Volume 10, Number 3
Altier is president of Princeton Associates in Buckingham,
PA(phone 215-794-5626, fax 215-348-4104, email@example.com.
This article is adapted from The
Thinking Manager's Toolbox (Oxford University Press, New
person, regardless of job, level, training, or background, has
the potential to make new and better things happen through their
ideas are for new and better products, manufacturing processes,
marketing approaches, organization structures, people
relationships, paperwork processing, janitorial work, or
whatever, the potential exists for them to make tomorrow better
in the Business World
creativity is discussed as though it's synonymous with
entrepreneurship and with high technology.
However, according to Peter Drucker, the majority of
entrepreneurial discoveries are actually in low-tech fields.
Drucker further shows that many billion-dollar
corporations are just as entrepreneurial, just as creative, as
the small startups.
and Waterman’s In Search
of Excellence told that 3M comes out with over 100 major new
products each year. 3M adds at least one new division every 12
months. And at
least 25% of its sales come from products that didn't exist five
Ohmae’s The Mind of the
Strategist reported that, for a decade, Toyota held its work
force at about 45,000. Yet
over this same period, it increased its production of
automobiles 2.5-fold. How
did the company accomplish this?
It came from creativity; from an average of 20
improvement suggestions per employee per year.
These suggestions produced savings of $230 million a
are examples of creativity in action; they are also examples of
the cumulative effect of masses of creative happenings that fit
together and build upon each other.
windshield wipers for automobiles were invented by a tinkerer.
Collectively, the major auto makers must have thousands
of engineers on their payrolls, and it's probably safe to say
that most of them drive cars and that they have driven in the
rain. Thus they
must have experienced the exasperation of continually having to
turn their windshield wipers on and off during a light rainfall.
one of these "experts" saw this situation as a
dissatisfier; to them it wasn't a trigger.
Herman Kahn once observed that experts often miss things
because they are experts and, as a result, have ironclad
perspectives that they cannot see beyond.
He referred to this phenomenon as "educated incapacity."
are exposed to many of these same kinds of triggers, perhaps
dozens of them, every day.
If you fail to notice them, or if you accept them as
fleeting events, they will not be triggers.
If you pause, think, reflect, question them, you never
can tell, one of them just might become a trigger.
look at some of the triggers history has recorded. While on vacation, Edwin Land took pictures of his daughter.
She asked why she couldn't see the results right then and
there. She wasn't
happy with his response. That
got him thinking about overcoming his daughter's
an hour, in his mind, he had developed the concept of instant
Fry sang in a church choir.
As many choir members did, he put slips of paper in his
hymn book to mark each selection so he could find them quickly.
The only problem was the slips of paper often fell out.
Thus, his solution to the problem didn't always work.
Taking his dissatisfaction back to his job and applying
some scrounging time and resources to it, he developed what
became 3M's Post-it note pads.
wasn't invented, it was an accident.
However, its subsequent application to a myriad of
products happened because a curious chemist didn't throw away
the accident; he played with it to learn more about its
found better satisfactions that it could provide.
it be creative application and better satisfactions, as in the
case of Teflon, or creative discovery and overcoming
dissatisfactions, as in the case of the Polaroid Land camera and
Post-it note pads, the triggers were seemingly mundane
exact same events probably happened to hundreds of other fathers
and choir members and chemists.
The only difference is they were triggers to these three
people, and events to be forgotten by the other hundreds.
Definition of the Problem
has often been said that "a problem correctly stated is
half solved." Edward de Bono talks about a large office
building where people were complaining about the length of time
they had to wait for the elevators.
In looking at the problem as "How can we speed up
the elevators?" the building's owners felt they were up
against a brick wall of prohibitive costs.
They couldn't find an acceptable way out of the problem.
In a triumph of lateral thinking, it was suggested that
mirrors be placed on the walls around the elevators.
Thus people would spend the time admiring or fixing
themselves and would be oblivious to the wait. It worked.
suppose the problem had originally been stated in terms of the
True Choice: "How can we eliminate the complaints about the
them up would have been an idea; mirrors might have been
recognized as an idea, as well as mounting television sets on
the wall, piping in news broadcasts, etc. The problem was first looked at in terms of the need to
create change in the performance
of the product (the elevators) itself.
