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Wonder, Rigor, and Creativity

By Isabelle Fama, 360PR+ New York Office

Creativity is one of our key professional development pillars at 360 this year, and really every year. We kicked off our creativity curriculum at 360’s recent Summer Summit, with a combination of a fireside chat featuring Natalie Nixon, Ph.D., author of The Creativity Leap, followed by idea trips, breaking into small cross-functional groups for an activity all about wonder.

A common misconception about creativity is that it is reserved for creatives and those in artistic fields. But creativity is relevant for all of us, in every role in every field, as Nixon brings to life in a series of interviews in her book. When discussing creativity with our team, Nixon focused on two elements she considers essential to the creative process: wonder and rigor. She defines wonder as a sense of deep curiosity – the kind that leads to what she calls “big blue-sky questions.” To practice wonder is to slow down and be in awe of your surroundings, while rigor, as Nixon explains, brings needed discipline and skill mastery. To foster creativity, we must toggle between the two practices.

Some situations, like brainstorms and big-bet planning, call for generative thinking and a wonderous perspective. Other cases call for a sense of determination and rigor that drives toward a singular goal. Nixon says there is a symbiotic relationship between wonder and rigor and, to master the art of toggling between the two, she helps organizations employ her 3i Creativity™ Framework emphasizing intuition, improvisation, and inquiry.

Inspired by our conversation with Nixon, we broke into small groups and set off on idea trips, unplugging and heading outside and getting comfortable with what Nixon referred to as “the space of doing nothing.” As 360’s Karen Murray explained, we were “taking a step back, turning away from where you might expect to find ideas, and giving ourselves time to consider the big picture.” 

Our groups were comprised of agency members from across a variety of specialties and generations. Some key themes emerged from our idea trips: the power of taking wonder breaks and tuning into our environment, of looking up and around, not just straight ahead, of asking questions and never veering too far from childlike wonder.

360’s Hannah Buckley remarked that initially her group was talking over all of the sounds around them. Team member Catie Valzania added, “instead of focusing on our next big idea, we started to pay more attention to being active listeners.” Bella DiPietro, who was in another group that ran into a literal roadblock, shared the insight that, “problems can lead to a positive, forcing you to think about the possibilities.”

Nixon asserts that “humans are hard-wired to be creative.” But sometimes our emphasis on expertise and knowing gets in the way of wonder. We learned from Nixon, and our idea trips, the power of pausing – of taking time to notice, to listen and to re-frame our thinking in order to create and be creative. Summarizing her group’s idea trip, 360’s Emily Lupinacci said, “take lot of sips, asking lots of little questions, and enjoy the journey.”

Thanks to Natalie for inspiring all of us at 360. You can learn more about her work, books and podcast on her website.

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