About this Author
Gwen Smith Ishmael, Sr. Vice President of Insights and Innovation at Decision Analyst in Arlington, TX, has led marketing and new product development activities in the CPG and technology industries since 1986. She also conceived and developed ground-breaking Web-based promotional vehicles, two of which are patent pending. Gwen holds an MBA in Marketing and is a featured speaker on insights and innovation around the world. Her writings have been featured in international text books, most recently in Managing 4 Ps of Marketing FMCG Sector, and Product Innovation: A Strategic Tool for Growth, by ICFAI Publications, 2006 and 2007, respectively.

Founding Author

Renee Hopkins Callahan Renee Hopkins Callahan started IdeaFlow and serves as chief blog-wrangler. She is Director of Innovation Services at Decision Analyst in Arlington, Texas, is a former journalist who worked as an editor and reporter for The Dallas Morning News and the Nashville Tennessean, and was managing editor of D, the Dallas city magazine. She has a master's degree in rhetoric and has also taught college-level English and informal logic.


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January 18, 2008

Innovation Of A Tradition

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Posted by Gwen Ishmael

I know we’ve just emerged from the haze of the holidays, but this fun bit of innovation information is worth sharing.

Each year, the American Floral Industry Association conducts a nationwide search for the best-decorated Christmas tree. Photographs of decorated trees from across the US country are sent to Dallas to be judged on their creative use of product and trends, originality, and ease of re-creation.

Beth Simon, one of my colleagues here at Decision Analyst, has served as a judge for the past two years. She and her fellow judges presented the top three winners of this year’s competition with their awards yesterday evening.

Here’s a look at some of the more interesting winners from the last couple of years' competitions:


Lights N' Such submitted a tree with lights on the inside, and leather and fringe on the outside.


Morris County Farms inverted a tree and decorated it with seaweed, shells, blown glass sea creatures. Why an inverted tree? More room for presents underneath!


By pairing Styrofoam with interior lights, Kebbie Hollingsworth Floral Designs created the illusion of snow and ice.


Ambiance Today used yarn, foil, mohair, unusual colors, and whimsical shape to symbolize the child-like joy of the season.


Mention "Blue Bell Ice Cream" to anyone who has lived in Texas, and a look of sheer ecstasy will cross their face! Blue Bell Creameries submitted a tree covered with ornaments made from ice cream containers.

So, how much of this will we see in stores next season? Money says my kids are going to lobby for the inverted tree!

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Creativity

March 26, 2007

Jack’s Notebook: A Business Novel of ‘Deliberate Creativity’

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

JacksNotebook.jpgJack’s Notebook author Gregg Fraley is the type of person who would ask a Starbucks barista – one he didn’t know – “What is your dream?” When he started researching Jack’s Notebook, he did just that. And, he said in a recent interview, “Not a single person said ‘Oh, I really want to be a waiter’ – they’d say ‘I’d like to start a business,’ or ‘I’d like to be involved in this industry.’

Jack’s Notebook, according to Fraley, is intended for people like that Starbucks barista – people who are starting a business or are new to business world. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have business relevance – Jack’s Notebook would resonate with anyone who needs to deal with change in their lives or their business (which is to say pretty much anyone). Fraley’s examples: Anybody who’s thinking about a career change; anybody who wants to do a better job of problem solving in their business.

Jack’s Notebook is a novel, a business fable inspired formatically by the works of Patrick Lenicioni and Eliyahu Goldratt. Said Fraley, “Narrative brings an emotional component, and when there’s an emotional component, people learn better. Stories are a very human way to learn. People see themselves in the characters…they think, oh, it could happen to me – or thank God that hasn’t happened to me!”

Jack’s Notebook is an elegant balance of imagination and analysis. The imagination reaches out and takes hold of the reader, while the accompanying analysis, which could bog down the story, instead feeds the reader’s curiosity about what the power that this CPS creative problem solving process seems to have. The analysis also could be somewhat comforting for readers who are more likely to be analytical than imaginative.

“It’s the natural tendency of people who are raised in the ‘one right answer’ to focus on analysis,” said Fraley. “We are not trained to be more imaginative. We don’t practice it. We might do art every other Friday if it’s raining – arts and music are all being left behind in favor of other things.

“But you need both imagination and analysis. Business people end up in those jobs because they are great at analysis. But, it’s like Dr. Spock and Captain Kirk – it wasn’t Spock who was the genius with great ideas, it was usually Kirk. You can’t analyze your way to a great idea – you can only see the path in retrospect. I would hope people would spend time developing their imaginative side to complement their analytical side.”

Jack’s Notebook is notable also for presenting the CPS process in a concrete and easy-to-grasp way. A meta-model for thinking and problem-solving that’s been around for about 50 years, CPS has always been considered something that you don’t pick up immediately. It’s complex and requires practice and the very melding of imagination and analytics that Fraley talks about. While there are many consultants offering CPS training and variations thereof, CPS training is most commonly taught at the CPSI conferences put on by the Creative Education Foundation. There, the basic “Springboard” training is usually at least three days long. (Disclaimer: I went through Springboard training at CPSI four years ago, and my company offers a training workshop based on a variation of CPS.)

Fraley, who has led Springboard training at CPSI for many years (though he was not my class leader), sees Jack’s Notebook as similar to Springboard because the characters in Jack’s Notebook go over and through the CPS process many times in solving problems that are critical to their lives. This is much the way Springboard works – small groups go over and over CPS in many iterations solving real-world problems that come out of the group. “Springboard is effective because it’s an emotional experience,” said Fraley.

Some reviewers have commented that in Jack’s Notebook, Fraley deviates from CPS for the sake of the more fast-moving narrative in the last third or so of the book. Not so, says he – the specific CPS model that he relies on is a fairly recent one modeled by Gerard Puccio of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State. “In Creative Leadership, Puccio classifies the steps in the CPS process in a slightly different way,” said Fraley. “He adds a diagnostic step.”

