Many people confuse creativity with idea generation.
That is, they believe that all you need to be creative is to have a novel idea. True creativity brings novelty and usefulness together. A novel idea that has no value is a fad; it will have a very short shelf life. An idea that is original and useful is a true creative breakthrough.
In the idea generation stage we intentionally search for novel ideas; in the developing stage we transform these novel ideas into workable solutions. At this point in the process, you have an idea you think will lead toward a new, potentially innovative solution. Resist the impulse to believe the idea is perfect right out of the box. Sure, it’s shiny, new, and very appealing, but no idea is born perfect. It will need some reﬁnement in order for it to be successful. That’s what the developing stage is all about–tinkering, adjusting, polishing that novel solution into one that can be implemented successfully.
Have you ever moved too quickly from concept to implementation only to discover in the midst of execution that the idea had some shortcomings? You probably have heard the old saying, “The worst time to build an airplane is when you are ﬂying in it.” The time spent on critical thinking in the developing stage helps avoid future problems–such as crashing. The developing stage serves as a test run for the proposed solution. Ultimately you are saving time by ensuring your solution ﬁts your problem.
In all quality improvement processes there is a step dedicated to verifying whether or not the solution you came up with will actually work. It’s where you test the new approach and break it if possible. You test the idea, measure its effect, ﬁgure out how it might be improved. When you are developing a solution, you want to identify the errors, tinker with improvements, and test, test, test. You are working on improving what you are doing, methodically picking apart and reconstituting those ideas that you thought held the most promise. This is the time to create the best solution you possibly can.
- To help strengthen your shiny new idea, consider these questions:
- What are the strengths of this idea?
- What advantages come along with this tentative solution?
- If you implemented this solution, what good things might happen?
- What spin-off ideas might result from implementing this idea?
- What are the drawbacks or limitations of this idea?
- What issues will limit the effectiveness of this solution?
- Looking at the drawbacks and limitations, which ones present the biggest obstacles? How might you deal with these so that they won’t stand in the way of success? What might need to change in the idea so these drawbacks or limitations are addressed?
How to Move the Group Through This Stage
Ultimately, developing is about the team itself. Major innovations tend to happen through group effort. If you asked the question, “Who invented the Space Shuttle?” you’d ﬁnd the answer is not a single person but a team working together, testing ideas, ﬁtting pieces together.
For successful implementation, involving others in the development process is a key part of managing the change. Such involvement not only provides you the skill sets needed to improve your idea, but also increases the sense of ownership of the solution. With that buy-in and increased expertise, your innovative solution stands more of chance of succeeding.
Developing is all about incrementally improving ideas, making them stronger, more targeted, and ultimately more usable. People who prefer this stage will identify appropriate measures, test the ideas, and blissfully try to create perfection.
Those on your team without such a preference may lose some energy here. Implementers may want to rush to the end. Ideators may want to still come up with new ideas rather than work to improve the ideas they have already generated. Clariﬁers may be continually asking whether the ideas really get at the original question they are trying to solve.
If you are leading a group through this stage, your challenge is going to be to keep the group together and on track. This will likely require a bit of project management skills in assigning appropriate work deliberately, such as measurement or testing activities. Be sure people know where they are in the process and what is coming next so that they don’t feel lost.
A tool that’s helpful in providing direction for testing and thinking through the qualities is POINt, which stands for pluses, opportunities, issues, and new thinking.
Rather than stating a “weakness” such as, “It will cost a lot to get this idea off the ground,” which sits there like a black eye on the idea being examined, POINt has you phrase your concern as a question: “How might we reduce the cost of implementing this idea?” or “How might we justify the cost of this idea?”
Organizations that are consistently innovative have leaders who know how to help their people think creatively. One of the traits of an innovative leader is the ability to use POINt in the moment with an employee who has a new idea.
The leaders who do this have learned by practicing it. As an experiment you can just try it yourself. We all know what it feels like to get an idea shot down instantly and what it does to our conﬁdence. So the next time you catch yourself reacting negatively to someone’s new idea, whether it’s from a family member or a colleague, try purposefully starting your reaction with “Here’s what I like about that . . .” and go from there. Just be sure you phrase any concerns you have by using a nice open-ended question such as, “How might . . .”
Put yourself on the receiving end of this experiment. If you pitched an idea and got such a question lobbed back at you, what might you do? That’s right–you’d develop that idea even more to address that question. You might even appreciate the respectful, interactive reaction so much that you would return to that person again with more ideas.
That’s the kind of climate an innovative team needs to maintain its imagination and energy. It creates openness to new ideas. Go ahead and practice it at work or home–you’ll see immediate results.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from The Innovative Team: Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results by Chris Grivas and Gerard Puccio. Copyright (c) 2011 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
[Image: Flickr user Purple Mattfish]