#417 from Innovative Leader Volume 8, Number 8 August 1999
Seeing the Whole Elephant!
Robinson is a human resource consultant in Austin, Texas (phone
512-472-4412), helping organizations implement creativity.
familiar with the story of the blind men and the elephant.
Each man held a different part of the beast. Each was convinced that the part he explored was a key to the
total animal. Their individual descriptions of the elephant were
as far apart as the poles.
Our personal or
corporate experiences with creativity have been almost that
diverse. I have spent
the greater part of my 86 years cognizant of its existence. My own
creativity first expressed itself in writing, where I won prizes
in poetry, play and song writing.
For many years, I found my creative outlet in radio and
television, where I even had my own programs.
At the age of
sixty, I entered the training-development field.
By that time, excellent books and articles occasionally
appeared, extolling the value of creative thinking.
But, like the blind men, some emphasized one approach or
facet; some, another. For
instance, one view held that creative thinking is enhanced by a
playful approach; but others felt it should be handled in a more
I never achieved
the surety of the misguided blind men.
I stayed perpetually on the fence.
More recent books on creativity, however, have been helping
me see the “elephant” as a whole.
When I read The
Creative Edge (Addison-Wesley, Reading, Massachusetts, 1987)
by William C. Miller, I felt that I could truly sense more of the
amazing creature we were attempting to capture and tame.
He lists seven types of creativity:
Thinking up new ideas
Miller urges his
readers to become more:
In Breakthrough Thinking (Prima, Rocklin, California, 1994), Gerald
Nadler and Shozo Hibino explain why (even in a creative effort) we
should formulate principles of action and stick to them. Those principles include:
problem is unique and may require a unique solution.
The trunk. Slowly,
our “mystery animal” is becoming more visible.
In Flow and Creativity (Harper Perennial, New York, 1997), Mihaly
Csikszentmihalyi gives us a picture of the habitat in which our
blurred beast functions best.
Says he, “There is no way to know whether a thought is
new except with reference to some standards, and there is no way
to tell whether it is valuable until it passes social evaluation.
Therefore, creativity does not happen inside people’s heads, but
in the interaction between a person’s thoughts and sociocultural
context. It is a
systemic rather than an individual phenomenon….”
He believes that, for a creative idea, product or discovery
to take place there must be “…the interaction of a system
composed of three elements: a
culture that contains symbolic rules, a person who brings novelty
into the symbolic domain, and a field of experts who recognize and
validate the innovation….”
But don’t be
too hasty in forming our collective opinions, warn Alan G.
Robinson and Sam Stern in Corporate
Creativity (Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 1997).
They contend that the “most creative acts are unexpected.
This is the true nature of corporate creativity and it is
where a company’s creative potential really lies….
A company is creative when its employees do something new
and potentially useful without being directly shown or taught.
The results of creativity in companies are improvements
(changes to what is already done) and innovation
(entirely new activities for the company).”
They define six
elements which play a role in every creative act and are the key
to increasing corporate creativity:
So we get another
piece of the pachyderm. This
one, obviously, is different from the others, but it seems to
simply be a varied glimpse of the same intriguing animal.
in Cracking Creativity
(Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California, 1998), says “Genius is
not about scoring 1600 on the SATs, mastering ten languages at the
age of seven, finishing the New
York Times crossword in record time, having an extraordinarily
high IQ, or even about being smart.
Michalko writes, “Typically we think reproductively, on
the basis of similar problems encountered in the past….
In contrast, geniuses think productively….
When confronted with a problem, they ask themselves how
many different ways they can look at the same problem, how they
can rethink it, and how many different ways they can solve it,
instead of how they have been taught to solve it….”
In Total Creativity in Business and Industry (Advanced Practical
Thinking Training, Des Moines, Iowa, 1997), David Tanner brings
our curious creature more clearly into focus.
He describes a total-creativity initiative and maps the
building of a more innovative organization through attention to
six discrete dimensions:
Learning and applying creativity techniques
Ned Herrmann’s The
Whole Brain Business Book (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1996) seeks
to unlock the power of whole-brain thinking.
He feels that teams can “maximize results through mental
diversity,” with different individuals having different thinking
Joyce Wycoff and
Tim Richardson (Transformation
Thinking, Berkeley Books, New York, 1995) prove that even our
seemingly ungainly beast can move with lightning speed.
They offer various ways to stimulate creative thought. They term our proclivity to judge an entire animal by one
part of its anatomy “assumption blindness.”
Each of the
creativity gurus has added clearer brush strokes to our elephant
picture. And one last
“painting” takes us full circle to William C. Miller (Flash
of Brilliance, Perseus Books, Reading, Massachusetts, 1999).
He acknowledges that the field of creativity and innovation
has greatly matured, and cites these proofs:
The quality movement asked for creative ideas from every
employee, and we saw that everyone had creative ideas to offer.
He states that,
“around the world, I have observed first hand that four new
business phenomena are taking us even further beyond the creative
Relationships based on authenticity and caring have become the
fundamental basis for sustainable advantage….
So, I feel, we are
finally beginning to see the whole elephant.
And it, as we may have suspected, is a truly magnificent
closely with it, we’ll continue to experience it more clearly.