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Innovation = Creativity = Not Me?

Six years ago, someone I knew well approached me about an innovation role. My response: “Hmm, I don’t know about that. I mean, I can’t even draw a stick figure.” That was my association back then: innovation = creativity = being a good artist = not me. Thankfully, he knew enough about both innovation and me to respond with, “Yeah, I don’t think that’s what it’s about.” Turns out, he was right. What I have learned since is that whilst coming up with ideas, the bit that we tend to associate with creativity, is not my preference, that doesn't mean I am not creative.

We are all creative. Genuinely, all of us. Every day we all solve problems, whether big or small, and that is being creative. A dad improvising with a sock as a bandage for his daughter’s grazed knee in the playground. A police negotiator trying to diffuse a hostage situation. An admin who needs to figure out how his boss is going to be in three places at the same time tomorrow afternoon. A teacher who want to re-engage her student who is on the verge of flunking his exams.

We are all creative but we engage in creative problem-solving in different ways. Nowhere does this play out more clearly than in teams, particularly team meetings or workshops: there will be those who bounce off the walls with ideas, post-its all over the place; someone else will have already decided which idea is best and will be halfway out the door, pulling together a task force before the meeting is even over; others will be sitting quietly weighing up the pros and cons of everything they've heard and thinking through how each one might actually work in practice. Then suddenly, someone pipes up (quite often me actually), “But what are we even talking about? I’m not sure we’ve got the right problem here. We need more information.” Does any of this sound familiar?

In 2019, I discovered FourSight and certified as a FourSight Facilitator. Drawing on over 65 years of research into critical and creative thinking, FourSight does two things. First, it provides a four-step framework for creative problem-solving: Clarify, Ideate, Develop and Implement. Clarify the problem, the outcome you're seeking, the context, the players. Generate as many ideas as possible before analysing them and deciding which ones you're going to progress. Develop the ideas you select, flesh them out, iterate them, test them. Then implement that idea, ideally continuing to learn and iterate as you go. It's not a linear process and you may find yourself going back and forth or spending longer in certain parts of the cycle than others. What it provides is a common language and shared approach for tackling problems together.

Second, the FourSight Assessment discovers how you and others in your team or organisation like to engage in the creative problem-solving process. Understanding your own preferences and those of the people you work with can support better team dynamics and enable you to leverage each other’s different thinking styles to solve complex problems. I once worked in a team full of Ideators and Implementers and, more often than not, this played out with us generating a ton of ideas and then heading straight off on different tangents. As a Clarifier though, I was usually stuck at first base, often completely bewildered by the whirlwind of ideas and action. Other times, however, my need for clarity held the team back longer than necessary, as I wanted more detail, more evidence, more certainty.

Using the FourSight framework made a huge difference to our team approach, dynamic and effectiveness. We used the framework to understand where we were in the creative process, and make deliberate interventions and new team rituals to improve our effectiveness, such as timeboxing so that we didn't get stuck in one particular stage. We got into the habit of using divergent and convergent thinking, postponing judgement initially whilst we got all those fantastic ideas of people's heads, but then being clear on which ones we were going after and what that entailed. The individual and team assessments increased our awareness of our own preferences and our team mates, developing greater empathy for each others' styles and learning how to support and embrace those differences.

Key Takeaways:

  • We are all creative and we use our creativity every day when problem-solving.

  • Having a framework for creative problem-solving provides a common structure and shared language, which can help teams get on the same page and problem-solve more effectively.

  • Understanding our own and others' preferences tells us when we individually and as a group have more or less energy for elements of the problem-solving process.

  • This greater awareness means we are more empathetic towards each other and can adapt our ways of working to maximise the benefits of each other's styles.

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