The Three R’s of Creativity for Project Managers: Rethink, Re-imagine, Re-conceptualize
By J. LeRoy Ward, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM, GWCPM, SCPM, Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL
I read an article a few years ago about a third-grade teacher who was teaching a lesson on creativity. When introducing the topic, she said something along the lines of “Now we’re going to learn how to think out of the box.” One of her students, a young boy, looked at her quizzically and asked, “What box?” I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t begin to know how to explain the “box” to a 3rd grader.
It’s funny (or maybe not), but only people who are used to thinking in boxes have to be encouraged to think out of the box. As this story suggests, when you’re young and uninfluenced by society’s expectations, you don’t even think you’re in a box. But, as we all know and learn, at some point we find ourselves in the box because that’s just what society – and our organizations – expects.
There are folks who really resist boxes.
Let me tell you about some very creative professionals who are filming a movie about Vincent van Gogh which is being told, as Priscilla Frank writes in the Huffington Post, “entirely through the images and characters van Gogh brought to life — the starry nights, the snow-covered fields, the gloomy absinthe drinkers, the hardworking postmen.” The film, directed by Polish painter Dorota Kobiela and filmmaker Hugh Welchman, is using more than 120 of van Gogh’s iconic paintings which have been hand-painted to show the animation.
Watch this brief clip so you can see what they’re developing:
As Project Managers, we have our methodologies, templates, and standards. We are incented to use these for a whole host of reasons and in most cases, it makes a lot of sense to do so.
But there are those occasions where the client’s expectations are so demanding, or the timeline so tight, or the requirements so seemingly impossible, that we have to throw out what has always worked and develop an entirely new and different way to approach the challenge. In short, we not only have to think “out of the box,” we have to revert to our 3rd grade, innocent, untainted selves, and believe there are no boxes at all, only really creative solutions. But that can be tough to do. Why? Because we always try to develop something new using the same old techniques…brainstorming comes to mind.
I’ve been in brainstorming sessions for years, and for the most part, they are always done the same way – incorrectly. For example, certain participants hog the conversation, and others start evaluating ideas immediately, both of which are cardinal sins in brainstorming.
Alternative approaches include something called brainwriting, where the participants are prohibited from speaking, at least for the first round or two of developing ideas. This allows everyone to present their ideas without fear of being shot down. And there are other group approaches as well such as the Nominal Group Technique and Crawford Slip. If you look hard enough, you can find a whole host of ways people are using that trump the old, ineffective brainstorming technique. Pick one that works for you and give it a try. I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised at just how more productive your sessions can be.
When you’re faced with a challenge that’s not responding to the usual solution, you’ve got to throw out the old playbook, buck the status quo, and come up with something different. In short, you need to rethink, re-imagine and re-conceptualize your approach. How? By channeling your inner Kobiela and Welchman and “go Van Gogh.”
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J. LeRoy Ward is a highly respected consultant and advisor to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs.