In this section we might highlight an upcoming event, whether that's one we're hosting/organizing, or one at which our consultants might be speaking. And of course provide a link so people can sign up.
Apples or Oranges? Solve it with Janusian Thinking!
By Remo Nuzzolese
Janus was the first God in ancient Rome, worshipped hundreds of years before Christianity, he was probably the most important of all deities that populated the roman Pantheon. Janus, or Ianus in latin, was The Creator, God of beginnings and transitions, he presided doors, bridges, new enterprises and he is still giving his name to the first month of the year, January. He embodied elements of change and movement and because these are bidirectional, the God was symbolized with a two-faced head with the two faces looking at opposite directions, able to oversee past and future, left and right, in and out, two different states at the same time.
From here, Janusian Thinking, which is the ability to integrate conflicting elements with a unifying thought giving birth to a new idea that is coherent with the original elements and wider than them.
Many great thinkers in history have proven to – consciously or not – think and create in a Janusian way in the fields of science, politics and the arts: Einstein’s relativity theory, Louis Pasteur’s vaccine, Escher’s paradoxical images and the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile are just a few well known examples: a falling object can be perceived as steady, a poison can be its own remedy, a stream of water that falls as it ascends a tower, and so on…
Even easier to recognize it in some popular commercials: “Tough on Dirt - Gentle on Fabrics (Whirlpool Washers)”, “Bet You Can’t Say No to Yes (Dannon Yogurt)” and “Devilishly Good Taste, 90 Saintly Calories (Baskin Robbins Ice Cream).
Religions and spirituality are full of examples of opposing coexisting forces: God and Evil, Nirvana and Samsara and then we have this beautiful symbol, the Tao that integrates Ying and Yang, opposite energies functioning simultaneously as a unified larger principle.
So, how do we relate Janusian thinking to creativity and problem solving? We already know that creativity is also about connecting elements that are distant, putting things together in a new way to develop an original product. Now, imagine how much stronger and radical the answer to a problem would be if it could solve the original problem and its opposite. Janusian thinking is about increasing the complexity of a situation and use it to find more opportunities, is about thinking holistically in terms of AND rather than EITHER-OR without creating a separation between elements that are really not apart and refusing false trade-off between factors that can be integrated in one solution.
Next time you are facing a difficult problem that presents conflicting elements, imagine which are the commonalities, in which wider frame can you include both elements? It’s like being able to choose apples, oranges and the basket too.
These are some of the authors that I researched to write this post; you can easily Google them to dive deep in their interesting literature:
Building a climate for creativity takes 360 degree focus.
By Sharon de Korte
Creativity became a key development focus area for businesses ever since the 2010 IBM study. The study among over 1,500 CEOs across 60 countries and 33 industries found that creativity is considered the most important leadership quality for business success. However, for an organization to be creative, it needs not only creative leaders, it also requires an organizational climate that fosters creativity.
So why are leaders saying that creativity is so important?
As Gerard Puccio, chair of the International Center for Studies in Creativity, said at TEDx Gramercy last December, “because things change, we have to try new things.” Between globalization and the rapid pace of technological change, organizations need to do things differently.
Rita McGrath, in her forthcoming book The End of Competitive Advantage, posits that the new path to business success is quickly grasping short-term opportunities. She believes that it is irresponsible for an executive not to make innovation a strategic priority and ensure there is investment for it.
How to encourage organizational creativity?
The best way to prioritize innovation and encourage doing new things is to have a climate that is open to creative thinking. (To clarify, organizational climate is not to be confused with corporate culture. Organizational climate is the employee perceptions that influence and characterize life in the organization, whereas culture describes corporate beliefs and values.) In addition to communicating the desire for innovation, organizations need to create a climate conducive to fostering the creative thinking that is necessary to power innovation.
The benefit of having a climate conducive to creative thinking is that it not only enables innovation, it also increase employees’ productivity, job satisfaction, and well-being.
What is the right climate for organizational creativity to grow?
Creativity is like a plant; it needs the right environment to grow. We know that plants need the right temperature, water, light, oxygen and nutrients. With creativity, however, it’s not that simple. To cultivate the right climate for creativity to flourish, the organization needs to have a clear purpose, an independent and collaborative process, and people who constructively work together.
Purpose – In order to inspire and engage employees, organizations first need to clearly communicate their purpose and set clear achievement goals. When employees understand the larger purpose of the organization, they are better able to see the value they provide to the organization. When employees believe and accept the organizations’ challenges as their own, they will be inspired to put in the effort to help achieve success. The clearer the organizational goals, the more likely employees will find meaning in their work, which in turn leads to being more personally challenged and more dedicated and committed to the outcome. This personalization of the larger organizational purpose challenges employees and ignites their personal creativity.
Process – For creativity to be maximized, a balance of the employees’ personal independence and team collaboration is needed. Allowing employees the freedom to take initiative along with the time to have and build on ideas is important to fostering a creative climate. It is also necessary for managers to support new ideas by paying attention and encouraging alternatives. Managers also need to have tolerance for the uncertainty inherent in risk taking.
