Creativity is about the survival of ideas, pushing and pulling them out of us, giving them shape, and nurturing them into the world. It rarely happens alone. More often teams and groups are critical to creative ideas reaching adulthood. Yet, teams are complex. They can be the greatest champions for an idea or instantly kill it. In this episode, Amy Climer talks about the 3 elements of collaborative creativity that teams need to help ideas survive and thrive.
What You’ll Learn
- The three elements of collaboratively creative teams.
- What happens when ideas are shot down too early
- Episodes about Creative Problem Solving: 003, 004, 005, 006, 007, 008
- Episode 52 with Darcy Luoma: How Multi-tasking Decreases Productivity
- Book: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Video of Amy Climer’s Survival of Ideas Talk at Creative Mornings Asheville
Think about a team you are a member of. How do they rank in the three elements of collaborative creativity? Where are the weaknesses and strengths? What does the team need to learn in order to be more creative together?
Feel like reading instead of listening? Download the free transcript or read it below. Enjoy!
Transcript for Episode #074: The Survival of Ideas
Amy Climer: Welcome to The Deliberate Creative Podcast Episode 74. I am so glad you are here today. Today, I want to talk about this concept of the survival of ideas and how ideas might survive and thrive or they might wither and die. I am going to talk through what makes that happen in teams. Before I do that, I want to share a new review that came in on iTunes. This review is from Michael Diettrich-Chastain and it is titled The Power of Creativity, five stars. Michael says:
“Amy and her guests do a wonderful job exploring how creativity is connected to so many aspects of our effectiveness in our professional and personal worlds. The Deliberate Creative podcast is insightful, entertaining and wide ranging in guests and content. I appreciate how the podcast truly integrates all aspects of our experience while still staying relevant to creativity. Excellent job!”
Michael, thank you so much for the review. I really appreciate you taking the time to write it and I am so glad you are listening to the show. If you have not left a review on iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play, I would love for you to do that. Reviews are kind of a big deal for podcasters like me to get. If you are willing to take a few minutes and go in and write your review, I would love to hear your thoughts and it helps other people find The Deliberate Creative Podcast.
Let’s talk about the survival of ideas. I want you to imagine that you are hanging out in a coffee shop and the table next to you is empty and there is a newspaper sitting on the table. You reach over, you pick up the newspaper. You open it up and you find an article that is titled Millions of Ideas Born and Killed Every Day. You are very intrigued and you start reading the article and soon you realize you are reading an article about survival. About life and death of ideas. You start getting engrossed and start feeling almost sad.
This happened to me, not so much reading this article, that is fictitious, but this concept of understanding that ideas come and go. They do live or die. They survive or they wither away. This concept came to me when listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book titled Big Magic. Excellent book. Highly recommended. Really awesome book. She also has a great podcast. Liz Gilbert talks about this story where she had an idea for a novel and she is working on this novel for about a year or two and some things happen. Life got in the way — to make a long story short — life got in the way and she put aside the novel for a while, for a couple of years.
Meanwhile, she starts getting to know another friend who is also a writer. Eventually, as the friendship grows, this friend says to Liz, “Oh yeah, I’ve got this new idea that I’m working on for a novel.” She shares the idea with Liz and Liz realizes that was the idea she had for her novel a couple of years ago. They have never talked about this. There is no way this other person would have known that Liz was working on a similar novel. The stories were not identical, but there was a lot of similarity. Liz said, “You know what, it’s totally fine because that idea came to me and then I let it wither away and die. I didn’t work on it. I didn’t develop it.”
It is almost as if ideas might have kind of a life of their own. This idea left her and went on to somebody else and said, “Well, you’re not doing anything with me. I’m going to go find somebody who will.” The way Liz tells this story, I love it. It really resonated with me and made me realize, “Yeah, this is so true, that ideas have a life.” I almost think of it a little bit like Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and like the best ideas will win and they will keep going and propagate and the not-so-good ideas are going to fade out. They are not going to live. But the more I thought about it I realized, it is not so much if the idea is good or bad, although, there is some element of that, but it is almost in where did this idea arrive? What team had this idea? Did this idea come to a team that was high functioning and high performing or did this idea come to a team that was highly dysfunctional and a hot mess?
