I described the three above circles as intrinsic items, companies play a role in either fostering or sabotaging them. In other words, you can use them to enhance organizational creativity. Here are a few tips for managers.

Build skills in areas of expertise

Provide training, role clarity and resources to cultivate domain-relevant skills. Sponsor internal training or offer  reimbursement for education outside the company. The training should help employees attain mastery in specific areas of expertise or knowledge. Devise concrete job definitions that establish role clarity and reduce ambiguity. The resulting focus increases the likelihood of employees applying their expertise to generate new ideas. Supply adequate resources such as money and tools to support creative efforts. Of course, defining what “adequate” means is subjective and will vary by the type of innovation. But it must be done.

Boost the motivation to do the tasks

Enhance task motivation by ensuring individuals feel a job or creative endeavor “fits” them. Hire the right people for the job. Recognize them for their efforts. The recognition doesn’t (and shouldn’t) be limited to monetary incentives. Dan Pink, in his TED talk, The Puzzle of Motivation, provides good information on using different incentives for creativity.

Reinforce processes linked to creativity

Finally, encourage creativity-relevant processes. Grant as much autonomy for creative efforts as possible. Enable tinkering to stimulate creativity and whole-brain thinking. Sanction breaks, time flexibility and/or tools to help employees manage their energy better. Companies such as Google and 3M allow employees an allotted percentage of on-the-job time and freedom to explore pet projects.These pet projects – especially when shared with other employees through, for example, brown bag lunches – often yield new product and service ideas benefiting the company. Assess your company’s risk tolerance. How well does your culture encourage employees to develop novel concepts that may lead to new product development and innovation? Creativity and innovation are subtly different, and companies are advised to nurture both.

Spark up your creativity: Traits of creative people

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    (This is the 1st of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

    Most people say they want to be more creative. They want to build more traits of creativity. But what does that mean? That they want to be the next Steve Jobs? Or that they want to relax into an imaginative hobby?

    Does it mean they want to spend more time alone, thinking prolific thoughts?  Or that they want to charge into stimulating conversations with diverse thinkers?

    Hmm … (Pause to think prolific thoughts).

    What is creativity?

    So what is creativity? Here are a few definitions.

    • Originality, progressiveness or imagination
    • The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns
    • A mental characteristic that allows a person to think outside of the box

    From these definitions it’s clear that creativity links to individuality. But there are other perspectives. Creativity can be more than what meets the eye.

    Is creativity a solo or team activity?

    The answer to this question is simply YES. There are times when being around other people can be distracting. On the other hand new insights emerge from the collision of diverse viewpoints.

    Are introverts or extroverts more creative?

    Just as creativity can emerge from either solo or group activities, creative people can be either introverts or extroverts. Earlier I said that creativity can emerge from a collision of perspectives. Introverts may need to step out of their comfort zones and embrace the ideas of others. Extroverts may need to stop and do a bit of internal soul-searching.

    What is the difference between creativity and innovation?

    Some people consider creativity to be a starting point for innovation. In that sense, innovation comes from the creativity of one or more individuals.The outcome can be a new product, an enhanced set of work procedures or novel services.

    Think in terms of people AND culture

    I taught a creativity and innovation course at the Center for Professional and Executive Development at University of Wisconsin-Madison. In it I focused on the importance of both individual-think and group-think in establishing a forward-looking organizational culture. It’s a myth that only certain people are creative. People are creative in different ways, and to different degrees. So instead of contemplating whether you are creative, focus on how you are creative — and strive to enhance your own creativity.

    Traits of creative people

    Sometimes people are inspired by creative quotes. If you are one of them, download 100 Inspirational Quotes about Creativity and Innovation from SlideShare.

    Creativity traits – your creativity quotient

    Here are the traits, characteristics, skills and viewpoints that creative people (and companies) can work to strengthen. No single person will excel at all of them. Yet collectively they will ground you in your pursuit of creativity.

    A word of caution, though. If these characteristics are carried to extremes they can actually compete against each other. For example, being autonomous (independent) can sometimes make it hard to be tuned in to others. And some characteristics can have both a positive and negative side. Evaluating creative ideas is a positive activity that can turn negative if you focus exclusively on fault-finding.

    So, what is your creativity quotient? Ask yourself: are you …

    Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
    Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
    Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
    Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
    Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
    Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
    Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
    Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

    I will discuss each of these eight characteristics in future posts.


    Amplify your creative curiosity

    (This is the 2nd of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

    Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
    Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
    Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
    Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
    Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
    Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
    Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
    Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy Creative curiosity

    Be forever curious

    We are surrounded by new ideas. In various stages of formation. All the time.

    But we might not be curious enough to even notice them. Don’t lose your sense of curiosity. Amplify it.

    Becoming interested in something kindles your curiosity to learn more. And ironically, by learning more you realize how much you don’t know. That can generate more curiosity. Interest encourages learning, which in turn, increases interest to learn more. That’s curiosity.

    Curiosity is not a general instinct

    Curiosity is a critical component of creativity. But while all humans have some degree of curiosity, it is not an instinct. In other words, it’s not a fixed response to some stimulus. Nor is it a routine or predictable action pattern. Rather, curiosity is an individual interest in trying to understand something you don’t know.

