By John Harne
As part of our guest blog series, we present the final installment of Definition 6's three-part article on the art of ideation. Be sure to check back regularly for more posts from our guest bloggers as well as our own thought-provoking original content – Ed.
Since my last article on ideation came out, there has been an interesting study done by the University of Illinois at Chicago regarding the effect of alcohol on creative problem solving. The study worked with the proposition that alcohol affects the brain by diminishing the working memory capacity (WMC) and that WMC – the ability to remember one thing while you’re working on something else – is more useful for analytical problem solving or problem solvers.
This study proposes that diminishing our WMC actually leads to creative breakthroughs. So how would diminishing your ability to concentrate or focusing your attention increase creative problem solving results? There are two theories at play here: the first is that the use of alcohol opens up the brain to accessing remote ideas or neurological pathways in the brain, and the second theory is that the use of the alcohol inhibits the linear reasoning process that keeps you on a singular track of thinking. Of course the researchers caution that the alcohol had to be used in moderation, just shy of what most states consider intoxication, (0.80 blood alcohol level). So it worked with just a moderate amount of liquid goodness, while getting a major buzz on it reduced both concentration and working memory tasks.
Another interesting side note from the study was that there were other things that tend to assist creativity: working in groups with varying levels of skill, working in groups of three versus groups of two, changing one’s routine, sleeping, and one we cannot control, aging… damn. At least there is one good thing about getting old.
Apart from the history of artists using mind-altering substances for creative inspiration, I really am personally hesitant to recommend alcohol to enhance creativity so let's just say it should be a personal decision, not to be lightly taken. This is because so many famous creative talents self-medicate to basically “turn off” their minds. Pearl Buck once said, "The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive." And sensitivity is not necessarily an asset in our modern society.
To recap the most-effective ways to be creative and ideate:
-Brainstorming seems to be generally a poor method when used in any process that is linear and in a rigid timeframe or formulaic.
-Presenting the problem in a creative way tends to get creative responses.
-The use of three individuals tends to trump just two.
-Conflict should not be avoided in an idea presentation or formulation.
-If ideation is critical to an organization, then anything that can take office politics out of the sessions will help with the results.
You have to be a critic. Someone is going to have to make the call on the decision or direction of the ideation and decide on which ideas are moved forward, and which are tabled. The lack of leadership is probably the greatest idea killer of them all. Many great ideas do not move forward because they lack a champion or critical thinker. When I think of a business with such an individual as an example, I would have to say Apple's Steve Jobs. I am certain that Jobs didn’t always make the right choice among the ideas that were developed and brought to him, but once he chose an idea to develop, he became the first and last evangelist of his company’s products from creative ideas. Innovation was key to his decision-making criteria and he was also a champion critic.
Prior to any ideation session, list the requirements of the solution. Many ideas might sound good, and based on the individual’s presentation/persuasive personality, those ideas may have energy and seem like viable options. However, to lead, to use critical thinking when dealing with new and unique ideas, you need to keep the objective or goal at the forefront of your decision, and it can help break any deadlock to decide on which idea to pursue. If you have two great solutions or ideas, pick one and table the other for a future campaign, but most importantly, make a decisive call. I find the most frustrating aspect of ideation is the lack of decisiveness or trying to use a “Frankenstein” solution of cobbled ideas. As a leader, you need to be make tough calls to bring breakthrough ideas to life.
Great ideas don’t come pre-packaged together and there is no secret formula for creativity, but following my guidelines can give you and your team a better chance at the next BIG idea.