The problem was solved by creating change in how
the product was perceived, by creating change in the
of the most important steps in developing your creative
abilities is to first recognize and own up to the things that
stand in the way of coming up with creative ideas.
The first and foremost of these barriers is your
Ogilvy made the case very bluntly when he said: "The
majority of businessmen are incapable of original thought
because they are unable to escape from the tyranny of
that's the reason why many breakthrough ideas are developed by
people distant from the field in which the idea is created.
They aren't encumbered by experience in the field.
After all, Kenneth Olson, the founder of Digital
Equipment, relied on his extensive experience in computers when
he told attendees at the World Future Society's 1977 Convention:
"There is no reason for any individual to have a computer
in their home."
assumptions you make
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 directed--and constrained--their creative
the assumption was subsequently found to be way off base; the
telephone company, Florists Telegraph Delivery, and the like
were significant competition.
judgments you make are
a third barrier to coming up with creative ideas.
When was the last time you very quickly reacted to an
idea with: "It will never work," or "We tried
that before," or "They'll never buy it?"
Think about it. Think
about judgments you've laughed at like "He'll fall off the
end of the earth" (said about Christopher Columbus), or
"They'll never replace horses" (said about
automobiles), or "Birds were made to fly, not man"
(said about airplanes).
thinking patterns can
be another barrier to creativity.
However, while thinking patterns can seriously inhibit
creativity, you couldn't survive without them.
Like your experience, they can be both an asset and a
liability. The key
lies in knowing when to depend on them and when to lock them in
you're driving down a highway and you hear a siren, a stored
thinking pattern immediately takes over.
It tells you to locate the source and, if it's in your
line of travel, pull over to get out of the way of an emergency
vehicle--or to receive your speeding ticket.
fifth barrier to creativity is what's known as the right answer syndrome. Unfortunately,
this syndrome is locked into most people's brains shortly after
they start school. It's
locked in because of the left-brained, get-the-right-answer
construct of educational systems.
Most school systems are superior at turning out
automatons who can memorize and parrot back the right answer;
they are inferior at turning out people who can think and
last barrier to creativity is fear
of failure. Failure
is actually a great contributor to creativity; it's a tremendous
learning tool. Unfortunately,
too many managers are graduates of the right-answer school and
are oblivious to the value of failure.
the epitome of this perspective was expressed by Thomas Edison.
When a friend suggested that Edison's attempts to develop
an electric storage battery were obviously 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."
Approach to Creativity
path to creative ideas has three brightly-illuminated signs on
it. Their messages
Forget everything you know!
Remember everything you know!
Rearrange everything you know!
(same pieces, new relationships)
first step in attempting to create ideas is to destroy the
familiarity, the relationships of everything you know about the
in the 1940s before Edwin Land invented instant photography,
every consumer knew 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 as its contact point.
Everybody was a prisoner of that familiarity, including
Edwin Land, until he broke its shackles, until he let his mind
destroy those relationships.
this act of destruction has been made to happen, you are left
with a rich reservoir of bits and pieces of information, a vast
storehouse of unconnected facts and fantasies, thoughts and
just like the words in a dictionary, they do nothing until they
are selected and assembled to become a coherent sum. The value possessed by these pieces is summed up by the late
Nobel prize-winning biochemist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who said:
"Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen--and
thinking what nobody thought."
final step is to look for new ways of assembling, for new
relationships, among the pieces.
The value and simplicity of this step was succinctly
described by Sir Joshua Reynolds:
"Invention is little more than new combinations of
those images which have been previously gathered and deposited
in the memory."
Land made a new combination of his images of a camera and a
darkroom. Art Fry
saw a new connection between the adhesives technology possessed
by his employer and his falling slips of paper.
a simple summation of the fundamental steps to developing your
creative thinking capabilities:
the triggers you're exposed to every day.
the problem in terms of the True Choice.
your barriers and overcome them.
everything you know (the relationships).
everything you know (the pieces).
everything you know (same pieces, new relationships).