The Eight Basic Heuristics of DirectedCreativity
By: Paul Plsek
Heuristic: A rule of thumb that often helps in solving a certain class of problems, but makes no guarantees.
Example of a heuristic in business: “What gets measured gets done.” This is useful advice in that it points us in a potentially productive direction. It suggests that if we want action on our organizational priorities, we should consider stating those priorities in measurable terms and tracking our progress. But, of course, it does not guarantee that we will always be successful.
Research indicates that heuristics are key to better thinking. When we approach a new field, like creativity, one of the most important things to learn are the heuristics of that field. Below is a list of eight basic heuristics. If you want to be creative, begin integrating these into your behavior.
- Make it a habit to purposefully pause and notice things.
- Focus your creative energies on just a few topic areas that you genuinely care about and work on these purposefully for several weeks or months.
- Avoid being too narrow in the way you define your problem or topic area; purposefully try broader definitions and see what insights you gain.
- Try to come up with original and useful ideas by making novel associations among what you already know.
- When you need creative ideas, remember: attention, escape, and movement.
- Pause and carefully examine ideas that make you laugh the first time you hear them.
- Recognize that your streams of thought and patterns of judgment are not inherently right or wrong; they are just what you think now based primarily on patterns from your past.
- Make a deliberate effort to harvest, develop, and implement at least a few of the ideas you generate.
Heuristic #1: Make it a habit to purposefully pause and notice things.
The first heuristic suggests that we make it a habit to purposefully pause and notice things because we know that our automatic perception processes miss a great deal of what goes on around us. The importance of learning to perceive the world in a fresh way is clearly a part of the generally accepted theory of creative thinking. If creative thinking is the novel association of existing concepts in memory, then it follows naturally that it is useful to create a storehouse of concepts. When you pause and notice, you are not looking for anything in particular. You do not need to know how you are going to use the information. You are simply storing up concepts for later use.
Heuristic #2: Focus your creative energies on just a few topic areas that you genuinely care about and work on these purposefully for several weeks or months.
The second heuristic—focus, care and work purposefully—is based on the research into the lives of great creators. Creative ideas rarely come suddenly. Good creators work diligently with many ideas, in a specific topic area, over an extended period of time.
Heuristic #3: Avoid being too narrow in the way you define your problem or topic area; purposefully try broader definitions and see what insights you gain.
Heuristic number three—define the topic broadly—encourages us to maintain maximum space for creative maneuvering. In their book Breakthrough Thinking, Nadler and Hibino give a concrete illustration of this heuristic in their “case of the slippery packing crates.” The case involves a national manufacturer of consumer goods that was about to make a multi-million dollar investment in loading dock automation to eliminate the problem of damaged crates. A young staff engineer saved the company a great deal of money and effort by suggesting a broader view of the topic. While the immediate need seemed to be for creative ideas in the narrowly focused area of eliminating damage to crates, a broader statement of the issue was to find creative ways to distribute the company's goods to the marketplace undamaged. This broader statement of the creative focus lead to major restructuring of the company’s warehousing network. This creative approach reduced the number of handling points, both reducing shipping damage and lowering costs.
Heuristic #4: Try to come up with original and useful ideas by making novel associations among what you already know.
The fourth heuristic—make mental associations—reminds us to take the basic mental action that underlies all creative thought. The zip-lock storage bag is a good example of association as creativity. The innovation here was in the association of a zipper from the realm of clothing with a bag from the realm of food storage. This heuristic represents an essential attitude for the creative person. The creative person knows that there are an infinite number of ideas “out there,” because there are so many possible permutations among known concepts. The creative person never feels defeated, or at the end of the road of ideas. There is always another idea to be had by combining something that has not been combined before. All that is required is flexibility and the perseverance to keep on trying.
Heuristic #5: When you need creative ideas, remember: attention, escape, and movement.
The fifth heuristic—attention, escape, and movement—further directs our basic mental mechanics. These three mental activities underlie all tools for DirectedCreativity. When you need to be creative, pay attention to things in new ways, escape your current mental patterns associated with the topic, and keep moving in your thinking to avoid premature judgment and the “way we’ve always done it“ thinking.
Heuristic #6: Pause and carefully examine ideas that make you laugh the first time you here them.
Heuristic number six encourages us to pause on ideas that make us laugh. Though we are not yet sure, it appears that laughter might be a physiological reaction to a novel connection among neurons in the brain. This explains why we laugh at jokes (the punch line makes a connection we were not expecting) and smile when we finally figure something out. The “pause on ideas that make you laugh” heuristic calls us to resist the urge to move on when someone suggests a laughable concept. Working with such ideas can be one of the most productive things we can do when we desire innovation. In DirectedCreativity, laughter is serious business.
Heuristic #7: Recognize that your streams of thought and patterns of judgment are not inherently right or wrong; they are just what you think now, based primarily on patterns from your past.
The seventh heuristic in the set—your judgments are not inherently right or wrong—reminds us that our mental processes of judgment are emotion-laden. This heuristic calls us to keep an open mind and cultivate flexibility; essential ingredients in creative thinking. Of course there are moral and theological absolute truths; but we are not talking about that here. We are talking about business problems... whether a computer has to have a keyboard... whether a bank has to have a building. The vast majority of what we do in business and daily work has nothing to do with absolute truth. But so many of us act as if it does!
Heuristic #8: Make a deliberate effort to harvest, develop, and implement at least a few of the ideas you generate.
The last basic heuristic—implement a few ideas—is based on the important distinction between mere creativity and productive innovation. The true innovator is action-oriented in her approach to things. In business, creative ideas have little real value until someone puts them into action. Have you ever seen a product or service offered in the marketplace and thought to yourself, “Hey, I thought of that once before”? How many potential millionaires are there in the world who missed out because they did not act on their creative ideas? How many companies have missed the chance to lead the market?
These eight basic rules of thumb can be practiced by anyone. No special “gift” or “creative talent” is needed. The basic heuristics of DirectedCreativity lead to productive expertise. While using these heuristics is no guarantee of success, knowing them shortens the learning curve and raises the chances of success.