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Science shares the secrets of sparking creativity

(BUSINESS) Creativity can be an elusive creature. Is there a secret behind its nature? Science says yes.

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There’s a very broad topic that always gets me revved up with excitement for all that it has to offer. That topic is creativity.

In my mind, creativity is the closest we get to magic in that we allow our minds to run rampant with ideas; a person’s imagination is virtually limitless. The bittersweet part of creativity is that it doesn’t always come running when you call its name.

Professionally and personally, creativity is something I have a lot of use for and therefore pay a lot of respect to. Unfortunately, most of the time I try to force myself to tap into creativity, it’s basically like trying to tap an empty keg.

However, according to science, there may be a way to delve into creativity a bit easier. Valerie van Mulukom of The Conversation asserts that there are different forms of creativity. There’s everyday creativity (i.e. when someone first came up with the idea to put a sugar packet underneath the leg of a wobbly table) and there’s creative imagination (i.e. being a prodigy of composing).

Creative imagination is more groundbreaking than anything else. As a result, that is even harder to tap into. Van Mulukom suggests that things like environment and early exposure to creativity allow for a greater chance at creative imagination.

Like an experiment relies on an independent and dependent variable, creativity also relies on two things – divergent and convergent thinking. By thinking divergently, you’re able to come up with a variety of ideas (i.e. when you use mind mapping). This type of thinking is more intuitive.

With convergent thinking, you examine the ideas for their usefulness and practicality. This is supported by analytical thinking, as it helps us to select the right idea. Both divergent and convergent thinking can be supported by brainstorming sessions and picking the brains of individuals on the topic at hand.

What research suggests, though, is that experience and exposure are the necessary tools for coming up with, and selecting, the right idea.

For example, to create a groundbreaking painting, it may require you first to learn the fundamentals of the art before picking up a brush and attacking the canvas.

Aside from creative imagination, there is also fantastical and episodic imagination. Fantastical is more so creating stories (or fantasies) in your mind, similar to daydreaming. And episodic imagination entails deeply considering the process that will get you to your end goal.

Every creative situation is exactly that – situational. You never know when creativity will strike, but by keeping an open mind and imagination (as well as always carrying something to write with) it may hit you more often.

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Taylor is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and has a bachelor's degree in communication studies from Illinois State University. She is currently pursuing freelance writing and hopes to one day write for film and television.

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  1. Pingback: Articles of Interest | March 9, 2018 « National Creativity Network

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How the Lean concept can have the biggest impact on your bottom line

(BUSINESS) Using the Lean business concept and asking the non-sexy question of “What’s dumb around here?” your business will outpace your competitors in no time.

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Entrepreneurs love solving problems. That’s what they’re good at doing. In fact, the more complex, difficult and messy the problem, the more the entrepreneur will enjoy the challenge. Entrepreneurs are especially good at solving problems that nobody knew were there. Think about Steve Jobs: He knew that we needed a pocket MP3 player before we even knew what it was.

While entrepreneurs are coming up with the next “big” thing, we need the non-entrepreneurs in our organizations focused on solving the small problems in our company with the same enthusiasm. Imagine if every one of your team members were consistently looking for opportunities to improve your systems, processes and service delivery. Those subtle changes made in the non-sexy parts of the business usually have the biggest impact on the bottom line.

This is a business concept called Lean, in which a company changes their processes to create the most benefit to the customer using the least amount of resources possible. Lean is commonly used in the manufacturing industry, but its principles can be used in any business to change the way of thinking and doing things.

I recently witnessed a great example of how Lean principles were used to improve one of my clients, LuminUltra – a leading provider of microbiological testing hardware, software and services. The company serves industries that need to know quickly and accurately what’s living in their water. At a recent quarterly planning session at the LuminUltra offices in Fredericton, Canada, COO Charlie Younger shared a powerful story about the company’s manufacturing facility and challenging the status quo.

