The Learning-Creativity-Innovation Continuum
This blog post was inspired by Fulcrum Connection’s Science of Success podcast interview with creativity guru Dr. Keith Sawyer (sign up for Fulcrum’s newsletter to find out when the podcast will be posted and see Creativity Guru Blog). The podcast explores the importance of collaboration to the type of creativity that leads to innovation.
From Wikipedia, a continuum is as follows: anything that goes through a gradual transition from one condition, to a different condition, without any abrupt changes. The ends of this post’s proposed continuum are learning and innovation. Learning is something typically done in a classroom to prepare for a career, whereas, innovation is something typically done in a business to generate revenue or other business results. Therefore, learning and innovation are different conditions. The transitions from learning to creativity and from creativity to innovation tend to be gradual because there are different drivers and skills that come into play. This post will explore three topics along this continuum. The first topic is the relationship between learning and creativity. The second topic is the relationship between creativity and innovation. The third topic is the role of collaboration in learning and creativity that lead to innovation.
The first topic is to consider the relationship between learning and creativity. Dr. Keith Sawyer identifies learn as one of the eight steps to being more creative in his book Zig Zag (see Website for Zig Zag). Dr. Sawyer describes four practices to learning in general that will develop creativity. The first practice is a deliberate approach to learning that requires full awareness in order to balance skill development with challenge. The goal in this first practice is a high enough challenge to enable skill improvement but not so much as to completely overwhelm the learner. The second practice is domain mastery which requires structured learning to establish a sound foundation and learning in a way to be able to apply valid knowledge to new situations. The third practice is continuous learning by questioning everything and making full use of both secondary (Internet searches and books) and primary (talk to mentors and subject-matter experts) methods to learning. The fourth practice is to broaden knowledge as knowledge is deepened in a subject area.
The relationship between learning and creativity can also be seen in Fulcrum Connection’s LEARN Plan for thriving on a steep learning curve, when a great deal of learning needs to take place in a short period of time. The LEARN Plan draws on both creativity and leverage techniques to make the learning both effective and efficient. The LEARN Plan is based on five principles. The first principle is the need for intrinsic motivation for performance of knowledge work (see Puzzle of Motivation TED Talk). The second principle, from the science of creativity, is thinking broadly before deciding what to focus on for impact. The third principle is leveraging tangential bodies of knowledge for secondary research and experienced practitioners for primary research. The fourth principle is applying critical thinking to accelerate the process of learning. The fifth principle is that learning is an inherently iterative process.
Dr. Sawyer’s four practices of learning to develop creativity and Fulcrum Connection’s LEARN Plan are each based on three keys to effective learning. The first key is deciding the purpose of learning. Dr. Sawyer describes the concept of flow to be able to improve in a subject or skill. The LEARN Plan focuses on impact to yourself and to others. The second key is deciding the subject of learning. Dr. Sawyer describes the path to domain mastery. The LEARN Plan describes how to discover and leverage relevant tools and techniques. The third key is a commitment to learning. Dr. Sawyer advocates the importance of broadening while deepening knowledge and of lifelong learning to creativity. The LEARN Plan includes a learning action plan with metrics.
The second topic is to consider the relationship between creativity and innovation. In an interview on the myth of creativity (see Video on Myth of Creativity), Dr. Keith Sawyer describes innovation as a second level of creativity. Specifically, Dr. Sawyer describes two levels of creativity. The first level of creativity is an individual’s thought process for new thoughts and ideas. The second level of creativity is creativity between people that gets translated into something that impacts the world. This second level of creativity is innovation. In his book Group Genius (see http://www.groupgenius.net/), Dr. Sawyer describes and gives examples of the social interactions that lead to the insights needed for innovation. While both an individual and a group can be creative, or generate new and useful ideas; it takes social interaction to innovate, or implement an idea to create value.
While both an individual and a group can be creative, it takes social interaction to innovate.
The third topic is the role of collaboration in learning and creativity that lead to innovation. Both Dr. Sawyer’s four practices of learning for creativity and Fulcrum Connection’s LEARN plan include collaborating with others as part of the learning process. In addition, there are several approaches to effective collaboration that help drive creativity to the next level of innovation. Three of these approaches to collaboration have been compared here to develop five foundational collaboration skills needed to drive creativity to innovation. The first approach is achieving “group flow” as described by Dr. Keith Sawyer in his book Group Genius. The second approach is Fulcrum Connection’s Values Tree of Collaboration (see Values Tree of Collaboration Blog Post) and the accompanying Team Collaboration Assessment tool (see Blog Post about the Team Collaboration Assessment Tool ). The third approach is facilitating collaboration across STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields (see Paper on Collaboration Across STEM Fields). The five foundational collaboration skills identified by all three approaches are as follows:
- Practice effective social intelligence: includes using a facilitator familiar with the science of creativity and enabling emergent interdependence
- Engage fully by seeking first to understand: includes balancing your own voice with deep listening and facilitating openness and knowledge-sharing
- Set an effective group goal: includes defining the goal to enable both problem-finding and problem-solving and focusing on complex and improvisational tasks
- Be a deliberate learner: includes being open to possibility and being in ongoing communication both during and between meetings
- Practice level-setting: includes establishing a common set of standards and a common language while preserving the diversity of group members
Three additional foundational collaboration skills supported by at least two of the three approaches are as follows: embracing failure as part of the process, delivering value to important others outside of the group, and task focus. It is not surprising that one of the foundational skills for collaboration has to do with learning (be a deliberate learner) since collaboration is part of effective learning that leads to creativity and innovation. Putting into practice these eight foundational skills for collaboration will help drive group creativity towards innovation.
The three keys to effective learning described above; purpose, topic/challenge, and commitment; also apply to creativity and collaboration. The purpose provides the motivation needed to take on the hard work of combining creativity and collaboration to produce innovation. The topic or challenge provides the focus needed to translate the creativity and collaboration into something useful and impactful. The commitment provides the tenacity needed to work with others to translate creativity into innovation. The five foundational skills for collaboration that leads to innovation also map to purpose, a topic or challenge, and commitment. The purpose in collaboration is the effective group goal. The topic or challenge for collaboration at any given point in time comes from the skills of being a deliberate learner and practicing level-setting. The commitment in collaboration comes from engaging fully by seeking first to understand and practicing social intelligence.
In summary, learning with the right kind of discipline can improve creativity, and creativity, with the right kind of collaboration, can lead to innovation. The right kind of discipline for learning that leads to improved creativity includes deciding the purpose of learning, deciding the topic of learning, and being committed to the learning. The right kind of collaboration to harness creativity for innovation includes setting an effective group goal, being a deliberate learner, practicing level-setting, embracing failure as part of the process, delivering value to important others outside the group, and having task focus.
Learning with the right kind of discipline can improve creativity, and creativity, with the right kind of collaboration, can lead to innovation.
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