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The engine of truly ambitious leadership: Applied Creativity

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By Min Basadur & Kate Hammer

The problem

Leadership literature is stuck in a pendulum that swings between two ideals: leader as hero and permissive leader. The pendulum is driven by competing desires: for big, bold innovation on the one hand, and efficient business-as-usual on the other. Consensus seems to be that companies need to choose between one and the other mode: gazelle or gorilla.

  • Heroic leadership has the leader as vision-setter, with teams optimizing or executing but not involved in finding meaningful problems worth solving.
  • Permissive leadership has the leader as cheerleader, supporting and advising teams and leaving breakthrough thinking to ad hoc creativity and dodging wicked problems.

Neither mode is fit for purpose in the twenty-first century.

A better paradigm

Here we outline a model for the ambitious leader. The ambitious leader breaks free of the heroic and permissive ideals.

An ambitious leader takes responsibility for two different dimensions:

  1. Leading breakthrough thinking, not delegating it. This supports a culture of continuous innovation, which drives an organization’s adaptability and fosters strategic agility.
  2. Enabling problem-finding and problem-solving at the team level, where efficiency gains and repairs can achieved continuously, by teams equipped to create solutions for rapid decisions by experts (not generic committees).

Ambitious organizations achieve a compelling combination of purpose (borne of the leader’s vision) and participation (the only true driver of so-called employee engagement). They do so by sustaining two related yet distinct ecosystems: the strategic and operational.

The engine driving ambitious leadership

A single process underpins the two ecosystems. It is an 8-step Creative Problem Solving Process and it provides a means for structured group creativity that is effective (and therefore measurable). This Creative Problem Solving Process is the engine for organizations seeking ambitious leadership.

The vast body of work that explains and demonstrates CPS Process assures that ambitious leadership is a genuine contribution to management practice, not simply theory or semantics.

Leadership is fundamentally about driving beneficial change and emboldening the people around you and below you to drive beneficial change. Doing this well and consistently – especially in the face of volatility and uncertainty – is the hallmark of ambitious leadership.

Beneficial change is driven by what problems a leader elects to solve. Some problems are foisted upon leaders, others are skillfully picked by a leader hunting for challenging problems to solve in anticipation of emerging opportunities. Ambitious leaders are skilled at working effectively with an array of problems, and emboldening the people around them to develop those same skills.

Problems as Golden Eggs

Ambitious leaders are sensitive to problems as opportunities. They foster a culture where creative reframing, problem surfacing, and problem-definition from a fuzzy situation can all occur….as part of business-as-usual.

Creative reframing

Management often hands problems down to teams. In high-performance matrixed organizations, effective team leaders reframe problems.

One of the most effective reframing techniques is to shift perspective from the company’s perspective to the consumers.

      Starting point: “We need to boost profits, maybe we should add a third liquid cleaner to our range?”

      Shifting to: “How might we create a new product that somehow keep households cleaner?”

To make the perspective shift, the team needs to let go of the certainty that “We’ve been assigned a liquid cleaner project” and embrace ambiguity.

Surfacing fresh problems

Some firms design this perspective shift into career pathways. At Toshiba Corporation, Min Basadur was told: “When we hire new scientists and engineers, we keep them out of R&D for two years. Instead, we place them into the sales department to begin their careers. We want them to learn that their job is to learn the problems of the customer. We want them to know we are not going to hand them problems to solve. We want them to know that innovation begins with finding problems to solve.” (Basadur 1992)

In such an environment, problems are regarded not as burdens to be avoided but instead as golden eggs.

Fuzzy situations

So at times people are on an active hunt for problems worth solving, and this is called problem finding. Other times, the world is changing quickly and a fuzzy situation emerges – a situation that is ill structured, ambiguous and undefined – that may well impact the business. The mark of the ambitious leader is that s/he emboldens people to face up to a fuzzy situation and work together to creatively define a problem worth solving.

Common characteristics of effective problem solvers

In all these cases, truly creative problem-solvers know enough not to assume they already know what the problem is. They know what they don’t know. They skillfully avoid the tendency to prematurely evaluate ideas or potential solutions.

