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Team Being Creative

A Myriad of Ways to Being Creative

Have you seen this equation: innovative = creative? Novelty always comes from “outside the box,” right? It’s a land of confusion to many, who then conclude they are just not the creative type. As a result, organizations lose out because being innovative is but one of a myriad of ways to being creative. All people can be creative—in their own way.

An organization’s ability to bring to best use the individual, team and collective creativity of its people is an important differentiator. That being widely acknowledged, organizations strive for diversity: diversity in gender, age, education, culture and so forth. The argument here is that they can’t overlook another type of diversity: that of being creative.

The under-appreciated obvious

There is nothing new about the call for creative diversity. In December 2007, Coyne, Clifford and Dye published an article in Harvard Business Review entitled “Breakthrough Thinking from Inside the Box.” They stated the obvious that nobody seemed to have noticed: People who like to explore “inside the box” should not be under-appreciated.

This point is backed up by robust research in cognitive psychology. Since the 1970s, Dr. Michael Kirton has been exploring how people solve problems. Seen in the light of cognitive science, solving problems and being creative is one and the same thing. As Genrikh Saulovich Altshuller, inventor himself of the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ), observed: Inventors are able to see problems where the rest of us have grown used to living with the hassle.

Acknowledging these key elements, Dr. Kirton investigated how people actually solve problems. Complex problems are solved in teams, which comes at a price. If you want to solve a technical “Problem A” with your team, then you have to face the additional “Problem B” of managing that same team: finding a place and time to meet, going through the stages of team development and tackling the team’s diversity.

In his research, Dr. Kirton found that people tend to confuse two things: level and style of creativity. If someone’s style of being creative is different from yours, then you might conclude that their level of creativity doesn’t match yours. Examples abound: For some time, Tesla worked for Edison. Both are recognized to have been highly creative people, but creative with very different styles (see this study for more). To solve difficult problems, we need creative diversity in our problem solving teams, but then we struggle to deal with it.

Insights gained with the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Theory help individuals understand their own preferred problem solving style, appreciate their colleagues’ styles and manage diverse teams so that complex problems can be solved.

Read more, including three case study examples, in my full article on Innovation Management