#96 from R&D Innovator Volume 3, Number 5          May 1994

Creativity Teams
by Anne Durrum Robinson

Ms. Robinson is a human resource development consultant in Austin, Texas, who developed the concept of, and helps organizations implement creativity through, CREA-Teams™. www.io.com/~stellar/adr/anne.html

What if you could find a guaranteed way to:

•  build a well-functioning team

•  teach that team to do consistent creative thinking

•  lower that team's work stress

•  improve its productivity

•  increase its members enjoyment of work

•  help it fit in with its local and global counterparts

•  use it to spread these benefits throughout your organization?

Obviously you would have gained an organizational treasure, a manager's dream.  This goal may seem out of reach, pie-in-the-sky, but my experience says you can realize that kind of treasure by forming and training creativity teams. 

Creativity teams must start with real support from top executives in the organization.  Although many executives give eager lip service to the need for creative thinking by their people, few are willing to back their words (or memos).

By backing, I mean encouragement, resources, and time:

Encouragement to stimulate interest in improving creativity;

Resources to:

•  collect literature on creativity

•  furnish a spacious, comfortable, private meeting place for the team

•  supply necessary audio-visual equipment

•  supply flip charts, white board space, and walls which can accommodate masking tape, pins or white plastic;

Time for this training process and for the person who serves as coordinator.  Absolutely essential is regular time set aside in the work week for consistent practice of the skills learned by team members.

A creativity team is a group of six to twelve people, formed from one or several levels of an organization.  The purpose of a creativity team is this: for each member to learn to use and lead creative thinking skills.  Many authorities in the field say creative thinking is not a rare ability bestowed on the chosen few.  It is, for the most part, a set of definite skills which can be taught, can be learned, and must be consistently practiced.  The formation and instruction of creativity teams furnishes the opportunity for members of an organization to be taught, to learn, and to practice these skills.

Focus of the Team

Creativity is a complex subject, and if you want to increase it, obviously your first step will be to gain a better understanding of it.  Thus the team should start by discussing the nature of creativity—who has it; what are its varieties, what encourages and discourages creativity, how it relates to the use of the senses, and so forth.  Other topics that should be considered include how creativity contributes to organizational success; how the use of creative thinking relieves over-stress (or distress); how it provides individual and group stimulation and increases productivity; how it relates to Total Quality Management, continuous improvement and increased customer satisfaction.

Another objective of the team is to learn and practice ways to get ideas.  These methods can include such things as:

•  drawing

•  getting clues from pictures

•  mental images

•  analogies

•  returning to origins

•  oxymorons

•  provocations

•  clustering of disparate thoughts 

Another valuable contribution to the team can be training in "The Five I's of Innovation:"  imagery, intuition, incubation, illumination and implementation.  The team should discuss these ways to encourage innovation.

•  Imagery - free use of the five senses:  seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling

•  Intuition - bringing into conscious focus the subconscious mind's combination of logic, memory, experience, and the contributions from other sources which the conscious mind can't explore on its own

•  Incubation - the "Aha!" time, moments of insight and clarity

•  Implementation - the essential step of action and accomplishment, of organizational approval and movement

An additional useful topic is accelerated learning:  proven ways of mastering the vast amount of information which currently pours into every level of every organization.  Effective uses of breathing, relaxation, music, expectation, constructive play, and repetition without boredom increase team members' abilities to learn more quickly, remember longer, and recall more easily.

A team should get some exposure to training for anticipating the future, combining:

•  experience - without being limited by the past

•  expectation - without putting too much faith in surveys and prognostications based on current data

•  expansion - based on new, more globally-conscious ways of making decisions

Creativity Throughout the Organization

Each member of a CREA-Team is taught to use and lead the various creative-thinking skills.  Therefore each member can be the "core" of another team.  New teams form naturally.  After a team has spent adequate time on the learn-and-consistently-practice process, the team can be disbanded and members scattered to other teams.  Then creative abilities increase even further as participants, originally from different teams, relay their experiences with the various methods.

Moreover, even after passage of considerable time, I've seen teams come back together and work fruitfully again.  They work especially harmoniously and productively because they have been similarly trained.

Members are individually and collectively empowered.  The skills they learn become an integral part of their abilities.  So their sense of self-worth increases as their value to the R&D effort grows.

These skills enhance people's abilities to do various jobs.  Inherent in the learning of creative-thinking skills is the acquisition of interpersonal skills.  This, in turn, leads to increased harmony in the team as well as improved relationships throughout the work force.

There are many permutations of the creativity team process.  You have to find out which best suits your needs.  You can make great inroads by working on the process without external help.  For instance, just by setting aside scheduled times to discuss creativity will begin sensitizing you to the process.  Or you can assign members to read and report on various published methods, or bring in creativity experts to help you determine what knowledge and exercises are best for your situation. 

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