During the expansion of the company’s manufacturing facility, one of the team members was lamenting to Charlie about how much time it took to complete a lengthy step of the manufacturing process – one specific quality check that was very time-consuming. He remarked that in the history of the company they never had a single machine fail the test. Charlie’s first thought was, do they even need to perform this specific test again?

After more discussion with colleagues, the team realized that the other quality checks performed earlier in the manufacturing process would always identify a defective unit. With this knowledge, the manufacturing team asked for permission to perform minimal testing to still provide assurance with less work. When presented with the information, the company leadership agreed that it was a great idea and would save time and money as well as improve the employee experience. But the bigger question was: Why hadn’t anyone ever questioned this lengthy step of the manufacturing process before?

Charlie, having run Lean programs in the past, has seen this issue before: People continue to do what they’ve always done even if they think there is a better way. He thought this would be a great opportunity to use a fun, simple but elegant technique to capture other status quo breakers – in other words, he decided to use the same principles for changing the company’s production process to make other company decisions.

With that, he posted a whiteboard in the manufacturing room with the title “What’s Dumb Around Here?” and encouraged team members to capture possible “dumb things” to add to it. These topics are discussed and vetted during their Lean process meetings to determine if they can be improved.

When I discussed the new process with Charlie, he noted, “First, you have to create an environment where people are willing to question the status quo. We have always been highly focused on quality and accuracy, so the team thought it was outrageous to openly question a quality check we had been performing for years.”

He continued, “You have to help your management team be open to receiving ideas that might seem crazy and not overreact to the suggestions. Instead, simply ask them to explain their logic. More often than not, the front line knows a better way to do things but does not know how to navigate the change. The beauty of using Lean techniques is that you now have an easy navigation path to discuss, approve and roll out changes. Suddenly, you have an energized front line solving problems with minimal involvement from management – how great is that?”

While LuminUltra continues to grow their product line and expand into new markets, it expects that its implementation of Lean principles will help it make subtle but important modifications to processes that will positively affect its bottom line. The CEO, Pat Whalen, remarked, “If we can produce our products faster and more cost effectively and get them into the hands of our customers faster, we can have an even bigger impact on the water sector with our microbiological monitoring products. I need all of our team members thinking how we can improve every single day. The water sector needs us.”

Every visionary, big-thinking entrepreneur needs a team that challenges the status quo. How are you encouraging your team members to identify, “What’s Dumb Around Here?”

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How to temp test to see if a Master’s degree is really right for you

(EDITORIAL) Pursuing a Master’s degree is often part of advancing a career, but are you sure you’re ready to sink time, money, and energy into more education?

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Higher and further

“A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are,” wrote poet Nikki Giovanni. “Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you’re in and take advantage of it.”

Whether or not you’re looking to make a transition to embrace yourself and what it is that entails, or simply need to boost your career opportunities by dusting off your skill set, going back to college can simultaneously seem like a great idea and a risky bet.

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And both vantage points would be right. Jordan Weissmann, writing at Slate, notes that for the non-traditional student, graduation rates are nearly 20 percent lower. Completion rates are lower still for non-traditional students who are taking classes on less than a full time schedule.

So, for those of us who are intellectually curious, yet conscious of not wanting to sink an investment of time, money, and energy into an unproductive and unprofitable opportunity to improve, what are our options?

Timely ways to investigate are at hand

If you’re just in the preliminary exploration phase of what might be of interest, listen to or watch a lecture on the topic. With hundreds of sites that offer such lectures, it can be overwhelming to find a place to begin that’s both reputable and interesting.

That’s why the launch of Find Lectures is a boon to the prospective student. In one place, you’ve got a searchable catalog of nearly 26,000 free lectures, many 60-minutes or less, from TED, the Library of Congress, Talks at Google, and more.

For those who want more than just an exploratory conversation about a topic, there are multiple colleges and universities who have opened MOOCs, or massive open online courses. MOOCs, many of which are free, can be found for an almost unlimited number of courses, with some leading to degrees, while others allow you to get the knowledge, information, or skill, albeit with no degree path following.