    So, how important is curiosity? A Psychology Today blog post stated that curiosity and conscientiousness were found to be more important than intelligence in predicting success.

    Do adults lose curiosity?

    Many people believe that kids are naturally more curious than adults. On the surface this seems reasonable since there is so much more they need to discover. However, it’s not black-and-white. We are all aware of some kids who are more curious than others. And even some adults who are more curious than kids. So it’s not just a gap in knowledge, but rather in an interest or desire to learn more.

    Raise your creative curiosity

    To amplify your curiosity, expand your thinking. Be curious about more and more things. Learn a new hobby. Complete a household project you’ve never attempted before. Develop an unexplored professional skill. Delve into an online course. Make learning a life-long goal rather than a burden to be endured. As you build your bank of knowledge, focus not only on what you’re learning, but also on the process itself. As a first step toward creativity, enjoyment of the process of curiosity (i.e., learning) can be an intrinsic reward – a motivation – for many people.

    Ask questions

    Asking questions – and finding answers to the questions – is somewhat of a template for the process of curiosity. As Einstein said, “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” When faced with new information or unknowns, ask challenging questions, such as: Why? How? What if? Why not? Look for the answers that everyone else is ignoring (or too busy to consider). Political consultant, Bernard Baruch, was quoted as saying: “Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked ‘Why?’.”

    So start asking questions. Lots of them. Here are some examples.

    Can ordinary things be used in extraordinary ways? Spider silk and silkworm silk, which are biocompatible with human tissue, have been used to treat nerve damage. Efforts are under way to increase usage for regenerative medicine, and to find better ways to commercialize the process.

    What caused that to happen? The story of Percy Spencer’s curiosity has been well-publicized. In 1945, while working near microwave magnetrons, he discovered a candy bar had melted in his pocket. He tried to figure out how it happened. The result was the microwave oven.

    And asking “what else could this be used for?” can sometimes trigger accidental inventions. Play-Doh was originally a wallpaper cleaner. Velcro was discovered by George de Mestral when he noticed burrs sticking to his hunting dog’s fur. Saccharin was originally discovered by a chemist looking for alternative uses for coal tar derivatives.

    Capture your ideas

    Even when curious people are good idea generators, they don’t always keep track of these ideas. Do you have the discipline to capture your ideas? Do you jot down notes and review them periodically?

    Apply curiosity to your domain expertise carefully

    As people grow older, their curiosity may become more focused in specific domains. Occupational fields, defined recreational activities, or individual (personal and spiritual) pursuits are the center of their attention. That means the questions they are asking and the answers they are seeking have a more limited scope. But curiosity can still be fostered – as long as the domains don’t become so few or so narrow as to restrict open-mindedness and objectivity.

    Where to from here?

    A challenge that occurs as people gain expertise in specific domains is that they can become more risk-averse and less tolerant of failure. So in addition to curiosity, building resilience in the face of failure is necessary for creativity. That will be covered in the 3rd post.



    The War of Art Review

    The War of Art book review

    I recently came across a book that challenged me a bit as a writer. It’s not new (the first copyright – the version I read – is 2002).  But I found it relevant in my current efforts to spark my own creativity in fiction writing. After all, I spent most of my career in more analytical, “business-friendly” pursuits. The book is “The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle” by Steven Pressfield.

    I don’t recall how I heard about this book. And it took me a while to get around to reading it. I skimmed through the book quickly. The main theme I picked up was that creative people use a host of excuses to forestall progress (a process he refers to as Resistance.) Ho, hum. But on the many occasions I was about to quit reading, Pressfield made a point, or offered a quote, or shared an anecdote that really made me stop and think.

    My A-Ha Moments

    I’d like to share a few of those “a-ha’ moments” with you. (As a side note, I got the most benefit from the middle section, a bit from the first, and the third section did not fit me quite as well. But I nevertheless recommend the book. To aspiring writers, designers and artists – particularly those who work freelance. To entrepreneurs. And to product managers for whom creativity is challenged by down-to-earth business demands.)

    Characteristics of Creative Resistance

    In the first section (Book One), he describes characteristics of Resistance, starting with procrastination. “Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, ‘I’m never going to write my symphony.’ Instead we say, ‘I am going to write my symphony: I’m going to start tomorrow.’”

    We have all made similar decisions to defer progress to some better time in the future. And we have also become very efficient at justifying these decisions. I’m not ready. I don’t have what it takes. I’m too busy with urgent things. I haven’t found my inspiration. The kids are sick. I’m too tired. And the list goes on to infinity!

    Combat Resistance in the War of Art

    But in the second section (Book Two) Pressfield takes a stab at offering suggestions to combat Resistance. He starts by differentiating between the mindsets of amateurs and professionals. He relates being a pro to the basic principles of any job. His principles are:

    1. Show up every day.
    2. Show up no matter what.
    3. Stay on the job all day.
    4. Committed to the long haul.
    5. Accept that stakes are high and real.
    6. Accept remuneration for our labor.
    7. Don’t over-identify with your job.
    8. Master the technique of your job.
    9. Have a sense of humor about your job.
    10. Receive praise or blame in the real world.

