What Is the Creative Mindset?
When we combine two seemingly basic elements that haven’t been brought together before, we can build something extraordinary. When we eliminate something or add something on to an already great product or service, we can make it even better. This is what a creative mindset is: making minor, slight, incremental changes to pre existing things, which can take us surprisingly far.
Skill #1 CLARIFY: Getting the Challenge Right
Business leaders understand that there can be no effective creative solution if it doesn’t solve the problem. Coming up with a solution without understanding the challenge is akin to having an answer without knowing the question. The ability to investigate, identify, and articulate a problem is the paramount creativity skill. This is what the first step of the Creative Mindset, CLARIFY, is all about. We can’t problem-solve if we don’t know what the problem is.
Tip #1 Follow the River Upstream
Creativizers can learn a lot from wilderness guides. Whenever they’ve lost their way, adventurers know to follow the river upstream to the headwaters. This is a wonderful analogy for growth and change: take an innovative device, service, or solution, and trace it all the way to its roots—to the basic, foundational parts that make up its
Tip #2 Talk to the Locals
In the world of innovation, suppliers, distributors, and service providers are the locals who can give you insider expertise that you won’t get anywhere else. Bring these locals into your project as early as possible, preferably before the design and development stages. Ask them how they’d improve your product or service. Encourage them to integrate their capabilities into your innovation goals. Be kind and generous to these suppliers, distributors, and service providers
Tip #3 Find Unmet Needs and Fill Them
Examine where clients and consumers are dissatisfied with a solution. For example, the poor patient satisfaction score of a medical practice might suggest an opportunity to connect physicians with a ridesharing service. Think of it as a return to house calls. Perhaps you notice that there are no decent restaurants in a number of rural areas near your house. There aren’t enough people in any one location to make a restaurant viable. You might repurpose an old delivery van as a gourmet food truck like the ones that line the streets of New York and Los Angeles.
Skill #2 REPLICATE: Mimicking and Reapplying Ideas
Replication translates what is created in the observable world all around us to what can be re-created in the mind. This type of creativity requires a heightened sense of awareness and the ability to make astute observations. The wider your travels and circle of friends, the more experiences you will have to draw on.
Tip #1 On Field Trips
Sometimes the best way to learn something new is to see someone else do it. The initiation into any area of practice typically starts with a guided observation of the craft at work to gain some fundamental awareness of how things are done. The idea is that knowledge is gained incrementally as one moves from novice to artisan with the guidance of an acknowledged master
Tip #2 Make New Friends
As the song goes, “Don’t surround yourself with yourself.” To get new ideas, you have to swim in a different gene pool.
When we talk only to people who share our worldview, our preexisting ideas are merely reinforced
Tip #3 Copy Nature
Leonardo da Vinci’s prototype of an early helicopter was based on seedlings falling from trees. Inventor and architect Buckminster Fuller modeled Spaceship Earth—the iconic geodesic dome you see when you walk into EPCOT at Disney World—after a pollen spore, the unit he considered the most stable, beautiful structure in nature
Skill #3 ELABORATE: Multiplying Ideas by Adding New Ones
Elaboration is all about making faster and better connections. This approach requires working through a lot of trash ideas to get to the few treasures
Tip #1 Random Words
William James, the founder of American psychology, described the personal awareness of one’s mental processes as a “stream of consciousness.” James (1890) believed that in encountering the external world of people and places, we also become aware of our moment-to-moment subjective conscious experience. This form of inner dialogue, where we connect our thoughts in a free-flowing torrent of ideas, can be used to make mindful connections that help us solve problems creatively.
Tip #2 SCAMPER Technique
The acronym SCAMPER poses six questions: What can we . . . Substitute? Combine? Adapt? Magnify? Put to other uses? Eliminate? Reverse? By asking these simple questions, you can connect ideas and actions in new ways to easily produce useful variations.
Substitute: Who else instead? What else instead? Other ingredients? Other material? Other process? Other power? Other place?
Combine: How about a blend, an alloy assortment, an ensemble? Combine unit? Combine purposes? Combine appeals? Combine ideas?
Adapt: What else is like this? What other idea does this suggest? Is there a past offer similar to this? What can I copy? Whom do I emulate?
Modify or Magnify: New twist? Change meaning, color, motion, sound, odor, form, shape? Other changes? What to add? More time? Greater frequency? Stronger? Higher? Longer? Thicker? Extra value? Extra ingredient? Duplicate? Multiply? Exaggerate?
Put to Other Uses: New ways to use as is? Other uses if modified?
