Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
In a recent survey by IBM, CEOs from around the world confirmed creative thinking as the number one asset needed to capitalise on complexity and competency within their organisation. But are we doing enough to generate the right ideas?
Speaking at Salesforce Future of Marketing in Sydney, Gaia Grant, author of Who Killed Creativity?...And How Can We Get It Back?, raised concerns that our current habits are thwarting our potential to unlock creativity and generating innovative ideas.
“We were all kids once, and we all had that creative potential as a child," she said. "But something happens in our life spans and as adults and we seem to lose that creative thinking. Creativity is a life skill and it’s something we need to develop throughout our lifetime. You can’t have innovation without the ability to think creatively.”
According to Grant, creativity is dying from generation to generation and while we’re getting more intelligent, we’re actually getting less creative. She said research reveals 98 per cent of children aged between two to five years old score highly on creative intelligence, but that drops by the time the child is five to eight years old to 32 per cent.
“This drops again by the time children are 12 to 15 to about 12 per cent and finally, by the time we’re adults, it’s down to only two per cent,” she said.
She blames rules and regulations in the schooling system as one of the primary killers of creative thinking, because it focuses too much on conforming to regulations and procedures.
“We enter school creative and we’re taught to be correct,” she said. “We’re taught there’s A,B,C or D, but don’t come up with any answer outside that because it doesn’t exist.”
Gaia differentiates between creative artistic processes to creative problem solving, which she believes is essential for innovation to survive and for brands to stand out from the crowd.
“It’s about developing different and new ideas that make a difference,” she said.
Factors that contribution to effective creative thought leadership are originality, elaboration, resistance to closure, flexibility and integration, she said.
“We need to think about how to nurture creativity and how to develop a culture that supports innovation within the organisation,” she said. “And the two combined are going to be very powerful in the future.”
Gaia stressed we need to look outside what we’re taught to see via the Internet, social media and television in order to re-focus positive idea generation.
“Neurologically, we’re going down the same pathways,” she said. “While we have the opportunity to explore different pathways, we don’t do it, because they get cleared off when we’re not using them from when we’re young. So unless you’re actively exercising your brain and extending it in different ways and exploring it in different channels, you’re losing the ability to think creatively and you won’t be able to see new, different and original ideas.”
Gaia claimed one company that did this successfully was Dell. When everyone in the technology industry was focused on retail, it decided to take a more customer-focused angle.
“Dell created the sales process and came up with something original and different,” she said.
Another organisation that focused on idea generation and elaborated on the creative process when it decided to enter the China marketplace in the 1980s was Proctor & Gamble, she said. This was at a time when no other multinational had managed to crack the market.
“What they decided to do was spend years doing the research and asking questions, then went back to the drawing board several times before deciding on the product to take to market,” she said. “P&G came up with a concept for a high-quality product for a low cost market through elaboration, and that concept was the sachet. This worked because Chinese consumers were used to sachets in magazines. They sold them in market stalls in China so the customer could afford it, which proved incredibly successful.”
Take time to look at things a different way
Perspective is also key when it comes to creative problem solving, Gaia said, especially taking time to look at things from the customer’s point of view.
“It’s all about turning things around and looking at it from different angles and perspectives,” she said.
Companies that have done this well include Uber, which has become the biggest transport company in the world that owns no cars, and AirBnB, the biggest accommodation provider in the world that owns no hotels.
“Both have been incredibly flexible in coming up with breakthrough innovations where they are seeing things from their customer’s perspective and seeing what they see and what they want,” she said.
Being able to switch from the left and right sides of the two hemispheres of the brain is another powerful way of unlocking creativity, like musicians and dancers, who Gaia claimed do this quite effectively.
An organisation that has captured this way of thinking in its branding is L’Oréal, she said, by coming up with the augmented reality app, Makeup Genius.
“The app combines the retailer idea with the creative idea to come up with a truly innovative product,” she said.
The pitfalls of multi-tasking
One thing Gaia warned against doing, however, was multi-tasking. She claimed it is one of the killers of creative thinking, as our focus drops dramatically when we’re trying to work on more than one thing at once.
“We’re taught to multi-task and we’re taught that’s what we need to get through efficiently, but our brains cannot cope with it,” she said. “We lose energy and we lose time. It takes two hours out of hour day in terms of our productivity. In fact, multi-tasking lowers our IQ twice as much as smoking or marijuana.
“This impacts our creative flow, our fluency and our ability to achieve the breakaway principle, where we move away from a task and spend time doing something completely different and give our minds a rest, to let our unconscious minds get to work.”
One organisation that did this successfully was Shell, where an engineer had a problem trying to access oil locked in the crevices underneath the earth’s surface.
“So he decided to break away and go to his son’s soccer game and afterwards they went for a milkshake together,” Gaia said. “He noticed his son took the straw, turned it upside down and used it to suck the froth out of the corners of the glass. Straight away, he had a eureka moment and said that is what we need to do. As a result, he invented was called the snake oil reel to access the oil underneath the earth’s layers.”
Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO Australia conversation on LinkedIn: CMO Australia, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+: google.com/+CmoAu