Creative thinking

Fri, Nov 2, 2012

Business, Columns

By Christian Stadil, Owner of hummel | Photo: Daniel Karlsson


Earlier this year, together with the Danish professor, PhD and Psychologist Lene Tanggaard, I came out with a book about both individual and organizational creativity called “In The Shower with Picasso”. It derives its title from what is said to be one of Picasso’s tools to enhance his ability to come up with new ideas – namely by working hard, producing and researching, and thereafter taking or creating a so-called creative break by doing something entirely different – for example taking a shower, thereby trusting that the sub-consciousness, the undermind, will keep on thinking about the topic at hand and will do so even more effectively since we are more creative when we go into a slow thinking mode, when we don’t force ourselves.

In the book, we draw from many cases and persons, from Lene’s theory and years of studying the subject and from my own more practical experience, especially from my company hummel, the Danish sports and fashion company, and from our creative processes there.

Moreover, we have interviewed a number of Danish creative individuals and organisations trying to decipher if there is a commonality in terms of how these people have enhanced their ability to not only think anew but in a way that also creates value, on the basis that everyone participating in the book has performed well outside Danish borders.

From the management of the world’s best restaurant NOMA to modern architecture’s wunderkind Bjarke Ingels, over to Lego’s creative directors and the Emmy-winning former head of DRAMA at DR (Danmarks Radio – the Danish state television and radio broadcaster) Ingolf Gabold, who amongst others, is behind the crime series The Killing.

When we interviewed Ingolf, he very interestingly and at first to our surprise told us that he cannot use thinking out of the box for anything. That thinking out of the box for him would be if one of his scriptwriters came to him and said: “Then Sarah Lund (The Killing’s protagonist) walks down the street and suddenly a blue elephant jumps in front of her!” This kind of over-creative thinking is, according to Ingolf, something that moves us too far away from a usable – and for that matter – sellable product.

I remember at hummel, after we branched the old – since 1923 – brand out into fashion, we also wanted to take a market share within not only the apparel segment but also within fashion footwear/sneakers. We tried for years and nothing worked. Only when we returned to our brand DNA, to the edge of the box, where a classic or heritage-based design expression meets sports, did it make sense – for us as for our consumers, and today, sports fashion sneakers is one of our fastest growing product groups.

So we should instead – when talking product development – balance on the side of the box, since most creativity happens when we restructure the existing, when we balance on the edge between the areas of knowledge also internal to our organisations, when we work more conceptually tearing down internal boundaries and when opening our companies up towards the outside, our partners and customers.

And here we might find the essence of a Danish model since we as a small language and geographical area have always had to work with other countries and open our borders. We have a long tradition of  creating flat associations and organisations, cooperative movements, as well as having a tradition of  free thinking embodied by being one of the first countries to give women the right to vote, allowing gay marriages and having the world’s only total freetown – Christiania.

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