Monthly Archives: March 2013

A Daily Dose of Applied Creativity

A Chinese proverb warns us to be careful of our habits, for they shall become our character. It’s a concept that I think captures the importance of routine in developing us into the people we become. If we habitually condition ourselves to reject the untried, the unknown or the unusual, we are doomed to action that is likely to be safe, predictable and reliable, but unlikely to be inventive or innovative.
Very often, creativity is viewed as an outcome. We assume that naturally creative people easily produce innovative ideas or work, while ‘ordinary’ people are simply not born to create extraordinary ideas.
The good news, however, is that our scientific research has determined that creativity is a learnable process and the attitudinal, behavioral and thinking skills which make it work are the real keys. When we deliberately opt to think creatively, use creative tactics and tools, and follow a creative process, we become more innovative and ingenious. Just as practice and consistent commitment makes us better at almost anything, not surprisingly, it also makes us more skilled at executing creativity as a standard, everyday behavior.
For organizations, developing a culture of innovation begins with equipping employees at all levels with the process and skills they need to behave creatively, then supporting and rewarding them as they continuously practice and hone those skills. The reward? Inventive people with creative habits and characters, and an organizational culture of implementing new ideas.

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Today’s Challenges are Tomorrow’s Innovations

The business world doesn’t expend much energy on problem finding. It’s an uncomfortable and often untidy process. And while many leaders consider themselves to be good problem solvers, most seem to find the idea of searching for new problems to be counter-intuitive. The “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” theory of management is alive and well.
However, organizations that aspire to be industry leaders must not only accommodate and develop problem finding as an essential skill, they must give it high priority and visibility. Toshiba puts its new R&D scientists and engineers into the sales department to begin their careers because the company knows that innovation begins with problem finding — that is, discovering the problems of customers… often problems customers don’t even know they have.
Astute problem-seekers have the chance to solve problems that no one has yet recognized exist. Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera, recognized this opportunity when he took a photo of his young daughter on the beach and she didn’t want to have to wait to see the picture. The key to the Polaroid innovation was discovering the problem, not undertaking the technical work leading to its solution.
In more recent years, Apple has built its mega-brand by imagining what could be, rather than focusing on what is. In other words, the company has proactively found new problems – or opportunities – that can be solved with its technologies.
Successful problem finding requires dedicated time and energy. Our research has found that it is not successfully managed or properly valued in most organizations. Problem generation is rarely practiced as a regular and ongoing activity. After skipping over, or giving only a passing nod to problem generation, unskilled managers tend to rush into the more familiar ground of problem solving. This results in wasted energy, as the organization seeks solutions to poorly defined or inappropriate problems.
The result is not one but two barriers to successful problem finding. Not only is there a preference to avoiding looking for new problems to solve, there is a dismal track record of solving the wrong problem due to persistent distractions, the tyranny of the urgent and the lack of skills required to properly identify problems that offer the potential for innovative solutions. But while there may be two barriers to problem finding, there are countless incentives for making your organization better at it. Think of Toshiba, the Polaroid camera and the iPod as the first three.

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Building Teams That Can Think Together

Few organizational challenges are within the scope of a single individual to solve. Moving innovation from insight to idea to implementation usually requires a number of people, ideally working within a well-functioning team.

Most of us, at one time or another, have worked in team environments that are frustratingly unproductive and uncreative, and consequently produce mediocre results. But when done well, teamwork can offer inspiration and motivation, and produce innovative ideas and high quality results.

Typically, interdisciplinary teams are formed based on their diverse knowledge – diversity in what their members know. Building hot teams is about harnessing a new kind of diversity – diversity in how the members think. Profile

By beginning with an on-line assessment tool, the Creative Problem Solving Profile (, team leaders can assemble people who contribute to the creative problem solving process with a diverse range of problem solving styles. By synchronizing those diverse styles, hot teams can move seamlessly through generation, conceptualization, optimization and implementation stages. Team members execute specific thinking skills that make the process work. They recognize and eliminate destructive thinking practices, employ advanced tools including customer challenge mapping, and routinely ask  “how might we?”, “why?”, and “what’s stopping?” as part of a new everyday language of innovation.

The result is a well-functioning team capable of providing breakthrough results and experiencing real motivation and satisfaction.

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Building a Better Process

Some of today’s most perplexing problems involve the need to improve processes.

Around the globe, governmental organizations are struggling to make efficient use of scarce tax dollars in an environment of outdated, expensive and overly bureaucratic processes. Non-profit and corporate organizations are typically more nimble and capable of change-making, but are still challenged by the task of improving processes that involve numerous staff across various departments.

Successful process improvement demands the creative involvement of everyone, from start to finish. A well-defined and proven methodology is crucial to ensuring front line staff stay engaged and committed.

Other crucial elements to successful process improvement include:

  1. Working on the right problems. Collecting and analyzing good data is essential and time-consuming. Failure to confirm the right problem is being solved can lead teams to waste time and energy.
  2. Independent Implementation Facilitation. An objective facilitator from outside the immediate organization is crucial to ensuring input is gathered from all participants, and the process retains the support of various participants.
  3. Simplification. Simplified process flow-charts and other visual support tools help staff identify the most important challenges, fresh solutions and specific metrics to document process improvements.
  4. Quantitative Measurement. Process improvements should achieve measurable quality and efficiency results. By analyzing historical data, teams can identify key benchmarks to use in evaluating the impact of new solutions.
  5. Removing roadblocks to implementation. By answering the question, “What’s stopping us?” participants can anticipate and manage implementation challenges, and maintain enthusiasm and commitment to the chosen solution.

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Filed under Business, innovation, Problem Solving