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Creativity for left brainers.

Over the last two days I led a live case study for MBA students at the Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine.  Their challenge was to identify a new flavor for Dasani Drops that is relevant to the brand and could drive incremental sales.  I am grateful for the hard work shown by all 12 teams and am excited to get two teams in front of my friends at Coca-Cola.

Beyond evaluating the soundness of each team's research and findings, I was also looking for signs that they were willing to color outside the lines.

In the innovation workshop I run for left brainers, I explain that creativity is not a dark art – it is simply counter-intuitive problem solving.  Yet if corporate whiteboards could talk they would tell tales about the three most common creativity killers:
  • We accept assumptions and end up solving the wrong problem.
  • We know what we know and narrow our thinking within well-trodden mental paths.
  • We aren't comfortable pursuing multiple solutions and lock in too early on a solution.
The innovation framework I teach exhorts left brainers to embrace four catalysts for creativity:
  • Define:  As Norman Berry once said, "Give me the freedom of a tightly defined strategy."  Challenge the definition of the problem you've been asked to solve.  Create a ruthlessly well-honed problem statement.  A more accurate definition of the problem will inspire more specific, imaginative and effective solutions.  (The design team tasked with creating a better water bottle for bikers recast that challenge as creating a better way for bikers to hydrate.  The outcome was the Camelback.)
  • Know:  Michelangelo is said to have tweeted, "A man paints with his brain and not with his hands."  Creativity flows from knowledge, not guessing.  Category knowledge is essential.  But limiting our knowledge to this can stifle fresh ideas.  New information from other categories and seemingly unrelated trends will disrupt preconceptions.  For example, a few of the Dasani teams looked beyond water to examine trends in flavored vodkas and emerging culinary taste profiles.
  • Invert:  Not to be outdone by Michelangelo, Einstein once quipped that "Imagination is more important than knowledge."  The process of inverting a problem requires that we pick it up, turn it upside down, and see it with fresh eyes.  If we are in the hotel business, let's solve the problem as if we were in the entertainment business.  If we are in the packaged good business, let's ask ourselves how Apple might solve this problem.  By inverting the problem we free ourselves from the ankle bracelets that trap us within the conventions of the category in which we work.
  • Collaborate:  One of my favorite maxims is "We > Me."  The era of the lone genius is dead.  The biggest ideas result from the collision of disparate ideas, perspectives and people.  Collaboration isn't about brainstorming with people who are similar to you; it works best when you're brainstorming with people who are dissimilar to you – people from disciplines outside of marketing; people with a different lifestyle or upbringing; people who might look at the problem from a very different perspective. (For example, if you're brainstorming products for kids, don't limit brainstorming to parents – throw in a few teachers who actually spend more time with these kids than parent do.)

Comments

I love this presentation. I do Brainstorming all the time with too many people who are too alike. I got some very cool tools out of this deck. Thanks David!
I love this presentation. I do brainstorming all the time with tech geeks and they think like tech geeks. This gave me some great tools. Thanks David!

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