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Creativity and Innovation

Steve Herman

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” —Galileo Galilei

Creativity is easy to spot in artists: the cubes and African masks constituting Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avigon, Stravinsky composing the Rite of Spring in a trance, Joyce effectively ending the modernist period with the publication of Ulysses.

Scientists also occasionally make the list: Archimedes stepping out of his bath (Eureka!), Newton’s apple (yes, a myth), Einstein’s flurry of inspiration. Creativity can be even harder to recognize in day-to-day work activities.

Let’s single out Einstein. What did he do in his annus mirabilis? He had no doctorate, no academic position, no laboratory, no assistants, no ready access to a good library; yet, from March 17 to Sept. 27, 1905, he published five papers1 in which he provided conclusive proof for the existence of atoms using viscosity and diffusion calculations, explained Brownian movement, laid the foundation of quantum theory, presented the special theory of relativity, and tossed off a three-page paper that at the end gave the world its most remarkable and quotable equation: E = mc2.

Einstein did all this with what he described as gedanken, or thought experiments. He looked at the world in a different way—and trained his mind to focus ever forward. We can all follow suit; we can train ourselves to look at things differently. Creativity can be learned and practiced both on an individual level and in organizations as a whole.

Everyone’s In

The best and most successful organizations are those that ask everyone to be part of the innovation process. In such companies, creativity is not compartmentalized; innovation is not an aspect of particular jobs, but of all jobs. Each year, BusinessWeek ranks companies by innovation.

(See BusinessWeek’s 2008 Innovative Companies.) While their brands and industries and products vary, common among them is an atmosphere conducive to collaborative creation. The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (or TRIZ, in the Russian acronym), developed by Genrich Altshuller who brought the theory West after the Soviet Union’s collapse, is based on studying thousands of patents and coming to the conclusion that inventiveness and creativity can be learned. TRIZ aims to create an algorithmic approach to the invention of new systems, and the refinement of old systems. Altshuller believed that inventive problems stem from contradictions between two or more elements, and the inventor must resolve the contradictions.

One of the best ways to generate ideas toward a resolution is brainstorming. IDEO’s rules of brainstorming2 are listed on the following page. The basic premise is that two, or multiple, brains are better than one and to toss out as many crazy ideas as possible within a loosely organized framework. Brainstorming and TRIZ are contradictory approaches: One is highly organized; the other is free-wheeling; however, both direct themselves toward the same end.

Advanced Systematic Inventive Thinking, or ASIT, was developed as a derivative of TRIZ. Its basic techniques are: Unification, Multiplication, Division, Breaking Symmetry and Object Removal. With ASIT, one examines a product and its environments, and visualizes the results when changes are made.

Creativity may produce an invention, which in turn can lead to a patent, but inventions and patents do not constitute innovation. Lafley and Charan, in their book Game-Changer: How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation, sum it up as: “An innovation is the conversion of a new idea into revenues and profits.”3 Creativity and innovation are linked, but are two very different animals. Michelangelo was creative; Henry Ford was innovative. Ford developed the assembly line and revolutionized the application of mass production to supply millions of cars to a new market. He once said that if he had listened to the marketplace he would have built a faster, cheaper horse. Innovation implies a successful application of thinking, not pure thought.

Henry Ford also serves as an example of what occurs when innovation stops. Ford Motor once controlled 60% of auto sales. But his attitude that “any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black” lost the number one position to General Motors when it made color options available, and Ford’s sales fell to 20% of new car sales in the 1940s.

Procter & Gamble is not only the largest company in the consumer products industry but also one of the most innovative. Incremental innovations constantly add minor improvements to products or processes. Disruptive innovation creates new consumption, transforming current markets or making them obsolete. For example, Tide detergent was disruptive, replacing soap with synthetic detergent. Since World War II, P&G has produced 17 disruptive innovations.

A.G Lafley became CEO of P&G in 2000 and put innovation at the forefront of daily operations. “The consumer-is-boss” was his first rule. Lafley called upon the entire company to offer ideas, setting a goal of 50% of total production for new products and technology to come from outside P&G. Sustainable organic growth, driven by innovation, was a particular priority.

Collaboration is an important role for P&G. Future Works is an example: “Do you have a game-changing product, technology, business model, method, trademark, package or design that can help deliver new products and/or services that improve the lives of the world’s consumers? Do you have commercial opportunities for existing P&G products/brands? If so, we’d like to consider a partnership.”4

The economy can be stimulated to restore stability to the system, but creation and innovation are necessary to return to true prosperity. Everyone, at every level of your company, must get smarter. Now is the time to initiate the evolutionary or revolutionary changes in products and corporations to lay the basis for enduring success. There is no cost to being creative, but there is a tremendous penalty for not encouraging creativity and innovation in every individual and organization.



  1. JS Rigden, Einstein 1905, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA (2006)
  2. (Accessed July 16, 2009)
  3. AG Lafley and R Charan, Game-Changer: How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation, Random House Inc., New York, (2008)
  4. (Accessed July 16, 2009)

Steve Herman is president of Diffusion LLC, a consulting company specializing in regulatory issues, intellectual property, and technology development and transfer. An adjunct professor in the Fairleigh Dickinson University Masters in Cosmetic Science program, his book, Fragrance Applications: A Survival Guide, was published by Allured Publishing Corp. in 2001. A former chairman of the Society of Cosmetic Chemist’s New York chapter, he was elected to fellow status in 2002.

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