How The Thetford Corporation Identified New Products In A Creativity & Innovation Meeting

Creativity & Innovation Meetings solve important company problems and, at the same time, teach advanced creativity triggers.

I have led many creativity & innovation meetings for large and small companies to solve diverse problems, including:

  • identifying new products
  • improving quality at work
  • increasing chemical yield during a complex process
  • reducing industrial waste
  • designing an environmentally safe chemical plant
  • lowering costs and increasing effectiveness of environmental cleanup for a chemical company
  • developing a new technology for manufacturing
  • handling manufacturing waste for an automobile parts manufacturer.

I consider creativity & innovation meetings the most effective way to learn creative thinking triggers and to solve important problems creatively at work. They produce hundreds of ideas, which participants screen to produce excellent proposals. The high quality and creativeness of the solutions continue to amaze and delight.

I led a 3 day creativity meeting for 42 people in the Thetford Corporation in Ann Arbor, MI, to create and identify new product ideas. The meeting was arranged by the Marketing Vice President.

Present were the Chairman of the Corporation, its President, its vice-presidents and managers of sales, marketing, manufacturing, engineering, and finance, and the directors of personnel and quality. The rest of the 42 people present were key professionals in sales, marketing, customer relations, industrial design, manufacturing, engineering, and finance.

The 42 people formed 6 creativity teams of 7 people each, Each person read sections of my creativity book before attending the meeting.

The goal of this Creativity & Innovation meeting was:

  •  To generate novel and unexpected ideas for new products
  •  To select new product concepts for further development in a way that upgraded the current approach
  •  To raise future creativity levels
  •  To learn how to use creativity triggers for problem solving
  •  To enhance synergy in the company
  •  To build team participation in the company.

The company Chairman, a brilliant engineer, started the meeting with a discussion of these goals. This was followed by introductions and agenda, the importance of a creative atmosphere, using trigger-ideas to spark better ideas, and generating ideas for new products using creativity triggers.

The second session helped the participants to use advanced creativity triggers to boost creative thinking when solving problems.

The third session consisted of using special advanced creativity triggers to generate new product ideas. About 750 ideas for new products were displayed in the meeting room.

During the fourth session, each participant looked over the ideas, selected and combined those that were of potential use into a one page proposal for a new product.

During the fifth session, these proposals were shared with their creativity team for improvement. The one page proposals were revised and handed in for later consideration. Each creativity team then developed its own blockbuster idea for a new product either by using ideas of its members, or a different idea.

During the last session, each creativity team presented its blockbuster idea on flip chart paper to the participants in the creativity meeting, and received ideas for improvement from everyone. It was an exciting, constructive time.

The evaluations of this creativity meeting were very positive. Top management received many ideas for new products, among them outstanding gems. In addition, the company received 42 one page written proposals for new products, one from each participant, many of the ideas unexpected and new, one criteria of a creative idea. And each creativity team had produced one blockbuster idea for a new product. The executives thought the time and money well spent.

I was later told that two proposals were immediately accepted for commercial development.

Very positive outcomes came forth. People wrote very positive evaluations. Top management received a large number of ideas for new products, among them outstanding gems. In addition, they received 42 one-page written proposals for new products, one from each participant, many of them hot and unexpected ideas. And each team produced one blockbuster idea for a new product. The corporation executives, all of whom attended, thought the time and money well spent.

And the Chairman later wrote me “to declare the creative thinking sessions a roaring success. Besides the excellent ideas generated, and there are a handful of outstanding ones, it served the purpose of bringing our management team closer together…. Thanks for an outstanding job.”

Can Government Be As Creative And Innovative As Thetford Corporation?

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 Creativity & Innovation 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 bizarre 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 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. As an example, consider the Thetford Corporation above.

And for additional ways to solve problems creatively at work, check out my book: “CREATIVITY TRIGGERS ARE FOR EVERYONE: 

How To Use Your Inventiveness To Brighten Your Life.” 

CLICK here OR HERE.

©2017 by Ed Glassman

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

His other 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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