    Perfectionism can be a dilemma

    I might word these ten principles a bit differently. But they forced me to think about whether I was approaching my own creativity from the mindset of a professional or an amateur (weekend warrior). I definitely leaned away from pro. I realized I was more apt to look at my writing (and creativity in general) as a sideline. That made it easier to rationalize scrapping time devoted to it and falling into a trap of perfectionism. And I kept waiting for the “right” time to come along. That’s why I appreciated Pressfield’s quote on this point:

    “Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. ‘I write only when inspiration strikes,’ he replied. ‘Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.’”

    Stop procrastinating

    Yes, that quote really hit me. I realized have to stop waiting – and waiting, and waiting — for inspiration to strike. Many other authors, in addition to Pressfield, have stressed the importance of writing every day to prime the pump for inspiration to happen. Yet for some reason this perspective was the boost I needed to stop procrastinating and rationalizing my procrastination. Creativity doesn’t happen on command per se. Yet you increase the likelihood of inspiration to happen if you practice creativity on an ongoing basis. (I won’t go so far as to make this my New Year’s resolution, but if that works for you, go for it!)

    Even if your day job is to be creative – you are employed as a copywriter, graphic designer, artist – it might not command 100% of your time. As a result, the urgent demands of your job may take precedence over putting effort into originality.

    Where does inspiration come from?

    The final section (Book Three) of the War of Art provides a more metaphysical perspective on creativity. Where does inspiration come from? While this point can be debated ad nauseam (as it was in the Amazon reviews of the book), Pressfield cited several possible sources of the creative spark .Other people. Compiled data. Dreams. Intuition. Trends. Existing and anticipated products. And combinations of all of those. The main point to me is that creatives must be open to the new, open to the different, and open to the possibilities that exist all around us.

    Grit: Build a reservoir of creative resilience to overcome failures

    (This is the 3rd of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

    Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
    Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
    Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
    Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
    Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
    Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
    Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
    Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

    Creative grit

    Do you have what it takes to withstand creative flops?

    Creativity cannot exist without failures. Period. Unfortunately, failures can occur without creativity. The challenge is how easily you give up.

    The picture at the top is one of the few photographs of my mother’s family. My grandmother had 10 children. Two were still-born, one died at an early age, and two were unable to make the trip to the United States with her. She faced continual hardship, but was resilient enough to be creative in her own way. That’s true grit.

    Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed, wrote an article about grit for the New York Times Magazine. In it he discussed the role of resilience and persistence in attaining success. He emphasized that people insulated from botched outcomes don’t develop the fortitude necessary to succeed. Taking risks is part of life — and part of creativity.

    That’s where grit (creative resilience) comes in. Sustained creativity requires not just failures, but also an ability to bounce back from them. It requires an ability to manage adversity. And it’s a character skill most people have not been taught.

    So, do all educators agree there is a link between grit and creativity? No. Nevertheless most concur that it may play a role in long-term projects. In other words, in pushing creativity toward innovation. An initial creative spark is not enough. You need to continue through to a result. That means you have to keep bouncing back.

    What is your creativity safety net?

    To bounce back from adversity, you need a virtual trampoline, a safety net. You have to strengthen your ability to cope with outcomes you don’t want. The Mayo Clinic provides these tips on improving resilience:

    1. Get connected
    2. Make every day meaningful
    3. Learn from experience
    4. Remain hopeful
    5. Take care of yourself

    I want to augment these tips and relate them to creativity.

    Get connected to build creative resilience

    Develop a strong social network of family, friends, colleagues and/or mentors. Find people you can confide in. Share your frustrations. Use their support as a “sounding board” to help reduce the frustrations you are feeling when faced with creative dead-ends.

    Make every day meaningful

    Look for opportunities to be grateful every day. Oprah Winfrey keeps a gratitude journal to help her appreciate what she has rather than bemoan what she doesn’t have. According to Inc. Magazine, gratitude can compensate for stress, thereby opening creativity ability.

    Turn mistakes into lessons

    Rethink failure. Learning from mistakes and setbacks is an achievement. It’s an element of success. Not learning from errors is a failure.

    In fact, failure often creates new opportunities. Ian Robertson observed in Psychology Today:Paradoxically then, failure can help us to encounter new possibilities because it forces us to abandon the blinkered focus on reward that repeated success causes.” In other words, success can cause complacency and risk reduction, sometimes referred to as the incumbent’s curse.

    Challenge yourself to engage in experiences where success is not virtually guaranteed. If you need to wade into this by making mistakes that nobody sees, start there. Teach yourself that that you are resilient enough to rebound from occasional defeats.

    Keep track of what you have learned from missteps. Apply that to new situations. Contemplate setbacks without dwelling on them. Accept them as part of the normal process of creativity and innovation.

    Remain hopeful

    Being hopeful is not Pollyanaish optimism. It’s not wishful thinking.  Rather, it’s about embracing possibilities, even while knowing some outcomes will fail. It’s about accepting the present while being motivated to change the future. This perspective on hope is believed to be related to creativity.

    So, encourage yourself to explore multiple solutions to problems. Believe you have the capacity to impact change. Take the long view.

