Do you remember playing the word association game? Well, what is the first thing that comes to mind in response to “creativity”? For most people it’s probably “art” or something similar and probably never “business”. This is where we can miss a trick or two.
Creativity is not simply the preserve of the artist. It is something built into every person, even the businessman! Thinking creatively is a powerful business tool that expands our minds so that we can exploit new opportunities and solve problems in unexpected and advantageous ways. All of which can result in improved profitability.
Edward de Bono, of “lateral thinking” and “Six Thinking Hats” fame, observed that the human mind is a very efficient pattern making and matching system. The problem is that our minds are lazy. This means that we tend to force fit new scenarios to old patterns instead of making new ones. De Bono called this “cliché thinking”. The problem is that those clichés include our responses and so we inherently limit our ability to exploit new opportunities.
The question is how can we break through the clichés? This in essence is what creative thinking is about. It’s the process of finding new perspectives and developing new thinking.
Have you got the best problem statement?
Because cliché thinking limits our perspectives and constrains our perceptions it is important to find ways of looking at a problem in a new light.
Broadening and rephrasing a problem is an important tool. For instance, a business problem might be expressed as “We cannot cover our costs” leading to a demoralising cost cutting exercise. But what if we broaden the problem? “We are not making enough money to cover our costs”, which in turn leads to a restatement: “How can we make more money?”. Then, a whole set of much more optimistic questions emerge. How do we sell more, gain more customers or generate new things to sell. Broadening and rephrasing problem statements are powerful cliché breaking actions. (more on this in another blog)
Object Forcing to Stimulate New Perspectives
Having a good problem statement starts the process but sometimes it’s just plain difficult to generate new thinking. Object forcing is one of a number of tools that help start or keep the creative juices flowing.
The idea is to take anyobject and consider how that object might affect the solution. Fun and wacky ideas are encouraged, more than that, they are absolutely essential because this exercise is about generating new thinking. Wackiness is where fear often constrains us, especially in public.
At a networking meeting this morning the speaker was encouraging us to overcome fears so he had us hugging each other and gyrating in some parody of free-style dancing - none of the elegance or under-dressing of “Strictly Come Dancing”! That help pack the breakfast down, but the goal was to show us that fear is in our minds and sometimes we just need to go for it and hey, guess what, nothing happened, nobody died of embarrassment.
So then, back to creative thinking and object forcing. Say the problem is using too many rubber bands in the office. Then if the object, a crab say, were directly involved in the solution what could happen? May be it would guard the rubber band container with its claws. Alternatively, consider the characteristics of the object and how those characteristics might affect the solution. A crab is armoured so let’s keep the bands in a secure container. These are trivial examples but they convey the idea.
“Object forcing” is best done in a brain storming mode, so remember not to evaluate or criticise ideas until the session is completed. Then review the ideas, develop them and look for associations. Remember, this is not simply about the ideas that arise from object forcing but it’s about breaking the cliché. That means stimulating new ways of looking at things and then where that leads you, so wacky is good. Humour and fun is good too because they energise people generate fun and both are important stimulators of creativity.
Expand Your Business Mind
Take some moments to think about those opportunities that you have never been sure how to approach and try restating them then pick an object – any object and see what new thinking you can generate. Who knows, your business may become the next Google.
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