Creativity might not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of the local government sector, but it is becoming increasingly important. As noted in NZTA's practice note ‘Innovation and Creativity in Business Case Development’, yesterday’s solutions won’t solve today’s problems, let alone the ones we’ll face tomorrow. While the NZTA is focused on transport, this is equally true for most of the big issues local government will be tackling in future.
The practice note identifies five steps of creativity: preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation and elaboration. The first two are divergent (seeking as many ideas as possible), the second two are convergent (making choices in order to finalise an idea) and elaboration is about explaining the idea so that it can become a reality.
While thinking about this topic I have been reflecting on personality types and how this influences my (and other people’s) approaches to ideas generation and selection. As an ISTJ (in the Meyers-Briggs system) my focus tends to be on arriving at a practical solution … but I can see the benefit in staying longer in the divergence phase and taking more time to gather a wider range of ideas. On the other hand, people who prefer the ideas generation phase are likely to benefit from greater focus on narrowing down to a preferred solution and its implementation.
My personality type also explains why vision-related workshops make me want to gnaw my hand! I understand the importance of this process in the hierarchy of council planning documents but I do feel the tension of wanting to know what’s actually going to happen at the end of all the talk about themes and values. (Any other ISTJs out there with bite marks on their hands?)
However, in the spirit of open-mindedness to the divergence stage, I recently discovered a way to generate more ideas than you might think of on your own. I took part in a mini workshop offered by Jennifer Lund in which we practised having creative conversations. First, we worked independently to ‘brain dump’ all our current issues on to the page, categorised them, then chose the one question we most wanted to work on. Then we paired up with strangers to explain our question and listen with an open mind to their responses. Then we listened to the question the other person wanted to work on and gave them suggestions. I found this to be a fantastic way to have a really interesting conversation, to see my question from new angles and gain new ideas, with the added bonus of enjoying coming up with ideas related to other people’s questions.
I can imagine this working really well in a council environment where people of different life experience and job titles could provide genuine insight to colleagues in other departments, and learn about projects and issues they might not otherwise hear about.
This is the stage in which critical thinking comes to the fore, as an essential part of the creative process. The following checklist from NZTA's practice note Critical Thinking and the Importance of Asking Questions provides this guidance on what to consider at this stage.
The NZTA creativity practice note says elaboration is about clearly explaining the new idea in terms of concepts that are already known and understood. An article on the Creativate website takes this further, discussing the elaboration stage as moving from idea into reality. “Within an organisation, this is the stage where the creative idea must become an innovative presentation that is 'bought into' by other members, to help make it a reality.”
Here are some suggestions for expanding on your current process for writing a business case, report or any other council document.