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Promoting creativity

Author: Dr Simon Moss


Individuals often want to become more creative. That is, they would like to generate ideas, insights, and solutions that are both novel and useful (Amabile, 1983& Paulus & Nijstad, 2003& Sternberg &Lubart, 1999). Specifically, they strive to generate numerous ideas, called fluency, ensure these suggestions differ from conventional practices, called originality, and attempt to present a broad diversity of solutions, called flexibility (Guilford, 1967 & Torrance, 1966).

Apart from resolving problems effectively (Mumford & Gustafson, 1988), creativity enables individuals to benefit from changes in technology and society as well as withstand the complications of these adjustments (Runco, 2004).

Defining the problem

Contemplating future aspirations

Step 1. Individuals should first define the problem they would like to solve. In particular, individuals should reflect upon the hopes and aspirations they would like to achieve in the distant future--perhaps 1 to 5 years from now--if they resolve a particular issue (see Regulatory focus theory).

For example, perhaps a team of employees who manufacture light globes needs to increase sales& market share might have diminished dramatically. Members of the workgroup should reflect upon some of the aspirations they could fulfill if they overcome this problem. In a team meeting, some members might highlight their aspiration to save energy whereas other members might emphasize their goal to provide advice to government.

When individuals reflect upon the aspirations they would like to achieve in the future, their thoughts tend to be more abstract rather than concrete. That is, they reflect upon intangible concepts rather than observable details. Accordingly, after they reflect upon their aspirations in the future (Forster, Friedman, & Liberman, 2004 & Friedman & Forster, 2001) individuals can explore a broader diversity of avenues to solve problems.

Identifying possible skills and strategies

Step 2. Individuals should then reflect upon the skills, knowledge, or processes that could assist in the resolution of this problem. That is, they should contemplate the skills they need to acquire, abilities they need to develop, knowledge they need to accumulate, strategies they need to implement, and tactics they need to apply to fulfill their aspirations. For example, to enhance sales and conserve energy, individuals might feel they need to curb their anxiety while speaking.

Employees whose primary goal is to develop their skills and expertise--rather than outperform other individuals--are especially likely to be creative at work (Janssen & Van Yperen, 2004 & see Goal orientation). That is, some individuals strive to demonstrate, not enhance, their competence. For example, they individuals strive to outperform other individuals or exceed some objective standard. These individuals focus their attention on external sources of information, such as the behavior of rivals, not their own feelings, intuitions, sensations, and experiences, which tends to undermine their creativity.

Recalling injustices

Step 3. Individuals should then consider some injustices--or other images or thoughts that provoke anger--that relate to this problem. For example, perhaps the sales of their rival has improved recently, and this observation provokes anger because this competitor acts unethically. Next, they should again reflect upon more skills, knowledge, or processes that could assist in the resolution of this problem. Anger enables individuals to identify more skills or strategies that could facilitate their goals.

When individuals feel anger, they often think more persistently and flexibly (De Dreu, Baas, & Nijstad, 2008). That is, emotions that reflect action, such as anger or excitement, seem to increase the capacity of individuals to consider several issues and concepts simultaneously, ultimately facilitating flexibility. Furthermore, emotions that are unpleasant often augment persistence and determination.

In short, these activities ensure that individuals clarify the skills, knowledge, and abilities they need to develop--as well as the strategies, tactics, and practices they should apply--to achieve their aspirations and resolve the immediate problem.

Generating a diversity of possible ideas

After individuals have clarified opportunities to fulfill their aspirations and resolve immediate problems, they strive to generate a broad variety of possible solutions. Their objective, at this stage, is usually to suggest a diversity of ideas rather than focus on the utility or feasibility of their solutions.

Reflecting upon unique and collective strengths or attributes

Step 1. Individuals should consider some of their unique strengths, qualities, or values that could be applied to develop the skills, as well as to implement the strategies, they believe could facilitate the resolution of some problem and the achievement of their aspirations. That is, they should identify some of the skills, knowledge, or resources they have acquired but do not share with colleagues or competitors. Alternatively, they could reflect upon their personal interests or hobbies. Perhaps, for example, they have learnt about a meditation technique that alleviates anxiety, which can ultimately facilitate sales and resolve one of their problems.

When individuals perceive themselves as unique, they feel independent. They do not feel the need to conform to the practices and customers of this group--a need that sometimes curbs creativity (Goncalo & Staw, 2006 & see also Lee, Aaker, & Gardner, 2000 & see Self construal theory).

Step 2. Although not essential, individuals could also be encouraged to specify the various groups to which they belong, such as female, engineer, and Asian. Next, they should identify the favorable stereotypes of this group that could also be applied to develop the skills, as well as to implement the strategies, they need to achieve their goals. This information can be used to extend the strategies or practices that plan to implement.

