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Creativity at work: How to generate great ideas. By Peter Cook


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Ever wondered how to be more creative at work? In this article, HR Zone member Peter Cook looks at some well-known examples of creativity that you can replicate or adapt from some great creators to help your business become more innovative.

In my book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’, I argue that both structure and creativity (aka rock and roll) are needed to generate great business ideas, and that they must be executed so that they become profitable innovations.

This article will focus solely on creativity. Rather than examining popular techniques for creativity such as brainstorming, six thinking hats and so on, I will concentrate on one or two underlying principles that support a creative mindset, because these are much more transferable at a personal level.

Stairway to creativity?

Creativity is intimately involved with reaching self-actualisation, nirvana or whatever you want to call what you truly desire. Let’s look at how creativity actually works when you are on a ‘natural high’.

Our research indicates that extreme dissatisfaction and extreme optimism both have the power to fuel creative thinking. For example, James Dyson was both fed up with a vacuum cleaner that did not suck and had the positive disposition and technical expertise to do something about it. The result was a great deal of time getting his bagless cleaner to work, and then a highly successful challenge to existing market players. So we need to look at both ends of the spectrum.

Not only solitude but also teamwork

In a Roffey Park study of managers, more than 60 per cent said that they found solitude helped gain access to ideas. In some cases, this was simply a quiet place to reflect and think. This explains why brainstorming sessions do not always work for the more inner-directed people in your team.

Most of us do not have the luxury of an isolation chamber in the office to deal with the need to ‘wander lonely as a cloud’. However, it is possible to achieve relative solitude in corporate life. This validates the real purpose of corridors, cubicles, smoking areas, lifts and toilets at work.

Yet there is also a great deal of evidence to suggest that people are stimulated into thinking creative thoughts by interacting with others. This works best for those people who need to externalise their ideas in order to understand or appreciate them. Have you ever taken a group of people around your business to explain what it does and suddenly found yourself having a completely new appreciation of how all the different parts work together? For these sorts of people, team-based creativity approaches work well.

Not only expertise but also naivety

Sometimes expert views are essential. Other times a completely naïve view helps. Examples of naivety as a stimulus to creativity include:

Bette Nesmith Graham was a secretary who discovered a way of covering up mistakes by observing how sign writers did this. She then scaled the process down using water-based paint and a small brush. After five years working with her son’s chemistry teacher, she perfected the formula for liquid paper.

Alexander Graham Bell was inspired to develop the telephone when he read an account, written in German, describing an invention which he thought would work as a telephone. After demonstrating his first working telephone, Bell discovered that he had misunderstood the report because of the language barrier, and the German invention had an entirely different function. What a great mistake!

Think about some of the great disasters in your business that turned around and became hits. What does this say about your own creativity and self actualisation?

Peter Cook is managing director of Human Dynamics, a creative management consultancy, and author of ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’. For more information, please visit: or:

Reader offer!

HR Zone has two copies of Peter Cook’s book, ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll – Leadership Lessons from the Academy of Rock’ to give away. For your chance to win a copy, simply email <a href="mailto:[email protected]" [email protected] by 5pm on Monday 23 July. Please write “Book offer” in the subject heading and include your full postal address. The first two people to be drawn will each win a copy. Good luck!

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