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How to free your mind

The legendary British author Graham Greene knew a thing or two about creativity. Not content with writing many of the most highly regarded novels of the 20th century, he also penned the screenplay of the classic film noir, The Third Man.

And from the mouth of its protagonist came the oft-quoted line: "In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo-clock."

While presumably not intending any disrespect for the tranquil alpine nation, Graham did succeed in making a very powerful and thought-provoking point. Echoing the late Greene's insights, Australian author Andrew Grant is also a thinker of global renown who is in the business of nurturing creativity. And he is set to bring his thoughts to a sizable Hong Kong audience on April 24.

The forum, titled "Who Killed Creativity? ...And How Can We Get It Back?", is based on the just-released book of the same name, written by Grant and his wife, Gaia. The couple founded Tirian, a team-building and leadership development consultancy. So what does the forum intend to deliver?

"I'll be sharing some of the interesting facts about creative thinking and the research that's been done in the area, and I'll be then introducing the seven creativity 'killers', and the ways they can be dealt with," Grant says.

"I'll be using the interactive board game we use in our workshops, set up as a 'crime scene investigation' in a Cluedo-style [board-game] format, so participants can investigate how creativity gets 'killed' in organisations and where it gets 'killed'," he adds.

"It will be a fun interactive experience for the participants and should be a profound learning experience as well. Participants should walk away from the session which a much greater understanding of how creativity is stifled, and what strategies they can use to 'rescue' it."

Grant appropriately addresses the issue with remarkable creativity. He also tackles some topical questions on the minds of many business leaders today.

Grant posits that, while creativity is a key leadership quality, it appears to be in steep decline. "A milestone IBM report released at the end of 2011 revealed that of 1,500 CEOs interviewed across 60 industries and 33 countries, a majority saw creative thinking as the number one quality needed for leaders of the future, and I have felt the same trend emerging," Grant says.

He says this finding should be assessed against the fact that while IQ scores have been rising steadily over the years by about 10 points per decade, the so-called creative quotient scores have been falling since 1990.

"Also, we lose the ability to think creatively as we age, so while 98 per cent of children aged 2-5 years old score as 'geniuses' on divergent thinking tests, only 10 per cent of 10-15 year olds do, and this number drops to 2 per cent for adults aged 25 and older. This reveals the urgency of the situation and the need for some solutions fast," Grant says.

To help current and aspiring business leaders to reverse this decline, he employs a very creative and engaging "criminal investigative" approach.

What can be expected? Firstly, an investigation of the crime scene that yields a profile of the "murderer" and, leading from this, seven deadly creativity killers.

Grant takes this metaphor to extraordinary lengths, such as a highly insightful workout in the "forensics lab". There's even a "trial", where questions are asked and answered, including: "Can the killers be redeemed… and are the rescuers squeaky clean?"

And who can suppress a wry smile at the names of suspects such as "XS Stress" (who inflicts "crushing coercion" in the C-suite) and the bean-counter "Beau Rock-Racy" (notorious for his "noxious negativity")? But behind the clever nomenclatures, Grant makes some excellent points. And the forum, co-organised by Classified Post and the China Speakers Agency, promises to be an entertaining and enlightening event.

Who Killed Creativity? ...And How Can We Get It Back?

Date: April 24, 2012 (Tuesday)
Time: 2pm-5pm
HK$1,800 (Standard rate)
HK$1,200 (Early-bird rate until April 6)
Venue: 8/F, Happy Valley Stand, Happy Valley Racecourse

Tracking the ‘killers’ across global cultures

As a result of having worked in more than 30 countries, Andrew Grant has been able to observe and examine key cross-cultural differences in creativity in business and creative thinking.

“A key difference, we believe, comes from the fact that our education systems are fundamentally different,” he says.

“So while the Western education system has long involved enquiry-based discovery learning, which encourages open creative thinking and the exploration of new ideas, a number of Asian schools and universities are stuck in a rote-learning approach.

“In all education systems, there is unfortunately too much of an emphasis on being correct rather than creative, but this is even more so the case in the competitive results-driven Asian education system,” he adds.

The Australian author cites a recent Time magazine article claiming that the biggest problem with Asia’s schools today is that “they fail to link substantive learning with schooling and don’t see any relevance in what they’re being taught.”

The article further reported that although Asian students typically top worldwide academic tests, they retain the information for the least amount of time.

In an Asia-Pacific context, Grant homes in on one of his “killers”: “Pressure has become very much a part of the education system and the workplace in fast-paced modern Asian cities. And along with it can come control and fear – some of the other creativity killers we have identified,” he says.

“Many Hong Kong Chinese would all be able to relate to that I’m sure. As these ‘killers’ literally shut down the brain, limiting the neural pathways to the pre-frontal cortex – where we are best able to think creatively – creative thinking can become restricted or even severely stunted.”

Grant also cites a recent report by University College London’s Professor Therese Hesketh that showed as many as a third of mainland Chinese primary school children suffer from psychological stress as a result of their “pressure-cooker schooling system”.

“More than 80 per cent of the children surveyed worry ‘a lot’ about exams, and this anxiety often transfers into the workplace if there is a focus on accuracy and a drive to reach bottom-line results rather than the freedom to think openly and creatively,” Grant says.