How Do You Improve Creative Performance?

August 12, 2020
Kelly Harrigan

Genius. Invention. Talent. Creativity.  These words describe the highest levels of human performance.  We see these attributes in business, sports, the arts, and other disciplines where excellence is recognized. When we are engaged in the flow and process of creative problem solving, we get the sense that we are tapping into our greatest potential.

In his 2005 book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink declares that the MFA (Master of Fine Arts) will soon replace the MBA (Master of Business Administration).  It is hard to imagine artists taking the place of business leaders unless the market demands qualities of which MBA's are in short supply: creativity, resiliency, flexibility, a high tolerance for risk and ambiguity, and a willingness to fail.  If you think about those traits in practice, that sounds a lot like the qualities of the founders of AirBnB.

The Arts are one side of the coin in delivering creative performance.  Creative work flows from: gathering stimuli from the world around us, identifying problems to solve, discovering new techniques that others have used, then applying that analysis to a creative flow state to generate the new and novel.  Critics of Pink's assertion are quick to point out that no major employer advertises for leadership roles with MFA in their requirements, but describe left-brain accomplishments like an MBA.  Indeed, the highest creative performance requires both left-brain analysis and right-brain creativity to successfully navigate the path from strategic opportunities to commercialization of an idea.

Psychology researchers have only recently focused on understanding the attributes that make up creative performance.  In the 1950's and 1960's, the focus was on the personalities of exceptionally creative individuals. In the 1970's and 1980's, the focus became the cognitive approach of creative people. The 1990's and modern research emphasizes the dynamics of teams of creatives, exploring the social and cultural context in which creativity happens among groups of people.  

Indeed, it is only through teams that creativity can be applied for commercial results, otherwise defined as innovation.

The Paradox of Ideation in Creative Performance

Creative team performance is essential to successful innovation programs yet groups are inferior to individuals for creative performance, both in quality and quantity of ideas*.

So, how do we reverse the natural dynamic of individual creative performance being greater than that of the team, when the team has to perform better for the sake of the company’s success? With the right tools and methods, it’s possible!

During a recent talk for the product development community in the Carolinas region, Trig founder Ty Hagler outlined how the company has optimized creative performance by embracing digital innovation.

“We’ve recently replaced our traditional ideation program, highlighted by on-site sessions with corporate teams, with digital ideation sessions held on a virtual platform, Batterii. The results are game-changing when you remove the obstacles to team performance and enhance individual expression.”

“We keep creative minds fresh by holding multiple two-hour sessions versus the traditional one-day slog mandated by travel to a specific venue. The virtual environment promotes individual comfort, and participants feel less pressure attending from their remote locations.”

There are benefits to both group and individual creativity—we stay focused in centralized conversations and achieve more divergent ideas (group settings tend to promote convergent group-think). People can express ideas with anonymity, but with concept author tracking, project sponsors know where to place ultimate credit.

* The Paradox of Ideation: Creative team performance is essential to successful innovation programs YET groups are inferior to individuals for creative performance, both in quality and quantity of ideas.  See Diehl, M. and W. Stroebe. 1987. Productivity loss in brainstorming groups: Toward the solution of a riddle. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 53(3): 497-509.

Kelly Harrigan
Senior Design Strategist

Kelly Harrigan is an explorer in both her professional and personal life. Natural curiosity about the world fuels her to uncover the physical, cultural, and environmental forces that shape people’s lives. Connecting the seemingly unrelated dots to inspire new product opportunities is Kelly's sweet spot. While she's comfortable living in the fuzzy front-end, she strives to help others push their creativity threshold as well. At Trig, Kelly is responsible for leading customer research studies, organizing and facilitating ideation sessions, as well as pioneering brand new services with trend research and trend field trips.


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