Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Review: Creativity – A New Vocabulary

by MaryBeth Zacharias

What are the relationships and actions that take place between Rhodes’ 4 Ps of creativity?  What needs to happen in order for a creative product to take hold or for it to be recognized as an innovation?  What is stopping solutions to society’s wicked problems—that are developed at the individual and community levels—from being adopted at the city, state, and even national level?  What roles do our visible and invisible institutions, our societal norms, ethos, and mores, play in creative change?

As the context in which I explore creativity expands—from the individual and teams to organizations, communities, cities and beyond—questions like these have surfaced.  During my first year of studies I gained a solid understanding of the individual, cognitive-side of creativity and how the creative process works within teams and organizations.  However, the social and inter/active-side—what in my mind is the “sociology of creativity”—was pulling at me. And after an earnest research, I ran across a book of scholarly essays that began to shed some light on the questions running through my mind.

Creativity – A New Vocabulary, edited by Vlad Glăveanu, Lene Tanggaard, and Charlotte Wegener, professors from Aalborg University in Denmark, is a compilation of 21 reflective scholarly essays written by the editors and ten of their colleagues. The authors of these essays, all with different focus areas within psychology, selected a concept from their own area of study, that was not traditionally associated with creativity, and explored the concept “to develop a new way of understanding creativity as a dynamic, relational, developmental phenomenon” (p. 6). (See Appendix for a full list of the concepts, authors, and their fields of study).

Why did Glăveanu and his colleagues decide to re-examine the vocabulary associated with creativity? From their viewpoint, the study of creativity has been dominated by the same framework for the past half-century, and this framework is focused on the person and his/her cognitive abilities. They believe creativity goes beyond an individual act and unfolds because of the interactions and relationships among people and their surroundings. Throughout the 21 chapters presented in Creativity – A New Vocabulary, the authors show us how creativity can be viewed as a continuous process and journey, with relationships that extend beyond person-to-person to include person-to-objects, -materiality, and -time.

What the authors in this book do so well is take familiar concepts, or concepts we may intuitively associate with the individual, and reframe them so that this focus is secondary, and the action, the movement, the relationship of these concepts are brought to the forefront and become the primary association to creativity.  Some examples include:

  • Charlotte Wegener, in the Upcycling chapter, makes the distinction between recycling (making something old new again) and upcycling, noting that “upcycling makes the relation between the past the future, not novelty itself, the main object of interest” in creativity (p. 183).
  • When reading the chapter on Craft, the reader gets a sense that the “a-ha!” moment or the final creative product is an afterthought, and it’s the “perspiration,” the time, energy, rewrites, experiments, failures, and hours of mastery that are the true mark of creativity.
  • A number of chapters focus on aspects of communication, in particular Language, Translation, and Perspectives.  This entry from the Perspective chapter provides a summary that includes underlying themes for each language concept: “...creativity is much more than generating new or divergent ideas as a purely cognitive exercise…it involves at all times the dialogue and movement between different socially and materially defined positions” (p. 109).
  • The emotion of Fear becomes a conduit for creativity as Luca Tateo explains how its relationship with signs, not knowing, and reification create frameworks for collective behavior and to build cultures.
  • And in one of the most profound entries for me, Reflexivity, the circular relationship between cause and effect, Saint-Laurent and Glăveanu propose that “we need to open our eyes to the social conditions of others and how we might be responsible for them” (p. 126) challenging me to incorporate reflexivity when facilitating divergent thinking during Creative Problem Solving (CPS) facilitations.

Though it was both enlightening and entertaining to read the authors reframed and expanded views on the various concepts—and then to play with the new knowledge myself—I was reminded that action and relationships are already accounted for in various theories, models, tools and techniques of creativity.  The authors brought forth a number of concepts that they deemed “missing” from creativity research that are represented in creativity as I have studied it.  One example is Affordance, which is a term used to describe all actions that are physically possible for an object. Glăveanu discusses how we see objects based on their purpose within our cultural context and to see beyond that purpose, as well as see the object as a deconstruction of its parts, has a place in creativity.  When reading this chapter, I thought of the similarities between Affordance and the CPS technique of Forced Connections as well as the Torrance Incubation Model (TIM) principles of Look at It Another Way and Visualize the Inside. Some of the dynamic concepts brought forth by Glăveanu et al hold a place in the current creativity paradigms, though they are not always as visible or pronounced, researched or studied as the psychological aspects.

I agree with the authors that creativity may be unevenly focused on the individual.  Reading the book reinforced with me how important relationships and action are to creativity. Yet, so are the various aspects of the individual.  Instead of replacing or prioritizing one over the other, I see them as complementary and believe there are opportunities and extraordinary benefits to surfacing elements of the social side of creativity within the current frameworks and models I use as a practitioner.

There were 21 different concepts presented in this book and each brought a unique dynamic, relational, and developmental perspective to creativity.  By simply reframing the concepts I started to think differently about creativity.  Many times the reframing was very nuanced, but just on the other side of the nuance was a profound insight that turned cognitive, emotional, and individual aspects of creativity into material, process, social, and cultural aspects of creativity. I am afraid this book review barely skims the surface on the richness and depth that was presented, and the potential implications for this perspective in the research and application of creativity.  This book is recommended for anyone who wants to dig deeper into the action and interaction associated with creativity and explore creativity from a non-traditional perspective.

