Creative thinking is the lifeblood of innovation. Original ideas enable change and give you and your team the inspiration you need to envision a better future. They can also be extremely elusive.
If you’ve worked in a creative industry, you’ll know how hard it can be to come up with ideas to a deadline. The pressure can be stifling, and, since feeling stifled only increases the pressure, it’s easy to get stuck fruitlessly staring at a blank page. The mistake is that most creatives take a passive approach to idea generation; they sit and wait for the ideas to come to them, rather than going out to get them.
Their approach is based on the supposition that creativity relies on random flashes of inspiration. In actual fact, creativity is a process like any other – a process that can be broken down into specific steps and reproduced. In order to do that, though, we need a complete understanding of where ideas come from and the barriers that stifle our creative impulses.
What kills creativity?
If you’ve spent any time with young children, you’ll know that, at a certain age, they have an uncanny ability to produce new ideas. Whether scribbling with crayons, thinking up stories or playing games, it often seems like their imaginations are limitless. That is, until a certain age, when it all suddenly stops. Where before they were drawing dragons with spaceships for hands, they’re now asking you for ideas of what to sketch. What happened?
Self-consciousness happened, that’s what. When we become more socially aware, we begin to realise that the things we put into the world are meaningful to other people. We learn that everything we say, do and create affects the way people see us, as well as the way they treat us in return. And this realisation only gets stronger as we grow.
In fact, as adults, we are so good at analysing our ideas for their practical and social value that the moment of creation and the moment of evaluation are almost simultaneous. When we’re stuck for ideas, the problem isn’t that the ideas aren’t there. The problem is that we shut the ideas down so fast we don’t even notice. They never pass the mental ‘how will this idea make me look?’ test that we perform on almost everything we say and do.
Create a space for creative thinking
We know that, in a business context, there’s no point in having just any ideas. If we want to be effective, we need great ideas. It makes sense then to have a filter in place that sorts the astounding from the absurd.
The key problem is that so many of our great ideas start out life as silly or banal notions before they develop into something great. Ideas evolve. And the more we have of them, and the more we let them interbreed and mutate, the more likely we are to find something that works. If we stifle them in their infancy, though, we never give them that chance.
The creation phase and the evaluation phase of ideas are both essential stages of the creative process. But they are distinct phases. If you want to build a successful creative system, you need a separate time and place for each of these to happen well away from one another. That means creating a space that truly welcomes any and every idea, no matter how random, unworkable or even inappropriate – an absolutely zero judgement zone for ideas. Every notion must equal; every thought must be valuable. That’s the only way true creativity can flourish.
What is blue-sky thinking?
Here at Idea Drop, we like to call this form of creative brainstorming ‘blue-sky thinking’. If there were absolutely no limits, no judgments and no consequences, where could your imagination take you? The sky’s the limit. During a blue-sky thinking session, I like to ask myself questions that break down the boundaries of conventional thought and open up new ways of thinking:
“If I was the richest person in the universe, how would I market this product?”
“What would this product look like if it were a mythical creature?”
“How would this process work if it was written about in Star Trek?”
These sorts of questions may sound silly, but that’s the point – they’re designed to free up your mind to make unexpected connections. When you insert novel elements into your train of thought, your old, stale ideas start to evolve into something exciting – perhaps even game-changing. And even when the thought process is a bit mad, the results can be very, very real.
To summarise; the problem with creative thinking is that judgment of our ideas stifles their natural evolution. An effective creative system splits the ‘creation’ and ‘evaluation’ processes down into separate parts. If you’re building a format for your ‘creation’ process, make sure you create a zero-judgement zone that lets any and every idea fly. On the Idea Drop, we even go so far as to enable anonymous suggestions so that your team are free to let their imaginations run wild.