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Innovation -Creative thinking & idea generation techniques

In the previous article I discussed idea generation.  To find good ideas you have to generate a lot of ideas and that idea generation is a collaborative process and people need to discuss and build on ideas in order to get it in a workable format.  So, the big question is, where do great ideas come from?
To answer that question I have to touch on the topic of creativity.  A difficult and controversial topic at best, but for the purpose of this article I will just highlight some key concepts of creativity that have an impact on idea generation and the techniques used for it.
Creativity is the ability to create new ideas, to see new possibilities and to make new connections between seemingly unrelated topics.  Neuroscientists tell us that the human brain is a self-organising system; it teaches itself to take perceptual shortcuts to save energy. In other words, the brain stuff experiences into well-worn patterns, and it inherently limits us to come up with truly new thinking.  To break out of these patterns and to make new connections, you need to “force” the brain to re-categorise information and move beyond old patterns.  The good news is that you can use and apply conscious tools and techniques to challenge these ingrained patterns.  Creative thinking is less an art than a discipline, it is a skill you can learn and get better at with practice.

You can use techniques to promote creativity.  There are many techniques available and the list is growing, but I want to discuss two techniques which I have found work well.
Idea Generation Techniques
For framing the problem, i.e. finding the root cause of a problem, the “Why Why” technique is very useful.  It entails that you ask “why” until you get to the root of the problem.   The Wikipedia entry for the “Why Why” concept gives the following example: My car will not start. (the problem). 1. Why? – The battery is dead. 2. Why? – The alternator is not functioning. 3. Why? – The alternator belt has broken. 4. Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and has never been replaced. 5. Why? – I have not been maintaining my car according to the recommended service schedule. The fifth why shows the root cause which is that the car was not maintained according to the schedule.
For generating ideas and “breaking” the brain’s patterns, I like the “Random Word” technique.  It is easy to use and gets results fast.  Just pick up a dictionary and choose a noun at random. Write the word on the top of a flipchart paper and then underneath list 4 or 5 attributes of that word. Then force connections between the word or its attributes and the problem to be solved. You will find that all sorts of new associations spring to mind.  Say the problem is how to attract the best applicants to join your company. The random word from the dictionary is – eucalyptus. You write it on the sheet and list some attributes or associations – say Australia, gum, Koala bear and branches. Some of the ideas that might be triggered are: Offer the opportunity to take time off and travel the world, stick notices about your job opportunities on boards at gyms and clubs, run a recruitment seminar at the zoo, give applicants free teddy bears to show what a caring company you are, show people how their career can branch out if they join your company.  Remember, during creative thinking you focus on creating as many ideas as possible around a carefully designed, very specific focus area.  No judging of ideas is allowed in this phase.  You want people to explore, challenge and push the boundaries.
Next Time
Now that I have addressed how to frame your innovation challenges and how to generate ideas, the organisation will require a system to manage significant quantities of ideas flowing in, so next time I will discuss Idea Management Systems and what it can bring to the table with regards to corporate innovation.  I conclude with a quote by Napoleon Hill: “All achievements, all earned riches, have their beginning in an idea.”


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