Innovation is essential for a business to survive and thrive, and behind all innovation is creativity. While there are many definitions of creativity, the one that is currently most agreed upon is that it produces something that is both novel and meaningful.1 These two components are essential.
Creativity is not something that people have or don’t have; rather, it is a skill that anyone can perfect and grow.
Perhaps the most useful model of creativity to business leaders is the Creative Change Model developed by the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State College.2 This model organizes the four strands of creativity compiled in Med Rhodes’ landmark 1961 work to show how they interact to cause creative change.3 There are four aspects to this model:
Process: Ways in which people create or can use and apply their creativity.
Person: The ways in which people are creative, how creative someone is, or the traits associated with creative people.
Environment: What surrounds a person, process and product in which creativity flourishes or is hindered.
Product: The artifacts of creativity, or what makes something creative.
According to the model, creative change is driven by adoption of a creative product, and this product comes from the interaction of the person, process and environment.
One of the ways to look at the creative process is through the Creative Problem Solving (CPS) process.4 This model is based on four steps: clarify, ideate, develop and implement.
- Clarify: Understanding and framing the challenge or opportunity. This includes gathering all the relevant data already known about it and articulating it in a way that invites conclusions (often using visualizations).
- Ideate: Generating and selecting ideas that may address the challenge.
- Develop: Elaboration and refinement of the ideas in order to generate solutions to solve the challenge.
- Implement: Surveying the landscape in which the solution will be launched. This includes the identification of resources and actions as well as understanding which stakeholders may be likely to support or resist the implementation of the solution.
Importantly, each step contains a divergent and convergent thinking phase.5
Divergent thinking: The generation of many ideas from a single stimulus. Readers may be familiar with tools and techniques such as brainstorming, which aim for divergent thinking.
Convergent thinking: The selection of a single idea from a pool of many, given certain criteria for selection. One example of convergent thinking is the evaluative techniques employed during a multiple-choice standardized test.
While it may seem that creative people do not follow a rigid process, a person is always using some sort of process when they solve problems creatively, whether or not they are aware of it. Research has shown that most of us have preferences for particular parts of the CPS process, and we tend to skip over or rush the parts we do not prefer.6 If a person is not conscious about the different parts of the problem-solving process, it may lead to a substandard solution, resulting in what creativity facilitators call “quick solution syndrome” — our tendency toward premature closure upon a solution. By articulating and following a deliberate process, those wishing to enhance their creative skills can more reliably develop creative products.
Improving Creativity in the Process
When most people think of creativity, they believe it is strictly divergent thinking. But both divergent and convergent thinking are important for the creative process. In order to optimize divergent and convergent thinking, some important aspects should be emphasized.
Balance and separate
Most people are much stronger when it comes to convergent thinking skills, and therefore the danger is in judging and evaluating during the divergent thinking phase. In addition to separating these modes of thinking, it is also important to engage in both for roughly the same amount of time. A hundred new ideas mean nothing unless there is a rational convergence upon one with which to move forward; likewise, a single idea with which to move forward means nothing if it was not picked from a large enough pool of ideas.
Extended effort principle
During the divergent thinking phase, it is paramount to seek a high quantity of ideas. One of the first landmark studies regarding CPS demonstrated a direct correlation between the quality of an idea and how many ideas came before it in the generation process.7 This is because we generally first come up with the conventional ways of answering a prompt or solving a problem, and only once this is exhausted do we seek new methods or new ideas.
Avoid premature closure
During the convergent thinking phase, it is essential to give every idea its day in the sun, regardless of practical constraints. Most people are inclined to pick the ideas they think might work the best because they are conventional. This “premature closure” defeats the purpose of the creative process.
Finally, while it may be tempting to only think of the active part as the creative process, it is well-documented that it is indeed the time spent not engaged in the creative process that is essential to its outcome.8 Even if one only spends 20 minutes away from the challenge, research has shown that this is enough time to increase creativity.9
Part 2 and Part 3 will explore the other aspects that contribute to developing creative products deliberately.
The preceding excerpts Harnessing Deliberate Creativity (Darden Business Publishing), prepared by Alex Zorychta (MBA '21) and Darden Professor Luca Cian
- 1Put forth by Stan Gryskiewicz of the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.
- 2Gerard J. Puccio, Marie Mance, Laura Barbero Switalski and Paul D. Reali, Creativity Rising: Creative Thinking and Creative Problem-Solving in the 21st Century (Buffalo, NY: ICSC Press, 2012).
- 3Mel Rhodes, "An Analysis of Creativity," Phi Delta Kappan 42, No. 7 (April 1961): 305-310.
- 4"What Is CPS?" Creative Education Foundation, https://www.creativeeducationfoundation.org/what-is-cps/.
- 6Gerard Puccio, "Creative Problem Solving Preferences: Their Identification and Implications," Creativity and Innovation Management 8, No. 3 (September 1999): 171-178.
- 7S.J. Parnes, "Effects of Extended Effort in Creative Problem Solving," Journal of Educational Psychology 52, No. 3 (1961): 117-122.
- 8B.T. Christensen, "Incubation," Encyclopedia of Creativity, 3rd ed. (Cambridge, MA: Academic Press, 2020), 642-647.
- 9Steven J. Kachelmeier, Laura W. Wang and Michael G. Williamson, "Incentivizing the Creative Process: From Initial Quantity to Eventual Creativity," Accounting Review 94, No. 2 (March 2019): 249-266.