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The Power of Creativity

I recently attended a course that took individuals with various backgrounds, different organizational functions, and differing levels of autonomy, to explore creativity and innovation in the workplace. Creativity is arguably the spark of brilliance that ignites change and spurs progress. But where does it belong in the workplace? And if it belongs in every organization how do we foster it? Although participants learned close to 20 different methods for facilitating creativity, the following are the seven techniques that resonated with me:

Why? Why Else?
As a manner of identifying the true problem statement this method simply requires answering the question, “Why?” and asking “Why else might this be an issue, a solution, etc.?” This exercise can be completed alone; however, it’s better to have a team so that one person records the response and another can restate your answer and ask the “why else”: I see why…now why else? This method helps to ensure that you are not too narrow in the problem statement. I probably like this method as it reminds me of the 5 Whys method that I learned for root-cause analysis course. However, the Why, Why Else methodology is an expansion methodology versus the drill-down methodology of the 5 Whys.

Fishbone Diagrams
For more complex issues, it’s nice to have a pre-set structure so that you worry less about the organization of information and focus more on solving the problem. The fishbone diagram illustrates the cause and effect relationship: the equipment, process, people, materials, environment, and management, (the causes), to the problem (the effect). Primary and secondary causes are identified for each cause area which helps to provide a robust image of the problem.

Brainstorming is a staple and when done right it can be lots of fun. Brainstorming is meant to be a time free from criticism, assessment, and evaluation where member of the team offer up any idea, no matter how far-fetched it may sound. The purpose is to think outside-of-the-box and the goal is to generate as many ideas as possible. A significant period of time should be provided between the brainstorming session and the evaluation of the ideas that are generated, e.g. days or weeks, so that ample time is provided to accept divergent opinions or to review idea viability.

The best way to ensure your message is not misunderstood, is to simply remain willing to communicate, until an understanding is reached. Don’t assume your message was clearly received, be prepared to re-tool the communication, and be willing to apologize for the misunderstanding – even if it is mother nature’s fault – if you take ownership, you get to be the hero. 5 Actions for Success

Brainwriting is a form of Brainstorming; however, it ensures that everyone on the team is equally involved. Everyone writes down their ideas and then passes them to the next person, who builds upon the idea or uses the idea as a trigger for another idea. The cycle continues until everyone has ideated on everyone else’s idea. This method eliminates social loafing and reduces the evaluation apprehension that may occur during traditional brainstorming methods.

This technique requires you to substitute, combine, adapt, magnify or minimize, put-to-other-use, eliminate, and rearrange or reverse to spark creativity. As illustrated by Josh Linkner in “Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity" in the cereal market, SCAMPER looks something like the following:

Substitute- Corn Flakes led to Bran Flakes (substitute ingredient).
Combine – Raisin Bran was born from combining bran flakes with raisins.
Adapt – Cinnamon Toast Crunch came borrowing the flavor of cinnamon toast and then adapting it into a cereal recipe.
Magnify or minimize – Frosted Wheat became Frosted Mini Wheat.
Put to other use – Rice Krispy Treats are now packaged in separate units and sold as a competitor to the candy bar.

…etc. you wind up with a completely new product by simply looking at the current product in a new and different manner.

Squirrel Box
A free association exercise, the squirrel box involves a box filled with small random items. Participants are asked to choose one of the items and then brainstorm around the item and its possible relationship to the problem statement. The items can included because the facilitator had a few ideas about a possible connection to the problem statement, or the facilitator may not have any preconceived notions about the items. Participants should be asked to generate a significant number of ideas, e.g. 10-15 which are likely to go expand beyond anyone’s box.

Morphological Analysis
Also referred to as an “idea box,” this technique requires that you establish parameters and then list variations for each parameter. The list should be relatively robust in order for the exercise to be effective - set at least four parameters and list a minimum of ten variations each. When you combine at least one variation from each parameter you end up with 10,000 possible combinations to explore! An idea box for publishing may include parameters such as type (fiction, textbook, mystery), properties (sound, shape, texture), processes (manufacture, marketing, design), and forms (hardback, magazine, software).

After careful consideration is given to the parameters and variations, this exercise has the potential to maximize creativity and innovation in the shortest period of time. All it requires is that you look at the grid and make a choice. Not bad.

I had a blast in this course. Not only did we theorize about creativity and innovation we walked away with real and practical tools to use in our organizations. You may also find these tools useful in your ideate sessions.