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6.7 Creativity Techniques

The effectiveness of creativity techniques is unclear. This section presents several techniques that have been used to foster the creative process. They are essentially problem-solving strategies for generating new ideas for product and services. This section is a compendium of ideas from a variety of places. You are encouraged to look at the various books that are available for additional insight into the approaches.c.f. Michalko (2006).

Challenge Assumptions by Recombining, Adding, Deleting, or Changing Product Features

Assumptions about how a product should look and perform create intellectual boundaries. As noted by Michalko,Michalko (2006). they become so ingrained that they are never challenged. FlippingNalebuff and Ayres (2003). and reversing are techniques for challenging the assumptions. For example, it is assumed that delivered pizzas should be cheap, hot, fast, and have standard toppings. How about cold, slow, and nonstandard toppings? Cold pizza is not a good idea, but perhaps expensive pizza, with slow delivery and gourmet ingredients, could be a winner. The first thing to do in this approach is to list all the features of a product, reverse the features, and then see what features make sense.

Other ideas where assumptions and product features have been challenged include the following:

  • Taking your car to the glass shop to have the window repaired
  • New assumption: The glass shop repairs the crack in the car window at your work.
  • High-resolution expensive camcorder with many features
  • New assumption: The popular Flip Mino was a low-resolution inexpensive camera with very few features. It was popular at one time because it could easily upload files to the Internet.
  • Use global positioning system to get you to a location
  • New assumption: Give other people your location and let them find you or come to you.
  • Putting condiments in glass bottles
  • New assumption: Flipping by putting condiments in plastic and turn them upside down (ketchup).
  • Have spaghetti tonight, chili tomorrow, and macaroni and cheese the next day
  • New assumption: Have Cincinnati Chili tonight. It includes spaghetti, chili, onions and lots of cheese.

Social networking Web sites have championed the idea of combing services in new ways (often referred to as mashups). For example, Facebook combines blogging, photo sharing, marketing, and instant messaging. Twitter has combined text messaging, mini-blogging, instant news, customer tracking, and paparazzi activities in one simple yet powerful system. All in one printers, multipurpose stadiums and Kansas City Chili are additional examples of how simple ideas can be combined into useful products.

Idea Arbitrage: Steal Ideas and Products From Someone Else

Taking ideas from others is idea arbitrage.Nalebuff and Ayres (2003). If the idea is not patented or copyrighted, it will be copied. And even if it is copyrighted or patented, it will probably still be copied.Choate (2005). Legal searching for ideas can come from a variety of sources including basic science journals, the popular press, conferences, and trade associations. As noted earlier, innovation benefits from search. And usually, the more sources you search, the better (this is probably true up to about 11 outside sources). The ideas can also come from other countries and cultures. There is a Web site in China called where there are literally thousands of products that have never been seen in the West. With idea arbitrage, the goal should be to steal the gem and not the entire crown. Take the best ideas and combine them in order to differentiate your products from the competition.

One interesting application of the idea arbitrage is Etsy is an online store that provides a market for crafts and handmade items. It has drawn on ideas from both Amazon and eBay and has recently begun to encroach on both eBay’s and Amazon’s market. It is a superb example of a monopolistic competition marketplace, where product differentiation rules the day.

Midas Approach: Product and Services Developed with Unlimited Resources

The idea behind this approach is that you can generate ideas for solving problems by throwing money at the problem.Nalebuff and Ayres (2003). The problems are the headaches. Even though contemporary life in the USA is pretty much headache free, by 18th-century standards, there are numerous instances where products and services are being developed to relieve irritations. For example, if you have a problem with technical support, then have a technical guru sit outside the door until you call for his or her expertise. Need help with school and homework? Hire a full-time assistant as a tutor. Having problems with snow on the driveway? Install a heated coil driveway. If you cannot guess when the mail arrives; install a sensor that transmits the status of the mailbox.

Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayers describe the “What Would Croesus Do?” approach in their book entitled Why Not?Nalebuff and Ayres (2003). This is essentially a problem-solving approach where you have unlimited resources at your disposal. The goal is to identify products and services for the high end where the consumer is not price-sensitive and is interested in many different features. As noted earlier, we have renamed Croesus to Midas because it is easier to remember and because it imparts a very colorful and explicit image of high-end features. Midas products and services are designed for consumers who are not price-sensitive.

Hermes Approach: Products and Services Developed with Limited Resources

In an earlier chapter, we discussed the Hermes approach to problem solving and developing products and services to relieve headaches. The Hermes part of the demand curve is where the consumers are price-sensitive. This could include students, seniors, and, in general, individuals with low levels of discretionary income or individuals who are value-conscious. In designing products and services for this group you can use the “What would Hermes Do?” approach. Hermes was the god of the traveler, the shepherd, the athlete, the merchants, and the cunning, and was linked to invention and commerce. There are a variety of very interesting products and services that have been developed for the price-sensitive end of the demand curve. The idea is to use the top and bottom of the demand curve to generate new ideas for products and services. The point is creating dynamic tension between the two ends of the demand curve and eventually producing the best products for the price-sensitive (Hermes), the high end (Midas), and the middle of the demand curve (Atlas).