Two important tools of the truly creative problem solver are the question, “How might we…?” and genuinely open-minded curiosity. These qualities combine with the ambitious leader’s determination to create results.

“My job is to keep closed minds open.”
Lee Bristol -­ Chairman Bristol-­Myers

 Alongside curiosity, we consistently see humility and vulnerability. These sensitivities are not weaknesses. They are fundamental to the ability of a leader or team leader to say: “I don’t know and I don’t know what to do next…”

“I don’t know what to do next” triggers creativity.

Ambitious leadership manages two ecosystems simultaneously

Our definition of two ecosystems derives from Paul Mott’s 1972 landmark research in The Characteristics of Effective Organizations. Organizational effectiveness can be depicted as:


Efficiency
Organizing to continually improve current routines to deliver:

  • High quantity of ‘product’
  • High quality of ‘product’
  • High output/input ratio
  • Includes the flexibility to repair routines in the face of emergencies, sudden overloads or unusual demands

Adaptability
Organizing to change routines, by:

  • Anticipating problems and developing timely solutions to them
  • Staying abreast of new methods applicable to the activities of the organization
  • Deliberately breaking old routines
  • Prompt acceptance of new solutions
  • Widespread acceptance of the solutions

Fig. 1 Organizing for efficiency and for adaptability
(Dr. Basadur introduced this approach in a Deliberate Change bulletin internal to Procter & Gamble in 1975, prior to his PhD award in 1979.)


We call the two ecosystems operational and strategic. Leading both ecosystems with equal skill is the hallmark of the ambitious leader. Helping others achieve this excellence is the purpose of this article.

The challenge to any leader

The strategic and operational ecosystems run in parallel and are not exclusive. The burden of managing two ecosystems could be overwhelming but ambitious managers manage to do so skillfully because they apply a single blueprint to both. The blueprint offers a consistent process for finding, defining and effectively solving problems through the skillful engagement of people. The process is relevant and demonstrably successful in both ecosystems.


Fig. 2: The two ecosystems, operational and strategic, are distinct and related.

Ecosystem Operational Strategic
Temporal Fully present Future-facing
Relation to wider world Reactive Proactive
Relation to problems Creatively reframes assigned problems Surfaces fresh problems
Copes with fuzzy situations
Generates Incremental improvements
Quick wins
Breakthrough ideas radical innovation
Engenders 2nd order capabilities Efficiency Adaptability
Culture of Continuous improvement
High performance
Experimentation
Who is responsible? The ambitious leader The ambitious leader
Process framework 8-Step Creative Problem Solving Process 8-Step Creative Problem Solving Process

Anyone at any level of the organization demonstrating skills in creative problem finding can contribute to the strategic ecosystem (and so embody the ideal of ambitious leadership).

Managing Creativity is the Pathway to Ambitious Leadership

As Fig. 2 illustrates, there are only two dimensions that both ecosystems share: the ambitious leader as the one responsible, and the Basadur Creative Problem Solving Process. This article sets out why ambitious leaders need this 8-step Creative Problem Solving Process, and what they gain from putting it at the heart of the organizational culture, as a driver of real change evidenced in what people do in the workplace.

What is the CPS Process?

The Creative Problem Solving Process is the ambitious leader’s answer to the question: how can I lead my teams to excel in both the operational and strategic ecosystems?

The CPS Process

  1. Creates effective change continuously, by engaging people
  2. Applies in both the operational and strategic ecosystems
  3. Offers blueprint for making your firm truly a learning organization, by changing culture through doing concrete things using transferable skills.

The CPS Process is the single best way to manage creativity in the workplace, making it part of people’s regular activity. The CPS Process provides people with cognitive, behavioral and attitudinal skills that catalyze fresh thinking powered by open-ended questioning (not rubrics). The process structures people’s time and attention so that group and individual creativity is not only possible, but also effective and relevant to the business’s needs.

The process is relevant vertically, from leadership down to the front lines. It drives vertical alignment, which in turn causes employee engagement. People like to solve real problems, and this process enables people to create meaningful results.


