Print Share Home / Publications & News / ISM Conference Proceedings

What Would A Creative Person Do With My Job?


Preston J. Leavitt, Ph.D., J.D., C.P.M.
Preston J. Leavitt, Ph.D., J.D., C.P.M., 8533 West Rice Avenue, Littleton, CO 80123, 303/973-2625.

79th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1994 - Atlanta, GA

Behaving creatively is not only a key part of being professional, it's also a measure of how highly one's professional services are valued. Anyone can learn to be more creative. It's all in knowing a few basic behaviors and developing a constructive, active point of view.

Creativity is defined as bringing into existence an idea that is new to you. The practical application of those new ideas we call innovation. Creativity always begins with a question. And in both our business and personal lives, the quality of our creativity is determined by the quality of our questions - by the way we frame our approach to circumstances, problems, needs, and opportunities. A creative approach makes life a questioning process.

Creative thinking is an innate talent that you were born with and a set of skills that can be learned, developed, and utilized in daily problem solving. And those who do not block their innate creativity and who focus their ability in various aspects of life we refer to as creative people.

For most of us the word creativity is more easily applied to art than to business. We expect the artists of the world to experience creative break throughs, but we're less convinced that business people have anything to be creative about. Wayne Van Dyck, founder of Windfarms, Ltd. had this to say:

"The highest art form is really business. It is an extremely creative form, and can be more creative than all the things we classically think of as creative. In business, the tools with which you're working are dynamic: capital and people and markets and ideas. (These tools) all have lives of their own. So to take those things and to work with them and reorganize them in new and different ways turns out to be a very creative process."

Don't frighten yourself off with big, ultimate questions like 'Who is man?- or 'Does God exist?" On the contrary, start asking small, even playful questions in small, unpressured situations. Approaching issues by degrees is a great way to begin. Starting small includes the wisdom of starting privately. Get well acquainted with the rewards of asking yourself dumb questions before you ask them of the chairman of the board. We soon learn which questions are valuable and which aren't. We see that we get stimulating answers when questions are direct, simple, and open-ended.

Being creative means dealing in ideas. The world runs on ideas. Good things rarely happen accidentally. Long before marvelous inventions came to be, they existed as thoughts in somebody's mind. Ideas can come to anyone who's willing to seek them out. An idea will bounce off other ideas, going from one person to the next, until it finally strikes a creative nerve. That's when it really becomes useful.

"The human mind, once stretched to a new idea, never goes back to its original dimension." Oliver Wendell Holmes

Intuition is one of the best ways to increase creativity. Intuition is that feeling that an idea will work even though it has little logical support. Sometimes we refer to intuition as hunches. Intuition often makes the difference between being creative and becoming stale. Refuse to discard hunches. They may seem silly or worthless - yet they could prove to be invaluable. When intuition comes to you, try it out to see if it's a crazy idea or a brilliant one. And try to cultivate intuition. Let your subconscious mind help you out on problems. Turn the problem over to the subconscious to work on for a while. When the answer comes, it may seem to be just a hunch. But be sure to listen to it.

"Intuitive thinking, the training of hunches, is a much neglected and essential feature of productive thinking." Jerome Bruner

Intuition is a gift that must be developed. It is not something that comes and goes, or is the province of the gifted few, or is the characteristic of oddballs. It is not something that you either have or don't have. Intuition is a skill and talent that should be accepted, developed, and perfected. Intuition complements reason. Evidence indicates that those who rely in intuition in their decision-making make more profitable decisions than do others. It is the combination of experience, information, reason, and intuition that is the most powerful. In our business decisions we need to use guesswork, insight, hunches, speculation, imagination, judgment, gut feel, sixth sense, and good guesses - in a word, intuition.

Intuition is unemotional. Listening to intuition is not the act of concentrating on what you think you want. It is instead simply paying clear attention to the most appropriate alternatives. And in order to pay attention we must first get beyond the stress and frustration of daily living. Recognition is probably as good a synonym as any for intuition. When you have worked diligently and built upon experience in any area of business, the right decision comes instantly as a sort of emotionless recognition.

Intuition demands action. R. Buckminster Fuller said: "I call intuition cosmic fishing. You feel a nibble, then you've got to hook the fish." Too often we get the nibble of an idea and then don't follow-through to solidly hook the opportunity. If we don't follow through, our decision or idea dies. Follow-through in business is more than just hard work - it is timely hard work. If there is one characteristic that signals creativity in business, it might just be follow-through. Timely action however, isn't necessarily the same thing as immediate action.