Eliminate or Minify: What to subtract? Smaller? Condensed? Miniature? Shorter? Lighter? Omit? Streamline? Split up? Understate?
Reverse or Rearrange: Transpose positive and negative? How about opposites? Turn it backward? Turn it upside down? Reverse role? Change shoes? Turn tables? Turn the other cheek? Interchange components? Other pattern? Other layout? Other sequence? Transpose cause and effect? Change pace? Change schedule?
Tip #3 Thinking Hats
Physician Edward de Bono (1970) developed a method for indirect creative reasoning that he calls lateral thinking. The basic idea is to think around a problem through six different approaches. The six thinking hats represent different types of thinking and roles played by group members: Objectives, Information, Emotions, Judgment, Optimism, and Creativity
The six hats represent different perspectives and types of information:
- White: data, information, and facts
- Red: intuition, emotion, and passion
- Black: judgment, critical thinking, and playing devil’s advocate
- Yellow: possibility, cheerleading, and resources
- Green: new, alternative options, and revolutionary
- Blue: process, structure, and system
Say our challenge is to make it easier for travelers to compare ridesharing options and find the least expensive one, especially during a period of high demand. We can gather a few friends and have them act this out, or we can put on the six hats one at a time and think through the challenge.
Skill #4 ASSOCIATE: Connecting Ideas with Analogies
Using analogies and metaphors is easy for some people, but can be difficult for others. The three techniques described in this section take very different approaches. If
Tip #1 Adaptive Reasoning
Your perspective or relative relationship to a problem can change or evolve through the use of analogies. Ask yourself how your given problem, initiative, or project is like something else. Pick a comparison that you know a lot about so you can fill in a lot of the blanks. For example, how is creating a successful marketing campaign like making friends at a new school? The key is to vary your outlook and make as many new connections as possible
Tip #2 Imaginary Friends
We all have heroes of the imagination—poets and scientists, philosophers and leaders, living and deceased. We quote them on social media and read their books and biographies, and we may have heard them talk or even met them once. If we presented them with our challenge or opportunity, what would they say? What would they do? The more we are familiar with their personality and their work, the better equipped we are to interpret their imaginary response.
Tip #3 Synectics
Synectics is a neologism—a made-up word—based on the ancient Greek term syndetic, meaning connected by a conjunction. This metaphor-based technique is used to make parallel associations with a problem statement so that solutions may be generated in an alternative domain and reintegrated into the original problem.
There are three core elements to this process:
- Root cause analysis: identifying the cause of the problem
- Metaphorical excursions: exploring how the problem is like something typically unrelated
- Force fitting: applying the attributes and functions of the metaphor back to the cause of the problem
Some of these elements are similar to those used in continuous improvement and reengineering processes.
Skill #5 TRANSLATE: Creating Stories from Ideas
You can improve your ability to tell stories through storyboarding, morphologies, and scenario making
Tip #1 Storyboarding
Narrative is the sequence and manner in which a story unfolds.
Many directors and writers use the storyboarding process of previsualizing a movie by representing the various characters and scenes on large note cards. This allows the production team to easily change the sequence of the action, add and subtract characters, and get a real sense of what the movie will look like before production begins. The power of telling and retelling a story in a group is still an incredibly effective way to create new ideas.
Tip #2 Morphologies
Morphology is the study of forms and structures, and how they change. The term is derived from the word morph, meaning to be transformed. Morphologies are typically used to organize complex arrays of biological variations, such as the delineation of different types of plants and animals. This helps us understand what makes an organism tick. By identifying attributes and functions using a standardized method, these complicated taxonomies can be readily integrated into a map or concordance that demonstrates their relationship to each other.
Tip #3 Scenario Making
The term scenario making is taken from the Italian scēnārium, meaning to make scenes as in a play or a movie. Scenario making is commonly used in strategic planning for large and complex organizations where the range of variability is great, in an attempt to predict potential outcomes of situations that are multilayered and
Skill #6 EVALUATE: Selecting the Best Ideas
It is the tension between what’s possible and what’s practical that makes an idea better. So let’s get started and follow these steps:
- Evaluate your ideas using divergent criteria:
- Influence: Do we have the ability to move the market with this idea? Can we get the organization to buy in? Can we get resources from our leaders?
- Interest: Do we really care about this idea? Do customers care about this idea? Is this idea interesting enough to warrant dropping some current projects?
- Imagination: Is this really a game changer? Does this stretch our current capabilities? Is this idea a wow?
- Urgency: Is this a must-do idea? Why haven’t we done it before? What happens if we don’t do it?
