Want to stimulate creativity?

Want to explore Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs)?

Ever wondered how patent inventors do it?

Here, red10’s Will Sudworth points us at a ‘creativity code’ formed by London’s ?WhatIf! from observing 500 patent inventors.

Creativity is a skill we can all learn

In their book Sticky Wisdom, ?WhatIf! argue that creativity is a skill that can be developed.

By observing over 500 patent inventors, ?WhatIf! coded four techniques the inventors were using to create ideas, without realising it.

So what’s the code that enables us to develop creative skills like the best patent inventors?

Code 1
Revolution – deliberately challenging rules and assumptions

Have you heard the story of the first Kettle Chip?

In 1853, George Speck was a chef in Saratoga Springs, New York. Guests were complaining about George’s thick soggy undercooked fried potatoes, and he reacted by breaking the rules: slicing his potatoes as thin as he could, frying them for longer and salting them heavily in an attempt to make them inedible.

The guests were delighted and asked for more! By 1900 Saratoga Chips were famous.

?WhatIf! encourage any line of questioning that finds and breaks rules and assumptions, suggesting their favourite five questions:

A. What if we did nothing?

B. What if we had to make it for half the cost?

C. What if people ordered twice as much?

D. What if we reversed the process?

E. What if we exaggerated the issue?

Code 2
Re-expression – to experience the issue in a different way

How would you launch toothpaste in countries where brushing teeth was rare?

In an example of re-expression, ?WhatIf! asked their client to sell their toothpaste to a five year old, resulting in:

  • Teeth are made of calcium
  • Our toothpaste has calcium in it.
  • It’s like “liquid teeth”…

and a marketing technique was formed!

?WhatIf!’s three favourite re-expression tools are:

A. Re-express with alternative words
i.e. using synonyms or different expressions
e.g. How can we increase customer loyalty? Check out synonyms of loyalty or brainstorm on the powerful metaphor of marriage

B. Re-express using different senses
e.g. draw it, make a clay image or act it out

C. Re-express from someone else’s perspective
e.g. how would a 5-year old explain it? How would an alien see it? A competitor?

Code 3
Related worlds facing a similar issue

In 1952, Helen Barnett Diserens was working for Bristol-Myers on the first commercial deodorant called Mum. At the time, the antiperspirant was dabbed onto a cotton ball and wiped onto the skin.

Helen looked at other solutions for spreading liquids thinly across a surface, noticing the new ballpoint pen – and the roll-on deodorant was invented.

Good questions to ask:

A. Where in the world has something like my challenge been faced before?

B. How can I steal with pride?

Code 4
Random Links

In 1993 Greg Garrison took on a project to increase the usability of computer trading systems at Reuters, who supplied banking dealing rooms in over 130 countries.

The team sought inspiration for their new graphical interface yet the creative juices just weren’t flowing.

In a random thought, on a 747 flight back to the US from the Far East, he asked to see the flight deck. He was amazed at how easily the pilots could move from one aircraft instrument to another, learning that they were arranged in a logical and consistent way across 747s, making flying one aircraft similar to another.

What if Reuters next generation systems were modelled on a pilot’s cockpit? The idea took off.

To prompt random links, ?WhatIf! propose these rules:

A. The random item must be truly random

B. You must find a connection

Why do these techniques work?

The human body sends 11 million bits per second of info to the brain for processing. Yet the conscious brain can only process 50 bits per second.

So that we don’t turn into gibbering wrecks, our minds categorise the data coming in, using patterns that the brain has used over and over again.

For creativity to happen, we need to break from these patterns, connecting flows of information in ways that our brain hasn’t done before.

?WhatIf! calls this “river jumping” – starting with one flow and then jumping to another flow and making new connections, stimulating new ideas.

?WhatIf! argue that your competitor will have the same data as you, and so be on the same flow as you, and that it is only by jumping flows that you will get a competitive advantage.