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Being Strategic and Creative At Work

To understand how people were creative at work, I spent time watching and interviewing clients and colleagues approach a typical assignment.

It was fascinating because everyone used a different system, some were very specific (as if following a theory from a textbook) while others were more fluid and flexible (as if learnt by trial and error).

Regardless of how they approached their process, nearly everyone – in the end – followed the same basic system, which in turn, I’ve used consistently over the years.

Do you see yourself in any of these steps?

1. They started with an objective or goal.

The goal helped them to understand the task at hand, know what they had to accomplish, and understand the expectations of their team leader or colleagues. Most of all, it gave them a due date so there was clarity in terms of when things needed to be done.

2.  They conducted research.

They gathered information, by speaking to others, surfing the internet, or buying research. Some spoke to more people to confirm what they learnt, to see if it was relevant or applicable.

3.  They learned.

By gathering information, they expanded their knowledge. Some information was new to them. Some reinforced what they already knew. Other information challenged their assumptions, or made them change their opinions. This last point was important because it made them reconsider what they knew about what they knew. It challenged their assumptions, and this universally improved both their strategic and creative thinking.

4. They analyzed.

As they learnt, they made decisions about the quality of the information. Some info was right and important. Other information was not right but interesting, and it pointed them in a different direction. Some information wasn’t helpful at all, or wrong. In the end, they decided some information was good and others bad.

5.  They gained an insight.

Somewhere along the way, a momentous thing happened. Whether it was deliberate or unconscious, they uncovered a vital piece of information which reinforced the essence of the problem. Or, it completely changed what they understood about their knowledge. More often than not, several pieces of information coalesced into a critical understanding of the assignment or topic. They realised the information meant something useful. It suggested a specific action. They might have even had an ‘AHA!’

6.  They formed an idea.

However it occurred, this ‘AHA!’ moment was the impetus for a possible solution to help them achieve the objective. They probably thought, I should take this action.’ If they were particularly excited, they created another idea, then another. Some brought colleagues together to create even more ideas through brainstorming.

7.  They sorted and refined.

Among all options, they eventually selected a few good ideas to hone into the best solution.  Some conducted additional research to help make sure they perfected their idea in the right way.

8.  They implemented.

The idea became action, which helped them achieve their objective, which addressed a problem (like John Bradfield) or fulfilled a need (like Albert Parkhouse).  Either way, it linked them back to their first step.  (See the Bradfield vs. Parkhouse reference here.)

If you could draw this thought process as a flow as shapes, you would get the Hourglass Figure which demonstrates the opposite and complementary nature of Strategic Thinking and Creative Thinking.

What other steps did you take to be creative at work?  Please add your comments below.

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Being Strategic and Creative At Work

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