Making Creativity Your New Competitive Advantage

In today’s digital economy, if it’s linear, it’s usually automated or outsourced! Think about it: What were you doing 10 years ago that’s now accomplishable at the push of a button? Campaign management? Performance analytics? Data management and storage? Do you see a trend? So where are we headed?


Technology forecasters predict hundreds, if not thousands, of new products will enter the market over the next decade to handle routine activities. In data mining alone, we have seen incredible changes. Years ago, we spent weeks building predictive models by hand. Today, predictive modeling software delivers more powerful models through streamlined, menu-driven processes that take minutes!
So what does that mean to us? If our competitive edge is based on linear processes, our competition may be able to buy software that accomplishes the same thing within a few years. What can we do to stay competitive? Quit using half our brains!
In today’s highly complex, competitive economy, our challenge is to create an environment that encourages “whole brain” thinking. To emphasize the importance, let’s look at a simplified model of how the brain works. To understand its function, the brain is divided into quadrants: The left cerebral mode handles the logical, analytic, and quantitative functions; the left limbic mode handles sequences (remember linear?), planned and detailed functions; the right cerebral mode handles the intuitive, integrative, synthesizing functions; and the right limbic mode handles the emotional, kinesthetic, feeling-based functions.

brain-sectionsMost problem-solving occurs in the brain’s left hemispheres. We begin in the left cerebral mode, where we memorize the correct answer. Then we move to the left limbic mode, where we make plans based on memorized rules and norms. This works well for many routine data-mining tasks, such as finding the average income of your customer base or calculating the response rate of a campaign. But if you are facing a new challenge like unexpected account attrition or a spike in insurance claims — events for which you have no rules — the left side of the brain can’t provide a solution. We completely miss the right-brain functions of intuition, integration, and synthesis, and so are unable to incorporate our emotions or feelings into solving a problem. By skipping the right side of the brain, we diminish our ability to think creatively.

In whole-brain problem solving, we begin in the left cerebral mode with the memorized answer. But we then move to the right cerebral mode and create a mental picture or image. This gives us a nonlinear view of the problem. When we move the problem into the right limbic mode, we may think of some atypical solutions or even have an “aha” experience. From there, we move back into the left limbic mode to formulate a solution.
So why is it so difficult to use creativity? First, creativity produces variance and decreases predictability. So if management has a high need for control, encouraging creative thinking is difficult. Another reason is that tapping into our creativity takes concentration. If our work environment is noisy and distracting, accessing the right side of the brain is difficult. And, finally, creative thinking requires some “downtime” to get the juices flowing. Did you ever notice how you get great ideas in the shower or while exercising? You might argue that you do not have the time or it is not cost-effective. But creative ideas that lead to small improvements to a marketing campaign can save or make millions.
How can we encourage whole-brain thinking? This can be difficult if it requires a drastic change in the company culture. But we can take several steps to facilitate it for ourselves and our staff:
Encourage group discussions where ideas are embraced. Brainstorming is an excellent way to get the creative juices flowing.
Change old habits: Use your non-dominant hand for routine tasks; take a different route to work.
Create a workspace that helps you stay balanced: Play music; fill your office with objects d’art; spend a few minutes in silent contemplation each day. It’s not a waste of time. It’s incubation time for the next million-dollar idea!
Webster’s defines genius as “Great mental capacity and inventive ability; esp., great and original creative ability in some art, science, etc.” So the next time you effectively use your whole brain, they might call you a genius!
Come back for more business intelligence and change management focused blogs by The OLIVIAGroup! Feel free to comment with questions, insights, or additions to this post. To receive alerts when the next blog is published, click on the RSS feed at the right of the page to subscribe.
Visit to learn more about Business Intelligence and hiring Olivia Parr Rud for your next conference!

Leadership Skills: Building Collaboration through Appreciative Inquiry

Traditionally, organizations look to change behavior by focusing on detecting errors, performing gap analyses, and fixing problems. This deficit-based theory of change may work for the top-down, hierarchical organization. But for dynamic organizations with a continual need to adapt, these models are not sufficient. With their focus on problems and crises, they may even be deleterious to the change process. In 2000 David Cooperrider, a pioneer of Appreciative Inquiry proposed that “While researchers have demonstrated the potential for increased organizational understanding when members focus on opportunity rather than threat,…deficient inquiry continues to guide many in their quest for change.”question_mark

Conversely, the new science suggests that when the focus and intention are directed toward that which is positive, a creative power is unleashed that facilitates adaptation with unprecedented ease and efficiency. Appreciative Inquiry, a technique that focuses on positive outcomes, is based on the premise that humans are naturally drawn toward that which is positive. The practice of Appreciative Inquiry suggests that by searching within an organization for what works, what motivates, and what evokes positive energy, the organization will evolve in a positive direction. “Appreciative Inquiry involves the co-evolutionary search for the best in people, organizations, and the world around them. It involves systematic discovery of what forces are at work when a system is its most effective, compassionate, and capable in economic, ecological, and human terms.”

The practice of Appreciative Inquiry has unveiled a new theoretical framework for viewing change. Its protocol has an inherent ability to tap into the positive energy that is created by the relationship of the group. The resulting change is often spontaneous, natural, and successful beyond all expectations. “Conspicuously absent from this process are the vocabularies of deficit-based change (e.g., gap analysis, root causes of failure, unfreezing, defensive routines, variances, diagnosis, resistance, and flaming platforms).” The theoretical framework offers a deeper understanding of the power of this approach.

The next article will focus on the 4 Phases of Appreciative Inquiry.  If you found this material helpful, please forward it to a friend or co-worker and encourage them to subscribe.