Tag Archives: ideation

Beyond the Light Bulb

I’m getting burned out on the light bulb.

I see it a lot. Try doing a search for images related to creativity and innovation and you will, too. The light bulb has become an icon of creativity and innovation, even as the light bulb going on has become the most lauded step of the creative process.

Originally posted at Innovation Bound.

There’s good reason. We all love the moment when the solution becomes clear—the rush of excitement, the relief of freedom from uncertainty, the burst of energy which powers us forward. In his seminal model of the creative process, Graham Wallace called it, fittingly, “illumination.” No doubt it’s a pivotal moment, we couldn’t do creativity without it.

But it’s not enough.

And what stands on either side of it, is a lot of hard work.

(It’s ironic that the light bulb – an invention made possible by Edison’s famously painstaking process – should have come to represent the quintessence of instantaneous insight…)

The moment of insight arises from within the context of attention, commitment, learning and mental labor. In his classic work The Courage to Create, psychologist Rollo May described the moment of insight as the targeted outcome of deliberate mental effort, aimed at our problem or concern. It was those things toward which we had bent our energies and attention which produced the a-ha moment. We don’t get big insight moments, he implied, for things we don’t really care about, or pay attention to. The more effort we put in to defining our problem, learning about it and working it over in our minds, the more we are setting the stage for insight. “Chance favors the prepared mind,” Louis Pasteur said. This all takes a lot of work, including the years of study and practice we’ve invested in our own knowledge and expertise.

The phase after the a-ha moment can be just as demanding—and, as anyone whose brief moment of insight has resulted in years of labor knows, take just as long to play out. Here, we’re tested by the materiality of the world, and by time. An idea is quicksilver, ephemeral—if it’s ever going to go beyond that, it must become translated into the world beyond our minds. Whether the next step is to sketch the design, schedule the meeting, write the business plan, or fire up the sauté pan, you will need to move your idea into physical space, rearranging time and material resources to make it possible. And you may need to do this over, and over, and over, and over again – sometimes for years. “one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”

This is commonsense to anyone who has spent time considering the creative process. I’ve been aware recently, however, of feeling burned out when I see the light-bulb icon; I think it’s being not only overused, but misused.

I suspect the words creativity and innovation often come to refer to, at least suggestively, outcomes more than processes; the light-bulb then begins to symbolize not ideas and insights, but answers, solutions, successes. This belies the hard work on either side of the quick moment of illumination by hinting that the flash of insight is all it takes. It also sets us up for disappointment, when light bulbs don’t start popping as quickly as we, or our higher-ups, hope they will, as well as missed opportunities, when promising ideas are not given the time or resources needed to fulfill their potential. This all can lead to a creeping cynicism towards the creative process, or toward our own ability to successfully deliver.

We’ve come to glorify the light bulb, without realizing that a lot of our creative work happens in the dark.

How might we overcome this tendency?

  • Educate ourselves in our own creative process so that we can identify not only with our moments of insight, but also the preparation beforehand, and the real-world work which follows.
  • Have patience for the preparatory phase, because it may take longer than we care for; have confidence that this preparation is creative work.
  • Build stamina for the development and implementation phase, because these will likely test our ideas in ways we hadn’t imagined; trust that just because it feels like grunt work doesn’t mean we’re not being creative.
  • Find symbols for the whole of the creative process. I’d love to see an image search on the word “creativity” turn up as many results for preparatory labor and execution grunt work, as it does the fantastic, beloved light bulb.

Clarifying and Developing: A Balancing Act

I’m exploring how creativity works within a creative organization — what are the strengths and where are the potential blind spots? In an earlier post, I described how the eight members of the core team recently learned their FourSight Breakthrough Thinking Profile preferences for different stages of the Creative Problem Solving process. The team profile showed high preferences for Ideation and Implementation (the orange and purple bars), and low preferences for Clarification and Development (blue and green bars):

FourSight Team Profile

There was a general sense of recognition of the abundant energy that drives the team’s work from generating creative ideas into implementing them. That’s what the company is hired for; its brand differentiators are reflected in the team profile. This is a good thing.

