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Creativity and Innovation: A culture and not something that is turned on in a crisis


March 1, 2002
By Pulp & Paper Canada

Creativity and Innovation can be elusive commodities. They are always expected in an organization, but they cannot be summoned on demand when a crisis occurs. Creativity is more a state of mind, a cul…

Creativity and Innovation can be elusive commodities. They are always expected in an organization, but they cannot be summoned on demand when a crisis occurs. Creativity is more a state of mind, a culture, a consequence of a healthy, energetic, enthusiastic, driven, and above all, unthreatened organization. A creative culture, whether it be in operations, marketing, technology, or the executive offices, is always seeking new solutions or approaches, is never satisfied with the status quo and celebrates successes.

There are many theories and commercial tools claiming to promote creativity. Most of them boil down to finding unusual or non-linear connections. That is, seeing a link between the dilemma and an unrelated field or discipline. The starting point for most creative problem solving is in having a clear understanding of the problem. The individual or group who owns the problem will explore this “problem-picture” in depth, preferably with the assistance of appropriate tools. The problem will be turned inside out and backwards for viewing from all possible angles and perspectives. This problem-picture will sit deep in the subconscious of the people involved and, with the right “trigger,” a link to a potential solution will be recognized, usually quite unexpectedly [remember Archimedes in his bath]. It is interesting that the ideas usually surface when you aren’t purposely thinking about the problem. The germ of an idea will need nurturing, testing, bouncing-off colleagues to be either abandoned or to grow into a project. The key consideration is how to promote this process of “connections” so that it occurs more frequently. Anyone who has seen the TV show “Connections” with James Burke, or his regular articles in Scientific American, will understand how creativity is propelled.

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Some tools and practices for promoting “Connections” and hence creativity:

Encourage attendance at conferences, occasionally including one specializing in other fields.

Plan visits and discussion with peers in the supplier, customer, university and institute communities.

Regular in-house technical seminars or “issue forums” [once every 2 or 3 months]; inviting consultants can provide useful outside perspectives.

Schedule Brainstorm meetings, or “Creativity Workshops.” Remember, the best ideas often surface outside of the meeting — the formal meeting just sets the stage.

Set up a special “Creativity Room” for holding meetings and for staff to escape for some quiet thinking time. It is possible to bring a great deal of imagination to the setting up of such a room — it should be a different space.

The alternative to the Creativity Room is the communal “Talk Room” or its “no furniture” Japanese equivalent the “Futon and Tea Room.” You enter, talk about what you’re doing to whoever is there and then leave after a short period.

The state of mind when connections and creativity occur (the aha) is the daydream-like-state, so keep a pencil and paper by the bedside to capture ideas and insights when they occur.

Children are the most creative in their outlook — they are not constrained by boundaries or rules — until these are imposed upon them as they progress through life. “Consult-a-kid” services are even available [www.innovationfocus.com].

The answer to most problems is “out there.” It just has to be recognized. The skillful adaptation of known principles or technology will most likely lead to a solution, as will building on core competencies and existing knowledge platforms.

Why is this important?

Businesses that constantly generate new ideas will have an edge in the future. Just like the story of cooking the lobster in the pot by gradually heating up the water, business complacency = toast. Ford, Eastman, Turner, Jobs, Dell, each found a successful and creative business solution by breaking the established rules — they were at “The Fringes.” Many successful new business models involve a new customer interface — IKEA [outsourcing assembly of products to customers], Avon [direct to customer distribution], Ryanair [great service and low fares]. Conventional thinkers see the world in terms of hard data, similarities and experience; leading thinkers see the world in terms of soft data, uniqueness and ambiguity. Information technology also offers new solutions for “distance brainstorming” and “continuous idea generation.”

Food for thought: “The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but, in seeing with new eyes” — Marcel Proust. “Anyone who uses the phrase ‘outside the box’ is as deeply inside the box as a person can be” — Anon.

Alan R. Procter can be reached at futureviews@alanprocter.com. For more information, visit www.futureviews.net


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