welcome the unexpected

February 27, 2020
01 only a few people are creative, and they are artists and musicians

Creativity researchers James Kaufman and Ron Beghetto have identified four types of creativity: ‘Big-C’, ‘little-c’, ‘mini-c’, and ‘Pro-c’.

Big-C creators are people like Albert Einstein, Frida Kahlo, and Mozart. These are the clear-cut, eminent creative contributors.

little-c is the kind of creativity that we do every day. little-c creativity is finding a way to fix machinery on the farm with just wire and duct tape, creating a delicious meal using only the leftovers in the refrigerator, or making a quilt using old clothing scraps.

mini-c is the creativity that is part of the learning process and the creativity seen in young children. mini-c focuses on the creative process. It is the new idea generated in a brainstorming session that might eventually develop into a breakthrough.

Pro-c is the creativity of individuals who are professional creators but have not reached eminent status. Pro-c is the chef who makes a living developing entrees, the musician who composes or writes new musical arrangements, the interior designer who makes your house beautiful.

If you look at the Four-C model, there is not a single person on this planet who doesn’t exhibit some form of creativity. Creativity is in all of us. It is what makes us human.


02 creativity is unpredictable. You have to wait for a great idea to hit you

Most breakthroughs come by connecting things that are not usually considered connected. Often these connections occur as if by chance.

You are working on a tough problem; you are stymied for a solution, so you step back from the problem. You see something unrelated to your problem and you make a connection. Unfortunately, you had to wait to make that connection.

What if you could make those connections on demand? In the world of Creative Problem-Solving, or ’CPS’ for short, we have a technique for this. It is called Forced Connections and it is my go-to method to become deliberately creative.

Forced Connections is the practice of combining ideas that do not appear to be related in a new way. It helps get ideas flowing when you are stuck.

How it works:

  • consider the problem you are trying to solve.
  • pick an object or situation that is completely unrelated.
  • find or “force” a connection between the problem you are working on and the seemingly unrelated object.

The result of this connection is a new idea.

Dr Roger L Firestien, author of Create In A Flash: A Leader’s Recipe For Breakthrough Innovation, tells us the ingredients required to create great ideas. He is also part of the senior faculty and an associate professor at the Center for Creativity and Change Leadership at SUNY Buffalo State and President of Innovation Resources, Inc.

When I facilitate a Creative Problem-Solving session, I use a variety of pictures that I show to the group when idea generation slows down. These pictures range from a bunch of bananas to an airplane cockpit to a beautiful beach to a lion in the jungle.

But you do not need pictures to put this technique to work for you, and you do not need a group. You just have to look around. As I write this, I am sitting at my desk. If I were working on a problem and got stuck, I would ask myself, “What ideas do I get from my smartphone? Or the books on my bookshelves, or the fan on my desk, the trees in my backyard, or the model rocket that I built when I was 12?”

Using Forced Connections, the resulting ideas may not be the breakthrough you are hoping for, but the technique gets the idea-generating process moving again so you can dig deeper for those breakthroughs.


03 you cannot learn to be creative. You are either born creative or you are not

In the late 1960s, a program in creative studies—the first of its kind in the world—was under consideration at SUNY Buffalo State in Buffalo, New York.

Known as the Creative Studies Project, it proved that training in Creative Problem-Solving methods created significant gains on users’ ability to both generate and evaluate options. In the study, the experimental group outperformed the control group on creativity-related English tests and showed greater levels of real-life coping and problem-solving skills.

In other words, students were actually applying what they were learning in their creative studies classes to improve their lives and their work.

For my doctoral research, I compared the creative productivity of CPS-trained groups and groups that were not trained in CPS in solving a business problem. We found that groups trained in Creative Problem-Solving out-produced the untrained groups on high-quality ideas by over two to one.

Bottom line: The trained groups had a significantly greater chance of a breakthrough occurring simply because there were more high-quality ideas generated than in the untrained group.


04 all you need is one good idea

If you are consistently generating 10 to 12 ideas for solving a problem and you think you are getting creative, you are not. 

We cannot precisely predict the number of ideas you will need to get a new insight; but setting an idea quota helps. Forty to fifty ideas is a reasonable quota if you want to generate ideas to improve your current methods. More than 50 ideas will help you begin to really stretch your thinking, but if you want to completely redefine the work you are doing and create disruptive ideas, shoot for a quota of 100 ideas or more.

In my career, I have facilitated hundreds of idea-generating sessions. When I analyzed them, a trend emerged. It is the one-third; one-third; one-third principle.

Let us say your goal is to generate 50 ideas for solving a problem. The first 10 to 12 ideas, the first third, tend to be the obvious and incremental ideas. The ridiculous and sometimes brilliant ideas will surface from about idea 12 to 24.

New ideas and insights typically occur after idea 30—the last third. These ideas are the game changers and disruptors.

The creativity comes in the stretch. Go for the third one-third; you will be glad you did.

Still sounds like a lot? Fear not! A group of 5-7 people trained in Creative Problem-Solving can easily generate 50 ideas in 5 minutes. Really.


05 you need all of the experts to solve a tough problem

In my consulting practice, I offer a service called a Breakthroughs Lab. It is designed to help clients solve tough problems. When I am hired for these projects, my clients are stuck and facing an obstacle that even their most competent people cannot solve. They often tell me, “We need to have all the technical experts on this.”

I ask them this: If the technical experts have not been able to solve the problem, then why would we have more technical experts work on the problem?

Research conducted on communication networks determined that the best source of new information is NOT from the people you see regularly. Why? Those people usually have the same information that you do. The best source of new information is from other networks—people who run in circles different from your own.

To stimulate your creativity, tap into groups of people with whom you do not typically interact. When you are working on a tough problem, include people who know very little or nothing about the problem. They will have information that you do not have and will increase the chances of a breakthrough.

There you have it! Creativity is not just for artists, it is for everyone. And, maybe most importantly, for organizational leaders. It is accessible, easy, and even fun to tackle obstacles with Creative Problem-Solving, and the results will put your organization ahead of the pack.