#185 from R&D
Innovator Volume 4, Number 11
You a Creative Thinker?
is a nationally recognized creativity expert and author of the
(A Handbook of Business Creativity for the 90's) and Thinkpad
(A Brainstorming Card Set). He
lives in Churchville, New York and can be reached at (716)
No matter what
area you're working in, your future will be determined by the
innovation you create today.
Where did those computers come from?
And those new types of cooking pots?
And who can remember when the only athletic footwear
anybody owned was a pair of canvas-topped, flat-bottomed, solid
white sneakers? For that matter can you recall the first fax you saw?
Your future depends on new ideas, but where do the ideas
come from in the first place?
every great idea seems obvious.
It's this obviousness that makes it so infuriating.
People often claim that if an idea is obvious and logical
in hindsight, then all that was needed was better logic in the
first place. This
isn’t so. Great
ideas are created by creative thinkers who go beyond the
traditional boundaries and challenge conventional assumptions to
permit new possibilities to emerge, like twisting a kaleidoscope
to see the endless patterns that can be created from the same set
accomplished waffle makers whose waffles are equal in quality and
price. One waffle
maker is a conventional thinker, the other creative.
When people stop buying waffles, the conventional thinker
does nothing and goes out of business.
Whereas, the creative thinker fashions the waffle into a
cone and creates a whole new product:
the ice-cream cone. In
R&D, the conventional thinker is unable to move, beyond the
information given, to new ideas.
The conventional thinker needs some outside processor to
provide new insights and new ways of doing things.
The creative thinker, on the other hand, is constantly
transcending boundaries and challenging assumptions.
You Solve This?
To find out if
you're a creative thinker, see if you can solve the following
brain teaser. Nine
dots are arranged below. The
problem is to link up the dots with no more than three
straight lines (without lifting the pencil) which will
cross through all nine dots
O O O
O O O
If you think it's
impossible, you have unwittingly drawn boundaries around the way
you think. You can
only solve this problem by transcending those boundaries and
challenging the assumptions you're making about the problem.
To solve it, you have to think creatively.
of Creative Thinking
The ability to
think creatively is essential for today's fast-changing business
world. Sony's new
product success is the direct result of a whole corporation
trained to think across boundaries and challenge assumptions.
The Walkman evolved from a "failed product" to
the most explosive best-selling electronic device in modern life
because a number of employees in management, engineering and
marketing integrated features that might otherwise be perceived by
customers as disconnected. Each
group contributed to the project by thinking across traditional
boundaries as it listened to, and integrated into its own work,
the results of the others' efforts.
In 1978, a small
group of Sony engineers tried to redesign a small portable tape
recorder so that it gave stereophonic sounds.
They failed. They
produced a small stereophonic tape recorder that couldn't record.
honorary chairman of Sony, thought the sound the machine made was
interesting and connected the "failed" product with an
entirely unrelated project where an engineer was working to
develop lightweight portable headphones.
Ibuka suggested that the engineers work together to develop
a playback machine with headphones but without recorder functions.
The idea of
recorder functions was so well established that had Ibuka not
transcended the boundaries of conventional thinking and suggested
a playback machine with no speaker and no recorder, the Walkman
wouldn't have been created. Ibuka
directly challenged the conventional assumption that a playback
machine had to have a speaker and a recorder.
scoffed and said no one would buy a playback machine that couldn't
record. The Sony
marketing people transcended the traditional notion of the machine
and marketed it as "a new concept in entertainment."
People could now listen to stereo sound, while jogging, on
the beach, or in the shopping mall, without disturbing others.
To sell this new
concept in entertainment, the marketing group tried an
unconventional approach. They
sent free samples to celebrities in the music and show business.
The Walkman press release came out on cassette rather than
on paper. And the day
of the product release, Sony bused the press (each of them gifted
with a brand-new Walkman) to Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, where a throng
of teenagers, all of them listening to free Walkman's and
shimmying to the beat, roller-skated circles around the press.
This creative approach gave the Walkman extraordinary
coverage throughout the world for a cost of under $50,000.
corporate creative thinking.
They thought imaginatively about matters of substance,
incorporating many different perspectives and reached beyond the
conventional categories to create something new.
Even More Difficult Puzzle
See page end of
article for a solution to the 9-dot problem. If you solved the brain teaser, congratulations!
You exercised creative thinking.
If you failed to
solve it, you made two conventional assumptions.
You assumed that (1) you must not extend beyond the outside
dots, and (2) the lines must be drawn through the center of the
dots. There's nothing
in the problem statement that prevents you from doing either.
When you transcend these imagined boundaries, the problem
is easily solved.
Can you think of
other solutions? Now,
I'll make it even more difficult.
*See if you can link up all nine dots with one straight
line without lifting your pencil from the paper!
these dot problems require creative thinking—challenging the
are simple problems in comparison to challenges you’re facing in
R&D. Many of your technical problems will be solved by challenging
the assumptions. Are
you sufficiently creative to solve them.
A Solution to the 9-Dot Problem