Articles of Interest

30 Nov 2015

Ideas Management

Ideas Management

Creativity and Thinking – its Roots

Thinking in the Western tradition draws upon the Greek heritage of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (500BC+). This has given us argument (truth vs. untruth) and order (categories)

Such thinking is limiting as it sees things as right or wrong – black or white.

Composers and inventors say that creating is tuning in to solutions that already exist in the environment.

Being in tune with the environment almost always partners with creative thinking.

In science the relationship between elements already exists. The scientist demonstrates potentialities that have not yet been seen.

Creativity depends on being able to see new patterns, lateral connections in an otherwise chaotic situation. Western paradigms see the world in terms of reductionism, static hierarchical and sequential dynamics. Balance is the norm and is seen as a tendency to equilibrium.

Chaos theory sees the world as intrinsically interrelated, dynamic and holistic. Consequently the norm is non-equilibrium and open process structures. In this context balance is seen as change and development or creativity and improvement.

“Creativity may involve an underlying chaotic process that selectively amplifies small fluctuations (hunches) and develops them into large scale mental states (ideas) that can be experienced as awareness and thoughts (proposals). (David, 1987: 190) (Parentheses added)

The Creative Process

In order to be able to develop structures and behaviours that support creative thinking, it is useful to understand the creative process.

Karl Getzel talks about creativity being a natural cycle beginning with awareness or insight.

Insight/Awareness (Need to create/learn)

“creativity, as has been said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know …Hence, to think creatively we must be able to look afresh at what are normally taken for granted.” (George Keller. The Art and Science of Creativity, 1965)

During the stage in the process of insight, the individual recognises an opportunity, problem or challenge -–a strong felt-need to create, solve or surmount.

Insight requires daily practice. People need to be encouraged to perceive and sense rather than to judge.

Saturation (Information gathering)

“What if…? What about…? What else…? And again, what else…?” (A.F. Osborn)

Saturation is the equivalent of multi – sensory research and note taking. Whilst children naturally use all their senses to take in information, adults usually limit themselves. We all need to respond to smells, tastes and feelings just as instinctively as we do do to text or photographs.

Incubation (Thinking and sorting)

“In what region of the mind does that sorting take place? Surely not in consciousness.”

Jacques Hadamard stated that:

“Invention is choice – that is, choosing from available information.” (Hadamard. The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field, 1945)

Incubation describes the stage of deep thought. Reflection or deep thought often occurs during a repetitive activity.

“We often talk about the three Bs, the Bus, the Bath and the Bed. That is where the great discoveries are made in our science.” (Julian Jaynes – The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, 1976)

Instinctively we know that we need time and space to think and our best ideas sometimes surprise us in the middle of the night or while standing in the shower.

Daydreaming has been used to describe aimless time wasting. Perhaps we need to place a greater value on this time of deep thought.


As has already been stated, great ideas and intentions are sudden and often unexpected. These ideas may or may not occur during the time set aside for innovation. It is conceivable and in fact likely that each individual will be at different stages of this process if and when they are called upon for their ideas and inventions.

The implication is that whilst some will have ideas, others will be either still gathering information, thinking or on to their next good idea.


This stage is most often associated with a product. It is the opportunity for the individual to demonstrate the result of creative thinking. In reality, it is simply a point in time.

It is not always evidence of a sound and well-supported creative process. It is anti – creative to put too much emphasis on the product. Often evidence of a soundly followed creative process will be further concerted efforts of the individual. That is, they have been inspired to further explore an idea or theme.

So, a product of creativity is merely the time that a decision has been made to stop for the moment. To some of us this moment may not result in what we would consider to be a complete product – able to be developed and implemented.

The creative process is a natural and recurring one. It is individual, and when supported or at least understood, it is successful.

 Structures that Support Creativity

“No skill is more important than the corporate capacity to change per se. The company’s most urgent task, then, is to welcome – beg for, demand – innovation from everyone.”

Tom Peters (1989: 275)

We need to “break free from the primitive logic of Western thinking”

As De Bono argued (1990), this logic which proved so useful in technical matters has proven feeble in human affairs.

The Australian, Horne (1988) challenged us to “Think – or perish”

Dr Noah Gordon, from UCLA has visited NZ on several occasions where he has held workshops on creative thinking and learning. He has also consulted to our Government. He describes the following as “creativity killers.”

  • Surveillance/supervision
  • Assessment/evaluation
  • Rewards
  • Competition

That list describes four cornerstones of modern management theory and practice.

So, what should organisations do to support creativity? They can:

  1. Recognise the role of enhancing the organisations effectiveness by ideas, concepts, suggestions and questions from stakeholders.
  2. Handle ideas and questions separately from the normal hierarchy
  3. Encourage upward flow of ideas
  4. Establish a credible review process
  5. Encourage input from the bottom
  6. Minimise paperwork
  7. Harmonise diversity rather than centralising conformity
  8. Move from paternalism to facilitation
  9. Keep focus on vision and awareness of the big issues
  10. Establish cross organisational linkages
  11. Promote Kaizen – continuous incremental improvement

Each of those steps requires leaders and managers to adopt different behaviour. Managing the generation of ideas properly, while a natural tendency, does not automatically happen in the unnatural world of organisational life.

