During a brainstorming session, we have a technique to help the group generate fresh, novel ideas, which we call an excursion. It is a deliberate step away from the task to help gain a fresh perspective, like “sleeping on the problem.” [See Chris Dolan’s post on Relaxed Concentration here] An excursion is flexible; it can be run at several points during a creative problem-solving session, but is particularly powerful at the Wishing, Ways & Means, and Overcoming How-Tos steps in the process.
Is your organization built for innovation? Does your company culture foster creativity and collaboration? Have you established a sound innovation strategy? How do you know? Just as defining "innovation" requires an agreed upon language, the pursuit of innovation can seem like an abstract, messy endeavor without some established yardsticks to determine how you are doing. Part of the challenge is simply knowing which questions to ask.
It seems that every magazine article I have picked up lately has related directly to creativity and innovation. The trend continued this morning, when I discovered the The Atlantic's special culture report on How Genius Works. In Project: First Drafts, the magazine asks some of the world's most creative and famous artists to explain their process of turning inspiration into art. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the feature.
Topics: Jay Terwilliger, Vijay Govindarajan, Learning From Failure, Innovation, creative problem solving, Innovation Metrics, breakthrough innovation, criteria for innovation, approximate thinking, developmental thinking
Hu-mor-ous ba-zoo-ka (hew’mer-us be-zoo’ka), n. 1. a funny, witty comment that, intentionally or unintentionally, shoots down another person’s idea. 2. innovation killer
Think back to the last brainstorming session in which you participated, where the goal was to come up with innovative ideas for your business. How many creative ideas were put forth for the group’s consideration? How many of those really new ones survives the barrage of negativity and doubt that usually greets new concepts? And, of the ideas that did survive, how many have been implemented for are still moving in that direction? Very likely, few made it into development and fewer still—if any—actually are on their way to market. You’ve got the creativity part down; you just haven’t learned how to be innovative!
If your company is typical, I’ll wager that plenty of good ideas surfaces during the brainstorming but few, if any, of the truly breakthrough ones made it out of the room alive. Most of the truly new ideas were probably shot down with a barrage of humorous bazookas—the act of shooting down another’s idea with a witty barb.
This tendency to lob verbal grenades at new ideas has been and still remains so pervasive that I coined the term The Bazooka Syndrome in 1982, when I first began my career as a creative problem-solving facilitator. Every time I have described this behavior to a new group of people, it has hit a responsive chord. Everyone instantly identifies with The Bazooka Syndrome because we have all been hit by these verbal missiles. And most people will also admit, with shamed faces, that they have been guilty of using bazookas on the ideas of others (colleagues, spouses, kids, family, and friends).
The Bazooka Syndrome captures what we unintentionally, but instinctively, do to new ideas. We make fun of them. We point out every single problem. We end up annihilating them. We point out every single problem. We end up annihilating them, all in the spirit of constructive flaw-finding and, allegedly, idea improvement.
For creative people who are good at generating fresh ideas, being hit by a bazooka blast is enormously discouraging. Frustration abounds in organizations that are skilled at dreaming up new ideas yet ineffective at protecting them from the bazooka wielders that exist everywhere.
It’s very discouraging to watch competitors successfully launch innovations based on ideas you tossed around but failed to pursue because you were gunned down by a bazooka. Are the phrases “Gee, we thought of that months (or years!) ago” and “we tried that but couldn’t make it work” commonly heard within the walls of your organization? If so, your company is undoubtedly populated by bazooka experts and, as a result, is short on innovation.
A couple years back, my friend Bobby had made the connection of using the “power” of mood rings to help the parents of children with [but not limited to] Autism by indicating the child’s mood before a tantrum occurs, when an extra cuddle may be needed, or when they were simply in a great mood. He shared this idea with his family and friends, including fellow entrepreneurs, who unanimously shot his idea down [a.k.a. Bazooka!]. They all told him that he wasn’t being PC, it would be scoffed at by parents and the medical community alike, the 70’s were over and he needed to move on- and so forth. Feeling foolish (and a bit dejected), Bobby abandoned the idea and shifted his focus to other happenings in life.
Last month, Forbes contributor Chunka Mui posted an interesting article that addressed an upcoming study to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. The results of the study found that creativity negatively affected perceptions of leadership potential. In a series of experiments conducted among working adults in India and college students in the U.S., individuals perceived as “creative” were repeatedly seen as less effective leaders.