Whether we realize it or not, we have creative processes that we use and implement to help our creativity, from small acts that go unnoticed, like taking the time to clearly communicate through a thoughtfully crafted Slack message, to more obvious and intentional acts, like planning and running a workshop. We all do this regardless of our status as “creative,” even though we link creativity with “creative” people like designers, artists, and musicians.
Creative processes are for everyone, including the Financial Analyst designing a budgeting and forecasting model, the Human Resources Specialist designing an engaging employee onboarding program, to the Research Scientist developing a novel experimental approach to test a hypothesis.
As we can see, creativity isn’t about the person per se but the outcome we are trying to achieve and the process we use to get there.
We run into problems when we view creativity as a solo act or don’t see our work as a creative act. When we view creativity as a solo act, we make it about us and might not think we need others. When we don’t see our work as a creative act, we might miss the necessary steps that help promote creativity and a creative process.
No matter who we are and what we do, we can all ask: “What is the best outcome I can create?”
It is up to us to define our own creative process, but three non-negotiable tenets apply to us all. These tenets—diverging on ideas, getting feedback, and iterating on our ideas—promote creativity and help us create the best outcome. They do so first by giving us space to play and think about all possibilities, secondly by opening up our ideas to others, and thirdly by refining and iterating as many times as we need.
1/Diverge on ideas
One of the most important tenets is diverging on ideas. Divergent thinking allows for creative exploration without the pressure of finding the perfect solution immediately. We need to take the time to consider a diverse range of options to avoid missing out on the right idea to build upon.
Diverging on ideas means thinking through all the possible solutions and developing them in enough detail for ourselves and others to understand. This process is a creative one and can be enjoyable. It’s important to approach it with a mindset of playfulness, where imagination can run wild, and anything is possible. We can worry about feasibility and viability later. If we limit ourselves to strict constraints or obvious solutions, we miss the chance to think big and benefit from divergent thinking.
In the workplace, our colleagues often evaluate us based on our work. As a result, we may become preoccupied with how others perceive our work and spend too much time perfecting an initial idea when all we need is a basic outline to communicate the concept. However, if we can release the notion of perfection and focus on generating multiple ideas, we can expand our options and dedicate more time to ideation. At this stage, it’s not about how good the idea looks but the vastness of our thought process.
At first, it’s easy to become attached to one idea and not consider other options. However, it’s essential to take the time to think broadly and explore multiple possibilities. Considering various options allows us to make more informed decisions when developing the best idea. Investing in the wrong idea can be more costly in the long run, so it’s crucial to focus on finding the right approach to build upon rather than seeking a correct answer immediately. Ultimately, we are searching for a solid foundation to build upon.
Actionable tips: First, take a moment to reflect on your creative process. Do you make room for divergent thinking? If not, try to broaden your perspective. When thinking divergently, keep asking yourself, “What if?” This question will encourage you to explore alternative scenarios and weigh all your options. Additionally, break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable components and tackle each part separately. Use a timer to time box ideation sessions; a bit of pressure is an excellent creative constraint.
2/Get feedback on our ideas
Seeking feedback on our ideas is crucial for their development. Despite our efforts to be self-aware, biases and feelings can cloud our judgment. Feedback provides valuable insights that we may not have considered otherwise. The more ideas we generate, the more feedback we’ll receive, leading to vibrant discussions and debates. This process allows us to identify potential issues, uncover blind spots, and think of new ideas. Being open to constructive criticism and vulnerability when asking for feedback is essential. The goal is to continuously improve, rather than aiming for a static, ‘perfect’ solution.
Asking for feedback can be challenging because it requires us to be open to constructive criticism and vulnerable. However, with practice, we can build confidence and learn to value feedback as it helps us achieve the best results. To fully embrace the feedback process, having a safe space to share our ideas is crucial without fear of negative criticism. Individuals and the entire team or organization are responsible for creating a safe environment for constructive feedback.
As you evaluate feedback, you’ll identify patterns and incorporate valuable insights into your creative process. Feedback naturally parlays into the following tenet of iterating on your ideas; as you receive feedback, you’ll think of improvements and new ideas and rule out some ideas.
Actionable tips: Start by asking people you trust for their input and gradually expand your pool of feedback providers. Ask open-ended questions and use “why” to encourage people to delve deeper and identify the underlying issues. Being open to constructive criticism is essential, as it can help you discover valuable insights. Think of it as a gift that can help you improve.
3/Iterate on our ideas
As we move onto the third tenet, we can see how all the tenets work harmoniously. Firstly, we gather feedback by casting a wide net. Then, we consolidate our ideas and improve based on the input. During this iteration process, it’s important to consider all feedback and make informed decisions on how to use it.
Iterating on our ideas allows us the benefit of refinement. Through this process, we can improve our ideas, identify better ones and increase the overall quality of our work.
This process isn’t strictly linear, and we must determine how often we continue this process of iteration and feedback. It’s like a continuous loop we go through until we no longer need to.
This process is a very human one. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by feedback even though the process works. It’s helpful to break it down and visualize it to manage it more effectively.
Taking clear notes and categorizing feedback into similar groups can be beneficial in handling this. Remember that the input is for your consideration, and it’s up to you to determine what to listen to and how to use it.
Knowing when to stop iterating is important and takes some practice. It can guide you in recognizing when an idea has matured and is ready for implementation. Over time, you’ll develop a gut feeling from accumulated experience, knowledge, and expertise. In the meantime, one key concept to help is the law of diminishing returns. Pay attention to the improvements made in each iteration. If the changes are becoming incremental or minimal, the idea has likely reached its full potential, and further iterations may not yield significant improvements.
Actionable tips: When making improvements, save your work and options to compare and contrast them with your audience. Make an effort to bring your ideas to life by creating mock-ups or making them functional. This level of fidelity will enable you to receive the best feedback and iterate accordingly. If you’re a designer, keep all your design rounds; if you’re a financial analyst, do the same for your models/spreadsheets.
Creativity is not exclusive to those who identify as “creative.” Anyone can tap into their creative potential, regardless of profession or background. We can embrace three core tenets to unlock this potential: diverging on ideas, seeking feedback, and iterating. By adopting these principles, we can create a culture of creativity and innovation in our personal lives, workplaces, and communities. So, apply these tenets and unleash your creativity! Creativity is a journey, not a destination; continuous improvement is the goal.