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Observation is the key to creativity

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With innovation high on the agenda of most organizations, it’s perhaps not surprising that creativity is a highly sought after skill amongst employees.  There are lots of things that we as organizations can do to boost the creativity of employees, be it dimming the lights, providing a cafe level of background noise, or even providing a steady flow of caffeine.  Heck, a recent study even suggests that being bored is a great boost for creative thinking, although promoting boredom at work is perhaps not to be advised.

Those are all environmental conditions that boost what we already have however.  A recent study published by researchers from the University of Amsterdam looks instead at particular character traits that underpin creativity, and they think they’ve found the one thing that is key to unlocking our creativity – mindfulness.

The research explored whether our ability to focus attention with full awareness (AWA) was related to creatively producing ideas.  First of all, they asked participants to complete a standard psychological test to determine their intelligence, personality and attention levels.  The participants were then given 4 minutes to come up with creative users for a standard house brick.  Each idea was rated by the researchers for originality.

It emerged that the participants who had scored highest for attention and awareness, also performed worst in the creativity task.  Of course, mindfulness is not just awareness, so the researchers conducted a second experiment whereby factors such as observation skills and descriptive powers were measured.

As with the first experiment, participants were given a few minutes to come up with creative users for a tin can and a piece of rope.  This time, the results showed a link between creative performance and strong observation skills.

It’s an interesting finding.  The environmental factors I mentioned at the outset of this post seem to imply that a degree of distraction can be good for creativity in that it allows our mind to wander and come up with creative thoughts.  This research seems to support that contention, suggesting that people who can observe things whilst not being fully attentive to those things are the most creative.  How you go about honing those skills of course is quite another matter.

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