Creativity is Messy

Creativity is Messy

Business September 11, 2017 / By Lidor Wyssocky
Creativity is Messy

So many organizations are looking for a process to help them be more creative and innovative. Well, creativity is messy - processes are not.

Right now as you read this article, numerous people and organizations around the world are eager to break their creativity ceiling. They want to innovate. They need to innovate. They realize their future depends on their ability to come up with something new (or radically different) and valuable. Whether it is a new product or service, an internal change, or a new direction altogether - people and organizations want to shape their future. And many of them look for the old good familiar way to do that: they look for a process.

Spoiler alert: Creativity is Messy - Processes are Not

Why do so many people and organizations look for a process to help them manage their creativity? Processes are not always simple. They are not always easy to implement. In fact, many organizations struggle to implement processes of different kinds "as they are defined". So why do so many of us still rely on a process when we need a creative outcome. The reason is the promise.

Processes, by definition, are defined based on a chain (or other structure) of inputs and outputs. At their most simplistic level processes promise you that if you have X as input, you'll get Y as output. Of course, that's not always trivial to achieve. The process itself might require a lot of hard work and the need to overcome many challenges along the way. But in the background, there's always this promise. For many people and most organizations, this promise is good enough so they put all their money (or energy) on the process.

Creativity and innovation also involve taking some inputs and coming up with output - a creative one. So at first, they appear to be a perfect match for the framework of a process. But this line of thought ignores the nature of creativity. In short: creativity is messy!

Let's start with the input. Any creative act relies on raw material. Nothing can be created from a void. There is never a blank canvas. The "problem" is that to be creative you have to be constantly open to absorbing raw material. You never know in advance which raw material - which inputs - will be the raw material essential for your next original thought. And this alone is enough to break the assumption on which processes are built: if you have X as input, you'll get Y. Well, we don't really know in advance if it is X, Q, R, 4, or $ we will use as our input. Anything goes!

To make things even less manageable, the act of selecting the relevant raw material is mostly unconscious. In many cases, it is not based on any analytical approach, but rather on intuition and imagination. It's not time-bounded - it is a background activity being performed deep in the creative person's mind.

The output is also unexpected in many cases. The greatest innovations were not sketched in advance as the desired output. If we could have defined the output in advance, we shouldn't have needed the creative process to begin with.

And then you have the really messy part that goes in between. Between collecting what seems to be arbitrary inputs (some will be essential while others will prove to be irrelevant), selecting the relevant ones (probably unconsciously), and coming up with an unexpected output, lies a vast cloud of iterative brain-work no one can capture in a process.

If you want your organization to be more creative, you have to be prepared for the "process" to be messy. In this context that's not a bad thing. In the case of being innovative, that's even essential. And it can be lots of fun as well.

Still, No Process at All?

Well, not quite. Although a process is never the core of creativity, a well-structured process is important for managing two aspects of innovation.

First, once you have a potentially good innovative idea, the road to realizing it can be long and tedious. This is where a process is essential, as long as it allows a lot of space for surprises. By definition, innovation projects are not "more of the same," so surprises (good and bad) are inherent to the process. That is the reason your regular processes might not be able to address the special needs of such a project.

But even long before that, a process can help the organization manage the inflow of creative ideas and selecting the ones that should be implemented (at least when it comes to ideas that require investment and might come at the expense of other projects). Assuming you have managed to create both the culture and the required skill set to generate such a flow of ideas, you will need a well-defined method to manage them.

So, yes: processes are important for many aspects of any organization, and managing innovation is no different. But, if you rely on a well-defined process to make you or your organization creative, you are most likely to get disappointed.

Creativity is a skill. It needs to be practiced and developed. This requires a method, self-discipline, and patience. But it is a messy area, and processes and messy areas just don't go hand in hand.

Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. If anything, it makes things much more interesting and the results much more surprising. And surprises are one of the pillars of creativity.



Lidor Wyssocky (@LidorWyssocky@seempli) is a fine-art photographer and the creator of seempli - a revolutionary platform for igniting creativity and imagination in everything you do.

Using seempli Lidor works with individuals, teams, and organizations seeking to develop, master, and apply creativity.

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