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How Amoco Chemical Company (Now BP) Solved Problems With Special Customers In A Creativity & Innovation Meeting

A large corporation asked me to lead a creativity meeting to solve problems associated with their 'special customer program', aimed to provide services for largest customers
Illustration of creativity (Photo credit: Pixabay/Public Domain)
Illustration of creativity (Photo credit: Pixabay/Public Domain)

A large corporation asked me to lead a Creativity Meeting to solve problems associated with their ‘special customer program,’ a program that provides favored services for their largest customers, and fosters a special relationship so they will become the sole supplier to these customers.

The special services include a hot line to these customers about marketing, sales, and specific engineers for emergencies. In addition, R&D analyzed the customers’ products and did research to improve the quality and profitability of the product.

The problem-solving creativity & innovation meeting was intended mainly as prevention. They wanted to unearth problems and solve them before they interfered with the special relationships. So they invited three of their best customers to send people to the creativity & innovation meeting. The three customers sent executives, top managers, and key professionals, about half of the 21 people present. The other half were the company’s own people.

The goals of this creativity & innovation meeting included strengthening the special relationship with these best customers, to resolve any hidden problems that existed, and head off any problems that loomed in the future. They wanted everyone to learn the advanced creativity triggers needed to solve mutual problems more creatively.

That is, they wanted everyone to define problems more creatively; generate ideas more abundantly; and combine ideas more innovatively into creative trigger-proposals and workable solutions. They wanted to improve everyone’s creative thinking skills for everyday use.

The meeting started with a dinner session that lasted from 6 to 10 p.m. It included after-dinner talks by each person, who was asked to tell who they were, why they were there, and what resources they brought to the meeting.

The second session, the next morning, included forming (and building) creativity teams, mixing the company’s people with customers, setting the creative climate, learning some creativity triggers, and identifying problems.

During the afternoon session, the teams defined these problems creatively, and used four diverse advanced creativity triggers to generate ideas so abundantly that the walls and floor of the meeting room were covered with ideas on how to improve the special customer program. Finally, they started generating creative trigger-proposals, proposals that were not perfect and may not work, but sparked proposals that do work.

The evening session consisted of after dinner discussions. The following morning, each person presented their trigger-proposal on how to improve the special customer program to his or her creativity team for feed back and improvement, and a one page written proposal was handed to the head of the ‘special customer program.’ Several of the creativity teams generated a blockbuster team proposal, which was also handed in.

The afternoon was spent in discussing the proposals, and in planning what to do next. Many committed action plans were made. Several people from the customer companies told me how much they appreciated what they had learned about advanced creativity triggers.

Thus, the host company achieved their goals from this creativity & innovation meeting, and much more. The special relationship with their customers was enhanced; hidden problems surfaced and defused; everyone learned advanced creativity triggers to improve everyday creative thinking; and they all learned a creative process to solve mutual problems between the companies.

What struck me as particularly effective about this creativity meeting was mixing the people from the company with its three best customers in a focused way to solve mutual problems. The interaction had a very serious purpose and an excellent outcome; and a good time was had by all.

Can Government Be As Creative As Large Corporations?

Do you think government agencies can be creative and innovative in a Creativity & Innovation meeting like these major corporations?

Yes, you say. We just have to get government officials to attend a meeting where there is time for:

  •  paradigms to shift & problems to pass through redefinitions (problem definition)
  •  people to offer hundreds of loopy ideas (brainstorming & brainwriting)
  •  people to combine nutty ideas to make weird & blockbuster proposals
  •  workable, useful and amazing, highly effective, high quality, profitable solutions to emerge to solve important questions in the end
  •  all this during the 3 to 4 days that the meeting lasts.

Sound easy? Well, I have a prickly feeling in the back of my neck that tells me truly creative & innovative government meetings won’t happen soon.

I have seen many government idea-generation sessions fall short of attacking problems creatively because of the fear that offending and dippy temporary ideas will go public and invite the attack and ire of others, and spoil chances for future careers.

And I remember one creativity session I led for the executive council of a large, prominent university where one of the deans quietly asked a student assistant to secretly destroy one flip chart paper because she didn’t like one of the ideas. It offended and insulted her, she said later.

Far-fetched brainstormed ideas just cannot exist or survive in the practical political world that doesn’t understand the absolutely temporary nature of the bizarre ideas generated in a creativity session. Or the necessity  to work with bizarre ideas to achieve outstanding solutions.

But all my experience with semi-creative creativity sessions pales with comparison to this (paraphrased) April 25th, 2010 report in the BBC news…

[***** “The Foreign Office apologized for a foolish document about the Pope during his September’s visit to the UK. The so-called disrespectful proposals suggested, among other more disrespectful items, that the Pope could apologize for the Spanish Armada or sing a song with the Queen for charity. 

The Foreign Office stressed the ideas, which resulted from a brainstorm session on the Pope’s visit, did not reflect its views.

The Bishop of Nottingham said, if anything, it was “appalling manners,”

The UK’s ambassador to the Vatican, Francis Campbell, has met senior officials of the Holy See to express regret on behalf of the government. Foreign Secretary David Miliband is appalled by the incident.

An investigation was launched after some recipients of the memo, said to have been circulated to a restricted list, objected to its tone. “This is clearly a foolish document that does not in any way reflect UK government or Foreign Office policy or views. Many of the ideas in the document are clearly ill-judged, naive and disrespectful,” he said. “The text was not cleared or shown to ministers or senior officials before circulation. Once senior officials became aware of the document, it was withdrawn from circulation.”

The individual responsible has been transferred to other duties. He has been told orally and in writing that this was a serious error of judgement and has accepted this view.

The Foreign Office said the memo had resulted from discussions by a group of three or four junior staff in a team working on early planning for the papal visit. 

A source told the BBC News website the individual since moved to other duties had called the group together for “some blue-skies creative thinking about how to make the visit a success,” but their discussions had become “a joke that has gone too far.” *****]

WOW. What a commotion. Such a fuss. Just imagine what brainstorming about how to improve the Pope’s visit can produce in the way of disrespectful ideas.

Which government official in the UK, or anywhere else, will hold meetings like this again. Any official who requests secrecy opens his or her career to a possible default, especially by offended coworkers.

Can you imagine Middle East government officials attending a 3 or 4 day Creativity & Innovation meeting to resolve the problematic issues now separating them and blocking peace?

Never mind. Hope exists. The mere fact that the foreign office in the UK held such a brainstorming meeting indicates that some people in that government want to foster more creativity & innovation in their work. Decades ago, the same problems with brainstorming meetings existed in corporations, and look how prevalent these meetings are now.

For other ways to encourage creativity at work, check out my book:

 “CREATIVITY TRIGGERS ARE FOR EVERYONE: How To Use Your Inventiveness To Brighten Your Life.” 


©2017 by Ed Glassman


Ed Glassman, Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Program For Team Excellence And Creativity at the university. He led scores of problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University, a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC, a Visiting Professor at the University Of California at Irvine, and a Visiting Scientist at SRI International in Palo Alto, California.

His book: “Team Creativity At Work I & II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best,” is available: CLICK here OR HERE.

Another book: “R&D CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION HANDBOOK: A Practical Guide To Improve Creative Thinking and Innovation Success At Work” is also available.   CLICK here  OR HERE

About the Author
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus and former head of the "Program for Team Effectiveness and Creativity," in the medical school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.
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