Daydreaming and mining your dreams for ideas have been discussed in this blog before, but an October 27, 2011, Wall Street Journal article, The Music of His Dreams, really blew my mind. Larry Blumenfeld writes that pianist Fred Hersch awoke from a two-month coma in 2008 and remembered eight specific dreams. Hersch was compelled by them and in 2009 wrote a 90 minute theater piece blending Hersch’s music with interpretations of his dreams and experiences. I just found that amazing.
A podcast and blog to explode your business and personal creativity.
As I’ve mentioned in an early podcast episode, you will be more creative in the things that you have spent a fair amount of time studying, and so the October 26, 2011, Wall Street Journal article, Toughest Exam Question: What is the Best Way to Study?, by Sue Shellenbarger, caught my eye.
The information in this article is geared towards someone taking an exam, like in high school or college, and it’s easy to see how this information can apply to someone going on a job interview. A good deal of this information also applies to our creative endeavors, and will be familiar with those familiar with this blog.
Shellenbarger writes that a growing body of research on study techniques shows that to do optimally on a test, you should:
- Repeatedly test yourself before the exam, like with practice tests, to teach the brain to retrieve and apply knowledge from memory and to help with test-taking skills. I used this technique years ago, first when studying for the GED to graduate high school a year early, then for the SAT, then for the EIT and PE exams. Back in the day, I just went to a general bookstore or technical bookstore and picked up a book on practice exams. Now, I would assume these can all be found on-line.
- Get enough sleep
- The night before the exam, review the toughest material right before going to bed. Presumably this helps in recalling the information the next day. I bet it also gives you a restless sleep.
- Don’t wake up earlier than usual the day of the exam in order to study, as that could interfere with REM sleep that aids in memory retention.
- Don’t do the “all-nighter.” This practice is linked to lower grades and impairs reasoning and memory for as long as four days. I’ve never done an all-nighter…never had the stamina, actually, and just on the face of it it always seemed like a bad idea. People will do this for work, too, working long hours, but I always wonder if they wind up creating more problems than they solve.
- Sleeping and napping and have been discussed in this blog elsewhere. Search for it.
- Eat right
- High-carb, high fiber, slow-digesting foods are best
- Eat breakfast the morning of an exam. Oatmeal is good. I like mixing it up with crushed wallnuts, wheat germ, a cut-up apple or banana, and if it’s unflavored oatmeal a dollop of maple syrup.
- What you eat a week in advance of the exam matters, too. Eat a balanced diet with fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid distractions, like music, text messages, TV, and email.
- Reduce anxiety on the day of the exam as that can impair performance
- If taking the exam in an unfamiliar place, visit the room or location in advance, if possible.
- Set aside 10 minutes before the exam to write down your fears and anxieties.
- Before the test, envision yourself answering questions calmly and with confidence.
From the October 24, 2011, Wall Street Journal article, Top ‘Innovators’ Rank Low in R&D Spending, by Melissa Korn—
Korn writes of a new report by Booz & Co showing little correlation between the amount a company spends on R&D and the perception of the company as being innovative by other companies. For example, out of 1,000 companies, Apple ranked 70th in terms of R&D spending but was perceived as the most innovative company; Google ranked 34th in R&D spending but was rated 2nd most innovative; and 3M ranked 86th in R&D spending but was rated 3rd most innovative.
Korn also gives examples of how companies encourage creativity:
- Involve employees company wide to help generate ideas.
- Hold interdepartmental brainstorming sessions.
- Provide a Web forum for recommendations. In this regard I’ll provide a shameless plug for Web2Intranet.com.
- Pfizer, which ranked 2nd in R&D spending and was rated 16th for innovation, invites researchers to attend business meetings and encourages employees on the commercial side to attend scientific reviews.
- 3M, mentioned in the podcast episode on Serendipity and in my book review of Built to Last, allows employees spend 15% of their time exploring side projects and offers seed grants to encourage innovation.
The guide opens with certain points about finding creative people, like it can be time-consuming and that a creative person in a non-creative job will be frustrated. All well and good, but then it quotes someone saying:
It’s most important when it’s going to cost you a lot of money if the new hire makes a mistake.
