Thomas Edison was famous for saying “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” It’s the lightbulb moment that many individuals seek, but how can creativity help business practice and why should good creatives seek out good failures?
Following feedback and experiences from a number of Cambridge MBA students who completed a creativity workshop jointly delivered by Andrzej Moyseowicz (Cambridge MBA, 2006), an entrepreneur and former Media Innovations Director for Saatchi and Saatchi, and Cambridge Judge Business School faculty member Dr Allègre Hadida, Senior Lecturer in Strategy came the development of the Cambridge Creativity Lab programme for Executive Education. This two-day creativity workshop aims to provide a perspective on management that lies outside the traditional Executive Education curriculums – but one that is crucial to business, especially in a time of such global uncertainty. As Dr Hadida points out, the University of Cambridge is a hotbed of creativity, having been home to over 100 Nobel Prize winners.
The programme aims to
debunk the myths surrounding creativity such as “you are born creative”,
“you can’t teach creativity” and “it’s not useful to business”.
There is deliberately no compulsory reading list associated with the workshop.
Instead, a list of “suggested creative stimuli” is provided, and
includes TED Talks, feature films, documentaries, television episodes, music
albums, visual arts, and physical activities. Not many programmes would
recommend watching “Die Hard” as preparation, but Dr Hadida and
Moyseowicz believe the film is an excellent example of the necessity to use
creativity and innovation in certain situations.
The participants taking
part in the programme are expected to be a mixture of former consultants,
financiers, musicians, lawyers as well as the possibility of a psychologist –
in short, a group of people who would describe themselves with varying degrees
of creativity, with most feeling that they are generally lacking or could
improve on this particular skill.
It’s a mind-set that
course co-facilitator Andrzej Moyseowicz is familiar with, having started his
career as a chemical engineer, with the common goal of a consultancy career when
he started his MBA in Cambridge.
However, after taking
part in such a creativity workshop, and through other CJBS courses in
management, he undertook a process of self-analysis, and ended up taking a
completely unexpected path. He took a job working as Media Innovations Director
for Saatchi and Saatchi. He now runs an insights and creative advocacy company
called Freemavens, which specialises in using creativity to help businesses
build stronger brands and products.
students to go through a similar process of self-examination, and the Cambridge
Creativity Lab takes participants through exercises designed to take them out
of their comfort zone, such as meditation and ‘Lego Serious Play’ sessions.
While these are not typical business classes, they allow participants the space
to think freely and less judgementally, giving them concepts, frameworks and
methods to manage business endeavours creatively.
Former CJBS student
Michael Schaefer, a hydro scientist by training, says “Creativity is
fundamental to business, but being in energy and the sciences, I felt I’d lost
my creative spark. Work kind of beats it out of you. The exercises we’ve learnt
are great tools.”
Dr Hadida points out
that there is a misconception around what people think creativity is. “People
think that it’s about producing things, they think of plays, films, paintings,
but actually creativity is more about the process. It is about questioning,
disrupting and improving on what has come before.”
Dr Hadida asks the
students to give examples of great creative companies, and something they have
created which is unique. Most students suggest Apple and the iPhone. But as she
points out, Steve Jobs wasn’t an original thinker. The iPhone was made up of
existing ideas. He adapted, connected and unpicked what was already there.
One of the biggest
things to learn, say Dr Hadida and Moyseowicz, is that you can’t be creative if
you are afraid to fail. After all, Edison tried thousands of things before he
invented the lightbulb. Hadida uses the phrase “benign failure”, the
idea that creativity is about coming up with ideas and acknowledging that some
of them might not work, but understanding that eventually one of those will
spark. Moyseowicz suggests that one of the hardest things for those in business
to develop “is an appetite for helpful failure” because they’ve spent
a long time developing an “addiction to success”.
This tolerance for
failure is also essential for entrepreneurs, and for former CJBS student Yaa
Kwateng, “it confirms what I’ve learnt in digital business and
entrepreneurship courses – that working creatively, as well as analytically, is
essential as an entrepreneur. There are structured ways of using creativity to
Through the Cambridge Creativity
Lab programme participants will have had the opportunity to re-engage with
different ways of thinking, giving them new problem-solving options and ways to
develop ideas. And who knows, perhaps there is the next Edison about to emerge