Philosophers have been asking the question of the process of “how one creates” for the past few millennia. Scientists now study the mind to understand how the brain reacts during idea generation and how something new can be produced out of nothing. What mankind knows now though is that a person or a group of people will experience a process that generates new ideas and that each person and group is different in terms of having the ideal process to elicit the greatest number of ideas.
One of the key differences in the creative processes is between individual and group creativity and how those paths are significantly different. This highlights the many paradoxes that exist in the process where some individuals prefer achieving a level of deep concentration where others achieve their innovative climaxes when they are in a shifted space similar to understanding the solution to a problem while taking a shower and not thinking about the problem directly. These all come back to not knowing much about the creation process, but the growing understanding of the creative process.
Innovation happens daily, by everyone, and mankind is the better for it. This work splits innovation into two separate but related processes. The first being everyday creativity and creativity that comes from a specifically designed workshop or event to build something novel. In everyday operations, innovation is knowledge work. The United States has armies of knowledge workers trying to solve problems, develop new approaches, and apply insights daily. Few of these are new ideas and the rest are a reapplication of previous used best practices. Lean or the Toyota Production System has ultimately leveraged this capability turning its factory blue-collar workers into knowledge workers by empowering them to solve manufacturing and process problems by using a simple framework to address waste.
The second approach of creativity is running specifically designed events. These come in the form of coordinated meetings or workshops with the intent to create something new. This something new could be a new business, a new product, a strategic plan, etcetera. The overarching key to this process is that its intent is to put smart people in a room together, to design a creative process that elicits idea generation, and then to let their brains concoct something unique.
The innovation process not only is the factory line of creativity, but it gives the direction and purpose to the team. It is the road to be taken to travel to a specific destination. Innovation does happen every day and it is inaccurate to proclaim that without a specifically designed process that innovation won’t happen. Ideas are abundant but having a designed process around idea generation gives credence and elevates ideas so that an organization can muster resources into making the idea a reality. It is enabling the organization to take specific steps to get the desired result.
Previously mentioned, the goal is to create a number of ideas which will inevitably lead to a higher quality level of good ideas. A well-designed process will elicit more ideas and achieve this need for more ideas. Also mentioned earlier was that the more people involved in the idea generation process counter-intuitively leads to fewer ideas generated. This is where a sound innovation process can help neutralize the detrimental effects that a group can have.
As people have begun to move back to the cities over the past two decades, a premium has been put back into previously believed unorthodox commuting. One of these has been the rise again of the bicycle. City riding with a higher density of traffic has led to greater safety concerns and bike helmets have become the norm for riders. These bike helmets have gone through technical transformations in providing safety and protection while also including new options including heart rate monitors, GPS, and turn signals.
The Brooklyn based company, Park & Diamond, took a different approach to bike commuting and applied empathy into their design thinking process. The company discovered that people wanted protection and an easier way to carry these heavy helmets around once they were done riding. This led to their creation of a foldable helmet that was light, storable in their pocket, and would still protect the rider.
Where good innovation processes can have a positive effect on idea generation, a poorly designed process can have the same impact negatively and will stunt ideas. It will be a familiar memory to many replaying the events of sitting around a conference table while their manager barks at everyone for new ideas, shoots down the first ones that are verbalized, and then storms out because no one on the team is creative. There are similar process examples of managers never asking their teams for ideas or not actually listening to people when they explain their ideas.
The creativity process has numerous intersects with the full innovation model. Starting with the environment which can stunt or stimulate the innovation process. For example, if the organization is risk-averse it will naturally inhibit their design process and reduce the novelty of ideas. If there is a work environment that exerts a high level of control and monitoring of people and how they interact with others, the result will be a stunted process where people will keep their head down as to not call attention to themselves.
There are the environments that blend the creative process with work extremely well and have created a culture of always doing something out of the ordinary. The artist, Rayce Bird, attributes his creativity to his running of wind sprints to open his cardiovascular system and the correlation to a greater flow of thought. This creative process is encouraged in some environments while in other companies this could lead to his termination.
Associated with the process is the team dynamic. The team dictates the success of the process on the team’s level of engagement in the event. A poorly designed process can dissuade participation while a great design can get more out of a team. Interlaced into this combination is the dichotomy if the process is facilitated in-person or if it is a virtual session. The traditional model on in-person is effective and studies have found that virtual participation is even more effective. The main issue comes into play when the process is a mixture of in-person and virtual participation as the complexity overtakes the ability to run an inclusive innovation process.
Lastly, leadership guides the creative process. Effective leadership has a positive approach to encouraging the process, being supportive, and following through with the team’s outcomes. If the leader scoffs at the process, does not give resources, or support the outcomes all will be for not. Poor leadership will still derail the end result even if the process is executed perfectly. The additional aspect is if the leader participates in the process. Even with good intentions, their presence will naturally stunt the idea generation of the team.
One process to elicit innovation is to apply creative activities to help unlock thoughts. There are numerous activities one can do that helps put a person in a creative space. The most famous thought experiment being Albert Einstein’s use of thought experiments. He would imagine himself riding a light wave in space to help him imagine new possibilities (Cooper, 2005). Another example is giving a team a simple paperclip. The facilitator then asks them to come up with as many uses for the paperclip as possible. This is in essence, mental stretching or a warmup where the mind is forced to shift from a quick decision executive thought process into a much deeper and philosophical approach to thought.
One of these innovation activities is wrong thinking or reverse thinking. The method starts by looking at the problem as to how a beginner would, simplistically. This approach gives permission to the individuals to ask very basic questions without context. This also unlocks a mental barrier that allows the person to have a bad idea and to escape without judgment.
At this point, the goal is to try to have the worst idea possible. This is the idea and outcome that will get to idea generator fired. At that, juncture, the team then is able to work backward. Thus they will bring new insights as to what makes the idea bad and what the counter is to that. This helps uncover how to have a successful build and what deviations will turn the project sour.
Argote, L. a. (2003). Learning From Direct and Indirect Experience in Organizations. In P. a. Paulus, Group Creativity, Innovation Through Collaboration (pp. 277-303). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
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