Creative Thinking for Managers – Five Valuable Tools

One of the most important skills for any business manager to possess is creative thinking. You can’t expect to succeed in business if you are always doing everything ‘by the book’. Rather, you need to be willing to step out on your own from time to time, taking a calculated risk based on an innovative idea. Of course, it can be difficult to think creatively day after day, especially when you are continually staring at the same problems.

With that in mind, it may be a good idea to use some of the creative thinking tools included in this article. These tools are designed to get the creative juices flowing, and they just may help you stumble on your next great idea. Sure, these models aren’t going to do the thinking for you, but they can help to at least point your mind in the right direction.

To help you get started, we have provided an overview of each of these five tools. Let’s get started!

Doblin’s 10 Types of Innovation

For starters, we are going to look at Doblin’s 10 Types of Innovation. As the title of this tool would indicate, it is essentially a list of innovation options. Those 10 options are as follows –

  • Profit Model
  • Network
  • Structure
  • Process
  • Product Performance
  • Product System
  • Service
  • Channel
  • Brand
  • Customer Engagement

The first two items on the list are two of the most powerful, so we are going to highlight those at this point. Most organizations have to find a way to make money in order to continue operations, so it makes sense that Profit Model is the first type of innovation on the list. This kind of innovation is the way you make money, so it is essential to the basis of what it is that your organization does on a daily basis. Without this type of innovation working for you, it is unlikely that you will be able to make it into any of the other nine options.

With regard to networking, there is tremendous value to be found in working with others. Very few individuals or organizations are able to be successful on their own, as the world is far too competitive to take on alone. By networking as a form of innovation, you will be able to rely on the experiences and talents of others to work toward a brighter future.

If you would like to learn more about the rest of the list in Doblin’s model, it would be a good use of time to research this model specifically. As a way to get the creative thoughts flowing in your office, the options Doblin presents are a wonderful starting point.

The Four-Step Innovation Process

Putting yourself through the Four-Step Innovation Process outlined in this model could lead to a surplus of creative ideas when all is said and done. It won’t necessarily take long to work through this model, yet the results could be quite powerful. Let’s take a look at each of the four steps.

  1. Observe Problems. You can learn a lot in business by watching your customers. What is it that gives your customers trouble? Is there something specific that you can see which is a significant problem for a majority of your target market? If so, solving that problem is an obvious opportunity for your company. One of the big points to keep in mind when innovating new ideas is the access that you have to a specific market. Rather than having to track down a new market to sell on your new product or service, it would be better to develop something new that can be sold to the same market. You already have the attention of that group of people, so why not return to them with another solution to a common problem?
  2. Develop Solutions. Now that you have a good idea of the problems that are being faced by your market, the next step is to actually find solutions to those problems. Of course, this is really where you have to get down to business, as it likely won’t be easy to solve problems that have not yet been solved by others. It is important to not only find ways that you can solve the problems of your customers, but also that you can do so in a way which will be profitable down the line. If you have a solution to a problem that is never going to be able to turn a profit in the marketplace, there will be very little reason to actually take that idea any farther.
  3. Try It Out. Once you have a solution or solutions to the problem at hand, the next step is testing. Instead of trying to figure out the absolutely perfect solution to the problem before you develop a product, the better plan would be to put together a first version which can be tested out for you by a portion of the market. It is almost impossible to perfectly master a product on the first try, so give up on that notion and simply get as close as you can initially. Through testing and refinement, you can move from an initial offering which is rough around the edges to something that is perfected by the time it is seen by the market as a whole.
  4. With all of the homework and preparation done, it is time to hit the market and see how successful you have been in solving a problem. Of course, just because you have now implemented your concept and the product is on the market, you still don’t have to put a stop to your development process. Every product in your line can always be improved, so there is no reason to ever stop taking feedback and ideas from your customers. The company that is willing to continually innovate even after a successful product is on the market is the company that can take a larger and larger share over time. Don’t get too comfortable just because you have done a good job of innovating this current product, as there will always be more problems to solve.

