The ‘void’ for creativity in Organizations

Creativity is a buzzword these days and there are all these tools, frame works and thinking techniques to make people and organizations more and more creative (and innovative of course..). But how successful are they? How many organizations really are creative? How many dumb people have been transformed in to creative geniuses by these techniques?

Every organization is doing some thing or the other, which they believe will make them creative. You know what I really think ? Like most of such hypes, the organizations will pursue this for some time and at when they see that it doesn’t deliver what it promised, they will change the definition of ‘creativity’ to suit the concept in their mind (we have done that to Quality already..)

I think the fundamental problem is that most of the creativity advocates are not really sure how exactly this creativity works. When someone sees it happening in a particular setting / situation a few times, they think that’s what will make people creative. Brainstorming may be what an organization finds working for them. But do we go beyond to see how that technique makes people creative?

I think here is the secret. Creativity manifests in a state of void (no thoughts or in the present moment) spontaneously, even without the help of the logical mind. (Here is a typical example people tell you: Think of the time, you were trying to solve a problem and you eventually give up (or drop). And some time later the solution comes totally unexpected. May be after a sleep) How does it happen? When there is the void in you, this is the space or gap where you get to access the infinite creativity of the universe. And in that void the feverishness for the results also disappears.

If you take any techniques for creativity, they lead to this void. Take brainstorming as an example. What happens when you brainstorm? When you continuously flush your mind out, the mind comes to a state of void. This is typically where people become silent and then comes the real ‘out of the box’ ideas. 

There are some other techniques, which don’t take you to this space, because they deal with your logical mind. (Sometimes it is funny, you use your logical mind to overcome the logical barrier in the mind and it all looks perfectly logical) As a matter of fact, they do give results, but not really what’s called the ‘creative ones’. But many times organizations are happy with them, because they are safe.

So in essence to make someone creative, we need to create that void. But it is impossible to stop the mind to created that space. But the sages of India solved this problem rather easily. How? They discovered that mind, breath and body are closely interrelated and each could influence the other. They went on to create techniques (for e.g the breathing technique like Pranayama) which could create the void in the mind, without confronting it directly.

All this is to set the context for a concept of “Void for Creativity in Organizations” that I want to present to you. Extending the same concept to Organizations, I think the simple reason why Organizations are not really creative is because they don’t experience the ‘void’. The noise (or thinking) in organizations create so much of clutter that prevents them from getting to the void or the silence, which is the abode of creativity.

I think organizations, like individuals have a mind, and along with that comes other faculties that contribute to the constant chattering. Here are few important ones that occurs to me:

  1. Every organization develops a strong logical mind, which is based on data, past incidents, inputs from market, strategies. The logical mind is so adamant about being right every time.
  2. The organization’s mind is always in the past or the future (tracking and planning) and the space for creativity happens neither in the past or the future. The void is always in the present or the time stops in that void.
  3. Ego – Every organization works hard to build identities (internally and externally) and after sometime, this feeds in to the organization’s ego. Preserving this ego becomes a strong need and this needs effort. 
  4. Lack of a collective mind, which is caused by people conflicts, competing divisions etc.
  5. Too much of feverishness about the results or the outcomes.
  6. Attributes like Fear, Responding to triggers, Uncertainty (doubt) etc which become dominant at times.

As the organizations grow (old as well as in size) the noise increases, forms rigid patterns and becomes the way of functioning (It is not a wonder that smaller organizations and start ups are more creative many times). Even if organizations become aware of this issue (lack of creativity), typically we blame it on things like processes, bad management, bad marketing, lack of technical competence, market, competition etc. But I think the fundamental problem is that Organizations do not understand the need for the ‘Void’ for creativity.

Let me give you an example. The void comes sometimes when there is a real danger, say to the existence of the organization itself. That’s when people come together, let go of the past and don’t’ have big things to hope for the future – and this brings all the attention to what best can be done right now, which is the void for creativity. It is here where the organizations change its course drastically, attempts things it had always hesitated to do, decides to explore things that never made sense etc.

The moment when this void is there, creativity occurs spontaneously.

It might seem impossible to stop the clutter in the organizations and create a void. It will not come through structural changes or putting more processes, or introducing more techniques. But like the mind-breath relation, there are subtle indirect ways to create this void in the organizations. I will reserve the thoughts on that for another post. Right now, I want to leave this concept for you to think and comment on.


4 thoughts on “The ‘void’ for creativity in Organizations

  1. Shankar

    Hi sajeev – I came to know about your Blog though my friend Bala. I like your thoughts on “void” creativity – very insightful.

    I too believe that Pranayama can help creativity & and the path of Yoga to balance left & right brain. I am a Scientist & Innovation Facilitator -I am not an expert on yoga but I do pranayama & gayathri meditation atleast on days when i have to be extra creative :).

    Bala & I used to talk about some related stuff when we were working at GE R&D together. One way to reach void is through reaching a physical contradiction (the TRIZ way) – e.g something has to be both transparent & opaque or both rigid & soft to solve the problem – how do we achieve this?. TRIZ inventive principles help to resolve some of these contradictions – e.g segmentaion in space or time, moving to the next dimension etc.

    A second approach is to entertain two opposite thoughts (Oriville & Wilbur Wright used to take up opposite sides of a technical point & argue with each other & soon after reverse sides & argue again). A friend of mind at GE who had met Sankaracharya of Sringeri many years back recounted a discussion where the Acharya could argue for both sides of the argument very passionately & thouroughly one after another.

    I guess Arjuna had reached a void when Krisha taught Bhagwat Geeta to him.

    1. Sajeev Post author

      Thanks for the comments Shankar. I too believe that Geeta was delivered in the ‘void’, why else Vyasa would choose such a odd place to put that. I do also believe now that any emotion when you take to an extreme can lead to the void. I will make some posts on that soon.

  2. Subinkrishna G

    I’m excited, I’m fascinated & I’m happy. This is very good indeed.

    “Where is the switch to turn on the creativity in me?” I asked this question to me several times when I was really confused, when I was totally lost between thoughts. For me creativity is an “accident” most of the times. I don’t knew how it happens, when it happens and why it happens! But for me it just happens.


  3. Pingback: Thoughts: Creativity « a cup of java

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