EdX and Udacity

An example of the different types of MOOC providers can be found by looking at EdX and Udacity.

EdX, a consortium of colleges and universities banded together to offer generally free courses on a wide variety of topics, includes such providers as MIT, Harvard University, Boston University, UC Berkeley, and Dartmouth College, among others.

Founded through a joint effort between MIT and Harvard in 2012, EdX currently sees more than 7 million students taking one or more of the over 700 courses that are currently offered.

In an online environment, the EdX courses feature weekly learning targets, which are taught using a blend of online video content, electronic textbooks, and interactive learning exercises, including collaboration with other peers taking the course through online discussion forums. While the majority of the courses are free, students who choose to take courses to complete an EdX Verified Certificate do face varying fees. All students who choose to audit courses can do so at no cost.

Udacity is similar, yet different, in their approach. As with EdX, students take online courses that feature a blend of online video content and peer-to-peer collaboration, but Udacity courses are aimed towards those seeking skill development in computer sciences. As such, one sees that the courses are developed through partnerships with tech businesses such as Google and AT&T, as opposed to varying universities. Initially created as an extension of free computer classes at Stanford in 2011, the Udacity courses offer a trial enrollment period, after which course continuance costs varying fees per class.

The Udacity brand has focused on creating skill development and certifications that are recognized within the varying branches of the tech industry.

In an attempt to expand the reach of their offerings, in 2014, Udacity partnered with Georgia Institute of Technology to offer a MOOC degree in computer science at a price point of only $7,000, significantly lower than other similar Master’s programs.

A great dip of the toe

As you stop and think about how to take advantage of the new world, it’s okay to be hesitant, and even scared. You’ve got to find the sweet spot in finding or enhancing your career, with skills that are necessary to do so, and realize a return on your investment in time, money, and satisfaction quickly.

It’s important to do the things that we love, that are emotionally rewarding and financially remunerative, but we also realize that we live in a world, especially for the mid-career professional that is hesitant to allow a great deal of time to make that investigation into how to do so.

Using these tools, combined with self-reflection, can help you make the most of that time as you consider what’s out there for you, just waiting.

#Education

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If you want to hire your top pick, studies say quit stalling

(BUSINESS) Waiting for more than a month to make a final offer may mean that you’re missing out on the valuable candidates you really want to hire.

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The phrase “Slow and steady wins the race” may describe your optimal strategy in some departments, but according to a study by 3Gem, hiring isn’t one of them. If you’re waiting more than a month before deciding on a new hire, you’re most likely not getting your first pick.

The study, conducted via 9,000 employees, determined that around 67 percent of employees had passed on their first job choice because they didn’t hear back from an employer before a second opportunity arose. Additionally, 70 percent of those surveyed said that they wouldn’t stick around for a job if the hiring process took more than a month from start to finish.

If your ears are burning, it may be time to change your hiring tactics.

This isn’t to say that you should rush into hiring; your recruiting process deserves time and ample consideration. However, taking more than a few weeks to go through the process of starting recruiting, meeting applicants, and making your final offer means that you’re both missing out on top-notch talent and wasting the time of countless potential recruits.

Consider your applicant pool: the majority of your options are either currently unemployed or heading in that direction (volitionally or otherwise). Few people can afford to stay unemployed for more than a month, meaning that any option, regardless of whether your business is the employee’s dream environment, starts to look better than your lack of a timely answer.

From an employee’s perspective, an application is as good as rejected if they haven’t heard back within a couple of weeks, and having no income during that period of time is suboptimal. Waiting for more than four weeks before making a decision, to say nothing of more than that—20 percent of the surveyed employees had experienced wait times of over two months—is unacceptable.

The math is simple: exceptional candidates have neither the time nor the need to wait for a response. If you place hiring over other activities during your recruiting bouts, prioritize the top one percent of your applicants, and make your final offer the second you’ve made up your mind, you’ll see an increase in in-house talent in no time.

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