In the presentation I gave a few weeks ago, I stated that creativity can be improved, there are techniques that can be taught. I am not sure I went into enough detail about what those technique are. We practiced one in class and I listed others, but didn't specifically point to them and explicitly say, "These are the techniques that you can use to improve your creativity."
I also ran into confusion -my own, in the middle of my presentation- about what Daniel Pink discussed in his book about loosening the focus of your concentration - allowing yourself to be somewhat distracted- and what John Cleese was saying in his video about cell-phone destroying creativity because they cause too much distraction.
I want to clear this up here and formalize my thinking on the subject so that I can speak more clearly on it in the future.
On the one side, we have Daniel Pink (TED video) telling us we need to deliberately tighten and loosen the focus of our concentration. deBono (Amazon book), Michalko (Amazon book) and probably Hall (Amazon book) put some effort into telling how to do this.
Their core technique is the "Many Roads Lead to Rome" concept. If there is a solution to a problem, you can probably get to it from a variety of starting points. How do you determine a good starting point? With a randomly selected word. You focus on the problem and use the randomly determined word to open that focus up a little.
This is a very controlled way to broaden your thinking while not being 'distracted' per se.
Cleese (video) is concerned about distractions, but about larger sorts of distractions where you need to totally disengage yourself from whatever problem you are working on, handle the distraction, then return to your problem. He figured it takes around fifteen minutes, after being distracted, to be able to focus on the problem again. He is talking about 'uncontrolled distractions' rather than the deliberate use of a random element described above and he is worried about cell-phones and laptop computers for providing these distractions.
Perhaps in the middle, we have obsessed inventors waking in the middle of the night to try something new or write something down in their idea journals. Leaving a problem for a day and thinking about unrelated things can work, can help, but doesn't work on a deadline.