Monday, 21 May 2018

Do not fall off the creative problem solving train before it has even left the station!

'For the texts, I decided to use several languages, but since I didn't actually speak most of them, I just picked out words for their look and sound. My sources for words were my opera recordings. I'd pull out a libretto, listen to the opera, and select the words I liked, based on their sounds. I didn't look at their translation.'

Christopher Rouse describing the composition of his work Karolju, a piece for chorus and orchestra based upon made up Christmas Carols. (Quotation taken from 'The Muse that Sings: Composers Speak about the Creative Process, by Ann McCutchan.)

Our attempts at creativity and innovation can easily fail before they have properly started. Often, the cause of this can be tracked back to the way we habitually separate the act of creative problem solving from the process of selecting the people and other resources we are going to use to do it.

This can be like bringing together all the people and materials needed to build a traditional house and using them to build a skyscraper.

Our remorselessly logical approach to selecting the people and resources we are going to bring together to creatively problem solve, which is understandably based upon common-sense criteria focused upon what we consider to be relevant experience and expertise and proven track records of effectiveness and efficiency, can severely limit our ability to be creative and innovative.

The logical, unquestioned assumptions that underpin our selections can predispose our thinking towards very specific expectations about what a solution should look like, so forcing us down less innovative tracks than would otherwise have been the case.

An historical example 

Speaking of tracks, the introduction of train travel was one of the most innovative and influential developments of the industrial age. Essential to its effectiveness was the safe transportation of passengers, drivers and guards. It was only natural that the best carriage-makers of the day, and the best most tried and tested designs and materials, would be brought together to create the new train carriages. Strangely, the new carriages (based upon the expert knowledge and experience of the day) looked remarkably like horse-drawn carriages or stage coaches (with the guards perched precariously on the outside at the front or back of the carriages).

Now, trains are quite fast (faster than horse-drawn carriages) and this previously unexperienced speed frequently caused guards to fall off and injure themselves. Indeed, the falls were so bad that many guards died of their injuries.   

The expert carriage-makers of the day were brought together again, and the designs and materials meticulously reviewed. The conclusion was as follows:

'The guards need to hold on tighter!'

If these experts had thought a little more freely than they did and sought the views of guards and passengers, they may have gained some very useful insights about how to make the carriages safe and effective. Indeed, perhaps some of the guards and passengers could have been selected to contribute to the design of the carriages. Guards and passengers would have had a different perspective on carriage design, probably focusing very much upon a carriage's interior. This would have led to a better use of seating and space, thus enabling guards to work and sit inside rather than outside the carriages. 

But this did not happen for some considerable time, and however hard the carriage-makers exhorted the guards to ‘hold on tighter’ the injuries and deaths did not diminish.

So remember

The creative problem solving process includes the selection of the people, techniques, tools and resources that will be brought together and used to creatively problem solve. Be not only logical in your selection of these things but also intuitive and curious; make some of your selections for different, unusual or emotional reasons. Who or what would be intriguing to include in the process? Who or what looks and feels like an attractive addition to your problem solving resources? What would be fun to try out simply because it is different or unique or you have not encountered it before?

Who or what will you include in your creative problem solving process simply because it sounds like an attractive idea?

Do not fall off the creative problem solving train before it has even left the station!

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