Think Like A Tourist: Why Tedium Boosts Your Creative Work

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Researchers continue to uncover secrets of creativity and in the process, make sense as to how innovation occurs. This new information is applicable to organizations and individuals alike. Anyone who works in the “creative services” industries needs to pay attention to this research.

In a recent study conducted by teams at MIT and the University of Toronto, which was featured in the New York Times, researchers studied 6,000 Kickstarter projects, looking at the relationship between time and the effect on “innovative” ideas. Over the course of nine months, researchers observed patterns of heavy ideation work and administrative or execution of idea work. The study suggested that ideas need robust doses of “non-creative” or process time to help the original idea along. In other words, good ideas need these “uncreative” administrative tasks to become great ideas on the market.

While the study was small, it has implications for creative workplaces. Most directly, it challenges prevailing notions we generally hold about creativity, innovation and how we work.

Ideas Need Process
The big takeaway challenges our mythical attachment to ideas. Most of us love and value creativity, and we see and want the effects of innovation. A singular idea disrupts markets. A visionary with her strength smashes through to markets with the power of her idea. We find ourselves drawn to the story of Newton’s “apple falling on his head” story. We get lost in the romance of the marathon brainstorming session where an idea magically comes to life. However, as the study suggests, there are processes that do the heavy lifting for intangible ideas.

Nurture Ideas
Ideas, as the study suggests, develop through a company pipeline only if encouraged by way of company policies, structures, processes and culture. There is a value to ideas only if they are kept in motion. As many companies proclaim to pursue innovation, creative workers need to continue raising awareness and helping to make tangible the benefits, for example, of innovation hubs to test out ideas. Companies, too, need to invest in idea think-tank teams with dedicated resources and people to keep ideas at play.

Brain Rest
The study pointed out what neuroscience is already telling us: our brains are more creative with lots of time spent relaxing and daydreaming. Obsessive focus yields nothing in the way of creative breakthroughs. Most creatives don’t lack ideas, they are deluged with them. It’s the connecting of different types that yields a new idea or improves an idea already churning through the brain. That’s because the brain needs to go into default mode. As neuroscientist Rex Jung has noted, taking time off doesn’t shut the brain off so much as it gives it license to yield into the unconscious. As the study implies, there was a lot of work going on while the Kickstarter owners went offline.

I hope you’ve found this topic useful in your work. What’s your experience with the generation of creative ideas? How has the power of process helped or hindered your work?


Everyone Solves Design Problems

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

We’ve covered the importance of a brain trust and the ideal creative-centric leaders and their empowered teams. Now it’s time to get to the problems: how designers and design thinkers apply their skills.

A talented art director or designer can deliver amazing boards for a pitch, but what’s the thinking behind them? Do they solve a brand need? What are brands? Do they anticipate the future? Is it stunning but blind to its own purpose?

In the design industry, no matter the client, confusing beauty or “beautification” with great design happens. Getting lost in the art doesn’t always solve a business problem. Asking teams to align best practices of design and art into specific client ‘business’ problems makes everyone less focused on the “wow” and more focused on, “A-ha, I didn’t think of that!”

All industries face their unique challenges. Educator George Kneller says “creativity . . . consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know.” This should be a guiding maxim for re-thinking problems. For us, problem-solving has to do with how viewers see, understand and interact with television. The problems are knotty and sometimes imposing –- intimidating, even.

And while television struggles with conspicuous cultural identity issues, audiences still value what the medium offers. So teams should stretch their minds and try to solve tactical day-to-day puzzles. Whether it’s through scheduled meetings or informal work sessions, it’s a good idea to congregate and talk about the state of the industry, from competitors to aspirations.

These sessions don’t need to be “guided,” but it helps to have a sense of the problem’s history and background. We pull out the “classic” on-air looks, the big wins and the failures. We talk about symbols and meanings, such as what a logo or a lower third is trying to project; but what problems are they trying to solve? Is it advertising or something else?

These are the juicy “knotty” problems that make us dig deep and grope our brains for answers. Creativity scholars’ value this sort of juicy problem-solving because the unconscious mind (where ideas are always churning) has a chain to connect with ideas, thoughts and visuals that they don’t always think to recall.

We believe creative workspaces and designers and design-thinkers are the best combinations of people and places, allowing us to effortlessly wander through problems in a process Grant McCracken calls “provocation.”

Creative companies are the best places to “pitch the tent” outside conventional business strategic thinking; and designers are very often artists who use their skills and talents to provoke not only their own work, but life on-air.

That’s how we #daretoinspire