Posts tagged “creative problem solving”

Insight Inspired Innovation: Notes from CPSI

Last week I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI, pronounced sip-see, for short). The conferences is in its 58th year of delivering engaging, hands-on learning about how to use creative thinking to tackle complex challenges and develop innovative solutions. I have attended for the past 6 years, often presenting and always learning new tools and techniques for facilitating creative collaboration. Here I will highlight a few insightful and inspiring events for me and share a bit about the workshop I gave.

The incredible lineup of keynote speakers this year included one of my longtime creativity crushes, Teresa Amabile, the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration and a Director of Research at Harvard Business School who spoke about her new book, The Progress Principle. It offers an insightful peek into the challenge of management and motivation based upon research with 12,000 diary entries provided by 238 employees in 7 companies. For those interested, this downloadable daily diary tool allows you to conduct an autoethnographic inquiry into your own inner work life. For me it inspired new thinking about the impact of culture on corporate innovation efforts, specifically the gap that can exist between what a manager believes an employee needs and what that employee actually needs (and may not even realize).

I was captivated by John Hunter, an educator who uses the World Peace Game to teach fourth grade students about the complexities of world peace. A complex simulation that separates children into four countries and continually bombards them with challenges that are political, economic, cultural, environmental, etc. Without any coaching or intervention from the teacher, the students must try to win the game, e.g. raise the net worth of each country and avoid war. And they do it, over and over and over. Hunter helps these children develop communication and collaboration skills that enable them to resolve conflict, embrace compromise and honor diversity. Who would have thought that 9 year olds are capable of solving the most complex and wicked problems of our day? You can watch his acclaimed TED talk here. I was inspired both as a parent and an innovator about the kinds of facilitative techniques we can use to empower stakeholders to solve complex challenges in ways we may have never imagined possible.

I offered a workshop called Insight Inspired Innovation: How to use research as creative fuel. Attendees came from diverse contexts with varying experiences in research and creative problem solving processes so we had some rich discussions about language and process. The slides from the presentation are below.


During the workshop attendees used simulated insights about the organizational challenges of integrating insights into ideation activities to brainstorm new approaches.The key opportunity questions were:

How might we allow people to easily access insights?

How might we enable people to ideate together regardless of time or location?

How might we keep the human touch in communication?

This was, admittedly, a rather recursive activity. They used insights to ideate about ways to help people ideate with insights. My hope was for them to walk away both with new knowledge from the presentation and some new ideas for how to utilize insights creatively. In a little over 10 minutes these 3 groups came up with nearly 100 ideas that they captured on sticky notes. After a quick convergence each group presented their favorites. I’ve culled through all of those sticky notes and pulled out just a few to share (with their permission). If you’re looking to activate research within your organization, you just might find some gems in here.

  • “Opposites attract” idea buddies
  • Have ideation slumber parties, lock-ins, sock hops-
  • Insights become part of my screensaver
  • Live Suzy [a consumer/research participant] for a day
  • Make a bedtime/sleeptime listening CD
  • Ideation cruise
  • Insights suit, makes them personal
  • Insights speed dating
  • Diary rooms
  • Ideation signaled by a “bat signal”
  • Insights karaoke
  • Twitter brainstorm
  • Make a graphic novel of the insights
  • Pay the children to repeat them to their parents


Boost your creativity: Booze, barf and boredom

I am always on the lookout for ideas to boost creativity. Below are a few recent insightful readings…

Alcohol Benefits the Creative Process [Psychology Today] – Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago set out to determine if being intoxicated actually helped people think more creatively. They recruited people ages 21-30 and gave half of them vodka cranberry cocktails until their blood alcohol level reached .075. Then both groups completed a Remote Associations Test wherein they were given a series of three words (i.e. tar, arm, peach) for which they had to find a single word that would create two-word phrases with all three (i.e. pit). This kind of task was chosen to assess creativity because it is believed that the most obvious response is often not correct and therefore people must search for other more remote words in order to solve the problem. The findings indicate that the intoxicated participants not only performed better than their sober counterparts, they did so in less time and were more inclined to attribute their performance to a flash of insight; an “Aha!” moment.

Why might being intoxicated lead to improved creativity? The answer has to do with alcohol’s effect on working memory: the brainpower that helps us keep what we want in mind and what we don’t want out. Research has shown that alcohol tends to reduce people’s ability to focus in on some things and ignore others, which also happens to benefit creative problem solving.

I had a great excuse to practice this approach this weekend (admittedly, this was not the first time). I found that a yuzu-infused cocktail from Morimoto in Napa actually did catalyze divergent thinking. In fact, I generated a significant number of ideas for ideation and training sessions that involve yummy bites and liquid concoctions.

Produce First, Sharpen Second: What Dylan’s Vomit Teaches Us About The Creative Process [The Creativity Post] – This article references Bob Dylan’s creative process behind Like A Rolling Stone which involved a massive vomit of verses followed by a period of crafting and sculpting that rambling mass into an exquisitely refined piece of work. Dylan’s experience and other examples from the article illustrate a topic that I believe is profoundly important to understanding what creative thinking is and how to facilitate it. Creativity involves two polarized modes of thinking that can be described as opposites: divergent/convergent, imagination/logic, improvisation/composition, writing/editing, and so on. The key is to keep these two modes, vomit/cleanup, separate. Do not mix! In fact, a recent study at a Dutch university that is cited in this article concluded that taking a break between creating ideas and assessing them actually improves one’s ability to recognize the more promising concepts. Quick tip: The next time you are looking for great ideas, set yourself (or your team) a wildly large goal (i.e. 30-100 ideas) and don’t stop until you reach that number. Then take a break (10 minutes, 24 hours, whatever). Finally, go back and dive in to your ideas to cluster, organize, eliminate and ensure that the best ones rise to the top. Then give them refinement and strengthening that they deserve!

The reason we should “never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down” is because we initially don’t know which of our ideas are worthwhile. It’s only after we get everything down that we are able to recognize what works from what doesn’t. This is the lesson from Ritter’s research: we need to give the unconscious mind time to mull it over so it can convince the conscious mind to make adjustments.

Want To Be More Creative? Get Bored [Fast Company] – If you are looking for something to do between ideaphoria and analysis, a break that Edward deBono calls the “creative pause”, give some thought to not thinking at all. The author reflects on the importance of clearing the mind and the calendar and not doing a thing. Why? Because this space of quiet be-ing (not doing) is a lacuna from the litany of productivity and entertainment. It gives the mind room to breathe. Think of it as mental yoga, a place to pause between the inhale of ideas and the exhale of action.

I know it sounds strange, but I welcome boredom. It forces me to ponder. But to make sure we’re on the same page, when I speak of boredom, I’m not referring to killing time on your smartphone, your iPad, or your laptop. I’m not even talking about paging through a book. I mean bored as in doing absolutely nothing.



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