Here’s a tool I found in David Robertson’s marvellous book on LEGO’s creative process, Brick by Brick. It could help distinguish practical ideas (that you need) from game-changing innovations (that you might love, but will be really hard to pull off).
15 years ago, LEGO was scared that the rise of video games would kill their business. So they embarked on a rush of new innovations to try and keep kids’ attention. They diversified into TV shows, comics, action-figures and digital toys. Costs went through the roof, but sales didn’t. After 3 years of runaway innovation, LEGO nearly went bust. To save the company, they went back to basics – making plastic bricks for kids who like building. And they decided that every future innovation should be assessed on a grid like this:
At one end you’ve got Incremental Improvements within business-as-usual – like creating LEGO Harry Potter based on the success of LEGO Star Wars.
Then you’ve got New Offerings in existing categories – like LEGO Bionicle, which used a skeleton structure rather than bricks, but was still a toy you build and play with.
Finally you’ve got Redefine Category – innovations which are game changers, affecting the whole industry. LEGO tried to create an online brick-building platform, but they were too slow and Minecraft beat them to it.
What LEGO learned is that you should probably only attempt ONE game changing innovation every year – because they are so demanding, bewildering and disruptive. LEGO nearly broke their company when they had multiple innovations in play, all of them trying to be game-changers. But not every successful innovation has to be a game-changer – and you CAN attempt several simultaneous innovations in the other two categories.
Giving up is the enemy of creativity, so says this research in the Harvard Business Review. Well, so far, so obvious. But the science backs it up – in study after study, people underestimated their own ability to keep coming up with ideas if they just kept trying. What’s more, when the guinea-pigs did stick at a problem for longer, the ideas they eventually came up with were rated by others as their best.
“Not only did participants underestimate their ability to generate ideas while persisting, they underestimated their ability to generate their most creative ideas.”
The study backs up what we already know about divergent thinking: the more you look for quantity of ideas, the more you are likely to get novelty. The authors- Brian J.Lucas and Loran Nordgren – conclude that we should ignore our first instinct to stop when ideas run dry, because our best idea might be just a few moment’s persistence away. They also suggest a bit of subtle reframing: remind yourself that creativity is meant to feel hard. That way, you won’t feel such a failure while you’re sat scratching your head.
I’ve just finished re-reading Ed Catmull’s wonderful account of life inside Pixar, Creativity, Inc.
Based on this book – and my own experiences over the past few years as a creative thinking trainer inside and outside the BBC – I would like to venture Ten Commandments of Creative Thinking.
- This is meant to be fun.
- Creativity is a way of working, not a “natural” gift.
- Don’t expect the “right” answer yet, just a series of options.
- If you put me under pressure, I’ll give you the safe option.
- All new ideas are risky, they all suck at first.
- If a new idea doesn’t suck, it probably isn’t that new.
- We need each other’s help to make our ideas not suck.
- Other people will see things I miss.
- We’re trying something new, we’re bound to make mistakes.
- We will learn from our mistakes and grow.
What do you think? Any you’d add, or can I call the stonemasons?