Friday, December 30, 2011

Making Creativity Your New Competitive Advantage

TRIZ process for creative problem solvingImage via WikipediaBy Olivia Parr Rud

In today's digital economy, if it's linear, it's usually automated or outsourced! Think about it: What were you doing 10 years ago that's now accomplishable at the push of a button? Campaign management? Performance analytics? Data management and storage? Do you see a trend? So where are we headed?

Technology forecasters predict hundreds, if not thousands, of new products will enter the market over the next decade to handle routine activities. In data mining alone, we have seen incredible changes. Years ago, we spent weeks building predictive models by hand. Today, predictive modeling software delivers more powerful models through streamlined, menu-driven processes that take minutes!

So what does that mean to us? If our competitive edge is based on linear processes, our competition may be able to buy software that accomplishes the same thing within a few years. What can we do to stay competitive? Quit using half our brains!

In today's highly complex, competitive economy, our challenge is to create an environment that encourages "whole brain" thinking. To emphasize the importance, let's think of a simplified model of how the brain works and I recommend drawing this out.

To understand its function, the brain is divided into quadrants: The left cerebral mode handles the logical, analytic, and quantitative functions; the left limbic mode handles sequences (remember linear?), planned and detailed functions; the right cerebral mode handles the intuitive, integrative, synthesizing functions; and the right limbic mode handles the emotional, kinesthetic, feeling-based functions.

Most problem-solving occurs in the brain's left hemispheres. We begin in the left cerebral mode, where we memorize the correct answer. Then we move to the left limbic mode, where we make plans based on memorized rules and norms. This works well for many routine data-mining tasks, such as finding the average income of your customer base or calculating the response rate of a campaign.

But if you are facing a new challenge like unexpected account attrition or a spike in insurance claims - events for which you have no rules - the left side of the brain can't provide a solution. We completely miss the right-brain functions of intuition, integration, and synthesis, and so are unable to incorporate our emotions or feelings into solving a problem. By skipping the right side of the brain, we diminish our ability to think creatively.

In whole-brain problem solving, we begin in the left cerebral mode with the memorized answer. But we then move to the right cerebral mode and create a mental picture or image. This gives us a nonlinear view of the problem. When we move the problem into the right limbic mode, we may think of some atypical solutions or even have an "aha" experience. From there, we move back into the left limbic mode to formulate a solution.

So why is it so difficult to use creativity? First, creativity produces variance and decreases predictability. So if management has a high need for control, encouraging creative thinking is difficult. Another reason is that tapping into our creativity takes concentration. If our work environment is noisy and distracting, accessing the right side of the brain is difficult.

And, finally, creative thinking requires some "downtime" to get the juices flowing. Did you ever notice how you get great ideas in the shower or while exercising? You might argue that you do not have the time or it is not cost-effective. But creative ideas that lead to small improvements to a marketing campaign can save or make millions.

How can we encourage whole-brain thinking? This can be difficult if it requires a drastic change in the company culture. But we can take several steps to facilitate it for ourselves and our staff:

Encourage group discussions where ideas are embraced. Brainstorming is an excellent way to get the creative juices flowing. Change old habits: Use your non-dominant hand for routine tasks; take a different route to work. Create a workspace that helps you stay balanced: Play music; fill your office with objects d'art; spend a few minutes in silent contemplation each day. It's not a waste of time. It's incubation time for the next million-dollar idea!

Webster's defines genius as "Great mental capacity and inventive ability; esp., great and original creative ability in some art, science, etc." So the next time you effectively use your whole brain, they might call you a genius!

Olivia is an internationally known expert in Business Intelligence and Organizational Alignment. Her passion for finding successful solutions for her clients and partners has inspired her research in systems thinking and integrated business practices. She works with clients in communication, change management, team building and leadership development. Get free resources: http://www.OLIVIAGroup.com

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