As I look around my office I can count no less than twenty-five books that promise to deliver breakthrough thinking.
My first reaction to any ‘creative business book’ is that the advice can be theory based. And if you are at the sharp end of having to deliver new solutions for a business challenge it’s often only your acquired hands-on experience that carries this process through to implementation.
As an experienced practitioner Chris Thomason has created something of real value with The Idea Generator for anyone faced with having to bring new ideas to a business or organization.
This is not a book, but a clever toolkit that does two things really well. Firstly it challenges current creative thinking methods and encourages you to consider how and why alternative approaches are far more likely to deliver successful ideas to tricky business problems. Secondly it provides 15 clever thinking tools to help you, colleagues and clients work together to create and align on ideas that are inspired, relevant and actionable.
To move forward you often have to look backwards to identify where a problem starts and understand why some things which worked so well once may no longer be appropriate and the author sets up this point of view in an amusing and thought provoking way from the start.
The simple fact that brainstorming is over sixty years old and still forms a key part of today’s business thinking is a wake-up call that any business – and any manager in a business – should recognise.
The Idea Generator reminds me of the story of the boiled frog. If you put a frog in boiling water it will jump out and survive but if you put the frog in cold water and heat it up gradually the frog will be boiled because it doesn’t recognise the slow change in temperature. In the first part of the book the author suggests that management thinking is the pot and brainstorming is the frog and we don’t recognise how things have changed in the business environment around us. The simple fact that brainstorming is over sixty years old and still forms a key part of today’s business thinking is a wake-up call that any business – and any manager in a business – should recognise.
The book starts by outlining the powerful benefits of applying your mind to big issues, on either the personal level or the business level – and how the way we’ve been lead into brainstorming is the solution to all our problems – is plain wrong. Chapter two is a real wake-up call as to how brainstorming – even when done well – is an inefficient way of thinking. You’ll be left reflecting on how much time might have been wasted in the past in brainstorming exercises. Are those walls covered in sticky notes really holding the answers?
The author then proposes a new approach to thinking which intuitively makes sense. People don’t think in groups, we think individually and then need to develop our ideas as a group. There’s the initial individual creativity followed later by team creativity when working in a group. But the key thing is the recognition of thinking being an individual sport and not a team sport. What the author is setting up is the importance of how individuals can be helped to explore, engage and then align on problems and promising ideas.
Following this is the crux of The Idea Generator which is a set of three different templates to help you as an individual to think more creatively and practically on a range of different business goals.
One key insight is that for creativity to be meaningfully achieved the process needs to be highly structured to lead your thinking into specific areas and also to avoid other areas that have less potential.
There are three templates and each of them has five tools which delivers the 15 tools stated in the book’s by-line. Each template covers a specific type of issue. The Islands of Opportunity tools are used for any thinking exercise which is being considered for the first time; Divide and Conquer is aimed at a problem that has been considered before but which hasn’t been completely answered; and the Boundary Riding tools are aimed at identifying short / medium-term business growth opportunities.
The third toolset is unusual in that while many people may want to apply creative thinking to identify the next big-new-thing for their business; this toolset focuses on identifying opportunities that can deliver value much sooner. Or put more simply, the outcome from each tool provides three valuable pieces of advice, what you should keep doing, stop doing and start doing.
Two words that are referenced in the book are ‘meaningful’ and ‘practical’ creativity – and this is what the templates do. They keep you focused on the opportunities that you set for yourself at the start in the form of the killer questions that you set.
The book concludes with a couple of chapters on using the approach with teams and how to get people asking more questions within a business.
All too frequently today we expect instant answers without having to put the effort in, often in the belief that ourselves and others have very little time to invest in thinking through, and reflecting on, problems. What I really like about the tools in this book is that with a small level of discipline and effort you, your team and your clients can quickly identify the right problems and the best ideas to move a business challenge forwards.
The strapline to The Idea Generator is 15 Clever Thinking Tools to Create Winning Ideas Quickly. The tools are clever and their structured approach ensures the ideas are created quickly, and that they are also winning ideas for they are meaningful and practical and as such are likely to win other people in your business over to your thinking.
As a practitioner the author also states that you can take three things away from The Idea Generator, a story for embracing change; a confidence to engage with a challenge knowing you don’t have the answer right away; and tools and techniques to identify the right problem and create the meaningfully better ideas.
This is a good outcome for the book as all three are things that can be achieved through the book’s approach to business creativity.
By Steve Heron
Chris Thomason, author of The Idea Generator, spent fifteen years working at the intersection of innovation, business growth and customer experience. He’s an engineer who started his career in the UK automotive industry. He emigrated to South Africa to work in the gold and platinum mining industry and was fortunate to experience the transition to democracy first hand. He also spent time running a gold mine in Mozambique at the height of the civil war there.
The development of better thinking in business and in society is one of Chris’s passions, for improvements in thinking skills is the only way mankind will be able to overcome the future challenges. You can reach him at Twitter, Linkedin, SprintForGrowth and IngeniousGrowth.
Steve Heron was previously a Senior Project Manager at IDEO’s London office for seven years before becoming Director of Innovation at Sense Worldwide. He is currently an independent innovation consultant working with numerous global brands. You can contact him on Linkedin.