HBR Guide to Unlocking Creativity: A Book Review by Bob Morris

HBR Guide to Unlocking Creativity
Various Contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (January 2019)

How to see key issues differently, spark high-impact innovation, and solve tough problems

As you probably know already, most of the volumes in the “HBR Guide to” series are anthologies of articles previously published in Harvard Business Review in which various contributors share their insights concerning a major business subject such as Better Business Writing, Getting the Right Work Done, and Project Management. In this instance, the focus is on establishing a workplace culture within which creative thinking  is most likely to thrive.

As is also true of volumes in other such series, notably HBR Essentials, HBR Must Reads, and HBR Management TipsHBR Guides offer substantial value in cutting-edge thinking from 20-25 sources in a single volume at a price (each at about $15-20 from Amazon in the bound version) for a fraction of what article reprints would cost. What we have in this paperbound edition are 23 articles previously published by Harvard Business Review. If purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be about $210. Amazon US currently sells this volume in a paperbound edition for only $19.95. That’s not a bargain; it’s a steal.

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I suggest that you view any of the HBR anthologies as if it were a single source for information, insights, and counsel for the given subject, material that you would have received if the authors of the articles had been retained as consultants. However, it would be a fool’s errand to attempt to apply all of the material provided. Absorb and digest it, then decide which of it is most relevant to your and/or your organization’s needs and interests, especially strategic objectives.

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According to the HBRP editors,”Creativity is the key to innovation., but too many projects and teams are organized in ways that stifle new ideas. You need to ensure that creativity can thrive — and that you are part of the process.

“Fortunately, anyone can use method-driven approaches to teach and learn creativity. The HBR Guide to Unlocking Creativity will show you how to reach your creative potential, manage creative collaboration, and achieve groundbreaking results.” Almost everything anyone who needs to know about creative thinking — or be reminded of  — is in this volume.

For example:

In Section One, “how to” advice re “Unleash Your Creativity”:

o Get over the fears that block your best idea
o Give your brain the stretching and fuerl it needs
o Bring back that first-day-at-work feeling
o Used breaks to release and nourish free thinking from restraints
o Back off from chasing answers and solutions; let them sneak upon you
o Absorb and digest four stress-reduction lessons from neuroscience
o Unfocus to enhance resilience, creativity, and decision-making
o Learn more and faster from strangers

The information, insights, and counsel in Sections Two-Eight are also invaluable, especially in terms of dos ands don’ts to keep in mind.

As I worked my way through the material in this book, I was again reminded of what I have learned about creativity from Tom Kelley and David Kelley: “As brothers who have worked together for thirty years at the forefront of innovation, we have come to see this set of misconceptions as ‘the creativity myth.’ It is a myth that far too many people share…Creative confidence is a way of seeing that potential and your place in the world more clearly, unclouded by anxiety and doubt. We hope you’ll join us on our quest to embrace creative confidence in our lives. Together, we can all make the world a better place.”

Also, from Keith Sawyer who has identified three stages of  creatiuve thinking:

“1. Ask: Creativity starts with a penetrating research question, startling vision for a new vision for a new work of art, an urgent business challenge, a predicament in your personal life. Trigger words and phrases are If only, Why, Why not, What if, How to, Why do, Why don’t, etc.

2. Learn: In a creative life, you’re constantly learning, practicing, mastering, becoming an expert. Seek knowledge everywhere you can. You may find it in unlikely sources. Assume nothing.

3. Look: Be constantly, quietly, intently aware. Look but also see, not only what you expect but, better yet, what surprises you. Isaac Asimov is right: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny….'”

Here are two concluding suggestions while you are reading HBR Guide to Unlocking Creativity: Highlight key passages, and, record your comments, questions, action steps (preferably with deadlines), and page references as well as your responses to questions posed and to lessons you have learned. (Pay close attention to the key reminders in “Figures,” introductory head notes, and end-of-chapter reminders.) These two simple tactics — highlight and document — will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent reviews of key material later.


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