This diagnostic step involves determining exactly which part of the CPS process (Identifying the Challenge, Idea Generation, or Solution Development) you need to be in to handle the specific problem you are dealing with. Fraley’s version of the diagnostic step is what he calls in Jack’s Notebook a “Challenge Triage.” As the plot progresses and Jack becomes more fluent in CPS, he shows a corresponding fluidity with the Challenge Triage (which, like all the CPS principles Jack learns to use, is fully explained in the CPS Quick Reference Guide at the end of the book).

Fraley said he hopes that Jack’s Notebook will “take CPS to a whole new group of people. If you are a product manager, you’ve heard about this, these methods are not unheard of. The barista at Starbucks hasn’t heard of it. They don’t know that they need a better creative process – they only know that they’re stuck behind the bar....I was awestruck by how powerful CPS could be, but I was already 37 when I found out about it. Wouldn’t it be great to know a method for deliberate creativity when you’re young?”

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Books | CPSI | Creativity | Training

March 3, 2006

The key grip: Perhaps the most creative person on a movie set

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

In advance of Sunday night's Academy Awards ceremony -- and for everyone who's ever sat through film credits and wondered what the heck a group is -- here's a great piece from NPR's Morning Edition on sound mixers and grips. Excerpt:

"The late actor George C. Scott once told an interviewer that if he were ever stranded on a desert island there would be three things he'd need to have: food, shelter -- and a grip."

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Collaborative Creativity | Creativity | Innovation, General

February 20, 2006

More on Douglas Rushkoff

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

I still haven't gotten to Douglas Rushkoff's Get Back in the Box: Innovation From the Inside Out. But while working with my other blog project, the Corante Marketing Hub, I came across two interesting posts on Rushkoff by Johnnie Moore.

The first explores "the revenge of the geeks" -- the notion that deep knowledge of your business, industry, product are much more critical when it comes to sustaining an idea (and, I would argue, an innovation) than the fame and celebrity you attain as a business leader. In other words, the quality of Macintosh products is more important to the company's success than Steve Jobs' fame.

The second Rushkoff-related insight Johnnie posted was that "geek-level knowledge is critical to seeing a difference between the profoundly new and the merely novel." This relates to one of the pillars of Teresa Amabile's model of creativity -- domain-relevant knowlege (the other pillars are environment, intrinsic motivation and creativity skills).

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Creativity | In the box innovation | Innovation, General

February 11, 2006

Book review: Orchestrating Collaboration At Work: Using Music, Improv, Storytelling, and Other Arts to Improve Teamwork

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

OrchCollab.jpgThe last post talked about creativity at work and collaborative creativity, and those are the subjects of the book Orchestrating Collaboration At Work: Using Music, Improv, Storytelling, and Other Arts to Improve Teamwork by Linda Naiman and Arthur Van Gundy. The book was published in 2003 by Wiley/Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, but is now available through Linda's website as a .PDF download for $48.99.

This is a hefty book -- 265 pages -- chock full of exercises that can be used for teambuilding, ice breakers, energizers, and to stimulate creativity, to teach teams to work through change, think strategically, and collaborate more effectively. I downloaded it, printed it out, and had it comb-bound, and now my copy is now is full of sticky notes on exercises I've vowed to try for various client projects and training sessions.

Those who have to defend the use of the arts in business will find a lot of help here as well. The first part of the book lays out th authors' argument that the arts are just what business needs today. A sample:

"Businesses today want to break away from their limitations, aim higher, and be a creative force for good in the world. We need the transformative experiences that the arts give us to thrive in a world of change."
This section includes interviews with luminaries such as John Seely Brown, and case studies from companies such as the World Bank and Lexis-Nexis.

Van Gundy and Naiman did not make up every single exercise -- approximately 35 others contributed exercises as well. The resulting variety is a welcome breath of air after the shelves of books available that set forth a theory for creativity and then offer exercises that don't vary much. In addition to many exercises, the authors' contribution is in the extremely useful and clear presentation of these exercises. They're divided into section according to the art form used -- music, drawing, painting, collage, storytelling, improv, poetry, and others. And each one includes a clear statement of the objectives, the uses (team-building, change management, etc.), the time required and materials needed.

Bottom line -- this is well worth the $48.99. I have spent many times that amount to go to week-long conferences that didn't give me anywhere near this much useful information that I could take back to my work.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Books | Coaching | Collaborative Creativity | Corporate Climate | Creativity | Training

January 26, 2006

Part 4: Looking for Ideas in All the Wrong Places

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Part 4 of a four-part series from the paper Looking for Ideas in All the Wrong Places, An Argument for Staying in the Box, by Gwen Smith Ishmael and Renee Hopkins Callahan

What Goes Inside The Box?

The Fuzzy Front End should not be the place where go/no go decisions are made about ideas. But it can provide an environment where more viable ideas are generated. And, we would argue, the best way to provide that environment is to utilize the power of working inside rather than outside the box – power that comes from the very parameters, or constraints, the box provides.

There are no hard and fast rules about what the parameters of the box should be, but there are some things that might make sense to have in the box as constraints. For example, mission and vision statements provide excellent, high-level parameters for generating ideas. In order for an idea to have a chance of being successful, it should support the overall mission of the company and its vision.

Strategic imperatives represent the things your company simply must do – they are table stakes. For example, if your company provides local business information to consumers, then it is essential for that information to be accurate and timely. Strategic imperatives can offer solid boundaries within which to develop actionable, relevant ideas.

In order for an idea to be successful, it should support whatever it is you want say about your company, both internally and externally. So brand strategy and branding attributes might be important constraints to place in the box.

Any metrics that will be used to evaluate your performance and that of your team should be considered when building the box. And any other facts that are relevant to the success of an idea, such as the competitive environment, regulatory issues, and resource constraints, might serve as valuable guidelines for generating unique ideas that might meet the needs of the business.

Bringing Others Into The Box

Here’s a common assumption made in the Fuzzy Front End: “The best people in the industry work for us. They’ll be a great source of ideas.” But as Henry Chesbrough, author of Open Innovation, points out:

• Not all of the smart people in the industry work for you.
• No one has a monopoly on useful knowledge.
• Good ideas are widely distributed.