Perhaps, for example, individuals could reflect upon the perception that engineers are intelligent. When individuals reflect upon the favorable stereotypes of their group, their anxiety dissipates and their creativity therefore improves (Seibt & Forster, 2004).

Past events

Step 3. Individuals should be asked to imagine previous occasions in which they needed to solve similar problems. Second, they should identify acts they should have undertaken, but did not, that could have improved their performance on these tasks. They should not attempt to identify one or two acts they undertook that perhaps they could have omitted.

After some event, such as a failed venture, individuals often contemplate the outcomes that could have emerged had they acted differently. If they consider additional acts they should have conducted, their capacity to generate many possible solutions to solve issues is enhanced (Markman, Lindberg, Kray, & Galinsky, 2007).Specifically, when individuals attempt to identify additional acts they should have conducted, a specific mechanism is activated. This mechanism identifies concepts that are only remotely associated with the current thought, primarily to generate a broad range of solutions and ideas.

In contrast, when individuals attempt to identify acts they should have shunned, a different mechanism is activated. This mechanism considers how specific acts or concepts are related to particular outcomes, using a series of rules or algorithms, thus promoting analytical thinking.

Ideally, individuals should also reflect upon similar problems they---or someone else---needed to solve in other locations, preferably far away. When individuals associate a problem with a distant location, their solutions tend to be more creative. They can solve problems more insightfully. The direction of attention to distant times or locations shifts their focus from specific details and thus improves the flexibility of their thinking (Jia, Hirt, & Kapen, 2009).

Romantic settings

Step 4. Individuals should next form a vivid image of their ideal romantic event. Specifically, they should imagine an idyllic setting--perhaps strolling along the shore, during a hike, or in an exotic market perhaps--with their actual or potential life partner. They should then reflect upon some skills, strategies, products, services, or other ideas that could, hypothetically, optimize their enjoyment during this event.

To illustrate, suppose employees decide to introduce a fresh and youthful product to enhance sales. They could then be asked to reflect upon the question: can you think of a product that you purchase that would improve a potential or actual romantic partner.

After individuals imagine a date or engagement with a person they regard as physically attractive, their creativity and originality improves (Griskevicius, Cialdini, & Kenrick, 2006)--an inclination that is especially pronounced in males. This tendency applies to females, provided they imagine a person who is also trustworthy and reliable. In addition, relative to individuals who contemplate casual sex for several moments, individuals who contemplate a loving relationship become especially creative (Forster, Epstude, & Ozelsel, 2009 & see also Construal level theory).

This phenomenon arises because individuals evolved to demonstrate their creativity to attract members of the opposite sex. Throughout evolution, this creativity has been regarded as a symbol that demonstrates they are adaptive and stable. Individuals are especially likely to act creatively when they feel playful and relaxed (Hirt, Devers, & McCrea, 2008).

Furthermore, whenever individuals attempt to uncover a series of ideas, they should follow two principles, if possible. . First, they should specify the number of possible solutions they would like to generate, perhaps 10 or 20. That is, they should set a challenging, but realistic, target. Second, they should be prepared to embrace odd, unusual, and playful ideas rather than feeling the need to optimize their solutions. Specific targets, coupled with complete acceptance of all suggestions, has been shown to enhance creativity (Litchfield, 2009).

Step 5.. While you uncover the ideas, every ten minutes or so, you should impose some constraint on the solutions. You might, for example, seek solutions that begin with a vowel or correspond to brown objects.

Research has verified the benefits of these constraints. In one study, participants were instructed to construct objects with LEGO pieces (Pike, 2002). A few constraints were imposed on some of the participants: These individuals were told, for instance, to restrict themselves to a specific class of LEGO pieces and to avoid right angles between joints. No constraints were imposed on other participants. When the constraints were imposed, the constructions were more creative and less conventional.

Friendship rather than power

Step 6. Individuals should attempt to identify possible solutions or practices that could improve relationships between colleagues or customers. That is, most of the suggestions and ideas should relate to consolidating or forming friendships rather than seeking power and influence.

When individuals feel motivated to develop strong social bonds, rather than pursue power and influence, their capacity to identify concepts that are only remotely associated--a capacity that facilitates the generation of ideas--improves. Specifically, when individuals feel motivated to develop strong social bonds, the right hemisphere of their brain is more likely to be activated. This hemisphere can more readily uncover remote associations between concepts or objects, such as "goat", "top", and "pass". For example, when this hemisphere is activated, individuals can more readily ascertain that all three words relate to a mountain (Kuhl & Kazen, 2008).