What Happens When Ideas Are Shot Down Too Early [05:25]
Let me tell you a story about an experience I had a number of years ago. This was probably, I do not know, 15, 20 years ago. I was in my first real job after grad school, after my master’s program. Kind of that real job where you have benefits and you are working fulltime, you have a business card? Yeah, it was that job. I am in this job and one day we have a staff meeting, there are about 10 or 15 of us in this meeting, and a colleague says that she has some dilemma and she wanted to get our input. She wanted to know if we could brainstorm some ideas for her. As soon as you say the word “brainstorm” I pack up. I sit up, I am all excited, everyone is like, “Yeah, yeah, we are happy to help.”
She explains what she is looking for. It was like a program that she needed to work on and people start sharing ideas. First idea comes, second idea, third idea. Right around the fourth idea, another colleague — I will call him Phil, not his real name — says, “Oh no, that is not going to work. We did that in 1985 and it was a complete disaster.” And I just burst out laughing. I thought he was joking. It sounded so absurd to me that he was referring to something that happened like two decades before. Of course, he was not joking and he quickly gave me an evil look and I got a straight face back on and realized, “Oh wow, he is being serious. This is awkward.”
What do you think happened to the rest of the brainstorming? It was done. No one was going to share an idea after that. This was interesting to me and kind of an aha moment of seeing like okay, this is what happens when people are not fully engaged in the idea that hey, we are just generating ideas right now. We are not critiquing them yet.
But then what was interesting to me is what I saw six, eight months later. Phil invites us all over to his house for kind of an end of the year celebration, a potluck. We go over there, his wife is there, his ten-year-old son is there and I see this completely different side of Phil. A side that he is engaged, he is interested. I find out he did a lot of theater and he doubled in playing musical instruments. It is like, wait a minute, this guy is actually quite creative. What was happening when he walked in that building? Because in working with him, if there was one word I would choose to describe Phil, it would be jaded. Something was happening from the time he left his house to the time he walked into a meeting at work where he really became less creative.
That experience 15, 20 years ago, really got me even more interested in the world of creativity and particularly, creativity in teams because as human beings, we have this incredible capacity to be creative. It is in our DNA. It is almost like breathing where we do not have to think about breathing because it is part of us. Imagine if you did have to go through life thinking about breathing. Considering what we know about multi-tasking, that would be a complete disaster. If you want to learn a little bit about multi-tasking, listen to my interview with Darcy Luoma on a previous episode. I will put a link on the shownotes.
Anyway, multi-tasking does not work. When we try to do two things at the same time, it does not work. Unless, it is completely automatic, which breathing is. But here is the thing about creativity, is it is not automatic. Sometimes I think there is confusion and people think, “Well, if I’m really born creative then I would be creative, but I’m not.” But it is not like breathing. You have to actually work at it. That is why this podcast is called The Deliberate Creative because you do have to be deliberate and intentional about increasing your creativity. Actually, that is good news because that means that at any point in our life we can choose to become more creative. We can work at it.
The Three Elements of Collaboratively Creative Teams [09:40]
I want to talk today about what is it that teams need if they want to be more creative together. If they want to be a team that takes an idea and pushes it to the next level and integrates it and implements it in their work, I am going to talk to you about what they need. Or, are they a team that is so dysfunctional they cannot recognize a good idea? They shoot it down instantly even if some variation of it might work, like my experience with Phil.
Let me describe what I mean by team. I have mentioned this in previous episodes. If you go back and listen to Episode 33, I talk about the difference between teams and working groups. You can get more depth there. But for now, I just want to add that a team is defined as a small group of people working towards a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. That definition comes from The Wisdom of Teams by Katzenbach and Smith which is a great book if you are interested in learning more about teams. I am talking about a team with a common purpose, performance goals and approach that hold themselves mutually accountable. That is what I am talking about as we go forward here.
