In my role as a service excellence consultant, as competition for customers gets tougher, I’m hearing a lot more talk about innovation and creativity than I used to. As I work to help people rediscover and use their creativity and Toyota Way principles, practices and tools to turn those ideas into peak service experiences, I’ve come across quite a number of what I call ‘misconceptions’ about creativity and the creative process.
One of the biggest misconceptions is the idea that creativity is something that ‘just is’ or that it’s something that ‘happens’ in one fell swoop, like a bolt of lightning coming down from the sky: that ‘innovation’ means a new idea that simply magically appears out-of-the-blue and all-of-a-sudden – and definitely only to other people – not to us!
In my experience, that’s not how it works. Creativity, the basis of innovation, is a natural part of our humanity; we all have the propensity – whether we acknowledge it or not – to be creative: to synthesize experiences and ideas together to combine what we know into something that is ‘new’.
Misconception #1: Creativity happens suddenly out of nowhere!
If you think carefully about it, many of the products and services that seem suddenly to have ‘appeared out of nowhere’ actually just combined a number of tried and true ideas in a different way:
- Your smartphone is really just a handheld computer + a wireless phone. Over time and countless iterations synthesizing already known ideas, people simply figured out how to make a computer small enough to be held in the palm of a person’s hand and combine it with wireless phone technology!
- Uber. Although ride-sharing might seem like a new business model, it’s actually been around since the mid 1910’swhen jitneys drove people in unlicensed cabs for low fares. The folks at Uber simply figured out how to synthesize app technology and an already tried business model to connect riders and drivers in a way that works for both.
As my mother (and maybe yours) often said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” If you look carefully at many other innovations, you’ll be able to unravel the synthesis of those ideas over time as well. Small, iterative changes and ideas that built on each other allowed people to do things in what only appear to be radical new ways. Creativity, then, is something that ‘happens’ over time.
Misconception #2: Creativity can’t be learned
Another common ‘misconception’ about creativity is that you either ‘have it’ or you ‘don’t’: you’re a ‘creative type’ or ‘you’re not’. Once you realize that creativity involves synthesizing past experiences and ideas over time, then it’s easy to dispel this common myth too.
We’re all creative. If we want to be more creative, it doesn’t take sudden inspiration or a bolt of lightning, what it takes is practice. Regular, deliberate practice. Just like learning and improving any other skill. If you want to improve your golf game, you head out to the driving range and practice. You might even engage a golf pro to help direct you, give you feedback and make sure that you’re practicing correctly.
Like anything else we want to get better at, we need to Include regular time for deliberately ‘practicing creativity’:
- Set aside a specific time each day to spend thinking about how to solve a problem that seems impossible to you right now. Think about situations you’ve been in previously that were similar and what you could apply from those situations that could solve this problem.
- Then think about situations you were in that seem totally dissimilar. What could you apply from those experiences to this one? How could the learning from that situation help you here?
- Draw or write your ideas down (yes! Stick figures and poor spelling are totally fine!) and share them with a friend or colleague. Add in their thoughts and ideas too!
Then put your ideas into practice and try them out. I bet you’ll be pretty surprised at how creative you really are.
Creativity – and innovation – isn’t something mystical or magical. It’s practical. It’s the way we use our past experience and learning to solve problems and reach our goals on an ongoing basis. And the more time we spend practicing being creative, the more we will find that we are creative more often.
As people living in an ever more complicated world and as companies working to find ways to create the products and services that will satisfy and delight our customers, we’re all going to need to rely more and more on our creativity. Are you spending the time you need to deliberately practice your creativity each day?