Tools for Innovative Thinking

By September 20, 2014 Thinking 6 Comments
Quest for the Lightbulb

It’s been a while since CAST 2014 now but even though I wasn’t there in person, some of the keynotes still resonate deeply. Once of those is Dr. Carol Strohecker’s presentation about Moving from STEM to STEAM.

If you don’t already know, STEM to STEAM advocates innovation through the application of art & design thinking in organisations, research centres and education policy. STEAM champions argue that current thinking is “tightly coupled with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – the STEM subjects. Art + Design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century.”

In his book, The Future of Management, Gary Hamel discusses the Innovation Stack and puts Management Innovation at the top of the pyramid. As far back as 2010 IBM were identifying creative leadership as a key differentiator.

The ability to think creatively and drive innovation within the workplace has become increasingly important to me personally in a number of ways:

  • As a software testing facilitator – I need to help my teams deliver high-quality products quickly by thinking creatively about the way in which testing is implemented, and effectively by selecting or innovating the tools, concepts and activities they use to do so.
  • As a consultant and knowledge worker or analyst – I need to maintain a focus on value adding activities, thinking deeply about where change is needed, what that change might look like and how to implement it.
  • As a leader – one way in which I can stay ahead of the curve and add value to those I mentor, coach or manage is by incorporating Art & Design principles into my mentoring/coaching/management philosophies.

In her presentation, Dr. Strohecker identified a set of primary and secondary Intuitive Tools for Innovative Thinking:

Primary tools

  1. Observing – with concentration and curiosity
  2. Imaging – invoking a sensorial experience in the mind
  3. Abstracting – reduction & focusing on a single, discrete element or essence of a thing
  4. Pattern recognition – perceiving form and regularity in apparent randomness
  5. Pattern forming – combining elements and operations in a way that produces a consistent form
  6. Analogising – recognising functional similarities
  7. Bodily kinesthetic thinking – spatial awareness, muscle memory etc
  8. Empathising – putting ourselves in the place of another, even down to viral or chromosomic levels
  9. Dimensional thinking – changing the scale of things

Secondary tools (tools which rely on the acquisition of primary tools)

  1. Modelling – being able to represent something
  2. Playing – not having a specific goal, bending the rules of serious activity, using mind, body and skill simply for the joy of using them
  3. Transforming – serial use of many tools together
  4. Synthesising – bringing many ways of thinking together

If you’re wondering how to think creatively in your team or organisation, perhaps some of the tools above can help you get started.

In future posts, I plan to talk about how I’ve implemented (or at least, attempted to implement) them. If you’ve got some experiences of applying these tools, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to reach out via a comment or on the socials if anything resonates.



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