In today's highly competitive business climate, creativity can no longer be limited to artists and inventors. The marketplace is changing rapidly, and in the words of Intel Chairman, Andrew Grove, companies must “Adapt or Die!” Every organization needs people - at every level - who can bring new ideas to the table. People who can come up with new uses for old products... new techniques to close sales... new methods for increasing productivity... or, in this era of downsizing, new ways to do more with less!
The problem is that many people do not believe they have any creative ability. After years of socialization - especially during the formative years of school in which we were taught to conform - most people believe that creativity is a gift that only a few are born with. The good news is that ingenuity is not a gift, but a skill that can be cultivated. It is a skill than can be acquired at any age. And, the timing couldn’t be better, because it is a critical skill in today’s economy. The trick is getting those creative juices flowing. So, how do you go about doing that?
Nobel Prize winner, Albert Georgyi, the man who discovered vitamin C, offered this answer, “Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.”
Sounds easy enough, right? But, when you begin to think about all the things you’ve looked at all your life, you realize how you really haven’t thought too many different thoughts about them. Why is that? It’s because you’ve been looking at those things the same way you always have. Or as Frank Baum, wrote in the Scarecrow of Oz, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” So, how do we stop looking at everything around us in the same way that we always have?
The key to innovation is to begin looking at those things in different ways - in other words - get a another perspective. That, however, only answers part of the question. The rest of the answer comes from understanding that the essence of creativity is all about solving problems or satisfying needs. Sometimes that is as simple as this ancient observation by the philosopher Plato, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Plato is basically telling us that we are most likely to be creative when we are forced into it! Oops, better keep some duct tape and WD40 handy!
You are also likely to be creative when something is annoying you. Isn’t it the squeaky wheel that always gets the oil? Think about all the tasks you have to do - whether at work or at home - I’ll bet there is at least one that you absolutely hate to do. It’s always the one you simply can't avoid. That is an opportunity crying out for some creative improvement. And, if you hate doing it, there may be countless others who hate it too, which means your solution could turn into a million dollar idea.
If you can add a monetary motivator to solving the thing that irritates you - say your company is suffering from sluggish sales - you will have found the second most popular way that people are likely to be creative: to make money!
You’re probably wondering how you can think more creatively? One way is to observe innovators and emulate their characteristics. All creative thinkers have three primary traits. Of those, first and foremost, is the belief they are creative. Ninety percent of being creative is thinking you are, and with that comes the confidence that you'll come up with the right answer when the need arises.
The second characteristic of innovators is that they are flexible in their thinking even when they don't have to be. Innovators readily abandon traditional ways of viewing things and go off in new directions. In other words, they are willing to take risks and to break the rules. Try it yourself; select any item off of your desk and think of another use for it. Can’t decide which item to choose? Then start with an easy one - one you’ve already used for something other than its original purpose: a paperclip. Yeah, how many times have you twisted a paperclip into a new solution - you forgot how creative you already are! Now select another item, you'll be surprised with how many you can come up with.
Next select two objects and try to come up with a new product. One definition of innovation is the combination of two or more existing ideas into a new one. In fact, some R&D departments employ people to sit around and do just that - which just might explain some of those bizarre holiday-season gift inventions. Remember the Salad Shooter that could chop cucumber slices then fire them across the table onto a salad plate; and who could forget the Hot Topper a squirt gun that sprayed molten butter? I know you can do better than that!
The third and most important trait of creative thinkers is exposing themselves to new experiences and different viewpoints. By opening their minds to new stimuli, they literally lay down new neural pathways in their brains - creating new electrical connections between brain cells - opening new channels of thought. Then, when they are confronted by problems, they have that extra brain-power ready to assist them.
Sometimes, however we have to force ourselves to try something new. Why is it that we exercise our muscles, but let our brains languish? That’s because most of us have worked hard to learn and establish the comfortable patterns of life we follow every day. For example, can you imagine reinventing each morning your routine from the moment you step out of bed until you step into your car? No way, you’d never get to the office! Many of these patterns of life are shortcuts and time savers that reflect previous efforts of creativity on our parts. Innovation means there could still be an even better way just waiting to be discovered.
Baseball great, Branch Rickey, said, "To succeed, preparation has to meet opportunity." Will you be ready when opportunity knocks? You will be if you're expanding your brain power by experiencing as many new things as possible.
The strength of your desire to solve a problem is a key factor in how quickly and how effectively you will succeed. An important first step in coming up with a new idea is to initiate the Discovery Process. You do this by identifying and stating the problem as specifically as possible. Then you give it some focused attention, that is, time and energy. If your desire is great enough, and you’ve put some effort into the solution, then your subconscious mind will continue to work on it 24/7. Many times the answer you are looking for will pop into your head when you least expect it. Albert Einstein came up with E=MC2 in a dream.
Here are two easy ways you can expose yourself to new stimuli. First, simply read more. Read a variety of magazines - not just the ones you like - pick new ones on subjects you know nothing about. Second, listen to a broad mix of radio stations. Select a different format each week, and again, don't choose what you already enjoy. Force yourself to acquire - or at least experience - new tastes.
Living a creative lifestyle is great, but occasionally you need answers NOW, yet nothing is forthcoming from your brain. Here's an Innovation Tool that will help jumpstart your creativity when you need it the most: I call it: Put It In Writing! Write down everything you know about the problem; every aspect and everything it affects. Pretend you're writing a term paper or a report for a third party who knows nothing about it, but needs to know everything. The very process of writing in such detail forces you to look at the issue from many angles - to get a different perspective - and this is the key that often stimulates a workable idea.
When you have a number of people to work with, a fun way to generate ideas is to use Brainstorming. This is when a group gets together and everyone throws out ideas until a useful one is found. However, in order for Brainstorming to work, a few rules must be followed:
1. All ideas are valid. This encourages people to take risks and offer outrageous ideas.
2. All participants are equal, and no one is allowed to critique or evaluate anyone's idea.
3. Go for as many ideas as possible - quantity over quality - then sort for best one later.
4. Branch out and expand upon ideas as they are offered. Build on it or morph it to take the brainstorming process to a new level.
Developing your ability to think creatively prepares you to handle difficult situations as they arise, and to think faster on your feet. You’ll recognize opportunities that others will miss. Plus, you'll find you're getting more out of life. When your mind is open to new stimuli, you'll discover exciting new things to do. Take the less obvious choices you're offered and see what you new thoughts you begin to have. You may be pleasantly surprised!
Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is an author, humorist and innovation consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. Robert is also the author of the humorous children’s book: The Annoying Ghost Kid. For more information on Robert, please visit www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.