boy in the forestSometimes it is difficult to see the forest for the trees, or is it the other way around?  Both propositions speak to where you are and how you harness the information that is in front of you by widening or narrowing the distractions.

Daniel Pink, author of New York Times bestsellers, A Whole New Mind and Drive, covers this question in his article “Employees are Faster and More Creative When Solving Other People’s Problems”.  What enhances a person’s ability to creatively tackle other’s dilemmas is distance from the problem.  Pink cites the research of Evan Poleman of New York university and Kyle Emich of Cornell University that shows  when we think of situations or individuals that are distant – in space, time, or social connection – we think of them in the abstract. But when those things are close – near us physically, about to happen, or standing beside us – we think about them concretely.   Distance or abstraction widens an individual’s acceptance of types of information that can be useful in the situation, thus opening them to more possible solutions.  Also, distance from a situation means that the person may have different knowledge and skills, different experiences that can contribute to a unique solution. Pink believes that managers and leaders spend so much time focusing on the trees, that they cannot see the forest, which is a detriment to creative innovation.

His suggestion is to go outside of the walls of the business when looking for “forest-seers”.  Some options he gives are accessing crowdsourcing, joining professional clubs and recruiting independent directors to boards.  But, he doesn’t focus on the very real, easily accessible “forest-seers” that are inside the business, but in another department or another team.  After all, what Pink is calling for is a culture of collaboration.  In this culture, the differences in departments’ functions are valued because they produce minds that can envision a dilemma using different knowledge and skills. The accounting department may not have the skills to design a shoe, but they do have the experience of being users of shoes.  They also have the cognitive distance from the design process to suggest truly creative solutions.  Of course, the truly creative solution may not work, but just the suggestion of a new twist will add to the evolution of the product.

Creativity is the process of generating unique products by transformation of existing products. Collaboration keeps creativity engaged because it transforms the information of those who are close to the product using insight from those who are distant from the product.  Creative collaboration across the enterprise sees the trees and the forest at the same time.