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Affirmative judgement – evaluation that does not stifle creativity


 This is an answer to the question of does evaluation stifle creativity?

In 1948 Alex Osborne defined perhaps the best known rule for creative thinking - 'deferred judgement'.  There are others that are equally important but for the moment let's focus on this one.

We also need to consider a couple of key factors and differentiate between creative and critical thinking to answer this question.  

Creative thinking is about coming up with many new novel and different ideas; and by consequence opportunities for learning.  During creative thinking we use and apply 'deferred judgement' which is not so much having no judgement but the willing, voluntary withholding of judgement on what is being put forward.  This takes practice and experience because most people make value judgements on their own ideas even if they manage to hold it back on those of others. Which, despite the rhetoric, doesn't happen frequently.

Another key issue is the climate that the evaluation and creativity discussion takes place in.  Workplace climate comprises at least two parts the creation of the right physical environment and the right social environment.  Again, though we frequently see the 'game' being played the practice of effective climate creation to drive innovation and in training is often very limited by people's understanding and appreciation of how to do this and that needs to be managed.  Yet it has been repeatedly shown to significantly impact people's ability to evaluate (ie think critically) and maintain their creativity.

What is less known is that while most effort - and by the way the vast majority of management tools - are centred around creative thinking, critical thinking is also a key part of the process and needs to be effectively managed and has guidelines that need to be applied.  Key to this is to maintain 'Affirmative judgement'.  It is the equal opposite of 'deferred judgement' and again is one of a number of guidelines shown over the years to make evaluation effective while preserving creativity.  Affirmative judgement requires a deliberate thinking frame emphasising seeking the amount of desired creativity in the outcome; looking for the positives and seeking to balance novelty (creativity) and usefulness (evaluation).

Application of the right thinking frames (guidelines), appropriate management of the climate and deliberate separation of creative and critical thinking then have been shown over the last 55 years to be the keys to evaluate and NOT stifle creativity.  And this applies to workshops, innovation efforts, learning environments, consulting and in many other situations.

Adrian is director at Achievement Advance a company dedicated to releasing the creative potential of people to the benefit of society. 

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