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Team Creativity At Work I and II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best
Edward Glassman : How to Use Linear & Non-Linear Bizarre Ideas...

How to Use Linear & Non-Linear Bizarre Ideas to Produce a Useful, Unexpected Innovation

By Edward Glassman, PhD

DEFINITION: Creativity at work is a process of combining old information and old ideas into New & Useful ideas. This contradicts the idea that creativity generates ideas out of nothing, a harmful myth.

Solving problems creatively at work is a down-to-earth activity, not a mountain top phenomenon. You need a prepared mind full of diverse facts & ideas that you mix & combine to form creative connections.

You do want to be more creative than your competition, don't you? Then stuff your mind for creativity with new facts & ideas by attending trade fairs, meetings, reading, travel, talking to peers, customers, vendors, training, etc.

Another way is to use a trigger to spark creative connections in your mind. Use bizarre trigger-ideas as stepping stones to spark new ideas at work.

For example, consider the statement: "Let's train bears to climb telephone poles in winter and shake off the ice that breaks the transmission wires." This idea was proposed to prevent ice from breaking power lines in a mountainous region. One of the men had complained about being harassed by bears on one repair trip. This led one of the people in the meeting, in a spirit of fun, to suggest training bears to climb the poles and shake the ice loose, clearly a bizarre idea.

A second person, again in jest, suggested putting pots of honey on the top of the poles so the bears would climb the poles and shake the ice off the wires, another bizarre idea. A third person suggested, still in fun, placing pots of honey on the poles to attract the bears, also a bizarre idea.

This led to a potential solution. The down draft from helicopters flying over the wires might knock the ice off, an idea worth testing.

In this way, bizarre trigger-ideas spark useful solutions. Unless you help bizarre ideas survive, you lose much creativity at work. In other words, don't squelch bizarre trigger-ideas. Use them to spark better ideas. Squelch criticism, not trigger-ideas.

Many ways exist to get new and useful ideas. One way is through Linear Creativity: A => B => C => D => E => New & Useful Idea.

You check each step carefully for truth and logic before continuing. Precise and analytical, you know where you are heading, how to get there, and why you want to be there. Does it work at work? Of course. We base much of our rational thinking on this model.

Another way to get new and useful ideas is through Nonlinear Creativity. Ideas leap from: A => L => Z => R => E=> X...and eventually out of bizarre trigger-ideas and some very remote creative connections, a new and useful idea may emerge.

A very uncertain process, you do not know where it is heading, how or when you will get there, or why you even want to be there. It's risky, unpredictable, and ambiguous. Most often it leads nowhere, but when a new and useful idea emerges, it's very likely to represent a paradigm shift and be unique.

Let's take another look at the Nonlinear Creativity example above.

  • Bear harasses telephone pole repair man.
  • Train bears to climb poles and shake ice off.
  • Place pots of honey on tops of poles to attract bears to climb and shake the wires.
  • Use helicopters to place pots of honey on tops of poles to attract bears.
  • Use the down blast of helicopters to shake ice off the wires.

None of these bizarre ideas logically led to the other, yet the outcome was possibly quite useful. Had the process been stopped along the way by someone insisting on seriousness, the useful outcome would never occur.

Do you deliberately misperceive the world enough at work to obtain a new creative viewpoint whenever you want? If not, consider using bizarre trigger-ideas. •

© 2010 by Edward Glassman. All rights reserved.

Edward Glassman, PhDEdward Glassman, PhD was the President of the Creativity College®, a division of Leadership Consulting Services, Inc., and Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he headed the Program For Team Effectiveness And Creativity. More »

7/18/10