What is creativity, and is it something that you can learn?
MB: “Creativity training can improve creative performance: If you train people to develop ideas, they will become better at it. Of course, having ideas is one thing; convincing people that your idea is worthwhile is something else altogether, requiring different skills. Creativity training has an impact, but a limited one, because the focus tends to be on one specific, small element in the whole creative process.”
“THE CREATIVE PROCESS IS A WHOLE SERIES OF STEPS THAT EVENTUALLY LEAD TO A SOLUTION, SERVICE OR PRODUCT.”
What does that complete creative process look like?
MB: “There are multiple models and ways of looking at the creative process. Regarding creativity, people tend to go into a problem-solving mode quite quickly without thinking about the problem more deeply first.
You first need to analyse a problem and then come up with possible solutions. Even then, you need to identify the most promising solution, which most people aren’t good at. And even if you succeed in identifying the best solution, you need to mobilise people and get them excited about your idea. You might need to win over the management or find the money and resources required to develop your idea further. So in short, the creative process is a whole series of steps that eventually lead to a solution, service or product.”
Does creativity differ from one domain to the next?
MB: “That’s a pretty complicated puzzle to solve. I think particular skills or cognitive processes are more critical in one domain than another: knowing how to draw is more important in painting than in science.
Would Picasso still be creative if he had been a scientist? He certainly mastered a particular field: got to know the material - from canvas to paint - and the different ways to work with this material, etc. And through education, training and experimenting, he ended up making creative art. But getting that expertise, set of skills, and sheer knowledge takes time. In Picasso’s case, the time spent on a painting was time not spent on mastering another domain, like architecture or science.
So creativity is often expressed in a domain-specific context, but that doesn’t answer the question of whether the underlying creative process is different in different domains.”
What are creativity killers?
MB: “There are multiple. Feelings of insecurity or anxiety can certainly prevent people from opening up to new things.
There’s also quite some literature on how leadership can kill creativity. In general, people like to be creative and think of new ideas. But how do you, as a leader, respond to those ideas? It is easy to demotivate employees by criticising their ideas or not doing anything with their creative input. When asking for creative input, managers need to think in advance about what input they seek and what they will do with this input.
Be clear at the outset about what your intentions are. Think about the possible solutions people can come up with. Are you willing to carry them out? Are you going to reward people for their effort? Because if not, you’re signalling to people that you don’t care for creativity, which is killing in itself.
Being open to creativity also means being okay with taking risks. So management, for instance, needs to allow for a certain amount of chaos, which can be very uncomfortable for most managers. There’s often no room - or money - for failure. There’s a reason why companies like Google and Apple do well when it comes to creativity: they simply have the cash to fail.”
"THERE'S A REASON WHY COMPANIES LIKE GOOGLE AND APPLE DO WELL WHEN IT COMES TO CREATIVITY: THEY SIMPLY HAVE THE CASH TO FAIL."
Shouldn’t people be intrinsically motivated to be creative instead of relying on rewards or praise?
MB: “Sure you want people to be intrinsically motivated, but rewards can also motivate people. And studies show that creativity does increase when there are rewards for showing creativity. Although that also means that when you take away any rewards, people may not be motivated to be creative anymore.”
You put a lot of emphasis on analysis and thinking through these steps in the creative process, but isn’t it part of creativity the ability to think outside of the box? Letting go of any preconceived ideas or plans?
MB: “A plan or some sort of structure can be beneficial. Of course, you have to be careful that the method doesn’t become something sacred, where people become too scared to deviate from the original plan. But overall, I do think you need structure and tools like design thinking, identifying and prototyping. In the end, the method is meant to result in better solutions. And isn’t that what you ultimately want?”