    Take care of yourself

    Physical, mental and emotional health are all connected to resilience. The stronger you are in all these areas, the better equipped you are to bounce back from setbacks. Get proper sleep. Eat a balanced diet. Learn to relax. Manage stress through meditation, yoga or deep breathing. Focus on maintaining healthy self-esteem.

    And exercise. Studies prove the physical, mental and emotional benefits of exercise. And aerobic activity also stimulates prefrontal cortex areas of the brain generally associated with aspects of creativity. That’s why taking a walk, riding a bike, or engaging in a sport can trigger new ideas after you have been in a creative rut. It also gives a boost to resilience.

    Relearn life’s lessons

    Think about mistakes you made growing up. What were the responses of your family? What about peers? Or teachers? Or ministers? Were you criticized or encouraged? Were the mistakes viewed as learning opportunities or dead-ends? These experiences “taught” you how to deal with failure. Now you must decide if the teachings were appropriate, or if you need to “unlearn” the lessons. That requires creative grit.

    If you were taught that failure is bad – that only perfection is acceptable – you will likely look for ways to avoid taking risks. Or you learn to blame others. While risk reduction is important, too much will squelch creativity. It can cause you to limit your focus to only areas where you are strong. It may prevent you from seeing answers that aren’t directly in front of you. And even some that are right in front of you.

    Is all perfection necessary?

    Force yourself to distinguish between necessary and unnecessary perfection. Necessary perfectionism saves lives. Unnecessary perfectionism causes procrastination. It creates delays. And it obstructs the realization of ideas. There’s a lot of room for creativity in-between.

    When I published the first edition of my product manager book in 1995, it was far from perfect. However, it was “good enough” to generate an increased awareness of product management. It’s now in its fourth edition. Had I waited for it to be perfect, it would still be sitting unpublished in some long-forgotten location.

    Just to be clear – I am not suggesting that with creativity anything goes. Details can make the difference between a good and a great idea. But not all details are equally important. Strive for perfection. Just don’t let it become an excuse for lack of forward momentum.

    When you run into a dead-end, decide to move forward. Don’t allow yourself to be stuck in perpetual limbo. Scrap what you’re doing until you uncover an untried solution. Reframe the problem. U-turns can be okay. Decide if the problem you are trying to solve is the wrong problem. (Sometimes the best resilience is “quitting” and starting over anew.) Just continue moving forward.

    Failure is rarely fatal

    Failure is not enjoyable and can be a blow to one’s ego (and possibly one’s budget or profit), but it is rarely fatal. Coach yourself to tolerate missteps, learn from them, and recognize that they are instrumental in your pursuit of creativity and innovation.

    Be flexible. Practice improvisation. Try new approaches when the first way does not work. Be persistent. But do so with vigilance and intelligence, and be willing to change course when necessary. Strengthen your mental ability to be aware of and cope with potentially contradictory data. Acknowledge there may be multiple viewpoints for issues, and that other perspectives might add to your creativity.

    Where to from here?

    Resilience paves the way to follow-through. You need to bounce back from ideas that don’t work until you find ones that do. But you’re not done yet. Be ready to test, evaluate and evolve your creative ideas. That’s the topic of the next post.





    Creative tinkering: Ideas evolve as you evaluate them

    (Creative tinkering is the 4th of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

    Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
    Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
    Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
    Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
    Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
    Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
    Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
    Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

    Creative tinkering

    Sand sculpture tinkerers at New Smyrna Beach, FL

    Some people believe that creativity is all about a single Eureka moment when a fully-formed idea simply jumps out. Sometimes that might happen. But not usually.

    It’s more likely that creative types are tinkerers – testing, modeling and experimenting with their ideas, often in a trial-and-error mode. They continually evaluate what does and does not work. They evolve their ideas beyond their embryonic beginnings.


    What is a tinkerer?

    I came across Rachelle Doorley’s definition of tinkerer on TinkerLab. While the site is intended for childhood education, several concepts are appropriate here as well. (In fact, you might want to take a look at TinkerLab for inspiration!) So, here is her definition of a tinkerer:

    “one who experiments with materials and ideas to fully understand their capacities, and who further iterates on their learning to find better solutions to current problems.”

    Note that her definition mentions the importance of continually iterating on learning. In other words, a tinkerer is a dabbler. An experimenter. A hands-on adapter. A maker. Tinkerers “play around” with ideas. They don’t necessarily accept their first idea as is.

    The tinkering process helps redefine problems and solutions. And the more idea variations you have, the higher the probably of having a good one in the pile. Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling said: “I am constantly asked by students how I get good ideas. My answer is simple: First, have a lot of ideas. Then, throw away the bad ones.”

    Ideas evolve through creative tinkering

    Think about all of the different types of people who tinker. And think about the variety of disciplines they represent.

    • Fiction writers try out various plots and characters before finalizing a story line.
    • Product designers experiment with various materials, components and approaches to prototyping.
    • Artists test new combinations of colors, shapes and textures.
    • Photographers shoot from different angles, with different lenses, under different lighting conditions to see what happens.

    Evaluation is integral to improving and/or prioritizing ideas. Look at your brainchild from multiple perspectives. What are the relevant facts? Are there better or different alternatives? What are the benefits and advantages of each? What are your gut reactions – how do you feel about it? Why is the idea good, and what can be done to make it successful? What are the risks and negatives, and why might it NOT be successful?

