“Innovation Insight” is a blog series written by SRC’s CEO and President, Dr. Laurier Schramm, which aims to shed light on the importance of innovation in driving economic, societal and environmental growth.

Business woman on chair with colourful streams of thought above

Canadian management guru, Henry Mintzberg, has referred to traditional strategic planning as an oxymoron – what is really needed is creative, out-of-the-box thinking rather than numbers-oriented, linear extrapolation-based approaches. Several other business authors have taken up the topic of creative strategy development.

Naturally, creative, out-of-the-box thinking and inventiveness is needed in the world of technological innovation.

  • There is the need for new products, processes, or services to introduce to the marketplace.
  • There is the statistical reality that it takes, on average, about 3,000 new ideas to get to one commercial success.
  • There is the question of how to develop those thousands of ideas. As noted in my previous blog post, creative work is needed not just for idea generation, but throughout the entire research and development process.

If you think that creative thinking is just for “naturally creative people,” then you may want to reconsider. The good news is that everyone’s natural creative talents can be developed and enhanced.

The Emerging Creative Society

In his book The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida speculates that just as the “information society” was transcended by the “knowledge society,” we now have the ascendancy of a “creative society” in progress – the power of information, knowledge, and creativity are combined into an economic force that can’t easily be replicated, outsourced, or automated.

Florida’s definition of a creative society comprises any and all people that are developing their natural creative talents and energies. Whether referring to people, organizations, or societies, in Florida’s vision, the long-term winners are going to be those who can learn to create and keep on creating.

The Origin of Creative Thinking

The idea that creative thinking skills can be learned and developed seems to have originated in the 1940s with thinking about the creative process, while the idea that inventiveness can also be learned and developed seems to have come a bit later, in the 1960s. But let’s start even further back in history.

In the late 1400s, Leonardo da Vinci’s famous notebooks used combinations of text and drawings to visually organize information. This is not only a great way to record ideas, it’s also a great way to spark new idea generation. Over the last several centuries, people have extended this tool into variations specifically intended to help with the creative thinking process, such as Spider Diagrams, Idea Sun Bursts, and Mind Maps.

In his popular 1949 and 1953 books, Alex Osborn developed the concept and process of brainstorming, which stands for “storming a problem in a commando fashion.” Osborn’s brainstorming concept was aimed at groups and was designed to help get lots of ideas out into the open, to avoid killing ideas with early criticism, and to enable multiple ideas to be combined and/or lead to new ones.

Alex Osborn also originated (in 1953), and Sidney Parnes further developed (in 1967), what is now known as the Osborn-Parnes Model, or Creative Problem-Solving (CPS) approach, which is famous for its use of “divergent thinking’’ and “convergent thinking.” When coupled together these are incredibly powerful creative thinking tools.

  • Divergent thinking is open-ended, wide-ranging thinking used to create a broad set of options.
  • Convergent thinking is solution-oriented thinking used to formulate a specific solution or approach to a problem using the results of divergent thinking.

In 1967, Edward DeBono introduced his creative thinking concepts of parallel thinking and lateral thinking. DeBono felt that most people think linearly, or “vertically,” in attempting to solve problems. For problems requiring a creative solution, DeBono thought one should apply parallel thinking or lateral thinking, either of which could be considered, at first glance, to be illogical.

  • Parallel thinking has to do with avoiding adversarial approaches in team-based creative thinking, focusing instead on more cooperative and constructive approaches. Parallel in this sense means having everyone on the team thinking in, broadly, the same direction.
  • Lateral thinking refers to avoiding thinking about a problem “head-on” and/or in logical “step-by-step” fashion, and instead thinking about it in indirect and/or nonlinear ways (sometimes referred to as thinking “out of the box”).

William J.J. Gordon developed Synectics in 1961. Synectics originally referred to the study of problem-solving and invention by groups, but later evolved into a set of techniques that include Creative Problem-Solving, Brainstorming, and Lateral Thinking.

Later in the 1960s, Genrich Altshuller developed a systematic approach to invention based on a comprehensive analysis of the patented solutions to hundreds of thousands of previously solved inventive problems. He identified a series of approaches that, when taken together, were key to the solution of the majority of these problems. Altshuller called his approach the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TIPS, or TRIZ the Russian acronym). The TRIZ approach involves several groups of methods that can be used to look at a problem in ways that, either individually or in combination, frequently lead to finding an inventive solution.

Developing Creative Talent

The point of all this is three-fold:

  1. Creative spirits are needed at all stages of the technological innovation process.
  2. Everyone’s natural creative talents can be developed and enhanced.
  3. There is a fairly broad set of tools to help people, organizations, and even societies to develop their creative talents.

Are there other tools for enhancing creativity that you find useful?