Volume 11, Number 1
They Don't Listen to Your Creative Ideas
Barlow is assistant professor of organizational behavior, Stuart
Graduate School of Business, Illinois Institute of Technology,
Chicago, Illinois. www.stuart.iit.edu/faculty/barlow
you just hate it when you get a great idea and nobody listens?
are excited and energized by the idea, but the other person just
doesn't respond. After enough experiences like this, we come to
see ourselves and all creative people as living in an uncreative,
it is as creative to see the possibilities in a new idea as it is
to come up with the new idea, itself. Maybe there's a special form
of creativity we can call "appreciative" creativity.
Unless we are blessed with bosses, colleagues, spouses, and
children with a high degree of this creativity, we had better
learn how to help them get "appreciative Aha's."
Key: Insight, Not Ideas
way to look at creativity is to try to picture that
"Aha!" experience, that tremendous feeling we get when a
new idea emerges in our minds. In a very real way, each
"Aha" moves us into another reality, another way of
seeing the world.
is a shift in perspective. Our old perspective illuminates one set
of ideas. The lightning bolt of insight leads us to a second
perspective which we instinctively know is closer to the real
problem. Some of the alternatives made obvious by the new
viewpoint are better than the best of the old ideas.
"Aha!" we feel when the shift happens is a very real
experience. Its strength seems to depend both on how much we care
about the problem and on how much better the insight seems. If we
care a great deal about the problem (or the person with the
problem) and/or if the insight seems especially profound, we feel
a tremendous surge of excitement, joy, and satisfaction. If the
idea is one we can implement alone, we can use that energy to take
action and solve our problem. But if others are involved in its
implementation, their appreciative creativity is just as
the classic creative idea, "Don't raise the bridge, lower the
water," the creativity involves recognizing that lowering the
water could be an effective approach to getting tall boats past
the bridge. Once you have this insight, any number of ideas are
obvious, which, before the shift, made no sense. If I ask you to
design a bridge-raising mechanism, and you begin describing the
building of a dam to lower the water level, I have to wonder about
most people think of creativity as ideas, since the new and better
ideas are made obvious by the shift in perspective, we can argue
that the "Aha!" shift in perspective, the insight, was
the critical event. Since the full creative event involves both
the generative shift of the "inventor" and the
appreciative shift of the decision maker, those decision makers
are your co-creators. After all, their shift of thinking is just
as difficult and just as important as the one getting the idea.
look at how seeing creativity as insight fits our experience with
ideas. For example, an ad hoc cross-functional team works hard on
developing some improvements in a product or process and
professionally presents them to the key decision makers. When
several of their favorite ideas are rejected, they are angered at
this "resistance to change."
lets look at this a different way. The decision makers sent the
team off with a certain perspective on the problem. By gathering
information, sharing expertise, and intensively analyzing the
situation, the team has shifted their perspective on the problem,
revealing some of their best ideas.
took them weeks of work and hours of deliberation, probably under
the leadership of a skilled creativity facilitator to shift their
thinking. Isn't it a little unfair to expect decision makers to
make the same shift in an instant? Shouldn't we expect that they
need a similar amount of information, time, and facilitation to
get the insight? It certainly seems that we must build this
insight shift for the key decision makers into our creative
co-creative team process may the most effective way to handle the
"acceptance problem." Those at the meeting participate
in the shifted perspective, which makes the proposed ideas obvious
and implementation immediate.
we cannot get our "co-creators" into our creative
sessions, we must work on getting them to make the shift in
perspective before we explain our ideas. Otherwise, our
"obvious" ideas seem awfully silly. Whenever we present
ideas, these people are best thought of as team members who missed
the meetings. We need to realize that they need at least as much
help as the team did to make the creative shift to the new
perspective. Of course, we also need to recognize that they may
know something about the problem which we didn't include in our
solution. Only when we respect these others do we deserve and get
the action we hope for.
to open ourselves to the insights hidden in other people's ideas
might be a good way to understand the dynamics of
"appreciative Aha's." When someone gives us an idea
which doesn't make any sense, talk to them as co-creators to
understand their insight shift. Doing this with children is a real
experience, preparing you to move on to your subordinates and
colleagues at work. When they make proposals which clash with your
reality, talk with them to discover the "Aha!" they had.
You may actually find yourself agreeing with them, or you may be
triggered to a new "Aha!" integrating their new
viewpoint with your knowledge and perspective.
this for a while may set a new standard for communication in your
organization. It will certainly teach you a lot about how others
think, and that knowledge will help you prepare them to get
appreciative insights for your ideas.
is a shift to a more advantageous perspective, one which makes
better ideas obvious, and creative action can only happen when all
those involved can make the shift. By understanding the
difficulties others have in understanding our new and better
perspective, we can help them get similar insights. By treating
them as co-creators, we contribute to better ideas which get put
to use. Isn't this what we're really after?