Clear Shared Purpose [10:54]
If a team is going to bring ideas in and implement good ideas, there are three elements they need. The first is they need to have a clear shared purpose. They need to know what is it that our team is doing together. Why do we exist? Sometimes this is really obvious. Say a team comes together and it is a project team and so their job is to redesign a website. They know that is what their job is from the get go. They probably want to define that a little bit further like what are the goals of the website, what are we trying to do with the website, that kind of thing.
But sometimes a team does not have such a clear purpose because it is like a default team. Executive teams, leadership teams are classic examples of that. Almost every organization, at least of a certain size, has an executive team. But the question is, why? What is the purpose of that team? And the purpose of the executive team is not the organization’s mission statement. That is the purpose of the organization. But why does this specific team exist? Why do they meet on a regular basis? That is something that the team has to figure out and talk about and make sure is very clear amongst themselves. They need to have a clear shared purpose.
Strong Team Dynamics [12:14]
Teams also need to have strong team dynamics. By that I mean, particularly, they need to have a moderate to high level of trust with each other, they need to be able to communicate well and they need to engage in creative abrasion let me describe those three things;
- Trust, meaning, I know I can be vulnerable in front of the group and it is going to be okay. Vulnerable, meaning, I can throw an idea out on the table and I am not going to have somebody jump up and say, “Oh no, we did that 20 years ago.” No. I know that I can basically be real. I can bring my whole self to this team and even with my flaws, it is going to be okay. That is what we mean by trust.
- The second is communication. The team needs to communicate well with each other. That is probably fairly obvious. They also need to communicate with people outside of the team. If a team becomes too insular, they can actually become less creative because they are not getting any input or insights from anyone else.
- The third thing is creative abrasion. Creative abrasion is a term that was coined in 1999 by Jerry Hirshberg from Nissan. Creative abrasion is this concept that we can engage in conflict around ideas or how we might work together, but we are not having conflict due to personality or identity. Essentially, healthy conflict. We are not always in conflict, but the point of creative abrasion is that we do not implement a bad idea.
If everyone in the team is focused on getting along and doing things and not upsetting the status quo or not getting anyone’s feathers ruffled, so to speak, then they have the risk of entering into group think where they all just go along with something even though some people do not agree with it. And they do not speak up. That can be really dangerous for an organization or for a team. Being able to engage in some disagreement and some creative abrasion is an important part of team dynamics.
You might be able to see how trust, communication and creative abrasion all fit well together. Like you develop trust in part by having conflict and it going well. Communication is a piece in there and how do you communicate and how do you share your disagreements or your thoughts. It is all interrelated. That is team dynamics.
Follow a Creative Process [14:48]
The third piece that teams need if they want to be able to collaborate creatively is they need to follow a creative process. If you have listened to this podcast, you may have heard me talk about Creative Problem Solving. The first eight episodes of this podcast are about Creative Problem Solving. Particularly, episodes three through eight where I walk through all aspects of Creative Problem Solving. I highly recommend going back and listening to those if you have not. But the concept here is that the team has a process that they are following in order to be more creative together.
It does not have to be Creative Problem Solving. It could be Designed Thinking, it could be Human-centered Design, Synectics, TRIZ, there is a whole bunch of them out there. It might even be something the team makes up. The point is they have a process that they are using that is helping them be more creative. Within the Creative Problem Solving process are all these different tools and techniques that the teams can use that could be really powerful to help them generate ideas or evaluate ideas or implement them.
Having a process is important. Many teams, that is where they fall short. They might have a clear purpose, they might have strong team dynamics, but they do not really have a team process. My theory behind that of why that is, is that it is not something we talk about that much. Particularly, in school. Like K-12 education. We are talking a lot more and more nowadays about building trust within teams and communication so most people who graduate high school or definitely college have had some exposure to this idea of team work. Very few people have had exposure to this idea of a creative process and that is not something that is typically understood.
I have developed an assessment tool to help teams measure these three elements of collaborative creativity. If you are interested in that, reach out to me. It will help you get a sense of where your team is at right now. I strongly believe that collaborative creativity is the key to helping teams and organizations survive and thrive. Research has shown that teams are the number one source of innovation in organizations and if organizations are not being innovative, they are not going to live.