In other words, it’s best not to be the only one in the box; invite others in, such as industry and subject matter experts, lead users, mainstream customers, and consumers who are not your customers.

We’ve found it’s best to be highly selective about who you invite into your box. Involve subject matter and industry experts who embrace collaborative and mutually beneficial relationships. And invite customers and consumers to participate who are articulate and able to contribute new, far-reaching ideas that stimulate your own thinking.

Benefits Beyond The Fuzzy Front End

We mentioned that staying in the box is an approach that can benefit the entire development process. Because the structure of the box is based on business needs and constraints, the ideas generated inside the box would be influenced by those same things. As a result, the ideas generated inside the box should be more actionable and relevant to the business than if they had been generated outside the box.

If the ideas that move from the Fuzzy Front End into the next stage of development are more actionable and relevant, that should reduce the need for screening, filtering, and assessing a large number of low quality ideas that don’t meet the needs of the business. This means fewer resources could be allocated to the development process. Additionally, if we assume that the initial ideas address the needs of the business, we should see an increase in the number of ideas that could be brought to market successfully.

Is There A Time To Work Out-Of-The-Box?

We have found that out-of-the-box thinking has its place, and it can add value to the development process, especially in situations where novelty in and of itself is the primary goal. Additionally, there is some value in beginning the idea generation process with few constraints in order to lower inhibitions and barriers, particularly in a group setting.

But more often than not, there will always be some “box” (either spoken or unspoken) to operate within. Once out-of-the-box thinking has served its kick-starting purpose, novelty by itself will be insufficient. Perhaps Dr. de Bono summed it up best when he said: “[To have true value,] the creative idea must make sense and must work.” We would say, the goal of the Fuzzy Front End is to create ideas that are highly innovative yet make sense and will work within your product development process. And the best way to do this is to stay in the box.


Part 1, Introduction

Part 2, The Goal of the Fuzzy Front End

Part 3, Why Staying In The Box Is A Good Thing

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Part 3: Looking for Ideas in All the Wrong Places

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Part 3 of a four-part series from the paper Looking for Ideas in All the Wrong Places, An Argument for Staying in the Box, by Gwen Smith Ishmael and Renee Hopkins Callahan

Why Staying In The Box Is A Good Thing

Although staying in the box is not a widely used approach, it certainly is a highly respected one. One of the world’s leading experts on creative thinking had this to say about idea generation as many of us might define it:

“There are far too many practitioners out there who believe that creativity is just brainstorming and being free to suggest crazy ideas. Creative thinking is different from normal thinking. It is not just normal thinking that is more free.

“...If we suspend judgment, feel innocent and childlike, and try to use the right side of the brain, should we not then be creative? We will certainly be more creative than before, but not very much more. We will be able to use our natural creativity. Unfortunately, natural creativity is not very powerful.

“It is not enough to be innocent and uninhibited and to have a creative attitude. The normal behavior of the brain in perception is to set up routine patterns and to follow these. In order to cut across patterns we can use deliberate techniques ... These techniques can be learned, practiced, and used deliberately.”

Serious Creativity, Dr. Edward de Bono

Creativity Inside The Box

As Dr. de Bono states, we will be creative, at least to a degree, if we allow ourselves free reign to come up with whatever sounds unique and original. In this way we will usually come up with a few new and innovative ideas. But by staying in the box, we force our brains to acknowledge reality, and we dig down beyond the obvious. In this way, we will come up with greater numbers of ideas, and these ideas will be not only new and innovative, they will also be more likely to work within our reality.

When we venture outside the box, the lack of constraints actually can work to our detriment. If we are given permission to wander and ignore the constraints of the business, the result can be lots of ideas that span a very broad range, but that are shallow and not highly actionable.

In the past few years, TLC’s Trading Spaces has been one of the most popular reality shows in America. What was it that made the show so irresistible to viewers? Was it the creativity of the designs or the drastic nature of the makeovers? In part, yes. But if those were the only reasons, why weren’t shows such as Designing for the Sexes or Homes Across America just as popular?

What truly set Trading Spaces apart was the fact that every one of those amazing transformations was the result of creative thinking that took place inside a well-defined box:

1. The design budget was held to $1,000.
2. The timeframe in which to create the new look was limited to two days.
3. The work was done by one designer, one carpenter, and two homeowners.

Because the teams were forced to work within the constraints of budget, time, and resources, their designs were much more innovative than if they had been allowed the freedom to change the shape of the box, or ignore it altogether. Do you really think we would have seen chandeliers made of tree branches sprayed with silver paint and wrapped with Christmas tree lights if the homeowners had been given larger budgets?

MasterCard represents another example of creativity inside the box. For a good portion of the 1990s, Visa was the undisputed leader in the credit card industry, in large part due to its “And They Don’t Take American Express” campaign. The ads were designed to appeal to consumers’ desires to experience the best in life, to reach a level of achievement beyond that which most people could ever hope to enjoy – sort of a “you-are-what-you-buy” position.

MasterCard, on the other hand, had launched five different advertising campaigns within a decade, none of which had provided the brand with anything it could claim as its own. So, the company took a step back and examined the box in which it lived. Then, it created a campaign that built on the virtues of that box – the “Priceless” campaign.

Rather than positioning itself as the card that could give people the lifestyles of the rich and famous, it focused on enhancing the quality of consumers’ every day lives. The company’s 2004 annual report refers to the positioning as “the better way to pay for everything that matters.” As a result, there were 16,700,000,000 MasterCard transactions around the world in 2004, growth to which the company attributes in large part to its “Priceless” campaign.


