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Creativity and Innovation

By: Steve Herman
Posted: September 3, 2009, from the September 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

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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.