how to be creative/innovative is itself a creative/innovative problem

I’ve been thinking hard about the plethora of innovation/creativity tools/methods/processes in the professional literature. It seems to me that one fruitful way to view all these tools is that they are basically a bunch of solutions to a common set of problems/barriers. It is tempting to reduce innovation/creativity to one issue (e.g., frame change), but I think psychology (cognitive, social, personality) tells us that there really is a bunch of problems/barriers to be dealt with. The cool thing is that none of these problems/barriers admit only one or two solutions. I think the problem of how to be creative is itself a creative problem, i.e., one amenable to creative methods of solving, and admitting a range of right answers.

Here are some examples of problems/barriers (from a cognitive standpoint):

  1. Rational nature of memory – blocks distant associations
  2. Rational nature of perception – blocks alternative representations, noticing critical invariant/obscure features
  3. Unquestioned assumptions (incorrect problem representations)
  4. Task/set switch inflexibility (between generate/evaluate)
  5. Lack of empathy (egocentric bias, expert blind spots, etc.)

It seems to me that successful people in creative industries have intuited solutions to these problems they face in being creative without recourse to extensive (explicit) knowledge of cognition or human psychology. Here are some examples of solutions that I have come across in my readings of innovation blogs and books (e.g., A Whack on the Side of the Head, The Innovator’s DNA, Innovation Tournaments, The Design of Things to Come):

  • Purposefully task/set switch into “play mode” (addresses 4)
  • Constraint awareness (e.g., modeling) + “question assumptions/constraints” heuristic (addresses 3)
  • Re-representation of problem at more abstract/functional level to increase probability of finding distant, “un-thought-of” associations/ideas (addresses 1)
  • Re-representation of problem at more concrete/featural level (decompose) to increase probability of noticing invariant/obscure features (addresses 2)
  • Diverse teams (addresses 1, 2, 3, potentially 4 if you can do “division of labor”, different “hats”)
  • Diverse experiences (collaboration, wandering, etc.) – (addresses 1) – could potentially alter baseline distribution of activation in memory
  • Encouraging serendipitous interactions among individuals of diverse minds/experiences (the Medici effect, e.g., semi-open floor plans – addresses 1, 2, 3)
  • Ethnographic user research (addresses 5)
  • Role-playing and storyboard design (addresses 5)
  • Rapid prototyping feedback loops with potential users (addresses 5)

It behooves us as scientists of innovation/creativity to be humbly cognizant of that, and to recognize that we may actually know (in an explicit way) less than they do implicitly.

There is room for improvement with respect to innovation tools/methods, I guess, but we have to be very careful and humble in proposing any improvements or changes to what is.

It strikes me that studying innovation is slowly changing me to habitually think like an innovator now. 🙂


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