A new approach to innovation – Creative thinking

“When the winds of change blow, some build walls others build windmills”

This old Chinese provide is one of the most beautiful things I have read. So simple and elegant, so meaningful and for me inspirational.

I found this proverb in a book that I recently bought and read called “The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker” by Neilsen and Thurber (2016). The book’s premise is that anyone can become a creative thinker through practice and changing ones mindset. In essence the proverb describes our natural instinct when things change, i.e. we tend to hunker down and build protective walls around us. We become reactionary and the rational mind can sometimes cease to exist. Typically this is what I find a lot of businesses do when things get tough. They cut costs, reduce staff and so on, they react to the immediate needs / threats and forget about long term thought.

Being creative is the thing that helps us build the windmill. Being a creative thinker helps us change our mindset and allows us to venture into uncharted waters. It changes our view and perception of a situation and it gives us confidence to act in unfamiliar situations. Working in unfamiliar situations means that there are no clear boundaries and this is an exciting opportunity to explore new directions. It allows us to develop entirely new paradigms and solutions and it “fuels innovation” as there is no innovation without creativity. It helps us through hard times.

So why am I talking about creativity? I’m not really talking about artistic endeavour, however this may be the media used to express your creative point. What I’m really talking about is the ability, using creative techniques, to make connections between disparate things and jumble them into new forms, challenge what’s happened before and most of all explore the unknown without fear. As an example we are probably aware of the notion of biomimicry. This is where we turn to nature to look for insights and solutions to our everyday ‘mechanistic’ society. The idea of Velcro was developed after George de Mestral found his dog covered with burrs after hiking in the countryside. Seeing the burrs, George’s interest was piqued and after removing and inspecting them he noticed many hundreds of small hooks which allowed the burr to hang onto the fur of his dog. From this point George saw a connection between the burrs hooks and the possibility of creating a fastening system – hence Velcro was born.

The idea of connection making and creativity go hand in hand. The notion of seamlessly making radical connections between disparate fields or things enables us to dramatically expand our thought processes and hence our creativity. It doesn’t matter if the connections that we make seem silly or non-workable the point is that the process provides us with options, a direction to move and it allows our brain / mindset to loosen up and become more open and accepting of ideas.

In today’s business world, creative thinking is a core skill that cuts into everyday life and one that we should all have on board. It has become a necessity in almost every job. The level of creative intelligence and the ability to think flexibly and adapt to new situations will deliver solutions and new approaches that can be applied in changing circumstances.

For me creative thinking underpins everything we do – the tools we use and the situations we re-imagine. For me, any problem starts with some creative thinking. 

In our next blog we will share some of the creative tools that we use at Scintilla both internally and with our clients. These tools will form a foundation for you to take away and use within your own organisation to build and create new modes of thinking.

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Image credit: D. Nielsen and S. Thurber (2016) "The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker : How to Make Connections Others Don't"

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Ian Johnson

Ian brings over 38 years of engineering, product design, design management, research and strategy to Scintilla and has worked in a variety of industries including gaming, entertainment, safety, medical, children’s products, technical and scientific market sectors. With a passion for creating greater linkages between design and business strategy, Ian aims to help organisations create engaging customer experiences by utilising and increasing the awareness of design within organisations. Ian also tutors design students at UTS.

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