Dr. Gerhard Huhn

We must save creativity from just technical use of creativity techniques!


I was wondering:

Why do innovation processes and creativity techniques (from Brainstorming to 6 hats of deBono to the currently hyped Design Thinking) often only produce lean, bloodless results that make you ask yourself

 »so what«

and transfer only rather seldom really the »NEW« in the world?

Have you ever noticed yourself that finding a solution became a torment - especially when it came to speed due to a presentation date, a pitch, a critical situation, etc.?

Alternatively, how tricky is it when a decision between option A and alternative B is endlessly toggled back and forth until someone comes up with the idea that solution C can also exist?

On other occasions, one good idea bubbles up after another, so that even a selection for the best idea is possible.

Ideas don't come at the push of a button. 

Creativity methods or team-oriented processes such as Design Thinking should help.

But do they really?

The methods or techniques themselves can be optimal support.  According to my observations, there is a crucial shortcoming in the way they are used.

Most users concentrate on the horizontal approach typical for the processes. In recent years, high time pressure has been installed in some of the processes in an effort to achieve results more quickly.

Brainstorming, the Walt Disney technique, the 6 Hats method, or the currently hyped Design Thinking - always – even during the iterative steps within – a linear structure is pursued:

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With a strictly phased approach - especially under time pressure - there is a great danger that the vertical, the quality dimension will be lost despite the iterative intermediate phases. 

The horizontal techniques are declaredly based on quantity in the hope that quality can be found within the mass.

However, hope is not a strategy.

It may be helpful to rely on a large number of ideas. But promptly, excellent, original and useful ideas must also be produced. 

Let's take a look at why this sometimes succeeds, but mostly not:

Creativity methods are often misunderstood!

When used correctly, many of the more than 300 creativity methods are great. But if they are not used expertly or moderated or seen mechanically as the only way to innovations and creative solutions, this leads to disappointing results. 

All too often, the creativity of those involved is even blocked by mistakes in the use of creativity methods. 

The creative process is still being explored. Much remains a mystery for the time being. In the meantime, however, research has at least gained a lot of knowledge about what promotes the production of ideas and what hampers or prevents it. 

According to my observations, this knowledge is rarely taken into account. 

What is striking, for example, is that (according to a study published in the German »manager magazin«) only about one third of business-relevant ideas come about in the business environment, a minimal percentage with the help of creativity techniques, but two thirds in leisure time (which is not due to the techniques, but to the way in which they are used).

It becomes particularly problematic if one relies solely on a single methodical process. The temptation is close to surrendering to the actionism of horizontal processes.  This avoids the emotional turbulence that truly creative people have to endure.

The creative process is full of contradictions: 

Our imagination blossoms, our creativity bubbles, really good innovations are created, when the thoughts in our brain can unfold freely when the signals between the nerve cells and the different areas of our brain stimulate each other in a fluid exchange around the emergence of new structures, a new shape, a new idea.

Massive stress, however, produces adrenaline in many people, which blocks this flow of information, so that we can concentrate exclusively on the (often only supposed) defense against danger (so-called fight/flight reaction or death reflex). 

However, this means that it is precisely when we need a solution most urgently in a dicey situation (before a presentation, a pitch, an important negotiation, an important deadline, etc.) that it is most difficult to find. 

On the other hand, this mechanism is not the same for all people. Some are then particularly inventive and can use the pressure positively and effectively to get ready at the last minute. They remain calm even in moments of stress.

What does that look like for you?

In any case, it is worth taking a closer look at your own reaction patterns. And what can be enormously useful in any case is the ability to be able to relax deeply and willingly at any time.

We have thus found one of the core topics when it comes to activating imagination and creativity, to designing innovations.

If you remember the moments when you had a good idea, when the solution to a conflict was suddenly clear, when you made an intuitive decision - weren't those moments when you were relaxed? Creative solutions come under the shower, during long train rides, while jogging or walking in nature, much less often during strenuous sessions and almost never when they are most needed: when you are under time pressure. 

However, time pressure and stress are no longer exceptional situations, but for many people normal everyday life. Neurophysiologically it has long been clear that stress is harmful to creativity. 

However, you are also familiar with the exceptions mentioned: People who only reach top form in stressful situations. And in a correctly conducted brainstorming session, for example, a narrow time window is deliberately chosen in a certain process phase in order to trigger a storm of ideas. 

It is worthwhile to use the findings of creativity research personally

So the connections are a little more complicated. In any case, it is worthwhile to understand more about them and to make personal use of the findings of creativity research that have been gained in recent years and decades. In addition to a thorough expansion of competence in dealing with one's own creative possibilities, one goal is, in any case, to be able to consciously switch to a deeply relaxed mode, the secret of all truly creative people, even - and especially - in stressful phases, and only to consciously use time pressure when it really makes sense.

I have therefore developed a workshop format that, in three and a half days, not only imparts expert knowledge and demonstrates its effective use in a lively way through practical exercises, but also creates the prerequisites in a personal transformation process to ensure a more professional use of the valuable methods in the future.

Two aspects are in the foreground:

1. A deeper understanding of the creative process is necessary to ensure that the methods are used professionally and are not caused by time pressure in the wrong moments and blockades of individual creativity in team processes. 

2. the horizontal phases should be complemented by the "vertical dimension" of quality. 

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