Who Killed Creativity? How Can We Get Creativity Back?

Cultivating Curiosity

(Cultivate Curiosity is Step 1 of a 7 step process from the CSI design thinking workshop CSI-2:The 7 Individual Rescue Strategies )

Too creative, or not creative enough?


“If I had only 1 hour to save the world I would spend 55 mins defining the problem and 5 mins finding the solution.” Albert Einstein

Communal toilets! Can you imagine the surprise when the international athletes arrived in Sochi for the Winter Olympics and discovered that the toilets had been installed side by side in the bathrooms?

The Russian Olympics organisers have been criticised for their inappropriate bathroom design. In particular, for the strange way the toilets were positioned. Despite being the most expensive Olympics ever, it looks like the designers may have simply failed to ask the right questions.
One of the least expected images to emerge from the Winter Olympics in Sochi has been the loos – yes, side by side like thrones – spreading across social media. It surely gives a whole new meaning to going for a number two. One reporter said new sports at these Olympics included “competitive pooping” and “I know several sports now do synchro … BUTT …“ Remember, though, there’s even a strict code of conduct for how to behave in the Sochi toilets: including a “no fishing” sign. ( http://www.theguardian.com/ )

Asking questions is vital to understanding the real needs in any situation and ultimately finding the best and most workable solutions. You would think most bathroom designers would almost subconsciously ask simple questions such as: ‘Who will use it?’, ‘How will it be used? – What will the users want?’

Questions can not only open up possibilities, but if used well can also provide focus and direction for providing real creative solutions. Perhaps Putin forgot to ask when building his $50 Billion Olympics venue – ‘What am I trying to achieve?’, ‘What do I want this Olympics to be remembered for?’ All that money designed to showcase his achievements, and yet the media had a field day on something that could have been easily avoided.

A tale of two designs


When an architect designs a building s/he first goes to site and asks questions: What is special about this site? What is the site needing / crying out for? What response is it demanding from me/the building? Who will be looking at and using this building? What will these people want/expect from it?
In the case of the famous Sydney Opera House design in the 1950s, the architect who won the competition to come up with the best design was the one who considered these sorts of questions most carefully. To Jorn Utzon, the site was saying a few things that inspired revolutionary creativity. John noticed that there were a few elements about the site and purpose that were significant:

The waterfront location and great weather meant that sailing was popular on Sydney Harbour, so he considered creating a design element that would fit in with the surrounding watercraft. The city front location raised an awareness that this building would be viewed from above (from skyscrapers) almost as much as from the side (land and sea), so he coined the idea of the ‘5th elevation’ to describe the view of the roof, which needed to be as beautiful as the other 4 elevations. It needed to be a beautiful artistic venue for world renowned creative acts, so the interiors needed to reflect this grand and ambitious purpose

The combined answers to these questions led to the famous sails solution, and an iconic building of creative genius.
In contrast, while the original Denpasar airport in Bali, Indonesia, also sits in a beautiful waterfront location with the runway projecting out into the ocean, it looks like the architect failed to ask the same questions. From the roof (if you can get to it) there are 360 degree views of spectacular blue lagoons and white sandy beaches, with waves rolling onto famous surf breaks on either side of the runway.

The failure to ask the right questions resulted in a closed-in building from which it was almost impossible to see the beautiful view. Fortunately in the new 2013 airport the architects changed all this by finally asking the right questions and producing a building with natural light and wonderful views!

The inquisitive spirit


There is a well-known saying that, ‘You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and refuse to tell you where they’re going!’ While it might drive their parents crazy, that wonderful inquisitive stage in childhood helps children to rapidly learn and grow.
Sadly as we move from childhood to adult status we too often leave this positive stage behind. We stop asking questions and we start wanting to provide answers.

Jim Force, from The Banff Centre for Management believes that asking good questions is a learned competency based on motivation, know-how and experience. He even says that we need to learn to ask ‘dumb’ questions that come from a desire to be curious, not from expectation. If creativity originates with a question, then it is the art of asking dumb questions that can lead to enhanced creativity.

