In today’s rapid paced and turbulent environment we are faced with a multitude of problems and issue, often on a daily basis, that need to be addressed quickly and effectively. Problem solving, innovation and managing change in the workplace are central to organisations maintaining their competitive advantage in a rapidly changing global economy.
Einstein said that we cannot hope to solve the problems of today with the same level of thinking that created them. The role of leaders then is to help “their followers” successfully problem-solve and shape the future by being open to new ideas, new approaches and new mind-sets. Thinking, creativity and innovation are vital to the continued success of any business or organisation.
Thinking is the cornerstone of creativity and innovation. There are different types of thinking that are required at different times for different outcomes. The main thinking styles I use when working with clients include:
- Critical thinking – questioning, gathering information and reflecting on alternatives to solve complex problems
- Strategic thinking – the process to develop a vision and then plan to achieve the vision
- Reflective thinking – known as metacognition or “thinking about thinking”. It is the foundation of higher order thinking or generative thinking defined by Chris Argyris.
- Imaginative thinking – also known as visual thinking or creative thinking to generate new ideas and innovative solutions
- Action thinking – taking real ideas and applying them in action. Steps include identifying the idea or issue, deciding on who to involve, identify options and then providing support to implement actions
Each of these is integrally linked and when utilised produce quality thinking and quality outcomes. One of the key aspects of using any of these thinking styles is to encourage people to take time to think. This is a bit of a culture change because, mostly, we measure performance by the busyness of a person and the outcomes they achieve in generally the shortest time frame. Thinking is a bit like project planning – it takes time, and when you take the time to do it well you fast track the project process and the thinking outcomes.
How does creativity and innovation fit?
Creativity is a process of developing and expressing novel ideas that are likely to be useful. Innovation is the embodiment of such ideas into valued new products, processes or services. Peter Drucker defined innovation as “change that creates a new dimension of performance”
Creativity relates to or involves the imagination and the production of original ideas. It involves thinking about things differently and looking for possibilities to solve a problem or need. It necessitates and creates change which in turn unleashes people’s creative energy.
Creative thinking is making the strange familiar and the familiar strange
90% of innovation is incremental and so a commitment to innovation and continuous improvement is vital to organisation’s sustainability, and proactive adaptation to creating the preferred future.
Managing innovation is about harnessing insights, and creating a culture of innovation. The more we experience our own originality, the more confident we become – thus success builds success. In addition, creativity is not just a mental process. The relationship between thinking and feeling, between mind and body are critical to unleashing creativity.
Conversely, the biggest obstacle to creativity and innovation can be our thinking. Our business paradigm, our model of the world, can be our biggest challenge because it causes us to see our business as an extension of today and restricts our ability to be innovative.
There are a number of features of creative thinking (Adler, 2002). These include:
- Fluency of thinking – thinking freely and effortlessly
- Flexibility of thinking – abandoning outmoded thinking for new ways of thinking. Includes spontaneous flexibility and adaptive flexibility
- Spontaneous flexibility – producing a variety of ideas across domain areas – ie popular uses for common object
- Adaptive flexibility – can – ie generalise requirements of a problem to find a solution – squares / number of lines
- Originality – having unusual ideas
- Ability to see sensitivity to problems – getting to the heart of the matter
- Responses are considered clever – evaluated as astute
- Redefinition – using old interpretations in new ways
- Elaboration – filling in details within a general scheme
- Tolerance of ambiguity – accepts uncertainty
- Convergent thinking – thinking towards one right answer – focusing on detail when necessary (as opposed to left brain thinking)
- Divergent thinking – open-ended thinking where there is no one right answer
- Willingness to be different and to defy convention – lead ideas
- High self discipline
- Commitment to excellence – intrinsic motivation
- Willingness to take risks
There are a range of behaviours that have a negative impact on innovation including:
- Emphasise on rules, regulations, restrictions
- Changing goals frequently or failing to define goals
- Imposing impossible deadlines
- Creating homogenous teams
- Failing to acknowledge innovative effort
- Discouraging risk-taking
- Controlling by making unilateral decisions
- Practicing close supervision
- Referring to past failed attempts
- Being a naysayer
Edison on Creativity
All worthwhile dreams lie on top of a rugged mountain
Edison had certain practices to aid creativity and innovation which we can easily incorporate into our own daily lives:
- Believe in yourself and your creative power to manifest an idea and bring it to fruition. Edison used his belief in himself, focus, effort and determination to achieve whatever he set his mind to.
- Work on ideas or themes that are being worked on by others – Edison worked with ideas that were suitable for the time rather than have an idea rejected that was ahead of its time.
- Learn to “sell your ideas. Edison was cognisant that even a clever idea is no good unless you can “sell” people on the idea. He spent a lot of time and investment in ensuring that the paying public were duly impressed and wanted his inventions.
- Always keep a notepad and pen handy. Edison kept extensive notebooks. He complied over 3500 notebooks detailing every idea he ever had and every experiment he ever tried. Writing down ideas and thoughts, we create a feedback loop with our neurology that accelerates and accentuates our creative mind power.
- Take a daily power nap – Edison was famous for his midday naps where he used to have a chair that he sat in and napped and daydreamed. This was accessing alpha and theta states. He would then “dream” a visual image in his mind, awaken and then document his improved version of his idea / concept.
- Get continual feedback – Feedback testing was an important part of Edison’s strategy for innovation. He would have an idea, test it, note the result, tweak it, test the tweaked idea, record results and continue this approach until he reached the desired outcomes.
- Perseverance – Determination was a large part of how Edison approached innovation. Often we give up just before we reach the creative impasse which shifts us from seeker to finder. If we stop too soon we may leave our best ideas hidden in the recesses of our unconscious mind. Edison stated that “many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up”
- Set an idea quota / target – Edison created the concept of idea quota – generating ideas and innovation. Edison set himself the target of a minor invention every 10 days, and a major invention every 6 months. Make it part of your KPI’s
- Have a Creative mastermind Alliance – Edison was instrumental in creating a mastermind group to work with.
I hope some of these ideas might be useful for you as they have been for me.