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CEO Best Practice: Innovation/Creativity

Executive Tools

  • Executive Summary
  • Self Assessment Checklist

Expert Practices Articles

  • Why Creativity is Crucial
  • Innovation and The Bottom Line
  • Engineering Breakthroughs
  • "Do-It-Yourself" Creativity Generating
  • Using Creativity Sessions to Cut Costs
  • Best Practices of Innovative Organizations
  • Increasing Personal Creativity

Tools & Analysis

  • Tools to Create Breakthroughs

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Why Creativity is Crucial

The most productive leaders incorporate creativity and innovation into their companies with the same predictability as they do profit-and-loss statements.

The four Vistage experts interviewed for this series -- Jordan Ayan, Bryan W. Mattimore, Carl Robinson and Steven L. Snyder -- all work with Fortune 500 clients. They say that TEC-size companies often give short shrift to the creative part of themselves, of their companies and of the people who work with them.

"Traditional linear thinking will solve 90 to 95% of your problems," says Mattimore. Innovation-enhancing techniques are for the toughest five to 10%.

Often, innovation is seen only as a way to add to the top line with new products and services. "Vistage members should know that these techniques can also be used to make the business more efficient, to cut costs and to do things quicker, better, smarter," Mattimore says.

Robinson identifies three foundations for organizational innovation. They are:

  1. Leadership
  2. Training
  3. Organizational Openness

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Innovation and The Bottom Line

Can you really afford not to place a premium on innovation in your organization?

Vistage experts gave us several examples of how encouraging creativity and innovation has had a major bottom-line impact in companies.

  • The Catholic Knights of Columbus Insurance Company -- a $100 million business -- used "problem redefinition" to boost sales 52 percent.
  • A leather Western wear manufacturer virtually saved its life by brainstorming a new market for their products.

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Engineering Breakthroughs

Mattimore has identified four foundations of breakthrough thinking.

  • Questions -- Reframing problems to make sure you are solving the right one.
  • Metaphors -- Taking two different ideas, finding associations between them, and coming up with solutions or ideas from the exercise.

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"Do-It-Yourself" Creativity Generating

There are many ways to jump-start your organization's creativity generator.

Alternative Perceptions -- Snyder recommends these approaches to get a new perspective on the problem you're trying to solve. Among the techniques:

  1. Imagine that your problem actually belongs to someone else -- not you.
  2. Imagine that you have the opposite problem.
  3. Think that it is five years from now, and the problem is solved.
  4. Enlist other people, in your imagination, as helpers in solving the problem.

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Using Creativity Sessions to Cut Costs

Mattimore was asked to facilitate brainstorming sessions at a billion-dollar personal products company.

He conducted 25 all-day sessions with 12 people per session. Yield: $50 million in cost reductions and quality improvements.

Mind-Mapping for Cost-Cutting: Have employees diagram the details of their jobs, then ask a facilitator to help them compare notes and see where savings are hidden.

To get the most impact from cost-cutting sessions, Mattimore recommends that you:

  • Assign monetary values to the ideas.
  • Encourage people to share the nitty-gritty of their jobs.
  • See if you can generalize once you find a detail worth evaluating.
  • Ask people to "feel the pain" of their day-to-day work. Wherever they are frustrated about a task they do, there are opportunities to make changes.

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Best Practices of Innovative Organizations

Innovative organizations have built into their structures several practices that serve to perpetuate innovation, says Robinson.

He identifies these practices as:

  • Celebrating successes
  • Inviting "20-20 hindsight"
  • Encouraging playfulness and "blue-sky" thinking

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Increasing Personal Creativity

"When we're in our normal, high-task, divided attention state -- which is, by definition, high stress -- we can only see things the way we normally do. It's like the great line from the Talmud, 'We don't see things as they are; we see things as we are'," says Snyder.

"The key is to access the part of the mind that dreams at night -- the 'heart mind' -- versus 'the brain mind' that you use when you're awake," says Snyder. To relax the mind, Snyder says you need to go into an alpha brain wave state, which is a state of heightened relaxation. In other words, you need to learn to daydream.

Ayan says that if we want to improve our personal creativity, we must increase our creative "C.O.R.E." The acronym stands for:

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