Invent Anything with John Cronin Transcript: Episode 2 – The Fundamentals of Creativity for Invention

Hello and welcome back to Invent Anything with John Cronin. Today’s episode is “The Basic Use of Creativity for Inventing” with what I call “Needed Background.” We will be covering such topics as personal assessment of creativity, how you might look at yourself, how the world looks at creativity – that is the views of creativity, and the question about level of creativity versus the style of use of creativity.

But before we begin, let us talk about creativity just at the highest level. There are a lot of people studying creativity, both in terms of what it is and how to use it. People are studying the human brain and its relationship to creativity. They are using psychological studies to try to figure out how to enhance creativity. You can even get a PhD in creativity today. People are looking at enhancements – the biological and drug enhancements to creativity. And also, there are some centers that pop up, as the Center for Creativity, where people are starting to study creativity in business.

I looked at Amazon and found out that the use of creativity in the titles of books is about 60,000 books. So, it is not surprising that we are applying creativity to almost everything. But still, there is no formal training in creativity. You do not find it in high schools. You do not find it in colleges. You really have to go out of your way to try to be trained on it. So, even given all those books, there is no formal training.

But let me ask yourself a question. When was the last time, when you thought about it in your job, that formal creativity was actually brought up as a subject that somebody would facilitate creative thinking or to help make you more creative? Ninety-Five percent of the people that I would ask about this question would say that has never happened. And that is a shame. Well, let us get right at it.

Personal assessment of creativity, use of creativity, and levels of creativity versus style. But a little footnote here – This is probably a good podcast for those people that manage people because they could look at others and maybe get more creative output out of them, particularly useful for those people that like to facilitate new thinking. It is very useful to HR directors and all the rest. It is probably also useful for those people that might be struggling with their own creative outputs. They might be wondering why I do not appear to be as creative as my coworker, et cetera. So, there are many points of view as to the use of this material. I have been talking and studying and teaching this over the last 30 years, and I continually go back to this one topic about the background of creativity.

Before we get started, though, let us do an exercise here on the personal assessment of creativity. On a scale of 1 to 10 – 10 being it really kills my creativity, and a 1 meaning that it does not impact me at all. I am going to give you five different areas. And give yourself a 1 versus 10 here. So, if I said in area Number 1, how does challenge help you or impact you to creativity? Is given a challenge make you impact your creativity? How about freedom – if you are given the freedom to do things? Does that help or hinder you in creativity? Ten being high – does it kill you?

How about resources? If you are really limited with resources versus you have lots of resources, which one would help your creativity? Which one would really kill it? How about supervisory encouragement? Is that something that really impacts your creativity? Give it a ten. If you get encouraged, maybe it helps your creativity. And finally, what is your organization doing for creativity? Is it helping or hindering? Is it killing your creativity? So, what stops you or encourages you to be more creative or inventive? Once you understand that, then you can start to make personal changes of your own creativity. Or once you understand it in the organization, you might be able to make some changes.

Let us talk about some of the things we have found about creativity. It certainly is true that creativity gets killed more than encouraged, and it is really unintentional on a daily basis – that people want you to focus on the business system, the workflow, to be efficient, to be more productive. Creativity is almost seen like a monkey wrench to this. But creativity, like any business system, needs focus. It needs resources to make it work. I mean, let us just face it. Where would you like to see more creativity – in marketing? For sure. How about tax time and your accountant when you want a creative accountant? So, most fear, actually, creativity when you are going to embed it in some processes that are there for systematic efficiencies and production. And I think the reason is for this that people do not understand it. So, therefore, they do not want to experiment with it.

What if I added creativity training and creative thinking to my technical range? Could I get more output of my inventive community? That is the point I am at. Before we get started on actually talking about personal levels of creativity, let us talk about some concepts. I am showing a chart, right now, of novelty versus operability. Novelty means, of course, something could be very wild or something could be very normal. And something, like the transporter beam, could be almost impossible to build, if not impossible, or something very easy to fashion – some very simple machine.

