Designing Training for Creative Minds

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    We want to change people’s minds, influence their attitudes, and pass on some new ideas.

    Is it even possible to train someone to be more creative? Are we talking about minds in general. Or, vision? We are all creative in our own way. Generally if you look at programs that seek to train leaders, they focus on creativity because that results in vision. A truly creative vision can be a moneymaker for profit or nonprofit organizations. That leadership vision we are always looking for to take our company far into the 21st century.

    We hire leadership from outside the company because they have a fresh eye; maybe they just have gaps that allow them fill in them with new or even unique information.

    Most of us make creative decisions everyday and don’t realize it. Every time we are willing to risk the conflict by exposing our new ideas, willing to keep at developing these new ideas until we get a good feeling, and we indulge our hidden creative urges to experiment just for fun. We draw, we sing, we act. In business, when we take unrelated experiences and re-apply them in other ways or circumstances that make them unique, we are being creative.

    How do you train to bring those creative results? That’s going to be our main focus, but we need to know first how to “spark” creativity before we figure out ways to train people to do it.

    BNET’s Laura Vanderkam puts forth a good summary in her article, Four Ways to Spark Your Creativity, base on research on Julie Burstein’s book, Spark: How Creativity Works.

    Vanderkam, quoting Burstein, says:

    “Indulge your creative spirit.”

    Embrace creativity’s “R&D” phase. “Creative people hold themselves open to the world around them,” Burstein says. “Many of the artists in Spark tell of an unexpected experience that had profound impact on their work.” Filmmaker Mira Nair decided to become an actress and later a director after seeing a performance of folk theater on a soccer field in her hometown in India. Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt created the signature sound of the light saber from recordings he made of his television set in his living room. “Spending time observing and listening before getting to work is crucial to creativity in any field, not just in the arts,” Burstein says. “Being open to the new and the unexpected, as well as paying new attention to the familiar, is the R&D phase of creativity, and is something we all can do!”

    Don’t shy from conflict. “As all of us know who work with teams, conflict can be painful and can sometimes threaten to derail our work,” says Burstein. “This is true in art, too.” In Spark, playwright Tony Kushner describes the struggles he and the team behind the musical Caroline or Change went through to finish one of the key songs in the show. This actually involved seventeen different versions and a huge group meltdown. But ultimately, Kushner told Studio 360 that the struggle to write it was as great a source of pride as the song itself. “In creative work, perhaps in all work, it’s essential to look at the conflicts as an opportunity for growth, a place where change must happen – which leads to new work,” says Burstein.

    Get moving. “Too often, when faced with an intractable problem, we just keep hammering at it,” Burstein says. “But many of the artists in Spark emphasize the need to let go of the problem for a while and do something that refreshes their imagination, in order to approach a problem with new insights.” You can run, walk, go outdoors, take a shower. All increase the likelihood you’ll get unstuck.

    Indulge your “amateur spirit.” Part of creativity is learning to approach problems with a fresh eye. You can replenish yourself by seeking out challenges in other aspects of life. “I feel tremendously fortunate to have found a profession where I’m expected to learn something new all the time,” Burstein says. “But I find if I focus entirely on words, my imagination can run dry, so I feed my creativity by doing something entirely different – I make pots. I’ve studied ceramics for many years, but took a long break while my kids were small. Last year, as I was writing Spark, I took a class again. It’s fantastic to have physical work which requires a very different kind of attention from writing. And such a pleasure to be able to sit down at my computer with a cup of tea in a mug that I’ve made!”

    How do you put yourself in a creative state of mind?

    It seems that place is important. As in state of mind, so place meaning, where I feel free to experiment, apply the old in a new way, take risks without possible ridicule.

    It seems that place is important. As in state of mind, so place meaning, where I feel free to experiment, apply the old in a new way, take risks without possible ridicule. Sounds a bit like brainstorming but without others present. We can do that–a retreat with quiet time, quiet spaces, or a place we can play our favorite music, dance around the room if need be; whatever it takes to bring us to a state of pure freedom of thought.

    Do we treat introverts or extroverts differently? Is any one going to be more receptive to feeling the urge to create. Maybe the introvert needs the time alone for energy, while the extrovert needs people and stimili to energize. It makes sense since these characteristics also, in part, define introversion and extroversion. Not so much inward and outward going, but rather the place where they find their best. And we want their best.

    Most problem-solving courses use a variety of techniques to allow for the variety of individual differences that make up the pool of trainees. Problem-solving offers the chance to look at different ways we process information. I referred in my last article to a psychology professor who suggested problem-solving was a matter of letting information roll around in our mind one way or another through concentration, meditation, or even prayer, allowing the brain’s creative function move it around in a creative way.

    Training exercises…like meditation, work to let the ideas form unique juxtapositions that, in turn, may offer a creative solution or spark new ideas totally.

    Think of dreaming as information, situations, various stimili entering your mind at a time when you are not trying to control it–your unconscious and subconscious mind reconstructs the inputs from your life and turns it into something else, something perhaps even brand new. Maybe it’s a nightmare, maybe insight or maybe a solution. That’s why any training exercise, someone can take with them and repeat it, like meditation, works to let the ideas form unique juxtapositions that, in turn, may offer a creative solution or spark new ideas totally.

    Vision building is a way of looking at the status quo and finding a unique way of building upon it. So, the retreats may have hit on something there. How about opening up the retreat environment to give and encourage the participants to be most comfortable and free. Provide training in relaxation and meditation techniques to help free their mind of other pervasive thoughts. Providing meetings and informal gatherings to spur on those who thrive and derive energy in that environment.

    I like what Burstein says here about her friend,Tibor Kalman, the graphic designer and multifarious auteur, who seems to have a remarkable insight into creativity.

    “You don’t want to do too many projects of a similar type,” he told me. “I did two of a number of things. The first one, you fuck it up in an interesting way. The second one, you get it right. And then you’re out of there. I have sought to move into as many other fields as possible, anything that could be a step away from ‘graphic design,’ just to keep from getting bored. As long as I don’t completely know how to do something, I can do it well. And as soon as I have [completely] learned how to do something, I will do it less well, because what I do will become more obvious.”

    Less is more. Filling all the gaps with information leaves us full of where we are now with little room for questions. We hire leadership from outside the company because they have a fresh eye; maybe they just have gaps that allow them fill in them with new or even unique information.

    This gave me an idea for training. What about exercises look at twisting a standard, modifying a rule to be less rigid or even more rigid. Rigid enough to become a company standard, a company tradition. “We only accept the best raw material no matter the cost.” It is rigid. Could it contribute to a vision? An exercise taking one statement like that and having a leader trainee turn that into a leadership vision, company mission statement, company slogan might make a good exercise.

    Now it’s your turn to provide some samples of good creativity exercises. I need to meditate some more on the subject.

    For more resources about training, see the Training library.

    For a look at the human side of training from my Cave Man perspective, please check out my best-selling book, The Cave Man Guide to Training and Development. Happy training.