Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

Is anybody there?

Friday,15 August, 2008

As well as being wonderful, every now and again our dog looks a bit ‘vacant’.

Our dog looking a bit ‘vacant’.

Sometimes we’ve got into conversation about this and, rather than using ‘vacant’, a variety of expressions have arisen – such as the usual:

• “Not the sharpest knife in the drawer”;
and
• “One sandwich short of a picnic”.

But we’ve also had suggested to us:

• “The lights on, but nobody’s in”;
and
• “The wheel’s still turning, but the hamster’s long since gone”!

Have you got any other creative, fun suggestions?

Do share them with us . . . . . . . .

And in the meantime, how about this picture of an owner looking like his dog (or should it be a picture of a dog looking like his owner)?

Mistakes are GOOD! Well, sometimes . . . . . .

Friday,25 July, 2008

These days we’re always being encouraged to innovate – to do things differently and improve.

Sometimes when we try to do things differently, we make mistakes. It seems that making mistakes is an essential part of innovation.

Sometimes the mistakes can be better than our first intentions! In 1928 Alexander Fleming was working with a bacterial culture which became contaminated and died. This ‘mistake’ led to the discovery of penicillin, which has saved countless lives ever since.

But unfortunately, sometimes the mistakes just make things worse, and then we have to learn from our mistakes and try again – what used to be called ‘learning by trial and error’.

In these days of extended accountabilities and media spotlights, risk is invariably seen as bad.

But if we can’t make mistakes, won’t we expose ourselves to the biggest risk of all – the risk of reducing our capacity to innovate and improve?

If we can’t learn from making mistakes, are we making a rod for our own backs?

So why don’t companies come right out and say “It’s ok to make mistakes”?

Of course there would have to be safeguards, but how would you feel if your employer said it’s ok to make mistakes:

  • Provided they are honest mistakes, made with the best of intentions and not because you were just being sloppy or negligent;
  • Provided you take responsibility for your mistakes;
  • Provided you learn from your mistakes, taking steps to make sure you don’t make the same mistake again; and
  • Provided you help your colleagues learn from your mistakes, sharing your experience with them in order to reduce the risk of them ever making the same mistake that you made.

If your company had a ‘Mistakes Policy’ like that, would you feel supported, more able to innovate and improve?

If this wouldn’t work for you, what would you need?

Let’s CHANGE ‘Management Speak’!

Friday,11 July, 2008

Who invents ‘Management Speak’?

You know, the sort of thing – phrases that get trotted out and, after a while, can become irritating clichés!

How about “Touching base” or “User-centred” or “Interpersonal”?

Some examples really grate, perhaps because they seem to divide the speaker from the audience by using the language in an entirely different way.

Other expressions seem to use English in a normal way, with the intention of conjuring up an image without which it would take a lot of effort to explain – a bit like “one picture being worth a thousand words” – even if the picture is imaginary.

But even these can get irritating if over-used!

Frankly, I don’t fancy your chances of getting these ducks in a row . . . .

Perhaps the only answer is to keep inventing new descriptions?

People used to talk of others “Moving the goal posts” to explain a changing work environment. This was inadequate to describe the rate of change imposed by our regulator, for whom I would talk of “Having goal posts on castors”. Then it got worse, and I referred to them “Having goal posts on motorised castors”.

I found that this got the listeners’ attention much better than if I had explained the mounting and changing bureaucracy in a more literal manner.

When explaining the degree of difficulty in getting things done, people often speak of “Trying to herd cats”.

A colleague used to talk of “Trying to catch fog in a bucket”.

I’ve often spoken of “Trying to run up a down escalator covered in treacle” and, more recently “Trying to juggle with jelly”. (I quite like this last one, because it’s impossible, gets messy, plus it’s alliterative!)

So why don’t we invent some new expressions (to replace the ones we don’t like, or the ones we have become tired of), and see how quickly they spread?

If you post your ideas here, we can share them and even begin using them.

We might just brighten up the world of work, communicate better, and have some fun?

And having fun can unlock creativity and make us more productive. I could call this a “Win-win situation”, but I’d better not . . . . . . . . . I wonder what we could call it in stead. Any ideas?

Humour – where DOES it come from?

Friday,27 June, 2008

In deep sleep I dreamt up a joke: the joke made me laugh out loud – so loud, that I woke myself up!

In the morning the joke still seemed quite good, so I shared it with work colleagues. They all laughed out loud as well!

Then I forgot the joke . . . . . . . . . .

Later on I could recall that I’d dreamt up a joke but, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t recall the joke itself.

Then one day in the bathroom I was listening to a radio programme in which someone was saying that Sigmund Freud reckoned that laughter was our way of dealing with stuff we didn’t really want to deal with, or unpleasant stuff – and that reminded me of the joke!

(The picture is of a scary lead mask, decorating the roof of a Japanese temple.)

So here is the dreamt up joke – with apologies in advance, as it does have a high ‘groan’ factor:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Did you hear the one about the bloke who couldn’t say “toilet”?

He could only say “toilette”! (ie with a French accent.)

