A Strategy for Creativity, Innovation, and Continuous Improvement

An excellent and more practical method for thinking about creativity, innovation, and continuous improvement was put forward by Rolf Smith. Rolf divided creative thinking into seven different levels. The “A Strategy for Creativity, Innovation, and Continuous Improvement” figure shows a summary of this methodology. Because of the clarity this approach, this Compendium is also organized according to these levels.

From an organizational standpoint, these seven levels are an effective way to go about designing creative processes and problem solving teams. The first couple of Levels “do things right”, and “do the right things”, are typically undertaken by individuals and small groups with little training. For Levels 3 through 5, “doing things better”, “doing away with things”, and “doing things other people are doing”, usually require facilitated processes. It is most appropriate to have skilled individuals within the organization, and sometimes individuals from outside, design specific meetings and processes that will deliver the desired innovation results. At Level 6 and Level 7, “doing things that haven’t been done”, and “doing things it can’t be done”, it is imperative to use outside facilitators. The Office of Strategic Innovation Inc. is an organization that has experience in such methodology.

Usually challenges and opportunities come our way without active inquiry. It is part of coming to work. But before proceeding with looking at problem-solving and creativity in more detail, it’s important to note that there are times when you’re really out looking for new business ideas. How does a challenge turn into an opportunity? Applying creative thinking systematically requires deliberate, organized, purposeful and focused methodologies. Peter Drucker, in his book Innovation and Entrepreneurship (1985), outlined seven change areas that can be potential starting points in a search for business ideas: First, he suggested that you look for the unexpected: successes, failures in advance. Second, you look for incongruities: discrepancies between the “what is” and “what should be”. Third, you investigate needs and requirements by understanding and finding ways to address deficiencies associated with problems and issues. Fourth, you investigate changes in structure: rapid growth, organizational restructuring, changes in procedures, and convergence or introduction of technologies. Fifth, you investigate demographics: changes in shifts in size, age, composition, diversity, educational status, income and employment of populations. Six, you investigate changes in perceptions: being alert to changes in the way people view things, changes in meaning, and interpretation of facts. Seventh and last you investigate new knowledge: increased information flow, sharing, convergence of different kinds of knowledge, and emergence of new technology. Looking at lists developed from ideation / brainstorm sessions associated with each of these areas are good ways to spark questions to use in developing challenges and opportunities for a new business. Another good model is to search for “messes”. This is the first step in the Model of Creative Problem Solving put forth by the Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI)