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Managers: Stop Squelching Creativity and Originality, Exhorts New Boston Consulting Group Book

To Uncover Breakthrough Ideas, Executives Should Encourage Their Teams to Think the Unthinkable, Say Authors of "Thinking in New Boxes: A New Paradigm for Business Creativity"

BOSTON, MA -- (Marketwired) -- 10/01/13 -- Too many business leaders do not give their teams sufficient room to be truly creative. In fact, managers often kill creative and potentially groundbreaking concepts because they refuse to consider challenging and seemingly impossible ideas, say the authors of Thinking in New Boxes: A New Paradigm for Business Creativity (Random House, September 2013), a new book from The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

"Radical creativity can be intimidating, because it forces us to doubt everything we think we know, but that is what drives game-changing breakthroughs," says co-author Luc de Brabandere, a BCG fellow and senior advisor.

"Revolutionary ideas come about when we doubt our existing view of the world," adds co-author Alan Iny, BCG's senior specialist for creativity and scenarios. "In this respect, true leaders must develop the capacity for radical originality; they must re-imagine and reinvent the world in totally unexpected ways. By doing that, they can create a culture that is open to creative risk-taking, and an environment where failure is accepted as part of the creative process."

Complete Reversal of the Status Quo Can Carry You to New Heights

Consider the example of famed athlete Richard Fosbury. At the 1968 Olympic Games, 21-year-old Fosbury shocked the judges and 80,000 spectators by going over the high jump back first -- rather than using a leg-first, hurdle-style jump. He won the gold medal and set a new Olympic record.

Fosbury admits that he was forced to experiment with new techniques because he wasn't good enough at the existing technique to win. When it debuted, his approach was dismissed by journalists and competitors. But in a sport where fractions of an inch can decide a winner, an improvement of half a foot clearly deserved attention. "I guess it did look kind of weird at first," said Fosbury, "but it felt so natural that, like all good ideas, you just wonder why no one had thought of it before me." His signature move, known as the "Fosbury Flop," has become world-renowned -- and is currently featured in television commercials by Mazda -- as an example of ingenuity, creativity and innovation.

Sometimes Pursuing the "Impossible" Opens New Opportunities, Even New Worlds

As illustrated by the Fosbury Flop, Iny and de Brabandere believe that thinking the unthinkable is not only productive, but necessary for organizations that want to thrive and maintain a leadership position. They encourage exercises that push people to broaden their thinking and unleash their imagination in a structured way. Their systematic approach to business creativity prompts:

  • Wildly opposing beliefs, ideas, opinions, visions
  • Views that may be unpopular, unattractive or unconventional
  • Ideas that seem misguided and even absurd

"The process requires us to deliberately think of ideas that may at first seem not just unlikely, but impossible," says Iny.

Why Think the Unthinkable?

In 1853, if you were a high-end jewelry company, could you have predicted that your industry would be turned on its ear by a lowly stationery retailer called Tiffany & Co.? When NASA was looking for ways to land an 800-pound supercomputer called Pathfinder on the surface of Mars, who could have predicted they'd let it bounce 15 times using airbags? These are the kinds of wild, seemingly impossible events and innovations that can be game changers.

"Pretend your chief competitor goes out of business tomorrow, and ask why it happened and what you would do?" asks Iny. "What is the biggest breakthrough you envision on the cover of TIME 15 years from now, and how might it affect you? The practical benefit to thinking the unthinkable or the purely speculative is that it opens your eyes to risks and opportunities that you may not otherwise see."

Don't Let Inertia or Conventional Wisdom Squash "Crazy" New Ideas

According to Iny and de Brabandere, not enough executives see the value in this kind of creative process or in the kind of deep doubt and questioning that can result in upsetting the status quo. The authors encourage executives and team leaders to resist the lure of convention, inertia and judgment -- especially in brainstorming and when they are pushing their teams to be "creative."

The book highlights "77 ways to kill a new idea," all of which can potentially stifle creativity and block the path to successes. They fall into several categories, including:

  • Blaming oneself: "I guess I'm just not creative;" "We're too small for that;" "We're not a lab."
  • Worrying about the attitudes of others: "The boss will never go for it;" "What will clients think;" "People don't want to change."
  • Worrying immediately about resources: "We don't have the equipment;" "We don't have the data;" "It's too expensive."

Iny and de Brabandere point to many examples of organizations where new and important ideas never got traction because of rigid assumptions about the market: Blockbuster never imagined that Netflix would destroy its retail business with mail order subscriptions and then online streaming. Decca Records refused to sign The Beatles in 1962 because they believed "guitar groups are on the way out." And in 1876, the head of the British Post Office said that, "Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys."

"History brims with ideas and concepts that once seemed impossible, but ended up changing the world," says de Brabandere. "Some people were at the forefront of change, others got left behind. The question is: How can you leverage the creativity of your people to make sure it doesn't happen to you?"

To be creative, people need to be free to question the status quo. And to remain competitive, organizations must be vigilant about identifying assumptions and preconceptions that may be blinding them to new opportunities.

About the Book

Thinking in New Boxes offers readers a practical guide to unlocking breakthrough creativity: what it looks like, how to achieve it, and what to expect from it. It also provides powerful new tools to improve the creative process, whether for individuals, teams, or entire organizations. Learn more at www.thinkinginnewboxes.com.

About the Authors

Luc de Brabandere is a fellow and a senior advisor in the Paris office of The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). He leads strategic seminars with boards, senior executives, and management from a wide range of companies looking to develop new visions, new products and services, and long-term scenarios to prepare for the future. He is the author or co-author of nine books, including The Forgotten Half of Change: Achieving Greater Creativity through Changes in Perception, and a regular columnist for various newspapers in France and Belgium. Prior to joining BCG, he was the general manager of the Brussels Stock Exchange.

Alan Iny is the senior specialist for creativity and scenarios at The Boston Consulting Group. He has trained thousands of executives and BCG consultants, runs a wide range of workshops across industries, and speaks around the world about up coming products, services, and other ideas, developing a new strategic vision, and thinking creatively about the future. Before joining BCG in 2003, he earned an MBA from Columbia Business School and an honors BSc from McGill University in Mathematics and Management. Iny lives in New York with his wife and daughter.

About The Boston Consulting Group

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global management consulting firm and the world's leading advisor on business strategy. We partner with clients in all sectors and regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and transform their businesses. Our customized approach combines deep insight into the dynamics of companies and markets with close collaboration at all levels of the client organization. This ensures that our clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage, build more capable organizations, and secure lasting results. Founded in 1963, BCG is a private company with 78 offices in 43 countries. For more information, please visit bcg.com.

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