Reflections On the Last Year of Ideation #42 #cong18


Rather than produce a dry academic essay entry I have created a list of useful points based on interactions I’ve had over the last twelve months of running workshops, consulting with HR depts, and coaching people toward developing a more divergent and innovative mindset.
At CongRegation this year, I will give my ‘huddle’ the opportunity to select a number between one and ten and will I discuss the related point, hopefully hitting at least 5 in the 15 mins.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. This will entirely depend on the numbers selected, but, some example take-aways….
  2. If you ‘lack’ creativity, get good at communication and collaboration!
  3. Eclecticism Everywhere!
  4. Procrastination for the win!!! ‘Toploading’ and other tricks of the trade!
  5. Ideate now, edit later.

About Karl Thomas:

Dr. Karl Thomas holds a Ph.D from Trinity College Dublin where his research involved analysis of concepts related to creativity, critical thinking and cultural perceptions of creative agency.

Karl has lectured at Trinity College Dublin in Visual Culture and Critical Theory and currently works with Tangent, Trinity’s dedicate Idea Space. Karl has also lectured at D.I.T and A.I.T on a number of courses including Narratology, Design, Theories of Art History and Critical Thinking, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Karl is an award winning visual artist, a published poet, musician, designer and is a creative branding consultant.

Contacting Karl Thomas:

You can contact Karl by email connect with him on LinkedIn or see his work in Creatovation

By Karl Thomas

Reflections on a year of teaching people to have Ideas!

In keeping with the eclectic, playful and interactive nature of CongRegation, I have decided that, rather than produce a dry academic essay entry I will create a list of useful points based on interactions I’ve had over the last twelve months of running workshops, consulting with HR depts, and coaching people toward developing a more divergent and innovative mindset.

At CongRegation this year, I will give my ‘huddle’ the opportunity to select a number between one and ten and will I discuss the related point

To quote one of my favourite authors in this area, Earl Nightingale, ‘Everything begins with an idea,’ and this is strongly representative of the reality of innovation, even though the initial idea may not always be obvious in the final product. So, the following list, in no particular order represents an introduction to some of points I’ve drawn from my notebooks recorded in the last year.

1. If you want to have one great idea, don’t have one idea.
We are indoctrinated into a pattern of thinking that suggests there is a single correct answer to a problem. Education systems around the world have a role to play in instigating this fallacy. As a result, we have a tendency to generate responses to problems as single ideas. From here we look for evidence to support ‘our idea.’

There is a raft of articles online and in print that attest to the high failure rate of new ideas, businesses and start-ups, ‘8 out of 10’ this ‘90%’ that, fail fail fail. While this may seem to some like a good reason to never have an idea again, I would suggest that this can be a liberating range of statistics. If we more widely embrace the fact that the vast majority of ideas fail, this allows for greater freedom as an ideator. You are freed from the inhibiting necessity or expectation of immediacy of success, you can make mistakes, stumble at obstacles and pivot if your project isn’t following your desired path.

2. If you ‘lack’ creativity, get good at communication and collaboration!

Despite much of the current rhetoric suggesting that we’re all creative, there are those among us who have found a way to navigate life without having to stretch and exercise their creative muscles. Creativity, which is integral to our ability to generate ideas, can become a dormant skill. For these people, it is absolutely fundamental to their success or survival that they align themselves with creatives, or those who at least have the capacity to position a product or service, or to create the necessary enthusiasm and acceptance.

A prime example of an extremely successful character who was notoriously bereft of ideas, is Andy Warhol. This may come as a surprise to some, but Warhol’s greatest ability wasn’t his capacity for creativity or ideation, it was his ability to penetrate social circles, ‘network’ and buy, borrow and steal ideas from the right people.

3. Dream it up/Write it down: Record Everything.

Recording your ideas is one of the quickest ways to increasing your awareness that you’re having ideas, and ideas worth recording. A common line that I hear at workshops is, ‘I’m not really creative. I don’t really get ideas.’ To which I reply, ‘how about in the shower? Or when you’re driving? Or when you’re standing in line in Tescos?’ The fact of the matter is we generate most of our ideas when we are not directly engaged with the problem, as such, we allow our ideas to float out of our heads as quickly as they enter because most are not primed to recognise the value of their ideas and record them.

There are countless examples of historical figures who kept journals cataloguing ideas, observations and opportunities. Recording your ideas doesn’t have to be arduous or even confined to a journal. There are many ways that we can capture our inspirations and ideas.

4. You’re not Important but Your Ideas Are. Don’t let your ego obstruct your path to success!

In innovation and ideation sessions I repeatedly encounter this obstacle, separating the idea from the self. When our ideas are critiqued, we can become defensive. The reasons for this are many, but certainly ego plays a part. Our delicate dispositions are perceived to be under attack and we engage our fight or flight response, well, perhaps unconsciously. It is also very simply the case that we pour so much of ourselves into our ideas, that they can become an extension of persona. In innovation we often talk about criticism of ideas as being like telling somebody their baby is ugly.

When you generate one idea, pour many hours of your valuable time into developing that idea, criticism bites hard. There are also a range of cognitive biases at play, not least of which being the sunk cost fallacy or confirmation bias. It is important that we find a way to allow ideas move out into the world to grow. Some creatives like to maintain an almost totalitarian authorial presence in relation to their ideas. Nothing will hamper the growth potential of an idea like a helicopter parent, constantly at war with the elements in an effort to maintain an idea in their own image.

5. Just because nobody else sees it, doesn’t mean it’s not valid.

One of the elements assessed in relation to creativity is originality. (Personally, I would argue that our cultural perception of originality is a little skewed and potentially inhibiting.) An aura of originality in the context of ideation does have a certain currency. Being a trendsetter or ground breaker, a member of the avant-garde comes with a degree of acclaim, to a point. Kandinsky, in his text, Concerning the Spiritual in Art described how ground-breaking thinkers also face ridicule and rejection, until society is better placed to appreciate their offerings, by which time and new avant-grarde is breeching the boundaries of acceptability and is once again ridiculed, and so the cycle goes.

Being an original thinker requires a strong sense of self, a confidence to stand out from the crowd, facing and overcoming ridicule in the pursuit of execution of ideas. If this isn’t a mindset you possess, fear not, there is a lot to be said for the role of the fast follower. New ideas are great but improving on the baseline created by the avant-garde has its own rewards. While Myspace was a great idea, clearly Facebook executes the idea in a better space. Braque may have had a greater role in the development of Cubism than is widely appreciated but Picasso rode that pony over the line at speed. Just how original or inventive was Edison, when compared to Tesla?

Some ideas happen too soon, and while the environment isn’t yet conducive to efficient execution, that does not negate the validity of the original idea.

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