Case story: A sophisticated industrial manufacturing company makes tangible efficiency gains over and above conventional Continuous Improvement by integrating the Creative Problem Solving Process.

Goodrich, once a leading tire manufacturer, transformed itself into an aerospace company. Acquisition was a key dimension of its transformation strategy. With each new acquisition new process and technologies arrive, increasing the complexity of the business. In the period in question (1990-2003), the number of Continuous Improvement tools (including Six Sigma and Lean) used within the company has risen sharply.

Like all suppliers to the airline industry, Goodrich was responding to performance demands generated by recent cutthroat competition. For example, this manufacturer had to produce the same landing gear at half of its weight lasting three times longer but at half the price. Understandably, Continuous Improvement (CI) is a major tool used to respond to such performance challenges. Could the Basadur Creative Problem Solving Process make this toolkit more effective? (Basadur, Kukhta and Crase 2003).

The answer is a resounding YES. Under the ambitious leadership of Michael Kukhta, then Director of Quality and Lean Enterprise, achievements by integrating CI and CPS Process include:

  • Boosted CI project complete rates after 30 days to 70%, up from 30% achieved with standalone tools.
  • Dramatically reduced the implementation work months to one-quarter the time required when standalone CI tools are used.
  • CI projects were implemented in half the time required by standalone CI tools.
  • While the dollar savings of applying standalone CI tools diminishes over time, the financial benefits of the Integrated CI toolkit were maintained over time.

The conclusion is straightforward:

Even environments successfully applying Continuous Improvement
like Lean and Six Sigma make dramatic efficiency gains once the
Creative Problem Solving Process is integrated.


Creative Problem Solving drives efficiency and adaptability

In the period 1974-79, under Procter & Gamble President John Smale, the Creative Problem Solving Process was applied to improve costs across the 12 divisions. This deliberate change program committed to saving 4% of $10 billion sales revenue on an annual basis in the face of an uncertain and inhospitable trading environment. Change of this scale was entirely new to P&G. This was adaptability in action. Success was tangible and program goals became more ambitious year on year as teams became more skilled innovating how they ran their businesses. Historically, it could be said, John Smale was the first-ever ambitious leader.

An ambitious leader builds an organization capable of continuous improvements and experimentation.

For the ambitious leader, cost improvement is not cost cutting. Cost improvement induces creativity, when there is a process people can use. Innovation and adaptability are the outcomes.

This success story was not lost on Frito-Lay Operations, who had an ambitious leader in Jim O’Neal. “We used the CPS Process at every level in our organization,” explains Jim O’Neal, who was President and CEO of Frito-Lay International by the time he retired in 2000. The results were attainments in efficiency and adaptability.

At Frito-Lay we showed how strong, persistent managerial commitment to the systematic “practice of innovation” can eliminate the need to wait for the next big idea or the quandary of how or when to squeeze in attractive opportunities when they pop up. We saw it boost economic, cultural and competitive initiatives.

We discovered that the “Creative Problem Solving Process” was applicable at Frito-Lay from our boardroom (“How might we reduce our costs by $500 million” or “Flat Costs Forever”) down to the floor of a manufacturing plant (“How Might We reduce accidents 50%?). By training multiple layers and multiple functions in the CPS Process, we were able to create a common language and mitigate cross-functional trade-offs as changes were adopted. It also allowed us to tap into the enormous pool of brainpower that is underutilized in too many organizations.

Taking a top-to-bottom approach was important. Big corporate strategies had to be compatible with our maniacal focus on daily operational excellence. To the untrained eye, focusing on daily operational effectiveness may appear to be mundane and much less important than strategy or innovation. Actually, this is what keeps a business exciting, vibrant and viable over an extended period of time. More importantly, it’s directly correlated with customer satisfaction, short-term volume and profitability.

And by baking all of our “How Might We’s” into our strategy and operating plans, we were able to set outsize goals that the entire organization could help solve. It also fostered development of a learning organization that managers could tap into easily. As a result, the organization was too busy contending with growth to worry about paradoxes and more intent on innovating every product and every package or process (every day).

