When I step into a room to facilitate an innovation, strategy, or idea generation session I nearly always find a great deal of energy.
What I also often find is inexperience — in the kind of thinking necessary to innovate.
Successful managers and leaders are promoted up the ladder because of their great analytical thinking skills. Day to day, operationally, that’s what’s called for and that’s what’s rewarded. The bad news is the more imaginative and divergent thinking required at the front end of innovation is rarely used and almost never rewarded. That’s why those sessions often start with a great deal of pizazz but fade into lethargy right after lunch. A good facilitator can help but the artist formerly known as Prince couldn’t keep some of these sessions rockin. Mercy!
Energy, motivation, even inspiration are important factors in getting innovation rolling. But none of them, or all of them together, are enough to overcome untrained thinking. Creative thinking skills are taken for granted — and that’s a problem because without training and practice very few people are naturally good at creative thinking. Everyone is creative, everyone has that capacity, but it’s latent until trained. I have the capacity to run a Marathon — it’s possible — but if I went out there today I’d be lucky to walk 26 miles.
Yes, you can train the various aspects of creative thinking (imaginative, divergent, visioning, strategic, conceptual). If you want idea generation of any kind to work — don’t skip training. Much of the research that says brainstorming doesn’t work studied groups with no training. Training, a good facilitator, and frequent practice are foundational elements to effective sessions and organizational innovation culture.
That difficult bit of invention that analysis can’t quite solve on its own is especially challenging for corporations. Training can make a big difference in bridging the gap between market knowledge and… what could be. It’s not enough to know a market white space. It’s not enough to have “insights” from in-depth research. It’s the creative thinking that builds on that research and insight that gets you workable concepts and ultimately market results.
Managers, leaders, and innovation teams need to understand how to think about innovation — and they need to know how to think and implement innovation. It doesn’t just happen.
You’ll see immediate and positive results with creativity and innovation training. Min Basadur did a rigorous study, see here, and that’s not the only proof. Individuals learn how to think and express ideas in a more positive, focused, and free flowing way with certain types of creativity training. Teams achieve breakthrough results when properly facilitated through through a rapid, flexible, but structured process at the front end of innovation. Frameworks like CPS are essential. Power tools like applied improvisation games can help you run faster. Stimulus tools like KILN’s IdeaKeg help you scaffold your thinking using trends from outside your industry or category.
Creativity training feeds innovation process like wood wool feeds flame.
The creative training many experts advocate is structured Creative Problem Solving training (CPS, aka ‘Osborn-Parnes model’) and Front End of Innovation process training (FEI). CPS is a time-tested framework. Many innovation consultants use CPS or their own modified versions of CPS (see my business novel about CPS, Jack’s Notebook.) CPS is broad enough and flexible enough to incorporate Design Thinking tools and even applied improvisation games. FEI process training is about how to conduct and orchestrate a series of activities that happen before the classic stage-gate/pipeline of new product development. Stage-gate is in the textbooks. FEI training is being done, but is relatively obscure. CPS training is generally more available — but not ubiquitous.
If you have a team that is already trained, take it to the next level with an Improv to Innovate workshop. Improv isn’t just about comedy — it’s about improved access to spontaneous thinking, and applied creativity to business challenges.
Sadly, it’s notable that as an innovation budget line item — it is often left out entirely, or, it’s the first sacrificial lamb to be cut. It should be the first thing done because creativity and innovation training is an accelerant towards more rapid business results.
Training Accelerates Innovation in Five Strategic Ways:
- Improved creative thinking skill leads to more breakthrough new business concepts
- Training helps instil structured creative thinking and innovation process as a cultural value and habit
- CPS and FEI training provide innovation teams with a common language and framework to solve problems. This means expedited resolution of challenges and more rapid iteration of new business concepts
- Training corrects many of the common myths that surround creativity and innovation. There is a science to this that is largely ignored. For those that learn and practice the science — it’s a competitive advantage.
- Team efficiency improves because a lot of useless chatter, debate, and conflict is reduced or eliminated
If you are in charge of an innovation program or initiative — do training first. All activities that happen afterwards will be performed at a higher level, and from day one. Imagine creativity applied to research, platform question framing, idea generation, concept development, and management presentations. Imagine an innovation framework your team can get better and better at…
Creative training is the fuel for innovation fire.