Report 103

Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.

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Tuesday, 18 October 2005
Issue 68

Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your fortnightly newsletter on creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.

As always, if you have news about creativity, imagination, ideas, or innovation please feel free to forward it to me for potential inclusion in Report103. Your comments and feedback are also always welcome. E-mail me at

Information on unsubscribing, archives, reprinting articles, etc can be found at the end of this newsletter.


Dr. Arthur Van Gundy – or Andy as he prefers to be known among friends – is a prolific writer on creativity and innovation. Following a discussion we had on framing innovation challenges, Andy was kind enough to contribute a paper on the topic. Alas, it is too long to include in its entirety in Report 103. However, the first two chapters are included here, followed by a link to download the entire paper.

In the next issue, we will have another contribution from a guest writer. I am not only delighted by the high standard of writing and thinking behind my guest writers' essays, but please to be able to offer you as Report 103 readers, the results of top notch research in the field of innovation.

If you would like to contribute an article to Report 103, please contact me in the first instance, either with a proposal or a completed article if it has already been completed. (But, please do not write an article especially for Report 103 without discussing it with me first.)


Arthur B. VanGundy, Ph.D. (“Andy”)

Ideas in Search of Problems

Are ideas a dime a dozen as the expression says? Probably not. That’s too easy and somewhat of a cop out. It is relatively easy to get ideas, but probably more difficult to get “good” ideas—those with the greatest probability of solving problems.

However, the very best ideas to the most poorly-defined problem might as well not even exist. Anyone can have an exciting brainstorming session with hundreds of ideas. Frequently neglected, however, is devoting as much time and attention to clearly defining a challenge as is given to idea generation. As famed photographer Ansel Adams, said, “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”

Most of us tend to be more solution-minded than problem-minded. Although lip service may be given about the need to “define the problem,” relatively few people do it well. This paper will address how to focus on framing challenges, especially as they might apply to strategic innovation.

Horse and Cart Innovation

The description above represents a “horse before the cart” approach to idea generation. Some organizations also may use such an approach to innovation initiatives. For instance, corporate managers often frame challenges based mostly on strategic outcome objectives (e.g., profitability, market share) along with some secondary goals such as generating new products and enhancing marketing and branding. Of course, many other objectives also need to be considered from a strategic perspective.

The route to achieving any of these objectives is NOT just generating ideas. Instead, tactical maps first must be constructed to lay out the strategic terrain for all objectives. The old saying still holds true: “If you don’t know where you want to go, any road will take you there.” It also is true that even if you think you know where you want to go (an often costly, untested assumption), you must create a map of goals to achieve along the way.

These maps are based on the premise that the objectives are stated clearly, known, and understood—three, often erroneous assumptions. As Douglas Adams aptly put it, “The hardest assumption to challenge is the one you don’t even know you’re making."

Most organizations do a good job of collecting research on how and where to innovate. However, Doblin, Inc. estimates that only about 4.5% of innovation initiatives succeed! (Business Week, August 1, 2005, p. 72). One reason might be due to poorly framed innovation challenges. Unfortunately, there still are few resources on how to frame challenges for ideation.

Framing Challenges

Even if you are not concerned with strategic innovation, the need still exists to frame challenges for productive idea generation. Innovation challenges at any organizational level should be relatively open-ended and target an explicit objective such as increasing product sales.

A common way to state challenges is to start with the phrase, “How might we…?” This provides a prompt for open-ended idea generation. For instance, consider an objective of generating ideas for new floor-care products. It first is necessary to “de-construct” the challenge into its parts, simply by asking basic questions:

- “What is involved in cleaning floors?”
- “What do people dislike about it?”
- “How often should floors be cleaned?”
- “In what ways are current floor-care products ineffective?”

The answers to these and similar questions then can be used as triggers for specific challenge statements. For instance, answers to the above questions might lead to challenges such as:

How might we:
- make it easier to dispense floor cleaning products?”
- reduce the amount of effort involved in scrubbing a floor?”
- make floor cleaning more convenient?”
- reduce the frequency with which floors need to be cleaned?”
- Increase the sanitizing effect of floor cleaning?