Have a tough problem to solve? Ask the people, How Might We? Unsure about the practicality of an innovative idea? Ask How Might We get this evaluated and/or implemented?

We were always paranoid and mindful of the old maxim that “If the rate of change on the outside, exceeds that of the inside, the end is in sight.” The CPS Process gave us the capacity to adapt and innovate, continually.

-- Jim O’Neal (Frito-Lay 1966-2000)

Both the Procter & Gamble and Frito-Lay examples demonstrate that a skillful leader does not make a trade-off between innovative power and operational excellence. The ambitious leader emboldens his people to expand their skill sets to function effectively in both the operational and strategic ecosystems.

Frito-Lay’s response ahead of the Los Angeles 1984 Summer Olympic Games illustrates this beautifully. Anticipating that traffic gridlock would impede product deliveries across greater Los Angeles, Frito-Lay empowered a multi-stakeholder working group well ahead of the games to examine traffic congestion and determine alternative dispatch schemes. Not only did the working group formulate efficient redesigns to cope with the extreme conditions facing an Olympic host city, but they also delivered process innovations that were adopted permanently. This is an early example of open innovation.

Focusing on daily operational excellence is what keeps a business
exciting, vibrant and viable over an extended period of time.

The CPS Process gave us the capacity to adapt and innovate, continuously.

-­ Jim O’Neal

Overall, Frito-Lay’s wholesale adoption of the CPS Process made visible impact on both the operational and strategic ecosystems.

Fig. 3 (next page) uses messaging developed by participants in CPS Process training at Microsoft to successfully entice colleagues to enroll in subsequent training events. Against these perceived benefits, we identify what benefits the CPS Process delivers to each ecosystem.


Fig. 3 The benefits of using the CPS Process within the two ecosystems

Implementing the CPS Process top-down was to seen to: Operational ecosystem Strategic ecosystem
Drive powerfully dramatic business results New & improved business processes New markets
New products
Transform thinking from a collaborative “think tank” to a “do tank” Experiments
Tests
Experiments
Create the confidence and willingness to take on big challenges Brave thinking
Courage to change business-as-usual
Breakthrough thinking
Courage to truly innovate
Promote greater transparent and respect for others’ points of view and contributions Change culture by doing Change culture by doing
Encourage getting to consensus on high-impact solutions Uses creativity throughout the process

Leader accelerates & rapidly take expert decisions
Uses creativity throughout the process

Leader maintains ownership throughout
Bridge the language and cultural gaps within and across teams Provides a language of innovation organization-wide that makes diversity more productive.

The CPS Process underpins the learning organization

Applying the definition of a learning organization offered by Garvin, Edmondson and Gino (2008), it is clear that the CPS Process engenders this. It is a process that supports both operational and strategic ecosystems. It is a human-centered process that creates effective change in a company’s culture. The process engages people in learning to make new connections and make novelty familiar and acceptable.

CPS is a process that supports both operational and strategic ecosystems

The CPS Process is appropriate to apply to wicked problems, fuzzy situations and “found” problems at any scale and in any sector.

In the strategic ecosystem, the CPS Process continuously searches for and finds new problems and opportunities (this is what Herbert Simon called “opportunistic surveillance”).

Whether in strategic or operational applications, the CPS Process then moves into: uncovering, understanding and agreeing on the critical facts after sharing diverse points of view.

This in turn leads to an accurate, comprehensive and often breakthrough definition of the problem. This is the point in the process when skilled teams in a matrix organization will reframe the problem they’ve been handed by their boss’s boss into a problem definition that will ignite breakthrough thinking.

Moving forward from the well-defined problem, the process drives problem solving: solution ideas are generated, evaluated, combined and refined before implementation is planned and undertaken. All of this is typically achieved quickly.

