I know what you might be thinking: “Codifying creativity—isn’t that oxymoronic?” And to some degree perhaps yes. But attempting to establish a methodical framework should not be considered the antithesis of creativity. We shouldn’t shy away from trying to understand the creative process so we can facilitate it, particularly within the setting of an organization or enterprise.
What is clear is that creativity as a codified process very much requires a divergent and convergent thought process, and hence is very much both a left and right brain activity*. I think there is a bias towards believing that creativity only operates in the divergent realm. But it is in fact very much a bi-hemispheric process. Additionally, creativity involves the combination of originality and task appropriateness. Any framework that attempts to foster achieving a creative solution must therefore take into account these dimensions.
In both reviewing the literature as well as formulating my own thoughts from my experience, I have realized that there is a common thread among all the various methodologies put forth, and it goes pretty much like this (see also the figure above):
1. Clarify the problem: Are you asking the right question? Searching for the proper solution?
2. Prepare: There is no substitute for doing good old fashion homework. What is the state of the art? What have others said, thought, attempted in the past that is relevant?
3. Ideation and reality mining: Come up with a lot of possible solutions (a future Creative Heuristic will discuss some well documented techniques). Here, quantity reigns superior over quality. Now is not the time to be critical or discerning; allow yourself and the team to be foolish even. Suspend judgment on any ideas or solutions put forth by the group.
4. “Walk away”—allow for incubation and gestation of the challenge and the ideas put forth; allow your mind to wander free of conscious thought on the problem. This allows the unconscious mind to work and churn on the task. Utilize good creative hygiene!
5. Eureka! What inspired solutions has your subconscious mind put forth while you were exercising, on a long walk, in the shower? Write them down!
6. Evaluate those new solutions: Now is the time to switch back to convergent and analytical thought. Which idea is best?
7. Make real and share: Time to get ideas, solutions and options into a concrete form. Share with others—preferably those outside the current team. Opt for generalists over specialists who may be locked into their own silo of domain expertise. Now is the time to test your solutions and expect and evaluate criticisms.
8. Implementation and production: Is the solution both novel, task appropriate and feasible?
Creative Heuristic #4: Solving challenges with a creative approach can be facilitated with a framework like the one above. It’s a process that very much utilizes both hemispheres of the brain and both divergent and convergent thinking.
[* By “divergent thinking” I mean the ability to come up with many responses to a challenge or issue, as contrasted with “convergent thinking,” or the process to come up with the correct answer to problems that have only one answer.]
-Mark HT Ridinger