What do we mean by a creative process? What constitutes creativity, anyway?

To illustrate, consider the example of a public health organization in Zambia that recruits and trains hairstylists (‘agents’) to educate their clients on HIV prevention and to distribute condoms. The organization, in collaboration with researchers, sought to address issues of agent motivation in an effort to increase condom sales. One idea aimed to do so by incentivizing agents with financial rewards. Another idea imagined a type of non-financial reward:

“[A]gents are provided with a thermometer display, akin to those used in charitable fundraisers. Each sale is rewarded with a star stamped on the thermometer, which is labeled as measuring the stylist’s contribution to the health of their community…. In addition, stylists were told that all those who sell more than 216 packs over a year would be awarded a certificate at a ceremony.”*

These ideas were then piloted and evaluated. Agents were either given a 90% margin on condom sales or a 10% margin on condom sales (two very different levels of financial rewards), were given the “stars”, or were given nothing at all. Agents receiving the public recognition scheme sold, on average, over twice as many condoms as those in any other group.

A creative process is one that liberally experiments with different ideas until the best ones surface. It generates multiple (and often competing) ideas and tests them out — even if on a small scale for the purposes of improving some ideas while discarding others. And it doesn’t take a specialist. What it does take is a commitment to open-mindedness and experimentation.

* Ashraf et al (2014), No margin, no mission? A field experiment on incentives for public service delivery