It’s very hard to be creative on demand. Most of us need time for reflection, which requires thinking alone, without distractions. It also requires being able to breathe, think and take in the volume of information to deal with solving a problem. I spoke with Teresa Amabile for my Leadership: A Master Class series about how individual and collective focus plays a key role in creative problem solving.
“Let’s take a business meeting as an example. A lot can happen in a relatively short amount of time. Many interesting connections can develop. A great deal of information can be exchanged. As a result of so many stimuli, it’s sometimes hard to really focus in on a problem. Focus is particularly important when people are trying to solve an urgent creative problem.
To help a person or team stay focused on coming up with the best possible solutions, people have to be protected from other agendas. They have to be protected from the necessity to fight fires in the day-by-day crises that come up in other arenas of work. They have to feel that they’re on a mission in order to be creative – that’s absolutely crucial.
Here’s a brief illustration of how an organization does it right. An IT team was really protected from outside distractions in order to complete a difficult project in a short amount of time. They had the help that they needed from others in the organization, which is a key condition for people to make progress on something meaningful.
They were also given a lot of encouragement by upper management. Managers would check in: What do you need? What can we get for you? They would even bring them food and water if they were working late into the night. This really had an impact on people. The team understood that what they were doing was truly important. These actions by colleagues on every level gave more meaning to what they were doing, because they felt valued by that organization.
Even though they had enormous technical obstacles to overcome, they were able to see themselves making progress every day in the face of setbacks. During those eight days the team was more motivated and happier than they had been in a long time, even though they were working extremely hard. That’s the progress principle in action.”
His more recent books are The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights and Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence – Selected Writings (More Than Sound). Leadership: A Master Class is Goleman’s comprehensive video series that examines the best practices of top-performing executives.