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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.