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Creativity, Innovation and Change

September 13, 2013

Chris Schmitt

Whether you’re starting a new business, or improving an existing one, coming up with creative and innovative approaches is a necessity. But there’s no secret formula that you can apply that takes business problems as inputs and then outputs the ideal solution. Rather, there are endless possibilities, and as we’ve learned from the Lean Startup approach, you need to try, fail and adjust in a never ending cycle that produces measurable results. So you’re constantly reviewing the data to come up with innovative approaches. You’re engaging your prefrontal cortex to the max and frankly it “hurts”. It’s hard work and having a variety of approaches to employ helps to keep your ideas fresh, varied and diverse.

I’m in week 2 of the Coursera course Creativity, Innovation and Change and I’m already reaping the benefits of employing different techniques to generate fresh (divergent) thinking to generate ideas. In particular, I’ve applied a technique that I’ve never used before: Morphological Matrix. With this technique, an existing product or system is broken into attributes/parts/functions. Various ways of achieving each part or function are identified and then (re)combined to create new forms of the product or system.

For example, let’s say you wanted to develop a new candy bar, you might define attributes such as: ingredients, size, shape, texture, colour, and for each of these attributes come up with a variety of values. Then you start randomly putting them together to come up with new combinations that perhaps no one has thought of. Say, a small, purple chocolate shaped like brocolli. Ok, that doesn’t sound very appetizing but you get the idea.

Morphlogical Matrix

Applying this technique is not as easy as it sounds. The greatest value I got out of it was actually thinking about the “attributes/parts/functions” that I would use to generate unique combinations. The benefit from the approach was thinking hard about the different attributes. Back to the candy bar example, think of packaging as another attribute; what kind of package could you use? Why limit it to a traditional wrapper. Perhaps the package the candy comes in is more fun than the candy itself? Focusing on one attribute at a time frees up your mind to brainstorm different approaches that you might not have considered otherwise.

You can see how this technique would be useful for a lot of things: developing a new product; coming up for an idea for a company outing; thinking of different ways to organize a company; mixing up your exercise routine, what to have for dinner tonight. The possibilities are endless.

Give it a try!

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