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December 1998

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Imagine What Creativity Can Lead To



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by Maryann Brennan
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Imagine What Creativity Can Lead To
The TVA Designs Tools for Unleashing Innovation

Imagination + inventiveness = creativity. And sometimes, creativity comes from the most unexpected places.

At Tennessee Valley Authority(a federal agency with a mission of regional development throughout the Valley region)Tracy Schmidt, senior quality analyst, and Gary Vansuch, manager of total quality and innovation, have designed a set of tools to uncover creativity. Interestingly enough, their tool is an acronym which connotes a warmly felt Italian greeting and farewell and underscores their approach to creativity. The acronym is CIAO!: Creativity and Innovation Applications for Organizations to unleash the creativity in their workforce.

Creatively, Vansuch and Schmidt see CIAO! (hello- when the problem first presents itself and the problem solving creative process begins and goodbye- when, after the application of creativity and innovative tools, the issue is solved and the problem is history) as forming the letters for the tools that set the stage for both the hello and the goodbye of the creative process.

“Everybody is intrinsically creative,” Vansuch says. “It's unlocking the power of our imagination and seeing the possibilities that result, that gets the creative juices flowing and can lead to remarkable innovation in organizations.”

Too Much of a Good Thing?
Vansuch points to two different kinds of thinking: divergent thinking and convergent thinking, which move the creative process along.
With divergent thinking, possibilities are looked at, horizons are expanded and then strategies, products or services are expanded and developed. Convergent thinking moves the process toward more specific areas, with an actionable goal, where elements developed creatively are combined in ways never focused on before.
"You need both types of thinking," Vansuch says, "too much of one or the other can bring an imbalance - and life is about balances."

Creativity: Dead or Alive?
The good news is that we all have the ability to think creatively and use those abilities to improve the bottom line. Schmidt points out that it's very easy to kill creativity.

Many of us are trained and rewarded to look for flaws and holes when presented with new information. These talents are useful in evaluating and selecting among ideas. However, unconsciously we often use these same talents for target practice of new ideas, or what’s known as the “Yes, but” approach. This results in severely limiting our thinking when we need to generate options that go beyond the obvious.
Inevitably, there is always going to be somebody who will stop a creative idea dead in its tracks. The creative person must learn to persist because to think something is impossible is to make it so!
Stopping at the first good idea is also related to skimping on time for divergent thinkers. Every initial creative thought needs nurturing and the thought process that follows often reshapes ideas, expands upon them and ultimately makes them better. A more desirable balance of divergent and convergent thinking is needed when solving problems or capitalizing on opportunities.

In typical business relationships, no time is allowed to play with an idea that at first glance seems absurd or impossible. An idea, when given further consideration, might become a source of great innovation. A team or individual could have the greatest idea in the world, but in order to move to the next level, support is a must. And infectious enthusiasm on the part of the creative person will do much to muster that support. It has been said that enthusiasm is the greatest asset in the world. It beats money, power and influence.

Risk Taking a Necessary Ingredient
A certain amount of risk taking is essential, and the creative individual must resist letting the creative process be stifled by a “how-would-they-react-to-such-an-off-the-wall-idea train of thought.” These imaginary constraints usually are uncreative and need to be taken by the hand and convinced that the well thought through creative approach is the solution to the problem at hand.

Another pitfall of the creative process is offering a solution before the problem is correctly defined. When the presenter must correctly and succinctly define the problem to a person in authority, they are instilling faith that this project will be completed in a timely and creative manner.

When the problem has been correctly outlined and a presentation of a specific creative approach to the problem is made, that presentation should end with one obvious thing: a very specific request for action.

Types of Creative Thinking
What might seem like a far fetched example of creativity merely serves to underscore the words of Vansuch.

A project team in the Midwest wrestled with the problem of keeping pole lines free of snow. During a frustrating creative session—where imagination and inventiveness tended to be lacking—there came a quiet voice with an off the wall suggestion: "If we could just get a bear to shake the poles, we'd be rid of the snow!" Rather than ridicule the suggestion, the group took the thought and ran with it.

The inventiveness that followed went something like this: “If we put honey on the top of the poles, the bear will shake them trying to get the honey and the snow to come off. But how would we put the honey on the poles? Maybe a helicopter? Wait a minute.....Who needs a bear? Let's get a helicopter, have it fly by and its backwash will free the lines of the snow!”

The bear/honey/snow poles project team moved through both types of thinking without getting bogged down in either the initial creative process or the highly creative solution.

Promoting Divergent Thinking
Schmidt points out that there are specific creativity tools that promote divergent thinking, where ideas are expanded and developed, and that these tools avoid the most common creativity mistakes.
Utilizing fluency tools will stimulate the generation of ideas with brainstorming, brainwriting, mindmapping and storyboarding. Think in visual terms about your idea. Turn those ideas into pictures so you can show others how the idea is implemented.

Visualization helps to punch up the idea. You may have been developing your creative idea over a considerable period of time but for others, who may only have a brief exposure to the idea, use of fluency tools can be a significant factor in generating an enthusiastic response to the idea.

Excursion tools push your mind to grope for illumination, coming up with ideas you might not have come up with if you had only used brainstorming. And solicit input from others as part of this process. Use not only all the brains you have, but also all you can borrow!
Patternbreaker tools are tools such as analogies, metaphors and tools that force restatement of a problem in unusual ways. You can approach any problem in a variety of ways. It's important, in coming up with creative approaches to problem solving, to sometimes find examples in unusual places, to use prior successes and even failures to shape the sharpening of today's idea and today's creative approach to the problem before you.

Shake-up tools use humor or group fantasies (“There once was a bear from…”) to introduce some relaxation into the process. The beginning is almost always the most important part of the work, so it is important to lighten-up early on in the creative process, so that there is no bogging down in the ever-present tendency for negativism. The ability to use humor and create a climate where off-the-wall thinking is encouraged can greatly accelerate and enhance the success of ideas.

Spotting the Creative Ones
"Expect your people to be creative .... and let them know it," Schmidt advises. There are some key attributes you can look for to zero-in on the creative people.

Who says you can't tell by looking? It depends on what you're looking for—a sense of humor, adventurousness, spontaneity, persistence, curiosity and, quite often, those who have trouble following the rules!

It's important to focus creative efforts on goals that are important to each of the organizations in the business relationship. To look for opportunities within so-called problems and to spend time formulating the problem before solving it. Consider a wide range of alternatives before selecting a specific one and be comfortable with making mistakes before getting it right.

When it comes to the creative process, it is definitely OK to make mistakes.

Harnessing Creativity
The keys to harnessing creativity and innovation in business relationships involve three key elements:
- Focus
Knowing the vision and the organizational goals, so that all the energies are applied where it's going to do the most good
- Unlocking the Imagination
Here is where it's time to practice divergent thinking skills: Play with outrageous ideas and, as you do, look for the elements you can profitably use.
- Harvest
Reap the results. Take the best ideas that have come out of all the discussion, brainstorming, soul searching, heads-banged-against-the wall, and go on and develop them further.

When used properly, thoughtfully and enthusiastically,these elements can help immeasurably in creatively solving the workplace problems that all organizations face. The creative process is indeed, one of the most exciting and ultimately rewarding adventures the workplace has to offer.Creativity and Innovation Applications for Organizations. So CIAO provides a warm welcome in any language to new ideas in your organization.

And we won't even have to buy any honey!

December '98 News for a Change | Email Editor
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