from R&D Innovator Volume 2, Number 1
Process For Creativity
Altier is a certified management consultant and president of
Princeton Associates Inc., a management consulting firm in
manufacturing process has a sequence.
While the sequence may be flexible, based on variations in
the inputs or the desired output, the fundamental point remains:
Effective results require an effective sequence.
The same is true of creating ideas; an effective sequence
for thinking goes a long way toward raising the odds of achieving
the creative process does not start until it is first triggered.
The triggers—the seemingly innocuous events that lead
people to say "aha"—are everywhere.
They are present in the events of the day, in everyday
dissatisfactions, and in everyday searches for satisfaction.
They are present in thoughts like "Wouldn't it be nice
vacation, Edwin Land took some pictures of his daughter.
She asked why she couldn't see the results right then and
there, so he started thinking about overcoming his daughter's
an hour he had developed the concept of instant photography, and
you know the rest of the story.
many church choir singers, Art Fry put slips of paper in his hymn
book so he could find selections quickly, but the slips sometimes
fell out. Taking his
dissatisfaction back to his job, he developed 3M's Post-it notes.
wasn't invented, it was an accident.
However, its application to myriad products was possible
because a curious chemist didn't throw away the accident but
rather played with it to learn more about its properties, and
discovered it could solve certain problems better than any other
it be creative application and better satisfactions, as with
Teflon, or creative discovery and overcoming dissatisfactions, as
with the Polaroid-Land camera and Post-it notes, the triggers were
seemingly mundane happenings.
These same types of events undoubtedly happened to hundreds
of other fathers and choir members and chemists.
But they apparently did not pursue them.
may be exposed to these same kinds of triggers dozens of times
every day, but if you don't notice them, or you accept them as
fleeting events, they will not be triggers.
If you pause, think, reflect and question, one just might
become a trigger.
has been said that "a problem correctly stated is half
solved." If we
accept this maxim, then the obvious question is:
"How do I state the problem correctly?"
Simply by recognizing the "true choice" being
faced, then stating it at its most simple and elementary.
one of his books on lateral thinking, Edward de Bono talks about
an office building where occupants complained about the wait for
elevators. By viewing
the problem as "How can we speed up the elevators?" the
landlords felt they were up against a brick wall of prohibitive
costs. In a triumph
of lateral thinking, someone suggested placing mirrors on the
walls near the elevators, allowing people to spend the time
admiring or fixing themselves and ignoring the wait. It worked.
suppose the problem had originally been stated in terms of the
true choice: "How can we eliminate complaints about the
the possible solutions might have included faster elevators, or
mounting television sets or mirrors nearby.
important point is hidden in this elevator example.
The problem was first viewed in terms of the need to change
the performance of the product itself (the elevator), when the
problem was actually solved by creating change in the product's
of the most important steps in developing creative abilities is
recognizing and owning up to the obstacles to devising creative
ideas. The foremost
barrier, curiously, is experience.
Although experience is often valuable, it can be a
liability if in a search for creative ideas.
Herman Kahn called experience "educated
incapacity," which helps explain why many breakthrough ideas
come from outsiders who aren't encumbered by their experience.
Olson, founder of Digital Equipment Corp., relied on his
experience in computers when he told the World Future Society's
convention in 1977: "There
is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their
exactly when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were starting Apple
Computer in their garage!
can be another barrier to creativity.
For years the greeting card companies labored under the
assumption that their competition was other greeting card
companies. No doubt
this affected—and constrained—their creative efforts. However, the unexpected popularity of sending flowers and
plants with just a telephone call (e.g. Florists Telegraph
Delivery—FTD) became significant competition.
are another barrier. When was the last time you quickly responded
to an idea with "It will never work," or "We tried
that before," or "They'll never buy it"?
Think about judgments you've laughed at:
"He'll fall off the end of the earth" (about
Christopher Columbus), or "They'll never replace horses"
(said about automobiles), or "Birds were made to fly, not
man" (said about airplanes).
about the judgments that are now accepted as valid?
What about Einstein's Theory of Relativity?
Might it be superseded in the future, and could today's
acceptance inhibit creativity?
a common barrier to creativity, the "right answer"
syndrome, is locked into people's brains shortly after they start
school, with the get-the-right-answer focus typical of our
educational system. Most
school systems are better at turning out automatons who can
memorize and parrot the right answer; they are not so expert at
turning out people who can think and invent new answers.
last major barrier to creativity is fear of failure.
Failure is actually a great contributor to creativity; it's
a tremendous learning tool. Although
too many graduates of the right-answer school are oblivious to the
value of failure, Thomas Edison was not.
When a friend suggested that his attempts to develop an
electric storage battery were a failure since he had tried
thousands of materials without success, Edison replied:
"Why, man, I've got a lot of results!
I know several thousand things that won't work."
feel it's important to have a scheme to help people be more
creative. In helping
clients create ideas, I've noticed three brightly illuminated
signs on the path to creativity:
Forget everything you know!
Remember everything you know!
Rearrange everything you know!
Forget everything you know!
key here comes from Pablo Picasso:
"Every act of creation is first of all an act of
come from arrangements of information, but virtually all the
information in your memory bank is tied together in relationships.
Roger von Oech succinctly expressed the problem:
"As people grow older, they become prisoners of
familiarity" (of relationships).
first step in attempting to create ideas is to destroy the
familiarity, the relationships, of everything you know about the
problem. Before Edwin
Land invented instant photography, everyone was aware that seeing
the results of a picture-taking session was related to developing
the film, which was related to a place called a darkroom, which
was related to their local drugstore.
Everybody was a prisoner of that familiarity.
So was Land, until he broke its shackles, until he let his
mind destroy those relationships.
Remember everything you know!
this act of destruction, you are left with a rich reservoir of
bits and pieces of information, a vast storehouse of unconnected
facts and fantasies, thoughts and ideas.
Just like the words in a dictionary, they do nothing until
you select and assemble them into a coherent whole.
value of these pieces was expressed by Nobel laureate Albert
Szent-Gyorgyi: "Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as
everyone else and thinking something different."
More than likely, the pieces of a problem you're looking at
are the same pieces that others are looking at.
The pieces are the means to the end, but they are valueless
as they stand. Thus
the key to a better idea, "thinking something
different," takes us to the last step.
Rearrange everything you know!
look for for new relationships among the pieces, new ways of
assembling them. Edwin
Land made a new combination of his images of camera and darkroom.
Art Fry saw a new connection between an adhesives
technology owned by his employer and his falling slips of paper.
answers come from new arrangements of information.
With all the possible combinations of information, it would
be presumptuous to say your answer to a problem is the right one.
You might say it's one good answer, or better than existing
answers, but to unequivocally call it "best" shows more
ignorance than judgment.
you're trying to solve a problem, to create ideas, or just to do
your job, the last thing you should do is to try to invent one
perfect idea. Instead,
develop as many ideas as you can, then pick and choose among them.
creativity can be simple, that doesn't mean it's painless.
Nobody said it would be easy.
After all, if the next idea your employer needed was so
obvious, why would you have a job?