When the Procter & Gamble team was trying to make a green and white striped bar soap that would beat “Irish Spring” in blind consumer tests, they failed repeatedly. The repeated failures used the problem frame “How might we create a better green striped bar?” When the team reframed the challenge as “How might we create a more refreshing soap bar?” the result was Coast: a rippled blue and white soap bar inspired by a team member’s image of visiting the seaside. Coast beat Irish spring in a blind test. This test result convinced management to proceed to a market test, which was itself was successful. With Coast, P&G entered second in what has become a multi-million dollar category. The Coast story is an example of creatively redefining a problem into a consumer problem worth solving.

As the examples from Procter & Gamble and Frito-Lay demonstrate, the creativity the CPS Process engenders is relevant to workplace challenges, whether they are strategic or operational.

A human-centered process that creates effective change

The Creative Problem Solving Process builds on our minds’ willingness to generate new thoughts in response to questioning. This is not technology. Nor is it confined to any specific business process or department.

The cycle of creative problem solving includes a range of activities that people have aptitudes for and also can learn through training and practice


Fig. 4

The process is concrete: there are stages, and within stages there are steps. Each step relates to specific behaviors. (See Fig. 4)

The behaviors are underpinned by a set of skills and attitudes. The skills and attitudes are essential if the process is to work. The combination of behaviors, skills and attitudes is powerful enough to create new group norms while solving real business problems.

The norms engender employee engagement because of what the ambitious leader is asking and expecting people to do, as part of fulfilling their roles. Employee engagement is the outcome of the CPS Process, not simply an ideal.

Similarly, collaboration is what people are doing as they are working the CPS Process – it’s not a leader’s mandate or a manager’s wish.

The CPS Process can be taught. Behaviors can be modeled, learned and practiced. Skills can be developed. Attitudes can be instilled. Together, these contribute to the “supportive environment” that an ambitious leader and her team need to flourish.

“Supportive environment is one of the three key dimensions to the learning organization as defined by researchers David Garvin, Amy Edmondson and Francesca Gino (publishing in HBR, 2008). Another is “process” which Creative Problem Solving also supplies.

Once learned and applied consistently, the CPS Process is repeatable, sustainable and scalable. The CPS Process can drive a culture that can continually produce operational excellence and innovation through engaged people.

The quip “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is attributed to Peter Drucker. The CPS Process implemented by an ambitious leader can deliver strategy as a dynamic process, not a rigid plan fixed in three-year cycles. As Roger Martin has written in HBR (2014), “It is better to think of your strategy as not set in stone but rather as the most recent prototype being tested by the latest marketplace experience. That way strategy will never get out of sync with the competitive environment.” With the CPS Process embedded, the perceived gap between culture and strategy closes.

The CPS Process provides a way of making your organization a learning organization

If you go fishing, you may not catch any fish; if you don’t go fishing, you will never catch any fish. – Alex Osborn

The CPS Process allows a group of people to move from the old and familiar to new and strange, which is then made familiar, through implementing the new solution generated using the process. (See Fig. 5). Change makes people uncomfortable. Learning makes transformative change acceptable.

Learning happens when people make connections between the familiar and novelty.

The Creative Problem Solving Process elicits and benefits from candor

In the Creative Problem Solving Process, we elicit facts to clarify a fuzzy situation and move towards a well-framed problem definition. Fear blocks good fact-finding, by preventing important facts and challenges from being put into words. Without important facts available, proposed solutions might be off-target or lack commitment. Such solutions will fail in execution or fail to be implemented. Candor – the ability to express difficult feelings or disappointment news frankly and without evasion – is the opposite of fearful reticence. The Creative Problem Solving Process can overcome reticence and engender candor. The next story illustrates this.

Fig. 5 A continuos process of inventing and learning.

Old and Familiar


New and Strange

© 2014 Min Basadur. This diagram is based on thinking of William J. J Gordon in the period 1975-76.

In the CPS Process, the organization itself is learning. Along with supportive environment and process, learning is also a key component of the learning organization as defined by Garvin, Edmondson and Gino.

