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The Creative Mind at Work


Taking hold of creative thinkingWe all need new, creative ideas to ensure continued business success, and the secret lies in a set of two particular principles, says business creativity practitioner David Weeks.

We can thank Nobel Prize winning neurologist Roger Sperry's 1960's split brain experiments for our fascination in labelling people 'left' or 'right' brained. It is only a metaphor, but one that generates lots of debate, especially since we now know that the brain's hemispheres complement each other as we think creatively or logically.

In my work as a business creativity specialist, I wanted to avoid the arguments about the brain's neurology and create a better metaphor to help people tackle issues more creatively at work.

Drawing on a set of creativity techniques, I worked backwards to find their underlying principles. In this process I realised that these often opposed those which underpin logical thinking. I called the former set of principles the 'creativity head', and the latter the 'business head' and my metaphor was born.

"At work, we put on our 'business heads' for smooth operational efficiency in planning, decision making, legislation, recruitment and employee relations."

At work, we put on our 'business heads' for smooth operational efficiency in planning, decision making, legislation, recruitment and employee relations; whilst putting on the 'creativity head' provides those ideas that we need, to tackle deeper problems that may affect long term survival of the business. We have to learn to switch between our two heads.

Let's look at some of the fundamental mental principles that our business head uses and how the creativity head counters them:

Status quo thinking

Business heads avoid change. Creativity heads seek change.

As the world changes, so business needs to change. But, why is mentally 'staying put' easier than changing our thinking?
In the same way as our bodies are regulated to stay within certain physical parameters (homeostasis), the brain uses a mechanism to manage our thoughts. It keeps its neural landscape within limits by looking for differences between the expected and the actual.

Since change is about difference from the norm, this regulatory system goes into overdrive. This mechanism is also closely connected with our brain's fear centre, so we experience actual physiological discomfort and mental energy is diverted away from our intellectual thinking centres. It's no wonder that we avoid change.

The business head often rationalises this by sticking with a philosophy of 'if it isn't broken then don't fix it'. But, the downside is that it stops us thinking about possible alternatives until it's too late. The demise of many companies owes much to their 'blindness' to a changing business environment.

The creativity head actively seeks change and uses strategies to fool the brains defence systems. One approach to enable change is telling vivid stories which create emotional impact. Harvard Business School professor, John Kotter, supports this approach, concluding after detailed studies that behaviour change works best by tapping into people's emotions. Business heads find the softer skills of emotional persuasion difficult and stick with logic.

Creativity heads re-evaluate their thinking on a regular basis, constantly asking dumb questions that organisational new comers are grudgingly allowed to ask. They also harness the regulatory systems, negative self talk through reverse brainstorming.


Business heads think fast; Creativity heads think slow

Perception is about making sense of what's out there. But our perceptual system goes beyond the information given; it has to ‘invent’ things.

"Creativity heads untangle complex issues into their separate parts before looking for solutions. They systematically break challenges down into a hierarchy of interrelated issues."

Business heads believe in the speedy assessment of issues with a dash for immediate solutions. Business heads don't realise the tricks their perceptive system can play on their understanding of an issue. Unconsciously we make things up and miss things out. If the issue is incorrectly stated then all the solutions will solve the wrong problem.

Creativity heads proceed more slowly. They spent time rephrasing the issue. Simply flipping the words of the problem statement around and changing them helps to overcome the limitations of perception.

Perception is also bundled up in frames – a sort of mental structure that shapes the way we sense problems. Changing the words of a problem statement alters the frame of the problem. Instead of asking: "How can we reduce staff turnover?" Ask: "How can we employ staff who don't want to leave?". This creates a new perspective for different solutions.


Business heads complicate; Creativity heads simplify

Business heads love complicated language and concepts. The problem is that our business head can't generally cope with the complexity that it creates, often using layers of metaphors piled high on one another.

"The organisation's culture is like a can of worms" is not a good starting statement for solving organisational issues. When issues are big and messy, the business head freezes up and it can go around in circles never finding the myriad of problems within.

Creativity heads untangle complex issues into their separate parts before looking for solutions. They systematically break challenges down into a hierarchy of interrelated issues. Asking the two simple questions, "why?" (identifiying higher challenges) and "what's stopping us?" (lower smaller challenges). The latter is much easier to solve and the mental freeze is thawed.

About the author:David Weeks is a business creativity practitioner who strives to help organisations tap into the innate creativity of their staff. For more information please visit:


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