    I started writing fiction a couple of years ago, thinking that because I wrote successful business books I could easily make the shift to mysteries. Wrong. I had to learn about characterization. Plotting. Scene development. And the planting of clues and red herrings. I am finally making progress but it took a lot of tinkering. And evaluating. And really listening to members of my critique groups. Believe me, I learned I could not leave my ideas in their original conditions. (Some were dead on arrival!)

    Yes, tinkering is necessary for creativity to blossom. And it’s not necessarily a solo activity.

    Makers help evolve creative ideas

    The Maker Movement is a social movement of people who want to create. Anything. Some makers are do-it-yourselfers. Others are professional inventors.  But at heart they are tinkerers. And they share learning in many ways. One is through Maker Faires, defined on the namesake website as follows:

    Part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new, Maker Faire is an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. All of these “makers” come to Maker Faire to show what they have made and to share what they have learned.

    The Maker Movement has been enabled by technology (such as crowdsourcing and 3-D printing), and plays a role in some corporate product development. GE, for example, has used the concept of makers as a new paradigm in manufacturing. A few years ago, they invited makers from across the globe to submit ideas as part of an innovation challenge. They received many novel concepts for their aviation products. Some may have eventually emerged from internal R&D. But the use of crowdsourcing helped evolve the ideas faster.

    Become a dreamer and a doer

    Tinkering allows you to focus on something without succumbing to analysis paralysis. Permit yourself to spend some unstructured time “fiddling around with” your ideas. Resolve to be persistent, determined, and even tenacious in pushing them to the next level. Shape yourself into a die-hard tinkerer.

    Author Sarah Ban Breachnach stated: “The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do.

    So, flesh out your dreams. Convert ideas into something more concrete. The sooner you can craft models and prototypes, the sooner you can judge the strength of your concept. (As a side note, I want to mention that it’s okay when the result of a creative idea has value only to its originator. Creativity need not always result in commercialization. But many creative ideas are developed into products, services, processes or business models. In either case, creativity must move beyond an abstraction.)

    Where to from here?

    Above all, you have to take responsibility for evolving your ideas and for your own creativity. That’s where autonomy comes in, as I’ll discuss in the next post.





    The Creative Process: It’s More than Games

    The creative process is not a singular flash of insight. It doesn’t come simply from throwing Nerf balls around the room. Or playing with Duplo blocks and pipe cleaners. There’s more to it than that. While there is no single “best-practice” approach to creativity, there are some typical components. And that’s true even for diverse disciplines.

    When creativity is discussed from the perspective of the arts, it usually has a relatively individualistic, free-flowing aura. When it is applied to business, it is more commonly associated with innovation and the development of tangible (and profitable) value. Yet both stem from several similarities in general approach.

    Here are the steps of creativity. Although I listed them sequentially, the actual process is more iterative than step-by-step. In fact, there is iteration and incubation as a sub-step of most of the steps. And actually, this is the basis of the non-linear iterative process of design thinking.

    Creative Process

    The creative process has 5 main steps

    Creative Process Step 1: Frame the creative challenge

    More and more research on creativity indicates that establishing boundaries actually heightens (rather than diminishes) creativity by ensuring focus. The curiosity I mentioned in a prior post may provide several sparks in the “fuzzy front end” of creativity. But going beyond these sparks and concentrating on selected “arenas” is generally necessary for creativity to flourish. Speculate on the product or service you want to develop or improve on. Contemplate the book you want to write or sculpture you want to shape. Picture the fund-raising campaign or advertising push you want to accomplish. Visualize what you want the output of your creativity to be, and what the potential constraints are as you move forward.

    Creative Process Step 2: Gather data

    Yes, data. Creativity happens when ideas spring from other ideas. What do you know, and what new information do you still need? Determine whether other people have already explored this arena, providing partial (or even total) solutions. Are there new technologies or attitudes or marketplace shifts you can benefit from? Don’t try to collect all information before proceeding to the next step because data collection is never truly complete. But if you try to start “creating” without knowing what is already out there, you may waste a lot of energy in reinventing the wheel (and perhaps not even as good a wheel as already exists!).

    Step 2.5: Allow the data to incubate

    So far I have alluded to the activities of the conscious mind; now I want to make a shift. Your subconscious mind is always processing data and looking for new solutions to a host of puzzles and questions. If you have been vigilant in framing the challenge and absorbing appropriate stimuli, ideas will begin to grow and take form, often without your conscious awareness. Give yourself the time and freedom for that to happen.

    Creative Process Step 3: Build ideas

    Nurturing data into ideas can be an individual or collaborative effort, depending on the creative arena. This step includes a sequence of divergent and convergent thinking. Start with divergent thinking, generating as many possible solutions as possible – allow your imagination to flow freely. How many ways can you magnify or minimize, lengthen or shorten, combine or separate, or otherwise establish a reasonable approach to the creative challenge? After generating numerous ideas, work to reduce the number into a manageable few; this is the process of convergent thinking. Moving from divergent to convergent thinking may happen once or several times, as you deliberate the ideas and concepts being formed.

