Understanding Creativity & Innovation

John Arul

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Creativity and innovation gives an organization a competitive advantage. To a business corporation creativity and innovation means more sales that should lead to higher profit. The firm's ability to bring about new, novel, unique and inspiring product or services, simply mean the firm is able to set apart its position from rest of its competitors. Managers and top management must recognize the power of creative thinking and familiarize themselves with the process of innovation.

Creativity as a concept is seen as the main source of innovation. Creativity is about thinking of new ideas that are different from the existing situation. Creative thinking involves using existing knowledge and talent to develop new ideas by being prepared to see things from different mindset. Creative thinking enables us to acquire a better understanding about a situation or problems we face. Innovation and inventions are the outcomes that are based on creative thinking.

How is that creativity a dominant aspect of our childhood days, simply seems to have disappeared as we reach our adulthood? Can we get back the ability to think creatively as an adult? The answer to that question – ‘Yes. We can get back that skill, provided we understand some of the underlying aspects about creativity and creative thinking. Though creative thinking can be accidental, we are interested in acquiring a creative thinking process that can be managed in a planned and deliberate manner.

Creative thinking requires us to view situations with an open mind. It is journey we need to embark upon to discover new and different things as we move on. The discovery process demands that we continue to remind ourselves of the need to set aside our long established assumptions and attitudes. Researches and experts recommend that we accept the following for creativity to really work:

  • One needs to accept the fact that any existing knowledge is inadequate at time for innovative solutions.

  • Be prepared to seek solutions/ideas from different sources.

  • Logical thinking is useful but its role in enabling new and innovative solutions is rather limited.

  • Be ready to experiment with radically different approaches when seeking new solutions.

  • Be willing to unlearn, so that we can offload useless knowledge, enabling us to Relearn.

  • Always willing to experiment and ask: ‘what if’ and ‘what else’ to unfold new ideas and solutions.

Once we are prepared to accept the above elements, we are in a better position to develop new ideas and add, modify and further refine the ideas into something more innovative. Because of our willingness and ability to combine ideas, we are able to bring out a concept or an idea that is new – something that did not exist before.

There are several techniques we can use to develop new ideas. Asking questions is a key element in the creative thinking process. The only way to become fully aware of the situation and the related factors, is to ask questions. Asking questions on a continuous basis, means that managers are able to identify the emerging trends much earlier than the rest in the industry. How do we go about asking questions?

Rudyard Kipling's ‘six honest serving men’ is the best bet to getting started. In the words of Kipling:

“I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who. I send them over land and sea, I send them east and west. ” The 5W+1H questioning model is the great way to get started when asking questions. What are some of the questions we can ask when we are trying to think creatively for innovative solutions? Learning to ask: What else, How else, Where else, Who else along with What if will let us see whole range of possibilities. These are some of the questions we can ask when we embark on our creative thinking journey:

  • What else can we do to get rid of this problem?

  • How else can we improve the quality/work process?

  • Where else can we look for more information?

  • Who else can help us in giving a new perspective to this situation?

The greatest advantage of learning to ask the above questions is that it leads to new ideas that almost always break the existing mindset limitors. In other words these types of questioning lets you step onto new paths where we can find innovative ideas. Initially our efforts may yield only small innovation, but that is only the beginning.

The ability to ask questions, and also let our minds make connections between totally unrelated concepts. Once we are able to see the link, invariably we will say: Why on earth have I never thought about that before?

If we are so excited about incorporating creative thinking as part of our thinking process what should we do? Just learn to keep an open mind and begin to ask all kind of questions. Make use of Kipling's ‘six honest serving men’. Let your curiosity unfold in all situations and prepared to challenge the status quo.

John Arul, co-owner of Centre for Creative Thinking, a training agency based in Singapore (http://www.creativityasia.com ), facilitates training workshops on creativity and related soft skills for clients in Asia and Middle East. As a Trainer, John facilitates management seminars and workshops in the areas of Creative Thinking, Supervisory Skills for new managers, EQ Skills for Team Leaders, Customer Service Excellence, Managing Difficult Customers, Communication Skills, Change Management, Personal Development Workshops, and Public Speaking Skills. He also manages a blog http://lifeskills4success.blogspot.com to discuss topics related to personal and professional development. John holds an MBA and majored in strategic human resource management. He is a member of the American Creativity Association.


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