by Graham Rawlinson
Creative and Analytical
thinking, with a bit of Wisdom and Common sense thrown in
Let’s start with a few ‘definitions’.
How do we define “New”? Thesaurus: New, novel, different, fresh, raw, unprecedented Etymological: Now, recent, original
How do we define “Solution”? Thesaurus: Interpretation, explanation, elucidation, clarification, translation, construction, infusion, flux. Etymological: Loosening, relaxation, setting free.
A right brained approach might try to understand “New” from its connection with other words and situations – a creative exploration.
A left brained approach might try to understand “New” from its origins – an analytical exploration.
Both add value. If you want to define your novel situation, or idea, you can start with the one, or the other, and both add value. Common sense would suggest that if there are two ways of approaching a situation, then it is wise to do both.
If you want an innovation, a new solution, you can take a thesaurus approach and an etymological approach, and both add value.
Understanding a problem, wish or opportunity is half way to solving it, coming up with a solution, but a full understanding will involve both approaches.
Many other methods exist which tap into left and right brained approaches.
But they are all helping through the same route as the two dictionaries: One approaches via metaphor, analogy, comparison, similarity, the other via delving into origins.
In machinery we may use fault analysis approaches, such as “route cause analysis”, in management we may use measurements of everything from motivation to unit sales performance. Both are left brained approaches.
In machinery we may use biomimetics, a comparison between man made things and living machines designed by evolution, and in management we may use ‘scenario building’. Both are right brained approaches.
Wisdom and common sense suggest that when we have done some left brained thinking about the situation we should follow it with some right brained thinking. So we can start with route cause analysis and then move on to exploration of evolution of design. Or we can do it the other way round.
Activities and processes Many activities are sold as processes for analysis and creativity. But it is probably helpful to distinguish between a process as a set of steps to complete an activity and a set of activities which become part of a process.
Let me explain.
Many creativity activities consist of a set of things to do: Set the mood, get people relaxed, get people to think, do, say something about something completely off the problem. Then get people to make associations between their thinking and the problem. But this is only part of the overall process of getting to a new solution. You have done part of the job, to explore the problem from a creative perspective, but you also need to do the other half, to explore the meaning of that exploration through analysis.
The creative process is a set of activities which are part of the innovation process.
The innovation process contains processes for right and left brained activities.
And maybe common sense suggests that instead of doing everything you can on one side of the brain and then switch brains, you do little bits of one then switch and then little bits of another and switch back.
TRIZ is a large scale innovation process. That is, it contains sets of activities which can be used for creative, right brained thinking, and analytical left brained thinking.
Many people say they have used TRIZ, but really they have used activities of TRIZ as part of the solution finding process. Some have used them to come up with “a Creative Solution”. Some have used them to come up with “An analytical solution”. This is fine as long as all you need is a solution, not the best solution. And as long as the solution is not so wildly more expensive or dangerous than other available solutions which you missed, because you only did part of the job.
The activities of TRIZ are essentially simple, but people find it difficult to ‘get it’ in part because they are not seeing the activities as part of the overall process.
The key parts of TRIZ are:
You can try a treasure hunt approach and see if you can find A solution using any one of these tools/activities. But that means you are not using the activities as part of an overall process for exploring innovative solutions, at all levels and across a broad range of potential environments.
Much of the hue and cry about Creativity and Innovation misses the distinction between the activity and the process. If all you do is some activities then all you get is a treasure hunt. You may get lucky, or you may not. Chances are that you will get lucky more often than your competitors who don’t do the activities, but chances are you will be left standing by people who use the process as a whole.
Wisdom and Common Sense Wisdom and Common Sense tells us that you don’t get something for nothing. If you try to change your hospital, your school, your University, your police service, your company, your political party, your transport system, your health system, your immigration system, by only doing part of the job you will only get a bit of a solution. Which is why both creative and analytical activities get only part of the job done, and it has to be repeated again and again.
Let’s get wise. Let’s get into process.
How to compare processes and activities Most of what you see written, for both analytical and creative processes, is really only processes which help you carry out activities.
So the first thing to do when you see something which might be helpful is to ask: Is this an activity or a process?
For example, Lateral Thinking (Thanks to Edward for getting so many people to at least acknowledge the Creative approach) is a set of activities. Each set could be called a process, but it can only be part of an overall Process for Innovation.
The Six Thinking Hats is a Process, but as it misses many of the tools for ensuring a full exploration of potential Innovative Solutions, it is a partial process (well, that is my view, not a provable fact).
QFD, (Quality Function Deployment) is a set of activities for those who want to go into a detailed analysis of a situation. But is it a set of processes only in so far as they lead to the carrying out of activities. It is not an overarching Process.
The Creative Problem Solving approach from CPSI (The Creative Problem Solving Institute) is a fairly comprehensive process and the extent of its cover as a Process depends on experience of use. It has similarity with Synectics, but this is to be expected as they ‘grew up’ together.
TRIZ, originating about the same time as CPS and Synectics, is also a fairly comprehensive process, because, like the others, it has come from the research of a number of people, quite a large number, and a lot of research.
So when you come to think about which process to use, ask yourself, is this an activity, and if so, how does it fit into “my” overall Process for innovation?
If it seems to be a Process (and of course it must contain both Creative and Analytical Tools) then how comprehensive is it? How much research has been conducted to make the activities reliable as part of an overall Process?
Each business, each organisation, probably has to design its own Innovation Strategy, and that Strategy needs to contain a Process which handles both the Creative and Analytical Thinking Activities. Some good toolkits exist to do this and a combination is probably suitable.
Much of this thinking is explored in our book, “How to Invent Almost Anything”, an easy introduction to the art and science of innovation.
All remarks in this article are purely the personal thoughts of the author, and if you have a different view the author will respect your view fully.
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