The former VP of Innovation & Creativity at Disney shares “innovation tools” to help you get out of your comfort zone and think differently to solve problems.
Creativity (n) – The habit of continually doing things in new ways to make a positive difference in our working lives.
Being creative should be fun, but it’s not always easy for us to do. “Think outside the box” can be a tough command to follow if you don’t know what the box is. Creative solutions don’t always come easily; it’s why we might hit a mental block when prompted in the workplace but easily come up with the best ideas in the shower. It might not be conscious, but we are limited by our own experience and expertise, comfortable with what we know and with the personal processes we follow. To break the mold, we need to approach each problem from new, sometimes uncomfortable angles.
In entrepreneurship, new problems arise each day. New competition enters the same space, new technology emerges to change how things are done. In an environment of intense competition, the need for innovation and creativity is enormous. Creativity is paramount to offering unique solutions and providing value as a company.
Duncan Wardle is an expert on creativity and innovation. He spent 25 years at one of the most innovative and creative companies in the world, The Walt Disney Company. As VP of Innovation & Creativity, Duncan developed an “innovation toolkit,” tangible tactics for people in any role in any industry to follow to get out of their own “Rivers of Thinking,” the expertise and comforts each person has that pulls them in the same direction. These tactics help people to go against the current, creatively solve problems and produce new, exciting outcomes.
Be clear on your brand: the “Why?” of your organization. Why do you exist? To what purpose? How will you achieve this? What will you do to get there?
Create a mission statement for your organization. This should be one sentence that clearly defines a unique contribution your organization provides and the corresponding impact it has. Duncan’s is, “To unlock the creative potential in everyone by gifting them a set of Innovation Tools & Creative Behaviors they can actually use to solve challenges in unique and different ways.”What’s yours? Try writing one for yourself.
Ask the right questions:
- What If? What if rules didn’t apply? Forget what’s acceptable or appropriate for a moment to consider solutions that might seem out of left field. They may contain aspects you can run with. Netflix founders were frustrated by movie rental late fees. They asked themselves, “What if there were none?”
- Where Else? Consider where else in the world of innovation your challenge has already been solved and borrow the underlying principles to help solve your problem.
- Who Else? Who else has tackled a similar issue? What aspects of the organization can you draw inspiration from? Use different perspectives to come at your challenge from a completely different angle.
“Yes, and…”: Limit your brainstorming group to 4 people. When exchanging ideas, don’t shut any of them down. Respond to each offering with, “Yes, and…” to keep the creativity flowing. This will engage both introverts and extroverts and lead to ideas everybody can feel they were a part of. Try out the S-U-N method:
- Suspend judgment
- Understand the idea
- Nurture the idea
You might be surprised what creative ideas will come from letting them develop fully before denying any completely.
Summarize With a T-Sheet: After the idea is hashed out, summarize it with a T-sheet. A T-sheet is a simple tool you can use to formulate a complete, clear and concise idea with a group, so that every type of learner can process the information effectively.
On the top of the T, list the title of your idea. On the left side, explain the idea in four or less sentences. This forces the group to be direct about the idea and avoid cluttering it with unnecessary details. Finally, draw a visual representation of your idea on the right side of the T.
The result is a fully-developed, but concise idea that you can relay easily and effectively to others.
Lean on Naive Experts: Naive experts are people who have expertise in a field, but not the one in question. By soliciting their opinions on a problem they’re unfamiliar with, your perspective will grow, and you’ll be forced to look at issues with new eyes.
Naive experts ask questions they genuinely don’t know the answers to. This forces the players involved, who are often too close to the problem to see clearly, to consider things in a new light.