The Problem of Creativity is the Problem of Difference

In a nutshell, that’s all there is to this:

“The problem of creativity is the problem of difference.”

Organizations know they need to be more creative. In a way, that’s why Rogue Interrobang exists. But:

  • A lot of the time the answer is not to introduce new ways of thinking, it’s to unlock the many different and exciting ways of thinking that already exist within your organisation.
  • A lot of the time the answer is not to bring new tools to your team to help them think outside the box, it’s to bring new people from a wide range of backgrounds into your team so that you have a wonderful range of skills and ideas just by everybody thinking inside their own box.
  • A lot of the time the answer is not that you need to generate new ideas, it’s that you need to stop rejecting the fabulous ideas you are already producing.

This is not particularly profound or particularly new. Organizations that are struggling will often look outside for a cure before they look to themselves. And externally-sourced cures like training and new tools are really easy to bring in, even though you will probably then forget most of what you have learned and not let your team run with the rest of it. I am used to working with groups whose senior team start looking wistful when they can see the changes that having their creativity unleashed can make to people. “If only we could do it like that,” they say. I ask them why they can’t. There’s always a slightly amorphous reason involving “the way it’s done” or “they wouldn’t let us” even though I can actually see the decision maker sin the room with me.”

All of which brings it down to this. The problem with most teams and creativity is one of culture. And it’s a circular problem that feeds itself, which is what makes it so tough to solve. They aren’t creative but they need to be because they’re not succeeding at their mission as well as they could be. But they can’t do the things they need in order to be creative because the single most important creative choice to make is the choice to do those things, and they lack the creativity to make it. This, of course, is how you get large gaps opening rapidly between teams that “get” creativity and keep making really great decisions as a result, which make them even more creative; and teams that don’t, and keep making really uncreative decisions that stop them closing the gap.

The answers are really simple, and we’ve listed them already:

  • Unlock the amazing talent you already have.
  • Make your teams really diverse.
  • Stop rejecting great ideas.

I can even give some really simple one sentence solutions to each of those:

  • Don’t make assumptions about the ideas people can have based on their job title but on the ideas they have! And if you don’t have a way to find out what ideas people in ALL your roles have, and then get those ideas developed regardless of who came up with them (ideally led by the person who developed them, on appropriate pay, wherever in the organization they come from) – there’s a very easy answer.
  • Try hiring for “non-fit” rather than “fit”. Certainly, if you have a non-diverse team, quit trying to hire for “the best” because if you are a homogenous team your idea of “the best” will be so skewed you could cut it open and see the bias written on its heart.
  • Stop using your current methods for evaluating ideas, whether that’s market-driven data or accepted industry norms, because the problem you have that means you need new ideas probably comes from the fact you need new markets you have no data for or your industry norms are broken. My personal feeling – you would actually be more likely to do something great if you stuck all the ideas, however outrageous, in a hat and drew one out at random.

Although those ideas are very simple, I realise they are also very hard. But there is only one thing that makes them really hard for you as an organization to adopt, and that’s the reason you need them at all – you.


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