    Step 3.5: Allow the ideas to incubateincubate ideas

    The more complex the creative endeavor, the more time will likely be required for incubation. Remember that your subconscious mind can incubate several ideas simultaneously, even though your conscious mind can handle only one at a time.

    Creative Process Step 4: Tinker, evaluate & refine

    Creativity benefits greatly from a test-and-learn approach, when experimenting and “tinkering” with ideas, concepts and prototypes is part of the overall process. Tinkering may begin as early as the data collection step, or may occur after incubation – and may even cause you to redefine the initial problem. This step can cause a lot of frustration, so you need enough resilience to bounce back from the failures you experience while tinkering. This is also the step that forces you to confront the potential downsides of your ideas.

    Step 4.5: Allow experiments to incubate

    Whenever the tinkering and experimentation highlight significant flaws or drawbacks, it may be necessary to allow further subconscious meditation to either overcome the flaws or make a decision to either redefine the problem or table the entire creative effort.

    Creative Process Step 5: Execute

    Assuming the ideas pass the final evaluation and incubation stages, the final step of the creative process is to do something. While this may seem obvious, many ideas die before becoming tangible creative outputs. Keep motivating yourself to the end.

    There are various tools and techniques that can be used within these steps that I will cover in future posts.

    Creative autonomy: another cornerstone of creativity

    (Creative autonomy is the 5th of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

    Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
    Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
    Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
    Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
    Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
    Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
    Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
    Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

    Creative freedomThe essence of autonomy

    Which of the following in each pair is likely to be more creative?

    • Entrepreneur or salaried employee?
    • Retiree or overworked jobholder?
    • Citizen of a market economy or citizen of a totalitarian regime?

    Let’s think. The first person in each dyad has more “freedoms.” Entrepreneurs have more control over their work status. Retirees have more time flexibility. Democratic citizens have more rights. In theory that should increase their propensity toward creativity. Why? Because autonomy (or freedom) has been shown in many studies to have a positive impact on individual creativity.

    But of course, it’s not that simple. Autonomy does not cause creative output. It’s a contributing variable. Nevertheless, it’s an important factor to include in this series on creativity traits. Let’s dive into creative autonomy.

    Personal creative autonomy

    Think about the last time you experienced truly uninhibited creativity. It doesn’t matter if it was a musical or artistic effort. Or product development. Or landscaping. Just think about the emotion of being saturated with creativity. Chances are you felt in control. You didn’tCreative autonomy within organizations feel a need to ask permission. You had a vision and no one else was pulling your strings. That’s creative autonomy.

    In political parlance, autonomy means self-governance. It refers to independent countries that are free from external control or influence. Note the word external. Controls, resources and skills are still necessary to function; but they are primarily internal. Autonomy (i.e., self-governance) requires knowledge and skills to be self-sustaining. Otherwise everything falls apart.

    So it is with individuals. Autonomous individuals get things done in their own ways. But they DO get things done. They self-govern because they have several virtues. A vision to move beyond ideas. Unshakeable confidence (sometimes) and a belief in self. A broad understanding of what’s required for implementation and why.

    Balance autonomy and team creativity

    Highly autonomous individuals want to be “cut loose” from the constraints of corporate bureaucracy. They are rule-shakers rather than rule-takers. They are comfortable questioning norms and assumptions to “see what shakes out.”

    That can be a challenge for business. Companies strive to reduce risk by using templates and protocols and procedures. Yet these standard operating methods are often the constraints autonomous individuals abhor. A balance between laissez-faire and authoritarian approaches is necessary.

    Task autonomy – the degree to which individuals control how to perform creative tasks – can exist within the context of established goals and outcomes. And communication and coordination among team members must co-exist with the autonomy. Otherwise team creativity suffers.

    Increase your personal creative autonomy

    Here are  a few tips.

    1. Control your own plans and tasks. Don’t wait for others to “assign” everything to you. Identify barriers at work or home that restrict your independence. Determine what you can and can’t change. Follow through on reasonable changes.
    2. Boost your self-esteem. Stop worrying about what other people think. Don’t compare yourself to others. Avoid always surrounding yourself with people who agree with you. (While this may challenge your ego in the short term, it can boost your autonomy in the long term.)
    3. Be more positive. Compliment other people (including dissenters). Learn to graciously accept compliments, as well. This establishes a cycle of positive thinking (and/or breaks a cycle of negative thinking) that can raise your self-confidence.
    4. Do more things alone. Go to the museum, a movie, a restaurant or some other place by yourself. Observe and absorb things you might miss if you were part of a group.
    5. Be independently, spontaneously creative. Pursue something a bit outside of your comfort zone. Take responsibility for your own success. Invest in yourself through books, presentations, and tools to spark your creativity.
    6. As a rule-shaker, be aware of rules that govern your behavior. Challenge assumptions that everyone takes for granted. But also challenge yourself to be objective rather than stubborn.
    7. Maintain a do-what-it-takes work ethic. Relish achieving what others deem impossible or impractical. Even if it means creating a new path to get there. And be comfortable as an autonomous, independent thinker.
    8. Finally, once you are comfortable with autonomy, strive for a balance between individuality and conformity. Learn to communicate effectively. Listen to others. Share credit for their contributions to your creative ideas. Beware the dangers of unhealthy pride. Take care to avoid being a one-person relay race. Value the perspectives of others.

