Thursday, April 03, 2008

Koffee with Kreativity

What is creativity?

Sitting in a state of the art conference room flooded with white light and surrounded by one of the most creative minds of the IIT Madras illuminati, including the learners and the learned, the passing outs and the passed outs, and veterans of technical and literary orientations, I was posed the above question. I picked up one of the wonderful toys deliberately kept on my table and started playing with it. It was a four-inch wide paper roll stuck on a stick which grew to four feet every time I jerked it. I was aiming at the specs of my teammate. The word creativity was flying in my mind like a bee foraging for nectar. I was wondering if this process of coming up with the definition of creativity itself could be termed as creativity.

After a rigorous brainstorming session, my team stumbled upon a juncture with a whole chart paper of notions and emotions concerning creativity. It was more than 50 minutes already. Tim & Andy, the instructors of Know!nnovation, rang the bell and called for a definition from each team.

First up was the team of the Profs, followed by Prof’s team. The team of Professors came up with so exhaustive a definition that I witnessed the realization of how the Nobel Prize jury had felt when Einstein released his paper on relativity. None of those present had a clue. But all clapped in unison. What followed was a captivating performance on the platform by the next team and this was what they presented as their definition – ooh, aah, aaee, gwazf,, some body twists and unseen expressions. My turn arrived and I read from the chart paper – Creativity is the art of churning your pool of thoughts and siphoning-off the cream. Innovation is applying that cream on a cake. Poor me - for vague reasons, I was asked to repeat my definition twice for the audience to find it digestible. Perhaps nobody cared to think beyond once cream and cake were served. Thought for food, you see.

The KI workshop went on for 4 days and after all the prescribed dosages of fun, the best part of the exhilarating experience wasn’t the official ticket to escape from the MOSFETs & BJTs any more. Initially, it was the transition from daily classroom pilgrimage of soporific activities to appreciating my consciousness which was unbelievably working in the wee hours of morning. Within two tea-breaks offered to let our delicate minds relax, most of us could realize that the next few days were going to be very different from how we had expected our stay in IITM to continue.

The two keywords of the sessions were ‘Diverge’ & ‘WIBNI’. To quote Andy - when you diverge, you defer judgment. For us, it meant that we were free to bring any idea from mind to mouth without stopping for brain. By the time we were introduced to WIBNI, we were already proficient in making up sentences like Wouldn’t It Be Nice If… our classrooms have bean bags. WIBNI we can speak better English than the Tarams Cycle Repair guy. WIBNI Guru serves Maggi within two minutes. WIBNI Pacino comes and whistles at my speech. WIBNI BTPs & DDPs are written by Profs and guided by us. And the much shared vision – WIBNI NIFT & IIT have the same campus. The best part of the Creative Problem Solving workshop was the demonstration of how free thinking and free sharing of thoughts can do wonders for any team playing, read working, together.

A team is like an orchestra. Every instrument lets the other know what it is doing, and they do it in sync. An intriguing question posed in the workshop was – What makes you creative? Prompt answers - Bright light, toys, music, yoga, meditation, friends as teammates, freedom, empty space, open space, nature, inspiring quotes, innovative objects, bog, and sex (could be with oneself).The complimentary question was – What deters you from being creative? Instant replies – Google, Google & more of it.

Let’s try a hand of creativity at writing. Say, we are confronted with a question like this -

Q. What qualities are essential to be a good trainer?

One line of thinking is to break the word into pieces and try to have some pun in life. The other may be to map an altogether different world to the given realm. Say, we break the word trainer to get train. And the world to be mapped is a kitchen. Here we go –

A good trainer, apart from being well-versed in the subject of training, needs to be affable and amicable. He should be able to connect with his trainees and maintain a spontaneous flow of his knowledge and experience while exhibiting patience and exuberance. Given all the above ingredients, the dish appears to be perfectly cooked and served hot. Taste it and you will instantly yell, “Where’s the goddamn salt?" That salt is wit.

A good trainer is like a train. He needs to come to halt where his trainees don't understand. He should end the day's journey when the trainees are exhausted. He needs to work at the right pace in accordance with the grasping speed of the trainees. He must blow the whistle as and when needed to enforce discipline. Like a good train, a good trainer is punctual, and takes the passengers to the destination safely!

A good trainer is always open to feedback and changes his way of teaching accordingly. Teaching is an art and a good trainer understands that art is not just a dry means of communication but an expression in style, often pleasant and interesting.

On a personal note, creativity is something which you do for yourself; it’s like your hobby which rejuvenates you. After all the storms in your brain, the spasm ends up in some sort of orgasm. On the contrary, innovation refers to something feasible, sellable, marketable, applicable, or tangible. Creativity & innovation share the same knot as idea & product. Innovation is for others to take away. It’s completely for the masses, those at the receiver’s end. Innovation yields something in kind.

The researchers of these fields have devised quite exhaustive theories and friendly processes & tools such as CPS, TRIZ, SCAMPER, SIMPLEX, 4Ws & H, ASIT, MIND MAPPING, BRAINSTORMING, and the list goes on. The idea is to identify the one that suits your team and adapt it to your weather conditions instead of adapting your team according to a standardized process for creativity has personal preferences and varies quite a lot with individuals.

The atheists (including me) would argue - Man cannot create but just discover and the Universe has only one creative force, the divine one. The fact remains that it doesn’t even matter. Whoever created it, the person who brings it in front of the masses is the one who is worshipped and is the one who is crowned ‘creator’. Bon Creati-vetti!