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Collective Creativity

Totem-Creativity 400x265Is creativity a collective effort?  How do we create creativity?

A recent article published in the British Psychological Society (BPS) Magazine ‘The Psychologist’, suggests creativity may be more about teamwork than individual genius.  Is that a viable idea, and if so, how can we make the most of it at work?

Finding an idea that makes a company grow rapidly, or saves the company millions – that’s gold dust.

Finding the sort of creative genius who comes up with ideas like that – perhaps that’s even more rare.  Or is this idea of a few, wonderful creative types coming up with all the great ideas, a bit misleading?  Research quoted by the BPS suggests that those moments of creative genius are outcomes of favourable circumstances and strong collaboration.  Most great innovations have one name marked against them, followed by a team of collaborators.

The 2012 movie about the creative genius of Alfred Hitchcock depicted the important role of his wife Alma Reville.  The teamwork between the pair was apparently critical in developing the movies that shocked and impressed audiences.  Steve Jobs is the one name put to the rise and rise of Apple – yet his team of innovators is expansive.

And when we think of personal examples of creativity and innovation – big or small – we usually find one idea sparked, with plenty of support to build it into a reality.

Whilst there’s no doubt that certain people are indeed creative wonders, this research does point to a brighter opportunity for businesses.  Rather than waiting or hoping for a creative genius to come along, companies can encourage collaboration and sharing in order to grow their creative output.

Of course that’s not necessarily a simple thing to do, as the research with actors in improvisation highlights that you need each person to be focused on working as part of the team – not out for their own success.  That can be a real challenge in what is often seen to be a high pressure situation: The creative brainstorm.  Egos, concerns over saying the wrong thing, wanting to look good, not wanting to fail – all of that noise will get in the way of strong creative collaboration.

Totem Gummi Bears

What can we do with this information?

Creating a safe space for people to leave their egos, fears and concerns at the door, would be really quite useful for encouraging creativity.  Easier said than done.

If we know that more creativity can come from groups who are focused on the team and effectively collaborating, than that is definitely a starting point.  We need to consider how our organisational culture promotes the individual ego, the drive for personal achievement and how we respond to failure.  If we ask a few people how things work around here – do they talk about teamwork, true collaboration and a focus on learning from failure?  Or do they talk about hardworking silos of people who do everything they can to succeed and hate to admit or explore (“dwell on”) failure.

Before jumping into the brilliant tools out there for getting the creativity flowing, it seems it’s critical for us to explore and challenge the culture in the business.  How we respond to someone’s crazy idea or failure could make or break creativity before it begins.