Strategy, Innovation & Leadership

Creativity X-Factor

By Ron Meyer | March 1, 2022 | 3 min read

How can we improve our creativity? TIAS professor of Strategic Leadership Ron Meyer presents an insightful tool to kickstart your thinking: Creativity X-Factor.

Key Definitions

Creativity is the ability to generate something original and unusual. It is the capacity that individuals, teams, and organizations can have to come up with new ideas, tools, approaches, designs, products, services, and/or business models. It is the skill to create something novel. 

Creativity, like charisma, is often seen as a mysterious quality, that is hard to explain and difficult to purposely develop – either you have the elusive x-factor, or you don’t. The most widely used approach to spurring creativity is brainstorming, in which ideas are generated spontaneously, usually by a group of people, and only evaluated later. 

Conceptual Model

The Creativity X-Factor model outlines the key factors contributing to the creativity of a person, team, or organization. With a wink to the notion that creativity is tough to pin down, the model arranges the four conditions that stimulate creative processes into a large X – these are having creative mindspace, a creative mindset, cognitive diversity, and a cognitive challenge. The creative process itself (in the center oval) can make use of four thinking techniques that build on each other to drive creativity. The key message is that creativity is not an enigmatic quality, but a capability that can be consciously developed and maintained.

 Creativity X-Factor

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Key Elements

The four conditions supporting creative processes are the following: 
1. Creative Mindspace. Creativity requires mental effort and therefore people need to be willing to invest time and attention to do so properly. It helps to dedicate a specific block of time for creative thinking and to avoid distractions. Presence of mind is crucial.  
2. Creative Mindset. Creativity also requires an attitude of openness and curiosity. People should have an adventurous and inquisitive state of mind, highly interested in probing the unknown, while avoiding premature judgement. Uninhibitedness of mind is equally crucial.
3. Cognitive Diversity. Creativity is also aided by using a range of perspectives to look at issues. These different angles can be brought in by different people or by using alternative lenses to view things in distinctive ways. Hence, variety of minds is just as crucial.
4. Cognitive Challenge. Creativity can also be triggered by mental puzzles. By confronting people with a tricky problem or counterintuitive statement, their certainties can be shaken, stimulating them to think outside their comfort zones. So, spark of mind is crucial as well.
Besides these four supporting conditions, there are also four thinking techniques that build on each other to spur the creative process:
1. Explore. Coming up with new ideas can be done by employing different types of logic (‘think like a pirate, then like a teacher’). By using different thinking formats in a disciplined way, people will arrive at new insights. This can also be called structured scouting. 
2. Expand. Once new ideas have been generated, it helps to run with them. By taking ideas, building on them, and driving them ever further, people can flesh out an entire new avenue of thinking without restraint. This can also be called radical extrapolation.
3. Contrast. Once a broad portfolio of ideas has been generated, it can be enriching to compare and sharpen them, highlighting the differences. As in a good debate, the clash of ideas strengthens each further. This can also be called competitive juxtaposition. 
4. Combine. With the key characteristics and strengths of each idea revealed, it is possible to cross-fertilize them, to come up with new combinations that bring together the best of both worlds. This can also be called constructive synthesis.
And after new combinations are shaped, people can continue by exploring even more types of logic, going through the cycle as often is they want or is needed.

Key Insights

• Creativity is an ability that can be developed. Creativity is not as magical is it sometimes seems, nor is it a talent that someone happens to have. The ‘creativity x-factor’ can be explained and the ability to generate novel ideas can be organized and learnt. 
• Creativity is supported by four conditions. The chance that creative thinking will happen can be enlarged by enhancing four starting conditions: by ensuring people have enough time and attention (creative mindspace) available and engage with openness and curiosity (creative mindset), while there are enough different lenses (cognitive diversity) and stimulating puzzles (cognitive challenges) brought in. 
• Creativity is triggered by four techniques. The creative process can be driven by using four complementary thinking methods: generating new ideas using alternative logics (explore), extrapolating these new ideas to discover their full potential (expand), comparing these ideas to sharpen them further (contrast) and cross-fertilizing these ideas to shape an even stronger synthesis (combine).  
• Creativity is an ability of individuals, teams, and organizations. Individual people can use these conditions and techniques to improve their creativity, but working in groups can potentially be more effective, but can also be more difficult to organize.
• Brainstorming is the poor man’s route to creativity. Brainstorming hardly makes use of any of these ingredients and is therefore an inferior way to engender creativity.

Inspired by this kickstart?

The six-day Masterclass Strategic Leadership will teach you how to make well-informed strategic decisions and effectively manage the organization developing its vision. This will help you grow as a strategic thinker and leader. During this masterclass, you will work on solutions for a problem that you bring in from personal experience. In addition, you will reflect on the functioning of your management team and organization and thus help your organization to grow effectively. 

Read more about the Masterclass Strategic Leadership »

Creativity X-Factor is part 33 of a series of management models by prof. dr. Ron Meyer. Ron is managing director of the Center for Strategy & Leadership and publishes regularly on Center for Strategy & Leadership.

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