Managing Ideas and Creativity

 A gardener, who wishes to nurture a crop, builds an environment conducive to the plants’ wellbeing and performance. Likewise, managers and leaders need to apply the same philosophy. Workers are thinkers. Managers are managing ideas generation. As managers, they can be leaders who can lead in the ideas generation thinking by tuning into their less dominant senses, in particular, their “gut feel” or intuition.

Managers can use intuition to:

  • Sense when a problem exists
  • Perform learned behaviour patterns rapidly
  • Synthesise isolated bits of data and experience
  • Check results of a more rational analysis
  • Bypass lengthy analysis to come up with a solution
  • Adjust the problem because they were looking at the wrong one, or the wrong aspect of it.

(Fry 1991)

We, as managers and leaders, need practical ways to nurture ideas and to think creatively yet practically. We need ways to do our own ideas management. To take an idea and:

  • Identify its components
  • Explore options
  • Develop, review and hone details
  • Connect it to other ideas and skills
  • Critique its chances
  • Assess its likely effectiveness
  • Plan its implementation
  • Help implement it
  • Review its effectiveness
  • Develop skills, confidence, tenacity and support to take these steps

This represents a head in the clouds yet feet on the ground approach.

Action learning is a critical part of the creative process. Along with action learning, creative thinking must:

  • Meet a large variety of needs
  • Cater for diverse range of expertise
  • Respond rapidly to change
  • Allow for greater participation and ownership by “non management”

One approach includes the following four steps:

  1. Ideas/ suggestion stage – individual or group think of idea and decide it needs developing
  2. Focus group – idea is critiqued and referred to appropriate group for action
  3. Implementation – idea is put to trial or piloted
  4. Review – evaluation of the pilot done and recommendation made

Grundy and Krimmis (1981) state “there are two essential aims of action research activity; to improve and involve”.

(See also Zuber-Skerritt 1990)

Guiding Principles

In order to help direct energy and create common understandings about creativity, it is useful to collectively agree some principles. The following are offered as examples.

  • Individuals are responsible for their learning and creative process
  • Leaders are responsible for creating an environment conducive to learning and creativity
  • Learning and creativity are natural and continuous
  • Staff have a legitimate role to play to enhance an organisations effectiveness
  • They need an avenue and skills to develop ideas to achieve this goal
  • Creative thinking and action learning methods are very effective ways to achieve this but are seldom used in bureaucracies
  • Organisations will have to learn to think creatively to survive

Operating Principles

Once guiding principles are devised and agreed, more practical operating principles may be useful to help direct people’s energies and ideas management processes.

  • Keep it simple
  • Provide feedback quickly
  • Gain genuine support from leaders
  • All ideas accepted
  • All ideas acknowledged
  • Confidentiality maintained
  • Process oriented

Key Design Parameters

Creative thinking structures and behaviour exist within the following parameters. These are useful when designing an ideas management framework.

  1. Operational focus: efficiency and effectiveness needs to also include policy and operations
  2. Types of ideas: Practical day to day operational improvements will continue to be made on the spot locally
  3. Organisational culture: Movement from a role/structure focus to an achievement/outcome focus in a support culture is necessary. Gain hearts and minds commitment.
  4. Idea generation: Thinking about thinking, De Bono’s hats, chats about interesting topics
  5. Idea development: developing an idea proposal
  6. Idea handling: handling the idea proposal
  7. Idea selection: Prioritising ideas dependent on individual and organisational needs
  8. Idea implementation: Implementation of selected ideas including recognition of the creator (task force, small scale consultancy, worker offline)
  9. Action research: Testing an idea in practical application (plan, implement, reflect, modify, plan)
  10. Employee development and involvement: Involvement of staff at all levels and groups including workshops and exercises
  11. Ongoing evaluation: Review, evaluation and reflection of the creative process and the results of creativity

Organisational Norms that Support Creativity

Creativity and learning is more likely to be enhanced when the organisation adopts some core behaviours or norms.

  1. Help create constancy of purpose, participatory team leadership, continuous improvement
  2. Adopt a new philosophy. Don’t live with levels of error, delays, customer service, poor targeting and lack of cost-effectiveness
  3. Reduce reliance on audit/inspection by improving the quality review process
  4. End the practice of awarding business only on price. Move away from suppliers that cannot commit to a standard of quality
  5. Improve constantly the process of service delivery
  6. Institute modern and targeted training
  7. Institute modern methods of staff “supervision”
  8. Build an environment of trust, support and achievement to encourage involvement
  9. Build connections between groups
  10. Remove numerical goals, posters and slogans that ask for greater productivity without providing methods of support
  11. Redesign work processes and procedures that require only numerical quotas
  12. Remove blockages that prevent people being able to take pride in their work
  13. Develop, in consultation, programmes of education, training and development
  14. Create a view in top leadership circles of commitment to a vision for the organisation and their role as innovators rather than administrators.


Inspiring, and then supporting creative thinking and ideas in our structured organisations seems somewhat paradoxical. However, it is achievable given some environmental concessions and above all an understanding of and commitment to ideas generation and innovation.