Leader Volume 8, Number 7
Clegg is director of Creativity Unleashed Limited (Wiltshire, UK;
phone 01793-791393, e-mail email@example.com, web site www.cul.co.uk)
offering training, software and facilitation for business
creativity. He has written 10 books on creativity and business,
Engineering (Pitman Publishing, London, 1996) and Instant
Creativity (Kogan Page, London, 1999). They can be purchased
through his web site.
Creativity is a
strange topic. Schools spend years suppressing the natural
creativity of students, emphasizing that there is only one right
answer--the teacherís. Survival also teaches that creativity is
dangerous. Any caveman who decided to take a creative approach and
pull faces at a wild animal, rather than run away, did not have
time to write up his experiment. Yet relying invariably on
experience is just as risky. The result is tunnel vision, ignoring
the fact that the world is changing at an immense pace. Business
needs creativity or it dies. As Tom Peters puts it, ďCreativity
and zest have become the prime creators of economic value.Ē
Itís a common
assumption that creativity is something you either have or donít
have, yet appropriate techniques can bring out anyoneís creative
potential. Since the 1960s, creativity experts have been devising
techniques for stimulating creativity to the extent that it is now
a practical business discipline. Traditional management practices
predate the current frenetic pace of change; creativity is one of
a new set of skills necessary to manage in todayís business
like an underused muscle: it needs exercise to build it up. Try
this: spend a minute devising a way to use a single spoon to feed
one hundred people simultaneously. Have you done the exercise yet?
Donít cheat--do it first, then read on. A single minute is all
Iím asking for.
There are many
ways to use a single spoon to feed a hundred people. It could be a
solid gold spoon, which you sell, taking the hundred out for a
meal with the proceeds. It could be a huge edible spoon made out
of pizza. It could be a restaurant in the shape of a spoon. And so
on. Think this is cheating? Yes, but itís practical cheating.
These are legitimate solutions, making different assumptions about
isnít a fully fledged creativity technique. Normally the
techniques remove self-imposed barriers, then return to normality
to provide a practical outcome. Nevertheless, the spoon is a handy
reminder of how easy it is to try to solve a problem with
incomplete information. I never said that the spoon was normal
sized and stainless steel.
have been around for so long, a reasonable question is why they
aren't in common usage. I would argue that it is down to the lack
of a framework. There are hundreds of techniques available, but
unless you have a basic framework in which to use them, they don't
seem practical. Most experts on creativity agree on four broad
stages that should be involved: understanding the problem,
generating ideas, refining those ideas and implementation.
problem may seem trivial. However it's too easy to rush in and try
to solve what you assume to be the problem without thinking about
it. Some creativity techniques are specifically devised to get a
better understanding of what you are trying to do. Take the simple
technique we call the compass--it's just a matter of asking why,
over and over again.
Say we had a
problem of "how to reduce our packaging costs."
Using this technique might result in a chain of information
We want to reduce
our packaging costs.
This can then
generate a whole new list of problems, each of which could be more
fruitful to address. For example:
How to increase
When you are
satisfied that you have a clear problem to attack, the next stage
is idea generation. This is where the heavyweight techniques come
into play. Best known are the random stimuli, like using a random
word to generate a whole set of associations; then relating those
associations, however unlikely, to the problem. At this stage the
ideas will be crazy, but that's not a concern.
Let's take a look
at another idea-generating technique, particularly suited to large
companies. We call it
"lose the baggage." If you created a tiny startup
company to deal with your problem, what solutions would be
available to them that aren't available to you? What gets in the
way that a startup doesn't face? Take a real example: how to
reduce the time getting a new product to market. What happens in
our company? A designer has an idea. It goes to the next meeting
of the design committee, where it is sent back for revision. When
the design is complete we hold a production meeting Ö and so on.
What happens in the startup? The team has an ideas session.
Someone knocks up a mock-up. It looks good, so they go straight to
trial. The whole thing can happen very quickly.
There are several
ways to go forward from here. You could buy a startup (but beware
imposing your corporate culture on it). You could start a
skunk-works, as companies like IBM and Apple have. Or you could
borrow from the nature of the small company without actually
purchasing one. And so it goes, with many different techniques.
Now the ideas are
still in the green shoots stage. They need selecting and
enhancing. This is where the only creativity technique in common
usage comes in: brainstorming. Brainstorming isn't a way to
generate ideas (individuals generate ideas; teams improve them),
but is a good way of building on them in a positive way. It joins
other techniques, as simple as taking account of your gut feel
about an idea, in the refinement stage.
implementation. This may seem obvious, but all too often great
ideas never make it into reality. Without implementation, there is
no such thing as creativity.
One of the
problems with implementing creative ideas is that they can be
squashed by traditional approaches. Creative ideas are often
better put in place the use of a prototype and rapid evolutionary
development, than by employing a full-scale planning exercise,
setting out every last detail. After all, in the end, planning is
a matter of guesswork. It may be educated guesswork; but it is
still guesswork, so going to the 10th
decimal place in planning the implementation of a creative idea
simply doesn't make sense. Do have milestones, do monitor; but
expect things to change along the way--that's what happens in the
It may seem that
this four-stage process is overkill when all you want is a quick
technique. I would agree, provided you employ a technique bearing
in mind the four stages. In fact, itís possible to go through a
thought process, using all four steps, in just a few minutes.
For example, I might want to devise a new paint product for
my company. I spend a
minute looking at the alternatives (stage 1), but decide this is
really what I want to do. I
then bring in a technique that takes a concept to higher and lower
levels of abstraction to devise new possibilities.
Each step in the chain involves a random choice of
In this case, I
start with paint, go up a level to liquid, down to beer, down
again to ring-pull can of beer.
Now an idea strikes: sell
pint in ring-pull cans. Finally,
I spend a minute refining the idea, thinking about the plus points
and how to overcome the negatives, and noting down a few key
milestones for implementation.
All of this in just the space of a few minutes.
Note how the
technique was just a springboard to the actual idea. A technique
isn't creative--itís a catalyst to release creativity. And, like
any catalyst, it can be used again and again with equal
effectiveness. By practicing the use of the four stages,
creativity can become so natural that youíll rarely think about
the techniques. Companies, with people who employ good
creative-thinking methods, have a huge advantage over their