Anitra Arkko-Saukkonen, Anzelika Krastina & Matthew Lynch
Generating collective creativity can result in a multitude of benefits. Foundation of collective creativity is psychological safety in teambuilding. With the help of collective creativity we overcome the challenge digital cross border collaboration and get most of the group work which we call as meeting of the minds.
Collective creativity: A story worth telling
Ask just about anyone outside of the arts and theatre scene if they are creative, and virtually everyone will give you a clear answer: No! Yet, if we look at any child we see an abundance of creativity flowing through their play. Kids playing together make up all kinds of wonderful imaginary situations effortlessly with giant smiles on their faces. So it seems strange that as adults so many of us struggle to find a way to be collectively creative and engage spontaneously in shared activities that bring smiles to our faces.
In a recent cross border collaboration project, we stumbled across a recipe that worked to generate collective creativity and leading to a multitude of benefits for ourselves, as teachers, and for the students. This is a brief story of several academics who came together under a funding project, but left the project as friends, with new knowledge, and grins from ear to ear after laughing so much. We think this is the kind of story that is worth sharing, especially at the present time with so many other negative news stories out there. Oh, and did we mention, this was done digitally due to travel-restrictions.
Laying the foundation for collective creativity
The story starts with the Kolarctic BRIDGE project, which had the aim to facilitate youth employment and economic growth by building a joint education platform between higher education institutions and SMEs in the Barents Euro-Arctic (BRIDGE 2021). Collaboration process between student groups and coaches from Finland, Norway and Russia was guided with the help of established “Creative steps 2.0” innovation workshop (Arkko-Saukkonen & Krastina 2016; Arkko-Saukkonen & Krastina 2018). Cross-border student teams were led by coaches through business innovation process following ten creative steps staring from building a business case and finalizing with the prototype and pitching their innovations to commissioned companies. Entire process requires very creative approach, but how do we help others become collectively more creative in a digital cross border collaboration?
Naturally, when you bring together 50 students, ten team coaches, and sprinkle in 3 different cultures, you cannot just click your fingers and say “Be creative!” So why is it then that children are so good at spontaneously playing creatively together, and yet most adults swear they don’t have an ounce of creativity inside of them? Where did that creativity go? Kelley and Kelley (2013) authors of the book ‘creative confidence’ points to the fact that as adults the creativity hasn’t gone anywhere – it is still there within us. Instead, we have just lost the confidence to use the creativity we have, and to feel good about it. As we age we become more aware of social rules and norms, many of these rules are around conforming and fitting in. We become judgemental and critical as to what is considered ‘right’ or ‘good enough’ and in doing so we slowly turn down the volume on our spontaneity and lose confidence in our own creativity. As coaches in the process with a mix of different backgrounds (Anitra, arts; Anzelika, business; and Matthew, entrepreneurship) we wondered how could we bring that creative confidence back for the project participants.
In order to get this back we need to lay a foundation, or to use a different analogy we need to find some fertile soil where the seeds of creativity can be planted (Figure 1). The way to do this is through creating what has been labelled ‘psychological safety’ (Lencioni, 2006). Psychological safety is a belief that you will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes (Edmondson, 1999). Research at Google has shown that psychological safety is the most critical factor towards high performing teams (Duhigg, 2016). Without it, you will begin to observe other issues occurring in teamwork.
The way to generate psychological safety is through reciprocal escalating self-disclosure, or translated into everyday language through taking turns to share information about who you, and that you build trust through being open and vulnerable with others (Aron, Melinat, Aron, Vallone, & Bator, 1997). The opposite of this is be to purely task orientated and be all business. In Nordic regions we are not exactly known for small chit-chat, but the importance of this for team work is crucial. If we are operate effectively, we need to treat each other as humans, not like some kind of cogs in a giant bureaucratic machine.
Small things that matter
Having built a small foundation of safety, the small details matter in allowing the space for the seeds of collective creativity to grow. Here we can draw on some principles from improvisation theatre, the simplest and best known of these principles is ‘yes, and…’ where the idea is to build on the suggestion of others in your team. Try observing children and you’ll see they do this naturally. One of them will make believe and say “This is my castle!” and another child will instantly respond “yes, and I am a princess”, and the game effortlessly escalates from there. Now imagine the first child again said “this is my castle!” and the second child responded, “no it isn’t” the game instantly stopped being fun, and the first child would probably go find someone else to play with. Our job as adults is to be good at building each other up and this requires us to say ‘yes, and..’ to our team members suggestions.
In order to say ‘yes, and…’ we actually need to listen. This sounds so obvious that it is almost comical. Yet, we have likely all been guilty of only being half way present in our meetings with colleagues. There is often email to check, there are dinners to plan, was it your evening to collect the kids from kindergarten? In order to make others feel seen and heard and valued as humans, we need to tune in and listen. A good indication this is happening is when there is a lot of laughter in the group, because you can’t laugh at a joke you never heard. So even though you probably rate yourself as a heroic multitasker, the research says otherwise (Rosen, 2008). Humans have single task processors for brains, and we work best when we give our focus to one task at a time.
