When our son was 5 years old he put us to shame as supposed creativity experts – in fact 7 times! We were picking him up from school, and Andrew was in the passenger seat busy preparing a for a keynote talk on creative thinking in business. The presentation would be presented to 300 corporate executives in Singapore the next day. Andrew had the whole talk worked out except the most important part: the creative opening. We were busy discussing the latest research and theories when our son took a bite out of the big round biscuit we had given him to keep him occupied and said, “Look dad, a mountain with snow on it!”. “Not now son", Andrew said, "we’re busy”. Our son was unperturbed though, and when he took another bite out of the biscuit he said, “Look dad, a sailing boat!”. But Andrew responded, “Not now, son – we’re busy trying to be creative.”
Then it hit us. Here we were as adults in the front seat trying to be creative, and in the back our son was instinctively demonstrating the creative process at work. He was displaying skills in divergent thinking as seen in the Rorschach and the Alternative Uses tests. While we were trying to read up on the latest research and conjure up creative ideas, it came naturally to him.
We thought this would be a great example for Andrew to use for the creative opening for his talk the next day. At the beginning of the presentation Andrew asked 6 volunteers to come up on stage and gave them each a big round biscuit. He then asked them to tell him what they saw. He knew he was going to have no trouble demonstrating the challenges with creative thinking for adults when the first guy went pale white with fear and could only tell me he saw a biscuit with a bite out of it!
Now, here’s some questions for you to consider:
- Do you have children? If so, have noticed how creative your children are?
- Do you remember being creative when you were a child?
- Do you think you are more creative now than you were as a child?
We are astounded at how over and over again whenever we ask these questions we get pretty much the same results. Most people feel that they were more creative as children than they are as adults, and that children in general are more creative than adults.
We have traveled the world and surveyed a range of people from slum dwellers through to corporate CEOs, and our findings consistently match these results. In fact the research shows that over 98% of kindergarten children score as geniuses in creative thinking tests (eg divergent thinking), but this drops to only 2% of adults. Studies have also revealed that while we’ve been getting smarter as a society and our collective IQ has been rising at about 10 points per generation (due to what’s known as the Flynn effect), our CQ or creative quotient has collectively been declining. And yet a recent IBM survey of 1500 CEOs worldwide has revealed that the most important leadership quality needed for the future is creative thinking.
There is clearly a problem – we are going to call it a crime. We are going to take you through some of the potential suspects that could be responsible for killing off creative thinking. We’ve conceived 7 fictional characters that represent the key blocks to creativity. Imagine you are a detective and you’re asking: Who killed creativity? With what weapon?... and Where? We have used a game metaphor to workshop through the issues with organizations, and we consistently find that today’s work environments can actively block creative thinking and innovation.
Let's look at some of the key suspects. Was it, for example
- PRESSURE with a weapon of crushing COERCION in the BOSS’S office?
Or was it…
- BUREAUCRACY with a weapon of INTOLERANCE in the FINANCE department?
Somewhere along the line these fictional characters get inside our heads and our organizations, and they create an environment that can block the creative process.
At one particular company workshop we ran all groups independently chose PESSIMISM as the prime creativity killer suspect, saying creativity was being killed with the weapon of NEGATIVITY in the company CANTEEN / COFFEE SHOP. Unpacking this further revealed that all employees would come to the coffee shop in their breaks and complain, fostering a very negative culture. When these results are then compared to a company like Google the issues that need to be dealt with become clear. Google has made a science out of creating innovative environments, including the canteen, actually encouraging people to go. Creative companies know how to “harness energy rather than coax it out of people”. Where food service that used to be purely about workplace productivity, it is now about creating a sense of community.
The manager from the company we ran the diagnostic workshop for came to us in the break and boasted that he deliberately made the coffee cheap and the food bad so people could get back to work fast. He had no idea how much he was killing innovation in the process. With attitudes like this it’s no wonder that stats show only 21% of the workforce is truly engaged!
You might not have the budget of Google, but think about your hang places at work - where creative ideas are most likely to be birthed and nurtured. What about your canteen? Are there stained coffee cups piling up in the sink? Is there off food in the fridge? Has it become the exclusive unpleasant smoking room? Or do you have a nice place to hang where there can be an active collision of ideas to foster creative thinking and innovation?
In Part 2 of this article we will reveal more about these creativity killers in a line-up and explain why and how they affect our creativity and what can be done about it.
Listen to Podcast
Topic: Who Killed Creativity and How Can We Get It Back?
Andrew Grant and Gaia Grant are the directors of Tirian, and authors of the breakthrough book ‘Who Killed Creativity?... And How Can We Get it Back?: Seven essential strategies for making yourself, your team and your organisation more innovative’. Andrew and Gaia have been engaged by market innovation leaders to help create a culture of innovation including: Google – working at their HQ in the US to introduce future solutions thinking; Nestle – facilitating a workshop on sustainable solutions for emerging markets at HQ in Switzerland; Large finance institutions – assisting them with dealing with changes to the regulations; Four Seasons Hotels – preparing the exec team and all GMs to embrace the potential future of the hospitality industry; Disney (HK) - creating compelling ideas to use for marketing. Gaia has a BA Dip Ed, BD (hons), Grad Dip Change Leadership, and MSc (in creative thinking). She is now completing an MPhil, leading into a PhD– focusing on research into the role of culture change and transformation in innovation at Sydney University, where she is also a guest lecturer.