We just finished two back-to-back, week-long programs, training people in the skills to facilitate creative thinking sessions and to be innovation champions in their organizations. One of the points we conveyed is that there's more to the science of innovation than mere tools and techniques. This to a group of people who were specifically there to learn tools and techniques, which we taught, plus much more. From experience, we know that something else will begin to happen for these participants, something beyond the science, something beyond the tools and techniques.

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The message arrives: Do we hear it?

"If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail." — Abraham Maslow

Reinforcing this, just today, as we were sitting down to write this, the following came across the (wireless) email wires:

"The more I work on innovation in organizations, the more evident it becomes to me that the keys for success are: to really inspire people, make them work together as if they [were really good friends] and to unleash their inner passion. In a way, it's like revealing their 'human side', which lies behind the corporate mask. Probably an insight that should have clicked with me before, but the aha moment came now."

Diving deeperThe good news is that the writer actually figured it out a lot faster than we did. We get it now, but — like most people — it took us a while in the land of tools and techniques before this particular wisdom showed up. It does seem that there is a progression of focus as one learns more and more about creativity and innovation. We see awareness deepen from tools and techniques, first to process/methodology, then to subtle behaviors and deep attitudes. There may be an even deeper level, but we haven't yet found it. Ask us in 10 years.

It's more than you see

We like to think of it using the old metaphor of the iceberg. Remember that something like ten percent of the iceberg is above water and thus visible from the ship? Well that analogy holds for how one digs deeper into innovation.

Filling the Toolbox

Typically, when one starts to get involved with deliberately working towards new ideas, one starts to focus on tools, which are readily apparent to a spectator. A starting point is brainstorming or the six thinking hats. These approaches work well, and that leads the beginner to look for other tools and techniques, which begets adding to the tool box with things like remote associations, SCAMPER, mind-mapping, software programs, brainwriting, excursions, and the like.

Process and Methodology for Change

After collecting enough tools and techniques, most people begin to discover that there are frameworks into which to fit the tools in order to make them work more effectively. Sometimes the discovery is a result of reading about more tools (our favorite source, Idea Power, and others by Arthur Van Gundy). Sometimes by coming across the various companies (like New & Improved). And sometimes through organizations that help people learn more about deliberate creativity such as the Innovation Network, the American Creativity Association, and the oldest of the organizations, the Creative Education Foundation which sponsors the Creative Problem Solving Institute (And you'll see us at all of their conferences learning more with other practitioners).

Understanding the underlying architecture of innovation processes and methodologies provides an order of magnitude change in the way people view how to approach deliberate innovation. Now, rather than flailing about throwing tool after tool after technique at a problem in search of ideas, there is a pathway that informs the user how to apply them consciously. Using Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving (as but one example of a high-level process we use), the practitioner can start to pay attention to using their creative thinking tools and innovation techniques to not only generate ideas, but also to explore goals, sort through data, focus on the root cause of the problem, and develop solutions and action plans. This not only provides structure for tool use, but also radically expands the application and impact of them.

The Dawning of Innovation Attitudes and Behaviors

Then, over time, something really interesting can happen. The phenomenon that we see over and over again is that regular use of the process gives birth to a unique and powerful awareness: that in addition to using tools and techniques in a formalized process, there is a responsibility to take. The responsibility to maintain certain attitudes and to regularly behave with an integrity that makes these techniques and processes work really effectively on an individual, team, and company-wide basis. There are lots of approaches to this, including the Leader Behaviors espoused by the CEO of Pfizer, a variety of moral values, and the SUCCESS model that we work with.

The behaviors and attitudes that forward innovation are essential for using tools and techniques, as well as processes and methodologies, extraordinarily well. Without taking on this mental discipline and these behaviors, many of the approaches towards innovation are ineffective and short-changed because of mindsets that say, "we can't solve this," or "it's impossible," or "I'm the only one here who can figure this out." These are precisely the mindsets that kill the best methods and tools, creating the "flavor of the month" approach to organizational change about which we spoke last month.

Let's face it, creating change in your product line, your work, your organization and your life is all about living the behaviors that drive innovation. The behaviors of curiosity, forgiveness, choosing reactions, "playing" well with others, committing to improvement, and others. Each time we dive deeper into a new level regarding innovation, we radically improve our ability to make the previous level(s) work better and create more impact in our lives, our work, and our world. Oh, and here's the bonus: we become better human beings as well.

Looking Back and Moving Forward

Look back on your exploration of creative thinking and/or innovation thus far and see if any of this fits your experience. Think about whether you've continued to dive deeper or if you're scratching around for more tools or if you've decided that the process that you use is the "right" one. And if you're stuck, look for ways to get unstuck. After all, that's why your innovation tools (and snow chains) exist. •

Next: How to Generate Better Ideas

©2004 Jonathan Vehar. All rights reserved.