Ideation Empathy. (Episode 74)

Ideation Empathy. (Episode 74)

Interview with Carlos Cantu, CMO at Freepik.

If you really want to spark creativity in a group then diversity of ideas is not enough, you also need diversity of ideation.

That was the lesson I was reminded of by speaking to Carlos Cantu, a creativity heavyweight who has worked as creative director and executive creative director at some of the world’s leading advertising companies (like Grey and Young & Rubicam). Carlos has also worked as Director Of Business Marketing at Twitter Europe and the Middle East and as Head of Brand Strategy at Twitter Spanish LATAM based in Mexico and worked in Korea with Samsung as a client. He is currently the CMO at Freepik.

After a long career working with professionals from different backgrounds, and from different industries, countries and cultures Carlos has reflected on how the creative process is best maximized.

He said to me: “I have come to realize that If I wanted to work with talented people, people who are high performers, then I do not only need to let them do what they are good at – I also have to let them do that in the way that makes them good.”

In other words: You need to be empathetic to the ideation process of others.

That might sound obvious, but most people are not even aware of their own creative process, let alone the creative process of others.

We often hear the rallying call for “diversity of ideas”, but when did you last hear a rallying call for “diversity of ideation”?

And yet sensitivity and awareness of how others ideate are crucial for a creative environment.

When we realize that there is no “creative process” – instead there are numerous different creative processes and leaders who embrace this knowledge and take the time to really understand how each and every one on their team prefers to ideate will greatly increase the creative output of that group.

Carlos’s creative process is one of brainstorming as a group, where people throw out ideas that inspire new ideas. But he also needs a clear goal (preferably a goal that can be described in one sentence), and he likes the brainstorming sessions to be short and concise (max 10-20 minutes).

That works great for Carlos, who is an extrovert, but when Carlos realized that introverts did not thrive in that environment he changed the creative process to include a pre-brief of the problem so that introverts could sit and think about ideas by themselves before the workshop.

When Carlos worked with South Koreans he, again, got to experience how different the creative process can be. He told me: “The first few months (working with my Korean colleagues) I could not create anything meaningful because my creative process was so different from the Koreans. But when we overcame the differences and learned how we preferred to work, then the creativity became very, very powerful.”

What really became the game changer for them was when they accepted that their differences were trigging longer discussions – but that this was totally OK, as the outcomes were stronger.

Carlos and his Korean colleagues became better at developing their Ideation Empathy.

So how can you develop your own Ideation Empathy?

Carlos gave a few tips:

1) First make sure that you fully understand your own creative process. You cannot understand the ideation process of others unless you first understand your own.

2) Remember that your creative process works for you, but it will most likely not work for the others in your team. Have them define and describe their own ideal ideation process and then work together to find ways that they can complement each other – and identify potential conflicts that might occur.

3) Be “process flexible”. A good football player can change the way he or she plays based on how the coach wants the team to play. Train yourself to be able to adapt to different ideation processes. Yes, it is possible.

4) Be Humble. Only when you are humble will you be able to fully understand that your way is most likely not the best way for others.

5) Do “Process processing” – Analyse how you work as a team and dissect the process. Only by really studying the creative process that you use will you be able to understand what aspects of it are not working.

Diversity of ideas is a wonderful concept that makes creativity better. But it will only come if the people develop their Ideation Empathy.

So spend some time doing that.

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