Justin Eames  Justin Eames

The Four Myths of Creativity

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We regularly run collaborative ideation sessions here at fish in a bottle. Our clients and partners come in fresh from their own environments and we introduce them to our creative process. Over the course of a day we work together to generate ideas and solve problems.

I’m proud to say that a well run ideation session at fish in a bottle usually delivers beyond the expectations of the people visiting us. When we discuss how innovation and creativity is treated in their organisations we usually uncover a common mix of misconceptions. Given that everyone in business is quick to highlight the value of innovation in their organisation, it’s sometimes surprising how little is really understood about the processes that nurture it.

It can be very easy and cost effective to apply simple creative processes that will enable groups of people to quickly innovate, help you get ahead of your competition and become a more efficient organisation.

You can apply innovation anywhere in a business, it’s not just a product development process. Your accounts team, fulfilment processes, your sales people, they can all benefit too. But innovation means change, and you need to understand how people and creativity work together before you embark on that.

So I want to share four of the most common myths of creativity and innovation that we regularly come across.

One : The Eureka Myth

That magical moment of total clarity, where everything falls into place, and what we call ‘the beautiful idea’ emerges before our very eyes.

The danger that the eureka myth poses is that it moves focus away from the process of creativity. According to this myth ‘the beautiful idea’ is the result of some undefinable process, some epiphany that happens without influence or control.

So you just have to book out some time, kick back and wait for it to happen, right?

The reality is that beautiful ideas can sometimes just turn up, but they are unpredictable. What’s more, the concepts that they eventually become can fall down in implementation more than those that have emerged from a strong creative process, where an idea is formed and tested in iterations.

If you rely on innovation then putting something that’s ‘unpredictable’ and ‘tends to fall down’ at the heart of your business isn’t going to cut it.

Whatever stage you’re at, if you’re looking to innovate to gain an advantage, you need the output of your creative process to be consistently strong and reliable.

Understanding that the Eureka moment is a myth, and that you need a process to nurture creativity and innovation, just as you do any other function in your organisation, is the first step in the right direction.

Two: The Myth of the Genius

You guys need to meet Bob, he’s a creative genius! You’ll love him, he’s the expert. Full of ideas and oozing charisma. We just can’t stop him churning out great ideas!

Throughout most of the twentieth century the creative industries were built on talented individuals, often mavericks who sat somewhere between creatives and salesmen with a better instinctive understanding of consumer behaviour than most. Big personalities can make a big impact, but we’re now in a world where innovating at scale requires creativity that’s beyond one person’s reach.

Teams beat individuals every time. And in ideation sessions the charismatic expert in the room is always outperformed by the layman with an outside perspective and an open mind.

Buying into the myth of the genius encourages organisations to cluster around creative ‘superstars’. It sets everyone up for a fall. A good creative process means that everyone has the potential to be part of innovation, and that will build a platform for your business that goes beyond any individual.

Three: The Chaos Breeds Creativity Myth

Because so little is known about the science of creativity, it’s easy to fall into the belief that being creative is about letting go of order and freeing teams from the everyday demands their work puts on them.

While academics have put a lot of effort into understanding the neurological process of creativity, but not yet cracked it, industry has had to work out how to get success by applying the commercial constraints of time and budget to the chaos of creativity.

So we know that carefully constraining creativity can focus people, not stifle them. And we know that putting creativity at the heart of an organisation can be the catalyst for leaps in innovation, not just little steps. That’s exactly why so many high profile innovative businesses have creatives on their boards.

These are not people wallowing in creative chaos. They are people who understand and practice the creative process, operating and leading within the constraints and pressures of progressive businesses.

So given the right kind of process, creativity can flourish in any environment without reducing an organisation to chaos.

Four: The Away Day Myth

This myth says that creativity can only be found outside of your office. So you’d best gather your team, book a hotel somewhere remote and nail those innovation objectives on an away day.

Taking people out of their work environment is expensive and impractical. You need innovation and creativity to be integral to your business, so if you have to remove people from it to help your organisation evolve, something is very wrong.

People instinctively step away from their desks to be creative because it takes them away from distractions like email, phone calls and an overflowing in-tray. Making an office environment that acknowledges that and is conducive to creativity means people won’t feel the need to escape to innovate.

This myth runs deep and sends a lot of companies in the wrong direction. The most remarkably creative organisations aren’t the ones with the office slide, beach hut or Doctor Who Tardis meeting room. Those things are vanity and PR. Organisations that value innovation have space devoted to creativity. Simple environment changes make the biggest impact here. Ideation rooms are an easy place to start. Think about them as being different from meeting rooms. Only allow the basic tools of creativity. Somewhere to feel relaxed, meet, speak, listen and write things down.

Some of the best thought out creative environments are designed with serendipity in mind. Spaces that encourage those water cooler discussions, conversations over lunch or problem solving sessions in the corridor. They provide places to escape, and they encourage people to be away from their desks.

The myth of the innovation away day is busted by the many organisations who have successfully integrated creativity into their own physical spaces through simple and subtle environmental and cultural changes.

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Justin Eames

About Justin Eames

Justin is fish in a bottle’s cofounder and Head Fish.