Part 1, Introduction

Part 2, The Goal of the Fuzzy Front End

NEXT: Part 4, What Goes Inside the Box

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Part 2: Looking for Ideas in All the Wrong Places

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Part 2 of a four-part series from the paper Looking for Ideas in All the Wrong Places, An Argument for Staying in the Box, by Gwen Smith Ishmael and Renee Hopkins Callahan

The Goal of the Fuzzy Front End

When working in the Fuzzy Front End, it’s not uncommon to set a goal of generating as many unusual, original ideas as possible. Most often, people seek to meet this objective by “thinking outside the box” – by ignoring business boundaries that typically are considered to be immovable and unbreakable.

Consider the following challenge: Using a crayon, connect the nine dots shown in the following image with as few continuous lines as possible.


The second illustration demonstrates how the problem can be solved if one is allowed literally to go outside the boundaries of the box:


The third illustration shows that another way to connect the nine dots with even fewer continuous lines is to change the shape of the box altogether – to totally alter the boundaries that define the box:


The fourth illustration shows that yet another way to connect the nine dots with the fewest number of lines possible is to stay inside the box – to acknowledge the boundaries of the box and see them as enablers rather than inhibitors. By peeling the wrapper off the crayon, turning it sideways, and swiping the crayon down over the nine dots, the result is that all nine dots are connected with a single line, without changing the shape of the box, nor going outside its parameters:


How is the nine-dot exercise relevant to those of us who are responsible for working in the Fuzzy Front End? Well, it certainly shows that unique and innovative solutions can be generated if one is allowed to think outside the box and/or to change the box altogether. But in the real world, we seldom have the luxury of being able to ignore the parameters of the business – the box. And often, if we try to generate new and original ideas by disregarding the environment in which we operate, those ideas turn out to be useless when it comes to developing new products and services.

So, as counterintuitive as this may seem, perhaps the objective when working in the Fuzzy Front End is not to generate as many original ideas as possible. Perhaps the true goal should be to generate a large number of unique ideas that are relevant and actionable – ideas that can be successfully used to meet the needs of the business.

PREVIOUSLY: Part 1, Introduction

NEXT: Part 3, Why Staying In The Box is a Good Thing

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January 25, 2006

Part 1: Looking for Ideas in All the Wrong Places

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Part 1 of a four-part series from the paper Looking for Ideas in All the Wrong Places, An Argument for Staying in the Box, by Gwen Smith Ishmael and Renee Hopkins Callahan

decaysmall.jpgMany issues are still debated when it comes to new product innovation, but fortunately marketers and product developers seem to have stopped debating the issue of whether or not it’s important to keep the product and service development pipelines full. This is critically important. Study after study has demonstrated that new product and service success is relatively rare, such as the London Dun and Bradstreet study in which the accompanying chart was found. As the chart indicates, for every profitable new product, there are approximately sixty ideas or concepts that do not make it to market successfully.
Much has been said regarding the importance of having a structured, repeatable process for new product and service development. Experts such as Dr. Robert Cooper and his colleagues have spent countless hours laboring on defining exactly what such a development process should look like, resulting in charts now familiar to many new product developers.

Yet even Dr. Cooper has stated,

“Don’t expect a well-oiled new product process to make up for a shortage of quality ideas: if the idea was mundane to start with, don’t count on your process turning it into a star!” Optimizing the Stage-Gate Process. What Best Practice Companies are Doing – Part 1, Cooper, R., Edgett, S., Kleinschmidt, E., 2002

So while there’s not much debate that success in the Idea Stage, or the Fuzzy Front End as it’s often called, is critical to the success of a new product development and innovation program, there’s still a great deal of discussion about why the Fuzzy Front End is such a challenging part of the product or service development process. Perhaps this is because, unlike other portions of the development process, more time has been spent in this sort of discussion compared to the relatively small amount of time that has been spent defining how to make the Fuzzy Front End more efficient and productive. Or perhaps it’s because of the still-pervasive notion that ideas are just supposed to “appear” from customers, or employees, or from some corporate initiative encouraging people to be creative and innovative.

It’s our experience that it is possible to structure the Fuzzy Front End in such a way that it not only produces innovative results, but that those results can positively affect the entire development process.

NEXT: Part 2, The Goal of the Fuzzy Front End

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December 1, 2005

November 30, 2005

Cardboard box makes it to the Toy Hall of Fame

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

box.jpgWord comes via Fast Company that the humble cardboard box has finally made it to the National Toy Hall of Fame. A staple of creative play since it was introduced in 1890, the cardboard box is, as FC quite rightly explains, "a blank canvas for creativity."
(Image source: © All rights reserved by James C via Flickr.)

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May 18, 2005

Distributed Creativity -- 'The Do-It-Yourself Economy'

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Fascinating article in Fortune -- The Amazing Rise of the Do-It-Yourself Economy -- says current technology empowers amateur tinkerers in ways that were just not possible not so very long ago, breaking down the user/maker divide. Featuring this quote from Eric von Hippel:

"What’s happened is a tremendous change in awareness," says Eric von Hippel... "Conventional wisdom is so strong [in business] about find-a-need-and-fill-it: ‘We’re the manufacturers; we design products; we ask users what they need; we do it.’ That has begun to crack."

People have always invented things. But, the article points out, now there are blogs where inventors can solicit real-time feedback on their designs and plans, and web-fueled hookups between basement inventors and Chinese factories that will manufacture their products. Even Microsoft is getting in on this market with Visual Studio Express ("designed to bring coding to the masses").

Also cited in the article -- new Make magazine, which has a very cool blog that reads like a rolling catalog of project ideas, project successes, and odd combos such as bracelets made of sterling silver and beer cans, and a real, playable harpsichord made of Legos. Make just launched as a quarterly and was expected to garner about 10,000 subs. After four months it has 25,000.

Amateurs are mostly inventing for the love of it -- says one in the Fortune article, ""My main goal is not to lose my house....You put it on the line and you want to be rewarded. But when it comes down to it, I just don’t want to go broke."

Some amateurs may not have big-time economic aspirations, but good ideas executed well have a way of coming to the attention of people/companies who do. I predict that it won't be long before savvy companies will start hanging round the Make blog and other such sources, looking for the next big thing or inspiration that might lead them to it.