But the way you look at most ideas, especially the ones that are really cool, is they almost start off as being impossible and almost wild to make. But over time, it moves down the operability access and towards from novelty down to more novel from wild. Even a lead pencil to those people using quills. If I was to say I have a pencil made out of wood that would have lead inside it that you could erase – I mean, that is a concept, right? So, even people that were doing quill pens would be thinking that a lead pencil might be pretty wild. So, creativity for invention really will not work unless the starting points tend to be more impossible – unless the starting points tend to be wild. But over time, almost all inventions, if worked on, can be made more operable. And then, of course, they become day-to-day as normal.

Let us talk about motivation, the motivation to invent, for a minute – basic psychology experiments on extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation. If I extrinsically get a group of motivated students – if I get a group of motivated, extrinsic students, and I am going to pay them, let us say, for a grade. Every time they take a test or they do well, I will give them $10.00. And every time they do well for the semester, I will give them hundreds of dollars. Very extrinsically motivated.

Let us talk about another group, which is intrinsically motivated. They just love the subject. And let us use a control, as I always try to do in these discussions. They are not motivated either way. They just are bright enough to do the subject. As the study goes on for mathematics, say, my intrinsically motivated students do very well because they love math. They do much better than the extrinsic motivated group. As a matter of fact, the intrinsic motivated group does better than the group that is not motivated either way. But as the study progresses, what happens is the extrinsic motivated group does better than the intrinsic motivated group. And then, it does better even than the group that is not motivated either way. Why is that?

It is probably because I am getting a reward, a plaque, or money, and I am feeling good about that. But through the rest of the study, something very interesting happens. What happens is the extrinsic motivated group does worse than the intrinsic motivated group. And that is because the reward actually becomes required. And if you do not up that reward, people see it as a paycheck. More importantly, the group that is not motivated either way does, actually, better than the extrinsic motivated group. I mean, that is how bad it gets.

So, what we build into the system is recognizing that to be more creative in your work, we want to get it to intrinsic motivation. But maybe one way to do it is to kick it off with the extrinsic motivation. And this is a way we can push ourselves even. You could give yourself extrinsic rewards to do certain things. And when you achieve them, great and build a new pattern of intrinsic motivation.

Let us go back to those five areas again – challenge, freedom, resources, encouragement, and organizational support. And let us talk about them. And let us see if we can uncover, maybe, for you or your team what are some of the things that might move the needle on them – to move it from things that kill creativity to things that really help creativity.

Challenge, Area Number 1 – One of the simplest ways to motivate creativity is a challenge. Remember John F. Kennedy’s famous speech about going to the moon? Building a rocket of materials that do not exist with processes to join materials or tolerances that cannot even be met today? And laying the foundation for a 10-year period to go to the moon? What a great challenge. What great leadership. So, certainly, challenge can motivate creativity.

And also, it turns out, you can ignite intrinsic motivation through extrinsic motivation where the extrinsic motivation is a challenge. I have a great story about one of my friends – my first manager at IBM, Carter Kaanta. He is still my friend today – one of my best friends. He basically, as I got hired into his team of 15 people, required that every single department meeting you came with three problems. He then also required for each problem, you had a bunch of ideas – affluency of ideas. Even it got to the point that in order to get a good performance review per year, you had to file, minimally, three patents per year for performance. What a challenge, right? At the weekly department meeting, you had to have problems. And for each problem, you had to have lots of ideas. And that was required in the department meetings. So, he was challenging us to be productive for creativity and invention.

By the way, getting three patents filed per year, for most people, would have been unheard of. But Carter was able to do it. Later, they studied Carter’s group against, say, the best 10 or 15 people virtually put together at IBM. And Carter’s group, over a period of time, had created much more innovation of output and high quality than an average group, for sure. But even when they took the top people and put them together as a virtual group, Carter did as good, if not better than those. So, challenge certainly helps.

Let us talk about freedom, area Number 2. Certainly, clear, stable goals help. One cannot be creative as the targets are moving, for sure. But giving autonomy for freedom really helps. But as you start to give autonomy, and as you tend to explain how you want people to be more creative, you can just go so far. And then it can backfire. I mean, talk about why and what and when is really important. But as you talk about how, it ends up stifling creativity. So, let me give an example.

Suppose that I have a group of MIT students, and I am going to use these folks as a control group. I am going to say I want you to invent something. And in an hour or so, we just collect what they have done, and we look at all the quantity and quality of ideas. And we call that the control group.

