With mental capability, there are few limitations. Overload a machine and it can break down. Even computer chips have their speed limits. Resources can run dry. However, if we can help people make better use of their minds, the returns are immeasurable.
The mind computer has the capacity to store an equivalent of 7550 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
The process of managing innovation ties in closely with organizational freedom. Managing innovation is not an oxymoron. Highly innovative companies manage the actual process of generating, developing and implementing innovative ideas better than their competitors do. This process involves a lot deliberate duplication and redundancy in order to foster knowledge sharing and communication. There are million garage start-ups in IT. In rural India, cowshed innovation is common. But in every case, it has blossomed in an atmosphere of organizational freedom.
Why wait for the whole country to be cleaned up? Why don’t we keep our own doorstep clean? Why wait for worldwide changes? Let us make a contribution to change our own small corporate space. Innovation is about lighting our little candles to defy the darkness.
The organizational climate often decides whether the ideas flourish and bloom or fade and die. Thus, organizational culture becomes critical to innovation.
Ricardo Semler of Semco, the South American magnate, believes that the culture of innovation in an organization is created by providing total freedom to his employees.
In the creative thinking process, incubation is followed by ‘Analysis.’ During the process of analysis, apply left-brain thinking – logical, statistical and mathematical. Solutions have to be carefully discussed and the optimum one chosen. The solutions are analyzed against the parameters chosen by the problem owner.
Some prevalent parameters are:
d) Human resources
e) Goodwill and impact on staff motivation levels
g) Saving lives
h) Political capital
After idea generation, the next step in the thinking process is incubation. After you have spent time collecting the facts and generating ideas, forget the problem. Hand it over to the subconscious to incubate. The subconscious is a vast computer, which stores everything you have ever seen, felt, smelt or experienced.
Alex Osborne, the advertising genius, said that during incubation, “I lie like a wet leaf on a log of wood and allow the current to carry me where it will.” Osborne continues, "When I am thus involved in doing nothing, I receive a constant stream of telegrams from my subconscious." He feels that he has done his best work when he was really doing nothing.
Also bear in mind that luck favors the prepared mind. The thought process involved is a cycle, linking preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.
A direct analogy answers the question: Where else has this problem or a similar problem been solved? Maybe our problem can be solved in the same way.
The richest source of analogous solutions seems to be the natural world. “Nature seems to have solved just about every problem we can think of, if only we know where to look and are able to translate the idea from one context to another,” writes Ronald Whitfield, in ‘Creativity in Industry.’
The same view is echoed by Gordon Edge, of PA Technology: “If you want to solve a problem, see how it is solved in nature. Living forms always have the most economical answers, as a result of evolution.” His team used the way a nocturnal moth’s eye absorbs light and thereby reflecting it, (by means of a delicate crisscross pattern coating the eye), as the basis for an information storage system on an optical disk.
In the case of the optical disk for information storage, the connection to the nocturnal moth was found by ‘a lucky chain of coincidences,’ which recalls Pasteur’s comment that ‘chance favors the prepared mind,’ and George Prince’s modification of it – ‘the prepared mind makes its own chances.’ We cannot all be experts in biology, zoology and so on, but we can take an interest in a wide variety of phenomena and trust our own minds to throw up clues that will lead us to the analogies we need.
One of the simplest of all excursions is to look at the problem through the eyes of someone completely different. You can do this by imagining you are in a totally different job – a coal miner, astronaut, deep-sea diver, football manager, and ballet dancer. As you imagine yourself in that job, see what ideas occur to you that might help with the problem.
The best attitude for learning is to be relaxed but alert. Like a flower open to the morning sun. The best attitude for thinking also is the same. Like a cat in the sun, completely relaxed so that even its paws are limp; but at the first sign of a mouse, it springs into action, all muscle and lightning speed.
Yoga, meditation or any other form of stillness will ensure that you are in an ideal state for thinking fluently.
Life provides rich material to develop creative ideas. There is a story in the Bhagavatham about how Uddhava asks Krishna the question, “Who is a Teacher?”
Krishna says: “Look at the sky; far, far away, you can see an eagle swift and strong and free. In a single instant, it can swoop down to earth and capture its prey. As far as vision and speed are concerned, that eagle is your guru. See the lion in the forest; see how majestic is its gait. As far as grace, is concerned that lion is your guru. Watch the sinuous serpent; he is not anxious about his prey. He waits and watches. That serpent will teach you confidence. All of life is designed to teach you. Those who love you, teach you something. Those who hate you, teach you more.”
