Organisations often complain they don’t have enough resources to throw at a problem but you could argue it’s the abundance of the wrong type of resource that stops the job being done really well.
The perfect and well-known example of this: the anecdote about how the US and the USSR tried to create a pen that would work in space.
While the US technologists were running a massive project to design a multimillion-dollar pen that could operate in zero G, the Soviets had opted for something much simpler for their own space mission: a pencil.
This elegant, cheap yet effective solution was like many great masterstrokes of creativity. Just as with Picasso’s bull’s head, the concept is so simple you could be forgiven for missing it.
One of the interesting facets of this anecdote is that at first it doesn’t look the way we think creativity should look. But it’s got many of the hallmarks of smart creativity. Doing more with less, questioning embedded assumptions, and making something look effortless. There are lots of learnings here for many different enterprises – not necessarily looking to go into space, but trying to solve hard problems nonetheless.
The nature of things is that when a company gets involved in optimising a process, the momentum of the process often precludes creativity. The system is wired to do the wrong thing highly efficiently rather than going back to the original problem that needed solving – and chilling with the problem for a little while.
The creative process starts when you give up being too busy to think.
Chilling with a problem is a difficult thing to explain for a time-centred organisation. “I’m actioning X, Y and Z for next week’s status meeting” – sounds so much more businessy than “I’m chilling with the problem for a little while”.
In a recent project with some Bristol physicists, we asked them to create a project to sell to a James Bond baddie. The results were fascinating. Just as with any other form of creativity there was a majority of quite interesting workaday solutions and one that stood out which we can all remember many months after. It was more or less the equivalent of the pencil.
Perhaps amongst all the clever stuff we do on the course, the most valuable insight is that to see things differently you have to start by looking at your clock differently; do less, think less and chill a bit more. Like riding a bike it’s easy when you know how.