“Creativity is the defeat of habit by originality.” – Arthur Koestler
As consultants we sometimes forget how jaded and blinkered we become. It’s not entirely our fault; being creative consultants is not always a boon. Clients approach us because they expect us to provide a solution to their challenges based on our extensive experience in a specific field or a unique service. And we, as consultants, in turn seek to leverage our methodologies, our templates, our best practices to expedite the solution and to guarantee replicable successes for the client. But unfortunately we tend to forget that no two projects – however similar they appear to be on the surface, and however components of people, process and system they share – are ever the same. A new project collects new people, new contexts, new business requirements that need to be realised. Add to this the insistence from every single client that we, as consultants, need to remember that ‘they are very different’ regardless of the universal nature of the solution that we seek to configure and the organisational roles that we want so desperately to enable.
Over the weekend I was dipping into Rod Judkins’ recent book on Creativity, The Art of Creative Thinking. In a section title “be a beginner, for ever” he describes how he had to assist a Dubai-based company to conceptualise a new TV soap, a task he set about by swapping the standard roles of the team, cameramen became scriptwriters, costume designers had to create characters, soundmen had to think of locations, etc. Once they were guided past their initial knee-jerk objections, they gave it a try and subsequently succeeded, very effectively, in improvising, and coming up with innovative plot lines, surprising locations, and fresh characters.
“If I’d observed all the rules, I’d never have got anywhere” – Marilyn Monroe
Are we as consultants leveraging the inexperience we sometimes find in our project teams? It is typically a frustration and a risk that requires mitigation. But Judkins actually warns against becoming an expert, a difficult mindshift to execute when clients are looking to you for exactly that expertise. He reckons that an expert “constantly refers to past experience. Whatever has worked in the past, they repeat.” According to Judkins many years of experience actually translates into a single year’s worth of experience, repeated multiple times. How often is this not exactly the case. So let’s leverage that fresh pair of eyes that believes, often in naivity and through lack of experience, believes that there is a different solution to the challenge.
I echo Judkin’s request to spend time in your company, or in your project on a valuable task, but not necessarily something that you are expected to be working on. If you are a project manager take a bash at designing role profiles, if you configure system recruitment modules try your hand at change management strategy, if you instructionally design e-learning content take a crack at proposal pricing. Perhaps we will then have to resort to ‘structured’ innovation and creativity sessions less, perhaps we will more easily arrive at the sentiment that John Hunt refers to in his book the art of the idea, when he explains “Originality needs a longer leash… The gap between what you already know and and what you’re exploring is often where the best ideas pop up.”
Go be a beginner again.