Other exercises that broaden attention

Step 3. To improve creativity, individuals should attempt to devote their attention simultaneously to as many objects and features as possible. If they are sitting in the office, they should attempt to observe a window, desk, lamp, and indeed many other objects, both inside and outside the room concurrently. They should then attempt to uncover patterns. They might, for example, recognize that some of the objects, when combined, form a pentagon.

When individuals direct their attention to many objects, a diversity of concepts is evoked in their mind, perhaps unconsciously. This diversity of concepts enhances creativity (Friedman, Fishbach, Forster, & Werth, 2003 & see Scope of attention).

Integrating divergent concepts

Step 8. Next, individuals should attempt to identify two concepts that seem as different as possible. For example, if they need to develop a new detergent, they should skim the solutions they uncovered earlier or scan the room to identify concepts that are entirely unrelated to this item, such as "tree". They should then consider how the second term, in this instance "tree", might characterize some property of the first concept, in this instance "detergent". Perhaps a "tree detergent" could be detergent that ensures plants are sparkling. That is, the term "tree" characterizes one property of the detergent--the use--and these combinations tends to be easily to comprehend, which is likely to facilitate marketing (Gill & Duke, 2007).

To illustrate, consider the concept of a "zebra clam", which most likely implies a clam with stripes. In this instance, a property of the first concept modifies the second concept--a property of zebras, the stripes, modifies the clams. These combinations are difficult to comprehend, especially when a function of the first concept is applied to the second concept, such as "camera phone" (Gill & Duke, 2007).

In contrast, sometimes the first word is used to characterize some property of the second word. An example might be "mountain stream". In this instance, a property of the mountain is not applied to the stream. Instead, in this example, mountain refers to the location of this stream--that is, characterizes some property of the stream. Another example might be "tennis shoes", in which tennis characterizes the use or function of this shoe. These combinations can be interpreted more rapidly (Gill & Duke, 2007).

Selecting ideas to pursue

After individuals generate a diversity of potential solutions, they need to select some of the best solutions and then refine or optimize these solutions.

In a team setting, a manager or leader should summarize, but only briefly, some of the potential ideas and initiatives that were offered. They might outline the skills that could be acquired, practices that could be applied, solutions that could be considered, and products that could be created to solve their problems.

To decide which subset of solutions to pursue, some individuals consider each option methodically and systematically, comparing the merits and drawbacks of every alternative. Other individuals, in contrast, merely trust their first instincts. Both of these inclinations generate unsuitable decisions--decisions that individuals tend to regret.

In particular, methodical analysis disregard key but subtle issues, especially when the alternatives differ on many characteristics (Dijksterhuis, Bos, Nordgren, & Van Baaren, 2007& Dijksterhuis & van Olden, 2006). The first instinct is often incorrect as well, even though students are often instructed, albeit incorrectly, to trust their first impression during multiple choice exams (Kruger, Wirtz, & Miller, 2005). Instead, you should highlight the best decisions are reached when individuals contemplate the options briefly, distract themselves for several minutes, and then trust their intuition (Dijksterhuis & van Olden, 2006)

Step 1. Individuals should be asked to recall instances in which they acted suitably but without careful consideration. Individuals are also more inclined to trust their intuition, rather than reflect upon issues systematically and obsessively, after they recall an instance in which they acted spontaneously but appropriately (Avnet & Higgins, 2003 & see also Regulatory mode).

This discussion and exercise introduces a delay after the summary of various courses of action. As a consequence, individuals should now be ready to express their intuitive preferences--the courses of action they instinctively feel would be most valuable.

Step 2. In a team setting, each individual should identify a subset of solutions they feel should be pursued in more detail--perhaps the best 5 or 6 suggestions. They should not justify their decision, but instead be asked to trust their intuition.

Each individual should express their preferences. Then, after this process, individuals should be then instructed to express a more specific subset--perhaps the best 2 or 3 suggestions. The intuition of individuals might change marginally after they hear the responses of everyone else.

Refining ideas

Finally, individuals need to refine the subset of solutions they plan to implement--strategies, tactics, products, or services they would like to introduce.

Exposure to many facts

Step 1. Individuals should attempt to read articles or webpages that, at least partly, relate to the solutions they plan to implement. If they would like to participate in mediation, for example, they could read about this exercise in Wikipedia for example. They should collect 4 or 5interesting facts they discover. Later, in a team setting, they should share these facts with everyone else.

After employees read a list of 60 or so unrelated factors, their creativity and capacity to solve problems improves significantly (Clapham, 2001). This material activates numerous mental, but unconscious, concepts and images in the reader. Subsequently, when this reader strives to resolve some issue, they inadvertently consider a diversity of concepts, objects, domains, and events.

