Paths to creativity
Q: A new book called "Where Good Ideas Come From" concludes that innovations usually occur when ideas from different people "bump against each other" and spawn a winning combination. But have you ever been struck with a great idea of your own making? If so, did it meet with resistance, and did it turn out to be a success?
Innovation may come from multiple ideas and viewpoints bumping up against each other, but good ideas and creativity in general can be rooted in many different places.
As a leadership development trainer and coach, I find I'm often asked to identify and increase creativity, to boost someone's ability to cleverly and competently solve problems. Personality type, as identified by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) assessment, is the best way I know to start the conversation about creativity, for it turns out that different personality types tend to start with (and in some cases struggle to ever move beyond) their preferred method of gathering data and being creative.
Intuition is a process of gathering data that emphasizes imagination, possibilities and abstraction. Someone with a preference for Intuition tends to perceive the world and their situation in it in terms of future possibilities, theories and "what if" scenarios.
Intuition contributes to creativity in a couple of ways, one of which is the idea put forth in "Where Good Ideas Come From." A potential idea or potentiality is put forth and run up against someone else's. These ideas cross-germinate, push and pull on each other and what results is a process of shared idea germination or brainstorming. Jane, after sharing her budgetary idea with the group, hears idea #2 and then idea #3, triangulating them both with her original to produce yet another idea. This is external Intuition, and it is not only creative, but the essence of innovation.
Intuition can also be unspoken, however. Carl Jung referred to Intuition, at times, coming to us in flashes from the unconscious. Visions, dreams, psychic "knowings" that seemingly just appear to us whole and unannounced -- this is also Intuition and contributes to creativity. Bill, after contemplating the budgetary crisis, wakes up from a dream with a potential solution now in mind -- or while in the shower, running or mowing the lawn gets a vision of the "what if" path leading to a new solution.
Opposed to Intuition in type theory is Sensing, a process of gathering information that emphasizes sensate data, specific facts and here-and-now details.
Someone with a preference for Sensing tends to perceive the world and their situation in it in terms of practical options and a literal, experiential connection to events. One of the ways that Sensing contributes to creativity is by focusing attention on the realities of the present moment -- unencumbered by past events, abstractions or future possibilities.
MacGyver and James Bond use this kind of here-and-now awareness all the time to get out of whatever scrapes they find themselves in the moment. Keisha -- ignoring policy, precedent, and any thought of the future -- keeps her head and works her practical and tactical knowledge to solve the problem and save the day. This is a practical, hands-on kind of creativity.
Sensing, however, can also be experienced as a past-focused, historical sense of what has come before -- past experience, history, what things looked like, sounded like, an archive. Knowing how to retrieve these past experiences and apply them to new situations is its own kind of creativity.
Ken is the new manager of a business facing financial difficulties. While Ken is new to the position and even the industry, Ken has sailed the rough waters of financial distress many times before, and he knows how to mix and match from the actions he has taken, how to apply the financial, organizational and personnel tools at his disposal to bring about the outcome he most wants. While not a portrait of innovation -- new and undiscovered, Ken's solution is no less creative, and may well be what the company in crisis most needs.
While innovation needs the public push/pull of ideas, creativity lives in many places. Successful leadership requires knowing where you are most likely to tap your own creativity.