Visualizing Creativity

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January 23, 2012

The ability to think creatively, and from that innovate, is a key skill in any business. Whether it’s sales, customer service, operations or management, being able to solve problems and develop new products and services is ultimately the difference between business success and failure.

The challenges of creativity

The very nature of creativity means that inspiration can strike seemingly at random, which can appear at odds with the organisation and accountability of business environments – yet trying to structure and manage the creative output will at times stifle the flow of ideas.

Coupled with this are the constant demands of doing more with less; today’s business world is increasingly dynamic, unpredictable and competitive, meaning that businesses  are having to rapidly adapt and drive efficiency. Each action is required to have a tangible output and employees are constantly tasked with demonstrating results from every initiative.

Added to this is the information overload regularly faced in today’s world. The amount of digital information created in 2010 was equivalent to every man, woman and child on Earth tweeting continuously for 100 years (http://www.emc.com/about/news/press).  With this level of information demanding attention, it becomes difficult to identify key information and use it to develop new ideas and innovations.

The need to channel inspiration

Attempts to capture ideas and subsequently turn them into something usable with readily available office tools can be hit and miss. Word documents and spreadsheets can be uninspiring and too detailed for executives requiring top line ideas that are easy to comprehend and digest. Another alternative, PowerPoint, is often misused, to the point where the term ‘death by PowerPoint’ is recognisable to everyone that has worked in an office environment. These tools have their place in business, but ultimately dictate a linear train of thought, which can contradict the free-flowing nature of creative thinking. Today’s business environment presents a number of challenges and there is a need for a new model that makes the best use of all the information available.

There is no denying the benefits of creativity, but the spontaneity and expression that are the hallmarks of inspiration and the creative mind can sometimes conflict with business environments that look for understanding, deliverables and accountability, meaning that the time spent on brainstorming ideas and gathering inspiration is limited. Creativity often suffers in such situations, which I believe is a mistake, as it can be a critical attribute to the bottom line and therefore directly affect a business’ performance.

The problem lies in reconciling the benefits of creativity and innovation with the structure of business and making it accessible to those who would not consider themselves to have a creative role in the company. To do so it is important to avoid stifling the very spontaneity and inspiration that makes it such a vital tool.

Finding the right tools for the job

When it comes to business, I see creativity as the ability to see connections between pieces of information and translate those connections into innovative products, services or ideas. Being able to track those connections whilst maintaining a clear process that is easily accessible to others is a goal that I think few software programmes have been able to meet. Currently, a lot of office software does not lend itself to the diverse ways in which the mind works – many people (even those that are seemingly ‘non-creative’) think in non-linear patterns, and so being able to use software that matches their thought process allows them to articulate ideas more effectively. Word documents and spreadsheets tend to impose a structure and direction that restrict the capture and flow of ideas. For instance, when in a brainstorm most people use a central idea or theme and then spin off from there – they tend not to write in lists if they can avoid it. At the moment, that means writing things out by hand, and then typing up – wasting valuable time and making loss of ideas inevitable.

Software has been developed, however, that can map out ideas and projects in a manner akin to the spider diagrams school children get taught to make for revision. These visualize information by allowing people to throw ideas into a map, and then easily organise and add as require.

Mapping a way forward

Using this kind of information mapping software in brainstorms, project planning and other creativity driving situations means that information and ideas can be captured quickly and rearranged at leisure – having been added directly to the map, there is no need to laboriously write up notes and spend time deciphering handwriting and random words added in a flurry of misguided inspiration.

However, it is not just in brainstorms or for capturing ideas that mapping software has its uses. The mapping process can also be used to present ideas and plans, providing that macro view senior decision makers need, whilst allowing them to focus in on key points as required. As an alternative to PowerPoint, mapping software can provide a more interactive experience, with relevant documents and links easily added to topics to add colour, depth and additional detail if required.

By providing a clear understanding of thought processes and inspiration, along with a freedom to capture ideas and restructure as required, mapping software can visualize information in a way that both promotes creativity whilst respecting the confines of today’s business environments.

Visualizing success

It is recognised that businesses need to innovate to stay competitive, but in reality the restrictions of business and the way we are often taught to work make it hard to think creatively in some environments. By using information visualization software, employees are able to demonstrate their worth to the business and secure stakeholder approval of innovative schemes and potential product ideas. Information mapping software can help to stimulate creativity in the workplace and make the fruits of inspiration accessible to all us time-pressed business professionals, the results of which can ultimately help drive success and impact the bottom line.

Image Source: www.iStockphoto.com

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