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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How Not to be Creative

We all have those times when we're in the zone, when ideas seem to come with ease and we are grateful-especially those of us in creative jobs-for those wonderful days.

Then there are other times when we panic and think we'll never ever have another creative thought in our lives and begin to worry how to pay the mortgage.

There are enemies of creativity that you need to be aware of and find strategies to deal with them.

First up, perfectionism. When faced with a project that has to be just right in order to please Mr. Big Boss or Mr. Influential Customer, you may feel that everything has to be prefect. What you need to know here is that perfection isn't necessarily needed and that your best effort may be sufficient. That isn't to say that you get away with inferior quality work, but you may be being a little too finicky.

Second, fear. Given the chance, our internal editors can come up with six million reasons why our project isn't good enough or our product isn't going to work the way it's supposed to. A small amount of anxiety is healthy and is almost necessary to ensure that we double-check our work. Fear, though, needs to be put in its place.

Thirdly, procrastination. There are those thrill-seekers who like to live on the edge and insist that a tight deadline gives them brilliant ideas. Personally that has never worked for me and from what I've learned about the creative mind, you need time to let your ideas grow and come to fruition. So, as far as possible, plan your project and build in a couple of days extra so you don't panic (see fear above).

No situation is ever perfect, but with a little insight and pre-planning, you can keep those enemies of creativity at bay.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Observation: A Critical Skill for Creativity

Do you consider yourself observant? Most of us would answer yes, but then, have someone show you a photograph for about 15 seconds and then take it away. How much can you recall? To be really creative you have to be involved in your surroundings because only then will you notice the "gaps" that stimulate problem-solving and inventive thinking.

For example, observational research is conducted by companies who want to find out how people interact with their products. Watching participants gives them ideas as to what works and what doesn't, and is the basis for coming up with new and improved products. Market research companies and departments conduct focus groups with this in mind. This type of observation, however, needs to be conducted in as close to the "natural environment" as possible.

IDEO, a design firm successful enough to be featured on the television show 60 Minutes, calls its observational approach "human centered," meaning a product must be able to be used intuitively without having to resort to reading a thick instructional manual first. As demonstrated on that program, a design for a new shopping cart started with IDEO teams going out to retail stores and observing how people used their carts. At this point people are unaware they are being observed so the results are authentic. This type of observation is closer to what scientists do when they begin to investigate their hypotheses.

Let's take another example. Suppose you witness a crime and the police need you to identify the perpetrator. Could you do it?

For the individual, good observational skills will help improve creative thought. Many start-up entrepreneurs have done this intuitively by observing a problem and coming up with a solution. You may not want to start your own business, but companies are always looking for employees who can solve problems. It's a valued skill in any enterprise and one that's worth cultivating.