Snapshot: The very moment of learning what’s really stopping a team where they make a choice and quickly overcome an implementation barrier

The business problem was that delivery trucks were dispatched half full. Management had been waiting over a year for a recommendation to implement and was frustrated by the slow moving team. Here are some of the key facts elicited in the Creative Problem Solving session Dr. Basadur facilitated:

  1. An outside vendor had proposed a new way of loading the trucks that would fill them completely and result in an annual savings of $12million.
  2. Tests had been conducted across the country to check if chip breakage would be increased by the new method.
  3. Findings from the breakage tests were inconsistent. Additional tests were now underway.
  4. The Market Research Department had stepped in to study if there might be an optimum level of chip breakage that consumer might prefer.
  5. The consumer preference test results were also inconclusive.
  6. The Market Research Department was also involved in more tests.

How do you break a cycle of endless testing?

As part of defining the problem, the Basadur Creative Problem Solving process includes Challenge Mapping. One of the probing questions at the heart of Challenge Mapping is, “What’s stopping you?”

To break analysis paralysis, Dr. Basadur wrote on the flip chart:

“How might we write a recommendation to management by 3pm today to approve the new loading technique?”

Then he asked the question, “What might be stopping us?” and invited divergent replies.

A1: The breakage test is not complete.
A2: The optimal chip breakage level for consumers is still unknown.

After a third time asking, and a painfully long wait, someone finally said:

A3: I think we are afraid to make a recommendation without being completely sure. We don’t want to be wrong in front of management.

This new fact had never before been clearly stated. It inspired a new challenge question: “How might we write the recommendation for change in a way that will explain the risk and ask management to take that risk with us?”

The result of the session:

  • The recommendation was submitted well before 3pm.
  • The next morning, the recommendation was immediately approved, with $12 million accruing to the bottom line

How can an Ambitious Leader implement the CPS Process?

In the previous story (see page 12) because the team knew the CPS Process, with a skilled facilitator they could quickly identify and overcome the barrier to implementation. The ambitious leader will want the aptitude for overcoming obstacles as part of a team’s core competency. Using the CPS Process, it is possible for the ambitious leader to look beyond a single difficult decision to the patterns of problem solving a team exhibits, and change them.

Implementing the CPS Process begins with education. Education begins with self-awareness, at the individual and team levels.

People have preferences and strengths in different stages in the process. The Creative Problem Solving Profile (CPSP) is a valid instrument to measure those preferences (Basadur, Gelade and Basadur 2014). Different people have differing skills in the various stages of the creative process. All of us can improve our skills in the stages in which we are relatively weak (as well as in those stages where we are stronger). Profiling a team unearths which thinking skills are missing.

Organizational creativity requires teamwork, utilizing people of differing inclinations and strengths to complement each other, as they work together to initiate, develop and implement improvement ideas and innovative ideas, resolve problems and seize upon opportunities. The Creative Problem Solving Profile (CPSP) provides ambitious leaders with a lens with which to examine team composition and identify gaps in a team’s problem solving capability.

So implementing the CPS Process means developing a culture of adaptability by people with the training, insight and attitudes consistent with the Process and also using awareness of the Process to compose teams that include and balance all four problem solving preference styles. The chronic problems of teams who fail to generate breakthrough ideas or fail to get new solutions into execution often boil down to the preferences and capabilities of the people on the team. Insight and process training can change the team’s capabilities.


Fig. 6

Real-world example 1: A manager inside an old fashioned company that desperately needs a breakthrough idea forms a team. He chooses well, insofar as the team generates a raft of problems worth solving and creative ideas to meet those needs. But now the manager has a new dilemma: nothing changes, no new ideas ever get implemented. Looking at his team, we can see why.

When change starts and then stalls, the reason may be an incomplete team. Ambitious leaders need to anticipate this, and help problem owners build the best possible teams to move innovative thinking all the way into effective implementation.

The Process and the Profile give ambitious leaders the visibility to diagnose problems and make changes to improve adaptive capabilities


Fig. 7

Real-world example 2: Fig. 7 is the distribution of creative styles of a typical group of managers within a large aerospace company serving aircraft, airline and aerospace industries. The company is determined to expand faster into new products and new markets. With this spread of managers, how likely is this team to surface customer problems and find fresh commercial opportunities?

