Bringing back the genius with Petals of Creativity
There’s a great deal of evidence to suggest that we’re actually all born geniuses. By genius we mean a person who displays exceptional creative ability, or divergent thinking. Ken Robinson gives an outstanding account of this in the video here (click forward to 7mins40 if you’re tight on time and just want the relevant bit).
But by the time we’ve become young adults, our linear and regimented education system has taken its toll, we’ve learned that there is one right answer to every question and we have been strongly encouraged to stick with that. So when our employer one day tells us they want us to be creative, to innovate, to think outside the box or brainstorm – we can face a pretty serious challenge.
Aside from not having developed skills and practice in creative thinking, we also face the challenge of our lazy brains. It’s a good thing that our brains are lazy and operate on auto-pilot most of the time, because otherwise we’d be reaching burnout many times per day. We know our route to work, how to drive the car, how to interact with colleagues in an appropriate way (sometimes!) and how to get routine jobs done.
The issue is that when we are confronted with a new challenge, we go into that same autopilot response. We subconsciously jump in rapid speed to something in our past that has worked before – and that becomes our solution.
Someone slightly more reflective might come up with two or three ideas to consider – but again these come to mind quite quickly based on previous experiences and our beliefs. We analytically select the most promising approach based on our past experiences, and we have our best solution.
This paints a bleak picture – we have been trained not to think in a divergent or lateral way, and our brains are so quick to come up with an autopilot answer anyway, creativity is going to be a struggle.
There are thankfully well researched tools and ideas that can help us, by giving us a structure or framework for stepping out of our usual ways of thinking. The creative thinking tools split into two types: One encourages you to think of lots of very different ideas, encouraging associative thinking; whilst the other encourages you to really drill down into a particular theme, investigate your assumptions and move beyond them. This second type is great for really interrogating an issue or problem – and the Lotus Flower technique is one of the most powerful.
Originally developed by Yasuo Matsumura of Clover Management Research in Chiba City, Japan, the Lotus flower technique helps you to organise your thinking around significant themes, starting with a central subject and expanding into themes. Just like a flower opens to reveal more of its scent and its bloom, so this exercise enables us to fully appreciate and explore the creative opportunities inherent in a particular problem.
Round 1: Place an open question in the centre of the flower and ask people to generate as many ideas as they can in response IN 2 MINUTES – the time is important because it prevents people self-judging and thinking too hard. This round is about getting the generic ideas and the assumptions out in the open.
Let’s say as an example that the question was “how can we attract more customers to our website?” A 2 minute brainstorm will get out all the classic things we’ve tried before, and it can highlight assumptions being made like “we don’t want to invest any money in this, so I’ve only come up with cost-free options” or “we won’t go for the Google Adwords approach because it didn’t work last time.”
Round 2: Take each of the ideas and “re-pollinate” them, giving pairs or trios of people other people’s ideas to work with. The groups are given 15-20 minutes to generate 8 more complete ideas. It is very important at this point that you introduce constraints to the ideas – ie some criteria on what you’re looking for and what sort of ideas you want people to develop.
In our website example, we might say that we want ideas to be specifically describing what exactly we would do. We might also say that all ideas need to be things each person can directly do something about, avoiding the tendency to say other departments need to do X and Y.
Each group then presents their ideas and the next step would be to choose the best ones and develop them further – but that’s another story…..
Any final idea can of course form the centre of a new lotus flower and the process can begin again.
We may have lost our natural creative genius through our schooling, but with some careful facilitation and some useful tools, we can still be great collaborative innovators.