Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Can Creativity Be Taught?

This from August Turak in Forbes:
Every great leader is a creative leader.
If creativity can be taught how is it done?
...In 1956 my mentor, Louis R. Mobley, realized that IBM’s success depended on teaching executives to think creatively rather than teaching them how to read financial reports. As a result the IBM Executive School was built around these six insights.

First, traditional teaching methodologies like reading, lecturing, testing, and memorization are worse than useless. They are actually the counter-productive way in which boxes get built. Most education focuses on providing answers in a linear step by step way. Mobley realized that asking radically different questions in a non-linear way is the key to creativity.

Mobley’s second discovery is that becoming creative is an unlearning rather than a learning process. The goal of the IBM Executive School was not to add more assumptions but to upend existing assumptions. Designed as a “mind blowing experience,” IBM executives were pummeled out of their comfort zone often in embarrassing, frustrating, even infuriating ways. Providing a humbling experience for hot shot executives with egos to match had its risks, but Mobley ran those risks to get that “Wow, I never thought of it that way before!” reaction that is the birth pang of creativity.

Third, Mobley realized that we don’t learn to be creative. We must become creative people. A Marine recruit doesn’t learn to be a Marine by reading a manual. He becomes a Marine by undergoing the rigors of boot camp. Like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, he is transformed into a Marine. Mobley’s Executive School was a twelve week experiential boot camp. Classes, lectures, and books, were exchanged for riddles, simulations, and games. Like psychologists, Mobley and his staff were always dreaming up experiments where the “obvious” answer was never adequate. Shock and awe was used to open up his students to alternative modes of thinking.

Mobley’s fourth insight is that the fastest way to become creative is to hang around with creative people –regardless of how stupid they make us feel. An early experiment in controlled chaos, The IBM Executive School was an unsystematic, unstructured environment where most of the benefits accrued through peer to peer interaction much of it informal and off line.

Fifth, Mobley discovered that creativity is highly correlated with self-knowledge. It is impossible to overcome biases if we don’t know they are there, and Mobley’s school was designed to be one big mirror.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, Mobley gave his students permission to be wrong. Every great idea grows from the potting soil of hundreds of bad ones, and the single biggest reason why most of us never live up to our creative potential is from fear of making a fool out of ourselves. For Mobley there were no bad ideas or wrong ideas only building blocks for even better ideas.

In today’s ever changing marketplace most products do not fail because they don’t add features fast enough. They fail because like WordPerfect and Lotus their product becomes a feature in another company’s bigger and more robust offering. They fail because they are blindsided by a strategic decision that emerges from a completely unanticipated direction. They fail from a lack of creative leadership...

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