Maintain Innovative Edge with Creative Problem-Solving

2015 HR People + Strategy speaker differentiates between innovation, creativity

By Kathy Gurchiek Apr 21, 2015
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C​ORAL GABLES, FLA.—Creativity is the No. 1 leadership skill that emerging leaders should possess, according to Andrew J. Razeghi, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago and a partner at Clareo, an innovation consulting firm. Razeghi was the afternoon general session speaker at the HR People + Strategy 2015 Annual Conference on April 20, 2015. HR People + Strategy is an affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management.

“It’s not just about having creative people work for you,” said Razeghi, who has served as vice chairman of the Wright Centers of Innovation at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., and provided congressional testimony on driving economic recovery through innovation.

“Creativity is how we think; innovation is how we act,” he emphasized. “Most large companies are not designed to create, but to protect what’s already been created [and serve as] stewards of the past.”

During his 90-minute talk he focused on how Fortune 100 companies can build infrastructures and processes that promote creative problem-solving in the face of market and workforce disruptions:

10x thinking. Ideas must be as much as 10 times more compelling than the status quo to be embraced. 

He recalled a graduate student who, after several refinements to an idea, opened a high-end pet resort in the Chicagoland area shortly before the Great Recession. The resort—Paradise4Paws, for which Razeghi was an angel investor—targeted dog and cat owners going on travel who would pay for amenities that kennels didn’t provide, such as a dog-shaped pool, training and spa services such as “paw-dicures.” 

It was located near an airport, provided veterinary service, 24/7 availability and airport parking and transportation. It was successful because it gave potential customers compelling reasons to patronize the business, Razeghi pointed out. 

Don’t innovate to solve problems. Instead, teach people to solve problems in creative ways.

Razeghi said in 1990 Coors beer company was looking to diversify its portfolio at a time when beer sales were flat and expanded into a line of bottled water. Bottled water was the fastest growing beverage category in America at that time and Coors had the bottling logistics and use of Rocky Mountain spring water, which had been an ingredient in its beer for 50 years. The Coors beer brand didn’t help sell its sparkling water—in fact, it confused consumer—and the product flopped.

Don’t think straight, think sideways. Ideas often bubble up when the process isn’t forced. The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards pointed out in a video that Razeghi showed that an idea for a song often seems to come out of nowhere after he has played around on his guitar for a while.

That’s an example, Razeghi said, of lateral thinking, which requires an incubation period that gives the mind time to focus on a problem. Sometimes lateral thinking involves pulling ideas from many different areas and using those ideas in a new way. Henry Fold’s creation of the mechanized assembly line, Razeghi noted, was inspired by methods used in disparate industries like canneries and meat packing plants and the fire arms industry’s use of interchangeable parts.

CreateT-shaped talent. These are people who are expert in a particular field (represented by the vertical bar on the letter T) who are able to apply their knowledge in areas outside their own and collaborate with people who are experts in other disciplines (the horizontal bar on the letter ‘T’).

Be the passion police by fostering enthusiasm, excitement and eagerness in employees to create the kind of product they would like to own themselves. 

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News.

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