“Creative thinking…is not a mystical talent. It is a skill that can be practiced and nurtured.” – Edward de Bono
It’s not an original statement to say we live in a complex, uncertain world. In fact, business leaders are using an acronym developed by the military to describe our current situation. It’s VUCA, and it stands for Volatile (change happens rapidly and on a large scale, Uncertain (future cannot be predicted with any kind of precision, Complex (challenges are complicated by many factors with no simple solutions), and Ambiguous (there is little clarity on what events mean and what effect they may have).
Does that sound like your industry or business environment? It does to me, and probably to most of you. So if that’s the case, what do we do about it? It’s not going away, so somehow we’re going to have to adapt to the way things work.
There are a lot of ideas on how to handle the “new normal”, but I’ll stick with this one – change your thinking, or better yet, change how you think. Traditionally, our development as leaders has been horizontal, based on learning certain competencies or tasks. Once we learned the necessary tasks, we just repeat them over and over. However, our world is rapidly becoming less about repeatable tasks and more about constant change. In a world like that, we have to be better at developing vertically, which means learning how to think better.
One example of this is creativity. The ability to solve problems, be innovative, collaborate with others – all of those things require us to be creative. People who excel at being creative are going to be much more likely to succeed in the future.
Here’s the roadblock: for many people, creativity is just something you’re born with. Either you have it or you don’t, and if you don’t you’re just out of luck. That’s simply not true. Creativity is something you can work at and improve upon.
Creativity is, to a large degree, the ability to see things differently. To see things differently, we have to bombard our brain with things it has never encountered before. Our brains are lazy, and unless they’re forced to think beyond what we’ve seen before, they’ll take shortcuts to save energy – and doing things the same old way saves energy. We have to make our brains work – here’s some ideas how:
- Go somewhere that isn’t like what you’re used to. Visit another organization that does similar things and see how they do it. Find a business improvement or peer group to join. Take a class on a relevant topic you’ve never considered before. Whatever you do, get out from behind your desk and physically go someplace where new ideas are.
- Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Think about an issue you’re dealing with. Ask yourself: How would our competitor handle this? Better yet, try and put yourself in the shoes of a totally different organization. How would 3M improve our R&D processes? How would Toyota upgrade our manufacturing capabilities? I’m not saying you copy someone else (that rarely works). I’m saying use someone else to stir your imagination.
- Create barriers for yourself. Ask your team to imagine a world where one of your markets completely disappears. Or someone introduces a similar product for half the price of yours. Or you can only deal with customers online. Or you lose a key staff member or members. Tailor it to your business and see what ideas you come up with.
Creativity is not limited to the chosen few – it’s something we can all work on. And in today’s environment, it’s something we have to work on. What are you waiting for?