Creative Thinking and Human Understanding : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

Thinking Expedition in the Quest for Creativity in Light of Human Understanding

In the December Fast Company article, Where Do Great Ideas Come From by Anna Muoio, and photographs by Sam Jones, the reader is taken through a thinking expedition. Our guide is Rolf Smith, a person that helps organizations rethink their approach to creativity. He has spent 24 years in the U.S. Air Force working with the Electronic Security Command, becoming an expert in artificial intelligence, which launched the Air Force's First Office of Innovation.

We will follow him through the words of the author, to find out where great ideas come from. We begin as Rolf is speaking to chemical engineers, biologists, and project leaders from Procter & Gamble Co. with a mandate to develop new products that will redefine the future of cosmetics. They are about to start A Think Expedition.

He begins with, Your only as good as your last great idea. The half-life of any innovation is shorter than ever. Smith's job is to cause the P & Gs cosmetics product development department to think differently, pushing them out of their stupid zone, a place of mental and physical normalcy, to explore what they don't know, and discover answers to mission critical problems. First the fear of thinking must be overcome. The fear of change that threatens to leave people behind. Therefore the process of thinking must be broken down into manageable steps to be understood. Then you reduce the perceived risks associated with change. There are seven levels of thinking which require seven corresponding levels of action. In other words act on your ideas.

Level One is effectiveness, doing the right things. Level Two is efficiency, doing things right. Level Three is improving, doing the right things better. Level Four is cutting, doing away with things. Level Five is copying, doing things other people are doing. Level Six is different, doing things no one else is doing. And Level Seven is impossible, doing things that can not be done. Smith adds a last ingredient, People are more creative when they're on the edge. He often works with teams into early morning hours, guiding them into new creative territory. People like to complain that they do not think well when they are tired and hungry. Smith takes those people aside and says to them, That is the whole point. We do not want you to think well, we want you to think differently.

The members of P & G have already worked on the mess, their challenge of a new product, before they enter the Think Expedition. Rolf has had them fill out open ended and fill in the blank questionnaires. This gives Rolf a richer understanding of the entire group, as opposed to how his initial contacts at the company see things.

Smith plays his part like a master puppeteer using an ongoing stream of multimedia props to spark and energize the flow of ideas, and to maintain the feel of a real expedition. Film clips from Mountain of the Moon and scenes from the movie Apollo 13 in which panicked scientists avert disaster using whatever is on hand, doing the impossible, thinking.

Smith gives the expeditioners 2 1/4 x 4 1/4 pads of paper, deliberately not 3 x 5, to capture ideas. He says the only things that get done are those that are written down. These blue slips are gathered to create the Trail Ahead Travel Log.

Thought provoking questions are also used. The average child asks 125 probing questions a day. The average adult asks only 6. One of Smith's favorites is what is a thought you have never thought before? By asking everyone for ideas, and pay attention to them even small seemingly insignificant ones, you will create an environment in which people feel comfortable generating and offering them.

Climbing a mountain is similar to a thinking Expedition, It is an ongoing process of making decisions and moving forward even inch by inch. Sometimes you may have to step sideways or even back. Do not be conditioned to think that small steps are not good enough. It may be just what you need. Getting down off the mountain represents the pragmatic actions to get ideas implemented when the team returns. This is one of the most dangerous points of the expedition. Your tired, you want to get home and worse, you stop thinking. The how is more difficult because a group is involved and the guide must have the right amount of tension for the stress in its execution. Troublemakers emerge from overconfidence leaving some behind, provoking defensiveness, and stirring up differences among team members. The article left us dangling on the cliff of human misunderstandings.

The most important thing happened at the end of The Think Expedition which is a lesson for all of us. There was a major blow out among the participants of Proctor and Gamble. There were differences among the teams. The power of those differences must be understood to leverage it for tackling problems. Individual strengths must be analyzed, to get funding, business plans, conduct market research, and come up with product, packaging, and process design. The expedition had lead to the slope of relationships affected by each member's perception of their own strengths and weaknesses. A strong culture arises from a group of like minded people producing similar artifacts. Could harmony be accomplished by the guided study of visual and verbal thoughts of the various cultures. Through the study of world art and literature, categories of major thought systems will emerge resulting in individuals having self-examined lives, and basic understandings of others. Human rights, and true peace, can be developed in a diverse environment by creative people in education, if we expect future generations success. I believe this can be done through a pluralistic cultural education.

-- Anonymous, March 06, 2000

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