Tag Archives: Creativity

Factors underlying exceptional expertise and creativity

I am a Strengths Coach and I firmly believe that exceptional creativity and expertise is demonstrated only when you are working in your strengths zone.

What do we mean by strengths? Gallup defines  Strength as “the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity”.  This is distinguished from Talent, Knowledge or Skills required to perform well that activity or in that domain, and even from Investment or Commitment to that particular activity or domain.

To make it simple, lets take a (self-reflective) example ; assume the activity is niche blogging in the domain of leadership development. What would exceptional creativity and expertise look like: would a blogger be able to cement his / her reputation by a just one blog post that went viral; or to be acknowledged as an expert blogger he needs to consistently churn out viral posts on a day -to -day basis? Also the blogging ‘strength’ or muscle is developed over the years due to following factors:

  1. Talent: The blogger simply has a way with words or is naturally gifted in simplifying and communicating lucidly complex concepts . Perhaps he has the ‘communication’ theme as one of his signature themes as per Gallup CSF assessment.  Also, maybe growing others and developing them comes naturally to him, aka he has ‘developer’ as one of his Gallup CSF themes, which provides him an undue advantage when developing leaders .
  2. Skills: Perhaps he has practiced writing on a daily basis and words come easily to him when he sees a blank page/ screen; he need not suffer from writers’ block because he has made writing daily a part of his routine and has practiced the craft of writing beautifully and eloquently well.  Maybe he has attended multiple creative writing workshops that have enabled him to acquire the writing skill. Equally important he may have spent time facilitating leadership development (his niche topic) and has some practical skills and experience related to that domain.
  3. Knowledge: The blogger perhaps has a lot of knowledge about how to blog, how frequently to blog, when to blog to drive traffic etc (this is knowledge related to blogging) ; he has perhaps a lot of knowledge related to his domain of leadership development too that gives him material for his posts on a constant basis.
  4. Investment/ Commitment / Diligence : Perhaps the blogger is doggedly determined to make best use of his writing/ leadership development talent by investing systematically in learning and acquiring skills related to the same .

Only if all the four factors come together in the same blogger, will he have a chance of him consistently producing almost-always-viral posts.

The above can apply to performance in any domain, be it dance or music or academics or sports.

Elucidating the process further, what we note is that instead of falling in the trap of whether expertise and creativity is elicited from Nature (Talent) or Nurture ( acquired Skill/ Knowledge) or Effort (Investment/ Diligence);  we need to take a holistic approach where innate factors (about which we can’t do much)  like Talent may also be important and  agentic factors (which are more or less in our control)  like Commitment and Diligence may also be important.  Similarity, expertise will typically constitute of some ratio of  learned knowledge and some practiced and acquired skills.

I consider Talent as an Aptitude to Learn and Practice in a domain; Skill as the sum total of (experiential) Practice in the domain; Knowledge as the sum total of (at times theoretical/ cerebral) Learning in a domain; and Diligence/ Commitment as an attitude to Learn and Practice in a domain no matter what the odds.

So real Strength consist of having the right aptitude and the right attitude towards learning and practicing in a domain to provide consistent near-perfect performance.

We can summarize it with two equation:

Expertise/ Creativity = Developing Strengths and being in the Strength zone

Strength= Talent x Skills x Knowledge x Diligence.

The above also correlates with my ABCD model whereby Talent is innate like Affect; Skills is more Behavioral in nature; Knowledge is Cognitive while Diligence relates to Motivation/ Drive.

So if you want to develop your strengths muscle don’t stop at just identifying your talent; after identifying your talent, acquire skills and knowledge related to the domain and become passionate/ committed about mastering that domain.

As as Strengths Coach, helping the client discover his talents is just the first step: then comes the long path to encouraging the client to become passionate, skilled and knowledgeable about his chosen domain of excellence.

Redesigning the experience of your (Monday ) morning coffee

I have been reading ‘creative confidence’ by the IDEO brothers David and Tom Kelly and in the first chapter itself they give an example of how they nurture creativity.  For eg. they give some  simple briefs like this to their class participants: ‘Redesign the experience of having your morning coffee‘ and they point out that those who immediately start generating and defending an idea are not that comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty and may not come up with best solutions, while those who take time to let go of their first obvious impulses may perform better creatively.

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto: Taso de kafo. Français : Photo d’une tasse de caffé Español: Taza de café (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I took this exercise upon myself and after ruling out the obvious things that came to mind (like using a  coffee scented air purifier along with coffee to have a rich aroma in the room) I took artistic liberty and extended the problem definition to apply not to an individual sitting in his/ her room, but to how say a barista can improve the experience of its morning coffee consumers. And I tried to apply the human centered approach based on empathizing with the end users and their needs (that Tom and David advocate)  to try to come up with some ideas.

In my view, there are two types of consumers of coffee in baristas…..those (say introverts) who prefer working on their laptops/ novel/ reading stuff etc alone while enjoying their coffee; and two those (say extroverts) who come up with their friends/ partners etc to have a good, stimulating conversation over the equally stimulating coffee. Now, by creating the same coffee experience for both types of consumers you may end up delighting neither.

So here was my solution: For those who prefer conversations, to attract and lure them, have a dedicated meetup/ conversation corner in the cafe and offer discounts if you buy coffee in pairs or in a group over ordering a single coffee. This encourages more people to have  rich stimulating conversation coffee along with a friend or two and helps the cafe too by encouraging more orders for the paired  or group coffee based on discounts.

What about the introverts or the ‘stags’ in this ‘couple entry’ cafe:-) Do they end up as losers by paying a higher cost than if they had bought in pair (or group). You may think so, but my idea was to provide a value added service to them by utilizing the differential price they are paying over others. One such service could be giving them a pamphlet/ short newspaper along with their coffee which contains positive stories/ quotes/ crosswords priming positive thoughts etc which they can savor while savoring their coffee alone. Primed with such positivity on a morning , say on a Monday morning, may help them a lot in their day ahead. Also they will be getting a section of the cafe that is quiet and free form all the boisterous noise that the extroverts create while chatting fervently with their colleagues.  So in my view, its a win-win for all involved.

The above may seem childish and impractical to many of you; so why do I share this? Because to build your creative confidence does entail returning to that childish state where you are not afraid of censure.

So what are you waiting for? Go ahead, do think about redefining your morning coffee experience, and post it in the comments below!