Every company wants to be known as innovative. In today’s business environment, innovation is meant to be worn like a badge of honour, giving the organisation an unparalleled competitive advantage. It is believed that this innovation will bring about novel, unique, and inspiring products and services, driving sales that lead to sustained higher profit.

However, as much as innovation is revered and sought after, few companies actually achieve it. And even for those that do, sustaining innovation seems almost impossible.

How then can we tame the elusive beast that is innovation?

Let start by first understanding what innovation actually is…

Creativity As the Source

Leaders and managers who recognise the power of creative thinking and make the effort to familiarise themselves with the process of innovation need to first get comfortable with creativity.

Creativity, as a concept, is seen as the main source of innovation. Creativity is about thinking of new ideas that are different from existing solutions. Creative thinking involves using existing knowledge and talent to develop new ideas, by being prepared to see matters from a different perspective. Creative thinking enables us to acquire a better understanding of the situation we face and the problems we encounter. Innovation and inventions are outcomes based on creative thinking.

Raiders of the Lost Art

If creativity is the source of innovation, then it follows that to be innovative, all leaders need to do is get their teams to think creatively, right? Putting this into action, however, would be easier said than done. The fact is that most working professionals, especially in Asia, do not identify themselves as “creative”, nor do they believe they possess the capacity to think creatively.

How is it that, although a dominant aspect of our childhood, creativity seems to have simply disappeared as we reach our adulthood?

Can we get back the ability to think creatively as an adult? Thankfully, my experience has proven the answer to that question is a resounding YES! We can get back that skill IF we first understand the underlying aspects of creativity and creative thinking.

Planning to Be Creative

Although creative thinking can be accidental, sustainable innovation requires a process that can be repeated. What we are interested in acquiring is a creative thinking process that can be reproduced in a planned and deliberate manner.

Creative thinking requires us to view situations with an open mind. It is a journey we need to embark upon to discover new and different things. The discovery process demands that we continue to remind ourselves of the need to set aside our long established assumptions and attitudes. Researchers and experts recommend that we embrace the following elements for creative thinking to really work:

  • Accept the fact that any existing knowledge is inadequate for innovative solutions
  • Be prepared to seek solutions/ideas from different sources
  • Logical thinking plays a limited role in enabling new and innovative solutions
  • Be ready to experiment with radically different approaches
  • Be willing to Unlearn, so that we can offload useless knowledge, enabling us to Relearn
  • Be willing to experiment and ask: ‘what if’ and ‘what else’ to unfold new ideas and solutions

Honesty as the Best Policy

Now that we know the mindset we need, we can proceed to actually develop our creative ideas for work. Asking questions is a key element in the creative thinking process. Asking questions on a continuous basis also means that teams are able to identify the emerging trends much earlier than the rest of the industry.

Renowned author Rudyard Kipling’s ‘six honest serving men’ is the best bet to getting started. In the words of Kipling:

“I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who. I send them over land and sea, I send them east and west.” – Rudyard Kipling

The 5W+1H questioning model is the great way to get started when asking questions. What are some of the questions we can ask when we are trying to think creatively for innovative solutions? Learning to ask: What else, How else, Where else, Who else along with What if will let us see a whole range of possibilities. Some of the questions we can ask when we embark on our creative thinking journey are outlined as follows:

  • What else can we do to get rid of this problem?
  • How else can we improve the quality/work process?
  • Where else can we look for more information?
  • Who else can help us in giving a new perspective to this situation?

The greatest advantage of learning to ask the 5W+1H questions is that it leads to new ideas that almost always break the existing mindset limiters. In other words, this type of questioning lets us step onto new paths where we can find innovative ideas.

Blending It All

Once we have embraced the above elements, we put ourselves, our teams, and our organisations in a better position to develop new ideas – and further adding to, modifying and further refining the initial ideas into something more. In doing so, we bring out concepts and ideas that are new – things that did not exist before.

Just learn to keep an open mind and begin to ask all kind of questions. Make use of Kipling’s ‘six honest serving men’. Progress might be slow at first, but as you keep asking questions, and create this culture within your team and organisation, you set into motion the first steps on the journey towards innovation.  Let your curiosity unfold in all situations and prepared to challenge the status quo.

As always, if you have any questions about this article, need more information about how to implement this within your company/team, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].