Creativity in Innovation

The Key to Creativity in Innovation is Flexible Thinking

All of the theories and techniques at how to be more creative have one overriding approach. If you can understand that theme, it makes it a lot easier to understand how to utilize creativity techniques and skills. All of the techniques try to have you do just one thing, and that is to think more flexibly.

I like this term thinking flexibly because it doesn’t push you to think differently necessarily. It keeps you rooted in your expertise and skillset but still conditions your mind to realize that you need to think in a lot of different ways. It also illustrates how you need to be more flexible with how you approach problems.

One approach is brainstorming analogies. We also work with another technique called synectics. These and other approaches all help get you to reframe or re-examine your products, companies, and products from a different perspective.

No specific technique is definitively “the best” any more than any approach to weight loss is definitively “the best.” You know you need to eat less, and you know you need to exercise more. But what exercises do you do? If you go to a gym or a trainer, they’ll offer hundreds of different exercises and programs. Creativity is the same way. It really doesn’t matter what exercise you do; what you need to do is get on the treadmill, get in the gym, and burn off those calories.

We typically envision creativity and the creative process with the “new” aspect and a great deal of what we are taught is about developing “new” ideas and solutions. Equally important, and most often overlooked, is the requirement for the new creation to be meaningful. The new creation must be appropriate and generate value in some way. The old adage of monkeys typing on a typewriter – the text will certainly be new and different, but offer no value, and thus is not creative.

Creativity is the Process of Creating Something New and Meaningful

The challenge in creative endeavors is to explore new spaces for new ideas and solutions that are relevant and meaningful to the goal at hand. There is an inherent conflict in this process: the expansive process of seeking new ideas and solutions and the convergent process of filtering ideas for only those that are meaningful. Often we are taught some very basic techniques for the expansive part, such as brainstorming or analogies; however, we are rarely taught how to use our expanded ideas and focus them on our goal of a meaningful outcome.

Some methodologies split the process and have some people work on the expansive task and then others on the focusing task; others simply split the two in time, expanding first without regard for meaning and then focusing down on a meaningful outcome. The key is to recognize that there is a conflict in the process and that it must be managed – expansion must not be squelched by meaning and random; meaningless outcomes of expansion need to be weeded out for the truly creative outcome that is new and meaningful.

In innovation, creativity is a vital part of discovering new value and solving high-impact problems. Problems that are deterministic or have a prescribed or known solution path are product development. The uncovering of new value and solutions requires unknown solution paths. These paths expand our thinking and perception while at the same time having tremendous meaning or value, this is the essence of creativity.

The Role of Innovation in Acceleration

Understanding the Role of Innovation in Business Acceleration

Growth in any organization is dependent upon the ability to innovate. Innovative companies boast 10 times higher return on R&D and 2.5 times higher sales, for instance, than their non-innovative competitors. Despite that fact, however, less than half of all companies achieve their innovation goals and benchmarks. But if innovation is so vital to success and sustainability, why is it so elusive and conspicuously absent in today’s corporations?

Part of the reason is that while innovation is a popular buzzword, it is not easily defined or understood. For many, innovation is a totally subjective term and a concept that they have no idea how to actually measure, quantify, or implement as a practical objective or business strategy. But if you have no idea what you’re trying to accomplish you’re doomed to fail. So to place it on firmer ground and make it more concrete, I define innovation as “the continual creation of new value.”

The Essential Ingredients of Innovation

Innovation’s three primary components are 1) value, 2) creation, and 3) continuous process. Top innovators continually seek new value while simultaneously developing the skills and processes to create new technological solutions to capture that value.

The game-changing iPod, for example, integrated existing technology (portable MP3 players) with a more user-friendly and robust interface and access to music. Similarly, innovation may take the form of a completely new technology – which is what happened when Kevlar used in bulletproof vests was invented.

Both the iPod and Kevlar created new value. The Apple product did it by understanding value in negative space, namely seeing unknown needs and wants and proactively fulfilling them – effectively carving out a new market. Meanwhile, Kevlar capitalized upon the known value of an existing urgent need by offering a viable (and potentially lifesaving) solution.

The Key to Innovation Acceleration

How do you become an agent of innovation acceleration? You must uncover and solve high-impact problems. In terms of MR-heads for disc drives, for example, the key problem was the read sensitivity of existing heads which limited recording density performance. Thanks to a proactive, solution-based approach, IBM capitalized on a rare and exceptionally lucrative opportunity to accelerate. As a result, IBM is the only company that has survived four decades of fierce disc drive industry competition.

My work focuses on understanding how to identify these keystone challenges in order to uncover untapped and unseen value in the market. After all, innovative problem-solving is the goldmine of the 21st century. Isolate problems others have not yet spotted on their radar. Offer forward-thinking, innovative answers and solutions. You and your organization will grow by sustainably scalable and profitable leaps and bounds and surpass all competitors by not just reentering the market but reinventing it as the innovation accelerators within your field.

Paradigm Shift vs. Representation Change

Understanding the Difference Between a Paradigm Shift and Representation Change and Why It Matters

The term “paradigm shift” has gained popular usage as a call to action for transforming our business and our success.  The term paradigm shift gained its roots in scientific discourse to describe the changing viewpoint or perspective about a problem or data.  In business, the term is used to describe a change in viewpoint or understanding, such as the brick and mortar consumer electronic stores, such as Circuit City and Best Buy, who shifted from a merchandise to a service model for business growth. A change in representation often occurs in a paradigm shift, however, there is a significant difference between the two.  A paradigm shift is not an active term, it is a descriptor – it describes that a viewpoint or understanding has changed, but not how, or by whom.

Representation change is the activity of you changing how you view and represent the world; it is an internal, self-driven, active process. It is how you newly look at a problem, how you have transformed your original thinking into a new perspective and understanding.  Someone cannot change your representation for you – although they can help guide you.

Representation change is the cornerstone of the creative process – to ability and need to change how we perceive and understand the world.  The tools and techniques for creativity, whether it is something simple like brainstorming or something more complex like TRIZ, are all methods to change your representation and with it enable to you discover and solve high-impact problems.

5 Tips to Change Your Representation

  • Change your location.  One company, in an effort to effect a great change in viewpoint, sent their US-based team to Asia for 6 weeks to work on coming up with a new product.  The fact that almost everything would be different to them forced them to see even the simplest task in a new light.
  • Improv Comedy. One exercise in improv comedy is to start a description of an event or item and then stop and let the next person continue the story or description.  Each person can take it in any direction they want – and almost always, never in the direction the other person would have thought.  Try describing something to a friend and then stop and let them continue their description of it.  The discontinuity in each of your descriptions will spur a change in your thoughts.
  • Walk away.  There have been several studies on the process of “leaving a project or idea sit.”  When you work hard on something, all of the details and contradictions are fresh and in the forefront of your mind.  Walk away – literally. Doing another activity and letting time pass allows you to forget – forget your old way of thinking.  Your experience in the “time off” may also inspire a new way to look at the problem when you return.
  • Find a novice.  Ask a friend who is not an expert on your topic and give them some data or example of your topic without your analysis or description.  Then ask them to describe the problem/topic in their own words.  The will certainly not see it the same way as you do.
  • Analogy and metaphor. List 5 things that are “like” your topic and then describe them.  Then try to use those descriptions on your topic. If you’re lucky, there will be similarities you didn’t see before that gives you a fresh viewpoint.