"This process simply puts names on the stages of innovation that we all do normally. There is no big revelation here. The revelation comes in what happens when we consciously follow this process as a team."
I’d easily be a millionaire if I had a penny for every time a business leader put forth the need for companies and employees to innovate.
While the need for innovation makes sense, the directive to innovate has always struck me as rather odd. I mean, doesn’t innovation in the business world occur by chance when people are brought together to work on a project? Also, doesn’t innovation require the involvement of naturally creative people? If so, it begs the question, “if you’re not especially creative, do you even have a role in the innovation process?”
In The Innovative Team: Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results, Chris Grivas and Gerard J. Puccio, use a fictional narrative to introduce how adherence to a four stage process – The Breakthrough Thinking Process – and frequent, deliberate focus on where you are in the process, can make innovation possible for any team.
Divergent and Convergent Phases
"If we are going to be successful at getting some breakthrough thinking for our client, we need to understand a couple of things about the thinking process that will get us the results we are hoping for. The first thing to know is that at every stage of the process there are divergent and convergent phases."
The Breakthrough Thinking Process is introduced in the story by a character named Kate Murdock. Kate has been assigned to lead a team of consultants that have recently received poor reviews from a client company. The client company had asked for an innovative solution to a problem and unfortunately felt that the consulting team had delivered a run-of-the-mill solution, anything but innovative. The four stages of the Breakthrough Thinking Process are the following:
- Clarify situation
- Generate ideas
- Develop solutions
- Implement plans
Kate admits that all she has done is put names on the stages of innovation that everyone does naturally. She adds, however, that the key to making sure that innovation ultimately occurs through this process is in deliberately following it as a team and in focusing on diverging and converging at each stage.
As Kate works her new team through the first stage, for example, she challenges them to come up with relevant new data and identify unexplored causes of the client company’s issue. By asking open ended questions and employing mind-mapping, Kate helps the team see that they hadn’t really considered all the data relevant to the client company’s situation. She slows the group down and makes sure they take time to diverge. Once she is satisfied that the team has uncovered enough potentially relevant data and possible causes, she has them converge by choosing which data is most relevant and most essential to understanding the client company’s challenge.
Know Your Preference
"We all have different preferences when it comes to where we like to spend our time in the breakthrough thinking process."
One of the best things you can do to maximize your effectiveness in the Breakthrough Thinking Process is to become more aware of which stage you have a preference for. Grivas and Puccio describe four main preferences, each corresponding to a stage in the Breakthrough Thinking Process (see below for preference labels and characteristics of people who tend to exhibit each of the preferences.)
The following descriptions are from the authors’ website, FourSight Online.
Clarifiers do their homework.
They approach a challenge by digging through the facts, figures, and background data in search of greater insight. They seek to understand before acting. They move forward cautiously, researching, investigating, and asking questions to make sure the right challenge is being addressed. Their curiosity, patience, and persistence often pay off by affording them a more complete view of the situation.
Ideators think big.
They see things in global terms. They are fluent, flexible thinkers. They “get” the big picture and enjoy playing with ideas and possibilities. They like originality. They seek novelty. Playful, imaginative, social, and adventurous, Ideators are quick to generate original, out-of-the-box ideas. As such, they are celebrated players in the innovation process.
Developers get things right.
Faced with a rough concept or a broad idea, they like to refine it and shape it into a perfect solution. This tendency to strive for perfection can move an idea from half-baked to brilliant, making Developers a great asset to the innovation process. Reflective, cautious, pragmatic, and plan-ful, Developers can leverage their analytical minds and turn unproven concepts into workable solutions.
Implementers get the job done.
Full of energy and drive, they focus on moving forward. If there’s a problem, they’ll tackle it. If there’s an idea, they’ll test it. If there’s one thing they like, it’s a tangible outcome. Implementers are willing to learn as they go. Persistent, decisive, determined and assertive, the Implementer’s bias for action fuels the innovation process.
How and why would it be useful to identify your preference? Well, just because you have a preference for a stage doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily skilled at that stage. Once you identify your preference, why not set out to acquire skills and techniques that would be useful to a group at that stage? For example, if you know that you are an Ideator, you could increase your effectiveness by learning techniques meant to help groups come up with ideas (brainstorming is not the only technique available.) Or, if you are a Developer, you might focus on learning various approaches to refining and perfecting ideas.
Learn Others' Preferences
"If this team can identify and leverage its strengths, it’s going to get where it needs to go faster and with better results."
In the story about the project team being led by Kate, each team member has a preference for a different part of the Breakthrough Thinking Process. Kate learned of her team members’ preferences in her first meeting with them as she described the process. The conversation among her team while she was describing each of the stages made it clear which stage each of the team members preferred. This knowledge helped her know which team member(s) to rely most heavily on at each of the stages and helped her move the team through the process successfully.
Learning the preferences of your team members is just as valuable as learning of their skills and relevant past experience. If you are unable to uncover their preferences through conversation, don’t lose heart. The authors’ website (www.FourSightonline.com) includes a link to an assessment that will provide this information along with tips on how best to utilize each of the preferences.
I’ve often taken pride in my ability to contribute to the generation of ideas part of the innovation process. After reading The Innovative Team, I’ll be looking for a greater variety of techniques to help with generating ideas.
Which phase of the Breakthrough Thinking Process do you prefer? What have you done to cultivate your skills associated with that preference?