The creativity conundrum

Creative and creativity are loaded and misused terms.  If you had asked me six months ago what they meant I would have quoted Alice from Dilbert:

I’ve come a long way in my understanding since then. However, the science is still immature and a number of questions remain incompletely answered: Who has it? Can it be developed? How can organisations use it to innovate and compete? And what exactly does it mean?

A large part of my work over the last decade has been helping groups solve problems.  These range from relatively trivial single-solution problems to complex wicked problems with no right answer.  Over the years I’ve noticed in many individuals a range of reactions to different problem solving approaches requiring creative thought.  Some revel in the activity while others experience deep discomfort. They become withdrawn, frustrated or even angry, disrupting the session and leading to group disfunction.

I can’t do it

I hear them rationalise their behaviour with statements like, “I can’t think like this” or “Thinking outside the box is really difficult for me”.  I had come to believe that maybe some people just aren’t able to think creatively.

I wondered which people? Is there a pattern? Wouldn’t it be useful to predict reactions to differing thinking activities based on individual differences?

And so it was that I came to study the “Impact of cognitive style on preference for creative problem solving technique” for my Henley MBA dissertation. Catchy title.

The experience was fascinating. I now truly understand the phrase “reading around a subject”. I delved deep into the academic and practitioner literature on creativity, problem solving and personality traits. It was incredibly hard work but I gained insights into my own creative self-belief that are invaluable.

What next? 

The results of my study surprised me and don’t fit with much existing theory. I’ve been encouraged to publish these findings so others can benefit from this research which is exciting.

I want to learn more.  And I want to help others understand and apply this knowledge. There are so many myths and misconceptions surrounding creativity and problem-solving that are limiting us.

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Rob is a consultant, technologist, facilitator and outdoorsman. He lives with his wife in Henley-on-Thames.

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