At a first glance, executive acumen and creativity may appear to occupy separate spheres. One is traditionally viewed through the lens of hard rationality and sharp suits, while the other is associated with images of soft-focus new-age types in a circle singing Kum Ba Ya. However, with the growing pace of competition and game-changing innovations challenging one business orthodoxy after another, creativity is increasingly acknowledged as a vital resource to deal with complex and emerging business paradigms.
This calls for an enhanced type of executive mindset that utilises the creative process in a way that – perhaps counter-intuitively, results in clear, rational and informed decision-making. Developing an awareness and practice of the creative process promotes problem-solving and idea generation – both of which are at the core of what it means to be strategic rather than transactional.
Across a range of industries and sectors, I work with executives and teams to engage in the creative process which I define in three key stages; contemplation, ideation and actualisation. While it is tempting to apply a scientific, set in stone view to these stages, creativity is by no means a linear process. Each aspect of the creative process is crucial in itself and the value lies in understanding the function of each stage with the aim of developing an intuitive ability to move into, through and out of each stage as required.
Key Function: Clear the mind and suspend judgement
It is common to frantically reach for old solutions to new and unchartered territory. “The thinking that got you into your current situation is not the same thinking that will get you out of it” observes Lovelda Smith, founder of Collaboration Club. The contemplative stage disciplines the mind to focus, through the regular practice of taking time to just be still.
Contemplation on the surface may appear to be passive – anathema to the time-pressured and busy executive. Corporate culture often places emphasis on rushing through to action for fear of appearing weak or indecisive. However such pervasive external pressures can often be counterproductive, leading to reactive decision making based on incomplete or flawed reasoning.
Meditation is well-documented as a means of stilling the mind, but contemplation can also be attained through physical pursuits, such walking in nature or working out at the gym. With regular practice, Contemplation produces a multitude of benefits in terms of mental wellbeing. Aside from setting the mind in a default state of calmness and clarity, it helps you to be fully present and therefore objective.
Key Function: Generate ideas and explore options
Contemplation calms the mind down, the purpose of Ideation is to shake the mind up. Although our minds are perpetually occupied with thoughts, as creatures of habit, we think the same thoughts over and over again, forming beliefs, viewpoints and assumptions which can sometimes grow stale, outmoded and irrelevant.
The exercise of Ideation challenges assumptions and fixed modes of thought, breaking old synaptic circuits which may keep you stuck in stale ways of thinking and resistant to new ideas. The effective practice of Ideation is based on conscious pattern interruption (which is why developing the state of being present through Contemplation is so essential in being aware of your patterns in the first place).
Ideation is extremely beneficial when practiced in executive team settings, as the group thrives from ideas generated through collective input. Business owners, who often spend time in isolation gain a great deal of support and new insights when taking part in my Mastermind Sessions. The act of bringing their current business issues to the table opens up possibilities of exploring practical and innovative solutions.
In the creative sector, Ideation is widely recognised as a crucial stage in the design process. Designers – in finding the alignment of the aesthetic and the functionality of an object – consciously seek to see the task before them from a variety of angles. This approach can be adapted in corporate settings as a means of evaluating options and encouraging constructive and open debate within the business. Purposefully conducting meetings in an ideation model can reap great dividends by engaging and positively channelling the talent within the business.
Key Function: Set and implement goals and deliver on strategies
“Ideas without action are worthless.” These are the words of Helen Keller, and no one knows this better than business executives. Actualisation is the stage of the creative process with which most executives are familiar and comfortable. It is, however, important to stress that to be truly effective, actualisation is achieved by moving through to a decision or course of action from an objective and rigorous base.
Actualisation is what brings ideas into solid reality. In solving complex business problems, executives in this stage weigh the proposed action against the original objectives through Contemplation, or evaluate missed steps or further considerations through Ideation.
While the execution of a plan or idea is often viewed as the end-point, it is anything but. Businesses are dynamic organisms, subject to on-going external and internal changes. With this in mind, decisions and strategies will need to be revisited and reviewed, to assess the extent to which the decided outcomes connect to the original objectives. This demonstrates that Actualisation requires the continued attention to whether outcomes are aligned with the original intentions.
The business environment is dynamic and so requires an approach that acknowledges this constant state of refinement. Understanding the value of each stage of the creative process can connect executives to fresh ideas and enable businesses to absorb and benefit from the full extent of their creative capital.
Denise Prentice is an organizational development consultant and facilitator with deep expertise in developing the creativity of executives and teams. To learn more about Denise’s approach, please contact us here.
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