As has been written & spoken about in this blog & podcast and elsewhere, tolerance for failure and mistakes, and even expecting and embracing them, is inherent in the cultures of creative organizations. Let’s just tolerate the above quote as a mistake.
The guide continues with the steps in finding innovators, starting with the basic managerial decision making process of defining what it is you want. (Brought to mind Episode 4: Decision Making and Creativity.) This part mentioned breadth creativity—seeing the big picture—vs. depth creativity—ingenuity within a specific realm. This part discusses how many companies find it difficult to integrate truly outside-the-box thinkers, but also says that if you find your organization has a limited acceptance of creativity, then you may need to “refurbish the company culture,” and offers advice for that in a side panel (see below).
The next step is to attract the talent. Convey the organization’s goals and values in each communication medium, and add some flair to your job postings. The job postings can also be used to filter for specific kinds of creativity, like asking the candidates to submit samples of their work or asking for proposed solutions to a specific challenge they may face on the job. And consider looking outside your organization’s industry to perhaps find someone with a different perspective (which brought to mind Episode 5: Diversity and Creativity…ah, the memories…). This part ended with the statement:
Expertise can be acquired; creativity generally can’t.
I guess I’ll have to tolerate that as another mistake. I certainly hope this website is helping people in their pursuit of acquiring greater creativity. If nothing else, just click on the Creativity Tips and Techniques link in the Categories section on the right hand side of each webpage here; that should help in picking up tools to help make you more creative.
The last step in finding innovators deals with the interview process. Behavioral interviewing is discussed (“Tell me about a time when you…”, “Describe an experience when you…”). You can ask the candidate to describe a time when they faced a new situation and how they dealt with it, or ask them to respond to a situation your team recently faced and how they would have approached it. The key here is to evaluate the candidate’s thought processes; look for alternatives and trade-offs, taking into account different perspectives and stakeholders, coming up with development plans, or whatever you think is appropriate.
Other interviewing techniques written about were having the candidate create sample work (writing, art, design), putting the candidate in a role-playing scenario, and giving them a writing exercise, like coming up with a marketing plan in 30 minutes.
The end of the guide contained two sidebars. One was on Building a Creative Culture, making the point that you’ll need to find ways to inspire and motivate a creative team (really, any kind of team), and for creative people:
- Inspire with work, as work itself is a primary motivator. I find this to be exceptionally true: when I’m tired and not feeling well, when I’m working in the groove I don’t notice feeling bad at all, but when I stop to take a break, that’s when the feelings of being sick & tired set in.
- Compensate with care. You don’t want your people feeling manipulated, and you don’t want them to feel unappreciated.
- Create happiness, as people felt more creative when they were happy. Or at least don’t create unhappiness, if possible.
The second sidebar gave suggestions for specific questions on how to probe a candidate for creativity. I’ll let you read article on Inc.com for that.
From November 1, 2010, Fortune Magazine article, Death to the SAT!!!, by David A. Kaplan —
Cognitive Psychologist Robert Sternberg in his book, College Admissions for the 21st Century, argues that standardized tests, like the SAT and ACT, overvalue analytic abilities at the expense of leadership, creativity, and wisdom, and as Dean of Tufts instituted Project Kaleidoscope aimed to test high school applicants on such qualities.
Seems like a great idea to me. If that catches on, you’d think high schools would start emphasizing those qualities in their education programs. Pipe dream? I hope not.
The September 27, 2011, issue of The Wall Street Journal had a good article on how companies can be more creative, titled Better Ideas Through Failure. The main ideas of this article—to allow risk taking, to be tolerant of failure, and even to reward failure—will be familiar to followers of this blog & podcast.
The article discusses that if you feel your employees are getting more conservative, perhaps slower, playing it safe in order to not make mistakes, and you want more innovation, then you must realize that higher innovation also involves more failures, so you need to tolerate and even encourage and reward risk taking and the inevitable failures that come with it. I think an analogy can be found in baseball, in which the home run kings are also the strike-out kings (or at least can be—don’t hold me to baseball stats).
The idea here is not to reward just any failure (don’t reward failure as the result of laziness of sloppiness, for example), but to reward “Heroic Failure”, for taking a big, edgy risk. Likewise, this kind of failure is not to be hidden, but to be shared, discussed, and learned from (a tuition of sorts).
