Report on the lunchtime CPD talk given by Pamela MacPhee on 6th October 2015
Resilience@Work – Creative Thinking.
business matters is very grateful to Anderson Strathern who hosted this event and provided a sandwich lunch for those attending.
Ruth Penman introduced our speaker, Pamela MacPhee who, after 15 years in HR, is now a consultant specialising in Personal and Organisational Development. A recording of Pamela’s talk and the PowerPoint presentation she used are available using the icons at the foot of the page.
Pamela started by indicating that she wanted it to be a very interactive session and one which those attending would enjoy as well as find useful. Her intention was to allow us to get our minds in the right space for thinking creatively. She suggested that, often, we will go to a session or meeting at work which requires creative thinking and we will experience a “brain freeze” moment, followed by our minds jumping back into the patterns which we have followed over the previous years. We find ourselves unable to break out of well-tried and often-followed pathways.
Whether the issue we have is cost reduction, process improvement or other workplace challenges, Pamela said that she hoped to give us some tools and techniques which would help on the workplace journey.
The talk would be split into three sections:
- What is creativity?
- What hinders creativity and gets in the way?
- Some tools and techniques
Moving straight into a practical, Pamela invited us to pick up a white plastic cup which she had placed under some of the chairs in the room, and then to collaborate in small groups to come up with as many uses for the white cup as possible in just two or three minutes. What followed was a buzz of conversation from enthusiastic voices.
After a frenetic two or three minutes, Pamela asked for feedback from the groups on, firstly how many ideas they had generated and, secondly, what was the most “unusual” one. Numbers ranging from 12 to 15 ideas and uses ranging from a muzzle for a small dog, to a light diffuser for a torch, to measuring rainfall, to being a spider catcher, to using it as a small megaphone, to just carrying water (!) were suggested.
Pamela highlighted the fact that by sharing ideas in this way we were generating an environment where creativity was being allowed freer reign.
Pamela moved on to talk about the human brain. Typically we associate the two sides of the brain with different sets of interests and skills, with one side being linked to art, music and other creative topics while the other is more aligned to linear and objective topics and thinking patterns such as found in science, logic and rational processes. From this, it was often proposed that left handed people were the more creative while those who are right handed are more inclined to rationality, logic and linear thinking. Pamela asked us to consider what side of our brains had we used most for the exercise we had just completed.
After a little discussion, Pamela suggested that, in fact, it had been a whole-brain learning experience which showed that the left and right sides of the brain needed to work together for idea generation. She pointed us towards an area in the middle of the brain, called the corpus callosum, which research has shown is more highly developed in more creative people. It is believed that this is linked to the passing of information from the left brain to the right brain and vice versa.
Often, we can be self-limiting by believing, when we look at others, that we are not as creative as they are and therefore “we can’t do that”. Pamela suggested that there were a number of exercises that we can do to stimulate the use of both sides of our brain. She went on to demonstrate some of these and encourage “audience participation”. This very clearly demonstrated that engaging both sides of the brain simultaneously is hard but Pamela encouraged persistence in trying these exercises as we would reap the benefits in the ability to pass information from one side of our brains to the other and increase our overall creative abilities.
Pamela asked us to think about which side of the brain our normal work activities would play to. She then asked for suggestions of what the barriers to creative thinking in the workplace might be. Suggestions included time constraints, tiredness, the working environment, others’ expectations of you, your mood, lack of belief in yourself or accepting negative assessments of your abilities from others, not exposing yourself to new ideas, routine, and habit. Often we move into habits unconsciously and are not aware that we may be inhibiting ourselves.
Moving on to the area of limiting self-beliefs Pamela quoted from Hemry Ford: “If you believe you can, or if you believe you cannot, you are right.” Reinforcing our own comfort zone will increase our limiting self-belief. Pamela highlighted that there are various habits that get in the way as we try to fulfil our potential and she suggested that the trick is to catch yourself falling into these habits so that you can take steps to address this. She suggested that we might use a Neuro-Linguistic Programming technique of imagining someone who we know to be creative and asking ourselves “what attributes of this individual are those that I value?” She asked us to discuss this with the person next to us and then asked for feedback on what sort of adjectives described the people we had been imagining. Some of the words that were suggested included “confident”, “open-minded”, “daring”, “instinctive”, “clear thinking” and “passionate”.
Pamela highlighted that research has shown that creative thinkers turn down the volume on “critical thinking” parts of the brain and also on the areas which look back to “how it was done before”. She suggested that we “fake it” by deliberately mimicking the thinking of those we have imagined until our own brains have learnt this behaviour and it becomes part of our skill set. Start small and then increase the size of your comfort zone and your ability to step outside it when required. Although it may feel difficult, we should never be afraid to fail.
Pamela moved on to outline a process for creative thinking developed by Graham Wallas with steps involving Preparation, Incubation, Illumination and Implementation/Verification. This is a whole-brain process, with Preparation and Implementation appealing to one side of the brain while Incubation and Illumination appeal to the other.
Breaking the process down, Preparation will involve data gathering and possibly SWOT or PESTL analyses. You will think about competitors and customers. Areas to focus on in Preparation include “reframing/restating the problem” (looking at the issues from different viewpoints and with different stakeholders’ eyes) which can help get to the root of what the problem really is. Sometimes this can identify that what is driving you is not well aligned with your own personality and who you are and this can limit your effectiveness – a useful lesson can be learned.
A second area to consider in Preparation is how you generate ideas – looking outside for inspiration perhaps, talking with others, reverse brainstorming (thinking about what you wouldn’t like to happen thus helping to identify and eliminate problems), random input (word association, for example) and using the Charrette process for brainstorming which involves taking stakeholders through the process individually and thus avoiding stalemate due to conflicting aims and objectives in a group situation.
Going back to Incubation and Illumination, these are the areas where you sleep on it. Having completed the Preparation, you need to let it rest in your mind and allow your intuition to take over. You will be able to do this comfortably if you are confident that the Preparation phase has been done well.
Implementation/Verification moves back to utilising the logical, rational side of the brain again and includes scheduling, project planning and project management.
As well as the 4-stage process Pamela had just discussed she highlighted a good way of saving time in a process by asking three questions – the “Rule of Three” approach.
- Tell me three things about the situation
- Tell me three consequences
- Tell me three things you could do about it
An additional, seemingly random, question which can help to break thinking “log jams” is “If you didn’t know and someone else did, what would they say?”
In conclusion, Pamela quoted Steve Jobs: “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesise new things.”
After an interesting few minutes of Q&A, we thanked Pamela for her helpful and stimulating talk.