Of creative thinking

If you have a problem, then you need creative ideas to solve it
Representational Image
Representational Image Maxpixel [Creative Commons]

We can all be highly creative to explore our innate abilities, and to see if we can enhance these. You have probably heard the well-known phrase that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. From many personal experiences, we know that this saying has a lot of validity. If you have a problem, then you need creative ideas to solve it.

I have spent many years running businesses, doing design and engineering, teaching creative approaches and supervising research on creativity. And there I was reading a magazine with an article with the classic title ‘Necessity is the Mother of Invention’.

The article was interesting, and everything there made sense, but I sat there stunned; not by what it said but by what was missing. If necessity is the mother of invention, then who is the father? Well a few tens of minutes later the answer emerged, at least one I was happy with. If necessity is the mother of invention, then opportunity is the father.

This piece is about creativity, whether you have a problem, requirement, or issue that you need to tackle, or some wonderful opportunity and you want lots of creative ideas.

We will be exploring the fundamentals of creativity and the series of creativity tools enabling you to build a toolbox of skills that you can roll out whenever there is a need or opportunity to tackle.

The combination of the toolbox, along with a fundamental understanding of creativity, will, we hope, help you to be more creative and more effective in both your work and personal life.

There is evidence of creativity for as long as our history records extend back. There have been many definitions of creativity in literature and academia. For example, creativity is the forming of associative elements into new combinations, which either meet requirements or are in some way useful.

Creativity denotes a person’s capacity to produce new or original ideas, insights, inventions or artistic products, which are accepted by experts as being of scientific, aesthetic, social or technical value.

And one I particularly like, with a modern twist on values, that creativity is imagination with responsibility. We are familiar with the years of toil, that in the case of some individuals can lead to a burst of new knowledge that sets a domain that others then occupy for a while.

We can view creativity in terms of brilliance, personal creativity, paradigm or domain creativity, forced or industrial creativity. There are various historical periods associated with significant creative activity and development of our understanding. In ancient history, creativity was considered to be the prerogative of supreme beings. The Renaissance, with an explosion of ideas associated with the interactions of diverse disciplines and investment.

Creativity is the ability to imagine or invent something new of value, where the value may be personal, societal, financial or some combination of these. Creativity is not the ability to create something out of nothing, but the ability to generate new ideas by combining, changing or reapplying existing ideas. Some creative ideas are astonishing and brilliant, while others are just simple, good, practical ideas that no one seems to have thought of yet.

In the consideration of creativity, it’s important to think about both body and mind. Attention and stress are intertwined. While stress arousal is useful for a real emergency, as an ongoing state it can be a disaster. If you want people to be able to consider novel ideas, you need to take care of the potential stress response.

A stress response can, through the release of endorphins, prevent people from being able to think about new ideas, so we need to create a low stress environment to encourage creative thinking

Creativity tools provide a means for us to augment our innate, generative activity. There are lots of creativity tools that are widely used. Examples include analogy, boundary shifting, various types of brainstorming and checklists.

There are actually hundreds of creativity tools available. Most creativity tools try to enhance fluency, the quantity of responses; flexibility, ideas that are distinct from each other; originality, the level of uniqueness of the ideas generated. A creativity tool will not produce ideas. Instead, it can be used to assist in the generative process.

Most tools can actually be used at any stage in a problem-solving process, but tend to mainly be focused on problem exploration, idea generation and concept evaluation.

Creativity tools generally function by ensuring that a problem can be understood in relatively simple terms, so that this occupies only a fraction of your short-term memory, supplying cues to make the search of long-term memory more efficient, and providing cues to ensure refreshing of short-term memory and thereby retention of key information.

There are many creativity tools that can be used to augment our innate creativity. Examples include various types of brainstorming, morphological analysis, the theory of inventive problem solving and SCAMPER.

Let’s get going with some questions. Can we characterize the approach of successful people? What are they like, how do they manage to get things done? Well, here are a few well-known examples. Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla.

Cher Wang, co-founder and chairperson of HTC. Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president of retail at Apple. And of course, Richard Branson, the serial entrepreneur. Each of them provides an example of acclaimed success and each is very different in their approach to getting things done.

Many successful people do think in a very rational manner. Some take a step forward, step back, and consider approach, others look at the big picture. As we can surmise from consideration of successful people, different people think in different ways.

Thinking is a cognitive function, involving interactions between your consciousness and your subconscious. Your capacity and capabilities in thinking are subjects to your memory, your knowledge and experience, your emotions and nerves will gut feelings, your personality and character. Taking into account individual differences and your ability to process information in your working memory.

Typical activities undertaken in design thinking approaches include the toleration of ambiguity. This helps keep ideas in consideration for longer, seeing the big picture. Having an overall perspective can be so empowering enabling key requirements and insights to be grasped.

You may start with one issue or idea, and then realize how important or worthwhile something else is. Making decisions, if you actually know what is required or important, and then you have the criteria against which decisions can be assessed.

Design thinking tends to involve phases of iteration, coming up with ideas, prototyping and testing, revisiting previous considerations, problem solving and implementation. Through the iterative process ideation, prototyping and testing problems can be transformed into opportunities.

Creativity can be defined as the ability to imagine or invent something new of value. Some creative ideas are astonishing and brilliant, while others are just simple, good, practical ideas that no one seems to have thought of yet. Creativity tools can be used to assist in a given task that supports idea generation and innovative solutions.

Morphological analysis can be used to generate additional ideas that would not normally spring to mind. The technique involves considering the function of a generic solution to a problem, and breaking it down into a number of subsystems or sub functions.

For each subsystem or sub function, you need to generate a variety of means to fulfill these. The sub functions, and potential means of fulfilling each of these sub functions, can be arranged in a grid. An overall solution is then formulated by selecting one means for each sub function, and the combination of these forms the overall solution.

As it’s a competitive world, innovation may be needed in order to compete. The use of morphological charts requires consideration of the function of subsystems, rather than their specific details. A pallet moving device might consist of support, propulsion, power transmission, steering, stopping and lifting subsystems.

Author is a UPSC aspirant, writes regularly for GK.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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