Book Review – Fostering Creativity

Fostering creativityThis is another book in the Harvard Pocket Mentor series, titled Fostering Creativity and written by Dorothy Leonard, a professor at Harvard Business school. Among other lessons this book aims to help us understand how to:

  • Identify opportunities for innovative solutions
  • Develop an environment conducive to creativity
  • Move a team from brainstorming to project execution

This book has just 78 pages and the content, which is really useful, is split into two main sections, the reading content titled Fostering Creativity: The Basics and a section with extra tools titled , Tips and Tools. I review both sections very briefly below.

Fostering Creativity: The Basics

 This section has five topical areas.

What is creativity?

This is a good start for a book on creativity as the author takes the time to define what creativity is. Here’s the definition used:

A process of developing and expressing novel ideas that are likely to be useful.

This is contrasted with innovation defined as:

The embodiment, combination, and / or synthesis of knowledge in original, relevant, valued new products, processes, or services.

Personally I found this definition on innovation to be unclear. But then author does clarify that innovation is the end process of creativity.

The author also discusses some myths of creativity, some of which are:

  1. The smarter you are the more creative you are.
  2. The young are more creative than the old.
  3. The creative act is essentially solitary.

All these statements are false and the author explains why. Towards the end of the book the creative process is presented. This creative process has four steps which make up the remaining four topics discussed in this section of the book.

Step 1: Assemble your team

This is the first step of the creative process and it focuses on how to assemble a team to do creative work. Under this topic you will read about the value of creative teams which really boils down to the fact that creative work is done by a mix of talent and abilities that doesn’t exist in one person, hence the importance of having a creative team. There is also a part which discusses the steps for enhancing our own personal creative potential. Two of these steps are:

  1. Pursue some self-initiated activity by choosing to work on projects that interest and motivate you.
  2. Be open to serendipity by developing a bias to action and trying out new ideas.

There is also information on the characteristics of creative teams. Some qualities creative teams must display include:

  • Beginners mind
  • Freedom
  • Play
  • Improvisation

This is in addition to qualities you would expect in a normal functioning team such as:

  • Experience
  • Discipline
  • Professionalism
  • Planning

There is also some information on hiring for creativity and integrating team members .

Step 2: identify opportunities

This is a really short sub-section which discusses how to identify opportunities. I didn’t particularly find this section informative as I felt it was too focused on corporate environments. This is not to say I don’t agree to this being a good second step in the creative process, I do. I just didn’t find options such as unexpected occurrences, incongruities and process needs explained clear enough as ways to identify opportunities. The part I did find useful in this part of the book was titled, tips for providing outside stimulation for your group. I believe the information is about getting a group more attuned to identifying opportunities for creativity. Though it’s just a list, some of the ideas are insightful. They include:

  • Brining in paid or unpaid interns. They can bring fresh eyes to a situation.
  • Bring in day visitors to participate in brainstorming sessions.
  • Arrange a site visit to one of your customers.
  • Arrange a field visit outside your industry to observe best practice.
  • Meet with independent inventors or entrepreneurs in your field.
  • Arrange training or workshops in needed skills or processes.

Step 3: Generate options

Once a team is in place and an opportunity has been identified, then it’s time to generate ideas to capitalize on the opportunity. This part of the book focuses on ways to generate ideas. It starts out discussing how to manage creative abrasion, which is the conflict that can happen when different personalities and thinking styles clash during the creative process. It is expected that in such cases there will be disagreements, but managing them in a harmonious way is crucial. This part gives some advice on how to do that. There’s even some information on how to de-personalize conflict.

The aspect I found really interesting was the discourse on using brainstorming techniques where four different types of brainstorming techniques are explained. They are:

  1. Visioning
  2. Exploring
  3. Modifying
  4. Experimenting

Even more, there is information on how to facilitate brainstorming sessions, creating the right kind of environment, steps for discussing a “moose” or difficult problem that impedes progress and motivating and rewarding creativity. This is the largest part of the book and in my opinion contains valuable information worth the price of the book.

Step 4: Converge on the best one option

The last of the four steps where the most appropriate or best of the ideas generated in step 3 is chosen. This is the point at which creativity begins to blend into innovation. Innovation is an outcome of a team’s creative process. It’s the execution of the best option the team selects from its list of possible options. So the focus of this part of the book is about moving from divergence to convergence by narrowing down on the best ideas and planning for innovation.

Tips and tools

All books in this series have a section on tips and tools which complements the main reading content. In the case of this book, there are tools for fostering creativity such as:

  • Various templates for facilitating creativity
  • A self assessment test on the knowledge in the book
  • Articles with further information

Overall this book contains some really good information and it’s explanation of the creative process is really useful. For a book you can go through in 2 or 3 hours, it will be time well spent.

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