I RECENTLY asked a young professional management team a question to gauge their knowledge of creativity: who knows about Edward de Bono or Six Thinking Hats?
Not one hand went up from anyone under 40.
This led me to think I was very naive.
I assumed today's new employees had a working knowledge of creativity. Read anything about new employees and you will see they are buzzing with technology and social media. Yet I think we confuse technology with the skills to generate innovative ideas.
I started studying innovation in the early 1990s.
I discovered one truth about it: talking about innovation and thinking this makes you innovative is as effective as talking about physical fitness and thinking this makes you fit. Likewise, does investing in running shoes make you fit?
Some think investing in technology makes you innovative. It is what you do with the technology that makes you innovative.
At the core of innovation is our skill to solve problems. You cannot be innovative unless the options you conceive actually solve the problem.
At a minimum, you should avoid the common flaws in the way we solve problems:
We do not accurately define our problem the first time. Eventually we notice the mistake and start the whole process again.
We jump to solutions based on experience, which stops us looking for stronger solutions.
We select the first minimally acceptable option. A 10-minute meeting has taken two hours. We debate, argue, then stop caring and pick the option no one hates.
In 2001, I worked with the Singapore government to help launch a national innovation training strategy.
The simplicity of its framework of five skill sets hides its sophistication. These explore the tools and processes you can use for:
Generating ideas - we must know how to create original ideas.
Developing ideas - our initial ideas need nurturing.
Judging ideas - using criteria to grow, improve or kill our ideas.
Communicating ideas - a good idea needs buy-in from others.
Turning ideas into actions - a good idea needs great strategies to become a great result.
Each skill should be in your personal tool kit. The weakest skill for most people is using criteria for judging ideas.
Admit it; you have been in meetings and put two stars next to your top idea on some list and one star for the second. This is wrong on so many levels.
What drives innovation is collaboration.
Ignore those who say brainstorming is old-fashioned. Brainstorming is about solving problems. Our desire to be creative must be matched by our skills to do so audaciously.
I think our new employees have missed some creativity lessons. Where are the training programs in our schools and organisations?
Alex Osborn ended his book, Applied Imagination, with: "We need new ideas to win wars. We need even more and better new ideas to win peace." The year was 1953. It's still timely advice.