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Creative Process: Richard Gerver

Creativity & Innovation

Richard Gerver began his career as an actor who worked as an advertising copywriter to make ends meet. He turned to teaching in 1992 and in 2005 won the Head Teacher of the Year Award at the British National Teaching Awards for his work in leading a school on the brink of closure to becoming one of the most innovative in the world. He also worked with Tony Blair’s Government as an advisor on education policy, and today works closely with Sir Ken Robinson. His book Change; Learn to Love it, Learn to Lead It deals with the complexities of personal and professional change in the 21st century.

We first discovered Richard’s work through his 2013 RSA talk – see the video embedded at the end of this post. Richard is a highly engaging and pertinent speaker and you will not regret the 20-odd minutes spent watching his talk.

Do you follow a creative process?
Not really, but I keep my eyes open and always see problems as challenges needing to be solved, not insurmountable barriers

Do you use any tricks or techniques to come up with ideas?
I always embrace new experiences and ideas, people and places whether they seem relevant to my current thinking or not. For me the greatest barrier to a creative process is to live in a routine where nothing changes; creativity relies on the stimulus of the new.

What’s the best idea you’ve had recently? Tell us where you were, what you were doing, where you found inspiration.
An idea for a new book called in search of simple. I want to deconstruct the complexity we seem to believe surrounds us. I was at an event listening to a very clever speaker making the process of education far more complex and wordy than it needs to be. The next day I had the luck to have lunch with Eric Schmidt, the Executive Chairman of Google and he so eloquently described education as a series of human interactions; I loved it and immediately thought there was a book in there!

Change-GraphicHow did you develop your idea?
I just started writing, stream of consciousness stuff and it has given me the clay with which to fashion the idea.

Did you get any feedback or test your idea on anyone? Who did you ask?
I ask my friends and wife; she is such a great questioner; objective and clear… I also spoke to my publisher who then asks the hard questions about projected audience and money etc.

What was the hardest part of developing your idea?
Coming up with a clear narrative from the germ of instinctive excitement.

Tell us about an idea of yours that didn’t work. What happened?
Some years ago, I tried to develop a consultancy business with some friends… it didn’t work because we all had great ideas but no one was ready to put in the hard work, the logistics etc. to make it happen.

Where / when do you feel most creative?
When I am alone with my thoughts; often when I’m out running or cycling… sometime staring out of the window of a plane or train.

Does technology help or hinder creativity?
For me it helps; it acts as a portal to new places, ideas and stimulus. If you use it as an obedient servant then it will give you what you ask for back; efficiently; if you use it as a catalyst to stimulate your own experiences and ideas… wow!

Do you use group brainstorms? If so, how do you run them?
Nope; I hate daft terms and labels, but I do sit down in relaxed spaces with friends and colleagues and chat; often an abstract conversation or philosophical conversation generates some amazing stuff; just as it did when I was a student, on those post kebab late night chats!

What’s the biggest challenge facing creative people?

Can creativity be taught?
No; it is a quality we are born with; the ability to find something of interest; to question, explore and hypothesize. To me creativity and the ability to learn are almost identical and when you realize that we learn 70 to 75% of everything we learn in our lifetimes before we are 5 years old, we realize that the question should not be how do we teach creativity, but how do we stop that natural ability degrade?

Who is the most creative person you know?
My niece; she is 18 months old

Who should we ask these questions to next? Why?
Anyone under the age of 5….because they are the experts; they just don’t know it!

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