11 Feb Creativity and a new word for you
The “sudden” and “unprecedented” river of change in which we are swimming is anything but sudden and unprecedented. The only thing that has changed is the pace of the flow.
“Capitalism is the midst of an epochal transformation from its previous model to a new one based on creativity and knowledge.” So reads the opening sentence of the 2015 Global Creativity Index, produced for the Rotman School of Management by a team headed up by the well-known urban studies theorist Richard Florida. We may argue the finer details, and Florida’s ideas have had their fair share of criticism, but the larger point made by the writers is the connection between creativity and “sustainable prosperity.” The Index invariably makes interesting reading in its entirety, but its key message can be summarised in one simple bullet point: countries which rank highly in the Global Creativity Index, report high levels of entrepreneurial activity, and their GDP and standards of living consistently outperform other countries. Creativity, however we care to define it, is good for business.
The greatest paradox about creativity is that it is at once immensely difficult and childishly easy. It is difficult because the process is usually riddled with self-doubt, its fundamental building material is patience, and its milestones are consecutive failures, each often greater than the last. There is no creativity without trying and failing, and trying again. It is easy because we are all inherently creative. Not in the sense of Leonardo-creative, but possessing the impulse to seek out new ideas. Whether it is planning a mission to Mars or putting together a team to tackle a stubborn production line problem, we are endlessly curious and eager to find new solutions. There is also, of course a caveat — being inherent in all of us, does not at all make it simple.
Coming from the world of creative industries and technology startups I hold a particular set of views about the value of creativity, placing it at the foundation level as the sine qua non of modern business. But I also have a clear understanding of just how difficult it is to continue to come up with good, valuable ideas. I’ve written about it many times, including this recent piece. It is hard enough to do when the problem is known. When the problem is fuzzy, the circumstances changeable and you have no clear idea of how to even start, it becomes really difficult.
Ultimately, creativity is about opening up your mind enough to make new connections between new stuff and the stuff you already know. Other processes are responsible for the sorting and application of any good ideas which may come up — filtering, selecting, adjusting and finally using them — but creativity is about swimming in the sea of possibility and catching any waves that come at us. Rather than any quaint ideas of “being creative” it has to do with self-confidence, however riddled with self-doubt it may be. It is also about inventing new tools along the way; tools which include new language — this is a process which is happening all the time.
Enlightened business leaders realise that their people need help and inspiration to access their creative resources. They also realise that accessing those resources is their best weapon in the competitive struggle against teams which have shown themselves as more effective in adopting innovative practices, or who have had a head start. Unlocking creative resources is the key to faster decision making, deeper and more varied sources of new ideas for products and services, and a higher level of employee morale. Companies are therefore hungry for intellectual stimulus and their leaders are searching for new ways to provide it.
Let me celebrate the act of creating language by giving you a present, to help us out in defining the things with which we will be working.
Virtually all books on innovation talk about it being a process of answering questions, solving problems, facing challenges. Naturally, that is so, except this is language which forces definitions on the meanings of words we use. You have a question? You are not complete without an answer. You have a problem? Then a solution is what you seek! You see a challenge before you? Best gird up your loins, stand up straight and look it in the eye. All very harsh, brittle, and demanding response that is precise, immediate and, above all, correct. Which is precisely the polar opposite of what you need by way of mindset when climbing the snaking, rough path towards Mount Innovation, especially in a time when uncertainty and volatility are the only predictable qualities of our new-found reality.
What you need is flexibility and imagination, patience and urgency in equal measures, a new set of skills, and a will to pursue goals which can only become clear once you get nearer to them. If it sounds more like a quest than pursuit of clear-eyed business objectives, that is because it is. Innovation, at its core, demands that you set out for a destination whose location is uncertain, and on the way invent tools and methods to help you get there. It therefore requires a whole new word to describe the thing that you are doing. A new word that doesn’t carry the gut-wrenching expectation of a question, the dread of a challenge, or the uncertainty of a problem.
So here is a present for you — a new word for a new era — there is such a word, and it is quproch. You haven’t heard of it? I’m not surprised. I made it up a couple of years ago as part of a long series of workshops on creative thinking which I delivered for a large e-commerce firm. It is a portmanteau of QUestion PROblem and CHallenge. It contains all three, but has none of the negative connotations or the demanding presence of any of them, since it is a neutral neologism. We can use it to describe “the thing you’re working on now.”
Quproch. There you go. You’re most welcome. By all means, go ahead and invent your own words to help you in arriving at elegant solutions to complex problems.