To read the remainder of Andy's report, go to (PDF file, updated from original)


During a brainstorming session or any group ideation process, the greatest threat to creativity is squelching. The verb “squelch” is defined by the dictionary as...

1. To crush by or as if by trampling; squash.
2. To put down or silence, as with a crushing retort: squelch a rumor.
3. To suppress or inhibit: a protein that squelches gene transcription.

In brainstorming, squelching occurs whenever one of the brainstormers criticises an idea or another brainstormer. The criticism might be direct: “what a stupid idea!” or indirect: “oh my God! There she goes again!” or: “you'd never get the budget for that!”. Sometimes it can just be a groan or a raised eyebrow.

Squelching does several things which destroy group creativity. First, it demotivates the person who suggested the criticised idea. After being publicly criticised - even if only within a small group – she will no longer share her ideas, especially not her more radical and hence more creative ideas.

Likewise, squelching tells the other participants of the brainstorming session that ideas which are out of the ordinary are not welcome here. But, of course, out of the ordinary ideas are the most creative ideas. So, squelching essentially stops the creative flow.

As a result of a single squelching, an entire brainstorming session can go downhill. Sure ideas will be generated. But the best, most creative ideas will remain in the minds of the brainstormers rather than be contributed to the pool of ideas.

If you are facilitating a brainstorming session, you absolutely do not want squelching. The best thing to do is to make it clear from the beginning that squelching is not allowed.

When I facilitate brainstorming sessions, I usually put up a large sign saying “NO SQUELCHING” before I start. I also explain the word. A lot of native English speakers don't know the word. And since most of the brainstorming sessions I facilitate comprise international participants, there are inevitably participants unfamiliar with the word.

Then, during the brainstorming session, if someone does try to squelch (and it almost always happens early on), I point my finger at the squelcher and say dramatically (but with a smile): “no squelching!”. After that, brainstormers catch on and if anyone else attempts to squelch, others will tell them not to stop.

Likewise, if you are facilitating a brainstorming session, running an ideas campaigns, chairing a creative meeting or managing a creative team, you must squelch the squelchers before they squelch everyone's creativity.


A few days ago, my training partner, Andy, and I were discussing some creativity workshops we intend to hold in Brussels in January 2006. I was proposing titles along the lines of: “Stretch your creativity” or “boost your creative thinking skills” when Andy said: “you know Jeffrey, a lot of people think they are not creative. If you talk about boosting or stretching creativity they won't be interested because they believe they have no creativity to stretch. Rather they want to learn how to be creative.”

Of course Andy was right. Those of us who are involved in creativity and innovation tend to think of ourselves as being creative. We also tend to work with a lot of other creative thinkers. Hence it is easy to forget that a lot of people believe themselves to be uncreative.

Of course they are wrong. Everyone is creative. But many people have had to suppress their creative thinking skills for years and assume those skills are lost.

Curiously, a lot of people who believe they are not creative actually practice their creativity without realising it. The administrative assistant who does repetitious work all day, but loves to experiment with cooking at night is using her creativity every time she steps into the kitchen. The taxi driver who is very active in on-line discussion fora is practising her creativity whenever she writes a clever post to a forum.

Other people's creativity has, of course, become even more repressed. But it is still there. It simply needs to be coaxed out. More importantly the repressed creative thinker needs to acknowledge that she is in fact a creative thinker and needs to be encouraged to bring her creativity out of the storage areas of her brain into the forefront of her mind.

If you are responsible for creativity or innovation in your organisation, it is important to be aware that many people you work with believe they are not creative. One of your first responsibilities should be to bring out their hidden creativity through creative exercises, games and lots of encouragement.

Happy thinking!

Jeffrey Baumgartner


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Report 103 is edited by Jeffrey Baumgartner and is published on the first and third Tuesday of every month.

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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium




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