Nightmare Features: Think of Ways to Put Your Company Out of Business

An extension of the alleviate headaches approach is to think about ways to put your company out of business or for that matter any company out of business.This idea has been attributed to Alan Kay, one of the pioneers behind object-oriented programming and the graphical user interface, when he was a scientist at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Corporation in the 1970s. When using this approach, the individual should marshal all the creativity approaches, including using unlimited resources to generate problem solutions, borrowing ideas using idea arbitrage, flipping ideas, and recombining products and services. Many of the ideas that have led to putting companies, industries, and even countries out of business were the result of disruptive technological innovation (e.g., the printing presses, armaments and tactical innovations, networking, computing, communications innovations, etc.). Disruptive technologiesProduct or process innovations that eventually eclipse or overturn the existing dominant technology. are product or process innovations that eventually eclipse or overturn the existing dominant technology. They are part of a product life cycle described by 19th-century economist Joseph Schumpeter that leads to Creative Destruction.Rose (2002). Schumpeter was a strong proponent of the entrepreneurial spirit. It was his position that products and services emerge, die, adapt, and re-combine in a never-ending cycle of birth, growth, and decline.

Fostering Creativity in Meetings and with Your Colleagues

The way we perceive the world is constrained by culture, social mores, institutions, education, and neurobiology. In some cultures and businesses, there is a distinct power distance that separates and modifies social interactions.Hofstede and Hofstede (2004). Power distanceThe degree to which powerful individuals in a country, culture, occupation, or institution accept and demand subordination, obedience, and differential respect. is the degree to which powerful individuals in a country, culture, occupation, or an institution accept and indeed demand subordination, obedience, and differential respect. Institutions with high levels of power distance are characterized by bosses pulling rank, requiring subordinates to clear everything with the boss, and having excessive rules for interaction and task completion. In general, when power distance is high between superiors and their subordinates, there is an aura of authoritarianism and class distinction. This is in contrast to work environments where the power distance between superiors and subordinates is low. In this situation, superiors treat individuals as somewhat equal, giving subordinates important tasks, permitting failure, and giving credit where the credit is due.

It should be noted that the appropriate degree of power distance is contextual. There are some jobs where high levels of power distance are needed (e.g., the military, some construction jobs, and police work) and others where low levels of power distance are desirable (e.g., research and development, piloting a plane, and creative endeavors). Malcolm Gladwell described a situation where high levels of power distance between flight crew members contributed to the plane crashes of a Korean Airlines in the late 1990s.Gladwell (2008). Planes produced by Airbus and Boeing are supposed to be flown by two pilots without a significant power distance between them, where one pilot corrects the other when necessary. As a result of the large power distance between the pilots of Korean Airlines, the co-pilot would not correct mistakes made by the other pilot, which in turn led to the fatal mistakes and crashes. There has even been speculation that the Madoff debacle was the result of too much power distance between the Securities and Exchange Commission and Bernard Madoff.Selling (2009).

It is important to reduce the power distance relationship within teams and at meetings when the objective is to encourage creativity and innovation. As noted earlier, having a mission, focusing on a single goal, encouraging one-on-one collaboration, encouraging risk taking, embracing failure, and having quiet time can all facilitate creativity. This can, of course, be very difficult to do because the power distance relationship is a somewhat durable, cultural, and institutional variable. Overcoming situations where the power distance relationship is high requires a dramatic approach, such as the Six Thinking Hats technique.

Six Hats Approach to Creativity

Edward de Bono has developed a technique for creativity that has been outlined in his book the Six Thinking Bono (1999). The objective of his approach is to encourage problem solving and creativity by having team members wear different hats. This approach just might help to reduce relationships where the power distance is high. The following presents a brief overview of how the different hats influence team interactions and information gathering:

  • White Hat ThinkingInvolves gathering facts and figures related to the problem. It is also used to identify areas where more information is required.: This involves gathering facts and figures related to the problem. It is also used to identify areas where more information is required.
  • Red Hat ThinkingInvolves emotional thinking. Gut feelings and passionate evangelism are permitted.: This involves emotional thinking. Gut feelings and passionate evangelism are permitted.
  • Green Hat ThinkingWhere creativity is encouraged. Creative solutions are in order and you can draw it from approaches like flipping, idea arbitrage, combining ideas, and unlimited resources.: This is where creativity is encouraged. Creative solutions are in order and you can draw it from the approaches discussed earlier (flipping, idea arbitrage, combining ideas, and unlimited resources).
  • Black Hat ThinkingInvolves the use of critique and judgment to assess the negative aspects of a solution. Key questions to be asked include whether the solution is viable and whether can it be executed.: This involves the use of critique and judgment to assess the negative aspects of a solution. Key questions to be asked include whether the solution is viable and whether can it be executed.
  • Yellow Hat ThinkingInvolves the positive aspects of a solution. Optimistic about the solution is important.: This involves the positive aspects of a solution. It is important to be optimistic about the solution when under the yellow hat.
  • Blue Hat ThinkingInvolves trying to get a strategic look at the problem. An attempt is made to get at the big picture in terms of where were we, where we want to go, and how we get there.: This involves trying to get a strategic look at the problem. An attempt is made to get at the big picture in terms of where were we, where do we want to go, and how do we get there.

The six hats approach is a useful activity that may help to bring different perspectives into the creative process as well as reduce high levels of power distance. When implemented properly, it encourages participation and helps reduce dysfunctional power relationships among team members.