So where are the blogs that cover amateur tinkering, or blogs by amateur tinkerers? Send me links if you know of any. I'm enthusiastic about this distributed-creativity trend, and I'll make a list and post it.

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December 8, 2004

The Internet and Creativity

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

This past Monday the Pew Center for the Internet and American Life released the study Artists, Musicians and the Internet. This study received significant coverage in the media, specifically from the Washington Post and Wired, coverage that was focused primarily on one finding: Most artists don't view unauthorized swapping of music and movies as a threat to their livelihood, even if many think it should be illegal.

The Pew folks should be lauded for making the first-ever effort at what obviously needed to be done to further the discussion about copyrights and file-sharing – ask actual creatives what they thought about these issues. Yet there is much, much more in the study results. If you’re interested in finding out how creative Americans practice their creativity, it would be worth your while to download the entire 50-page .PDF (it’s free).

Some highlights:

Most fascinating to me, especially in light of the stuff I posted recently on copying and innovation, was the finding that artists and musicians have by and large embraced the Internet as a tool that helps them create, as well as helps them promote and sell what they’ve created.

And, “artists and musicians are more likely to say that the Internet has made it possible for them to make more money from their art than they are to say it has made it harder to protect their work from piracy or unlawful use.”

According to the Pew report, 57% of Americans – 114 million – study, practice, or do some type of artistic activity, such as play musical instruments, sing, do creative writing, draw, paint, dance, act, make films, etc. A smaller group of 32 million Americans consider themselves artists, and about 10 million of them get some kind of compensation for their creations and performances. This is a huge number of people out there creating.

And more than 50% of the artists surveyed said they get ideas and inspiration for their work form searching online. Two-thirds of the musicians said that the Internet is very important in helping them create their music. Most of the artists and musicians also said they used the Internet for creative collaboration and for participating in the creative community.

Half of the artists and musicians said that copyright regulations benefit purveyors of creative work more than they benefit the original creators. Many of the musicians said decisions over peer-to-peer file-sharing and digital distribution should be made by the artist, not the label.

I found it surprising that the artists who responded to the study were split over what constitutes “fair use” of digital material. I would guess they probably have a better handle on what fair use is in situations when it’s their work in question. Yet if even the creatives don’t understand fair use….it’s definitely time to rethink the notion of copyright altogether.

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December 2, 2004

'How To Be Creative' author up for 'Fast 50'

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Wanted to get this comment out of the comments section and over here where we could all see it and act on it....

Don The Idea Guy says,

Glad to see word spreading of Hugh's work.
Doesn't he simply kick ass?

By the way -- he's up for "Fast 50" status at Fast Company magazine. Why not go add a vote and comment to his page?

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November 30, 2004

'How To Be Creative'

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Somewhere along the way I subscribed to a site called ChangeThis and then promptly forgot about it (you never do that, do you?!)....but then this morning a ChangeThis newsletter showed up in my email inbox. ChangeThis bills itself as a "new kind of media" that will "challenge and change the way ideas are spread." They do this essentially by publishing manifestos for free.

So I looked through this email of manifestoes, and shortly thereafter got an email from Stowe Boyd pointing me toward the one that had already caught my eye: How To Be Creative, by Hugh MacLeod. Sat down with a printout of the PDF and promptly pushed everything else on my desk aside, regardless of deadline, until I finished reading it. It's fun. It's good. It's more than good. My favorite quote of many:

"Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships, that is why good ideas are always initially resisted.

Good ideas come with a heavy burden. Which is why so few people have them. So few people can handle it."

There's much more, particularly about authenticity and sovereignty. Power balance and authenticity are ideas that don't often get mentioned in the context of innovation, but they're very important.

Innovation often causes imbalance of power because innovation by default kicks over the status quo, whether it is in an industry, a business, a team or a relationship. Getting your idea -- or even the need for innovation in the first place -- accepted is perhaps more important than having a good idea.

That reminds me -- Squirrel Inc. author Steve Denning did a great presentation at Innovation Convergence last September about how to use storytelling to convince people to innovate. His site's worth looking at too.

Comments (4) | Category: Creativity

February 17, 2004

How 'powerful questions' drive knowledge sharing & knowledge creation

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

I’m going to do a little reporting on Braintrust, a conference on knowledge management I attended last week. My experience of knowledge management as a field is that it seems to take two approaches. The first approach, the one that interests me most, is all about creating knowledge and working collaboratively and sustaining “communities of practice.” The second approach seems to be all about the nuts and bolts of getting knowledge out of the head of employee A and into the head of employee B, via intranets and software models and concepts for collaboration that seem just a short step above the old company suggestion box.

Keynote speaker Nancy Dixon spoke about the conflict between these two approaches in a talk about conversation. “You can’t give someone else your knowledge – every person recreates the knowledge they apply,” said she, and therein lies the conflict. Conversations are a preferred way to get knowledge shared, although they are not always as effective a way to share knowledge, because communication by conversation inherently also creates confusion. But -- along with that confusion, conversations also inherently create new meaning. When the same word means different things to different people; when the listener quickly interprets what’s being said against his or her own unquestioned inferences and worldview; when each mind in the conversation creates its own knowledge that’s slightly different from what the other minds involved in the conversation are understanding and creating -- these factors make sharing existing knowledge difficult. But they also lead to the creation of new knowledge.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Dixon’s talk was that her suggestion for making knowledge-sharing through conversation easier is also a suggestion that will make creating new knowledge through conversation easier as well. Her suggestion: Ask the "powerful question." Assume the other person has a reason for their conclusion that makes sense to them, because the knowledge that you want is not their conclusion but the reasoning for their conclusion. So you ask a “powerful question” meant to discover that reasoning.

Said Dixon: “The powerful question is, 'Help me understand your thinking, how did you reach that conclusion?' Each time the question is asked the language is slightly different, but what is the same is that you are asking for the other to let you in on the connections that exist in his/her own mind. What is so powerful is that it is the thinking behind other's conclusions that provide the needed in-depth understanding.”

