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Thursday, December 3, 2009

BRITE 09: Innovating During Downturns & Surviving the Worst


Learning How To Innovate - a BRITE '09 Working Session

I love attending the Columbia Business School BRITE events because - inevitably - they recharge, refocus and re-inspire me. BRITE '09 took place March 4-5, 2009 and it didn't disappoint! This event included an unusual breakout session titled "Innovating During the Downturn: How to Survive Our Own Worst Case Scenarios." Instead of a lecture, we were led through a creative breakthrough thinking session that made innovation palpable.

Carsten Wierwille, frog designCarsten Wierwille, General Manager, frog design, New York, and his associate, Luke Williams, led us through the exercise. frog design focuses on innovation.

As Carsten explained, innovation and creativity suffer significantly during tough times. There are ways, though, to not lose creativity. We would experience such an approach using The New York Times.

Routinely, we use use patterns of perception to organize our lives into patterns that we can easily recognize. Without these patterns, we would have difficulty processing information and making our way through life.

patterns of perception

Situations occur, though, when our patterns of perception become a problem. They prevent us from coming up with innovative solutions. How then do we break through? How do we come up with alternate solutions?

frog refers to the solution as lateral thinking, a term that Edward de Bono developed. Lateral thinking uses an indirect and creative approach to solve problems that a linear or logical approach fails at.

Examples of lateral thinking include:

+ Captain Sullenberger, the USAir Pilot, considered an innovative solution when he landed his plane on the Hudson river. Some might have considered the solution absurd. It worked.

+ In the Mann Gulch fire of 1949, a firefighter invented a technique called "escape fire."

Lateral thinking: breaks out of existing thinking; it changes patterns of perception.

+ Imagine taking the trailer for an intense movie such as The Shining and adding a different sound track [i.e, Peter Gabriel] to it. Imagine how different and unexpected the result is... [See His 'Secret' Movie Trailer Is No Secret Anymore]

Lateral Thinking
Lateral Thinking continued

Humor and creativity work in brain the same way: a punchline moves us out of a linear mode. In the telling of a joke, we are taken along the main track. Suddenly, we are shifted to the end of the sidetrack and immediately see the track we came from.

Creative Insights leads to innovative thinking
"Lateral" refers to moving sideways across patterns instead of moving along them as in normal thinking. Every valuable creative idea must always be logical in hindsight.

The world upside down
We were deliberately shown a map of the world upside down. This is provocation!

Provocation creates mental instability that forces the thinker to develop new ideas.

The provocative statement needs to lie outside our normal experience - otherwise it will not have any provocation value.

Provocation leads you outside your realm of experience

Four categories of Provocation
Effective provocation statements force you to go outside of your realm of experience. They are deliberate ways to force creative insight and step up to C [see photo above] and into lateral thinking.

There are four categories of provocation:

Exaggeration: Exaggerate normal properties
Escape: cancel, negate, drop, remove, deny what we have taken for granted
Reverse: Reverse the normal direction of action. Change it to move in the opposite direction.
Wishful Thinking - go to edges: Turn a fantasy wish into a provocation.

[An exaggerated statement such as "a police with 100 eyes" led to the creation of a neighborhood watch.]

Provocation Exercise

The Provocation Exercise

We set off on our own provocation exercise about The New York Times facing disappearing ad revenue. The room was broken into four groups. Each addressed a different facet of the problem. On sheets similar to the one pictured above, we chose a provocation and went about generating creative thoughts.

Capturing provocative innovation

My group looked at the value proposition of the New York Times with respect to consumer needs and behavior. Some of the ideas generated included:
- news tattooed on your body
- newspaper reads people
- customized newspaper
- fashion accessories to deliver news

We imagined no customers, leasing out writers, and buying shares of a writer.

What we discovered is that solutions aren't always obvious. But, with a change in framework, or a provocation, we are better able to discover and consider innovative solutions that add considerable value.

Check out my Links of Note: BRITE '09 Conference to get a feel for the rest of the event...

Have you come across interesting instances of provocation that generated innovation for you? Would you tell me about it?

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  1. Hi C.B.,

    I'm glad you enjoyed our 'Innovating During the Downturn' breakout. In fact, Luke Williams is returning this year for another breakout session at BRITE Conference '10.

    We hope to see you again this year.


  2. Matt,

    That is great news! This session was a highlight.

    I look forward to seeing you soon.



Reminder: Please, no self-promotional or SPAM comments. Don't bother if you're simply trying to build inauthentic link juice. Finally, don't be anonymous: it's too hard to have a conversation. Thanks, CB

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