Alan Iny works as a senior specialist for creativity and scenarios at Boston Consultant Group, where he trains executives and fellow BCG consultants on how to think creatively. A member of the firm's strategy leadership team and co-author of Thinking in New Boxes: A New Paradigm for Business Creativity with Luc de Brabandere, he has vast experience in advising companies worldwide in innovation, scenarios, transformation, organization design and change management across industries.
In his TED Talk, Iny explains that creativity in the workplace today is a paradox. It has never been more essential, and yet the prevailing "think-outside-of-the-box" approach to creativity doesn't offer the structure we need to be creative. The key to a creative breakthrough, he asserts, is doubt.
Watch the video below and read on for three key takeaways from his talk:
"Embrace doubt. Doubt that doubt is bad."
Iny starts off by describing the "typical" brainstorm session, where everyone sits around a conference room table and decries "Think outside the box!" and "Let's have a blue sky unconstrained session!" but that rarely results in the breakthroughs we desire. He asserts this is because "the critical capability for practical creativity in individuals and organizations is very often lacking." What's the critical capability? Doubt.
According to Iny, if we really want to have creative breakthroughs, we must stop putting pressure on executives to never show any doubt and encourage people to doubt everything they know to be true. In the workforce, rapidly changing technologies and a new generation of millennial workers offer more reasons to introduce doubt into your workday. Whether it's hiring practices or social media strategy, now is a great time to take a step back and reevaluate whether the processes you believe to be the most effective are still holding up.
"All of your boxes are only working hypotheses, they are subject to change."
Iny emphasizes that by recognizing your "boxes" or mental models can change, you open yourself up to the possibility of improving or even completely rethinking things you thought were permanent.
For example, when starting a new business, executives have for years favored a hierarchical arrangement. But in order to take advantage of unprecedented technological advances and a changing workforce, companies are now rethinking that "box" and as a result morphing into arrangements that allow for greater collaboration.
The same holds true for vertical vs. lateral hiring. Our recent Career Trends survey found that 89 percent of employees would consider a lateral career move with no financial incentive, but only 32 percent of organizations encourage cross-departmental movement. This signals it might be time for companies to rethink their career mobility "box" if they want to hold onto their top talent.
"Who am I to judge?"
Iny references a moment in which Pope Francis responded to a question with "Who am I to judge?" He says, "That is the kind of doubt and humility great leaders demonstrate. Especially when everyone around them is telling them they are infallible."
No matter how great of a leader or manager you are, Iny explains, you are still a human being drawn to the status quo. To fight this, we must deliberately and regularly list the assumptions and constraints we use to look at the world, our companies and our customers and decide which ones need to be refreshed. This allows us to not only nurture new ideas, but change existing ones.