Creative Thinking


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Creative Thinking

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Creative Thinking

  1. 1. Don’t Just Think Harder, Think Creatively, and Decide Wisely! By: Dr. Errol WirasingheWhether you are seeking solutions to a problem, or seeking new opportunities… you needcreative ideas. Even the best decision-making tools, techniques, and skills are uselessunless you have developed innovative options from which to find the optimum solution.Realizing that many opportunities come brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems, AlbertEinstein once said: “The significant problemswe face today cannot be solved on the same The Elevator Problemlevel of thinking we were at when we created Tenants of a very tall office building withthem.” three elevator banks in New York City were complaining about delays associated withOpportunities and solutions abound, if only the can see them! To see such opportunities Various consultants recommended:…you must start to think creatively. This is best • Operating at higher speedsexemplified with the “elevator” problem (see • Shortening doors operating • Stopping at alternate • Designated elevator banks to serve only a given set of floors, etc….But what is creative thinking? Creativity At the end of the day, none of theseconsists largely of rearranging what we know, stopped the complaints…in order to find out what we don’t know. A pile ofrocks ceases to be a rock pile when somebody De Bono recommended that mirrors be installed in the lobby!contemplates it envisioning a cathedral.To be creative you need to be a rule-breaker. But this is not easy since it goes against our entireupbringing. When we were growing up we were taught to conform (see box). Now we are beingasked to be creative, to think of something that is not so intuitive—what a contradiction!A baby learns quickly because he/she does nothave to unlearn anything. Living in the safety and Conform!comfort of what they know, adults are often reluctantto unlearn things that have served them well. At home, we were encouraged, rewarded, or forced to conform toConsequently, they are slow to learn creative traditions, to what our parents consideredthinking. norms and values. At school we were stereotyped to doTell a young college graduate to think of a way to what educators thought was good for us. At work, we are required to comply withtrap a monkey and he/she will come up with many mission statements and corporateingenious ideas, all based on some form of device. policies.Yet, farmers in Africa have been relying on themonkey’s natural behavior to trap him. They dig ahole in the ground with an opening just large enough for the monkey to grab the food they placeinside. The monkey cannot withdraw his hand unless he drops the food, which he will not do.What a creative idea!When you are faced with a difficult problem, you should try brainstorming or lateral thinkingtechniques. 1
  2. 2. Brainstorming & Cross-fertilizationBrainstorming is a group process, which relies on cross-fertilization of knowledge and experience.Examples of cross-fertilization abound in the corporate arena: British Airways hired a marketing manager from Mars (candy). Home Depot enticed the man behind the success of IKEA. IBM was struggling when they brought in Lou Gertsner from RJR Nabisco; this turned out to be a brilliant strategy. AT&T hired Michael Armstrong away from Hughes Electronics—a winning move!Cross-fertilization is so fundamentally important that universities have a policy of maintainingethnic and cultural diversity to ensure that young minds are revitalized through interaction withdiverse views and values.Brainstorming is not confined to the corporate world! Whether you are buying a house, or selectinga college for your teenager, you can conduct a brainstorming session in your own home withfamily and friends.Do not confuse brainstorming with group consensus. If not properly managed, brainstormingsessions can degenerate into group consensus, which can be very dangerous.Lateral Thinking (Thinking Out-of-the-Box)Lateral thinking relies on the individual’s capacity to generate all possible solutions.The Internet itself an incredibly creative concept, has generated some very creative ideas. Thanksto lateral thinkers, today we have search engines, e-mail services, web-hosting services, individualwebsites, etc., free of charge.Einstein once said: Great spirits have always encountered violentopposition from mediocre minds.” Truly creative and unique ideas gothrough three stages. Initially ridiculed, then violently opposed, andfinally accepted as self-evidentDuring the Vietnam War, the U.S. Air Force continuously bombed theNorth Vietnamese bridges in an attempt to hinder the movement ofmen and machines to the war front. The U.S. could not understandhow the Viet Cong kept moving forward in the face of such an incessant bombing campaign. Laterit became known that a young Viet Cong soldier had suggested building bridges below the waterline so that the U.S. planes would not be able to spot them. A Viet Cong general admitted thatinitially they had scorned this strategy, which ultimately proved to be a decisive factor in thwartingan American victory in Vietnam.Lateral thinking skills are not natural to everyone. However, lateral thinking can be learned! TheAim-Preset technique presented below enhances one’s capacity to think laterally, and generatesolutions. 2
