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February 2007

The other day I was giving a talk about creativity, and one of the audience asked me whether brainstorming was the only way to be creative. I thought this was a good question, because brainstorming is definitely not the only, or even always the best way to help people be creative. Different techniques work best for different people.

I explore these difference in Chapter 2 dividing people into four common personality groupings. These are based on individual preferences for how you take in information (eg do you trust your experience, or your intuition?) and for how you deal with the outer world (eg do you like things planned, ordered and decided, or flexible and spontaneous?) These groups are based on the well validated Myers Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI ®

For example, the classic “Creative Maverick” is great at producing lots of ideas and loves following their hunches and making connections between apparently disparate concepts. They hate following rigid processes and rules, so thrive in the free and spontaneous atmosphere of a brainstorm.

Sometimes they will get so carried away by the fun of producing ideas that they’ll fail to consider any of their ideas in enough depth to make them real. This means that often the best way to help their creativity is have a brainstorm, but then help them pick the potential winners and encourage them to take the time to explore these in more depth.

On the other hand the “Visionary Leader” type has the same comfort with intuition as the Creative Mavericks, but their creativity expresses itself in a more private and more decisive way. Interestingly, it is one of the most common personality types amongst senior executives because at senior level it is valuable to be able to follow your hunches when faced with complex and ambiguous and incomplete information, but you also need to be able to make decisions.

In a brainstorms however, they often appear not to contribute, because they just sit quietly while the Creative Mavericks bounce around. They will then suggest an absolutely super idea a few days later….

The risk is that in developing their idea privately, they may well miss a problem with it, but nevertheless become fixated on its merits.

This is why, for this group in particular, it’s very valuable to have a trustworthy partner with whom they feel comfortable discussing and building their ideas before disclosing them publicly.

About 50% of FTSE 100 Chief Executives have a mentor, for just this reason.

To find out which group you are in, and to find out about the other 2 groups, see Chapter 2.

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