Innovate or Die: Top creativity techniques drive innovation for survival

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Have you ever done any rock climbing? Probably not, as you are too sane. But did you ever observe anyone doing it? Virtually every move on the face of a rock wall requires creative techniques to successfully climb that wall. Without those techniques, the climber risks serious injury or death.

Guess what? Business is no different.
Every day we are climbing a wall, overcoming competition and risking the life of our companies if we fail to make the next right creative move.
The great economist Joseph Schumpeter, in his classic work “The Theory of Economic Development,” observed that capitalism is at its very heart and soul about “creative destruction.”
This means that existing companies not only face competition in their industries, but the really great companies also cannibalize their own revenue streams in order to keep up with the competition.
According to John Hagel, writing for Innovation Excellence in July 2014, forces today are potentially improving technology and therefore, “offering untapped capabilities that can be a catalyst to fundamentally re-think business models and institutional arrangements.”
As a result, new approaches are rendering obsolete a significant part of existing assets for incumbent businesses. This macro level force is explaining why we experience more frequent and widespread disruptions on a global scale.
He points to research in support of this argument by Richard Foster, who looked at the average lifespan of companies in the S&P 500. In 1937, at the height of the Great Depression, a company on the S&P 500 had an average lifespan of 75 years. By 2011, that lifespan had dropped to 18 years – a decline in lifespan of almost 75 percent.
At the same time that humans are significantly increasing their lifespans, large companies have been heading rapidly in the opposite direction.
If large companies, with all of their resources and brand power, are facing these kind of headwinds, can you imagine what it’s like for the average company today? Brutal.
Now more than ever, it is important to drive creativity and innovation throughout your organization to ensure survival.
Remember, creativity is something you can learn. Even the greatest geniuses may have been born with potential, but without them developing a disciplined approach to creativity and innovation, we would not know their names.
Here are some suggested creativity techniques that you can apply both in your company and in your life personally:

  • Capturing your ideas: Almost every smartphone on the planet has an application that allows you to quickly record new ideas. Capture those ideas instantly whenever they come to you, whether you’re on a walk, driving a car (hopefully hands-free) or departing from the shower.
  • Sleep: According to Hannah Newman, our creative breakthroughs during waking hours must be consolidated at night. This is the process whereby we strengthen the neural connections within our brains, and more importantly, create new connections between neurons. Just like any athlete needs time to recover after a great performance, your brain needs sleep to fire on all cylinders. The more scientists study sleep using modern technology, such as PET scans, the more they can actually validate the value of nighttime processing and synthesizing that goes on in our brains.
  • Exercise: The more we know about how the brain functions, the more we recognize that activity in our physical bodies fosters activity in our mind. A recent study from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education found just eight minutes of walking boosted creativity by 60 percent. It may be that activity improves your mood and therefore creativity comes more easily because you’re feeling good.
  • Creativity room: Smart workplace design now dedicates certain conference rooms solely for creative sessions. Decorate those conference spaces with zany posters or unusual art. The environment should communicate that it’s time to turn off the judgmental button in our brains and experience the joy of pure creative thinking without an immediate need to implement the ideas.
  • Let the introverts be heard: Time and time again, meetings are conducted and extroverts rule. Unfortunately, almost 50 percent of the population is introverted and they have creative ideas they are hesitant to share. You might want to establish submission of ideas by email or anonymous suggestions so that everyone is heard in any given creativity session.
  • Plagiarize: Some of the greatest creative minds in history have adopted their ideas by observing those who have gone before. Einstein is said to have built many of his theories on the shoulders of scientists who established major breakthroughs before his time. Steve Jobs’ smartphone combined the previous existing technology of cameras, cell phones and MP3 players into one device.
  • Read: Make a practice of scanning new developments in your industry or related industries. Never before has there been a greater glut of information, with new ideas percolating constantly. You don’t have to read about every one, but you should target new and disruptive ideas. TED lectures are a great place to start.
  • Practice at home: You want to take a vacation, so involve your entire family in creating multiple options and activities they might want to pursue so everyone gets in the habit of ideation. Keep your foot on the accelerator and don’t break during the idea generation session.

It’s important to understand that all of the above techniques are driven by the importance of divergent thinking. That means creating ideas and potential actions that can drive innovation.
Late-night comedians have their staffs submit multiple jokes or humorous scenarios before they create their final list.
Only when the divergent thinking is complete and there’s an extensive list of ideas can you begin the process of selecting of the best.
By incorporating any of the above techniques on a daily basis in your personal life and in your corporate culture, you will ensure that you are doing your part to stay ahead of the inevitable march of creative destruction in our economy.
Daniel Steininger is president of BizStarts Milwaukee, a lecturer on creativity for the UWM School of Continuing Education, and president of Steininger & Associates LLC. He can be reached at

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