    Where to from here?

    As you observe and listen to others, you increase your perceptiveness to the world around you. I refer to that as being “tuned in,” as I’ll describe in the next post.


    Be tuned in to the world around you: creative observation

    (Creative observation is the 6th of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

    Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
    Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
    Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
    Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
    Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
    Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
    Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
    Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

    Creativity rarely, if ever, occurs in a vacuum. Rather, it comes from tuning in to what is happening around you. And tuning into creative observation demands more than just sight.

    Five sensesFeel the chair you’re sitting on. Is it hard or soft? Smooth or rough? What about your pet? Your skin? Different textures offer a fertile ground for new discoveries.

    Take a sip of water (or beer or wine!). Swish it in your mouth and pay attention to how it feels.Take a bite of food. Notice the structure and crunch and quality. How can taste help generate new ideas?

    Take a deep breath. Think about pleasant and unpleasant odors that have influenced you in your life. When have smells triggered emotions that might be tapped into as part of invention?

    Close your eyes and listen. Do you hear sirens, conversations, or silence? Are you surrounded by music? Why? Try to integrate unique sounds into creative exploration.

    Sight, touch, sound, taste and smell all play a role in observation and subsequent innovations. So, be observant using all five of your senses.

    Creative observation

    There is no one right way to do creative observation. Some people prefer to go out and experience things before researching data that might explain, affirm or expand on what they experienced. Others prefer to dig into data on trends and ideas before they go out to experience their learning. (Perhaps the former are “right-brain” and the latter are “left-brain” thinkers?) The Coursera course Creativity and Observation emphasizes the importance of observation and divergent thinking in the creative process.

    In any event, creative observation involves gathering both soft and hard data, and allowing that data to “incubate” and mature. Remember that ideas spring from other ideas. The more you observe, the more senses you use, the greater the potential for creative insights. It’s an iterative, integrative process.

    Creativity is connecting things

    Creative observation

    Well-known innovators acknowledge this stepping-stone process. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, stated: “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it; they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”

    There is a bit of serendipity in the process. The more you look for connections, the more you will be ready for them when the time is right. Henry Ford was quoted as saying: “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work … Had I worked fifty or ten or even five years before, I would have failed. So it is with every new thing. Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable.”

    Creativity is observation

    How to be a better observer

    So, how can you become more aware? Start by allowing yourself to be bored occasionally. Don’t feel compelled to spend every moment being “productive” or playing games on your cell phone when you are waiting in line or have a down moment. Stop multitasking.

    Pay attention to the people, sights, sounds, and even smells around you. Make it a habit. Listen to nearby conversations (without eavesdropping obnoxiously). Can you spot opportunities for new products, services, or solutions?

    Modify your routines

    Change your daily habits.Tune to different radio stations (or listen to different music) during your work commute. Or take alternate paths. Pay attention to sources (news, politics, sports) you don’t normally heed. Notice things you never paid attention to before. Challenge yourself to experience something unfamiliar each day – whether it’s striking up a conversation with a person you’ve just met or eating at a new restaurant.

    Become an expert

    Work to become more of an expert within the area you are trying to be creative. Listen to TED Talks (or similar sources on YouTube). Network with experts and lead users whenever you can. Look for mutual advantages within the network to keep it dynamic. Compile statistics, projections, assumptions, forecasts, expectations, and other data to inspire and inform your creative efforts. Feel free to beg, borrow and steal ideas (ethically and legally, of course!).

    Avoid NIH

    Creativity suffers when a Not-Invented-Here (NIH) attitude dominates. Don’t allow your ego to be an obstacle to new ideas. Be open to the unexpected. Creativity doesn’t just happen on command. Rather, the more you tune into the world around you, the more likely you will have provided your subconscious with the necessary stimuli to connect concepts in creative ways when the time is right.

    Where to from here?

    After your creative observation, when is the “right time” to take the next step? The time is right for creativity when you are motivated – and I’ll discuss motivation in the next post.

    Introspection: Finding your creative passion

    (Finding your Creative Passion is the 7th of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

    Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
    Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
    Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
    Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
    Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
    Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
    Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
    Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

    Introspection and self-reflectionIn prior posts I discussed curiosity and the freedom to explore and evolve creative ideas.

    But none of that matters if you don’t care. If you don’t have passion. Finding your passion requires introspection into what makes you enthusiastic. Once you understand that, you are better able to self-motivate with intrinsic rewards.

    That’s what this blog post is about. Creative passion. Introspection. And intrinsic motivations.

    Creative passion

    I have two distinct millennial daughters. The oldest is a zoo keeper (beach photo) and the youngest (smiling faces photo) is a tech project manager. They share a lot of the same genes and had a similar upbringing. But they have different interests and abilities. Very different.

    Finding your creative passionFinding your creative passion





    Scott Barry Kaufman raises an interesting point in his Psychology Today article,  Genius, Genes and Gusto: How Passions Find You. “Between 22 and 36 percent of the differences in creative achievement in the arts and sciences may be explained by natural endowment.” That means a lot of creative passion is due to things other than genetics.

