What is creativity? Is it the light bulb that goes off when you have a great idea that you think no one has thought of? Is it the epiphany or a revelation that comes after too many drinks? 

It’s a process. Most people shy away from processes but this isn’t a restrictive process. It’s not about rules — it can be very helpful to have a method to the madness and be organized about your thoughts as you try to come up with an innovative/creative idea. Sometimes, I hear people say, “Think outside the box! That’s where creativity is!”  I understand where people are coming from when they say that, but I’d reverse that and say:

“Think inside the box! That’s where creativity is!”

It’s a lot easier to think of creative ideas when there are no boundaries, no restrictions, no complications. Of course, there is a time and place for brainstorming sessions where there are no boundaries in sight — getting out of ruts, creative blocks, etc. But in reality, there are definitely boundaries that we all must create within. There are political implications, manufacturing capabilities, technical feasibility, business strategies, just to name a few constraints that usually exist. The challenge now becomes, how do you come up with a creative idea given these boundaries?

I gave a creativity workshop a few months ago and began with this. The audience was primarily made up of engineers and marketers who wanted to learn about how to bring design thinking into their groups and change their work culture. 

Basis for true success

The main point I was making at this point was that creativity is not sustainable by itself.  It is largely dependent on the way people think and if the internal processes are conducive to innovation. If an organization is stuck in its ways and does not see the value in new thought processes, then it is unlikely that creativity will thrive. 

Secondly, in order for an idea to be successful, it must be technically possible to create it and execute it. A great idea that is ahead of its time is still JUST an idea. I am interested in ideas that can be delivered and used by actual people. Also, it has to be something that people want and makes sense to the organization from a business strategy perspective. Can we capitalize on this? Will it further the organizations agenda or plan? Does it fit into the short-term or long-term goals & vision?

So once the creative juices are flowing and we’ve defined the constraints we’re able to play within, now we can really develop meaningful ideas. The level of creativity within a process will vary over time. Ideas will diverge then converge (repeat as needed) in order to hone in on the right idea. This may take some time and it’s a good idea to test the ideas as you go through the converging period. Simple prototyping tools and methods can be used to validate ideas — this is something I will discuss in a future post.

Divergent and Convergent Ideas

Creativity takes time and effort. In my experience and from speaking with other creatives, great ideas and experiences are rarely found through an “a-ha” moment. More often than not, it required going through 100’s of failed ideas, iteration upon iteration, lots of user testing, and a tremendous amount of dedication & effort. Great ideas require deep insight and empathy in order to develop the right experience for the person depending on the product/service we create.