Can you learn to be more creative?

Filament light bulb in the dark

At our recent Security Sessions meeting, Stuart Mayell talked to us all about how creativity isn’t for the few but is, in fact, a skill that is open to all. It’s about how we perceive ‘creativity’ and whether we can open ourselves up to the potential that creativity really is problem solving – something we all do frequently in our ever-changing work environments.

Stuart is a Creative Director with 24 years of undimmed curiosity about the world. His insights, innovation and ideas have opened up opportunities for hundreds of clients and been recognised with multiple awards, including a Cannes Lion. He believes that creativity, far from being the preserve of a select few, is a skill that we all possess but use too infrequently. Outside of commercial practice, he teaches planning and creative campaigns at the University of Westminster, and has trained hundreds of people in practical skills to better innovate and problem-solve.

Here is an overview of the presentation he gave. Obviously it’s better delivered in person so if you’re after an injection of creativity for your team, you should get Stuart in to challenge some of the existing thought processes and see if he can bring a new edge to your campaigns.

 

“Creativity is not facile. Creativity is not just for the arts. Creativity is the means by which our future is built. Without curiosity we would still live in the ignorant darkness of the cave.

The World Economic Forum places complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity as the three most important skills for tomorrow’s workplace, with creativity the biggest mover in the list, leaping from 10th to 3rd in five years.

As educational pioneer Sir Ken Robinson observes, Fortune 500 companies are seeking: “People who can be innovative, who can think differently.”

These vital skills can be effectively taught, but only within a framework that understands and can equip people to thrive in the creative economy.

When was the last time you were creative? Too few people have confidence in their ability to innovate, which some commentators believe is the result of an education system focused on results at the expense of creative thinking.

So what to do? Reclaim creativity for everyone. It’s the everyday tool for solving life’s challenges.

In his polemic on creativity, How to Steal Fire, Stephen Bayley recounts one of his best creative ideas. But despite being one of the greats of advertising, his idea was to solve a commercial contract dispute. A lawyer can be as creative as a legendary ad-man.

Einstein is rightly lauded as one of the most creative minds of the 20th century but he was a patent clerk and part-time scientist. Hardly our modern-day cliché of the creative type.

What then is creativity? At its heart its problem-solving. But, of course, there’s more to it than that. The best creative people are curious, questioning, inquisitive. The restless belief that better is possible – a better way to communicate, to bake a cake, to raise a child, to sell a product, to keep people or property safe.

When was the last time you questioned the wisdom of something at work? Thought there must be a better way? You were being creative all along!

Some of Britain’s greatest creatives argue that briefing and strategic planning are the first creative impulses. The creative brief for advertising is to inspire – it’s an advert for an advertisement.

We can’t all be Einstein. It’s unhelpful to even think so. Where then should we put ourselves and everyone else in the Pantheon of creatives? Dr. James C. Kaufman and Dr. Ronald Beghetto identified four developmental levels of creativity which they named the ‘Four Cs of creativity’ and here are the cast of characters:

 

The Mini-c level of creativity
Creativity is inherent in learning. Any time one attempts a new task, there is a level of creativity involved. At the mini-c level of creativity, what one creates might not be revolutionary but it is new and meaningful to them.
Example: A child making a cupcake

The Little-c level of creativity
The little-c level of creativity reflects an aspect of growth from the mini-c level. With appropriate feedback, advancements are made and what was created might be of value to others.
Example: The everyday home cook

The Pro-c level of creativity
At this level, one has the ability to be creative at a professional level and in a professional venue. At this point, one would have had many years of deliberate practice and training. Not everyone at the Pro-c level can make a living with their creative pursuit; however, it is generally the goal of those at this level to support themselves doing something they love.
Example: Nigella Lawson – by her own admission a ‘cook rather than a chef’.

The Big-C level of creativity
Those at the Big-C level will be remembered in the history books. The Big-C level includes an evaluation of one’s entire career and entire body of work and then evaluates the entire body of work against other great contributors and decides where one fits in.
Example: Auguste Escoffier – the ‘Chef of Kings and King of Chefs’

Creativity isn’t stupid or silly. It isn’t the preserve of artists. It led us from an age of darkness to an age of enlightenment. Creativity is the cornerstone of the 21st century economy. Nurture your creative thoughts or you’ll be in line for robot redundancy. And I refuse to bow to the wisdom of Metal Mickey.”

 

Creativity Exercise

To start to learn how to be more creative, you can try this lateral-thinking exercise. Identify a problem you’d like to explore potential solutions to. In this example, we’re going to look at climate change.Then identify two parameters that could impact this. We chose 2 parameters which could impact climate change. Under each parameter draw a vertical line and, for each parameter, write five factors which could influence behaviour. Finally, look at both columns, which now feature two potentially diverse concepts and see what ideas these spark in your brain.

Looking at it in this way showed us that growing people’s knowledge might impact industry reputation, that people’s need for evidence could drive or damage industry’s commercial interest, and even that a lack of knowledge could impact an industry’s ability to future-proof.

There are lots more connections between the two columns, but it was going to start getting messy and we wanted to get the point across about how the system works! And how quickly it helps you to see opportunities and ideas that otherwise might have been overlooked. Don’t forget, this was a one-person activity and took about 3 minutes. Imagine how much more productive using it in a brainstorm could be.

Doing this a couple of times for each problem, using different sets of parameters each time, gives you a better chance of looking at it from all sides and considering all the options. Give it a try next time you’re looking for a creative solution.

And if you’re inspired to find out more about how education impacts creativity, you could start by viewing https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms

Drop Stuart an email if you could do with some creative direction on any of your projects.