Going back to this idea of the survival of ideas and how do ideas actually survive and what happens; when an idea’s brought up into a team, if it is a good idea and if it makes sense and if it is innovative and creative, and it fits for the team, it will survive if the team is high functioning enough and high performing enough to be able to embrace that using those pieces of collaborative creativity that I mentioned. If the team is highly dysfunctional, chances are that the idea is not going to go anywhere. Especially, if it is somewhat creative, a little bit different. Generally, low functioning or dysfunctional teams tend to maintain the status quo. But that is probably something you already knew.
Weekly Challenge [18:02]
Here is my weekly challenge for you. Think about the teams that you are a part of, whether it is a project team, whether it is a small business that you are an employee of or that you run, whether it is an executive team that you sit on. Maybe you are a solopreneur, an independent contractor, but you work with your clients. In those moments when you are working with your clients for that project, you are part of the team. Think about a team that you are a part of and think about are you more creative because you are a member of this team and because of the work the team does together or do you find you feel less creative when you are a part of that team? If you are feeling more creative, that is awesome. Something is happening in a good way with that team. And then think through, like do you all have clear purpose? Do you have strong team dynamics? Do you use a creative process together?
On the flip side, if you find that you feel less creative as part of a team, do that same assessment in your head. Do you have a clear purpose? Do you have strong team dynamics? Do you have a creative process that you are following? Chances are you are not strong in those three areas or at least one or more of those areas. Sometimes what happens, and I have learned this in my research when I developed this assessment scale. I gave this scale to almost 900 people and then I took the results and I delivered it to three very different teams and I got their feedback. I gave them the results and I said, “Hey, here is where your team’s at on the scale,” and then we talked through that. We debriefed that.
One of the teams in my study was a graphic design firm. What I noticed that happened when we were debriefing the scale is that some people in the team thought that there was a very clear purpose and some people did not. Some people thought there was a creative process that everyone was following and some people did not. When there are different perspectives like that, obviously, that is a challenge. That is a problem. You want to review that. You want to figure that out.
This new scale that I have on collaborative creativity is a great tool to just help you assess where is everybody at? It is anonymous so we did not know who said what on the scale, but we knew that people within the team were having different experiences when they came to meetings or when they were part of the team, which is really valuable information. So something to think about. For your weekly challenge, again, think about the teams you are part of and think through where are they at on those three areas: purpose, team dynamics and creative process.
I hope this was helpful. I hope this gives you some new thoughts about creativity and how you might help your team be more creative. The morning that this episode airs, I am recording a live Facebook Live Deliberate Creative Podcast episode with Darcy Luoma which will come out on the podcast in a future episode, but we are going to record it live on Facebook, Thursday July 20, 2017, at 11:00 am EST. Tune into Facebook if you want to listen. You could follow me at Climer Consulting on Facebook and then you will get the notification when we go live and you can listen to that and watch Darcy and I doing our interview. You can also find me on Twitter @amyclimer or at LinkedIn. If you do reach out on LinkedIn, it would be really helpful if you just sent me a note that you are a podcast listener so that I know who you are.
If you want to find the shownotes for this episode you can go to www.climerconsulting.com/074. In the shownotes, I will share links to the other episodes that I mentioned as well as links to the research that I mentioned. I also have written out the weekly challenge if you want to go in there and read that. The shownotes are a great tool to look at every week. I also get all the episodes transcribed so if you or friends want to read the episodes instead of listen, that is an option as well. You can just go to any of the shownotes pages for any of the episodes and you will find that. It usually takes a couple of days after the episode airs for the transcript to be ready.
You all, thank you so much for listening to The Deliberate Creative Podcast. I hope you have a wonderful creative week and I will see you next time. Bye.
Note: The links on this page may be affiliate links. That means I get a small commission of your sale, at no cost to you. However, I only share links to products that I or my guests believe in. Enjoy them!
Download the CPS Workbook
Subscribe to download the free Creative Problem Solving workbook, designed to be used with episodes 3-7.
You'll find 17 pages packed with activities, tips, and techniques to help you Clarify, Ideate, Develop and Implement your challenge.
You will also receive free monthly articles about creativity and teams, weekly podcast and blog posts, and occasional exclusive offerings.