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Team Creativity At Work I and II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best
Edward Glassman : More Than One Way To Think Creatively At Work

There's More Than One Way To Think Creatively At Work

By Edward Glassman, PhD

What is your creative thinking at work like? I am fascinated by the things creative people say about their own creative processes. My hunch is that if we were perceptive enough and had detailed insights into how each of us thinks creatively, we would discover numerous creative processes, many of which you could learn to enhance your creativity at work. Consider the following example:

I met a very creative inventor and engineer, and the then Chairman of a thriving company in Michigan that has benefited greatly from his creative inventiveness. I was so impressed by his perceptions of his creative processes, I asked him for a written description. Here's what he wrote…

"Dear Ed:

"You asked me to send you an explanation of how I think creatively. I have concluded there are two ways.

"The first creative process seems to occur almost naturally and spontaneously, without preparation, in home, work, social, or play situations. For some reason my mind set is to look for alternatives to the accepted. In almost every situation I seem to assume that a better way exists; and I automatically find myself searching for it. My method of search involves mental exercises of turning things around, looking for an element of surprise, and allowing my subconscious to spend a few fleeting moments on it. Although I do not look for jokes at these times, they sometimes pop up.

"The second creative process is used to solve specific problems. These are design or engineering problems on products or parts of products. Preparation is required and I invest time looking at other products, reading trade periodicals, studying patents, and generally observing processes and mechanisms. Such preparation loads my mind with information, most of which is not eminently useful, but pays off in the long run. I like to think of my data bank as a three dimensional grid into which I take conscious, and, I believe, subconscious forays.

"To begin my creative process I have a specific design or product need in mind, and, I almost always have a pencil and an eraser in hand. When I am alone I like to think in a darkened environment and I try to sketch the problem while making forays into my data base grid. My grid is littered with other forays from similar problems. These previous pathways, though almost all have led to dead ends, help me to penetrate my data bank, and give me a basis from which I can branch to new areas. This trial and error process, often requiring 20 to 50 attempts, is lengthy, but it is not in the least tedious.

"The potential excitement of finding a solution makes the process fun. Indeed, most of my lifetime kicks have resulted from elegant solutions extracted this way. Interestingly, the solutions may not come during an attempt. Rather, it often comes when my mind is relaxed enough that my subconscious can get my attention long enough to regurgitate the solution. I try to carve out time for quiet periods, and sometimes encourage my subconscious to react by floating an overview of the problem into my mind. Driving or sitting quietly are good times for surfacing new ideas.

"Once on the surface, the idea can generally be improved by using the first method described above, as there are a lot of weird arrangements and no humor deep in my subconscious mind."

Compelling insights. These fascinating glimpses into a creative mind at work truly impress. Notice the perception that there are two creative processes, one for daily, everyday creativity and one to solve engineering problems at work. The former involves no preparation and is very spontaneous. The second needs extensive preparation and a special focused effort. Notice also how he prepares his mind for creativity and seeks darkened environments to help.

Do you have insights into your own creative processes and triggers? Send them to me through my website (below). •

© 2010 by Edward Glassman. All rights reserved.

Edward Glassman, PhDEdward Glassman, PhD was the President of the Creativity College®, a division of Leadership Consulting Services, Inc., and Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he headed the Program For Team Effectiveness And Creativity. More »