Ambivalent feelings

Step 1. For each possible solution, such as participating in meditation, individuals should imagine one benefit and one problem that could arise simultaneously. Perhaps meditation could be relaxing but consume their money. They should maintain these two images for a while. Finally, they should identify solutions that could overcome this problem.

The capacity of individuals to uncover creative, novel, and effective solutions to solve problems improves after they reflect upon an event that provokes ambivalent feelings (Fong, 2006). Specifically, some events, such as graduating from university, leaving home, watching a touching comedies, or receiving a prize that is not as grand as anticipated foster ambivalent feelings--simultaneous joy and sadness. When individuals experience ambivalence, they sense the environment is unusual, characterized by a unique combination of events. To accommodate this unusual amalgamation of events, the mind of humans has evolved to think more creatively. In particular, individuals become more inclined to combine and integrate diverse concepts and thoughts, promoting more original insights.

Step 2.. Sometimes, even after these mental activities, individuals would still like to refine and diversify their solutions to a greater extent. In this circumstance, individuals could engage in aerobic exercise for a while, perhaps 30 minutes, and then consider as well as extend their suggestions again. Aerobic exercise has been shown to enhance creativity, and this benefit lasts at least two hours (Blanchette, Ramocki, O'Del, & Casey, 2005).

Cultivating workplaces that foster creativity

Physical environment

Step 1. To promote creativity, organizations should introduce objects or patterns that highlight a sense of deviance. For example, in an office in which creativity needs to be enhanced, all but one desk could be arranged in a uniform pattern. Likewise, pictures that portray punks or other individuals who depict originality or deviance should be attached to walls. These provisions, however, should not be introduced in offices in which compliance needs to be improved or maintained.

Objects or persons that represent deviance--such as posters with a pattern in which all but one object are aligned and the same color or photographs of punks--are more likely to promote creativity and ultimately innovation (Pendry & Carrick, 2008 & Forster, Friedman, Butterbach, & Sassenberg, 2005). To illustrate, consider a poster in an organization in which 16Xs are arranged in a matrix of 4 rows and 4 columns. Suppose that 15 of these Xs are black and one X is white. This anomalous X activates unconscious thoughts in employees that relate to deviance and originality. The activation of these thoughts fosters novel solutions and thus creative suggestions.

Step 2. When individuals need to solve complex problems, they often experience an impasse. They momentarily feel they might be unable to solve the problem. During such times. Individuals should distract themselves from this task for several minutes or even hours.

When they return to the problem, , individuals should place a lamp with an exposed globe near the desk or workspace. Indeed, the globe should be visible from the location at which the individuals attempt the problem. They should turn on the lamp as they attempt this problem again. When individuals work near a light bulb, they can more readily solve problems that demand a sudden insight. Individuals often associate light bulbs with a moment of clarity& these bulbs thus facilitate insight (Slepian, Weisbuch, Rutnick, Newman, & Ambady, 2010).

Performance management

Step 2. During an appraisal of performance, the extent to which employees have developed skills and introduced key strategies or processes should be the main focus of conversation. That is, overall evaluations should not depend appreciably on their achievement, but on the knowledge, skills, and abilities they have developed and the strategies, tactics, and practices they have introduced to improve.

When individuals focus on developing, not demonstrating, their competence, they also feel that intelligence and ability on their tasks is malleable not fixed. When employees evaluate their own behavior, the concern that perhaps they might not perform well distracts their attention and thus disrupts their concentration and creativity. These individuals are less likely to feel concerned or ashamed, however, if told that performance tends to improve markedly with practice (Silvia & Phillips, 2004).

Allocation to teams

Step 3. To enhance the creativity of project teams, the membership of each workgroup should change regularly. Furthermore, other changes could perhaps foster creativity, such as variations in the location of meetings.

Project teams are more likely to uncover creative, novel ideas if the membership of this workgroup varies frequently rather than infrequently (Choi & Thompson, 2005). Even the individuals who remain in the team over longer periods of time are more creative after other members join or leave the team. When a new person joins a team, the entrenched assumptions and thoughts of each individual are less likely to be activated. The new person activates different memories, emotions, and thoughts in everyone else, increasing the likelihood of a novel suggestion or solution.

Step 4. Individuals who seem extraverted and stable rather than introverted or anxious are especially suited to teams in which suggestions are evaluated carefully and harshly. That is, harsh evaluations tend to compromise the creativity of individuals. However, these evaluations are less likely to undermine the creativity of individuals who are extraverted, sociable, bold, composed, and stable (Chamorro--Premuzic &Reichenbacher, 2008).


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Last Update: 5/15/2016