Back in 2009, a leading study of CEOs proclaimed that creativity and innovation were critical skills for the future. I don’t think that they were wrong.
Since then, a proliferation of books have been published that explore everything from the neuroscience of creativity to the business models to support it. And universities launched courses in it. But I’m not sure I’ve seen much of a change in business though.
A key challenge in my experience, is approaching it intellectually or academically. Now, in many cases that’s not a bad thing but sitting in room discussing whether people are born creative or learn creativity skills doesn’t always produce something.
And as much as it’s fascinating to read every research study conducted with a ten people sample that finds people are more creative when drinking water at room temperature than drinking chilled water, it doesn’t do much for the marketing manager trying to figure out a new way of having her product noticed on facebook. Or the supervisor trying to figure out a way to speed up production.
I’ve been running workshops on creativity and innovation since 2002. First, they were at the BBC for digital media producers but then when I left the BBC I worked with people from all walks of life. I also maintained a website on creativity that got more interest, it seemed in Asia than in the U.K. or U.S. I figured we need to be as practical about creativity as we are intellectual.
My interest was in practical creativity. What could we do to solve problems effectively using a creative mindset. As such I developed a model that can help anyone at any time take ideas and turn them into reality. It’s called ICE Creativity, which I summarize below, and is based on a number of assumptions.
- Creativity is the process of turning a new idea into reality. It’s not just imagination or coming up with nice ideas. It’s generating imaginative ideas then applying them to become real.
- Everyone is born creative. But life teaches us to be uncreative. So many of us need to take actual steps to unpeel our uncreativity and unleash our creativity.
- Creativity happens both with and without planning. I call unplanned creativity, such as coming up with an idea when you’re in the shower or walking the dog as organic creativity. I call the ideas you put into action after a deliberative process, perhaps with colleagues, applied creativity because you’re applying a set of skills to create something.
While both organic and applied creativity rely on an appropriate mindset, applied creativity is actively solving a problem under pressure. It’s when you need to figure out a hook in some marketing literature to attract customers. Where you need to solve a logistics kink in a factory workflow. Where you need to re-jig a product for a new market. All things you’re charged to deliver on a deadline.
So, the ICE model can help. And what makes it practical and easy is that it is so simple. ICE stands for:
Follow these three steps and you can be focused on developing creative solutions. Let’s briefly check out what they involve.
One of the challenges to dreaming up fresh ideas is allowing judgmental and critical thinking to blind us to possibilities. We look at a new idea and discount it because our mind is trained to say things like, “that won’t work for me because …”
The first stage of ICE is about suspending judgmental and critical thinking to simply dream big ideas. At the heart of this is brainstorming which can be conducted in many ways. The idea is that you get out onto paper, a flip chart or onto post it notes, as many ideas as possible related to the problem you are trying to solve.
Most ideas will be worthless and that’s fine because some will be gold. Often, worthless ideas spur on new ideas that crack the code. The point is that at this during the Imagine stage, your job is simply to spit out as many ideas as you can. Be outrageous. Have fun. Laugh. Be silly.
It takes time and energy to get into the imagination mindset because often we come into brainstorming with all sorts of outside pressures. There are techniques we can use to help this but that is something to explore in another conversation. The point here is to generate as many ideas as you can, related to solving the problem. Once you have done this, you can review them and that leads us into step 2, critique.
This is where you are allowed to use your critical thinking skills. It’s the time where you review all the ideas you generated and choose one, two or maybe three that you will use or present to your boss for a decision. It’s tempting to look at the ideas and just say, “Yeah, I like this.” But the real value of this stage comes from using a set of criteria to analyze how effective each idea is at solving your problem.
Once you have narrowed down your selection to a few ideas, you then develop them considering things like costs, benefits, and whether you have the resources such as people and skills to make them happen. You should also consider things like how the idea plays into brand and organizational ethos.
For larger projects, you may need to take three or four ideas to present to senior leaders who will then choose one. For smaller projects you might make the determination. Once an idea has been selected it’s time to enact it.
Enacting is where you turn an idea into reality. For small projects, enacting your idea may be a simple matter of time management. For larger ideas, perhaps a marketing campaign, a book, or new way of working, it’s likely you’ll need to deploy project management skills. We don’t have space to explore those just now other than to say that discipline and focus are critical.
A key assumption of the ICE Model is that a good idea is not good enough. It needs to be worked on and applied. There are many budding novelists who have a great story but never put it on paper. They’re not creative, they’re imaginative. There are many musicians with ideas for a song who never write it down or get a band to play it. They may be imaginative but they’re not creative because they haven’t created that idea.
Enact is where we experience true creativity.
In the eighties, Edward DeBono was very well known for his books and workshops on lateral thinking which in a way was a precursor to creativity and innovation. He wrote a book about thinking hats, suggesting that to be effective, you literally needed to put different hats on for different thinking tasks.
Creativity in a way requires you to do this too. It starts with putting on the imagination hat where you dream big ideas and don’t let rational thoughts distract you. Then, when you have a plate full of ideas, you put on the critical thinking hat and analyze each of those ideas with a view to selecting the one that best works for the company. Then you switch gears and put on the Enact hat which is where you do the work of making it a reality.
It’s easy to think that the creative giants in history just had ideas and then they happened. That’s not the case at all. Creativity isn’t about aha moments but about turning ahas into marathons.