Thursday, July 10, 2008

How to bust assumptions creatively

I have got Alison Williams, Phd student colleague at Smart lab

You'll remember two days ago Alison set a problem, which was how do you cut one cake with three knife cuts and get eight equal bit.

Many of you who answered and also emailed got it right. Huzzah!

Now Alison who works with blue chip companies in unlocking creativity wants to push that further.

The challenge now is to find at least six other solutions, she says.

I just said wow!

How do you go about that, she adds.

The clue, Alison says is in the words of the problems.

I am asking Alison what she's getting at here.

Solving the problem
Alison says that those of you who solved the problem challenged the assumption that the knife cuts were vertical.

the minute you realised they could be horizontal the solution was obvious.

Now challenge what do you mean by knife.. what do you mean by cut.. what do you mean by equal... you get the picture.

Every time you challenge an assumption, you get another solution - go for it!

That done.. a couple of q and as for Alison.

Is creativity something you can learn?

Alison: Yes and Yes. Creativity is a basic thinking skill like any other: you can get better at it using simple thinking tools.

David says like what?

Alison: there are amazing tools developed by Michalko, by de Bono, by Osborn (the father of creativity). My favourites are Roger van Oech's pack of cards called "The Wack Pack" and de Bono's Po: Impossible.

Anything that kicks you out of your assumptions and comfort zone!

David: Now I know you're not a journalist so this might be an unfair question but journalists are not usually associated with that word, however a lot of the innovations online that have to do with factual story telling have to do with experimenting and creativity. Have you got something to say in this?

Alison: There's a lot of baggage around the word 'creativity'. It gets associated with 19th century romantic geniuses: men behaving badly, take substances, cut off their ear, die young. People are often put off by this, and go to great lengths not to be seen to be creative.

There's two kinds of creativity - Big-C or special talent creativity; and small-c everyday creativity.

Everyone has small-c creativity and uses it all the time even if they're not aware of it. This is the kind that you can get better at, using techniques from the great guys I mentioned earlier, and - back to the cake - challenging your assumptions when you get stuck.

The innovations come out of this - pushing the boundaries, pushing your luck!

David: ok we're about to start the second session of talks so we have to go but one last one for Alison. If people want to know more about your work and what you do with creativity etc, where can they go to find you?

Alison: Find me at

look forward to seeing you there!

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