Creativity: Why Is It Important? How To Encourage It?

Are you creative? Most people say they aren't. Yet, when you use the right tools, and create the right environment, peoples' creativity flourishes. That creativity can be extraordinarily valuable -- as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs can attest.

Obviously, people have been creative since, well, since people got started. It was creative to figure out how to control fire. It was creative to realize that the funny stone that melted in the fireplace could be turned into something useful. And so on.

Over the past sixty years, people have begun not just to accept creativity when it happens, but to study it. The intent was, and is, to understand how creativity works, so that we can spur it, harness it, and get more of it when we need it. The great creativity gurus - so far - are Alex Osborn, father of the brainstorm, Edward de Bono, and George Prince, the founder of Synectics. With the tools they've developed, we find that we can get more creativity on demand, from just about anyone.

There are many great books and web sites on creativity. Charles Cave's Creativity Page is one of the best starting places. Diane Ritter and Michael Brassard have done a nice job summarizing many of the tools in use today in "The Creativity Tools Memory Jogger", available from Goal/QPC. We won't attempt to get into all the various corners of the subject here, but rather will try to hit a few of the high spots.

Brainstorming is probably the most used creativity tool. It is very flexible and powerful, when it it done right, and many of the variants that people use stem from this construct of Alex Osborne's.

Affinity Diagrams are the logical tag team partner for the brainstorm. The focus is on idea grouping, instead of idea generation, but it is still supposed to be a gut-level activity, not a rational, analytical one.

Knowledge mapping and mind-mapping also inherit from brainstorming. These tools are used to try to see all the threads of knowledge about a given issue, breaking it down into fine points, and trying to arrange them spatially. The classic brainstorm doesn't worry about arranging ideas; it just lists them. The knowledge map tries to arrange those ideas so that gaps in knowledge become evident, or so that connections can be seen. The flowchart can double as a knowledge mapping tool. If you thing that a more structured approach would help, the tree diagram can work nicely as a mind-mapping tool.

Recommended Creativity Resource: Compio's Fresh Ideas

Fresh Ideas is an on-line coaching program that can help you think more creatively over time. This creative catalyst was designed with input from busy leaders in the fields of innovation, organizational development, sales and marketing, communications, executive administration and entrepreneurship. Take a look…