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What difference does creative thinking make in a crisis?

Eugene Hughes

“Historically, the companies that came out of crises and recessions with strength did so by keeping their creativity alive. So why do the majority of businesses ignore it?”

Talking with clients and colleagues around the world over the last few weeks, without exception, everyone is facing extraordinary, unexpected challenges. The impact of Covid-19 is raising all sorts of existential, moral, social, economic, professional and practical questions that need addressing all at once. What’s clear in the eye of this storm is that we need people to work smarter together to solve complex problems, at the same time as identifying opportunities to invent new and better aways of working. Historically, the companies that came out of crises and recession with strength did so by keeping their creativity alive. Harvard Business Review recently surveyed more than 250 multinational companies to understand the measures they were taking to manage the Covid-19 epidemic. While most companies are enacting reactive measures, only a minority are yet to identify and shape opportunities. So why do Business Leaders stop seeing creativity as a functional necessity? Why is the creative mind considered subordinate to the purely logical, when linear thinking only digs you deeper into a rut during challenging times?

For starters the word ‘creativity’ itself is problematic. It’s far too broad a term to really get the impact it can have for businesses other than the creative sector. The problem is that we associate the word with everything from flower arranging, to product design to high art. It’s no wonder why a business under pressure considers it as non-essential. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The creativity of your workforce will fuel the higher levels of performance needed to turn things around. It’s important for businesses to see creativity for what it actually is – a powerful cognitive function. Remember, it’s this same cognitive ability that transformed human beings from cave dwellers into space travellers. And it’s our ability to think creatively that will get us out of the current crisis in good shape. That’s why more than ever, Business Leaders must recognise the critical role creative thinking plays at a time like this and do all that they can to encourage it across their workforce.

‘Creative Intelligence is not just the cognitive ability to generate ideas but also to discern the best possible solution given the resources you have to hand’.

Creative Intelligence (CQ) is the cognitive ability to adapt to unusual, ambiguous situations and use existing knowledge and resources to identify and generate the optimum solutions and opportunities available. The higher the CQ, the more adept you are at doing this as speed. We used to believe that this mental processing only occurred in certain parts of the brain, but we now know it to be a whole brain process that’s far more sophisticated than we previously thought. For example, a common misconception about creativity is that it’s primarily about idea generation – hence why company’s invest in brainstorming workshops despite all empirical research showing that brainstorms produce sub-optimum results. What good is a great idea if it’s executed badly. Just think of the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo. It would never be so great if it wasn’t executed with such mastery. Creative Intelligence is not just the ability to generate ideas but also the ability to discern the best possible solution and opportunities given the resources you have to hand. In fact, research shows that the more limited the resources, the greater the resourcefulness and ingenuity in teams. Creative Intelligence involves imagination, but it also involves critical judgement, resourcefulness, ingenuity and determination: five qualities every business needs at the moment.

‘Creative Intelligence in managers and leaders is the strongest predictor of business performance’.

From a neurological perspective, everyone has this ability to think creatively. We use it every day, from the small stuff like deciding what to cook for dinner (small ‘c’ creativity) to the big stuff like trying to address climate change (big ‘C’ creativity). That’s how we generate new neural pathways throughout the whole of our brain, enabling our brains to continue to develop throughout our life. But like most things in life, it takes practice. The more you practice the better you get. Another common misconception is that certain personality types are more creative than others. Because of this, people don’t consider themselves to be creative and don’t practice.

‘Boosting Creative Intelligence requires a mindset shift as well as a new set of methods and behaviours’.

Recent research by McKinsey clearly showed that high Creative Intelligence in managers and leaders is the strongest predictor of business performance regardless of the industry they’re in. It doesn’t just belong to the so-called ‘Creative sector’. Look how Finance and Retail have responded to fast-changing consumer and market demands over the last 10 years. Or how the Tech sector continues to produce innovations that change human behaviour. Every organisation has the potential to be a creative entreprise regardless of the industry you operate in. The challenge is that although everyone has the potential to develop their Creative Intelligence, it takes skill and practice to apply it effectively at work. Creative Intelligence in the workplace requires a more systemic approach than simply throwing people together in a room with post-it notes to brainstorm a few new ideas – although this might feel effective, it don’t produce the best results. Believe me, you’d be far better off sending people for a walk on their own in nature. Boosting Creative Intelligence at work requires a mindset shift, as well as a new set of methods and behaviours. But you can start by simply making the commitment to get creative.

‘Identify specific skills that you can start to practice straight away.

Working with neuropsychologists, international business experts and adult educationalists, the team at Artgym researched and developed the 21 skills that increase Creative Intelligence at work. Here are five of the 21 skills that tend to get thrown out the window during times of crisis but make a significant and immediate difference to performance.

1: Reflection: Slow down to speed up by taking your time to consider all the different options available before reacting.

2: Listen: Make an extra effort to listen and understand all the different ideas and opinions of your colleagues.

3: Improvise: Allow yourself and your team moments to be playful and experiment with different ideas.

4: Prototype: Don’t get hung up on getting things perfect, just get started and then keep on iterating as you go.

5: Feedback: Actively seek out and ask for feedback on how you’re doing.

Read more about the 21 Skills and how to spark the creative minds of your teams. The road out of a crisis is never straight. Now is the time to put our creativity to good work.