How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs

How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs

Group ideation processes, when well designed and well facilitated, are capable of generating a host of highly attractive creative options, and occasionally truly breakthrough solutions, to virtually any business challenge.
- Bryan Mattimore
Last November, a Japanese multinational company asked me whether I had any suggestions for a full day training session for its 4 Asian branches (China, South Korea, Taiwan, and India) during its annual Asia week. I had no hesitations: “Let’s do an ideation workshop!”
I had facilitated full day ideation workshops for a global motorcycle company’s Japanese dealerships last spring and helped them come up with three “kick-ass” ideas to improve customer experience. I was excited about conducting the same type of workshop, teaching creative-thinking tools and techniques to help participants come up with innovative yet practical ideas, with a more diverse group of participants in English.
When I asked the Japanese multinational company what challenges they were facing with their Asian employees, they clearly expressed that their high employee turnover rate is a problem. So I suggested conducting an ideation workshop addressing the business challenge: “How can we improve our culture to attract, develop, and retain global talent?”
Management was concerned that the workshop might lead to a blame game, with the employees blaming management for the problems they faced. Management was also convinced that “a salary increase” was the key solution that would come out of the workshop. I had fears of my own since anything can happen during LIVE sessions. Would innovative ideas come out of this ideation workshop just like they did at the motorcycle company?
This anxiety led me to contact Bryan Mattimore, the author of Idea Stormers and a guru of ideation facilitation, to ask whether he would help me design the session. Bryan kindly agreed and gave me a lot of valuable advice such as:
  • Position the ideation session as a “creativity and innovative thinking session” where you focus on teaching creative-thinking tools/techniques and use the business challenge to practice using them. This will take pressure off the participants, increasing their creativity and resulting in more innovative ideas.
  • “Ideation is 80% failure.” If one ideation technique doesn’t work, quickly abandon it and move on to the next one. Make sure you prepare a couple of back-up tools.
The advice from Bryan hit the bull’s eye.
First, it soon became obvious that the high employee turnover problem is much more complex than ‘a salary increase’. Employees want personal growth, a transparent career path and the training required to achieve their goals. They also want more recognition, increased communication with their Western counterparts, and for the company to enhance its prestige through stronger branding efforts.
Next, I introduced three creative thinking tools/framework to make these wishes a reality. Many creative ideas emerged, including new training ideas, a novel employee recognition system, and unique ways to strengthen the brand. Equally important, it was far from the frustrating blame game feared by management. The atmosphere was positive, as employees used new tools to both identify the core problems and develop creative solutions. There was a sense of involvement and buy-in that traversed national borders.
It was the employees themselves who used the tools to see things in a new way and to develop solutions. Instead of solutions imposed from above or from an outside consultant, the solutions came from the employees themselves, making it much more likely that they will be successful once implemented.
In an article in Harvard Business Review (June 2008) titled “Design Thinking,” Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, stated:

The increasing complexity of products, services, and experiences has replaced the myth of the lone creative genius with the reality of the enthusiastic interdisciplinary collaborator.

Ideation provides a great way to thrive in this new reality. Try it! Reading Idea Stormers will start you off. I have a feeling that this will be the next new trend.

Posted by Masafumi Otsuka

leave a comment