Why is the “powerful question” also a useful concept for knowledge creation as well as sharing? Because it uncovers the connections that the other person has made that led them to create the knowledge they are sharing with you. Assuming you do the same and share your connections, then the pool of information from which connections can be made grows, including what I’d call “meta-connection” information – information about the logical framework from which connections can be made. All of this in turn increases the chances of inventive recombination.

Comments (5) | Category: Collaborative Creativity | Conferences | Corporate Climate | Creativity | Inventive Recombination

December 9, 2003

Inspirational Tidbits from the NYT

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Courtesy of Hylton:

  • Interesting NYT story about how consumers shape new product offerings in personal technology (reg reqd)

  • Stories of inspiration, invention and design in products and services ranging from the iPod to Song Airlines can be found in yesterday’s NYT Magazine (reg reqd, and make sure you look at 'em this week before the links go away!)

Comments (0) | Category: Commercialization | Creativity | Customer Viewpoint | Innovation, General | Marketing | New Products | Technology

October 22, 2003

Upcoming Conference: The Human Side of Innovation and Change

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Posted by Leslie Martinich

The IEEE 2003 International Engineering Management Conference will be held November 2-4 in Albany, NY. The IEEE-IEMC 2002 was one of the most useful conferences I attended last year, and I'm expecting another great conference this year.

Speakers include Dr. Rolf Smith speaking on "Diffferent Thinking for Diffferent Results." The conference organizing committee chair is Dr. Lois Peters, one of the authors of Radical Innovation: How Mature Companies Can Outsmart Upstarts, a book that both John Wolpert and I found to be extremely useful.

I'll be giving a workshop, "Unleashing Creativity: Creating an Innovation Focus for Engineering Teams." The workshop will include a discussion of an Innovation Framework as well as the use of InnoMediaries, citing work from both John Wolpert ("Breaking Out of the Innovation Box") and Henry Chesbrough (Open Innovation).

Talk about convergence!! Lots of our ideas will be coming together here!

Comments (0) | Category: Conferences | Creativity | Innovation, General | Open Innovation | Technology

Logic Puzzles

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Posted by Leslie Martinich

What are some of the ways that organizations can foster creativity? There are lots of ingredients; I'll focus on just one in this post. This is one that worked well for me when I was managing a software R&D team many years ago.

I keep a book of logic puzzles on my bookshelf. Two that I recommend are Raymond Smullyan's What is the Name of This Book?, and his more recent The Riddle of Scheherazade: And Other Amazing Puzzles. Smullyan is a logician and set theorist, whose logic books I used in college, and his puzzles provoke some opportunities for clever thinking.

In those informal moments when a few engineers would gather in my office, we would pick up the book and choose a puzzle. We'd consider it as a group for a couple minutes and then go off on our own.

The following day we would discuss each of our solutions. I am very pragmatic, and I would typically find one solution and be done with it. Another person in our group would often return with three solutions and a proof for their correctness! He and I had very different approaches, each of them useful for certain situations.

The results? Over time, we developed a good sense of each others' strengths and ways of approaching problem solving. We had fun. And we developed a strong respect for others' thinking.

And we could solve a lot of logic puzzles!

This is a simple, informal practice that, over time, enhances a group's creative output. There are lots of other such practices. Send me your favorites!

Comments (0) | Category: Creativity | Technology

October 9, 2003

Better Innovation Through Neuroceuticals

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

After finding out about this newly discovered link between madness and creativity, I was ready to go have a drink and ponder how close to psychosis I personally might be….maybe just a few IQ points or notches of ability to multi-task and remember! Meanwhile, our ever-steady Corante blog-neighbor Zack Lynch, who’s writing a book on neurotechnology and society, had this to say:

As different aspects of mental health are better understood, more parts of the innovative process will be impacted such as accelerating learning via cogniceuticals to enhancing interpersonal communication with emoticeuticals. As neuroceutical usage spreads across industries it will create a new economic “playing field” wherein individuals who use neuroceuticals will achieve a higher level of productivity than those who don’t.

The resulting competitive gap will be substantial. To put this in historical perspective, imagine the competitive advantage that a team living in the year 2003 with the Internet as their information source has over a group living in 1953 that must rely on the local library.

Disruptive innovation, anyone?! Definitely read the whole thing.

Comments (0) | Category: Brain Chemistry & Creativity | Creativity | Disruptive Innovation

October 8, 2003

Link Found Between Creativity and Madness

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Whoa! I was gearing up to write some kind of wisdom about disruptive innovation, when this morning Hylton sent me a link to a FuturePundit post that dropped a bomb in my brain: Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto and colleagues at Harvard University have found that decreased latent inhibition of environmental stimuli appears to correlate with greater creativity among people with high IQ.

In a nutshell, this research says that people whose brains are more open to stimuli from the outside environment will either be:

  1. Creative, because their openness to new possibilities and stimuli gives them more, and more various, information with which to make connections and have new ideas, or
  2. Psychotic, because their openness to new possibilities and stimuli leads to overload and mental illness.

So what is the difference between creativity and madness? According to this study, good working memory and a high IQ make the difference. With those assets/skills/traits (whatever they are!) you have the capacity to think about many things at once, discriminate among ideas and find patterns. Without them, you can’t handle the increased stimuli.

This press release quotes Dr. Peterson: "It appears that we have not only identified one of the biological bases of creativity but have moved towards cracking an age-old mystery: the relationship between genius, madness and the doors of perception."

There’s also a role played by stress, though it only comes out in the paper (and in the FuturePundit post), not in the press release. Release of the stress hormone corticosterone lowers latent inhibition. So stress sends the brain into a state where it will examine factors in the environment that it normally ignores, thus allowing for the discovery of solutions to the stress-causing problem - solutions that would be ignored in normal and less-stressed circumstances.

Is this why we sometimes feel as though we're more creative under deadline stress (although studies have shown we’re not really more creative under those circumstances)?

