Creating More Little Aha’s

Maybe it’s the new year or maybe it’s the winter weather, but recently I’ve had some revelations that have changed the way I think about creativity.

First, I had an inspiring conversation with a very creative friend. We were discussing our thoughts on creativity and comparing them to what we normally see portrayed by other creatives. What we came to the conclusion is that unlike of them, we were more interested in practical creativity.

The kind of stuff that gets you through your day. The small innovations you make to your daily life to make it easier, more interesting, etc.

Then, while reading ahead for one of my classes, I came upon a chapter on creativity and business innovation. There was an abbreviated version of an article published in 2006 in BusinessWeek, entitled The Myth of Creativity. In it, the author declares the whole concept of creativity training to get the big aha out of people as merely a waste of time.


Because creativity is more about the little aha’s and the small changes we make to our lives than the big idea that would make us a hero. Every one of us does this on a daily basis, whether we are conscious of it or not. So instead of encouraging people to have grandiose creative ideas that change the world, let’s encourage them to start with the little aha’s that grow into big aha’s.

  • How can you create more little aha’s?

Ingenuityfest: A Study in Contrasts

After almost 5 years of trying, I finally made it to the Ingenuity Festival, a three-day long extravaganza of technology and art held each year here in Cleveland.

I say, “trying,” because I really have had good intentions of going to the fest the last several years.  Arriving back in Cleveland, shortly before the second year of Ingenuity, I signed up to be a volunteer, thinking it would be a cool and easy way to get a free ticket. Of course, I never actually ended up volunteering and for the next several years life seemed to get in the way during the annual weekend of Ingenuity.

This year seemed to be no different, with a planned trip to Pittsburgh falling on the same weekend as Ingenuity. When one of my instructors mentioned that we could receive 5 extra credit points for going and writing about what we saw, I knew that was the motivation I needed!

I arrived early on Sunday, the third and final day, and was instantly greeted with the contrast of the location: a bridge. Yes, that’s right, a bridge. Actually, the fesitval is located on the obsolete trolley level of the bridge, while cars sped along the upper span. The bridge connects the east and west sides of the city above the Cuyahoga River. Yet, more contrast.

Entering into the cavernous space created such a different experience than if the event had been held in an open lot or even in an enclosed area. I started walking toward the span of the bridge, where there were a hodge podge of displays, everything from local political endorsements to non-profits to the odd assortment of vendors selling taffy, jewelry, etc. Interspersed among this were small exhibitions and random musical performers.

Passing by the man-made waterfall, I approached the east side of the bridge and headed  toward the blaring sounds of a youthful rock band. Bypassing that in favor of the Art Gallery area, I began to be slightly impressed with the installation art pieces that thoroughly used the bridge’s architecture as inspiration.

Walking back to the other side of the bridge, I contemplated how much better the curation of the art could have been. Several mixed media pieces were interesting but didn’t really fit into the scope of the festival and/ or use the space that well.

On the west side of the bridge, in another cavernous space, more art installations filled the area. Some were fascinating and others just trite and almost art-schoolish. The entire puppet show concept was overdone on the East Coast 10 years ago. Finally, the soothing sounds of Angelin Chang, a local professor and Grammy-award winning musician made the my time there worth it.

In my opinion, if the Ingenuity festival could bring in more quality artists like her, then then maybe it would have been a worthwhile experience for me. As it is it appears, it is currently a very amateurish Spoletto Festival. With better curation and more “real” artists, Ingenuityfest could really be a noteworthy arts festival. Sadly, now the best thing it has going is the space and the location.

  • Did you go? What did you think?

Why Innovation Needs Diversity

My other passion, besides creativity, is diversity. Yet, when most people think of diversity they often think only of superficial differences like race, gender, etc. To me, diversity is so much more and that’s what makes it important for creating real innovation.

In author Debbe Kennedy’s book, Putting Our Differences to Work, she expands the standard definition of diversity to include such factors as generational insights, problem solving approaches and think origins. With a broader definition of diversity, we can see how bringing together people from all different groups affects brainstorming and innovation.

Imagine an idea generating session that only included individuals with the same backgrounds, work habits or experiences. The end result would probably be pretty boring, and well more of the same. Scott Page, author of The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies, concurs with this view of the power of diversity to push innovation forward.

So why does he think diverse groups of problem-solvers are more successful than similarly minded groups? Because, according to Page, the diverse groups have more perspectives, which fuels idea generation and ultimately, innovation.

  • Increase the diversity in your problem-solving sessions and see what happens!

What Innovation Means to Me

Too often people confuse creativity with innovation. To me, creativity is about coming up with new ideas, while innovation is the application and (hopeful) success of those ideas.

