and the


Many people incorrectly assume that creative thinking is a special gift, bestowed on only a few. While it is true that we rarely see the extraordinary creativity of an Edison or Einstein, modern research from the fields of the cognitive sciences indicates that the ability to generate innovative ideas for change in our work is a common "gift" that we all possess.

Why Don't We See More Creative Ideas?

The problem is that while we have the ability to think in new patterns, our minds are optimized to think with existing patterns. Our minds take in inputs from the world through the sub-processes of perception, and then retrieve patterns from memory (i.e., our past experiences) to make sense of these inputs. We don't even need the whole pattern or a perfect match; our minds are flexible enough to provide an explanation for the world with all its variety.

This flexible, pattern-matching mechanism gives us many human abilities that we take for granted. For example, it enables a good troubleshooter to quickly zero-in on a problem in a piece of equipment based on an initial review of the situation. The troubleshooter has seen the pattern of failure before and, therefore, has a good idea of the underlying breakdown.

We call this natural mental ability "experience." The mental mechanism is the same whether we are preparing a budget or just trying to get out of bed in the morning. We use past experience stored in our memory as a guide for how to proceed forward. But, while this flexible, pattern-matching system is great for both doing the repetitive tasks of daily life and for coping with uniqueness in situations, it is not optimal when we want creative ideas. By definition, a creative idea is an original, novel thought (at least, it is novel in the setting in which it is being applied).

It Isn't Enough to Tell People to "Think Outside the Box"

When we need a creative idea, it does little good to tell ourselves and others to just "think harder," simply "suspend judgment" (as in brainstorming), or merely "be playful." While it is indeed helpful to think hard, suspend judgment, and be playful during creative thinking, these simple suggestions fall short by failing to provide a new direction for our thinking. We may find that we are only able to come up with small variations on the mental patterns we already have. And, by definition, if our ideas are simply variations on existing mental patterns, they will not be considered novel.

State your goal and your sub-goals. What’s the Purpose of the team? Is it to think creatively? Well, fine, be aware of that. Focus primarily on a creative solution. Is it to overcome a work related problem by creative means? Then focus on that.

Find the path. How do you plan to reach your goal? Identify key points along a path.

Remember team psychology. People are different, and they work in different ways. Some people have personalities that fit together perfectly, while others can barely do the simplest of tasks together, for all different kinds of reasons.

Timing. When do you do what? Be realistic and give clearly defined tasks to team members. Remember to expect them to use their own creativity, keep the process open. Even if you are the team leader you are not a dictator.

Celebrate success! C Squares® are a "win-win" experience in which everyone wins every time.