This is likely going to be one of the most useful models presented in this article, simply because it is so practical. Once you get comfortable moving through these four steps, you will find that this process is useful in a variety of business situations.

The Charette Procedure

The Charette Procedure is a form of brainstorming which is designed to help you keep the process on track and headed toward a successful outcome. As you already know, brainstorming is one of the main tools used by managers to inject creative thinking into an organization. If you are facing an upcoming brainstorming session which you hope will produce a number of creative ideas, the Charette Procedure could be the perfect way to guide the meeting.

To understand how the Charette Procedure works, consider the following example with a meeting room filled with 20 people. As a first step, you are going to divide the 20 people within the meeting into four groups of five. Working in smaller groups is almost always a good idea in a large meeting, as this reduces the chaos and allows more productive conversations to take place. Give each group a dedicated place to work – each group could even work in its own room, if necessary.

Each group is going to have a dedicated ‘recorder’, whose job it will be to record the ideas produced within the group. Set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes, and have an initial brainstorming session. When that time is up, the recorder will move on to another group, and the timer will start again. The process continues until each recorder has worked with each group for one session. In the end, everyone has been exposed to many different ideas, yet the meeting has remained organized and productive, rather than chaotic.

Crawford’s Slip Writing Method

To gather creative ideas from a group of people efficiently, consider using the Crawford’s Slip Writing Method. This is a system that is intended to help you pull ideas from large groups of people, while avoiding the messy, loud meetings that can take place when you simply gather everyone up in a room. Those big, open meetings may be productive from time to time, but they usually lead to just a few people dominating the conversation. The quiet, shy people in your organization won’t get heard in that setting, meaning their ideas are going to be missed. Give everyone a chance to be heard by using a system that encourages contributions from all.

This is a simple method, which is part of what makes it so effective, and so popular. A basic outline of the process is as follows –

  • Those in the meeting will be given a list of topics that are to be considered
  • Slips of paper and writing implements should be distributed throughout the room
  • Instructions should be given to only write one idea down on each slip
  • A time limit will be put into place for each topic at hand. For instance, you might allow for 10 minutes on each of three topics, to create a 30-minute session
  • At the end of the meeting, the slips will be collected and the participants can go on their way

When you want to generate a large number of creative ideas in a short period of time, it is hard to do better than Crawford’s Slip Writing Method.

SCAMPER Technique

To finish up our list of creative thinking models, we are going to look at the SCAMPER Technique. SCAMPER is an acronym which stands for the following –

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify
  • Put to another use
  • Eliminate
  • Reverse

Each of those points is meant to spur thinking with regard to one of your existing products or services. In other words, when thinking about your existing product line through the lens of those seven points, you just may be able to think of new products that could serve your market. Rather than trying to start from scratch, the SCAMPER Technique is going to help you find new ideas from within those products and services that you already offer.

It can take a tremendous amount of time and energy to think through all of your products and services using the SCAMPER Technique. However, when you have taken the time to do so, you will likely come away with an incredible number of ideas you can pursue moving forward. If even just one or two of those ideas turns into a big success, you will be extremely glad that you invested the effort required to use this method.

Picking the Right Tool

With five great tools for creative thinking listed above, how do you know which one is right for your needs at the moment? Well, that is where you have to think critically about the problems at hand in your organization. What are you trying to accomplish, or what issues are you trying to solve? Usually, an indication of which tool you should use can be found by looking more closely at the problem itself.

For example, if you feel like your business is stuck in a ‘rut’ and you need to move in a new direction, Crawford’s Slip Writing Method could be the perfect way to generate a number of new ideas. Or, if you need a practical way to solve a problem or problems, the Four-Step Innovation Process could be the right option. It really is going to depend completely on what you hope to accomplish.

Thank you for taking the time to review this article, and we hope the tools included above will help you take the creative thinking in your organization to a new level. Each of these tools has its own individual merits, so it is worth taking time to understand them all. Then, when the right moment arrives, you’ll be able to put the appropriate tool into action.

Creative Thinking for Managers eBook (37 Pages)
This free eBook describes five popular creative thinking techniques that can help managers to encourage creativity within their team and to be more creative themselves.

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