  3. 3. The “Aim-Preset” TechniqueThe acronym stands for: Accept, Isolate, Modify, Problem, Replace, External, Sacrifice,Environment, and Time. These are the basic questions you should ask each time you are facedwith a problem. With every problem you face, employ the aim-preset technique to search out youroptions. This requires you to spend some time thinking through the implications. Do not jump atwhat comes naturally. Many are inclined to charge at a problem like cavalry; the aim-presettechnique is akin to artillery, where you search out the coordinates.I have cited examples where the aim-preset technique is applicable. Only a few questions wouldapply to a typical problem. You would then rely on your best judgment, or use a technique such asXpertUS to determine the optimum.A — Can I simply accept the problem and learn to live with it? We need to figure out if the problem is worth fixing, or if the solution is cost-effective. • Your company relocated, adding an extra half-hour to your commute. Is this worth looking for a new job closer to home, or can you live with it?I — Can I isolate the product or the system from the influence? • When x-raying a patient, the dentist places a lead apron (shield) on the patient to reduce exposure to radiation.M — Can I modify the product or the system? Product modification is possibly the most common solution. • When tires showed excessive wear, manufacturers modified the rubber compounds with synthetic additives to increase their wear resistance.P — Is it possible that the solution might be in the problem? • Many years ago, rodents infested certain areas of England, destroying crops. The rodents were the external cause of the problem. Laboratory tests showed that a high-frequency sound generated at night caused the rodents to suffer epileptic fits and die. The rodents’ biological clock triggers a protective mechanism that makes them immune to noise during the daytime; somehow, this protection is rendered ineffective at night. • Vaccines are derived from the source of the problem.R — Can I degrade the product and replace it? More and more manufacturers are resorting to this technique to cut costs and ensure a constant demand for their products. Often the cost of repairing something exceeds the cost of replacement. The downside of this is the cost to the environment, and depletion of raw materials. • Disposable razors, plates, and even cameras are good examples of this type of solution.E — Can I eliminate or mitigate the external cause of the problem? • We use pesticides to kill or deter pests.S — Can I use direct or indirect sacrificial techniques? • In automobiles, brake pads are sacrificed to protect the more expensive stainless steel rotors.E — Can I change the environment in which the problem thrives? • Genetic modifications to plants prevent certain pests from residing in them.T — Will the passage of time resolve the problem? Time is a valuable tool in resolving problems. When we are annoyed, we need some time to cool down. So why not use this as a tool for problem solving? • Parents go through some very difficult times with their teenage children. Some parents get frustrated and resort to all sorts of “remedies.” Others take a philosophical attitude and accept this as a passing phase in a teenager’s life. • Farmers seek seasons to plant corps – time! 3
  4. 4. You Must Have an Unambiguous, Reasonable ObjectiveBefore you try to make a decision, be certain that you are clear about your objective. Remember,an optimum solution can be found only after the objective is clearly defined. In the bus-stopproblem discussed earlier, you would have found the right solution if you had clearly identifiedyour objective.If you define your problem as “how to increase the energy supply by the year 2010”, you willoverlook the problem of “how to decrease the consumption of energy”.“Where to build a school” is a limited definition; a more appropriate definition would be “where tofind more classroom space”. The first definition excludes the possibility of converting a warehouseto a classroom or using a bingo hall for daytime classes.Beware! Often you might see only the negative side of a changing scenario. Keep focusing on theproblem, occasionally changing the focus in order to open your eyes to benefits that may outweighany potentially harmful consequences.For example, consider the nightmare of killer bees. Most of the Americas are fighting to wipe themout while coffee growers in Brazil are happy about their presence. Why? Coffee plants pollinatedby these bees have increased their yield by about fifty percent. This emphasizes what I have saidbefore—which solution you seek or adopt depends on your focus and/or objective.Creativity is vital to making good decisions. However, being creative does not guarantee that onewill make the best decision. When Dr. George Graham, a government entomologist, was facedwith a problem of moths attacking grapes in California, he identified six possible ways to addressthe problem, using the aim-preset technique. He then used the pairwise technique (XpertUS) todecide on which was the optimum treatment for the problem.Even Burger-King paid a very high price because of an erroneous objective. Strategist at BurgerKing, looked at future trends, and realized that there was massive outcry for a “healthy” lifestyle.New diet programs were being proposed; fitness centers were mushrooming everywhere; newbooks on the subject were filling bookstores; TV & Radio stations were joining the hype. Toaccommodate this trend, Burger King developed a “flame-broiled” chicken burger, and spentmillions of dollars to launch it. Alas, it was a dismal failure! Why? Strategists at Burger King,started with a wrong assumption – they assumed that the customer was going to a fast-food outletfor a healthy meal. This led to an erroneous objective “add a healthy meal to the menu”. Surveyshave shown the only reason people go to a fast-food restaurant is for a “fast, cheap, palatable”product, to satisfy their hunger. Burger King started with a bad assumption!And it was not only Burger King who got it wrong! There were others who rode this wagon – goingthe wrong way! McDonalds abandoned the “McLean” burger. Pizza Hut shelved the “low-fat” pizza. Kentucky Fried Chicken tried the “skinless” variety, and dropped it fast.How did Microsoft, Dell Computers, Wal-Mart, CNN, and Charles Schwab take on the giants intheir respective industries? They came up with creative ideas. Each broke away from tradition tobecome a giant in its own right. 4