    Creative passion refers an extreme desire. It’s a hunger or a craving to have or do something. According to Malini Mohana in PsychCentral’s The Motivated Mind: Where Our Passion & Creativity Comes From:

    “The word itself, ‘passion,’ derives from the Latin root ‘pati’ — which means ‘to suffer.’ The veracity in this linguistic statement lies in the fact that passion is what moves you to persevere at something despite fear, unhappiness or pain. It is the determination and motivation to push through suffering for the sake of an end goal.”

    It’s interesting to note that passion is derived from the word for suffer. I remember my mother frequently saying, “no pains, no gains; no sacrifices, no rewards.” I learned a lot of things by living that motto during my career. Creativity may require pain and sacrifice. And occasionally the need to take risks. That’s all part of creative passion.

    As cellist Yo-Yo Ma stated, “Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.”

    Passion fuels creativityIntrospection: Finding your Creative Passion

    Creative passion fuels creativity. But have you taken the time to discover your own passion? Some people are spontaneously passionate. Others need to work to find their passions. That’s where introspection comes in.

    According to Wikipedia, introspection is the examination of your thoughts and feelings. But it’s more than simply “knowing thyself” (which can, in fact, have a negative effect on mental well-being).  Healthy introspection is self-reflection with a future focus and self-acceptance. It helps you differentiate between passion and obsession. Between superficiality and substance. Unhealthy introspection is spiraling rumination about the past, with an oversized focus on limitations. It can become obsessive and superficial. While knowing your limits is necessary, it’s less helpful as a propellant for creative energy.

    As Oprah Winfrey said in The Secret to Finding Your Passion, “Passion can’t be found in your head because it lives in your heart.” Actually, I believe you need both head and heart to identify your passion triggers. Here are a few starting points about being introspective for creativity.

    Rethink childhood memories

    Children often manifest their passions by how they play. What did you absolutely love doing while you were growing up? Drawing? Singing? Competing? Building? Something else? Try to feel the excitement, intensity and joy you had from those experiences. Tap into that buzz.

    Remember when you made time flyTime flies when you are in flow

    Think about times you’ve been completely lost in what you were doing. When you were so absorbed and immersed that you lost track of time.  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi refers to this as flow, or completely focused motivation. It’s in your heart, but you need to identify it in your head.

    What is it that gives you this sense of flow? Do you enjoy the process of rebuilding old cars? Or get excited supporting a social cause? Perhaps you relish solving mathematical algorithms? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment after completing a strategic plan? Are you driven more by a need for self-expression or a need to find solutions? Answer these questions thoughtfully. Creativity is more likely to happen when you are in flow.

    Retrace your educational offerings

    People are attracted to certain topics more than others. What attracted you to non-mandatory high school or college classes? Which company-sponsored workshops interested you? Have any events at libraries, convention centers and other local meeting places sparked your interest? Look for a theme or pattern in your interests.

    Find connections in leisure activities

    I really enjoy bike riding. Not racing or competing, but simply escaping my day-to-day concerns. I appreciate landscaping for the same reason. So, what’s the pattern? I realized my passion wasn’t exactly biking or gardening. While I enjoy both activities, the truth is they provided the opportunity for me to plan and organize writing ideas in my head. That was the true passion.

    Make a list of your leisure activities. Consider favorite books and movies. Level of sports participation. Volunteer efforts. Is there a common denominator that highlights your creative passion?

    Make room for yourself

    We live in a world of continuous partial attention. Multitasking is the norm. Yet disconnecting and slowing down is valuable for finding your creative passion. In “Can 10 Minutes of Meditation Make You More Creative?” three Harvard Business Review authors explain how mindfulness meditation can help get your mojo back when you’ve lost your zeal.

    Then remove distractions. Clear your desk. Mute your cell phone. Suppress the urge to check email, respond to messages or clean your garage. Train yourself to focus on the creative task for as long as possible before taking a break or shifting to non-creative work.

    Next, envision your environment. Do you become more creative when you are in solitude? Or when you are surrounded by people? Are you more of a sunrise or a sunset type of person? Do you need quiet? Or does background music help you think? What kind of music? These are all introspective efforts to define your creative passion. Your personal motivators.

    Passion is an intrinsic motivator

    Passion fuels creativityThe euphoria you get when engaged in something you find meaningful is an intrinsic motivator or reward. Passion is the fuel of creativity. Decades of research have shown that creativity increases when people are “intrinsically motivated by the interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself.”

    Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, refers to incentives, rewards, or penalties that are external to the individual. They are not similarly effective for stimulating creativity. In fact, people may become less creative when provided with external motivation for a task they already enjoy because they begin to externalize the motivation. Dan Pink, in his TED talk on “The Puzzle of Motivation,” provides a solid case for the value of intrinsic over extrinsic motivation for creative efforts.

    You are more likely to be intrinsically self-motivated (in flow) when you are involved with a task or project you are passionate about. Even if you are not enthusiastic about every aspect of a project, look for specific parts that interest you.

    Where to from here?

    In addition to creative passion, part of your motivation will come from your dreams and visions, as I will discuss in the next post.