In our previous blog post, “Creativity Can Be Taught,” we shared proven cognitive strategies that individuals, groups and organizations can use to raise the level of innovation and engagement. In this article, we take a closer look at the universal creative process.
J. P. Guilford, former president of the American Psychological Association and pioneering scholar in the field of creativity, once said, “To live is to have problems and to solve problems creatively is to grow.” Individuals, teams, and organizations become more successful when they apply creative thinking to solve problems (and they become more innovative when they find creative ways to solve consumers’ problems).
Any time there is a gap between what you have and what you want, and you are uncertain as to how to close this gap, your mind automatically engages in the creative process.
Whether we lean on intuition or apply precise, deliberate steps, the creative problem-solving process typically looks like this: We identify a problem, we look for possible options, we choose and develop a solution, and then we implement that solution. In shorthand, we call these steps:
We know through research and practice that individuals and teams who learn a deliberate creative process show tremendous improvement in creative performance.
We also know, from more than 15 years of research, that while all humans can engage in this process, people will vary in the amount of energy they have for the steps in this process. For example, some people enjoy generating ideas (Ideate) without verifying if the right problem is being solved (Clarify), while others would rather skip the first three steps and spend their time selling ideas to others (Implement).
The preference for certain types of thinking results in biases during the creative process—biases which can lead to missteps and costly errors. In teams composed of members who possess different preferences, which is often the case, such differences in thinking can cause friction and conflict (especially when working together to solve a problem).
Let’s examine the four preferences, from the perspective of the individual. As you read, think about yourself and others with whom you have personal and professional relationships. See if you can identify your own preference, and perhaps guess theirs.
A Clarifier is someone who needs to know the facts, and is most comfortable when immersed in the details and allowed to ask many questions. This person enjoys the process of gathering information, examining the history of a given situation and digging into the data.
The Clarifier tends to be focused, methodical, serious, and organized. The Clarifier needs to be convinced that the right problem is being solved before making any moves, which can make non-Clarifiers feel impatient.
Primarily known for being an idea-generating machine, the Ideator is playful, social, adaptable and independent. Attracted to the big picture, someone with a strong Ideator preference tends to be a highly flexible thinker who can imagine many future possibilities and potential solutions.
Stuck for an idea? Go to an Ideator, they have plenty and are happy to share. And while this person has a great amount of energy for ideas, enthusiasm often wanes during the process of making those ideas a reality. This can be annoying to others, as can the Ideator’s tendency to overlook the details.
A rare breed, the Developer enjoys the process of refining rough ideas into well-crafted solutions. Reflective, pragmatic, and dedicated, a Developer will spend hours analyzing and comparing competing solutions before making a series of evaluative judgments.
Simply put, a Developer is a perfectionist—always seeing a way to improve what he or she is working on. However, a Developer can come across as being overly critical and can be hard to convince to change course.
The implementer lets the world know that innovation happened. If an implementer believes in an idea–whether it is a product, policy or principle—action is hard to resist! The Implementer is seen as persistent, decisive and assertive, craving control and timely responses from others. This person is energized by moving towards tangible outcomes, even if it means learning on the way.
Sometimes even in the moment of accomplishment, the person may be thinking about making the next idea happen! The potential challenge for an Implementer is that on occasion he or she may suffer from premature action—leaping to action before the idea or plan has been fully worked out. Others may perceive the Implementer as being pushy.
Know your own preference
From the list above, you may have already identified yourself and others you work with. And you probably noticed that in addition to the strengths of each preference, there are a few limitations. This knowledge has massive implications for both individuals and teams.
First, we hope it is now clear that there is more than one way to demonstrate creativity. Far from being limited to idea generation, creativity encompasses aspects of all four stages: Clarify, Ideate, Develop, and Implement.
Not surprisingly, individuals and teams are most creative when they perform well in all four stages, yet few people have energy for all four areas. Therefore, it is extremely valuable to learn your own preference, as well as the entire process. Then you will sail confidently through areas of strength while avoiding the corresponding pitfalls—and you can learn how to strategically bolster those areas of the process you tend to avoid or skip over altogether.
With respect to teams, awareness of these creative-thinking preferences provides a common language that shapes communications and guides collaboration. Even in difficult times, when the pathway is unclear and the stakes are high, friction is reduced as team members now interpret the differences in personal preference more positively.
The differences can be seen as “contributing” to an innovative outcome, rather than opposing it. For example, an Implementer can now value the Developer’s work in refining the solution instead of simply being frustrated by the perceived delay.
Assess your creative-process preference
The creative-process preferences described above can be identified through simple observation or more formally through a science-based assessment tool called FourSight. Practice with thousands of individuals in hundreds of organizations has demonstrated that insight into these ways of thinking improves both individual and team performance.
And like other forms of diversity, it is hugely valuable to have diverse ways of thinking on your team. Diversity in terms of FourSight preferences ensures that the whole creative process is covered, thus facilitating higher levels of innovation. Moreover, people feel more highly valued and engaged when they know their way of thinking is respected and appreciated by others.
We have now looked at how people can effectively work together in creative collaborations, and how a deliberate process can lead to innovation. However, there are still other facets inside organizations and teams that contribute to higher levels of creative output. In the next installment of this series, we will look at the importance of environment.