Monday, July 19, 2010

Defining creativity

Every project manager is challenged with finding 'creative solutions' to project requirements.  Certainly over the last generation, practitioners have been admonished to 'think outside the box'; manager's have been warned to value the new and unique.

[The 'establishment' always resists a challenge to conventional orthodoxy.  See Einstein, A. for the year 1905]

In a recent article in a national publication, and on a follow-up panel show on PBS, creativity was defined [again, since there are many definitions].
Creativity is production of something original and useful, ..... To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).

As discussed by the panelists, creativity arises from synthesis of known facts or ideas in ways heretofore not known. As such, creative people must be aware of, or have knowledge of,  facts and ideas in order to create a new synthesis. Obviously, project managers can have a big affect here: assembling facts, or providing access to ideas, to drive creativity within the project scope [and budget, etc] is something we managers can do, even if we ourselves are challenged for right-brain function.

As project managers, we face these questions:
1. Can creative people be reliably identified?
2. Can creativity be taught, and therefore, learned as a means to develop project resources?
3. Is there a project protocol to evaluate a new and unique narrative to connect a known set of dots?
4. How do you fit innovation, the practical implementation of creativity, into budget estimates?

The general conclusion from the cited references is yes to 1 and 2: there are nationally recognized and accepted tests for creativity aptitude, and there are ways to influence and stimulate creative solutions.  [Step 1: move away from rote recitation of 'how we did it before']

Beware the timeline, however. Some research shows that constant immersion in creative activity actually changes brain physiology. So that would suggest that consistently creative people started young, but that also means that physiology once developed may be a life-long capability [there's a place for senior citizens over 40!]. It also suggests [at least to me] that many creative people have there best years when they are young and the brain is most pliable. [See Gates, W. III for 1980's]

As for 3 and 4, protocols that anticipate innovative solutions from creative ideas that are practical and proven by experience are more problematic.

  • Spiral methods provide allowance for creativity. 
  • Deming's PDCA cycle anticipates an opportunity to think creatively--that is, to synthesize a new narrative from the facts--as part of  'Check-Act'.  
  • To provide innovation is one of the motivations for agile methods.  

But regardless of methodology, projects of necessity have limited windows for creativity when the scope-resource-quality-time dependencies are open for debate and for shaping.  Of course, agile methods protocols to stretch the window openings, but in the end "someone has to pay for this stuff", so even agilists must limit creativity.

Photo credit: Newsweek on-line, July 10, 2010

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