Creativity is the ability or aptitude by which individuals or groups generate or conceive new ideas, or adapt existing concepts into new principles. Many ideas have led to successful businesses and innovations. For example, these ideas may be a new solution to a problem, a new business model, or a new method or product concept. By stimulating the creative process within individuals, new ideas and concepts can be generated that can lead to the achievement of new innovations.
When ‘creativity’ is mentioned to people, the general perception is that creativity is associated with the ‘creative arts’ or being “artistic” such as music, painting and literature. This is not the case, as creativity is an ability that can drive competitive advantage across all disciplines, including business. The general perception of creative people is that they were born with unique creative skills. Michael Polanyi and Arthur Koestler, who began writing on the subject of creativity in the 1950s and 1960s, further clarified and described tacit knowledge and creative thinking processes. Creativity and lateral thinking was later popularised by the likes of Dr Edward de Bono and Tony Buzan, reinforcing that creativity was not innate but could be learned and deliberately applied to personal and business environments.
The creative process was first described by Wallas back in 1926. He proposed a systematic model that usually follows a sequence of phases:
- Preparation: Collecting background information & focusing on the problem or opportunity
- Incubation: After reviewing and processing the available information you sleep on it!
- Illumination: Often when least expected an idea will flash into your mind – the Eureka experience!
- Implementation/Verification: Develop a plan to implement the idea and test.
However, we find today that many people do not have the interest or inclination to develop their creative thinking capacity. They feel more comfortable with their analytical or logical thinking.
It is well accepted that a continuous flow of ideas provides the antecedents for innovation within an organisation, and in particular the development of new products, services and processes. Creativity plays an important role in the generation of new ideas and the identification of new opportunities. However, once ideas are generated they must be captured, screened, evaluated and finally implemented, which takes significant effort. This is reflected in the statement made by Thomas Edison that “Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.”
The Creative Mind
Brain research, particularly the work of Dr. Roger Sperry, has helped to explain how the brain works and provide a better understanding of differences in thinking style. The cortex of the brain has been shown to consist of two distinct hemispheres: one on the left and one on the right. Figure 1 shows the difference between the two hemispheres. The left hemisphere has been associated with linear, analytical thought, the type of thinking associated with solving a mathematical problem or writing a report. This side of the brain uses logic to analyze different situations. The right hemisphere deals with creativity, intuition and non-linear information. It uses pictures and images to visualize situations and problems. By using techniques to stimulate right brain thinking, such as creativity techniques, tools and processes, a person can learn to be more creative.
Figure 1. Comparing the Left and Right Brain Hemispheres
Source: Adapted from Hermmann, 1988
The Lost Art
When observing the behaviour of children it can be noted that they are ready to jump into any situation: to explore and discover, to touch and hold new things. Children are known to be curious as they constantly observe their immediate environment and ask intriguing questions. They seem to have no boundaries restricting their thoughts and feel that they can achieve anything. However, as children become adults they seem to lose these special characteristics that they exhibit. This change that people undergo throughout their early life can be attributed to the conditioning that they experience at school and at home. They are constantly reminded about what is right and what is wrong, they are educated in such a way that initiates the formation of boundaries and restricts their thinking patterns. It can be assumed that the conditioning stimulates the analytical or left side of the brain and suppresses the creative or right side of the brain. The level of creativity is analogous to “Children enter primary school with a set of multicoloured crayons and leave high school with a single black pen”.
Whole brain thinking is important in that both the analytical and creative sides of the brain work together to help drive personal and organizational objectives. For an organization to be successful it must have a system to provide a continuous flow of ideas. Creative right brain thinking (divergent thinking) provides the means to generate ideas. Once these ideas are generated and captured they can then be evaluated using analytical left-brain techniques or convergent thinking. The screening process identifies higher value ideas that can be developed further into concepts which can be implemented in the organization. Barron and Harrington argue that both divergent and convergent thinking is required in the production of any new idea.
 Ayan, J. (1997) Aha! : 10 Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit and Find your Great Ideas, Three Rivers Press, New York
 Barron, F. and Harrington, D.W. (1981) Creativity, Intelligence and Personality, Annual Review of Psychology Vol.51 pp.478-485