The difference between big ‘C’ and small ‘c’ creativity

Too often, people assume that the term creativity only applies to breakthrough ideas. But creativity experts say there are actually two different kinds of creative problem solving: “Big C” creativity is the breakthrough kind of thinking that most people are familiar with, but it’s relatively rare. “Small c” creativity describes the small ideas and “a-ha’s” […]

Too often, people assume that the term creativity only applies to breakthrough ideas. But creativity experts say there are actually two different kinds of creative problem solving:

“Big C” creativity is the breakthrough kind of thinking that most people are familiar with, but it’s relatively rare.

“Small c” creativity describes the small ideas and “a-ha’s” that enhance and enrich our lives — like creating a new recipe, teaching your dog a new trick or coming up with a new way to format a report for your company — but which rarely bring us fame or fortune. In fact, many people don’t even consider these accomplishments as a form of creative thinking.

Jeff Mauzy, co-author of the book “Creativity Inc.,” explained the differences between these two types of creativity in a recent interview with Optimize magazine:

“We tend to look at what I call ‘big C’ creativity, like, have we invented the new G4 (Apple computer) lately, or are we knocking the socks off our competitors in the market with something new and exciting. Everybody’s looking for the big breakthrough. Meanwhile, they’re going about their lives, making up each day as they go along, as the market shifts, as the office environment shifts, as the politics in the office shifts. And they’re applying ‘little c’ creativity all the time. But they look at this ‘big C’ breakthrough and think, ‘I’ve never done that; I’m not very creative,’ and they lose heart. Instead, if people can learn to focus on the small stuff, they’ll recognize themselves as creative beings and creativity as being a part of everything. If we recognize that, just like fitness, this is all the time, everyday, then when it comes time to apply creativity toward major change, we’re more fit and able to do it.”

Small “c” creativity is often inspired by our surroundings, which may include the people we talk to, the places we go, the things we read and forms of day-to-day stimuli. You may be talking to a co-worker, and suddenly something he or she says triggers an idea on how to improve a process or task that is part of your job responsibilities. That’s “small c” creativity in action.

How can you cultivate “small c” creativity? Here are a few ideas:

Use your daily environment as a source of inspiration and stimulus for creative ideas. When you do get ideas, be sure to record them immediately, so they don’t get away.

Develop your “insight outlook” — the habit of becoming more aware of the implications or deeper meanings of the information that fill your day. Developing an insight outlook means not been satisfied with considering things superficially, but digging down deeper to discern the connections, associations and insights that lie within the information and stimuli we receive each day.

Get in the habit of asking your self open-ended questions, like “Why does this have to be done in this way?” or “What impact will this development have on the future needs of our customers?”

Don’t be blinded by the desire to come up with one “killer” idea. Chances are, your brain may be serving up several or even dozens of “pretty good” hunches or insights each and every day. Take these “idea seeds” seriously; write them down; add them to your idea file or personal journal. You never know when they might come in handy!

Remember to cultivate your “small c” creativity and you will almost certainly enjoy greater success in all arenas of your life!

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