I was told the other day that one of our esteemed departments had decided to adopt an ‘activity-based workplace’. This is where you lose your personal space so as to reduce the systemic growth of stovepipes and to encourage cross-pollination of ideas and information. But does it actually encourage creativity or big ideas? Of course not. It merely addresses the problem of an over-populated working environment. It is possible to artificially induce creativity however it requires individual participation not command directed wholesale office remodelling.
Our common perception of a creative person is someone who is only loosely connected with reality yet often inspired to produce work of great art. Creativity is not a natural gift. It is in fact a fairly logical sequence of cognitive behaviours that can be induced artificially. This may sound cold and slightly illogical however creative behaviour is merely a re-ordering of the existing to create something new. Sometimes, and I really mean rarely, a totally original concept or product is produced and could actually be called revolutionary with all the appropriate connotations. Most of the time however, what we consider new is merely new to us, as an individual, or a small evolutional step in the great temporal journey of homo sapiens.
There are a number of theories on creative behaviour and little conclusive research that proves any one theory of creative behaviour. Fortunately, for us, all of the theories have a common process and can be described in four general steps:
Research or collection of data. Creativity, in this case, goes hand in hand with knowledge that is developed from a wide variety of information sources. When confronted with a problem, a clear understanding of all elements of the situation is required for any valid solution to develop.
Incubation. Despite being the most important, I have found that this stage is often ignored as it is perceived as inefficient and a waste of time. This is not true. It allows the individual to subconsciously address the problem at hand. The most reliable means of dissecting a problem into its parts and then combining them into a desired or valid pattern is, illogically, not a step-by-step methodology such as systems analysis. Rather it is that ultimate non-linear thinking tool, the human brain. The human brain is still one of the most progressive, non-linear computational tools available to us. It is able to combine large amounts of disparate data, sense patterns and develop solution sets that are applicable to problem. The biggest obstacle for most of us is trying to maximise the incubation, or thinking period.
Insight or Illumination. While seemingly instantaneous, insight / illumination actually require forethought, concentration and work. The final ‘creative idea’ or solution is usually a result of a large solution set being methodically rejected or accepted by the mind. I suggest that if creativity eludes you, you are either missing information or time.
Evaluation, verification or Elaboration. As with all potential solutions the new idea is required to be examined for flaws, viability and whether it actually solves the original problem.
Amazingly these four simple steps do not require a staged or artificial working environment. The only exception would be incubation however, due to the wide variety of individuals, it would be extremely difficult cater for everyone. As an example, in my personal observation of Defence employees, most people find inspiration exercising on the track or bike. Physical exercise tends to be the catalyst although this may just be a learned response to the volume of physical training required by Defence personnel.
Do you want to be more creative? Creativity requires you to utilise your subconsciousness. Feed your brain with as much data as it can handle from a broad range of sources. Give it time to digest and finally understand the activities that allows your subconsciousness to incubate. Go for a run and slap on the lycra. That should get the creative juices flowing – at the least it will create a lasting image.