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Friday, September 01, 2006

Nurturing Creativity

"Creativity" originally uploaded by Staffan Ehde
What sparks an idea? And, how do you nuture the process? Several recent articles got me thinking.

The 8/28/06 issue of USA Today featured an article titled "The brains behind creativity" in which the writer, Kathleen Fackelmann, interviews neuroscientist Nancy Andreasen about her book "The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius" asking questions like: what is creativity, what is ordinary creativity, what happens in the brain during a flash of inspiration and whether the environment plays a role in the creative process. I particularly liked the sidebar on "How to give your mind a workout". Andreason recommends taking 30 minutes per day to:

•Explore an unfamiliar area of knowledge. For example, people who use a lot of math on the job should sign up for a painting class.
•Spend time each day thinking. Don't censor your thoughts, but allow your mind to go freely to a problem and see what kinds of solutions or ideas surface.
•Practice the art of paying attention. Look for and really observe a person, an object or something in your daily commute that you hadn't really noticed before. Try describing or drawing that object in a journal or sketchbook.
•Use your imagination. Spend time each day imagining a different world. What would it look like? What would you do there?

I bet you've noticed flashes of brilliance that occur when you distance yourself from the routine, when you visit a foreign or little known location, or perhaps when you reach the 'zone' in your exercise routine. Maybe it's reading biographies. Science Fiction transports me to a different universe; the problems may be familiar, but the circumstances are so unusual that a regular solution will never work.

The Advertiser magazine from the ANA [The Association of National Advertisers, Inc.] has an interesting article in the August 2006 issue titled "Proceed With Caution" by Chris Warren. It discusses the need to be cautious in pursuing new trends vs. fads and refers to trendwatching.com, including an interesting sidebar on How to Better Spot a Trend:

  • Look cross-industry, cross-discipline, cross-demographics, cross-class.
  • Think like a (paranoid) CEO, even if you don’t get paid like one. Stop being 'just' a specialist and aim to become a generalist: yes, we all need to be a specialist in something. However, we also need to be generalists, to understand the big picture and how we and our companies and products fit in.
  • Never dismiss anything too quickly. Many of today’s success stories, from the camera phone to the Airbus 380, were dismissed and ridiculed from the day they were imagined, announced or conceived.
  • Ask questions. Why is something happening? Why was it introduced? Why do consumers like it? Or why do they hate it?
  • Try stuff out: the proof of the pudding is always in the eating.
  • Read a random magazine every week (buy one you would normally NEVER read), or a random blog!
  • Taboos, prejudices, dogmatism, negativity: all of this will stop you from picking up new ideas (and becoming a more pleasant person!), understanding many of your customers, and will thus cost you money.
      • Although about trend-spotting, it sure matches up with the recommendations for developing creativity. It's about taking the time and being open to new ideas.

        Finally, the same article includes an interview titled "No Need for Speed" with Joey Reiman, founder and CEO of BrightHouse - an Atlanta based consulting firm specializing in idea-generation for businesses - and author of Business at the Speed of Molasses: How Patience Produces Profits. No surprise, the topic is that speed is not necessarily a good thing in business. "By fostering quality and maintaining certainty of purpose, Reiman contends, an organization can generate more creative ideas and, ultimately, higher revenue." I've pulled out a few excerpts from the interview:

        • No one does their best thinking on fast-forward.
        • Progress is not getting there faster, but asking the right questions.
        • I tell [executives] that the bravest thing they can do is set aside one hour a day for thinking.... Going slower actually makes them more productive.... The results are remarkable: more emotional and intellectual revenue in the ranks, new ideas in the pipeline, and dramatic increases to the bottom line.
        • [To strengthen bonds with customers:] If companies slowed down and better understood how we think, they would be able to build more meaningful and long-lasting relationships. The way we sell today is like a Las Vegas marriage. We gamble with our customers, roll the dice on our products, and ask our customers to get hitched the next morning. Relationships take time, not money.
        Again, many similarities to the above mentioned articles -- taking the time to be OPEN to possibilities just generates a world of creative options. [While searching on Reiman, I came across this Fast Company article titled "This Old House Is a Home for New Ideas" by Curtis Sittenfeld that provides additional insight on the benefits of taking the time to think. ]

        So, what are you waiting for? Take the time to practice THINKING. It will lead to creativity; it will allow you to better understand your consumers. It will help you develop truly differentiated retail experiences. You won't regret it and your consumer can only benefit!

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