Last reviewed 13 May 2015

Val Moore highlights the critical role that creativity has to play in childcare leadership and how creative thinking can make a huge difference to operational effectiveness.

“Because that is the way it has always been done”. When these words are uttered, it is a time to despair and watch the organisation slide into decline.

It does not have to be that way.

All organisations — childcare providers included — should be inventive, looking for new ways things can be done. Ingenuity, making something different happen; developing something original — all of these and more are the basis of a burgeoning, dynamic organisation.

Get creative.

Organisations tend to be more creative when “times get tough” and with the current economic climate, times are difficult for many provisions. Even if your provision is one that is weathering the storm well, keep it that way.

There are few industries where 95% of the customers change every 5 years (for some their customer base turns over every 2 years) but childcare is one. Be innovative and original, engaging with customers (parents), suppliers and allied organisations, and show the provision is modern and forward looking.

When it comes to applying creativity, there are 5 main techniques.

  1. Evolution. Think about the evolution of plants and animals: small changes in themselves are perhaps not dramatic, but several small changes can produce something that is much better than the original. Small changes over time turned a penny-farthing into the bicycles we know today.

  2. Synthesis. Where two or more ideas are put together to produce a third. Our mobile phones are a wonderful example of this. Not only can we make phone calls, we can take photographs, organise our diaries, find out where are friends are and much more (evolution meets synthesis).

  3. Revolution. This is often going back to something from the past, not to do things the same way, or even for the same reason, but using an idea from the past. Recycling, for instance. Once a necessity (it still is in places like Africa), it gave way to a throw-away society; now recycling (or make do and mend) is back. Saving money, protecting the environment and being seen as environmentally friendly are now definite plus-points in business.

  4. Re-application. Looking beyond the obvious and finding a new approach, of doing something or using something in a different way. A nail file or paperclip used as a mini-screwdriver or an empty ice-cream carton becoming a storage box, for example.

  5. Changing direction. This is solving a problem by means of approaching it from another angle or looking at it from another dimension to see if another solution presents itself. “How can I divide a cake in half to ensure both children have equal shares and don’t complain”? You don’t divide it, but let one child cut the cake and the other choose which half they want.

Creative thinking is not just something for managers; the whole team should get involved, and this could include parents and other organisations that the provision is involved with. While perhaps not being able to emulate Google, who asks its employees to dedicate 20% of their time to thinking and developing new ideas, you can put in place methods to get people thinking. Your staff may well have ideas, but have not previously been encouraged to express them.

Creativity is based on original thinking and this is often triggered by consciously seeing the world around us, making connections that in day-to-day life often pass us by. Encourage everyone to constantly think “creative”.

Top tips for staff

  • Carry a notebook or use the recording facility, or notebook facility, on mobile phones to make notes when ideas come or you see something novel. Take a photograph.

  • Be open to new experiences.

  • Read widely.

  • Cut out interesting articles from newspapers and magazines.

  • Have your mind open to new ideas when watching TV.

  • Look at and listen to what other childcare provisions are doing — can you use or adapt their ideas?

  • Attend networking events — those outside of the immediate sphere of childcare — and get a different perspective on business, on life.

  • Have an enquiring mind — think “what if...?”

  • Think laterally.

You should have an “ideas generation notice board” and encourage everyone to pin up appropriate newspaper / magazine articles and photographs. These should be accompanied by a note of why it is there and what the person is thinking about. The ideas do not have to be fully formed to go on the board; someone else may well make a connection from something they have seen or know to take the idea forward.

Install a whiteboard alongside – encourage ideas to be written up and start a mind map on it. This will be the subject of another article.

Set up an ideas box with incentives for the best ideas (this could easily involve parents and other visitors — it just needs to be publicised and encouraged).

Bring these ideas together on a regular basis

  • have “ideas generation” as part of staff meetings, or

  • have “ideas generation” as part of staff meetings.

Use the ideas on the “ideas generation notice board” to facilitate discussions.

Use mind mapping techniques at these meetings. There is never any idea too outlandish to be considered, revised or linked to other ideas. Often, the more outlandish the better – it helps others spin off ideas from it.

Problem solving is usually taking a specific problem and trying to solve it by analytical thinking and following through logical arguments. Creative thinking is not about immediate problem solving – it is more ideas generation. Then how can the ideas generated be used? Maybe to solve a problem, but better still to develop something new, do something better, more efficiently, more cost effectively. With creative thinking, let the mind wander, let ideas come.

Those working within the childcare industry are surrounded by creative thinkers — just look at how creative children are! As adults, however, we are bound by our own perceived limitations. Find your adult child within!

As Albert Einstein said “I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking”.