Meeting of the minds
If we lay down the foundation and take care of the details of team work and collaboration, then what we find naturally occurs is that we end up with a ‘meeting of the minds’. These are the kinds of meetings where we can get everyone tuned in and focussed. In these conversations, the ideas flow freely, people feel safe to share their thoughts and they build on the ideas of others. In the West, we generally view each human as an individual, instead of a more collectivist perspective. Yet most researchers into learning say that learning is a collective activity, one that is constructed through sharing reflections and experiences, and discussing topics at hand (Burgoyne, 1995). This collective approach is when we get the most out of group work, and one of our favourite terms for it as a meeting of the minds. Sharing these learning experiences brings a richness and depth to learning that is unlikely to occur through individual learning experiences (Figure 2).
Collective creativity – bringing it all together
When we bring the different elements discussed, what we found was a completely different experience. We experienced a kind of collective flow state (Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2014), which we labelled collective creativity. The experience of this brought about many benefits for us, which we set out briefly below:
- All around smiles. What we motived was that these meetings were enjoyable to begin with, a rare feat for an online meeting. We smiled and laughed the entire time. Which might sound unproductive and as though we were not getting any work done. Yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. We were incredibly productive in these meetings, with little formal decision making being required, as decisions were effortlessly arrived at.
- Less preparation. The project outcomes were easier to achieve because every single person brought their unique skills and perspectives to the meeting. This meant there was less need to prepare for meeting and we had generally less follow up work to do individually, because the collective output allowed us to move forward as team, and generate teaching for students that flowed seamlessly.
- Knowledge top-up. With differing skillsets and openness as the default, we found that we could learn a great deal from each other. We learnt from each others teaching styles, we learnt online activities we could run for students, and we learned technical elements from each other’s field.
- Co-teaching. Creating a space where there was room for spontaneity and there was a meeting of the minds meant that we could teach in a way that is not common. We co-taught online classes, meaning we shared responsibility for teaching a subject to students, and could contribute with differing perspectives on the same topics based on our own experiences and areas of expertise providing a richer context for students.
Applying this in different contexts
While our particular context was cross border collaboration via online meetings and teaching to students, we think the principles discussed above are relevant to just about everybody who works with others. The key principles of vulnerability, openness, saying yes and, listening, and tuning in are all things that we can practice on a daily basis. If we can be better at practising these, then the result can be that we enable collective creativity, with all the benefits mentioned. After all, who doesn’t want to come away smiling ear to ear after a digital meeting having made new friends and learnt new things.
Anitra Arkko-Saukkonen, M.A (Arts and Design), Senior Lecturer, Lapland University of Applied Sciences, firstname.lastname@example.org
Anzelika Krastina, M.Ed., Senior Lecturer, Lapland University of Applied Sciences, email@example.com
Matthew Lynch, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Østfold University College / UiT Norways Arctic University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Arkko-Saukkonen A., & Krastiņa A. (2018). Creative Step-by-Step. Creative Steps 2.0 Innovation Workshop. Lapland University of Applied Sciences publication. Serie C. Study Material 1/2018. Publication of Lapland University of Applied Sciences. Available: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-316-212-9
Arkko-Saukkonen, A. & Krastina, A. (2016). Creative Steps 2.0. Step by step guidelines to business idea. Series C. Study Material 5/2016. Publication of Lapland University of Applied Sciences. Available: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-316-154-2
Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363-377.
BRIDGE. 2021. https://kolarcticbridge.com/ Retrived 25.1.2021
Burgoyne, J. G. (1995). Learning from experience: from individual discovery to meta dialogue via the evolution of transitional myths. Personnel Review, 24(6), 61-72.
Duhigg, C. (2016). What Google learned from its quest to build the perfect team. The New York Times Magazine, 26, 2016.
Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative science quarterly, 44(2), 350-383.
Kelley, T., & Kelley, D. (2013). Creative confidence: Unleashing the creative potential within us all: Currency.
Lencioni, P. (2006). The five dysfunctions of a team: John Wiley & Sons.
Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). The concept of flow. In Flow and the foundations of positive psychology (pp. 239-263): Springer.
Rosen, C. (2008). The myth of multitasking. The New Atlantis(20), 105-110.
Kollektiivisen luovuuden voima
Kollektiiviselle luovuudelle on tärkeä antaa tilaa, sillä se vahvistaa hyvää tiimityöskentelyn ilmapiiriä. Avainasiana on psykologinen turvallisuus, joka mahdollistaa keskinäisen yhteistyön voiman ja ajatusten kohtaamisen henkilöiden välillä, jolloin tiimityöskentelystä saadaan paljon irti. Lapsen kaltainen leikkimieli ja positiivinen asenne kannattelevat tällaista yhteistyötä vahvan ammattiosaamisen rinnalla. Se tuo uutta voimaa innovatiiviseen koulutustarjontaan, jolloin opettajan yksilöllinen luovuus ja osaaminen yhdistyy tehokkaaseen yhteistyöhön. Havainnollistamme kollektiivisen luovuuden lisäarvoa kuvaamalla rajat ylittävän BRIDGE-yhteistyöhankkeen toteutuksen vaikutuksia. Opettajien tiimityöskentelyn avulla tuettiin opiskelijoiden kansainvälistä digitaalista verkkovuorovaikutusta tuote- ja palveluinnovoinneissa. Kollektiivisen luovuuden kautta ylitämme haasteita, saamme enemmän aikaiseksi ja sen vaikutukset ulottuvat itsemme lisäksi laajemmalle, myös muihin opettajiin ja opiskelijoihin.