Then, of course, stress overload causes information overload and then presumably psychosis starts. Or perhaps this is where depression comes from? A natural response to an overload of problem-solving stimuli, causing pattern-recognition and discernment responses to short-circuit?

So what is the effect of Prozac and the other SSRI drugs on this tendency for decreased latent inhibition? Would these medications decrease creativity by increasing latent inhibition, or would they increase creativity by increasing ability (or at least restoring your natural ability) to handle external stimuli?

I realize I have more questions than answers here, and I promise I’ll share answers with you if I find any. Meanwhile, you can see a .PDF of original paper here. The study was also published in the September 2003 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Comments (0) | Category: Brain Chemistry & Creativity | Creativity

October 3, 2003

Innovation Convergence Notes VI: Maps And Codes Matter

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Juan Enriquez, director of HBS’ Life Science Project held us riveted to our seats during his morning keynote: As The Future Catches You. With slides of images from Felice Frankel’s Envisioning Science, he talked about what kinds of innovations matter.

Says he: Maps matter. You don’t have to have an accurate map, just a better map than your neighbor’s. And codes matter. Executing the right code matters even more. Literacy in and the ability to map the right code matters a lot. Early maps of the world and the new code of the 26-letter alphabet were once the highest standards of maps and codes. Now the genome map and the DNA code are the ones that matter. Enriquez talked of the "merger between food, drink, biotech and pharma" that will change all of our lives.

It was hard to know whether to be inspired after this or go off in despair because I personally don’t know how to read either the genome map or the DNA code!

Comments (0) | Category: Conferences | Creativity | Disruptive Innovation | Innovation, General | Technology

September 29, 2003

Innovation Convergence Notes I: Idea Management, Customers Are Important - But IP Is Not

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Let’s just get this straight upfront: I am not a real-time conference-blogging demon! For that reason I’m just now getting around to blogging my notes from last week’s Innovation Convergence. But what I lack in speed I hope to make up for in value! I’ve got lots of notes and impressions to share.

First, my overall main impression was that Capital I-Innovation has arrived. Last year’s Convergence had just 70 attendees. This year there were 220, and new conferences on the subject are springing up like mushrooms after a thunderstorm, including this December’s Return on Innovation, at which IdeaFlow contributors Joyce Wycoff and John Wolpert will both be speakers.

Convergence’s very first keynote speaker, Mark Turrell of Imaginatik, referenced a famous (in innovation circles, anyway) Gary Hamel quote that seems to be on its way to becoming reality: “Innovation must become what quality was 20 years ago.”

Turrell sounded another common theme in his keynote, “Measuring the Financial Impact of Innovation: Calculating Your Innovation Gap.” That common theme was to make a differentiation between innovation and creativity, and pretty much every speaker I heard did this. Boiled down to the basics, the difference seemed to be that innovation is a process and creativity is not. Devotees of a process approach to creativity might beg to differ, but for the purposes of this conference, the distinction allowed most speakers a productive platform from which to dive into their take on the innovation process.

My notes on Turrell’s innovation/creativity definitions: Innovation’s a much more corporate thing than creativity, much more of a process. People who don’t get creativity are the ones who control the budgets, the ones you must convince to fund innovation.

Innovation is the process of handling new things; creativity is a one-off, invention is a one-off. Invention and creativity are part of the innovation process.

The main point of his talk was to expound on IOI, or the financial Impact of Innovation. He defined this as the proportion of current and future revenue and profit that is dependent on the company’s ability to innovate, and defined IOI components as revenue growth, revenue protection, productivity, and disruptive change (unplanned activities, or risk).

He then said the innovation gap is the difference between the target level of innovation (IOI) and the current innovation capacity, which is based on the ability of a firm to handle new things.

Idea management is important, because too many new ideas block the pipeline. You could expect him to say that, since Imaginatik is in the idea-management business, but this was another theme that was sounded by many speakers, including the other opening-day keynote, Dr. George Land of the Farsight Group.

First, Land's innovation/creativity definitions: At the beginning of his talk, “A Systems Process for Innovation,” he defined innovation as “organized creativity.”

Land’s Advanced Innovation Method is a process for bringing innovation to a corporation. Most important is the first part, determining what strategic innovation would be for the company. Seventy percent of time and budget should go to the first three steps, he says, which doesn’t even get you to the generating concepts stage. The important first three steps encompass alignment, an innovation audit, and a determination of an innovation strategy. A big part of this is determining internal and external customers’ “deep needs” – what does the customer really want or need in the future? Land says his company actually puts a large number of resources into training a client company’s customers in creativity to get them to articulate their needs. I of course found this fascinating in light of our own consumer-based approach, which has been discussed here recently.

And, connecting to another discussion we’ve been having here lately, this time on the Copyright Wars, Land dropped something of a bombshell early on in his speech by declaring that “product innovations are very easy to copy, and patents are an invitation to a lawsuit.” Sure enough, the first question in the following Q&A was about this assertion. Land explained further: Patents are very easy to go around. The issue is a flow of innovation, and what’s in the pipeline to develop after what you’ve got now has been copied. Always assume you’re going to get copied, and try to discover where you can innovate that it will be invisible. Developing intellectual assets – documented current and past knowledge that can lead to the creation of new knowledge through systematic innovation -- is better than developing IP, which he defined as “knowledge with legal ownership.”

According to Land, only 15% of corporate innovation comes from R&D departments, so that’s not the most important place to be innovative in a corporation. The companies most successful at innovation are stealthily innovating their process, distribution, or some other aspect that’s hard for competitors to grasp and copy.

But in any case, he echoed Turrell by saying, “don’t bust the dam of ideas until you’ve got somewhere for the water to go. Innovation efforts must be targeted or they create chaos. It’s a duty and an obligation NOT to collect too many ideas, to be ruthless with idea management.”

