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Creativity, how it’s really done

Creativity is not a carnival

“In fact, creativity is not about carnival hats and funny dances, it is about slowing down the process and diving deep into the problem.”

There seems to exist an assumption that the world of creativity is carnivalesque, with unusual or absurd characters, overly energetic personalities, funny dances, out-of-this-world behaviour and rather strange music. In fact, people who create successfully know this isn’t the case (most of the time) and that the process has to do with slowing down and diving deep into the problem.

Chew on it

The kind of creativity, that we as designers use, should certainly be goal-oriented, but it is not a checklist process. Creativity should start from the problem and results in new and valuable concepts, objects, or solutions.

To do creativity well takes time: you must chew on the problem for a while. Depending on the complexity of the problem, this chewing could take a couple of hours, a couple of weeks or even months.

The good thing is that you don’t need to think about the problem constantly. At certain moments, you dive deep into the problem to understand it thoroughly, examine all the angles and really capture the essence of the issue. Then, your brain gets going and you think of all types of solutions that evoke a cascade of new problems or even worse, solutions that already exist. You’re stuck.

That is the moment to let go and literally sleep on it. Insight tends to strike unexpectedly, often at moments of little intellectual activity, like when you take a shower or drive your car. Then, you take this thread and start chewing again until you get stuck again.

Getting stuck a second, third, fourth or even fifth time can be very frustrating and cause sleepless nights, but experienced creative types know that a workable solution always emerges.

Stay in problem space

Let’s go back to this chewing idea a bit more. When faced with a problem, people tend to jump too quickly from the problem space to the solution space. Especially when you’re supposed to be a ‘specialist’. When working on creativity, it is important to leave your expertise at the door and remember not to jump to conclusions.

It is important as well not to jump into classic corporate workflows. A problem can be identified too quickly, drawn on a flow chart, discussed during a ten-minute conference call, put on a PowerPoint slide, crunched out of an Excel sheet and sent out into the world by email.

But we are talking here about Radical Design and change, so we are looking outside of the normal everyday routine. And when we work in this space, it is clear that we need to stay longer in the problem space. Understanding a problem thoroughly leads to better solutions in a shorter time.

Switch between individual and collective work

Creativity comes in many forms. Some people are creative when they are alone, while others need interaction. Being creative in a group requires confidence and positivity. In a secure and positive environment, a collective train of thoughts will emerge which allows people to build on each others’ ideas, change perspectives, find new angles, and connect ideas.
From experience, we know that switching between individual and collective work works.

Get your hands dirty

Creativity is not only about thinking. It is a good idea to get your hands dirty, so to speak – acting, making prototypes, role playing, walking through the process, sketching… All these elements bring a richer understanding to the issue at hand.


Read more

This article is an excerpt from our upcoming book Create Meaningful Stuff. It deals with the question: how do we, as business leaders, entrepreneurs, designers, engineers and marketers create products and services that add value to our lives, that are smart, sustainable and meaningful? If you enjoyed reading this article, make sure you follow our blog for more excerpts or updates on our book.

tags    Book , creativity