We then get another group of MIT students – same types of smart folks. And we ask them that we want to invent, but we give them a little bit more instruction. We ask them – We want you to build us something that goes across the table. They go away, and they come back, and they have ideas. Or even on paper they have ideas. And what happens is this group actually does better than the first group.

The story goes on because in the third group, we do the exact same thing. Smart MIT students – We give them the challenge of moving across the table, but now we give them a box of parts – of resources. And we ask them to use some of the parts in the box. It turns out that that group actually does better than the first two groups, in terms of quantity and quality. Why? Because we have now given them the challenge and the direction, but we have given them some resources to do it.

The strange thing occurs in the fourth group. This fourth group of MIT students, we do the same thing. We want you to invent. We want you to build something that goes across the table. Here are some parts to start to use. But this group, we actually start pulling some parts out. We take the balloon and connect it to a valve. And then we have the output of the valve go to a fan, which is then connected to a gear, which goes to these wheels. And we say – Look, when you blow up the balloon and put it in this apparatus, as you open the valve, it pushes the fan, which turns the wheel.

It turns out that the more times you tell people how to do something, you are literally stifling their creativity. And what are the results of that group – that MIT student group that you did all four things? They actually do worse than the control group. So, it is important, when it comes to things like freedom, that we know how far to take it and how much to invest in it.

The third area – Resources. We talked about this just a bit, right? The box of parts. Well, a couple of big resources we are challenged with all the time are time and money. And managers need to carefully allot how much time and how much money they are going to spend. So, resources really could be eliminating the creativity. Many times when you start to give people big budgets, it does not necessarily mean you are going to get a lot of creative output. I mean, look at all the companies that put billions of dollars into these innovation centers, later to have closed them down because the innovations that they had were just not cutting it.

One of the things about resources that I want to mention comes in a story over my last three or four months, working for some clients in the area of quantum computing. I did not know much about quantum computing when I got started. In order to bone up on the subject, I found myself, in the evenings, watching Quantum Mechanics 101, if you will, from Harvard and MIT, taking courses. I could get online with YouTube and look at how qubits are made. And I could look at how these devices were run from a software perspective. I gave myself an education in a couple months – half hour there, hour there – almost for free, except for my time. And I got to the point where I could make significant contributions from what I had learned.

Today, in fact, the internet is so powerful that you can almost instantly get to the subject matter at any level of depth and learn what you need to learn. I am now talking about this idea of a laboratory – a physical laboratory not even being needed because you can do so much on the internet. So, resources today, I think, gets to the point where creativity should not be challenged by resources in a lot of ways.

The next area is workgroups. You could kill creativity by designing a group of homogenous people. If you want to get a different result, it would be insane to say that you are going to get a different result if you do things over and over again, right? So, if they are the same team and the same problems, you are going to get the same results. So, how do we develop an inventive team? Well, you have to mix things up. We have to mix up styles, which we are going to be talking about next. We are going to be mixing up people that are more fluent with those that are not. We are going to be mixing up people that love more wild ideas with people that like not-wild ideas to help them work together. There are all sorts of ways to develop a team, but one thing is for sure – A workgroup that is homogenous will very likely not produce lots of creative output.

And then, the last thing is we move up to organization. Ninety-five percent of organizations do not have creative support, right? They have no training. They do not reward for it. Organizations that have some level of innovation and creative processes tend to succeed more, but also the caveat is to train them on the process but not how to think. So, in other words, do not tell them how to build the box of parts and the device that goes across the desk. Try to figure out how to get the habits into an organization for creative thinking. Ask yourself the question for those five-step plaques in every meeting about what you should do. Where is the point about let us spend some time being creative? You see, organizations do not plan to fail. They just fail to plan, I guess, when it comes to creative thinking.

Let us go on next to the views of creativity. We are going to cover three things – incorrect beliefs of creativity; the problem or issues with the value of creativity; and then lastly, formula for creativity, which gives us more insight about how to view it. Before we begin on this, let me ask you a question. What are your beliefs on creativity? Where does it come from? Does it come from your neuro-network brain? Does it come spiritually? Does it just pop in your head, and you do not really care? Do you have more creativity than other people? In a group of 10, would you put yourself in the highest group or the lowest group? Let me ask a question. Do you think that creativity is teachable?

