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Creative Process: Rachel Ben Hamou

Creativity & Innovation

3f66ec5Rachel Ben Hamou is an LA based, British improviser, trainer and agile enthusiast. She uses improv techniques to super-charge organisations like Riot Games who want to harness the deep and enduring value of play. When not training, she loves to tweet & blog about creativity, collaboration, improv, training and democratic businesses. Find out more at www.agileimprov.com and follow her on Twitter @AgileImprov.

Do you follow a creative process?
The creative process is different depending on what I’m creating. If it’s improvised theatre, I am working collaboratively with a relaxed and open mind – having fun and seeing where that leads. If I’m creating something more tangible like a presentation or a product of sorts, then I tend to map things out on a whiteboard – also using stickies – stickies are best friends with creative people!

Do you use any tricks or techniques to come up with ideas?
One technique I use for creative writing is coming up with a theme – e.g. “Medical” and then listing everything I can possibly associate with that theme – e.g “Doctors”, “Hospitals”, “Sickness”, “National Health Service”, “Uniforms” and so on. It’s simple and it works for me. Then I hone in on whichever of those words appeals and start iterating from there.

What’s the best idea you’ve had recently? Tell us where you were, what you were doing, where you found inspiration.
If I wake up in the night, I often end up having an idea. In the morning, I see the notes or the email I sent myself. Sometimes it takes me a moment to work out what the idea was. The best idea I had recently was to create a database of all the training exercises I know – of which there are over 200. I’ve been creating a tool that will help me to build workshops to given specifications. It’s definitely helping me to deliver the most value to my clients.

What was the hardest part of developing your idea?
The hardest part about developing the idea was to stay agile and iterative. It’s tempting to try and create a monster tool that does everything you might ever want. With software development (which is a very creative process), it’s important to build what you need right now and iterate on it. At least, that’s how it has worked for me (and many others with the agile mindset). There is a good principle in extreme programming called YAGNI: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_aren’t_gonna_need_it

Where / when do you feel most creative?
When I’m relaxed and free associating, I’m at my most creative. As an improviser and improv trainer, I become very creative when I have flow – check out: http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow.html

Does technology help or hinder creativity?
I think technology can both help and hinder. You have to step away from technology sometimes, to give yourself the mental space you need to think freely. However, there are so many great devices/tools out there, they can help you with the process of turning ideas into reality. I use Evernote a lot and I often review the latest productivity tools to see if I can improve my systems at all.

Do you use group brainstorms? If so, how do you run them?
I use brainstorms with clients on a regular basis. The process can be different depending on the organisation and their needs but the following is how things generally roll out…

Recently, I carried out an e-survey for a client, involving of their staff. The results highlighted six key areas where staff needed training. I invited a diverse selection of their staff to join me for a brainstorm around those areas. First of all, I set the expectations. Why are we here? What do we want to get out of the session? What is the process?

Secondly, I outlined my guidelines for a brainstorm. This included “Saying ‘Yes And’ to your own ideas and others”, “No judgement”, “Write down everything that comes to mind” and so on.

Then I shared the topics and I put on some ambient music. For 10 minutes, everyone wrote down their ideas on stickies (CREATE). Then we came together and everyone had 10 minutes to place their ideas on the walls, under the various headings (CATEGORISE). Then we spent 10 minutes reviewing the ideas under each topic. Eliminating duplicates, adding detail and pitching ideas to each other (REVIEW). The final product, a ratified list of well structured ideas, allowed us to move forward with six product plans that individuals could volunteer to work on.

What’s the biggest challenge facing creative people?
The stress of the modern world due to the increased pace that seems to drive us all, can leave you mentally and physically exhausted. Ego exhaustion has never struck me as being particularly compatible with creativity. I find mindfulness exercises can help with this.

Can creativity be taught?
I know from training people in improvisation that there are exercises we can all do that help us tap into our creativity. I think it’s a matter of finding an exercise that suits us. One of the improv games I like to run is called List Clap. Everyone stands in a circle. I give the group a topic such as breakfast cereal or romantic comedies. Then everyone has to provide one example, in the space between a rhythmic clap. Sometimes when the examples are running out, people begin to make them up. This is my favourite part of the game. I recently played this with a group of Americans. I gave them the subject of “Places in the UK”. Their answers included ‘Queenshire’, ‘Tea Pottingdon’, ‘Castleland’ and ‘Crumpetville’.

Who is the most creative person you know?
Probably my husband. He is a talented computer engineer and a pianist. He always comes up with great ideas during my weekly improv class at Riot Games in LA and his creative sense of humour never fails to brighten my day.

Who should we ask these questions to next? Why?
Probably my husband! He works on League of Legends – one of the world’s most-played video games and it takes a ton of creativity to rise to the challenges faced by Riot Games every single day. I’m sure he would have some great thoughts for your readers.

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