The article gave some other ways companies try to foster innovation:
- No meeting times or days
- Creating a team or a division for innovations
- Game or nap rooms
- Art-filled atriums
- Hiking trails
- Meditation rooms
- Limiting teams to a small number, like 5 people
- Encouraging trust and open communication and discussion
The article also had a sidebar on other facets of creativity:
- Being last in the family, as opposed to the first-born, tends to help in being more creative
- Being aggressive, egocentric, or antisocial helps in being creative, while being resistant to change or giving up easily tends to inhibit creativity
- Taking time off and letting ideas gel helps creativity, whereas working doggedly on a goal tends to inhibit creativity
- Having the freedom to take risks, working on a variety of assignments, and multiple projects at once helps creativity, while pressure to play it safe will have the opposite effect
When you’re creating something, do you sometimes find it difficult to decide if the thing you’re creating is better one way or another? I had this happen to me this past week in creating a new video for my website, Web2Intranet.com.
The first cut of the video is what I had originally envisioned. On reviewing it for the upteenth time, it seemed to me to sound too plain so I added background music. And then the ending of the video seemed too “cute” for a business related website, so I produced it without that ending.
And the waffling continued. Did the background music and that original ending distract from the information I was trying to convey or did they add entertainment value to it? I produced four versions of the video with all the combinations: background music present and not, the ending present and not. In the end I chose distraction-free information over entertainment, so the video I presented on the website does not have background music and does not have the ending I originally envisioned.
However, I thought for ExplodingCreativity.com I’ll present two versions here, one with background music and the ending, and the other as given on Web2Intranet.com. Let me know which you like better —
Here’s the one with background music and the alternate ending.
Here’s the one without background music and without the above one’s ending.
A man, a camcorder, and a green screen…it’s a beautiful thing. Well, may not be overly beautiful, but it sure is a fun and creative thing to do. I’m thinking now of creating a Video Setup page that details my setup and process for producing these videos, like my Podcast Setup page does for the ExplodingCreativity podcasts. As interesting as it may be for someone else, it would actually be helpful for me so I don’t forget something after a long time from doing the last video. If I don’t write it down, I’ll forget, or at least have to re-learn something the hard-way as opposed to the easy-way of reviewing my notes on it.
Here’s an interesting blog from Anne Fisher at fortune.cnn.com, which I’ll file under the “dark side” of creativity: Want to be promoted? Stifle your creativity.
Fisher writes that three new studies have found that, in the business world, creativity is seldom rewarded with promotions, effectively filtering creative people from leadership positions, and that this may be due to an ingrained expectation that creative people are unpredictable whereas people want their leaders to give a sense of security by maintaining the status quo.
Is this good or bad? I think it’s bad if this means that being regarded as creative is used as a disqualification of being in a leadership position, which is how I read Fisher’s blog. However, being creative should not be the sole qualification for being in a leadership position, either.
And then there’s always entrepreneurship, which I’m certain many frustrated creative people have turned to to create their own leadership position.
Drawing diagrams, using pictures, and other visual techniques are great for creativity and problem solving. Episode 8: Mind-Mapping discussed one well-known visual technique.
Clive Thompson writes about drawing in his article, Think Visual. Thomson writes that the best way to solve a complicated problem may well be to use drawings and pictures, that such visual techniques allow people to more quickly understand an issue and have the same mental model of a problem, and that images provoke a creative leap (the “aha moment”) more often than verbal or writing techniques.
Thompson’s article points out that drawing, unfortunately, is considered childish, and that people with higher verbal skills are thought more highly of, including in our school systems.
Related to education and drawing is a company named Smart Technologies which sells large interactive screens to schools, as profiled in a Forbes October 9, 2009, article, Getting to The Top of the Class. These screens replace the old whiteboards and even older chalkboards. The screens can be attached to the Internet, providing a “portal to the digital world,” students and teachers can manipulate what’s on the screen with their fingers, and they can be used as a blackboard, too. The founders of Smart Technologies believe these screens increase student participation and enjoyment in their learning and so decrease behavioral problems and help the students to achieve more. I sure hope so.