There are a lot of incorrect beliefs about creativity. A lot of people think it is unique. Some have it. Some do not. Some people think it is mysterious. A lot of people think it is magical. It is a trick, and most of the times they will not tell you how it works. Creativity is linked, many times, with the strange or the mad. Creativity is considered a farce with some folks. It has never really worked on. And by the way, creativity only works in certain situations.

Let me tell you a story about a PhD challenge. I had a person at one of the conferences that we run every year, a PhD. And we got into this discussion about creative thinking and styles and beliefs, et cetera. And he challenged me. He said that PhDs, by definition, are always more creative than non-PhDs.

So, over time, I took that to heart, and I started to think about this and started to construct groups where I could try to test this, just anecdotally. What I found was that technicians and regular engineers – not PhDs – can outgun PhDs all the time, in terms of quantity and quality, if they are given creative thinking and inventive thinking tools. On the other hand, when I gave those same creative thinking tools to the PhDs, of course, they did much better. This will come back up when we talk about Ruth Noller, as to what goes into creativity and why PhDs stand a better chance to be more creative. But it is not always so. Lots of my friends are PhDs and nothing against being a PhD. I hope nobody that is a PhD takes that away. I think you could supercharge a PhD’s ability to be creative with creative thinking tools.

Going to switch over to the value of creativity. If I say that you are very creative, you feel good. If I said you are the most creative person in the room, you might feel good until you started to look around and get embarrassed by other people looking at you. You see, creativity, by definition, appears to be good. But in a group, it appears to have some value. Obviously, creativity is natural, enjoyable, and important. But it has this ability of having this taint of being a judgment. Lateral thinking came up, as a term, by Edward de Bono a number of years ago, and he made a great contribution to the field in talking about lateral thinking. He said that lateral thoughts are thoughts that are neither good nor bad, but they are just different. So, it is not a creative thought; it is a lateral thought. Edward de Bono wrote many, many books on creative thinking. I think I have read about 35 or 40 of them. And he made a great contribution to the field. We will talk about him later in the next episodes on associative thinking.

Let us do a little exercise. Ruth Noller came and recognized that there was a, through her studies, could literally find that there were three factors that affected creativity. She said that creativity was a function of knowledge, imagination, and evaluation. Knowledge, imagination, and evaluation. She found that people that were more knowledgeable tended to have more creative output. Here is our PhD. People that are more imaginative tend to have more creative output. Here is the person with high fluency of ideas. And people that had evaluation capabilities – The more evaluation knowledge you had, the higher creative. Of course, there is our PhD again.

Where would you put yourself? What are you doing to increase your knowledge? Are you reading the same things and just incrementally improving what you are doing? Or are you reading many different things and viewing different things to increase your knowledge? What are you doing for your imagination? There are all sorts of things you can do to improve your imagination, things that improve your fluency. We will talk about that in associative thinking. If you are hanging around the same people all the time who are “more or not imaginative,” you can improve your imagination output by hanging around those that practice more imagination. And, of course, it just goes unsaid that the better you can evaluate an idea, the more likely you are to have a more creative idea that is good.

Let us go to the third topic – level of creativity versus the style of use of it. But once again, let us do an exercise. Let us say Einstein is a 10, and a rock is 1. Einstein is a 10, and a rock is 1. Where would you put yourself on that scale for creativity? Would you say you are more like Einstein? Or more like a rock? Get that number fixed in your head for a moment. Ten or 1 or somewhere in between. Well, I tricked you because if you could put a number on a scale for yourself, that is really the point because the focus of level of creativity is a really incorrect focus on creativity. You see, the question is not how creative you are. It is how I am creative.

So, we have got to get involved in talking about Curtin – Michael Curtin who invented what is a called an adaptor innovative skill in the 70s. And what he does is he helps us understand this whole focus of level versus style. He was charged, in the 1970s, with looking at large organizations. And the question was asked to him, as a consultant – Why do Fortune 500 clients or these largest companies in the world – Why do 75 percent of them die in 75 years – 100 years? Why are only 25 percent still around? Interesting question.

