Inevitably Biasing Creativity Outcomes

When we facilitate, we often think of ourselves as opening up new spaces of ideas. We empower people to think divergently, then only converge when the time is right. Our creativity techniques only raise horizons, blow away constraints, remove barriers.

Or do they?

I am increasingly convinced that the creativity techniques and artefacts that we give to people to use bias the creative outcomes that they produce in significant ways – sometimes very significantly.

Now I am not saying that this is a bad thing. But we need to be honest and recognize biases.

This semester I am teaching creativity in service design thinking. The students are combining different creativity techniques and design artefacts. Watching them, it is clear that their ideas and designs are heavily influenced by what they’re given to work with. For example:

  • Giving them creativity triggers from James Robertson [http://www.systemsguild.com/jsr.htm] led to them to design new touchpoints with the qualities that each trigger seeks
  • Giving them an analogy leads them to focus on solution ideas that can be transferred from the analogical domain, at the expense of those that cannot
  • And giving them physical artefacts during desktop walkthroughs led to more physical rather than logical touchpoints.

None of this might be a surprise to you, but the extent to which these biases occur might be.

Some students reflected that a desktop walkthrough for a dementia care service constructed from Lego was influenced by the availability and shape of the bricks – indeed larger bricks led to more abstraction whilst moulding more literal representations from Plasticine led them to be more concrete.

Creative biases provide us with opportunities and risks. If we can deal with the risks, we can enhance our creative capabilities.

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4 Responses to Inevitably Biasing Creativity Outcomes

  1. These are well-made points.

    I think though we have to bear in mind that in most organisations the dominant logic and practice is often very heavily weighted AGAINST creative solutions.

    I would much rather have a position where are slight biasses in every option across the spectrum of creative design, than the dominance of a huge bias against creativity in the first place.

  2. Neil Maiden says:

    Dear Clive

    Fully agree. Not intended as a downer on creativity techniques, but a subject for interesting debate and indeed research…

    Neil

    • I think one of the huge benefits ot the MICL degree (http://creativity.city.ac.uk/master/overview.html) is that by exposing participants to a very wide range of creativity approaches, they are developing an unusually large toolbox from which they can mix and match, and indeed improvise. This is quite a contrast with more “conventional” approaches to creativity, not least that implicit in some of the proprietary flavours of Design Thinking, which can be quite prescriptive, rather than empowering individual practitioners.

  3. Morgan says:

    Yes and having a broad understanding of the use of a wide range of techniques allows facilitators to introduce them into both the divergent and convergent stages of creative thinking exercises. The human factors present in particular groups, at particular times can influence the choices made by a faciltator to keep momentum going…this can feel a little uncomfortable and be a little risky for participants as they do it but also lead to surprising outcomes. Recognising when to continue and when to move on is eqully important.

    As to bias, I think everyone has biases. This can’t be removed from any human endeavour (thankfully). The tools we use may influence outcomes but there are a lot of tools out there to choose from…on the MICL programme we have tried many many tools and techniques with sometimes unanticipated results.

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