A Creative Process Primer

Some people think that creativity is a bit of magic or genius – it can be – but we’d argue that it’s possible to be very deliberately creative by using a process. KI’s methodology is based on the Creative Problem Solving Process (CPS), a multi-step model developed by a businessman and an academic, in the 1950s. The premise is that creativity is not uniquely a Eureka experience, but that we can apply a deliberate method to produce new ideas and novel results. Creativity doesn’t have to be an accident or a bit of luck; you can do it on purpose.

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CPS is a concrete method that’s been studied and researched, and there is a growing body of knowledge and literature about how it works and how to use it more effectively. CPS is not the only creative process that exists, but it was one of the earliest, and many other creative processes that exist today are built on its original foundation or share the same components: clarify, ideate, develop and implement.

Anytime you’re being creative, you’re running through one or all of those components. You know (or sense) you’ve got a problem so you clarify and define it; come up with ideas to address it; think about how to develop an idea to increase the likelihood of its impact; and then put it into action. It can take only one minute to run through the process, solving a simple challenge like what to cook for dinner or how to avoid traffic on your way to work. It can take several hours, like a staff meeting or a half-day session designated to come up with new ideas for a problem. It can take 3 or 5 days, like at one of our Jumpstart, Sandpit or Ideas Lab events. Some organizations might spend months or even years to apply the creative process to solving a very complex problem.

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We thought it might be useful to explain the basic steps of our creative process:

Clarify
There’s a lot of value in exploring the problem space and gaining a greater understanding of the entire challenge, and all of its components. We try to articulate a number of potential problems (best stated as questions) that might contribute to the overall challenge. We test our assumptions, we look beyond the perceived challenge. If you dig deep enough, you usually come across something you hadn’t considered before, a new angle on the problem. After we’ve explored thoroughly the landscape of the problem, we focus on what might the most intriguing or fruitful problems to address.

Ideate
In this phase, we defer judgment and generate a number of ideas that might address the challenge. The more ideas you generate, the more you have to choose from. We have a number of techniques in our tool bag that help us to come up with a long list of interesting ideas. At this stage, though, they are still just ideas with potential, not yet solutions. But we select the top ideas that seem interesting and novel and worth developing further.

Develop
During this part of the process, we take an intriguing idea and enhance it to improve its chances of success. This means highlighting its good points, looking at its potential and also making a list of its drawbacks or weak points, with an eye toward overcoming the problems rather than letting them keep the idea from becoming a full-bodied solution.

Implement
A good action plan has taken into consideration all the things that need to be done to ensure successful implementation: the people and resources that need to be harnessed to move from solution to reality. This means looking at what can help you move forward and capitalizing on it, and anticipating what might stall your success, and being creative about overcoming those obstacles and challenges.

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Preferences

KI uses an instrument called Foursight to help people understand their own preferences within the creative process. For example, some people get a lot of energy from digging deep into the problem area, while others are ready to move on and get to ideas. For some people, generating ideas is very satisfying, for others it’s a bit tiring. Some people want to take their time making sure an idea is well developed, while others just want to take action and get it out there. Different people are more at ease with different parts of the process, and if we can map that out against the process steps, we can help people to be more deliberate about how they’re creative and how they work together in teams.

Four Ways to Innovate

We find it interesting that often when people talk about innovation, they jump immediately to the bit about new ideas. And ideas are a key part of innovation, but idea generation is not the only way to innovate. Given the steps of the CPS process, we see four opportunities for innovation. You can redefine the problem. You can generate original and novel ideas. You can develop the ideas in unique ways. You can improvise as you implement. Clearly, innovation is much more than just a good idea.
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Know Further: The lost stories and history of CPS. The development of the CPS process over fifty years. Who owns CPS? Nobody. A few other creative processes and techniques: Synectics, Six Thinking Hats, ThinkX and TRIZ, to name only a few.