Faced with this, senior leadership can introduce Creative Problem Solving Process training and also recognize and reward people who achieve skills and demonstrate success in Generator activities. This will allow the strategic ecosystem to flourish.

A large-scale field study (n=6,091) is presented that establishes the psychometric properties of the CPSP and examines the distribution of the four styles in different occupations and at different organizational levels. This article provides a concrete blueprint for organizational leaders to follow to (a) increase organizational adaptability, (b) simplify change management and (c) address important organizational effectiveness issues at the individual, team and organizational levels.

Published in 2014 in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, this article provides profound evidence of the relevance to ambitious leaders of the four-stage creative problem solving process, with each stage involving a different kind of cognitive activity.

Ambitious leaders can use insights from CPSP to get the right people on the strategic teams.


Fig. 8

Problem recognition: At a pan-national symposium of Lean Six Sigma leaders, the CPSP is offered to 79 delegates ahead of a workshop (Fig. 8). The majority of Continuous Improvement (CI) professionals have creative styles that support solution development and implementation. They are good at driving efficiency, incremental improvements.

With fewer Generators and Conceptualizers, however, this tribe is less likely to create disruptive innovation or discontinuous change. (Real-world example 3)



Fig. 9

Composing the right team to spearhead transformation: By contrast, a regional hospital seeking innovation has appointed a Transformation Leaders team to work across the hospital surfacing problems (“golden eggs”) and exploiting ideas. Here is a team capable of adaptability. (Real-world example 4)

The profile of this change-making team differs markedly from the CI leaders. Yet, providing you had reliable insights about creative styles and relative strengths, you could compose this dynamic team from that larger pool. 

Ambitious leaders need reliable insights to run both ecosystems simultaneously.

If the CPS Process works, why is creativity in work so hard?

An eight-year worldwide study has profiled 27,191 people to date, drawn from a range of business, professional and academic settings. Fig. 10 shows the findings.

The lack of generators can hit directly at a firm’s prospects.


Fig. 11

Real-world Example 5: A very profitable manufacturing plant has a top management team that tolerates many quality defects, much rework and waste, duplication of effort, firefighting, makeshift steps, resource under-utilization in an environment with little accountability. In this setting, people work in silos and sit idle if work is unbalanced.

When assessed using the CPSP (Fig. 11), only one of the 14 top managers prefers optimization and most of the managers are Implementers capable of flexing but lacking efficiency.

We can see the generators clearly preferential entrepreneurial settings.


Fig. 12

Real-world Example 6: One way larger companies solve the problem of breakthrough innovation is effectively to outsource the generating, prototyping and launching of truly novel ideas to entrepreneurial startups, and then acquire the successes. Profiling an Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Association bears out the common knowledge that the startup world attracts Generators. This distribution of profiles shows that even those individuals with top strengths in Optimization or Implementation are close to the midline. This starkly contrasts with the distribution seen in Real-world Example 5 above.

The relative absence of generators within corporations is one fact that makes workplace creativity hard (Basadur and Basadur 2011). When something is hard, the management studies field often portrays it as a mystery or a paradox. Workplace creativity is neither.

“Our ignorance can be divided into problems and mysteries. When we face a problem, we may not know its solution, but we have insight, increasing knowledge, and an inkling of what we are looking for. When we face a mystery, however, we can only stare in wonder and bewilderment, not knowing what an explanation would even look like.”
― Noam Chomsky

Within the iterative CPS Process, imaginative and analytical thinking integrate. The opposing forces that make up the creative process – generative thinking, evaluative thinking, learning by concrete experiencing, learning by abstract thinking– co-exist as part of a sustainable process.

The 8-step Creative Problem Solving Process is both cognitive and social, it can be learned and systematically applied to open-ended, uncertain situations. It can scale across an entire organization, amplifying the beneficial impact of other tools like Continuous Improvement. Thorough training in the CPS Process equips teams to build true problem-solving cultures that embolden people to be proactive, strategic and effective. In short: the Creative Problem Solving Process can serve as the engine of ambitious leadership.

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