Boost Creative Thinking in Organizations

Creative and critical thinking are important to organizational success, especially as markets grow more global, open and diverse. Organizations that embrace and cultivate critical and creative thinking are more profitable and competitive. These organizations are more adaptable to change, and create better practices for clients and customers.

Creative thinking is the complement to critical thinking. From an organizational problem solving perspective, critical thinking is needed to analyze and evaluate the situation, and then again to identify the best solution to a problem. Creative thinking, on the other hand, serves us well in generating possible solutions to a problem. In this post we focus on creative thinking strategies, and in the upcoming post we will discuss how we can develop our critical thinking.

Likely, you heard that our left brain is associated with critical, logical thinking and right brain is responsible for our artistic, creative capabilities. Modern neuroscientist treat this notion a myth. Brain research have demonstrated that both critical and creative thinking centers are located in both cerebral hemispheres, mostly in our “higher” brain – frontal and temporal lobes. In the psychometric approach creativity is measured by:
Fluency – The total number of interpretable, meaningful and relevant ideas generated in response to the stimulus.
Originality – The statistical rarity of the responses among the test subjects.
Elaboration – The amount of detail in the responses.

Creativity in organizations is a result of a deliberate and intentional process, and not accidental discoveries. So what strategies can we use to cultivate and utilize the creative powers of employees at all levels?

Focus groups – these can be used as an assessment tool of problem causes or as a method to generate ideas for new products. Participants are asked about their perceptions, opinions and attitudes towards a product, service, or a concept. They can also be asked for their ideas to solve organizational problems, such as difficulties with employee retention or low morale. Focus groups can reveal a wealth of detailed information and deep insight. When well executed, a focus group creates an accepting environment that puts participants at ease allowing them to generate creative ideas. Focus groups can be facilitated by someone from an organization or a third party. If a focus group is facilitated internally, it is preferable that participants of the group do not have a close working relationship with the facilitator. This can increase participants’ willingness to express ideas that can be perceived as risky or unpopular.

Trial and error method – this approach is more successful with simple problems rather than complex ones. The method can be used by people who have little knowledge in the problem area. For instance, if the challenge is creating a budget, and there are limited resources to cover competing expenditures, one can try fund allocations in different categories until the best balance is reached.

Brainstorming – this is a great strategy to capitalize on team’s creativity. Participants are brought together and led by a facilitator who can be formally assigned or informally identified during a process. Brainstorming is a two stage process – first the group works on generating ideas, and then evaluating these ideas. During idea generation stage, the group follows three rules. First, focus on quantity of ideas. The assumption is that the greater the number of ideas generated, the greater the chance of producing a radical and effective solution. The second rule is to withhold criticism. In idea generation stage, evaluation of ideas should be put ‘on hold’. Instead, participants should focus on extending or adding to ideas. By suspending judgment, participants will likely be more comfortable to generate unpopular ideas. The final rule is to welcome unusual ideas. Participants are encouraged to put out any ideas, even the ones that may seem “wacky” or undoable. Once the group exhaust all ideas, then they work together on evaluating, combining, and improving them.

Metaphorical thinking is a technique connecting two different universes of meaning.
The key to metaphorical thinking is similarity. With metaphorical thinking, we shift our frame of reference and make a connection between the problem and something else. Suppose you are a supervisor, and are trying to increase employees’ productivity at work. You can answer the following questions to spark in your innovative ideas about the problem:
– What animal is like your problem? Why?
– An ice-cream truck is like the solution to the problem because…
– How is an iceberg like an idea that might help you solve the problem?
– If your problem could speak what would it say? What would be its tone of voice?
This odd-seeming approach can ‘unstick’ our perspective on a problem and forces us to see it in new ways, thus giving insight and potential solutions.

Thus, creative thinking is important in organization’s competitiveness, as well as in internal and external customers’ satisfaction. Creative thinking is also positively contagious: when employees generate and express their creative ideas, other employees catch on their creative energy and start contributing to organization’s “pool of creativity”. Leadership can take a role of a facilitator to unleash the creativity among employees.