From Chaos to Creativity

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The early stage of creativity requires care and feeding. With the early stage comes ambiguity, uncertainty and lots of questions – are we moving in the right direction? what do we make of the situation? what are we going to do? why?

It’s no wonder new product developers refer to the early stage as the fuzzy front end. Similarly, with creative problem solving, the early stage is referred to as “mess finding.” Whether you call it the fuzzy front end or mess finding, during the early stage of creativity you must orient yourself to the situation, or “sensitize” yourself to the issue that you are tackling. This requires both rational (logical) and affective (emotional) thinking. Here are some tips to help smooth out the fuzzy front end and assist with mess finding:

  1. Look at the situation from the perspective of the customer – it is very easy to get caught up in the company’s point of view, but at the end of the day what makes or breaks the sale are your customers. Techniques like design thinking, where being human-centered is core to your mindset, help to bring the much needed, voice of the customer into an organization. Additionally, approaches where you observe customers in their natural settings, or co-create solutions with customers are becoming increasingly important. Looking at the situation from the perspective of customers helps reduce ambiguity because you are focused on observing real challenges with real customers rather than swirling in what your company (or your client) thinks you should do. In order to get the most out of voice of the customer exercises, it is important to tap into the affective skill of curiosity – examine, dig deeper, observe, and ask why before jumping to a solution.
  2. Take a multidisciplinary approach – While some believe the early stage of creativity requires “idea people,” in reality it takes a variety of people with different preferences and points of view to truly sensitize to the situation. Having a multidisciplinary team from the start can help with bringing the solution to life later in the process because there will be better buy-in and stronger thinking about what really needs to happen in order to implement the solution. With that said, any time you bring together a group of disparate people you are bound to create tension. In order to get the most from a multidisciplinary team, it is important to tap into the affective skill of acceptance – knowing there are points of view outside your own and that these views are also helpful.

In Roger Schwarz’s book The Skilled Facilitator, he provides tips for how to work with diverse teams including the following ways to think about the situation:

  • I have information and so do other people
  • People may disagree with me and still have pure motives
  • I may be contributing to the problem
  • Each of us sees things others don’t
  • Differences are opportunities for learning

Bringing this lens to working with multidisciplinary teams can help provide the foundation for acceptance.

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