The paralyzing problem here is that most people want to jump straight to the answer. It’s almost like they are too afraid to ask the question if they don’t already know the answer, so they won’t ask. The important thing to remember here is that the first step is simply asking the question – without needing an answer – yet. To ask, ‘Why?’ or ‘Why not?’ and ‘What if’ can simply get us thinking and exploring beyond the immediate.

How to ask the right questions: the beginning of a successful design thinking approach

1. STATEMENT: Write a statement about the issue to be addressed (eg: ‘We don’t have enough resources to fulfil our vision’.) Note that statements like this can limit our thinking and shut down creative possibilities.
2. QUESTION: Turn the statement into a question starting with, ‘How can we….?’ (eg ‘How can we get enough resources to fulfil our vision?’) The question challenges the assumptions and turns the issues upside down – leading towards open creative and solution focused thinking.
Don’t just ask questions that you think have answers, but be courageous enough to ask questions without answers.



1) General Questions to ask

Some questions you might ask to define the problem better and lead towards practical solutions:
• Why: Why do we do what we do? Why does this need to be done? (To help reach an understanding of basic needs and objectives) Why not approach this differently?
• Who: Who is involved? Who is impacted? Who can implement this? Who can be part of the solution?
• What: What procedures can I substitute? What can I combine with other procedures? What can I magnify or add? What can I eliminate? What is the reverse? What can I rearrange? What can I scale? What can I deny? What can I invert? What will happen if I don’t invent? Which criteria are essential?
• When: When did the issue arise? What has been the timeline to date? When do we need solutions by?
• Where: Where can innovation take place (areas / locations / focus points)?
• How: How can we modify or alter what already exists? How can we produce something that will benefit all?
• Are we asking the right questions? Are we missing anything? (Research shows that most good ideas emerge in the last 30% of a brainstorming questioning session!)

2) Example Questions for the music & gaming  industries

Is iTunes history?

Ask your teenagers…. According to Tyler Hayes the biggest disruptors of the music industry might now become victims themselves. Music services keep popping up promising a new era for digital music, but no one has been able to fix the downward trends that hurt the most: that is, people’s increasing unwillingness to pay money for music.

Maybe it’s time we questioned some of the assumptions that underpin the music industry. Music is now fundamentally a digital form of media and needs to be treated as such. There are a lot of things that need to be addressed and rethought, including:

  • Is Copyright still a relevant form of protection for the content owner?
  • What does it mean to own the right to copy something (i.e., the copyright) when everyone has the power to copy it?
  • Who makes money every time a song is played?
  • Should anyone get paid per play anymore?
  • Do consumers have to pay for music?
  • Should a third party subsidize it?

Imagining the music industry did actually crash and burn: What does a new music industry look like? The answer might lie in businesses from other industries. Whether through advertising, marketing, original content, or simply art-making, the companies have the money to pay for music for commercial purposes. And since music forms such an emotional link with consumers, it’s awesome for selling products. Perhaps consumers should pay for songs indirectly when they buy products whose manufacturers use those songs in their marketing. http://www.fastcolabs.com/user/tyler-hayes

The multi-billion dollar video gaming industry.

Video consoles were driven by several clichés. First, that the world is split into “gamers” and “non gamers.” Second, that gamers mostly care about faster chips and more realistic graphics. Third, game consoles are expensive. And fourth, that people play video games sitting down, barely moving anything but their fingers. With the Wii, Nintendo turned the gaming industry’s clichés on their head but now they struggle.

  • Product clichés: What are the cliché features and benefits?
  • Interaction clichés: What are the cliché steps a customer experiences when buying and consuming their products and services? Is the interaction face-to-face? How frequently do customers purchase or use?
  • Pricing clichés: What are the typical ways companies price their products and services and charge customers? Are they packaging products and services together or pricing them individually? Are they charging the customer directly or through a retail partner? Are they offering discounts or other incentives? (from Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business.  )

(Cultivate Curiosity is Step 1 of a 7 step process from the CSI design thinking workshop & the book ‘Who Killed Creativity?… And How Can We Get it Back?’. By Andrew & Gaia Grant)

More info about this workshop and facilitation tool at http://www.whokilledcreativity.com/program-options/the-7-individual-rescue-strategies/
Contributing writer: Lloyd Irwin (Tirian)

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