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Creativity in Innovation

by: David Ricketts

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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.

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