And yet, what about these other spaces of clarifying and developing? (Clarifying refers to gathering plenty of data on the big picture before beginning to generate ideas; developing is the stage where the best ideas are elaborated and strengthened.) The team could see their low preferences playing out here, as well. More than once, the lack of thorough clarification has shown up when the project concept was further along in development. New understandings with clients surface, sometimes late enough in the game to require stressful last-minute adjustments. Perhaps, one team member suggested, it was because the clients hadn’t been clear themselves. How much more important was it, then, to make sure that really thorough clarification happened from the company’s end?

A suggestion was made to develop a white paper to educate clients on how to think about the engagement in ways that would really help them bring forth all the relevant information at the beginning. Additionally, by customizing some Creative Problem Solving clarifying tools, the company can develop a template to use with clients when scoping out projects.

The low preference for developing also piqued discussion. For a team that has a high preference for generating ideas, there’s a tendency to continue to pump new ideas into the developmental phase, which can muddy the waters and sometimes take the concept off-track. A method for tracking idea development was suggested as a way of distinguishing between iterations that enrich the final product, versus great ideas that are best saved for another opportunity.

And how about working together as a team?  One team member remarked that knowing where the individual preferences lie reminded her of a relay race, where team members hand off energy to each other through the process. It’s a lovely observation. For a creative team, some of them working together for a decade, the insights into individual and team preference from the FourSight measure have given them new understandings of how to support each other through the balancing act of the creative process.

Next steps: training on some Creative Problem Solving tools to support the developmental phase. In the meantime, if you’d like more information on FourSight, and how it can help you or your team, let me know.

Riding High on Ideas

A Creative Thinking Profile of a Creative Team

I’m exploring how creativity works within a creative organization — what are the strengths and where are the potential blind spots? As an important first step, the eight members of the core team recently learned their preferences for different stages of the Creative Problem Solving process. We’ll look at how this creative team stacks up as a group…

We used the FourSight Breakthrough Thinking Profile to generate the data. FourSight is a great tool for understanding where your energies lie for different phases of the Creative Problem Solving process: clarifying the situation, generating ideas, developing ideas, and implementing them. For example: are you energized by coming up with ideas, or do you find your greatest preference to be in implementing them? Does gaining a through understanding of a situation give you the most energy, or are you attracted to developing ideas and fleshing them out? Maybe you have two preferences, or three, or all four. FourSight brings this information to light.

A key thing to keep in mind is that FourSight measures personal preference, and not ability. Talented, motivated people can develop their abilities across all four preferences. But: what you’re good at doing and what you love to do often feel differently; this is where the question of preference comes in.

Why is this important? Apart from the value of knowing how we thrive within the creative process, this information helps us avoid pitfalls. When we’re stressed, tired, or under time pressure, our low preferences can become potential hazards, blocking us from bringing our best and most thorough creative thinking to the task at hand.

Understanding preference is also very important in team work. What happens if a team is loaded with developers who love to perfect things, but has few people who gain energy from implementing? Or what about a team that loves to hold onto the first step of clarification, generating reams of data, but gets stuck moving forward? And, in a situation many teams can identify with, what happens when people with different preferences step on each other’s toes? Looking at a group FourSight profile gives a clear snapshot of the creative thinking strengths and tendencies for weakness within a team.

So how did this group of eight creative people show up? This company’s stock in trade is in coming up with creative ideas and implementing them in memorable ways. It’s no surprise, then to see the results:

Creative Team FourSight Profile

The team shows a strong preference for ideation (the orange bar), followed by implementation (the purple bar). But clarification (blue) and development (green) are low preferences for them collectively.

How might this play out during project work for clients? Might there be ways in which ideas are generated without a thorough understanding of the client’s needs or context? Might there be times when the development stage becomes muddied? Do the dual preferences of ideation and implementation energize this team to dependably identify strong ideas and successfully carry them out?

Most importantly, knowing there are no wrong scores, how to make the best use of the information, and help this team build on their successes?

In an upcoming post, I’ll share insights the team generated, and plans for applying them.

In the meantime, if you’d like more information FourSight, and how it can help you or your team, let me know.