Tag Archives: Creativity

Creativity and Innovation

Walk your way to Creativity

Creativity and InnovationIn a recent Journal of Experimental Psychology article, Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking, by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz of Santa Clara University, the researchers looked at ways that walking could be used improve your creativity and thinking skills.  While there had been plenty of anecdotal evidence for such a correlation, there was never a thorough scientific study. What they were able to determine, was that people who walked, were more likely to be more creative than those who did not walk. They defined creativity as the number of ways that people come up with different uses for particular object, such as how you might use a tire. They compared this creativity, against normal mental capabilities, such as determining the answers to tests that required particular answers (as opposed to free thinking). They found that walking had no improvement over these “convergent thinking” tests versus “divergent thinking” tests.

During the course of their research, they were able to demonstrate an 81% increase in creativity associated with walking. And you’ll be in good company if you do the same–Aristotle Steve Jobs, and Nietzsche, all made walks part of their daily routine. Unfortunately, researchers were not able to come up with any reason why walking actually improved creativity, but they did empirically test it and determined it to be true. So, if you want to improve yourself, go for a walk–it’ll do you good.


The Hungry Mind

brain_in_profile_Clipart_FreeI recently read an article by Kaufman, Openness to Experience and Creative Achievement, that stated that “Openness to experience– the drive for cognitive exploration of inner and outer experience– is the personality trait most consistently associated with creativity.”

He ran a variety of tests to determine several aspects of openness, two of which seemed most pertinent to creativity in science/inventions: IQ, and Intellectual Engagement.

He defined Intellectual Engagement as those with a “drive to engage in ideas, rational thought, and the search for truth.”  and stated that these types of individuals tend to be more industrious, assertive, and persevering, and are more likely to seek out variety, question traditions, try new food/activities, appreciate reading, solve puzzles, and debating.

The surprising result of his research was that while IQ and Intellectual Engagement were related, it was Intellectual Engagement that was the better predictor of creativity.  In other words, just because you are smart, doesn’t mean that you are creativity, whereas, if you are constantly seeking out knowledge, you’re more likely to be creative, regardless of IQ.  (But it certainly helps to have both a high IQ and a high level of Intellectual Engagement).

This same conclusion was reached in the academic environment, by von Stumm, Hell and Chamorro-Premuzic (2011), The Hungry Mind : Intellectual Curiosity Is the Third Pillar of Academic Performance

If you’d like to test your own openness, try this quiz at: http://www.gotoquiz.com/personality/big-five.html

Jump Start your Creativity

All of us experience times when we just can’t get our creative juices flowing. Margarita Tartakovsky of the World of Psychology provides a list of 15 ten-minute activities that can enhance your creativity. They are:

  1. Go on a photo safari.
  2. Do housework.
  3. Cook.
  4. Make a small collage.
  5. Daydream.
  6. Create a list.
  7. Check out your go-to inspiration.
  8. Socialize.
  9. Draw.
  10. Play.
  11. People-watch.
  12. Find a quiet spot.
  13. Problem-solve with your dream advisory board.
  14. Create a collection of prompts.
  15. Just start.

Morning People vs. Night People

Another interesting article about an individual’s most creative time of day.  It might seem logical that you’d be more creative during the time of day that you’re also most awake or at your best.  For “morning people”, this would be during the morning, and for “night people”, it would be in the late afternoon.  While researchers found that were are better at analytical tasks during our most awake times, we are better at creative tasks during the opposite time.  Here is the specific research:

What Dr. Wieth and her colleagues did was ask volunteers to fill out a questionnaire that assessed whether they were at their best in the morning or evening (this questionnaire, by the way, is highly predictive of people’s peak circadian arousal). She then invited the volunteers to the lab to solve both insight and analytic problems in either the morning (between 8:30 and 9:30 AM) or the afternoon (between 4:30 and 5:30 PM). While people did slightly better on the analytic problems during their optimal time of day, volunteers were much more likely to come up with a creative – and correct – answer to the insight problems at their self-professed non-optimal time.

Another Look at Collaboration

It’s hard to find examples where large-scale collaboration has worked more successfully than either individuals or small teams. However, it’s also hard to find examples of even small teams that were able to maintain their creative success over an individual.

Having worked with many such teams, it seems that there is a “Familiarity Factor” that can make or break success. While I don’t have an exact definition for the Familiarity Factor, I think that it has to do with the relative connection that each person has to the other in terms of daily interactions, previous social connections, and personality. Since these connections constantly change (even by the act of collaborating), maintaining a team’s creativity is nearly impossible, because it requires making frequent changes to the team, sometimes difficult changes, to keep the connection-level of the Familiarity Factor the same.

Think about the last time you were a member of a new team. Assuming that your team had a realistic goal and a realistic timeline, you probably came together and accomplished your goals with some amount of success. You didn’t know all of the other team members very well, you probably even found yourself not liking some of the team members, but you pushed through the exercise to accomplish the goal. Now think about when they “got the same team back together” for another project. The familiarity has increased, you’re more comfortable, the other members are more comfortably, and your less likely to “bend” for the good of the team. The creativity and accomplishments decrease. Even for the best performing teams, over time, this happens.

As another example, consider musical groups. It’s hard to think of many groups that stay together for very long. In most cases, they come together for a few collaborations, and then inevitably split apart. My guess is that the familiarity increases past a point where creativity can occur, in part due to the original closeness, new social connections that are made, and of course, personality.

Brian Uzzi, a sociologist at Northwestern, analyzed the collaborations behind thousands of Broadway productions. He discovered that plays produced by people who knew each other well in addition to plays produced by teams who didn’t know each other at all were more likely to fail (as defined by the box office and critics). What Uzzi discovered was there was only a small window between the two extremes that produced successful plays.