Whether we call it a hunch, a gut feeling, or even ESP, thousands of managers and executives make business decisions based on their intuition. We all have hunches, but most of us ignore them or distrust them as being irrational and useless. Creative thinkers tend to pay more attention to their feelings, including what they call their "inner voice."

Carol Kinsey Goman lists six ways to increase your business intuition.

  1. Practice foretelling the future. If you are going to have a business meeting with people you haven't met yet, guess as to how they'll look, what they'll wear and how they will approach the business they plan to conduct. If you're looking for a parking space, anticipate where the first open space will be.

  2. Imagine yourself doing a task before the fact. Not only will you prime your brain for actually doing the task, you will be able to compare your actual performance to the image in your mind.

  3. Notice feelings and inner sensations you usually ignore. Pay attention to internal stirring and feelings. By monitoring them constantly, you are more likely to catch those changes that indicate something has registered unconsciously.

  4. Keep an idea journal. write down flashes of insight and keep a record of decisions you made on this basis. As you reflect on this "diary" later, you'll be able to evaluate your accuracy.

  5. Meditate or learn self-hypnosis. Insights are most likely to occur when you first quiet the conscious mind's chatter, then concentrate (focus your attention on one thing) and become receptive to creative ideas bubbling up through the subconscious.

  6. Visualize symbolically. When faced with a problem person or situation, create a mental picture that is symbolically representative. Notice any new, creative ideas that come to you as a result of looking at your situation in a unique way.

Creative ideas are very fragile things. They can't be judged at first glance. They need time and care to bring them to maturity before they face the critic's harsh judgment. Ideas need to be seen in the proper context. Negative thoughts are the enemy of creativity. Usually the ratio of negative to positive thoughts is extremely high - four to one is quite common, even eight to one is not unheard of. History is full of bloopers of negative thought.

"With regard to the electric light, much has been said for and against it, but I think I may say without contradiction that when the Paris Exhibition closes, electric light will close with it, and no more will be heard of it." Erasmus Wilson, Oxford University professor, 1878

In Columbus's time, the advisory committee to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain wrote, "So many centuries after the Creation, it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value."

In 1878 Western Union rejected the rights to the telephone with the statement, "What use could the company make of an electrical toy?"

In 1902 an article in Harper's Weekly proclaimed, "The actual building of roads devoted to motor cars is not for the near future in spite of many rumors to that effect."

In 1945 Vannevar Bush, a presidential advisor, warned, "The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives."

In 1958 British astronomer Dr. R. Woolsey pronounced, "Space travel is utter bilge."

One of the best ways to overcome negative thinking is to listen creatively. Here are some tips to improve our professional listening.

  1. Give yourself permission to listen by giving up that part of you - your mind chatter - that wants to be more important than the speaker. Surrender to the moment that the speaker sees as his reality, and absorb it with all of your senses.

  2. Quell your desire to talk. Like internal mind chatter, your desire to hold forth is nothing but self-puffery.

  3. Suspend judgment. Don't let your own conclusions, opinions, notions, and emotions fill your receiving airwaves with static.

  4. Search out what is truly important to the speaker. As you listen, learn to walk in his shoes.

  5. Focus on the main event. Think of your listening as a light that scans and indicates the total picture in its detail and also allows your concentration on the most important point.

Another great way to improve creativity is to use, really use, our minds. Most people only use 10% of their total brain power. Some 90% remains forever untouched. Part of our problem is laziness. It's easy to let someone else do our creative thinking for us. At work a lot of people do only what they're told. At home we fail to utilize opportunities to think, imagine, dream, invent, and create. The human mind is like a muscle. when we don't use it, we weaken its ability to function. It suffers a form of mental atrophy. To develop the ability to produce good ideas, you have to exercise your brain.

"Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week." George Bernard Shaw

In solving creative problems, it often helps to change point of view. To creatively solve a problem, project yourself to the end of the problem. See all the parts, the totality of the problem, as objectively as you can. Also when problem solving, try to align your work time with your productive time. We each have a time when we are most productive. Some people are night owls while others are early birds. Everyone's internal clock is different. If we can do our creative work during our productive time, we'll end up with more creative results.

To find our most productive time, think of your past experiences. What times were most rewarding? What times and circumstances went with creative experiences? Then, repeat those experiences. Recreate the circumstances, at the same times, Once you've determined when you're most productive, try to do your creative problem solving during that time.

Highly creative thinkers agree that one step in becoming more innovative is to generate lots of possibilities. Linus Pauling, the Nobel prizewinning scientist, said: "The best way to get good ideas is to have lots of ideas. " In addition to lots of ideas - however, we need to do something with them. Ideas by themselves are utterly useless. The value comes when we apply them. Ideas must be attached to people and things. It's the results ideas bring that makes them valuable. As Peter Drucker said, "Ideas are cheap and abundant; what is of value is the effective placement of those ideas into situations that develop into action."

