Special Feature: Cavendish Column Why Creativity is Crucial Solving challenges with creativity and innovation by Colin Thompson May 1, 2007 -- Many CEOs and executives consider a focus on creativity to be an exercise in frivolity. Too often they give short shrift to the creative part of themselves, of their companies and of the people who work with them. Others recognize that creativity is important, but they see it as unessential. The most productive leaders incorporate creativity and innovation into their companies with the same predictability as they do profit-and-loss statements. Traditional linear thinking will solve 90 to 95 percent of your issues. Innovation-enhancing techniques are for the toughest 5 to 10 percent. Often, innovation is seen only as a way to add to the top line with new products and services. CEOs should know that these techniques can also be used to make the business more efficient, cut costs and work quicker, better, and smarter. Traditional linear thinking will solve 90 to 95 percent of your issues. Innovation-enhancing techniques are for the toughest 5 to 10 percent. There are three foundations for organizational innovation. They are leadership, training, and organizational openness. To begin thinking like a "chief innovation officer," you need to focus on doing four things: * Set a good example for innovation * Encourage the "best thinking possible" from your staff * Make room for crazy ideas * Solicit 360-degree feedback Innovation and The Bottom Line Can you really afford not to place a premium on innovation in your organization? Here are several examples of how encouraging creativity and innovation has had a major `bottom-line` impact in companies. * The Popular Insurance Company -- a £100 million operation -- used "problem redefinition" to boost sales 52 percent. * A leather western-wear manufacturer virtually saved its life by brainstorming a new market for their products. * A comparison of a Japanese and U.K. based employee suggestion programs showed that the Japanese respect and encouragement for suggestions resulted in savings of £3,000 per employee. * By simply questioning the assumptions in its problem question, a Big Three U.K. organization was able to come up with better sales forecasts for its organization. Imagine that your issue actually belongs to someone else, not you. What would you tell your "counterpart" to do? Engineering Your Breakthroughs There are four foundations for breakthrough thinking. They are not mutually exclusive, and can be used in any combination to foster creative thinking and innovation. * Questions: Reframing issues to make sure you are solving the right challenge or problem. * Metaphors: Taking two different ideas, finding associations between them, and coming up with solutions or ideas from the exercise. * Visuals: Looking at pictures that spark unexpected connections for the problem you're weighing. * Wishing: Giving yourself license to wish for the impossible can sometimes create viable possibilities. "Do-It-Yourself" Creativity Generating There are many ways to jump-start your organization's "creativity generator." One way to take this on is by using Alternative Perceptions. These approaches can be very helpful for gaining a new perspective on the issue you're trying to solve. Among the techniques: 1. Imagine that your issue actually belongs to someone else, not you. What would you tell your "counterpart" to do? 2. Imagine that you have the opposite problem. How would you solve it? 3. Think that it is five years from now, and the issue is solved. What did you do to get there? Can you "reverse engineer" a solution? 4. Enlist other people, in your imagination, as helpers in solving the issue. They can be experts and industry leaders, such as those who've written business books about approaches to various challenges.What can they tell you? As you involve your management team and your employees, there are more techniques that can help them think beyond the ordinary. You are trying to gather their ideas, perceptions and perspectives on your problems and ways to address the issues. Be sure they know "there is no such thing as a dumb idea," so they will feel free to contribute. "Brainwriting" -- Get your entire group to contribute their ideas by passing around a sheet of paper and asking each participant to weigh in with another idea. "Whiteboarding" -- Writing your issue on a centrally located whiteboard, then counting down 10 or 15 days for contributions of ideas to the issue. The whiteboard becomes a central location for mini-brainstorming sessions, and is a symbol of your organization's interest in collaborative issue-solving. Mind-Mapping for Cost-Cutting: Have employees diagram the details of their jobs, then ask a facilitator to help them compare notes and see where savings are hidden. To get the most impact from cost-cutting sessions: * Assign monetary values to the ideas * Encourage people to share the nitty-gritty of their jobs * See if you can generalize once you find a detail worth evaluating * Ask people to "share the pain" of their day-to-day work. Wherever they are frustrated about a task they do, there are opportunities to make changes. Best Practices of Innovative Organizations Innovative organizations have built into their structures several practices that serve to perpetuate innovation. These include: * Celebrating successes * Inviting "20-20 hindsight" * Encouraging playfulness and "blue-sky" thinking * Training for the "competence of creativity" * Challenging traditional business activities * Sharing best practices Increasing Personal Creativity We all have the gift of creativity. Some of us take out and use this gift more frequently than others. When we're in our normal, high-task, divided attention state which is, by definition, high stress, we can only see things the way we normally do. It's like the great line from the Talmud, "We don't see things as they are; we see things as we are". The key is to access the part of the mind that dreams at night. In other words, you need to learn to daydream. The key is to access the part of the mind that dreams at night-- the ‘heart-mind' versus ‘the brain-mind' that you use when you're awake. To relax the mind, you need to go into an alpha brain wave state, which is a state of heightened relaxation. In other words, you need to learn to daydream. If you want to improve your personal creativity, we must increase our creative "C.O.R.E." The acronym stands for: * C -- Curiosity * O -- Openness to new ideas and ways of doing things * R -- Risk-taking ability * E -- Energy level for carrying through on new ideas If you want to increase your creativity, you can do so by working on any one of these four pillars. Faster growth is available to people who are willing to work harder in the one or two areas where they feel the most deficient. I have seen remarkable progress in people who have chosen to concentrate on their creative C.O.R.E. I've also used these techniques personally, and know they work. Have passion in all activities, be positive and share with others so they share with you and it will increase the `bottom-line` and you all will be happy! Success is down to you! Fresh thinking requires a vision to see beyond the conventional. When you combine excellent quality with outstanding value for money you will begin to realize the full potential of creative and well presented business solutions. Together, the sky`s the limit. Give your feedback to Colin. He can be reached at [email protected]