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How DuPont Solved Difficult Problems In A Creativity & Innovation Meeting At Work

One goal of DuPont's four day creativity and innovation meeting in Washington, DC was to learn advanced creative thinking triggers by applying them to solve an important business and technical problem
Illustrative photo of a laptop computer (Sophie Gordon/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a laptop computer (Sophie Gordon/Flash90)

Manufacturing and R&D people from several Dupont plants arranged a four day problem-solving Creativity & Innovation Meeting that I led in Washington, DC. One goal of this creativity & innovation meeting was to learn advanced creative thinking triggers by applying them to solve an important business and technical problem.

I have led 3 and 4 day creativity & innovation meetings for large and small companies to solve problems, including identifying new products; improving quality of products; designing an environmentally safe chemical plant; increasing chemical yield; reducing waste; solving mutual problems creatively with special customers; increasing effectiveness of environmental cleanup; and more.

An R&D Technical Manager, an R&D Technical Group Manager, and myself attended a one day planning session. We decided the goals of the creativity meeting were to shift paradigms, identify new ideas for improving manufacturing practices in fibers producing plants using “world class manufacturing principles;” to teach advanced creativity triggers to solve problems creatively; promote networking and teamwork between plant sites; and lead to specific action plans and commitments.

The creativity group met in Washington, DC, for 4 days applying advanced state-of-the-art creativity triggers to the problem. Present were 30 managers, supervisors, and key professionals in manufacturing and R&D from 5 plant sites. In the end, many paradigm shifts occurred, and a number of outstanding ideas and workable solutions were produced. Important committed action plans were easily made for 5 new approaches.

During session 1, we reviewed the goals and agenda; created a creative atmosphere; formed creativity teams; started team building; and learned to create and use metaphors, trigger-ideas, and poems to solve problems.

Session 2 started with a talk by an R&D manager on world class manufacturing, and short presentations by people from each site on what they are doing now; what they want to do; and what their current ideas and visions are. The problems were defined creatively using advanced creativity triggers.

Session 3 was a free afternoon to write metaphors, trigger-ideas, and poems pertaining to the problem in the Smithsonian.

During session 4, ideas were generated using advanced creativity triggers.

Session 5 was another free afternoon to write metaphors, trigger-ideas, and poems pertaining to the problem in museums.

In session 6, the creativity teams identified criteria to select ideas, individuals generated proposals on paper which were handed in, and each creativity team generated a blockbuster workable solution.

During session 7, the blockbuster proposals were upgraded, and specific action plans and commitments were made.

The meeting was a huge success. Everyone learned to apply effective creativity triggers to solve problems. And there was a practical product: 950 ideas and 30 one page written proposals, one from each participant, many of them unexpected ideas. Each of the creativity teams generated a blockbuster proposal, combining and developing the proposals of its members. The R&D managers thought the time and money well spent.

Powerful creativity triggers for teams mixed with equally powerful creativity triggers for people working alone were important in this meeting. This resulted in exciting team interactions, while at the same time the creativity of each individual was fostered and protected. These interactions produced an excellent outcome. It was a lot of fun and very practical.

The following week, people from 3 plant sites met to use the hundreds of ideas as trigger-ideas to spark better ideas. What was scheduled as a 2 hour meeting lasted until 3 am in the morning. Many new paradigm shifts, and over 10 major new proposals were developed.

Can Government Be As Creative And Innovative As Dupont?

Do you think government agencies can be creative and innovative in a Creativity & Innovation meeting like 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 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 their necessity to achieve profitable 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 Popes 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 career to a possible default, especially by offended coworkers.

On the other hand, 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.

Creativity & Innovation Meetings, Not Workshops, Provide The Best Creativity Training

People ask me which type of training in creative thinking would be best for their company. The answer depends on the nature of their company and their goals. Often, not enough time is spent thinking through exactly what outcome is wanted by the end of the event. Since I have led many creativity events in small and large companies I have developed a way of viewing it that may be helpful.

One approach to creativity training involves large numbers of people, 100 or more, for a relatively short time, one day or less. The benefits are that people who will not attend a longer event will find time for this shortened version, it’s highly cost-effective, and a lot of people can be introduced to creativity and creative thinking.

I have presented 3 to 4 hour creative thinking workshops for 25 to 150 people that works well, and has been quite successful with executives, managers, and key professionals in large and small companies. Even though many people are involved, it is still a workshop, not a lecture, since everyone is immediately organized into groups of six people, the micro-environment of each person is supportive and friendly, and learning also occurs through doing, as well as through listening.

I have mixed feelings about the effectiveness of this approach: it seems too short for the participants to become involved long enough to get the point. Still, it can be a good start toward enhancing creative thinking in a company.

Another approach to creativity training is the 2 day workshop for 25 to 30 people. There is a longer exposure to creativity and creative thinking, a deeper involvement of each person, enough time for each person to get it right, and the development of applications to work. The difficulty is persuading busy and skeptical people to give up this amount of time. Also, there is sometimes a lack of transfer of the workshop learnings to the work place.

I have led many 2 day creativity and creative thinking workshops which work very well; there is high transfer of the workshop learnings to work, and the evaluations by the attenders is quite positive. Still, I have mixed feelings. It is long, the cost per person is high, and it’s sometimes hard to motivate busy people to stop thinking about the current crisis they left back at work.

A third approach to creativity training is a 3 to 4 day problem-solving Creativity & Innovation Meeting, the purpose of which is to learn creativity and creative thinking by applying it to solve an important company business or technological problem. The rationale is that since we are going to bang heads together learning to be more creative at work, let’s solve an important company problem at the same time. The benefits are that people are motivated to participate and learn advanced creativity triggers so they can solve the important company problem. In addition, the exposure to the concepts of creative thinking and the involvement of each person increases, and the transfer of the learnings back to the job is effortless, since the focus of the creativity meeting is to solve a real work problem.

I have led creativity & innovation meetings for large and small companies to solve diverse problems, including identifying new products; improving quality; increasing chemical yield; solving mutual problems creatively with customers; increasing effectiveness of environmental cleanup; developing a new technology for manufacturing; and more. Each very successful.

I consider these creativity & innovation meetings the most effective way to teach advanced creativity techniques and creative thinking at work. And they solve important company business and technological problems. They produce hundreds of ideas which are screened to produce quality proposals, one proposal by each person present, and 5 to 6 blockbuster proposals, one by each creativity team. The high quality and creativeness of the solutions always amaze and delight.

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 of his: “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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