Three kinds of creativity

Creativity is a broad topic, but broadly I think there are three types or areas of creativity which are important—and also give a framework for how to explore and relate to creative thinking.

  1. Personal creativity. I think we are all creative. That hasn’t always been the case, in the past creativity was seen as the exclusive domain of certain types of people such as the (sometimes) tortured genius or the creatives in the marketing team. In work on creative thinking there is a distinction between big ‘C’ creativity and small ‘c’ creativity. Big C Creativity is the kind of creativity we normally think of, such as Einstein or Mozart—the creative genius whose work has a wide impact. However small ‘c’ creativity is more common and is what we all have—think about how much you like baking or gardening, or solving a problem at work or at home, or working in the toolshed or at the sewing machine and you get a feel for how widespread small c or personal creativity is. Small ‘c’ creativity might not make history, but it’s as important as a tool for increasing personal happiness and solving problems. I’ll write later and in more detail about what the difference is between the two.
  2. Structured creativity. I often refer to this as ‘corporate’ creativity because it refers to the creative process and is popular in corporates as workshops to increase the creativity of those that work there. It’s based on huge amounts of research about the creative process and is often used to come up with new ideas or new products—I have to stress that’s not its only use—it can be used to identify problems and questions as well. Perhaps the best known deliberate creativity technique is De Bono’s six hats, where participants deliberately adopt different positions to move their thinking about a topic forward. Alex Osborne’s creative thinking process is also well known and highly regarded. It moves participants through a process for solving problems using divergent and convergent thinking to both broaden and sharpen thinking about an issue.
  3. Collaborative creativity. It is counter-intuitive, but the best thinking generally comes when you are on your own. I know that logically more brains should equal better thinking (ie brainstorming) but that’s not always the case. The problems is that creative thinking requires a lack of judgement so that you can play with ideas. Generally speaking once we work in groups we get (a) more judgement and (b) more concerned about being judged so that acts to close off really good creative thinking. However, few people work in isolation and understanding what it takes to enable good collaborative thinking is key to unlocking creativity in organisations. Broadly speaking there are two elements at play here: (a) Creating an environment where everyone defers judgement so that criticism doesn’t kill off embryonic thinking and (b) creating a strong team environment where people feel connected to each other and the broader goals of the organisation. As ever – sounds easy but very hard to do.