This week from The MIX: The Creative Discipline

mckinsey By Marla M. Capozzi, Renee Dye and Amy Howe at McKinsey & Company.

Marla M. Capozzi is a senior innovation expert in McKinsey’s Boston office. She focuses on developing breakthrough ideas and innovation strategies as well as mobilizing for innovation at scale. Renee Dye is a senior expert at McKinsey in Atlanta and Amy Howe is a McKinsey partner in Los Angeles.

1. Immerse yourself

Surprisingly, you shouldn't overestimate the ability of facts to change people's minds about what is and isn't possible. The human mind is surprisingly adroit at finding ways to support its deep-seated ways of viewing the world, while sifting out evidence to the contrary.

This was the case with an animal-health pharmaceutical client that was considering expanding to China.  We spent days reviewing facts about the opportunities there, but at the end of the workshop they were no closer to a decision about whether to enter that market. So we took them to China, visiting dairy farms, processing plants, retail outlets, among other relevant stops. Their visit brought to life all the differences, difficulties, and complexities of competing in China in a way that PowerPoint slides never could.  For example, they learned that scooter-riding sales representatives wouldn't be able to haul all the equipment that their American counterparts could.

This works when it comes to understanding your customers as well as exploring new markets.  Read more…

2. Overcome orthodoxies

Another way to jolt your brain out of the familiar is to explore deep-rooted company (or even industry) orthodoxies. All organizations have them: the conventional wisdom about "the way we do things," for instance, or the unchallenged assumptions about what customers want.

By identifying and then challenging these kinds of beliefs, companies can learn to embrace new ideas. The rewards for success can be massive: Best Buy's $3 million acquisition of Geek Squad in 2002, for example, went against the conventional wisdom that said consumers wouldn't pay extra to have products installed in their homes. Today, it's a $2-billion-a-year business.  The recession led McCormick Spices to challenge its internal orthodoxy that it was a spice manufacturer and position itself instead as an enabler of healthy and affordable meals.  Read more…

3. Use analogies

In testing and observing 3,000 creative executives over a six-year period, Jeffrey Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen noted five important discovery skills common to innovators: Associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking. Of these, the most powerful was associating: asking people to make connections across "seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas."

A list of questions like the ones below can serve as a jumping off point.

  • How would Google manage our data?
  • How might Disney engage with our consumers?
  • How could Southwest Airlines cut our costs?
  • How would Zara redesign our supply chain?
  • How would Starwood Hotels design our customer loyalty program?
  • How might Apple simplify and integrate our products and services?

We used this technique effectively with a global credit card company. Read about some of the conclusions they drew….

4. Create constraints

Imposing constraints to spark creativity may seem counter-intuitive. Isn't the idea to explore "white spaces" and "blue oceans?" Our experience, however, is that necessity is the mother of invention. Imposing artificial constraints injects some much-needed stark necessity into an otherwise low-risk exercise.  Read how you can do this….

About the Author: Linda Lisle