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Three cornerstones of creative thinking

Dr. Teresa Amabile, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School describes the “Three Components of Creativity‟. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, she considers how, expertise, creative thinking skills and motivation are all required if creativity is to take place within structured organisations.

Component 1: Expertise

Expertise, in her model, is not just that connected to a person’s current post or job. It also refers to all of the knowledge and experience that that person has gained in life. So a Chief Executive may also bring skills garnered from being a mother, a youth leader, or a hockey player.

Component 2: Creative Thinking

Amabile includes a number of elements in her description of creative thinking. For example she cites a ‘capacity to put existing ideas in new combinations’, ‘perseverance’, ‘the capacity for incubation’ and the combination of ‘knowledge from seemingly disparate fields’.

Component 3: Motivation

Motivation is the fuel that drives the vehicle provided by the two elements listed above. All the expertise and ability to think creatively in the world will be useless, if the person is not motivated to put them to good use. In most organisations, there is a wealth of talent, both visible and hidden among the staff and volunteers. The ability to think creatively can be learned or encouraged by reading books or blogs, or attending training courses. But nurturing a positive motivation to be creative among its people is the one element that most organizations leave out. And a car without fuel is going nowhere.

How to motivate creativity

There are three things a manager can do to build individual motivation to solve problems.

  1. Match people with the right task. If you play to people’s strengths you may find that they begin to enjoy the challenge. It seems obvious, but when we want to deliver a presentation, how many times do we see the person with the strongest dread of presenting being chosen? If a piece has to be written for the community newsletter, do we choose the best communicator, or simply the person who is closest to the task, to prepare the copy? If we do not put conscious effort into the matching process, then mismatches are inevitable. And then of course, we will have people who are not enthusiastic and engaged, far less passionate, about their task.

  2. Give people freedom to act. A manager may give team members a clear brief, or target. But if the manager then constrains their freedom to act in order to retain control over how something is to be achieved, then they will limit the team’s ability to provide creative solutions. So delegate responsibility for the results, as well as the task in hand. Ask people to solve the problem or to come back to you with alternative solutions, but not with problems. Hand over ownership of the problem. Light the blue touch paper of your peoples‟ creativity and then stand back.

  3. Give people time: People need time to be creative. They need strategic time. In other words a long period of time in which to consider, gestate, ponder and wait for their subconscious brain or intuition to kick in. You don’t necessarily get creativity by demanding results yesterday. They also need tactical time. This is time knitted into the fabric of a day to brainstorm or dream. So create a long enough timeline, but also encourage people to schedule in quite time into their daily schedules. Encourage them to clear their decks of urgent but not necessarily important tasks and “have a meeting with their creativity‟.

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