Working by numbers or getting creative?

I am really enjoying a Coursera course about What Managers Can Learn from the Great Philosophers. Many years ago I did a philosophy degree and it is surprising what comes back to you with a bit of a gentle nudge. One of the most interesting things about this course is how creativity is defined.

We all know that building creativity into communication teams is something we want to do and achieving it isn’t easy. There are so many process related activities that comms teams have to get involved in that it can make creative thought hard to reach in a work environment. For many people they are working by numbers, by that I mean they are going through the motions in a tried and tested way. Like with painting by numbers they are going with red in number 1, blue in number 2 and never should there be a deviation.

However, we know, or certainly the course has highlighted, that we categorise the world around us to make understanding the world much easier. It means we can see things at a glance and don’t have to fill in the missing gaps as our mind does that for us. This is really obvious when we are faced with optical illusions. We fill in the missing aspects or we see certain things first linked to the way our perceptions work.

So, how do we tackle this to allow us to see things differently and challenge our own perceptions of things around us?

I think if we could answer that question then we could start to develop creativity. If we can get our teams to look at the world in a different way and to look at the problems they are dealing with in a different way then they could start to identify a more creative approach. There was a great and simple example of what this is as part of a recent assignment. You have a list of brand names and the classic approach is to group them on things like what they produce. Then there are two other ways of looking at groupings – the creative objective and the creative subjective.

In the creative objective we can list on characteristics that we all agree on. This could be grouping those starting with a vowel, names with four letters, where their headquarters are. This is based around facts. It is the creative subjective where things become more interesting. In this classification we choose individual characteristics that only we are aware of. So it might be the brands that I would like to do business with and ones I have purchased. These are elements only I would know and nobody else would be aware of.

The way to encourage our comms teams and others to be creative has to be to get them to see the world a different way. They need to take account of their own subjective issues and use them in a productive way. It takes us away from the working by numbers and means we start to put things together in a new way. Taking people away from the norm, the routine, the process is essential if we are to build creativity. The challenge for all of us is how do you move people to a state where they are in creative subjective mode and perceive the world in a different way?

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