We have reviewed: Dangerous Ideas - When provocative thinking becomes your most valuable asset
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By Alf Rehn
We often imagine creativity is something that is pleasant and fun but real creativity tends to be a little threatening says Alf Rehn in his book 'Dangerous Ideas'. In this book he explores dangerous thinking by confronting the uncomfortable matters that this involves, like being forced out of ones comfort zone and finding the things that challenge the status quo.
The people that challenge the way we think and act are individuals who take thinking that one step further. They do not just develop a creative idea; they make radical breaks with how people understood the product, business or industry. And this book explores how to do just that through these five steps.
1) Imitation. He says that the main problem people have with creativity is that they are innately good at 'imitating'. If we see a good idea we are almost programmed to replicate it. It is easy to get stuck in this comfortable thinking. But true innovators are out there exploring strange new trajectories.
2) Expansion. It is easy to think that the way out of 'imitation' is 'expansion', so we study other areas, collect more information and seek more solutions. Companies like this because it is safe and controllable. But if we study the history of new business models, they are born out of something much more radical. When IKEA introduced cheap, flat pack furniture they operated within an industry that over centuries had expanded through new design, materials and new kinds of furniture. But IKEA seriously challenged the order of things. We too need to look elsewhere for inspiration.
Rehn cites NASA and the technical break through their scientists made, after much expense, in developing a ball point pen that would work at zero gravity. They felt it was such a great innovation that they should share it with the Soviets. This was greeted with much surprise. They had encountered the same problem and simply switched to using pencils. Sometimes, the old tried and tested solution is the most creative.
And sometimes it is about expanding one's thinking. Does ketchup have to be red? Once one has seen the yellow and purple varieties on the supermarket shelf, it is not that difficult to think of green, blue or pink ketchup. True real creativity lives on the other side of the self-evident.
3) Provocation. IKEA did not just imitate and expand on old ideas they made a provocative break with the past. They were seen as threatening, unsuitable and even greeted with some disgust. But they had re-booted the thinking in their industry. The biggest barrier to creativity is the thought that things have to be, tasteful, suitable and serious. We need to accept that people have different desires and approaches to things and it is not for the organisation to define which is 'proper'. Rationality is a product of our past and creativity looks to the future. So start asking these questions....What can one never do? What is forbidden? And what is inappropriate in our industry?
4) Re-assessment. Once you have broken with your old frameworks it becomes imperative that you re-assess the context within which you are used to working. Dangerous thinking is not just about having a good idea but about undertaking a continuous re-evaluation of the environment to develop new ways of thinking. And this will require constructive criticism and good conflicts. Companies need to face the future that they are no longer able to control everything. More and more control will move outside the organisation through the use of social networks. Rehn talks about this being more than 'open innovation' it is about losing control. Humility in the face of this loss of control will be a strategic advantage.
5) Dangerous thinking to generate ideas that can change the world. The transition can be tough and re-assessing things can be a difficult process but it is this very resistance that brings meaningful change. Rehn suggests we should not underestimate the power of deadlines and the panicked brain. He suggests a short course on creativity which for him is about Googling a random word or name each day and seeing where that takes him. You need to work consciously on gaining inputs from places you would not normally look. And finally remember you don't recognise great entrepreneurs by the number of their ideas but their capacity to realise a few of them. So one last point just do it.
Alf Rehn is Chair of Management and Organization at Abo Akademi University (Finland) and formerly Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden). He is a consultant in the areas of creativity, innovation and consumer behaviour and was identified by the Times newspaper as a star of the future.
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