Episode #5 of the course Integrative thinking: A practical guide for leaders by Jennifer Riel
Welcome to Lesson 5!
Creativity is an essential component of integrative thinking because we are seeking to design new answers rather than settling for existing ones. That takes a creative leap.
So, are you a creative person? Chances are, at least some of the folks reading this answered a definitive, “Nope!” Perhaps you see yourself as more of an analytical person than a creative one. Or perhaps you recalling struggling through your art and music classes in middle school, forever scaring you away from creative endeavors.
Here’s the thing, though: We are all creative. Creativity may be a skill you rarely practice, but that does not mean it is beyond your grasp. How do I know? Because you were once five years old. And virtually all five-year-olds are wildly creative. They are imagination machines. We may lose touch with that innate ability over time, but that does not mean it is gone.
The path to rebuilding it is one of creative confidence. In a Forbes interview, David Kelley of the Stanford design school defines creative confidence as, “the natural human ability to come up with breakthrough ideas and the courage to act on them.”
A New Model
Step one is redefining creativity as something each of us has the capacity to do. As far as I am concerned, we tend to build up unhelpful myths around creative genius. It needs not be that complicated. For me, creativity is simply the ability to imagine something as somehow different than it is today. It is the ability to see the world not just as it is, but as it could be.
With a redefinition that makes creativity much more doable, all that is left is to choose to do it. Albert Bandura’s notion of self-efficacy can be helpful here. Bandura has found that “individuals who come to believe that they can effect change are more likely to accomplish what they set out to do … People with self-efficacy set their sights higher, try harder, persevere longer and show more resilience in the face of failure.” In part, being creative is about cultivating this self-efficacy. It means believing you can be creative and giving yourself permission to try.
Once you decide to try, creativity is like any other skill: You build expertise with practice, feedback, and reflection.
John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, Jean Piaget, and Donald Schön all write about elements of reflective practice in different ways. In essence, each argues that to learn effectively and build capability, we should purposely and mindfully work through iterative cycles of experiences. We should set out to engage in a particular task; then seek and pay attention to feedback on our performance of that task, either from other people or from the system itself; and finally, reflect on our experience and our outcomes. That is one cycle. The key to building expertise is to try again, modifying our approach according to the feedback and reflection. And then do it again. And again.
In practical terms, when it comes to creating new ideas, the best tool for reflective practice is prototyping. Abstraction isn’t terribly helpful to the generation of new ideas. Here, we can learn from the world of design, where instead of just talking about ideas, practitioners build quick and rough prototypes. These are sketches or models of an idea that make it concrete and testable. Consider how you can do the same for your ideas.
A New Way to Think
Taken together, creativity, empathy, and metacognition—our last three lessons—form the foundation of a new way to solve problems. Rather than chasing a single right answer via argumentation and false consensus-building, these three tools allow us to find new ways to think about old problems: by challenging our own models of the world, by engaging more deeply with other people’s models, and by deciding to use these models of the world as a platform rather than a prison.
Just how we can do that is the focus on the second half of this course. We begin tomorrow with step one of the integrative thinking process.
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