- Immediacy: What is the window of opportunity for this idea? Can we move fast enough to make this idea profitable?
- Direction: Does this idea advance our strategy? Does this idea take us to new markets? Does this idea create new capabilities?
- Next evaluate the ideas using these convergent criteria:
- Cost: Are we within budget in developing this idea? Is there cost saving for the future? Have we considered marketing costs and others in our projections? Are there opportunities for us to share some of the costs (manufacturing, promotion, sales force, etc.) with other existing products? Do the benefits afforded by this idea outweigh the cost?
- Time: What is our time to production for testing? How about to manufacture this in large scale? What are the trade-offs between speed of manufacturing and quality of products? What do we need to sacrifice to accelerate production? What are the deadlines that we need to consider to fit the development of this idea into our operating rhythm? How should we allocate resources to this idea long term?
- Feasibility: Is this idea executable? Can we operationalize it within our current system and structure? Do we need resources that we do not currently have? Do we have evidence that this idea works?
- Acceptability: Can this idea be explained simply? Or does it need an elaborate explanation? Will this idea be compatible with the target market’s lifestyle? Or are we asking people to change their behavior with this idea? Is this idea consistent with prevailing values and attitudes? Can we have leaders and others endorse the idea? Are there unacceptable side effects?
- Usefulness: Is there a real need for this idea? Or are there existing products/solutions that already fulfill this need? How large is this need? What are the short-term and long-term benefits of this idea? Can this idea be useful to other target markets? Will this idea bring us profit? What is the market size?
- Evaluate the positive and negative aspects of each idea.
- Narrow down your ideas to the very best. You want to choose ideas that have big impact and are readily executable. Use the GE Work-Out evaluation grid to consider the efforts you need to put in compared to the payoff (Ulrich, Kerr, & Ashkenas, 2002). Eliminate everything in the Time-Wasters category. Select only one from the Special Cases category. Pay the most attention to the Small Wins and Big Wins categories.
Putting It Into Action
So how do you get into the right frame of mind? Here are some strategies that you should practice before and during your journey through the six skills:
#1 Notice when, where, and how you are creative.
Let’s find the optimal conditions under which creativity seems to come to you more easily. Is it in the morning before the family has woken up, or late at night when everyone is asleep—or is it right after lunch in the bustle of the afternoon? Do you get ideas when you are engaging in a discussion or when you think about the issues at hand during a quiet time in your office?
Be prepared at all times to capture ideas when they begin to flow. Keep a pad and pencil in your purse or pocket, or take your smartphone with you to record your thoughts. Some people find it useful to keep a journal and a keepsake box or scrapbook full of ideas.
#2 Pay attention to who and what gives and takes your energy.
Is it the playlist on your phone that puts you into a creative mood or the inspiring coworker who always gets your spark going? Consult the muses in your mind. Think of some creative people in your life. Ask yourself, “What would my late Aunt Eleanor the painter say about this idea?” Or, conversely, “Is this what my super-conventional Uncle Bob would do?”
#3 Look for signs, incongruities, or anomalies.
The leading authority on sensemaking, Karl Weick (1995), stated that one way to enhance our sensemaking is to always look for disconfirming, not confirming, feedback. Be aware of your situation. Always ask yourself, “What if what I see is not quite accurate?” or “Am I interpreting what I see correctly?” or “Does it mean what I think it means?” or “What if I’ve gotten the situation wrong?” What would be the telltale signs? Are you ignoring some clues?
#4 Challenge boundaries and authority.
In the words of Paul Torrance (1993), become a “Beyonder.” A Beyonder is a highly creative individual who always pushes beyond boundaries, with a clear sense of purpose and an abundance of courage to be different. Do not take anything at face value; dig deeper for the purposes behind existing systems and procedures.
#5 Escape assumptions about how things should be.
Wage war against “This is how we’ve always done it!” Be comfortable in being unique, flexible, and different. Question everything, especially conventions. Make a list of procedures or processes that you need to “break” to fix them. Cultivate your unique voice and write an epic novel in multiple languages.
#6 Have a sense of destiny.
To be creative, you need to have courage to believe in yourself. Start by finding your mission in life. What will your life’s work be? What’s your Holy Grail? Compose small phrases of music on your phone, and over time combine them into a soundtrack. Envision what you want to do or be in the future and work toward it.
When it comes to the creative mindset, understand that the world is your classroom, that anything and everything might become a game-changing lesson. The Creative Mindset is something you can develop and cultivate, and it requires constant practice to achieve a mastery of craft.