Finally, and this is another theme that was echoed over and over again: The CEO must drive innovation, and financial gap analysis is essential on the front end. You must arm yourself with the facts. Land also felt that a company should have an EVP or C-level innovation executive heading an innovation department that would integrate all functions – marketing, technology, business development, etc. And a company’s biggest barriers to innovation, in his view, are lack of leadership to drive innovation, and lack of strategic alignment regarding innovation.

And this was just the first part of the first day!!! More to come.

Comments (0) | Category: Collaborative Creativity | Commercialization | Conferences | Corporate Climate | Creativity | Disruptive Innovation | Innovation, General | Law & Policy | Marketing | Marketing Research | New Products | Open Innovation | Patents | ROI (Return on Innovation) | Technology

September 10, 2003

Creativity and Innovation on the Web

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

This Waypath Buzzmaker is way put in up to five search terms, and get back a graphical representation of the number of links each term has generated on blogs over the past 10 weeks. Below is the result for the terms "creativity" and "innovation." Click on the image and you get the search result links. Thanks to Dave Pollard for the pointer.

...continue reading.

Comments (0) | Category: Creativity

September 1, 2003

Creativity, Innovation and the ‘Copyright Wars’

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

You may have seen this Business Week interview with Ed Felten, professor and writer of the Freedom To Tinker blog, on the “collision between creativity and protecting intellectual property.” A number of people sent the link to me, including Andy Hargadon. It also relates directly to an issue Leslie brought up here last week.

Here’s an excerpt:

“This is the copyright wars. We're now in a situation where policy isn't just about copyright, it's about cultural and industrial policy as well. That's the point of the trend to try to defend the interests of copyright owners, which are legitimately threatened, by trying to slow down or control the development of some general-purpose technologies.”

I can’t help but notice that there are more questions than answers here. I also can’t help but notice that the Copyright Wars seem mostly to be about the way this issue is being framed: “Creativity and innovation will die with too much empahsis on intellectual property laws” says one side, while the other says "Creativity and innovation will die if ideas can't be protected by IP laws." It seems to me that if someone could come up with a better way to frame the overall issue, it might be easier to find solutions. Not to suggest this will be easy - I certainly don't have the answer! I'm still adrift in the sea of questions on this issue.

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August 27, 2003

Creativity Assessment and the Innovation Infrastructure

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

I'm very happy to welcome Leslie Martinich, our newest group-blogger. If you missed her first post on Innovation and Trust, you should go read it now. Then come back.

Leslie's question, "What are the infrastructure ingredients that foster innovation?" reminds me a little of some discussions we've already has here on how/when/in what ways creativity and innovation intersect and mix. I'd say that this very big question leads directly into what I've called before the "creativity of innovation." If there was ever a question that required some creative thought, this would be it.

And that leads me to something interesting and new I've found: The Belgian TRIZ and innovation consultancy Creax has come up with a great creativity self-assessment tool. When you finish you get a “radar plot” that compares your score with an average score on eight different “modules” or components of creativity: abstraction, connection, perspective, curiosity, boldness, paradox, complexity and persistence.

Apparently, for a limited time anyone can take this online evaluation for free, and you’ll get that nice little radar plot diagram. If you actually pay to take it (through your company, it looks like), you’ll also get to go through training on the modules on which you didn’t score so highly, which of course makes the exercise diagnostic as opposed to merely evaluative.

The supposition behind having everyone in a company or on a team tested for creativity skills is not to see whether they are creative – Creax, like me, believes everyone has some level of creativity – but to find out where their creative strengths and weaknesses lie. That information could be useful in putting teams together, in hiring, or in making training-related decisions.

Even though I know this is not what Leslie had in mind, I'm thinking this creativity assessment/diagnostic tool could also be useful in helping to create on a corporate level an infrastructure that fosters creativity. Acknowledging the need for creative and innovative thinking, then testing for it, training to fill skills gaps, and strategically placing those naturally gifted at it, is a good start in building a good innovation infrastructure on the corporate level.

Comments (0) | Category: Creativity

July 31, 2003

The Showing: A Visual Creativity Technique

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

We had an ideation session the other night and had great success with a new creativity technique that we developed ourselves (pats on the back all around, here!). The technique is based on some concepts of visual thinking I learned this summer at CPSI from Jon Pearson:

  • The downshift from describing ideas in words to perceiving them and drawing them disables a lot of worry and negative energy that keep ideas from flowing.
  • The more poorly you draw the more metaphorical and less realistic the drawing becomes.
  • The quicker you draw the more iconic the representation (and the more iconic, the more metaphorical).
  • The value of a visual representation is not always in how well it resembles reality.

This last is particularly true when using visual thinking or drawing to spur ideas. The point of the underlying process is to spur analogical, metaphorical thinking. We’re finding this particularly useful in our name-generation projects, because many powerful names are rooted in metaphors that evoke various emotions and images associated with the product.

Anyway, the technique we created is called “The Showing,” and this is how it goes: First you need some points of departure to work with. These can be words that come from language or images associated with the subject/problem/project/product, or can come from brainstorming or other similar processes conducted on the subject/problem/project/product. Diverge to list lots of words and/or phrases and then converge again on four words and/or phrases that will be the points of departure.

Give everyone in the group an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper and markers or pens to write with. Ask them to mark off a grid on the paper such that they have four lines of three squares across each.

Assume for illustration purposes that one of the point-of-departure words is “acceptance.” Ask the participants to draw in the first square on the first line an image that says “acceptance” to them. Give them 25 seconds to do this. Then ask them to do it again, different image this time, in the next square, again with 25 seconds to draw. And again on the third square. Repeat for the next three lines of squares, with a different point-of-departure word for each line.

After the last picture is drawn, ask the participants to exchange papers with someone else in the group. Give them a couple of minutes to look at the pictures they now have and ask any questions they want of the person who drew them. Then ask each person in the group to name the pictures on the paper they have, using names that are different from each other. It is OK to ask questions of the person who originally drew it.

Capture each name and you’ll end up with a list of words and/or phrases that should spur further metaphorical associations. In our case, the resulting list spurred us in lots of new directions for the product names we were creating.

Comments (0) | Category: Creativity