So, as he got into this, he found something very interesting. He discovered the leaders and boards of directors of these large companies from the very beginning, they had what was called high level of innovators to start the company or to run the company. They loved this challenge of, as he would call it, coming up with brand-new things almost wild and then developing these concepts and then working on them. But over time, as the business grew, if the market accepted it, you would need to bring in adaptors to run the company. And those adaptors are trying to raise the efficiency, improve cost, et cetera. And over time, they do a very good job, and the company continues to scale.

The problem is over a very long period of time that that thinking at the helm is not enough to sustain it, as you change your escrows or as the business models change or the markets change. So, unless you can swap back in innovators and take place of the adaptors, you are not going to keep the company running. And that is exactly what he found over a long-time view that companies started with high-level innovators, then they switched over quickly enough to high-level adaptors, and then they switched back again to high-level innovators.

So, it turns out that companies go through that, but you can write a set of questions to determine whether or not you are more innovative or adaptive. You can literally look at sub scores of how easy that you conform or not, how efficient you are at tasks, or how fluent you are at number of ideas. So, it is a bell curve – 1,000 people – You measure them, you will get a bell curve. You have some small percentage way innovative and a couple percentages of way adaptive, and everybody else in the middle. We can call them bridges. You see, if you are going to solve problems, what you really want is you want to have a mix of these types of people.

Generally, these differences of styles – If you are more adaptive, you like to prove what exists. You like to be seen as disciplined. You like to accept the problem as written. If you are an innovator, you throw the problem out. You are seen as undisciplined. You challenge things. When understanding the problem, adaptors really stay focused. They want to fortify the system and solve that problem. They get stuck in the system. And they would quickly criticize anybody jumping out of the system. On the other hand, the innovator looks outside of the norms. The innovator likes many ideas. They do not see boundaries. And they get lost in the future in a visionary way. And they actually do not care about the acceptance of others to their ideas. In generating ideas, adaptors tend to have fewer ideas, but they tend to be more workable.

Adaptors tend to see very novel ideas as not bringing much closure – almost being unreceptive to it. On the other hand, innovators love ideas. They love a profusion of ideas. They love visionary ideas. They like to spend more of their time talking about ideas than doing things. They do not care about off-the-wall ideas.

And finally, solutions – Adaptors know how to get things done, know how to go through the organization. They may be a little bit uneasy with the changes, but they still get them done. Innovators, on the other hand – their ideas may be non-practical. Obstacles do not matter. They jump over the system. They do not need buy-in; they disregard it. They are impatient, and it is hard for them to stay on-course.

So, in thinking about it, of course, we live in a world of different types of people on the bell curve – adaptors and innovators. You know which side you are on on that. This is a style, just like wearing shoes could be a style. I could wear a size red pump shoe of a woman – say it was my size. It would be a little bit uncomfortable to walk around with it, but eventually, I could probably do it. But it would be uncomfortable. But I would like to gravitate back to my normal shoe. And just like innovators and adaptors, they can go to the other styles, but only for a period of time, and they will gravitate right back to their adaptiveness or innovativeness.

The point of this is look at the Fortune 500 companies – how you switch from high innovator to high adaptor. Look at your own creativity. Of course, there is going to be creativity that gets you to be more innovative and creativity that is going to have you make things more work, as adaptors. We need all these people, but I am just getting at this foundation is very important.

So, we have explored personal assessment of creativity and where you might fit. We have talked about the views of creativity – the way the world thinks about creativity – even the fact that creativity, by definition, is a judgement. And then, we just completed talking about level versus style.

What we are going to do in the next episode is to talk about creative thinking as it has to do with two specific types of thinking – one being divergent, and the next being convergent. We are going to talk about Alex Osborn and his great contribution to the field of creative thinking in the late 1800s when he was born and 1920s as a consultant and when he started some of his famous books, like Applied Imagination.

Convergent thinking and divergent thinking is the next step to creative thinking. We have given you the background today in this episode, but we are going to move forward and start to develop new tools and techniques. There are about 10 tools we are going to show you, and we are going to learn the essentials of that. So, in the episode following that, we can get into the pure and unadulterated associative thinking techniques. So, until then, thanks so much, and we will see you on our next episode.