For employees to feel a sense of independence in their work, they need to be encouraged to explore new ways of doing things to overcome challenges to achieving the organizational purpose. By engaging curious thinking, employees can delve deeply and get at the root cause of a challenge. Using a ‘why chain’ discussion to enrich understanding. Take each aspect of the situation and ask why is that happening and then why is that happening. This gets to the root cause of the problem. After crafting some ideas of what needs to be done, asking a ‘what’s stopping us chain’. These two tools will jumpstart the problem solving thinking.
Open, honest discussion of planning such as described should be a standard part of meetings. When a diversity of perspectives are encouraged in the development of new approaches to situations, employees’ creativity is awakened and new possibilities can arise.
Encouraging new thinking isn’t enough. Employees should be allowed to take advantage of opportunities - even potentially risky ones, without fear. It can be difficult for managers to be comfortable with uncertainty inherent in allowing employees to try new things. Experimenting on a small scale will encourage employees. Managers should quickly respond to decisions and new ideas with positive and constructive feedback.
Mistakes are critical for learning. Rather than punishing risk taking, which fosters doing the same old same old, have ‘no blame’ debriefing sessions where everyone involved shares experiences. Probing fully around the following three questions: What happened? Why did it happen? What did we learn? to fully explore the situation. Then develop new solutions based on the new learning.
To balance personal independence and team collaboration, when I managed a team, we had quarterly strategic planning meetings. Each meeting started with a creative exercise to get our minds out of the everyday challenge of our email and most urgent problems. After that we had an open dialog about what’s working well and what do we or our clients wished was different. We went through each one diagnosing the situation (using why? and what’s stopping us? chains) and setting up action steps to overcome the issue. Each person volunteered to lead different initiatives. In order to be sure that we implemented these (or improved ideas), we also added them to our regular staff meetings.
It is critical to balance the desire for big wins with the value of small failures. I like to say, ‘fail small to win big.’ Small experiments are learning opportunities (aka mistakes) can build momentum to achieving the big wins.
People – The best intentions of having a climate that engages employees in the creative process will only be as successful as the people involved. To give employees the courage to pursue possibilities, employees must feel emotionally safe. While emotional safety is generally important in the workplace, it is paramount for creativity. The fundamental principles for creative interaction are trust/openness and lack of conflict.
When asking people to be creative, we are encouraging them to use their imagination and do things differently. Using our imagination is likely to make people to feel vulnerable. Each idea should be treated as a gift – with acknowledgement and appreciation for what they can bring in a positive and productive way.
Another aspect is that employees need to be willing to give their ideas and make suggestions without conflict. One simple way to do this is to not say the word ‘but.’ Every mention of the word ‘but’ in creative discussions, not only kills that idea but often limits the persons desire to participate. Have a conversation with someone where every time they say something you say ‘yes, but’ and then try the same exact conversation and say ‘yes, and’. It is a profound difference. In one they don’t want to speak and in the other they feel their contribution was valuable and are energized and having fun.
Environment – Even with all the above an organization may not be reaching its full creative potential. The last critical component for creative flourishing is that the energy needs to be dynamic, lively with a sense of playfulness and humor. Organizations are like animals – they can either energized or sleepy and tired. The environment should engage people’s curiosity through the acceptance of experimentation and new things happening. A relaxed atmosphere where people are having fun and engaged brings out the creative sparks.
One challenge in establishing a creative environment today is that teams are increasingly more virtual. While there are an increasing number of online collaboration tools, these are often enablers but not encouragers. One way to overcome this challenge is to build playfulness into the tool – the gamification of collaboration. Rather than just installing the software and hoping that employees use it, make it fun and engaging with challenges, points, rewards etc.
How is the creative climate of your organization or group? Here are some questions to ask yourself about the organization or group you are part of. A low score is holding back creativity.
How clear is the organizations’ purpose?
How personally meaningful do employees feel that their work is?
How willing are employees to put in extra effort?
Are employees fearful of what will happen if they try something new and it is not successful?
Are employees encouraged to experiment and try things rather than spending a long time analyzing?
Do employees have the time to explore new ways of doing things?
Do employees take initiative in discussing problems and developing alternatives?
Do employees have a positive attitude towards trying new things?
Are ideas listened to and encouraged?
Are different perspectives put forward and explored?
Are people encouraged to have and discuss their ideas?
Is there open and direct communication about issues and ideas?
Are employees worried about how others will judge their ideas?
Are people positive and mature rather than gossiping?
To what extent are new things happening in the organization?
How much do people feel that it is acceptable to do things/handle situations differently?
Is the atmosphere relaxed and casual?
How much are people having fun and laughing together?
“Creativity is innate. You either have it, or you don’t!”