It turned out that the reason he could only say “toilette”, was because he suffered from Irritable Vowel Syndrome . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Recently we have celebrated the life of Humphrey Littleton, whose chairing of the Radio 4 programme “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue” was shear magic.

A recent radio clip recorded Humph’ speaking of meeting a man who described himself as “an orthinologist”. Apparently Humph’s great disappointment was that he did not realise until the next day that he should have replied “So you’re a ‘Word Botcher’ then.”

This is an astonishing feat of creativity, as “Word Botcher” is both:
• an accurate description of what the man had done in creating the term “orthinologist”; and
• a phonetic spoonerism of “Bird Watcher” (having a meaning in parallel with the intended term “ornithologist”.)

It’s interesting that this complex idea didn’t come to Humph’ until the next day – after a night’s sleep.

Perhaps humour, our sub-conscious, and creativity, are all connected?

What do you think?

Creativity CAN help business!

Friday,13 June, 2008

Window displays have been the traditional way in which retailers use creativity to attract customers, especially at Christmas.


This is a Parisian window display in a large department store, attracting families at Christmas time. And we can still be surprised at the use of creative thinking at other times of the year.

This is not a shoe shop, but a Chocolatier demonstrating skill.

And how might a plumber use a shop front to attract business?

You wouldn’t want to wear the boots and jacket in this shop window – they are made from lead, skilfully beaten to shape!

Creativity can also be applied to what is done, (not just what is on display).

When travelling in Scotland, we saw a variety of clothing stores selling items made locally and using local materials. Of these stores, one stood out from the rest. As well as having an excellent range, the staff circulated easily through the shop, offering browsers a cup of coffee or tea, with upbeat music (not ‘muzak’) in the background. The atmosphere was informal and friendly, and the spirit was generous – avoiding any hint of commercial desperation. The customers were having a good time because the staff were, and vice versa. Not an easy trick to pull off, but applying creative thinking was clearly making a difference to their business.

Did you hear the one about the hairdressing salon who had been encouraged to do something really different, just for the sake of it? At noon the next Friday, all the cutters put their scissors down, took one step back, and sang together “Bring Me Sunshine” (of Morecombe & Wise fame)! The following week their phone didn’t stop ringing, with people asking “Is that where you sang ‘Bring Me Sunshine’? Can I book an appointment please?” Not a bad return on ‘advertising’ that had cost nothing.

The key principle is that there’s nothing in any Job Description to say work can’t be fun – and fun unlocks creativity!

Creative thinking really can help business, in more ways than one.

Moving Targets – Planning for the Future!

Thursday,29 May, 2008

If someone is out shooting at a moving target, they would never think of trying to hit the target where it is now. They would try to hit the target where it’s going to be by the time the bullet or arrow gets there! (Apologies to the seagull – it’s not intended to be the target, just an example of something moving freely and unpredictably . . . . . . . .)

And yet, so often, we can be so impressed by information – especially if it’s technical and in the form of statistics, or called “evidence” – that we base our plans for the future on such information, which may already be out of date.

What we should be doing is looking at trends, and thinking about what changes might be happening to our world in the future, so as to help us guess where our plans need to take us by the time they are delivered.

As an example, if we are planning to remove a percentage of the population out of fuel poverty by a given date, it’s no use basing this on current energy prices. We should assume that energy costs will be running ahead of general inflation, and therefore countering fuel poverty will need a higher level of investment than might otherwise be assumed.

It’s true that the past cannot automatically predict the future. But thinking creatively about how things have changed in the past, can help us develop ideas about how the future might be. And no matter how imperfect our efforts to predict the future, we’re likely to get much closer to the target by thinking differently about the future, than if we point all our efforts at how things are now!

Fortunately there’s help available for thinking differently about the future: see “The Tomorrow Project” in “Interesting Links”.

Managing all this information requires us to make the best possible use of our sub-conscious, as referred to in previous blogs, particularly the one headed “Problem Solving, Creativity, Brains, and Co-Coaching”.

Statistics, Evidence, and Creativity

Friday,23 May, 2008

Statistics can be dangerous, creating traps for the unwary.

For instance, even if I have my feet in the ‘fridge and my head in the oven, my average temperature might still be ok. But shouldn’t I be worried?

Representing these Russian dolls by their average height, would really miss the point.

And then there’s the matter of evidence, which is increasingly used to support the development of strategies, aims and policies. But surely, proper evidence is essential if we are to move organisations, businesses and society in the right direction, isn’t it? Well, yes and no!

After all, we should build our future on proper evidence wherever possible, but working with ‘evidence’ to determine strategic aims can also carry dangers. ‘Evidence’ needs to be intensely rational – so working with it will make use of the left, rational side of our brains. But it is likely that the best strategic aims will be developed when we access the right, creative side of our brains.

So having considered the evidence, we should engage in discussion and other visioning activity, so as to unleash our creative faculties. An excellent example of this approach, is the Derby Primary Care NHS Trust’s aim to save 2,000 lives in the next 10 years. Devised to meet the challenges thrown up by evidence, the strategic thought processes went well beyond just focusing on the (rational) ‘evidence’. The Trust’s aim is not only an example of creative thinking, but the resulting aim is also empowering – and therefore much more likely to achieve success! Using both sides of our brains really does make practical sense – the evidence clearly shows it . . . . . . . . . .

