Creativity and Innovation is a relatively new course offered at the Sauder School of Business at University of British Columbia. Most of their executive education courses last two days, which is perfect for a full time professional who can’t go back to school full-time. Whilst I have taken previous courses on management and process improvement, out of all the courses I have taken, by far Creativity and Innovation was one of the most enlightening.
Instead of excessive lecturing and following along with a huge binder full of reading material, we spent more time in groups doing various exercises. One of those was getting together in groups of four, where we were given a large bucket of Lego. Our task was to build something, and through story telling, expound upon our creative process and end goal (we only had 15 minutes to do this). Without getting into the nitty gritty details of what we built, all four of us universally agreed that stretching the playful and creative sides of ourselves was more challenging than careful, methodical, and strategic planning. Our instructor raised several salient points that as we become adults, we forget how to play. I personally believe that as a society, we are taught that there are certain expectations imposed on us as we enter adulthood. We are taught that we must behave in a certain way (whatever that happens to be), and as this happens, we choke our own creativity and become unable to bring a certain level of creativity to the workplace. I’d argue that creativity is an essential part of us, and we must not lose sight of this — it becomes a crucial trait and can add a ton of value in any company.
Can creativity be learned? I believe it can be. There’s no question that certain people are inherently more creative than others, and whilst someone can learn to certainly be more creative, there will always be others that will excel in this area. So if creativity can be learned, why aren’t more people pushing themselves in this direction? Previously I mentioned that society teaches us to act and behave in a certain way — to conform to what society accepts as the norm. I think the problem is most people aren’t even cognizant that they aren’t creative. Perhaps some are disillusioned into thinking they are more creative than they actually are, which is certainly possible. If you lack creativity, imagination, and playfulness, it’s extremely difficult to know where to start. I can only speak to my own experiences, but through my childhood, teenage, and young adult years, I’ve always kept exercising that creative part of my brain. I’ve never given up on watching anime, reading comics, collecting and playing with toys, playing video games, and cosplaying, just because they may be socially unacceptable as an adult. Perhaps some people may speak to me in a scornfully derisive way when they learn that about me, but that’s not something I care to concern myself with. I work in the software industry, so creativity and imagination play an integral role in what I do every day. If I were to suddenly become stodgy, I think I would be out of a job.
We started our morning with something completely unexpected. I walked in at 8:30am and all of the desks had been moved to the four corners of the room. Our instructor brought in an improv/actor from a local theatre group in Vancouver. We stood in a circle, and for a couple of hours, we went through several very fun, but sometimes painful, improv exercises. We tried the typical “yes, and” technique, which I found particular difficult. Through reflection and discussion with the group after miserably failing, I found having those kind of specific constraints difficult in conversation. I think I was overthinking and too concerned with saying something that was wrong, even though I knew there was no limit to how ridiculous I could be. The irrational part of my brain was completely destroying my ability to perform this task. Interestingly enough, we tried something different later, which I found extremely enjoyable and did well at. We paired up with another class mate and had to tell a story, but incorporate an object into it. In this case, we had to somehow include a safe into it. One person would start and then your partner would randomly say any word, and you had to continue the story and incorporate that into it — without any kind of disruption to the flow. If this sounds incredibly challenging to you, that’s because it is. Though this was difficult, I found I had little issue with coming up with a bullshit story and incorporating all of the words thrown at me. My impression of this is that though both exercises had certain constraints, the later had far less restrictive ones and allowed my imagination to run wild. I’m really looking forward to seeing if we can incorporate any of this into our small team. I think it would be really fun to do as a group on occasion.
The second half of the day was spent on innovation. We examined several case studies that profiled companies such as Apple, Google, 3M, and Gore. Most of the afternoon involved much discussion and debate as we dissected how all of these companies operate. All of the aforementioned companies are unquestionably very successful in their own right, but are so different in their core beliefs and execution. Most of this stuff I already knew about, just by the very nature of my job and the fact that I’ve been writing about these companies for years. Nonetheless, it was a great refresher and I did end up learning a lot about 3M and Gore which I had no idea about.
If I could take this kind of course every day, I would. The pacing during the two days was just perfect. I would have loved it if we could have had more time to get into disruption theory, but that warrants a separate course all together. There’s a follow-up to Creativity And Innovation called Strategy and Innovation, which I plan on taking in 2014. Both of these courses are taught by Darren Dahl, who I found to be an excellent teacher. Darren was able to inject the perfect blend of lecturing, practical exercise, and fun into the course.