Part of the work we do at Innovation Bound is bust myths like these, and one of our favorite myths, that has percolated more recently, is the notion that collaboration is bad for innovation, and that true breakthroughs are made solo. Why would the individual, group, or crowd be “the best medium for innovation?” Powerful innovations have resulted from all three of these, and context (the challenge at hand, available resources, et cetera) clearly plays a critical role. We dug a little deeper and came to an interesting challenge: How can groups have effective fair collaborations that are not dominated by strong personalities and extroverted behavior?
A Quiet Idea Generation Tool
The solution we’ve found most effective is an exercise called Brainwriting. It is a powerful way to quickly generate and build on one another’s ideas. Here’s how it’s done:
Take a few sheets of paper and draw Tic-Tac-Toe grids on them, so that each sheet is divided up into nine boxes.
Hand one of these sheets to each participant.
Assuming you’ve already phrased a challenge for which to generate solutions, have each participant write out three ideas for solutions; one in each of the top three boxes.
As participants finish, they can place their sheets in the center of the table, and take sheets other participants have placed in the center.
With a new sheet in hand, top row filled out, participants should build on each of the three ideas in the top row, and write down the new ideas in the second row.
Repeat this process until all nine boxes on all of the sheets are filled out.
If you need more ideas, you can use larger grids. Participants can build on each others ideas very directly, or just be “inspired by” the other ideas on the sheet. You can also do the exact same exercise on a Google Spreadsheet live online from different geographical locations.
Doing the work that we do has shown us time and time again that there is always a way to overcome obstacles, to tackle challenges, and to reach our goals. Don’t let common myths get in your way.
The style of brainwriting described in our article is adapted from the original developed by Professor Bernd Rohrbach in 1968.
We thank Bruce Campbell for his elegant sculpture: Untitled (Nervous System).
Ask Siri what time it is or ask Google for today’s weather and you’ll get what you need. Punch a mathematical expression into a calculator and you’ll almost never be let down. Computers are incredibly precise and reliable when it comes to these types of tasks.
"Hey Siri, why doesn’t my girlfriend like my paintings anymore?"
"Apple doesn’t tell me everything you know."
On the other hand, there is a world of tasks computers are terrible at resolving. Why the stark difference? Will computers ever be able to understand art or be creative? Let’s dig a little deeper.
Two Types of Problems
Let’s divide our world of problems into two types. Firstly, there are problems that have a definitive answer, or multiple definitive answers. For example: Nine is divisible by which numbers? The answers are one, three and nine. The wonderful thing about these types of problems is that resolving them can be broken down into a simple sequence of steps, a procedure or a program. That’s why computers are so great at solving them. You just run the program and it spits out the answers, often at a remarkably fast pace. It’s incredible how sophisticated these algorithms, programs, have gotten and how powerful they can be. My favorite example of this type of ingenuity is IBM’s Watson.
There is a second set of problems we deal with in our lives, and these problems have no definitive answer. They are entrenched in context, deal with changing variables or unknown factors. It is either more difficult or not useful to solve these problems by taking a prescribed set of steps to reach a conclusion. The solution is often contextual, transient, or mysterious unto itself. How to write an inspiring story or make a beautiful painting? How to choreograph a dance that will dazzle an audience? We come across these challenges in the arts but also in business. Which marketing campaign will succeed? Which logo best represents our brand? So far, computers have not been very successful in this realm. The realm of the creativity.
The Heartbeat of Creativity
When we look at this second set of challenges, and observe humans that are solving these types of problems (writers, musicians, marketeers), we find them leveraging their imagination. We find them using their creativity. So, what is Creativity? Creativity has a collection of definitions, many of which highlight two factors: Novelty and value. Something which is creative has an element of novelty, or newness, and an element of value, or utility.
When a musician writes a new song lyric or when an inventor sets out to design something she considers hundreds of possibilities before converging on an appropriate option. A marketing team generates a huge number of ideas before investing the time and resources to develop a campaign for its potential customers. The next time our musician writes or our inventor innovates, they will begin again by diverging on all possibilities before converging onto the most appropriate choice. This oscillation of divergence and convergence is what I like to call the “Heartbeat of Creativity.” There is a huge volume of scholarly articles on this pattern of divergence and convergence with respect to the psychology of human creativity.
This pattern shows up in another place that is significant to our original question of whether computers can be creative: Evolution. In evolution divergence happens in the variance produced by reproduction and mutation, then convergence happens when the environment selects the varieties most suitable for survival. Evolution, like the creative mind, is constantly diverging on possibilities and converging on the most appropriate options.
What About Computers?
Let’s return to our original question: Can computers be creative?
I see hope. Pandora is a music website that curates music for you based on your and other users’ preferences. Often times Pandora plays a song for you that you’ve never heard before (novelty) and that you’re likely to enjoy (value). Choosing music that you will enjoy is certainly the type of challenge with an indefinite, transient and contextual solution. What about the creative process of divergence and convergence? That too, is beginning to make it into modern algorithms and programs. Take a look at the science behind Watson and see if you can spot the divergence and the convergence.
It seems to me that psychologists are beginning to better understand human creativity, and that engineers are beginning to learn to program it into computers. Perhaps the next great generation of artists will be made of silicon.