Creative thinking and logical people
Anecdote: An unlikely happy place. Once, standing in a hospital ward, an observation startled me! This ward ... wasn’t, Happy! It was spic-and-span, well equipped, efficient, excellent in fact, but not happy. There was something gloomy. Inmates and visitors had serious expressions. The ambience seemed to pull my mood down. A hospital after all . . . could it, should it, … be happy?! Let me explain.
My exposure thus far had been only of visiting military hospitals. There too, inmates are in pain and suffering, some from injuries they are unlikely to survive. But one finds nonchalant banter, coupled with a mischievous boyish playfulness amongst the soldiers, sailors, or airmen, that transcends age. From anaemia to amputations, this quality of the patients themselves, made light of the real distress and buoyed up misery. That, creates an ambience, which puts a smile on the nurses and brings relief to visitors. No gloom, . . . happy! Why was there a curious difference like this?
Not just the above anecdote, this childlike playfulness in everyday life of men and women in the profession of arms has found expression in fiction and films alike. Even the most serious faced Admiral can throw you off, with some poker-faced humour.
There is a connection between that playfulness and creative application of cold disciplined logic, that we can all gain from.
Culture aided Creativity. There are no orders that say military personnel have to be cheerful and playful – ask any drill sergeant. Just, that they are! Its the culture of being childlike, unconstrained and improvising. (They even bring that culture to a hospital bed!)
Legends and stories showcase, quick thinking and improvising by soldiers, to get out of situations when all seems lost. In the military across the world, that creativity comes from an age old culture – of institutionalised childishness, alongside cold logic and discipline.
The awful business of war, has always had science, to be converted to technology. While ‘science’ is confined to some serious and focussed scientists, technology was for everyone. When the latest tech gets “deployed”, the military draw up manuals, sequences, drills and discipline for the new equipments’ correct use. Much like any industry. Then they do something creative! They develop tactics.
Tactics mean that they improvise as an institution, to use the new with the old, in uncertain situations. Machines and science gets mixed with imagination. Latest complements outdated, benign collaborates with lethal, intended gives birth to unintended. All of that has to work, in situations where there is no way of predicting outcomes. Replicating this mix, over centuries has built the military culture for people to be creative and effective.
Generals down to soldiers, have to be logical, disciplined and measured in their approach to parts of a problematic situation and yet free thinking and unrestrained by precedence, in other parts of solutions. Policy must allow them to improvise outcomes which are unpredictable by the opponent. Such behaviour is not at all about the technology or situations. It’s about human ability. Let us see where that ability and culture comes from.
Logic Limitation. Industry, businesses and individuals have had access to high technology for decades. Our conditioning through formal training in the information age makes us more left brained. More logical. In business and society it is desirable, even legally essential to have “scientific” order and rules. SMART goals, systematic planning, and predictable use of information to projected outcomes - suchlike. This is the base of modern adult thinking. Thinking adept at skills of sequencing information, detail oriented perceiving parts more than the whole, tracking time, advanced verbal, logical and analytical skills. When information is uncertain, subject to change, not easy to understand, then these skills are of limited use. Bad news for individuals and businesses in uncertain and ever-changing times. They find it difficult to change organisation systems and even to review own decisions for fear of confusing others. Very rigid social norms permeate. Information and logic constrain us, to a creatively constrained culture.
The Blocks. What I think of as logic culture, creates perceptual, emotional, environmental and time blocks. These blocks stop us from thinking creatively and effectively. One can notice a creativity-constrained organisation from its prevalent culture. If in a place people are likely to think the way ‘they are supposed to think’, it’s like blinkered thinking, -- specialised and vertical. Such organisations do not provide time for ideas to germinate, neither an environment.
Creatively-constrained organisations give more importance to visible activity than thinking. This is the biggest stumbling-block, particularly in environments where situations and information about those circumstances, are fast-changing. Under such conditions, expecting set logical solutions (fixed policy) to “streamline things” only leads to creation of more left-brain rules which cannot be followed.
Facilitating Creativity. Creativity facilitating organisations, provide time space and environment for cross pollination of ideas, as some software giants as well as local businesses, start-ups and NGOs do. In the military, the stress on games and physical tasks outdoors drive creativity benefits from the tactile connect with nature and group bonding. All these environments allow individuals to loosen up and explore beyond rigid logical lines. Grow lateral child-like thinking.
Research shows that the number of synapses, or connections, in the brain is greater in a child of two, than in an average adult. The reason for this is that a child has no limiting world view, as adults do. As adults, we tend to think in a conditioned way, aimed at showing how clever we are. Yet, as children, we are simply spontaneous and far more curious in our thinking.
One or the other of the above culture plays a huge part in hindering, or knitting together logical and creative thinking, for effective outcomes!
What now? How to grow creativity, in ourselves, at work and in society? Our industrial age conditioning makes us uncomfortable with fluid situations. However, scientific logic living side by side with philosophic free-thought, are a combination to aspire to.
Creativity Logic! Rules, organisation, discipline along with technology, do very well for directing activities. But, prevalent culture should also equip individuals with ability to make associations and connects to deal with fluid situations. People should not, out of choice or compulsion, pursue a fixed logic or rule based path when that is surely not effective.
As organisations or individuals, we can grow a culture that nurtures creativity.
Encourage child-like inquisitiveness. Allow yourself to just wonder at things, to be present in the here and now, and to detach from worries of reality.
Play with Ideas. One example – put the ‘smart’-phone down, look at any two random items in the room and think of how they can be used together for something productive or new. outrageous thinking, curious thinking, thinking the unthinkable, and creative thinking. To be innovative doesn’t require a university degree; it simply requires connecting existing ideas.
Laugh More. Humour is one of the greatest creative devices. It jolts us out of our normal patterns and puts ideas together that shouldn’t go together. Remember the ideas you get when you try to pull a friend’s leg, or play a prank.
Be Illogical sometimes. When we think vertically, we limit ourselves to what we already know, what’s been done before and the old ways of thinking. Break out and get some ideas.
The answer, to be creative and effective, in doing any activity, is to launch and direct thoughts, in a rule based disciplined and logical manner, yet allow human ingenuity take over the last mile.
Rewrite the rule books to shed the guilt one feels about unstructured free-thought at the work-place. Let it go, from your culture and from your self!
Cdr Indrajit Pakrasi (retd) The author is a Lead-Coach and co-founder of Explode Programmes. Visit: www.explodexperience.com