"Many of the people with the ideas have the peculiar notion that their jobs are finished when they suggest them; that it is up to somebody else to work out the dirty details and then implement the proposals. Since business is a 'get-things done' institution, creativity without action-oriented follow-through is a barren form of behavior." Theodore Leavitt

Here are some specific tips on becoming more creative in business:

  1. Break tasks into small pieces. By the yard it's hard, but by the inch it's a cinch.

  2. Do one thing at a time. Remind yourself as you work that what you are doing is the only thing you are doing.

  3. Change your, attitude. Step back mentally to take a longer look at what you are doing. See things as necessary steps to your overall goal.

  4. Know when to quit. To do this you must pay close attention to the experience you are having.

  5. Be good to yourself. Come up with self-rewards.

  6. Make a game of it. This always helps with creativity and satisfaction.

  7. Ask "what if" questions. The crazier the better.

  8. Pay attention to small ideas. That's where many big ones get their start.

  9. Daydream. Let your mind wander - but always come back.

  10. Try different ways of expressing your creativity.

  11. Notice when you do something creative and keep a creativity success file.

  12. Guess at measurements rather than using a yard stick, a tape measure, or a cup. Then measure and see how close you were.

  13. Ask idea-generating questions:
    • What else can it be used for?
    • What could be used instead?
    • What else is like this?
    • How could it be adopted or modified for a new use?
    • What if it were larger, thicker, heavier, stronger?
    • What if it were smaller, thinner, lighter, shorter?
    • How might it be rearranged or reversed?

True creativity seems full of paradox. It simultaneously involves analysis and intuition, order and disorder, judgment and nonjudgment, fullness and emptiness, thinking and nonthinking. These kinds of opposites must be dealt with to truly achieve creative problem solving. In fact, to be truly creative, not only must you do something different, but you must also be something different. As Rochelle Myers puts it, "We're not suggesting that you redecorate the apartment you're currently living in, but that you move to another town."

In summary then, here are the phases of creativity that will enhance our business decisions and professional success:

  1. Preparation. Laying the groundwork. information, specific data, various opinions. Gathering research, background.

  2. Concentration. Becoming totally absorbed in the problem or situation.

  3. Incubation. Taking time out, a rest period where the total process is turned over to the subconscious mind.

  4. Illumination. The AHA! experience where insights, possibilities, and answers come.

  5. Evaluation. Testing your ideas by taking them through a checklist of criteria for practical application. Getting feedback, checking assumptions through a pilot project, modifying and improving, gathering support.

  6. Application. Innovatively applying the solution. Confronting and solving the problem by using your creativity.

Few areas of decision-making are more challenging than that of achieving balance between our personal and professional lives. All too often, one flourishes at the expense of the other. But no matter how successful we are in one part of our life, we are not living creatively until we are at least moving toward a balance.


  1. Ackoff, Russell L. The Art of Problem Solving. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978.

  2. DeBono, Edward. Lateral Thinking. New York: Harper-Colophon, 1973.

  3. Egan, Kiernan. Imaginatinn and Education, New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1988.

  4. Goman, Carol Kinsey. Creativity in Business, A Practical Guide for Creative Thinking. Los Altos, CA: Crisp Publications, Inc., 1989.

  5. Hanks, Kurt, and Jay Parry. Wake Up Your Creative Geniiig. Menlo Park, CA:Crisp Publications, Inc., 1991.

  6. Hawley, Robert C. Developing Human Potential, A Handbook, Amherst, MA:ERA Press, 1975.

  7. Koberg, Don, and Jim Bagnall. The Universal Traveler. Los Altos, CA: Crisp Publications, Inc., 1991.

  8. McKay, Harvey. Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive. New York: William Morrow, 1988.

  9. Newcomb, John. The Book of Graphic Problem-Solving. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1984.

  10. Osborn, Alex. Applied Imagination. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1963.

  11. Otto, Herbert A. A Guide to Developing Your Potential. North Hollywood, CA: Wilshire Book Co., 1973.

  12. Parnes, Sidney J. Creative Behavior Guidebook. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967.

  13. Parnes, Sidney J. and Harold F. Harding. A Sourcebook of Creative Thinking. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1962.

  14. Peters, Tom J. and Robert H. Waterman, Jr. In Search of Excellence. New York: Harper and Row, 1982.

  15. Ray, Michael, and Rochelle Myers. 1986 Creativity in Business. New York: Doubleday.

Back to Top