Impairment and Creativity

According to article published by the British Psychological Society, people who have been moderately impaired with alcohol fair much better on creativity exercises than their non-impaired counterparts, by a sizable margin: (they solved 58 per cent of 15 items on average vs. 42 per cent average success achieved by controls, and they tended to solve the items more quickly 11.54 seconds per item vs. 15.24 seconds).

The impaired participant’s blood alcohol level was 0.07, (barely below the legal limit in most U.S. states). The researchers were careful to note that participants performed more poorly at on memory tests, and that higher levels of impairment did not produce the same creativity–so more was not better.

The general finding is that people who are not functioning at their peak mental capacity, have more creative insights, most likely from not thinking along conventional lines. This hypothesis was evidenced in this post, The Best Time for you to Solve Problems, where more creativity was found in people who worked during their non-peak part of the day (for morning people, the night was more creative, and vice versa).

So, while I’m not advocating a Happy Hour to inspire creativity, shaking people out of their comfort zone certainly seems to help.

Crazy Creativity

Why does it seem that the most creative people are the craziest? History is ripe with accounts of the eccentricities of creative people. Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Vince Van Gogh, Howard Hughes and others dazzled us with both brilliance and unusual traits. But are creativity people really crazy, or are they just victims of popularity, jealousy and tabloids?

In a 2011 study by Gino and Ariely, they concluded that:

  • Participants with creative personalities who scored high on a test measuring divergent thinking tended to cheat more;
  • Dispositional creativity is a better predictor of unethical behavior than intelligence;
  • Participants who were primed to think creatively were more likely to behave dishonestly because of their creativity motivation and,
  • they had a greater ability to justify their dishonest behavior.

In a 2008 study by Wazcheic, et.al., they found that creativity individuals tend to be better at lying. Their premise was that lying, although frowned upon, was very useful in accomplishing many social goals, such as collaboration and exploiting others. They found that the best liars where also the most creative, perhaps because of their ability to get what they wanted the quickest.

Finally, in a 2011 article by Mayer, Jennifer; Mussweiler, Thomas, the researchers tested whether creative people where more distrustful. Their basic conclusion, was that they were, and is probably a result of their tendencies to wonder why something had to be done a certain way.

Creativity Test with Rabbit Duck Illusion

Most likely you’ve seen or heard about the Rabbit Duck illusion. If you look at the picture you can see either a rabbit or a duck, depending on how you look at it. Most people see the duck first, but can flip to see the rabbit. The measure of creativity is whether you can easily “flip” between the two pictures.

In an article published by the British Journal of Psychology, the authors tested a person’s ability to first come up with uses for a random object, such as how many ways they could use a paperclip. For example, in addition to using it to hold papers together, you could also make it into a key holder, or combine several to make a dinosaur. Creativity people (as defined by how many different ways they could use a paperclip) were not only able to use the paperclip in more ways than their non-creativity counterparts, but they were also able to easily see both the rabbit and the duck.

The hypothesis is that when you switch between the duck and rabbit, you are experiencing a small creative insight, by viewing the same object in a different way. In the process of creativity, people are often called on to improve or change an existing product/service to make it better. Creativity people are able to look at an object and easily imagine different uses–in the same way that they could look at the picture and see different images. So, which do you see, and how easily can you see both the rabbit and the duck?

Employee Engagement and Creativity

In research published in the Psychological Bulletin from the American Psychological Association, the question of whether employee engagement leads to success was addressed. The authors examined over 200 previous studies looking specifically for this correlation. In their research, success was defined across a variety of areas, including marriage, friendship, income, work performance, and health. They defined happiness and/or employee engagement as “the frequent experience of positive emotions.”

Shawn Achor suggests several ways to boost or enhance employee engagement in the business environment, and he tested it by asking tax preparers (during one of the most stressful times of the year–tax season) to perform these activities. The bottom line is that it worked, not only in the short-term, but also months after these activities were stopped.

    Jot down three things they were grateful for.
    Write a positive message to someone in their social support network.
    Meditate at their desk for two minutes.
    Exercise for 10 minutes.
    Take two minutes to describe in a journal the most meaningful experience of the past 24 hours.

The researchers also tested whether positive employee engagement was linked with creativity, and found many positive correlations. While they acknowledged that creativity at times requires deliberate negativity or a single-minded focus, there were still benefits to working to make sure that your organization is at least supporting “positive emotions.”

Innovative Combinations: Chocolate and Peanut Butter

We’re all familiar with the television commercials of the unlikely and innovative combinations of chocolate and peanut butter to create the Reese’s cup. I’ve found that for many organizations, the best ideas have been an innovative combination of two or more different elements into something different.

Michael Michalko wrote an interesting article describing this exact phenomenon:
The lawn mower, for example, was invented in the cloth making industry by Edwin Budding who worked on a machine that trimmed cloth smooth using revolving blades and rollers. He combined this concept with the scythe, which was commonly used to trim grass, attached a handle so it could be pushed and the first lawn mower was born.

So, why is this the case? In my opinion it’s because we tend to work in silos. Silos are created by experiences (engineers vs. accountants), ages (my generation vs. yours), geographies (Florida vs. Maine), politics, bosses, departments, customers, market segments, competitors, and so on. They’re unavoidable. The key to creating innovative combinations is to cross those boundaries with your ideas and make them better. By talking with different people, not only from within your own department/location, but also from other organizations, you create more powerful combinations. Next time your looking for good ideas, call a meeting with your engineers and marketers–it will surely be interesting.