How do you add structure to creativity? It’s not a trick question.

creativity-300x240Want more creativity and innovation inside your organization? Get less haphazard. Sounds counter intuitive – but hold that thought. Too often people confuse unbridled and accidental with creative and innovative. There’s a reason why Einstein always said he worked better with a deadline. Creativity and innovation need structure. Guardrails help guide our path to the better ideas, the better solutions, the better products, services and systems we want and need. Following a model is an ideal way to create structure.

Follow these 5 stages to produce your next brilliant idea and take it to market…fast!

Stage 1 – Question:

The first stage of the model is posing a question.

  • How can we…?
  • How might we…?

At the core of creativity, truly brilliant creativity, is the best question – the “right” question. What is and where are you in your quest to add value? Too much time is often spent trying to solve a non-issue, a secondary or even tertiary issue, while the core challenge remains illusive or even ill-defined. Spend more time formulating the bigger, better, braver, bolder questions and you will ultimately solve the bigger, better, braver, bolder problems.

Stage 2 – Diverge:

The second stage of the model involves expanding your perspective by getting diverse and often disparate input and stimuli. Gathering information, collecting data and brainstorming are key activities of this stage. You can increase your potential number of ideas with tools such as SIT (Systematic Inventive Thinking), SCAMPER (Substitute, Subtract, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to Other Uses, Eliminate and Reverse) or SHIFTS (looking at aerospace, medicine, biology, retail, technology, lots of other industries) to discover what’s trending, then adapt those trends to your own products, services or company.


  • What might be simplified, substituted, combined, adapted, magnified, ?minimized, put to other uses, eliminated or re-arranged?
  • What ideas might be borrowed from other industries and/or the arts?

Stage 3 – Connect:

The third stage of the model is about discovering the common threads, patterns and relationships between these disparate pieces of information and activities. Connecting is all about Reflection, Evaluation and Prediction (three highest forms of critical thinking) and where Theta time is often the most useful in discovering the Eureka! you seek. This is also the phase wherein creativity yields to innovation. Looking at all the data you gathered from the previous stage, ask yourself:

  • What patterns, threads, themes or relationships do we see in our data, in our ideas?

Stage 4 – Converge:

The fourth stage of the model requires deciding which ideas are the right ideas to invest in. Think: judge and purge. Converging is necessary to sort through all the ideas, pieces of information and hypotheses you’ve formulated to find the one idea that really works. Blood, sweat and tears (again) may be required for this phase of translating and converting your ideas into an essential product or service. The two essential questions that will help guide your best choice are:

  • What wows?
  • What works?

Stage 5 – Emerge:

The fifth and final stage of the model is about ensuring your timing is right, your audience is targeted and the plan you create will guarantee you emerge successfully, i.e., how best to take your ideas to market in the most compelling and persuasive way.

Three critical questions that help guide how best you go-to-market are:

  • What do people desire? (Want versus need.)
  • What is technically, organizationally and culturally feasible?
  • What is financially viable for us and the customer?

Solutions that emerge at the end of this model must be desirable, feasible and viable.

For innovation to occur and ultimately come to market, a culture of curiosity and action must exist in all 5 stages. What might the big idea/goal look like to different people; how might it fit or disrupt existing products or systems; what’s the big “why” for the big idea? Creating strategic and tactical environments where these questions can be explored, where ideas are tested and measured and results challenged and applied, is absolutely essential for the idea that’s born to create innovation that wows…and works.

What are other suggestions you have for creating structure around creativity?

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