Sorrow and pain are sent into our lives for a reason so that we can empathize with others. Life is the ultimate text book, and graduating from the university of life is the final goal.
Look into the purple heart of an amethyst. Register the color in your heart and illumine every part of yourself with that color. Beauty has the power to open the secret doors of human personality. You become relaxed, alert, comforted and nurtured.
Your mind becomes fluid and flowing. All that is harsh and dissonant melts away. Thoughts bloom like flowers on a tender branch. Immersing yourself in the grand silences of nature can help you to start the process of becoming more interestingly ‘you,’ the ‘you’ God created, the ‘you’ who can become self-actualized and peaceful.
Play devil's advocate – take the exact opposite view of the one you have been holding. If you are an optimist, think through the motivations of the pessimist.
Most of us tend to see situations through the flawed windows of our own nature. We are optimistic or pessimistic and do not really participate with others in understanding all aspects and connotations of a problem. Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats can help a group or even a person understand all aspects of a problem. Each of us wears each hat in turn or persuades others to wear them. I’d like to state here that, while thinking, one should remove all barriers and obstacles. Thinking is the easiest way of testing a solution. Thinking through all possibilities can prevent major financial distress. But most people are as careful and timid with their thinking as they are with their actions, thus losing the possibility of nurturing creative ideas.
People feel busy and productive when engaged in activity, but can be busy doing work which may be non-productive. In my view, thinking should be the major activity of managers and progress lies in constantly striving through innovation to delight the customer.
Applied properly, this approach can free you from any unnecessary implicit assumptions that you are making about the challenges you face.
Procedure for use:
Generally, the steps to follow in applying the technique are as follows:
1. State the question, goal, situation, or problem.
2. Assume anything is possible.
3. Using fantasy, make statements such as: “What I really want to do is...” or “If I could choose any answer to this question, it would be ...”
4. Examine each fantasy and transpose it into your reality by making statements such as: “Although I really cannot do that, I can do this by...” or “It seems impractical to do that, but I believe we can accomplish the same thing by ...”
5. If necessary, repeat Steps 3 and 4.
Developed by Alex Osborn, the brainstorming method was designed to separate idea generation from idea evaluation. It has the objective of moving people into a nurturing, supportive atmosphere of freewheeling thoughts. Ideas are stimulated through hearing others’ ideas. The emphasis is on quantity of ideas, using the philosophy that quantity produces quality.
Procedure for use:
William Miller suggests the following ground rules for effective brainstorming:
Pick a problem/opportunity where each person has the knowledge and motivation to contribute.
Define the problem in neutral terms rather than referencing a pre-selected solution. E.g., “How do we get this job done?” rather than “How do we get this person or this group to do this job?”
Record the ideas on flip charts or large pieces of paper where everyone can see them.
Suspend evaluation or judgment until all ideas have been given.
Stretch for ideas.
When you think you’ve got all the ideas, go for another round, being even more outrageous in possible solutions.
Aim for quantity to help find quality.
Accept all ideas, even weak ones.
Encourage embellishment and building on ideas.
Attribute Matching is a simple method which breaks down stereotypes which are very common among many of us.
Procedure for use:
Come up with a procedure or process that is totally different from the process or product to be improved.
List attributes of the new product or process.
Apply each attribute to the product or process being considered and arrive at alternative solutions.
Dr. Rekha Shetty is Managing Director of Farstar Distribution Network, a unique consultancy company devoted exclusively to innovation and creativity under the brand name Mindspower.She is an author, an entrepreneur and an original thinker. Her long term Innovation Initiative, using 47 thinking tools helps in a steep increase in profits, reduction in costs, while improving customer satisfaction levels and employee participation levels. She is a consultant to ICICI Bank, Ashok Leyland Ltd., Hyundai Motors Ltd., TVS Group, TI Group, Durgapur Steel Plant, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. and other blue chip companies.
In her very first assignment in United India Insurance, she developed a nationally acclaimed advertising campaign. During the last seventeen years, she has specialized in the field of Creativity in Management and developed her own management brand, Mindspower. She was one of Asia’s first women District Governors for Rotary International and was awarded Rotary’s highest Award – Service above Self.
Her fourth book “Innovate! 90 Days to Transform your Business” is under print and will be released by Penguin during May 2010.