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The Mechanics of Creativity
I was pleased to be invited to participate on the Women in Electronic Design panel at DAC 2012 this past June. The theme: “The Mechanics of Creativity—What does it take to be an idea machine?” Design is an inherently creative process, but how can we be creative on demand? How can we rise above mundane tasks with flashes of brilliance, discover secrets of technical and business creativity and calculated risk taking, and share stories of innovation?
The organizers, moderators and panelists included Karen Bartleson, Director of Community Marketing at Synopsys, Holly Stump, High Tech Marketing, Lillian Kvitko, Director of Data and Resource Management, Microelectronics Group at Oracle, Dee McCrorey, Chief Risk Guru and Innovation Catalyst at Risktaking for Success LLC, and myself.
Creativity is not a topic electronic engineers talk about very often, so I worked through a number of questions beforehand to prepare...
How do you define “Creativity” and how do you identify creative people?
Tough question. Creativity…. For me is the ability to think outside of the box. Let ideas/thoughts go free form. Tap into the unstructured. Artists, musicians, actors…they do this naturally but in the business world, it’s often a bit more oblique.
In fact, I haven’t traditionally thought of myself as a creative type. I’d describe myself as high energy, hyper with thoughts and ideas and not bashful to share (good and bad ones) nor unwilling to push thru to bring them to fruition for better or worse.
But then two years ago, Penton Publishing called me and said they’d like to give me an award as their “Innovative Marketer for 2010”…. I was flabbergasted. Paid trip to Las Vegas, presentation, award, speech, etc.
Anyway, creative … the ability to make or do something from nothing I think. So it’s not always having the idea but also the tenacity to see it through.
Are creative people born or made?
For me, creative thoughts come and go frequently. I find that putting myself into challenging and/or unique situations acts as a stimulus.
For example, I attended CTIA Wireless a few years ago and caught Al Gore as a keynote speaker. His ideas were interesting and I just wanted to figure out how I could apply them to my own life and career. His topic… disruptive technology and how new ideas flourish at the expense of others. For instance, typewriters becoming obsolete thanks to desktop PCs, floppy disks to USB keys, and so on.
Perhaps this is a characteristic of creative types…. information/data comes in from many directions and at many rates, and a creative type tries to connect the dots to make a picture.
So my long-winded answer to this Q is that I believe we are all born with an element of creativity and then as we grow and interact with the world and others, both personally and professionally, that kernel of creativity is either nurtured to grow or stifled.
Perhaps a week after I began pondering this question for the panel, I stumbled upon a quote from Harvard Business Professor Clayton Christensen that stated, “Studies have shown that creativity is close to 80% learned and acquired.” Which supports my own viewpoint that we are born with some element of creativity and then either we let it grow and flourish or kill it.
For most of us, I think our own inner voices of self-doubt are creativity killers…how to keep them in check? That’s a key to letting creativity grow.
What’s the one most difficult thing about being creative?
Staying upbeat. Too many others like to pick holes in ideas or rain on your parade. Not sure why this is but the ability to stay positive, confident and on message is the most challenging part of the creative process in my own mind/life.
Are there specific things a person can do to become more creative?
Well, actually in the book I’m reading now called “Disciplined Dreaming – A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity” by Josh Linkner, he argues that you can teach yourself to become more creative.
In the preface he states that most companies today are creatively bankrupt…and that at the end of the day “creativity” is the only thing that can’t be commoditized. Creativity is what will separate the winners from the also-rans in the emerging world of business.
In particular he goes on to state that success in the new era of business is driven by our ability to stand out and be truly remarkable. And for that, we need to nurture the ability to tap into creativity, break the mold, introduce disruptive change, and dislodge the status quo.
The book helps to guide people/firms thru some steps to tap into creativity. I have to finish the book to share them with you and/or convince you to read the book for yourself!
How can we rise above our day-to-day demands to have brilliant flashes of creativity?
I have attended some events /talks/conferences over the years that said for every 60 minutes you work, you should take a 10 minute break to recharge. Perhaps this is a way to keep the creativity meter functioning? I don’t do this, but I have established a routine to take a solid one-hour lunch break with others on a regular basis to chat about anything/everything. The result is that usually I come back in the afternoon refreshed and often full of new ideas to tackle.
Creative ideas can’t thrive alone. How can you garner support for your creative ideas?
Having some “idea” partners in crime with whom to just have a free flowing conversation helps to let the ideas flow. David Vye of MWJ got me started with blogging during a casual conversation that began as a guest blog on Microwave Journal and has blossomed into a regular blog on AWR as well. Our creativity feeds off of one another.
Once you have support, what steps do you take to turn your ideas into reality?
I try to surround myself with others who share a creativity bone. The more of these employees/co-workers/colleagues/friends you can pull into the team, the better the ideas become and the faster they can be executed. So…surround yourself with similarly creative/open minded types and collectively you can chart a path.
I have found that being respectful of other peoples’ ideas and their willingness to share them is a good way to foster creativity. I think good leaders/managers who encourage and reward creativity get much more out of their teams than those who believe they are the only ones with ideas and the rest of the team is there only to execute.
Finally, don’t forget to stop along the way and admire what’s taking place. And don’t be afraid to admit it when something that was tried flops… extract a lesson learned and move on. Nobody and no idea is always perfect. Commitment and practice and patience and resolve go a long way to taking / turning ideas into reality.
And if you like anything I've contemplated here, I think you'll also enjoy this quote. "Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort." Franklin D. Roosevelt