Yet, when I think of innovation I don’t necessarily think first about products. Lately, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on this and understandably this is what innovation usually gets associated with.

But there are other ways of looking at innovation. I think more about innovation as creating new concepts – yes those concepts will probably end up as products – but I don’t believe innovation starts with products. Earlier this year, published “Innovation Jubilation” 50+ new business ideas that defy doom and gloom. The article mentions everything from the DIY trend to mapmania as concepts that are transforming business.

Another useful way to look at innovation is personal innovation. This type of innovation involves improving you and your life. Matt Heinz recently posted about this in Five Ways to Create Innovation Throughout Your Life. He writes about using innovation to improve everything from you relationships to your future.

  • What could you innovate?

Get Stimulated!

While many of us are creative in our personal lives, it seems much more difficult to be creative at work. In today’s economy more than ever, a creative brain is a requirement on the job. In Stimulated: Habits to Spark Your Creative Genius at Work by Andrew Pek and Jeannine McGlade the goal is to get you thinking more creatively.

Weaving together a combination of business case studies and personal stories, Pek and McGlade cover the following key habits necessary to increase your creative genius:

Scouting includes observing the world and your environment.

Cultivating is about creating the environment for ideas to take shape.

Playing allows for experimentation and curiosity.

Venturing is simply permitting ourselves to make the leap into the creative unknown.

Harvesting involves innovation and turning creative sparks and ideas into reality.

  • Try one at work today!

My Favorite Creativity Blogs

People always ask what creativity blogs I read on a regular basis. So I’ve put together a brief list to answer that question.

Creative Perch
Dee Wilcox is the author of this blog that has the simple goal to inspire creativity and encourage innovation. I love Dee’s ability to balance practical creativity tips with real life examples of public art, especially guerrilla art.

The Fertile Unknown
This blog written by creativity consultant extraordinaire Michelle James explores the process of creative emergence and what that looks like in life and work, especially business.

Applied Imagination
This is the blog I go to when I want to know what’s new in creativity. Steve Dahlberg does a wonderful job of sorting through the latest news on creativity and posting some of the most interesting ideas out there.

Creativity at Work
Looking at the intersection, or interplay, as author Linda Naiman refers to it, between art, science and business is the focus of this informative blog.

Life Unfolds
Jennifer Lee is a self-described Certified Coach, Writer, Leader, Artist, Yogini and Musepreneur. Her colorful and always creative blog chronicles her personal journey of creative expression.

  • Check out my bookshop for more of my favorite creative reads.

World Creativity and Innovation Week

Have you heard about World Creativity and Innovation Week? It runs from April 15 – 21 and is a worldwide celebration of you guessed it, creativity.

The ability to imagine and create is something we are all born with but sometimes forget to use. This week is dedicated to fostering that spirit of ingenuity.


European Year of Creativity and Innovation

This year marks the beginning of a celebration of creativity and innovation in Europe. Just launched this week in Prague, the goal is:

“to raise awareness of importance of creativity and innovation for personal, social and economic development, to disseminate good practices, stimulate education and research, and promote policy debate and development.”

The year will address a variety of issues around creativity and innovation including:

  • fostering artistic and other forms of creativity through pre-school, primary and secondary education including vocational streams, as well as non-formal and informal education
  • cultural diversity as a source of creativity and innovation
  • promoting innovation as the route to sustainable development
  • regional and local development strategies based on creativity and innovation

Several conferences and events are planned throughout Europe during 2009 to spark discussions on creativity and innovation and to promote its benefits.

Creative Lessons From Innovation Experts

I know I’ve been posting lots of links to magazine articles, but recently there have been so many good ones to pass along.

Here’s the latest. In the June issue of Inc. magazine, innovation experts were asked how organizations can foster the creative spirit in their employees. The results were interesting and included a couple of unique ideas.

Write it Down
Frog Design, a San Francisco-based consulting firm, publishes Frog Design Mind, a print and online magazine that serves as a quarterly compendium of staff articles on subjects that excite employees.

Bring in Outsiders
Many top innovation firms tap the perspectives of outside experts — be they physicists, poets, actors, archaeologists, theologians, or astronauts.”

Creativity Loses Value

The appeal of creativity has exploded during the last several years, with everyone from schools to CEOs proclaiming its importance. So does this eliminate the value of true creativity if everyone is seen as a creative thinker?

Possibly. Thinking creatively is a skill that should be taught and learned by everyone, but are we also learning how to apply that thinking for every day solutions? Probably not. Most creativity books and classes preach expressing our creativity but few help us to use it constructively.

The Arts Column in the Telegraph (via the Applied Imagination blog) recently explored this topic emphasizing the need to learn more skilled crafts or at least a practical use for creativity as this, not solely ideas has sustained humankind.

  • Agree or disagree?