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Working out at the creativity gym


· An artist sitting in front of her easel, mind focused as she faces a blank canvas and thinks hard and long about where and how she will make her first mark….

· A games designer, hunched over his keyboard, frantically stabbing the keys as he creates the storyboard sketch for a new interactive game to run on smartphones….

· A team of engineers huddled around a simple mock-up of a new product, pulling it into shape, scribbling notes on the flip chart behind them as they gradually refine the idea, giving shape to what will eventually become the baby buggy of the future, but which now looks like the undercarriage of a very old and rickety aeroplane….

· A nurse on the night shift, sitting alone at her desk in the hospital ward, quietly taking time to sketch out an idea she has had for a new way to handle the medication trolley to make sure she and her colleagues don’t inadvertently give the wrong dose (or worse, the wrong tablets) to her patients….

· An aid worker, sitting with a group of refugees, talking about the mobile phone app she is hoping to develop to help solve the problem of reconnecting missing members of families after they have fled a war zone….

What’s the common thread running through these stories? Creativity — the ability to come up with novel solutions to problems. The context might vary widely but the core activity is still the same — creating something useful and valuable from ideas.

For our ancestors, creativity was a matter of survival. Not being big, strong or fast meant that if we couldn’t think our way out of a problem (like an approaching predator), then we’d not be around for long! Dealing with the daily struggle to survive required us to be innovative, and the key to that was the ability to imagine and explore different possibilities.

And it’s pretty clear that creativity — the ability to come up with novel solutions to problems — is going to be even more in demand as we approach the future. The word is everywhere — creative industries, creative people, creative leaders, creative organizations and so on. But it’s not just a fashion label — in a world where we face some pretty tough challenges, it’s a truism to say we need all the creativity we can get. Whether we’re a solo start-up entrepreneur, a member of a team tasked with helping the organization to think ‘outside the box’, or someone trying to change the world through social innovation this creativity stuff is going to be needed.

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