Living Derby

Sunday,18 May, 2008

Derby is a friendly place.

Apparently, most places like Derby lose about 7% of their population every year because some people choose to move on. But the actual figure for Derby is only half that amount.

In spite of Derby’s friendliness, Derby still has communities and businesses who know little of each other. This is not unusual. Analysis of trends suggests that this will become a bigger issue as time goes by.

Social geographers have reported that, when people choose where to live, they find themselves increasingly living with others who are just like them. Radio 4’s Talking Allowed gave the example of someone who moved into Crouch End, London, only to discover a number of mums at the school gate who were in marketing and PR, just like her!

It will become increasingly difficult for towns and cities to work well and be good places to live, if their populations know less and less about each other, as ignorance usually breeds suspicion and ultimately fear. So what can we do about it?

Enter Living Derby – a group of successful individuals and companies, mostly from the creative industries in Derby (graphic design, literature, fine art etc) – who have experience of creative projects, from local to nationwide in scale, that have achieved a great deal in building communities. Living Derby wants to use that experience for the long-term benefit of Derby, by delivering creative and social programmes, keeping records of all of this in a growing online archive which the people of Derby can access – so that none of the work is lost. (For more information about Living Derby, click on “Living Derby” in “Interesting Links”.)

In his book Affluenza, Oliver James cites four fundamental human needs: feeling secure, being part of a community, feeling competent, and being autonomous and authentic.

Wouldn’t it be great if Living Derby can help individuals to feel secure, be part of a community, feel competent, and be autonomous and authentic? And by helping individuals, also help communities organisations and businesses as well – and ultimately our city of Derby?

Wouldn’t it be great if Living Derby helped our city to flower?

The Gift of Irritation

Friday,16 May, 2008

How on earth can irritation be a gift?

Frequently, when dog walking, I get irritated by a stone in the bottom of my shoe. I know that, left unattended, the stone will create a painful blister, and ultimately stop me walking. So I take time to remove the stone from my shoe.

But we don’t always take action to remove irritations in other parts of our lives – usually because the irritation is experienced by our minds, rather than by our bodies.

Perhaps the irritation might be our subconscious telling us something important? Why wait until the irritating problem grows, and has an even greater impact on our health or our lives with colleagues, family or friends?

GoreTex water proof liners in walking boots and Post-It Notes help reduce different sorts of irritation. So we could say that some people have made a very good living from the gift of irritation.

I recently received an automatic reply to an e-mail I’d sent. The reply explained that the recipient only looked at his e-mails once a day, at 1pm, so as to make best use of his time. I was told the number I should ring if the matter was urgent. That’s a great way to reduce the irritation of being distracted by incoming e-mails. What should we do though, if we find ourselves bombarded with more and more automatic replies from those to whom we send e-mails? Perhaps someone might design some clever software to manage that for us, and make even more use of the gift of irritation?

Problem Solving, Creativity, Brains, & Co-coaching

Thursday,8 May, 2008

For some time it has been recognised that problem solving tends to work through four stages:

  • Play – when a problem and all its parts are analysed, stirred up, and understood, whether systematically or by a process akin to a child playing with food on a plate;
  • Incubation – when the problem solver’s attention is turned away from the problem in hand, whether by getting up from the desk in search of a drink, or by having a good night’s sleep;
  • Illumination – when the solution suddenly presents itself, often with a sense of certainty as to its rightness; and
  • Verification – when the solution is tested against the problem and, more often than not, found to be the right answer.

What is going on here?

How can it be that ‘doing nothing’ (during “incubation”) can be so effective?

Our brains are made of two halves:

  • The left side, which controls the right side of our bodies and is generally responsible for rational thought; and
  • The right side, which controls the left side of our bodies and is generally responsible for creative and artistic activity.

So when we are ‘incubating’ a problem, it’s not that we are doing nothing, but rather we are giving the right side of our brains a chance to chip in and help out. Thus it can be very helpful to create distance between us and a problem, and this is well articulated in Prof’ Richard Wiseman’s book “Did You Spot the Gorilla?” The book makes clear that this can have major business benefits, as well as personal ones: consequently it’s not about Rational VERSUS Creativity but, by using both sides of our brains, its about harnessing Rationality AND Creativity.

Of course creating this distance can be difficult for those not used to it – but help could be at hand through co-coaching. Co-coaching is the process where people, working in pairs, support each other to improve their performance. From my experience as a participant in trials, co-coaching does help create distance between self and a problem. It also helps build urgency to get on and just do it!

For more information on co-coaching, see “cococo” in ‘Interesting Links”.

Accessing the benefits of both sides of our brains, can be a bit like using a campervan. The left (rational) side of our brains looks after maintenance, and keeps us within the law and the Highway Code. But that’s all a bit boring, and not why we buy a van.

The right (creative/artistic) side of our brains can help us decide where to go with the van, so we can wake up somewhere spectacular, and then fully appreciate the beauty of the moment.

As the advert’ puts it: “priceless”.