MaryBeth Zacharias is completing the final year of her Master of Science degree in Creativity and Change Leadership at the International Center for Studies in Creativity.  She has particular interest in creativity and Creative Problem-Solving from a change and development perspective.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Book Review - Originals: How non-conformists move the world

Nineteen hours before the deadline of my “hot book in creativity” review, I finally began my writing. I have mixed feelings about my timing: I feel guilty for not getting productive until the last minute, but I’ve also learned to trust my procrastination to be the best way to crank a good blog post out of my brain…

What a blessing to learn that procrastinating is actually one of the effective strategies to deliver something original. Maybe not good for productivity, but wonderful for creativity. This was the perfect way for professor Adam Grant to win me over in his new book, Originals, flattering me even more by sharing that I’m in good company. Martin Luther King, Jr. was still writing his most important speech at three o’clock the night before delivering it. He kept rewriting until the minute he got on stage. Where he then improvised those four important words: “I have a dream”.

How is procrastination good for creativity? Leaving things open until the last minute keeps you flexible and open to new and better ideas. People that remain open to alternatives generate more original options than the obvious first ideas. The condition being, of course, that you use procrastination as a deliberate strategy for incubation. When you keep your task in the back of your mind and you keep open to it, you are more likely to diverge on ideas to solve your task while engaging in other activities. This diverging on ideas is only one aspect of what it takes to be an original.

Grant has spent years researching people he calls Originals. These are non-conformists who not only have ideas, but who also act on them. Grant defines them as the driving force behind creativity and change. Originality starts with curiosity, and Grant’s curiosity is exactly that what makes this book so original. Grant asks and researches questions that are so original that they shed a novel light on often-hidden aspects of creativity and originality. And last, but not least, Grant refutes several assumptions around creativity.

For those who are familiar with creativity research and literature, many aspects he considers are not new. But the extensive research and the great examples in the book deepened my knowledge on the topic and made me feel so much smarter. I now not only know the facts, but also feel better equipped to help myself and others act in more original ways. That’s why I urge you to read the book. As a sneak preview, here are some fascinating facts and myths that stood out for me.

Did you know that Apple users with Firefox and Windows users with Chrome browsers perform better than the ones using Safari and Explorer? This has nothing to do with performance of the software. It has to do with rejecting the default and exploring different options. Users who are critical and curious enough to take small actions, like downloading a new browser to use instead of the default Safari or Explorer, are more likely to also have novel ways of fixing issues for customers.

Action is what sets originals apart from others with great ideas. Originals often engage in the act of creative destruction, as doing things differently often requires demolishing the old way of doing things. This may lead you to the idea that originals can be ruthless risk-takers. In fact, they balance risk out with security.  or example, entrepreneurs are known for taking risks to launch their original ideas, but very successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs of Apple and the Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have put their eggs in different baskets for years. Balancing risks in different portfolios allows room for originality. To be original in one area, you need emotional and social stability in others. This balance doesn’t mean being moderate in everything. It means taking extreme risks on one end and being extremely cautious on another.

Another myth that Grant wipes off the table is that the lack of originality is caused by the lack of novel ideas. Instead, it’s a matter of poor idea selection. It’s difficult to predict the success of novel ideas. You may know that one way to have original ideas is to have many ideas. But how can you forecast if an idea will become successful? Not through self-evaluation, as research shows that we overestimate our own ideas. Not through management, since managers are often risk averse. Nor through pilots, because the public needs time to get used to novel and unknown ideas. The best way is to get feedback from other creators in your domain. Ask different people in your domain to get diverse feedback.

As previously stated, it’s a smart move for originality’s sake to take time for idea generation. Waiting also proves to be an important survival strategy when marketing new products and services. We often hear how important it is to stay ahead of competition, but research shows that’s untrue. Historically, pioneers that have been the first to enter the market were six times more likely to fail than the slower-launching settlers who have entered the market created by the pioneers. This is because the latter could make investments that the market wasn’t ready to support in the times of the former.

In the second part of the book Grant shifts from individuals to groups. Along with effective communication strategies to help original ideas get embraced, and tips on creating allies (particularly with your “frenemies”), Grant warns about the danger of groupthink, the enemy of originality. Ray Dalio, CEO of the Bridgewater Investment Company, does everything in his power to avoid groupthink. Bridgewater promotes radical transparency to get the best ideas on the table for everybody to challenge. Where most leaders don’t want their employees to bring them problems, but instead encourage solutions, Dalio wants his employees to approach him with challenges, diagnose them, share their reasoning and explore the causes and solutions. A believability score system guards the quality of the problem solving.

The book has many more inspiring examples that help my ambition. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., I have a dream. Mine is to dissect my own originality and use the building blocks to help others unleash their originality. Grant helped me get a better insight in myself. Now it’s my turn to help others gain insight in what it takes for them to be original.

Anneke Veenendaal-de Kort is a master student at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State. Anneke holds a Master in communications in The Netherlands where she lives and works as a communications consultant. Anneke’s drive is to design inspiring communications concepts to move people to move their organization towards new, innovative or just inspiring goals. Before starting her Master, Anneke wrote and published a management cookbook with tasty recipes for creative communications in change.