C is for The Creative Art

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There are many approaches to problem solving. One approach is to keep your eyes on the goal, rather than the obstacles. It is then to find creative ways to reach the goal.

A teacher described this model during a university lecture I attended in the early 1970s. He gave the following description.

“There are creative thinkers and conventional thinkers.

“Creative thinkers spend a lot of time clarifying the ‘What’. They then find imaginative ways to reach the goals.

“Conventional thinkers quickly jump to the ‘How’. They spend lots of time analysing obstacles. They can sometimes become dispirited and feel that the problems are impossible to solve.

“Creative thinkers often follow the shape of a heart. They keep their eyes on the prize and think of creative ways forward. They go around obstacles to reach the goal.”

The setting for the lecture was a hall at Keele University. The teacher explained that some people were suited to academia, whilst others were not.

The first group gained credibility by following the system. They were good at passing exams and gaining qualifications.

The second group went around the system to reach their goals. They published a book, performed outstanding work or found others ways to deliver success. They used their qualities to build credibility.

The teacher’s words made sense to me. I had gained entry to university after running therapeutic communities, but found that academic life was not for me. The teacher’s model provided a way forward. So I left university to start my own business.

Looking back, can you recall a time when you focused on the goal rather than the obstacles? You may have used it to find a job, solve a problem or produce an imaginative solution. What did you do then to reach the goal?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation when you used the creative art to go around obstacles to reach a goal.

Describe the specific things you did then to reach the goal. 

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of you using this approach to reach the goal.

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During the 1970s I ran many workshops in organisations. People were often open to finding new ways to tackle challenges. On some occasions, however, it was important to recognise some people’s mindset of being fixated on obstacles.

One team, for example, had plastered the walls with flip charts headed ‘The Barriers’. People had become depressed by looking at these flip charts. Itemising the minute details of each problem, they had forgot the desired picture of success.

Some leaders also tried to persuade people to change. They put departments through change programmes or sought the magic button that would motivate people who were resistant. This approach seldom worked.

Certainly people might go through the motions, but systems theory bit back. People returned to their previous ways. One person explained their experience in the following way.

“We tried to introduce a new approach to customer service. The project name for it was Eagle. The pilot programme went well and we were then asked to roll it out to every department.

“The ideal would have been to explain that: a) The model worked and benefited both the company and the customers; b) The departments were expected to follow the principles and present their success stories at the next company conference.

“Instead we were given little authority and asked to persuade the departments to change their ways. This resulted in endless meetings and people fighting to keep their old processes.

“Eventually the approach got so diluted that we called the project Dodo rather than Eagle.”

There are many other ways to deliver success. Sometimes the different approaches can be likened to building a house.

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Some people try to renovate an old house. They aim to change a system or organisation. This can work, but it is often painful and challenging. Too much time is spent trying to persuade people, rather than delivering the required results.

Some people choose to build a new house that is connected to an old house. This is a route followed by many people who help organisations to stay ahead of the game.

Kate is an experienced person who has built many new houses – new ways of doing things. This has included leading teams that developed new approaches to customer service for companies in the travel, insurance and digital sectors.

She often did this by taking the following steps. Kate aimed:

To get a clear picture of success and mandate from the Board.

To clarify what had worked best in the company and show respect for its heritage.

To connect the new approach to the existing company by creating some kind of corridor – but developing the new approach separately. 

To build the new department, deliver great customer service and show the bottom line results.

To hand-over the department to people whom she coached to run it successfully.

Kate has a track record of making this happen. Sometimes the existing house – the old way of doing things – was then demolished. Many elements of the cultures she built remain. They continue to serve both their company and their customers.

Some people try to build a new house in a new place. This is the route taken by visionaries who create a new product or develop a new market. Sometimes this route works, but it can also be risky.

Keeping your
eyes on the goal

During the 1970s and 80s I got the chance to work with entrepreneurs and other creative people. Such people did not follow the cliché of ‘thinking outside the box’. They did not even recognise there was a box.

One session I did was for The ForeSight Group in Sweden, who founded one of the first programmes for Intrapreneurs. You can discover more about their legacy via the following link.


The creative people I met used different approaches to making things happen. One approach they had in common, however, was to focus on the picture of success. They then found imaginative ways to achieve the goal.

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Creative people found imaginative ways to achieve the picture of success. They sometimes did this by asking the following questions.

Let’s start by re-establishing the goals. What are the real results we want to achieve? How can we do our best to achieve these results? 

Let’s look at the different options we have outlined for going forwards. What is the most attractive option? Is it possible to take the best parts from each option and create a new road? If so, how would this look in practice?

Looking at the goals, let’s consider the following question. ‘What are the three key things we can do to give ourselves the greatest chance of success?’

Let’s learn from our positive history. Looking back, have we ever been in a similar situation and managed it successfully? What did we do right then? Is it possible to follow any of these principles to achieve the goals?

Let’s learn from best practice. Are there any other people that have tackled this kind of challenge successfully? What did they do right then? How can we follow these principles in our own way?

Looking at the challenge, is there anything else we can do? What are the other imaginative possibilities? Are there any other creative solutions?

Let’s conclude by committing to the way forward. What is the route – or combination of routes – we want to follow? How can we translate this into a clear action plan? How can we get some early wins? How can we do our best to achieve success?

There are many ways to do fine work. One approach is to use the creative art to go around obstacles to reach a goal.

Looking to the future, can you think of a situation when you may want to apply this approach? You may want to use it to do satisfying work, manage a transition, build a business or tackle another challenge.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may use the creative art to go around obstacles to reach a goal. 

Describe the specific things you can do then to reach the goal.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of you using this approach to reach the goal.

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