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Breaking Creative & Innovative Thinking Out of Their Boxes Through Creative Problem-Solving

Happy Leap Day, all!  May we all make great use of this "extra day" we get every four years on the 29th of February!  EnJoy!

The new combined Kowabunga! & Riding the Wave Training & Development website is still in the final stages of getting its bugs worked out, but will be returning soon with new musings and resources.  In the meantime, inspired by a recent conversation and having missed being in touch, I wanted to say "Aloha!" and share a few thoughts from my Sabbatical perch (Oh, that it were from the beach…).

Creative Thinking as Solution Finding

In August 2011, I wrote a post on the different forms of innovation, “What Does Innovation Mean? Many Things.”

In brief, creative, divergent, or “out of the box” thinking, as it is so often called, has been relegated in the minds of many as "what marketing/ advertising, or maybe some R&D folks do," versus what it actually is, which is: 


  1. The partPhoto of gold compass-like instrument with red needle pointing toward the word "Quality" and black needle toward work "Productivity."ner of critical thinking.
  2. The gears for creative problem-solving.
  3. The foundation of continuous improvement.
  4. It also is a key component forthe scenario planning that all organizations should be practicing as precursors to their strategic planning processes.
  5. And yes, of course, creative thinking also results in more obvious innovations in product, service, and market development.
  6. Creative thinking is also inextricably linked with cultivating an engaged workforceIn a September 2011 post, “A Creative Look at Employee Engagement by Explania,” *

This last point is one that remains especially difficult for many in leadership and management roles to see.  It is highly improbable that one will find employees willing to give 110% unless they feel they have a voice and input into the creative problem solving, solutions, and continuous improvement processes. 

Why would this be?  Simply put, when management doesn’t demonstrate genuine interest in the input and ideas of employees by creating mechanisms to capture, vet, and implement the viable ones, staff:

a) do not feel respected, and

Whiteboard drawing of happy employees climbing success mountain toward shared vision. b) feel frustrated when they see ways that processes and services could be improved and feel unable to make a difference.

Having no ownership in the process, they do not feel inspired to proactively go above and beyond in their duties and may simply be biding their time until they can work elsewhere.  Most of us have either witnessed the dynamics of an apathetic workforce or know this from personal experience having worked in companies where we were told, either directly, or indirectly, that we were “not being paid to think beyond our pay grades.” 

And everyone loses out, from customers to shareholders, from benefiting from their frontline problem-solving and continuous process improvement ideas, even before they make their exits from their respective organizations.  

So, the next time someone says, “We don’t have time for creative and innovative thinking" — try to help him or her to think beyond the box s/he may have placed around those forms of cognition.   Insert terms like: “creative problem solving,” “continuous process improvement,” “comprehensive, lasting solutions,” and “engaged workforce,”… And then ask them whether there is time for that.  ???


I look forward to further exploration with you on the links between creative thinking, innovation, best management practices, and organizational success when Kowabunga! returns soon on a regular basis.  And in the meantime, "Aloha!" 


*Check out the great short educational video on that post:

You can also catch the delightful one-minute video depicted in these photos on "Thinking Outside the Box" at  

Other short, brilliant videos on creative and innovative thinking can be viewed on Kowabunga's post from February 24, 2011:

Asterik figure dring race car it made out of the box.



Read more…

“Capitalizing on Complexity

This study was conducted through interviews with 1,541 CEOs, general managers, and senior public sector leaders from around the world.

I.  Leaders’ Primary Concerns:

  • Global Climate Change.
  • Geopolitics related to energy and water supplies.
  • Vulnerabilities to the supply chains of food, medicine, and talent.
  • Global security threats.
  • Unprecedented rapid escalation of Complexity, due to increasing layers of interdependencies, environmental uncertainties, and the speed of technological change.

II.  Key Findings:

  • Only 49% said their organizations are sufficiently equipped to succeed in this increasingly complex environment.  In other words, more than half of the CEOs expressed doubt in their organizations’ abilities to meet today’s challenges.
  • Given that the rate of complexity is expected to accelerate, Systems-level thinking is required.
  • Most important leadership ability: Creative Thinking.

“They identify ‘creativity’ as the single most important leadership competency for enterprises seeking a path through this complexity.”

… Events, threats and opportunities aren’t just coming at us faster or with less predictability; they are converging and influencing each other to create entirely unique situations.  These first-of-their-kind developments require unprecedented degrees of creativity – which has become a more important leadership quality than attributes like management discipline, rigor, or operational acumen.”    Samuel J. Palmisano, Chairman, President and CEO, IBM

  • 3,600 students agree, rating creative thinking as the most important ability.

III.  Successful Organizational Leadership Applications:

“Standout” leaders who have leveraged creativity
to financial advantage over the last five years:

1.  Cultivate innovative organizational cultures:

  • They encourage experimentation and innovation throughout their organizations.
    • Versus relegating a few “creative types” to siloed departments.  
    • They encourage an organizational mindset of questioning and challenging assumptions.

2.  They continuously solicit new and original ideas.

3.  They regularly re-conceive their strategies, versus relying solely on formal, annual planning.

  • “With margins of error and windows of opportunity shrinking, they recognize they can no longer afford the luxury of protracted study and review before making decisions.” 
  • Top performing organizations are 54% more likely to make rapid decisions.

4.  They simplify and streamline operations in order to make their organizations more agile.

5.   They are comfortable with ambiguity and ongoing experimentation.

  • They take more calculated risks.

 6.  They are prepared to upset the status quo, even if it’s successful – no “sacred cows.”

 7.  They continually innovate with how they lead and communicate to better engage with new generations of employees, partners, and customers.

  • 58% prefer to persuade and influence versus  
  • 17% who prefer command and control

8.  Customer “intimacy” is of high priority.

  • They identified getting closer to customers in imaginative ways as most important strategic initiative of the next five years.
    • Using the Web and interactive and social media. 
    • Bringing customers “into” the organizations to “co-create.”

9.  They stressed the relationship between creativity and integrity.

  • They rely on deeply held values and a well-defined vision to provide the confidence and conviction needed to exploit narrow windows of opportunity.

IV.  Study recommendations for CEOs and leaders:

  1. Integrate creative elements throughout your organization.
  2. Form unconventional partnerships.
  3. Eliminate all communication barriers to improve the ability to handle the unforeseen.
  4. Use scenario planning.
  5. Question industry practices that seem obvious.  When you think you have the answer, ask “Why?” again. 
  6. Push tailoring to the extreme.
  7. Borrow from other industries’ successes.
  8. Strengthen your ability to persuade and influence:
  • Lead by working together toward a shared vision. 
  • Dare to relinquish some control in favor of building more mutual trust throughout the organization.
  • Don’t present your logic; discover logic with your team. 

     9.   Coach: Spark the imaginations of others.

    10.  Use a wide range of communication approaches.  Accept that for customers and employees alike, blogs, Internet presence, instant messaging and social networking are more credible—and often faster—than top-down communications. 


Embody Creative Leadership:

Reinvent Customer Relationships:

Build Operating Dexterity:

  • Embrace ambiguity
  • Take risks that disrupt business models
  • Leapfrog beyond “tried-and-true” management styles


  • Honor customers above all else
  • Use two-way communications to sync with customers
  • Profit from the information explosion
  • Simplify whenever possible
  • Manage systemic complexity
  • Promote a mindset of being fast and flexible
  • Be “glocal”



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