April 9th, 2013
By Ian Moore
Ideas are the keystones of all successful businesses. There are many areas where creativity can be used in a business but for this article I will concentrate on three of these – idea generation, innovation and decision making.
The word ‘creativity’ has many negative ‘airy fairy’ connotations. Perhaps a better phrase to describe creativity in a business context is idea generation. As we are growing up we each pick up or develop a small number of techniques for generating ideas and these are usually different techniques from person to person. I find it odd that in general these techniques are not taught to people and so we go through our lives using only the techniques that we ourselves have developed. Some people argue with me that ‘creativity cannot be taught’ but idea generation is a skill like any other and if we can be introduced to the techniques that others use then we can all be highly effective generators of ideas. Idea generation is essentially a personal skill, ideas come from the individual.
Innovation relies heavily on new ideas. Innovative organisations effectively use the ideas of their staff to improve upon or create new products, services and ways of doing things giving them a competitive edge or accessing previously untapped markets. The new idea will come from an individual but without an innovative team around them the idea will usually be crushed.
In his book Adaption-Innovation In the Context of Diversity and Change, Dr M. J. Kirton thought that we all have different innovation styles ranging from Adaptive innovators to Radical innovators. Adaptive innovators make incremental improvements and tend to be logical and have the ability to get things done. Radical innovators create step changes and tend to be labelled ‘creative types’, they are usually not that great of seeing their ideas through to implementation. Kirton’s example of these extremes was of people trying to get to the top of a mountain, the adaptive innovators will have organised themselves into a production team and will be building steps up the mountain. Radical innovators will be trying to fire themselves out of cannons and using hot air balloons etc. Adaptive innovators will usually get there, radical innovators will usually get there first although many will perish in the attempt. Our own individual style will be somewhere between these two extremes. If we can understand our own styles and the styles of those around us we can create highly effective innovative teams. The radical and adaptive innovators understand each other’s styles and the importance of having a mix of styles in the team. Rather than fighting each other they can work with each other bringing the benefits of both approaches to the team.
Ideas are also critical for effective Decision Making. Our brains developed over the last 300 thousand years essentially for survival purposes and not for complex, information rich environments. Our brain is used to making short cuts for speed but this can often be bad news when making business decisions. Let’s consider an example:
You buy a cup of coffee and a biscuit for £3.30.
The coffee costs three pounds more than the biscuit.
How much does the biscuit cost?
Even though you might be suspicious of me asking such an apparently simple question it is likely that your ‘fast’ intuitive part of your brain is saying 30p. However:
If the biscuit costs 30p and
the coffee costs three pounds more than the biscuit
then the coffee would cost £3.30
So altogether they would cost £3.60 (not £3.30)
At this point you will probably feel a conflict in your brain, the intuitive part is still saying 30p and the ‘executive’ part (which is responsible for rational decision making) is struggling against the intuitive part to try to figure out what went wrong.
The answer is that the biscuit costs 15p.
The point of the example is not to get the correct answer (I did it wrong as well the first time I came across it) but to demonstrate how easy it is for us to make an incorrect decision even when we are alerted to the fact that there many be a trick in the question. How often will we make similar mistakes when we are not on our guard? If you want an example of how much this type of decision making can cost just think of ‘Bankers’!
Idea generation is critical to effective decision making because it allows us to generate ideas easily and by understanding some of the quirks of our thinking processes it can sensitise us to some of the ways we make mistakes.
Idea generation techniques are essential for business growth, from thinking of new products, processes and services, to building effective innovative teams, to making better decisions.
Ian Moore of UnthinkableThinking helps people and organisations to think the unthinkable and then do it. His approach helps people understand their own thinking processes and helps them to experience new ways of thinking and develop techniques to improve their thinking.
Since 1996 he has been developing organisations of all types all over the world in the areas of decision making, idea generation, spotting opportunities and innovation and has written a number of books on these topics. Participants report that his presentations make a real difference because they are highly practical, thought provoking and fun.