Fourth Age Communiqué - Leadership for the rest of us

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Principles of breakthrough thinking

Deconstructing the building blocks of applied innovation. Based on 50 years of study in the field of creativity.

  • Explore the Challenge - Clarify a problem or opportunity. Sift through the relevant data and context of a problem to highlight the essence.

    This is the point at which you get all your assumptions out on the table. Also the point of root cause analysis.

    One effective means of understanding your challenge, goal or problem is to perform a gap analysis:

    Where do we want to be?
    Where are we now?
    What are all the things standing between our current reality and our desired future state?

  • Imagine the Possibilities - Consider all the possible ideas related to answering the challenge. Brainstorming is a technique most often used here.

    If the best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas, then deferring judgment is key. That means, get all your ideas out, and determine their value later. Studies show the best (most novel) ideas come in the last 1/3 of ideas generated, so push yourself for more ideas.

  • Shape your Future - Select and strengthen the best ideas, develop them into a workable solution.

    Filter: which ones stand out?
    Evaluate: what do you like about the ideas you selected? What could you improve?
    Prioritize: what do you see yourself doing now? What next? Who are the key stakeholders who must be on board?

  • Act! - Plan for action and implement. Set up a 30-60-90 day action plan and assign concrete tasks. Then execute on those tasks. Learn from your mistakes, but keep the ball in play. Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast.

    Contingency planning is key. What could go wrong? What should we do if it does go wrong? Whose support do we need? How do we get it?

  • Iterate - It's not over yet. It's time to start the process all over again.

    The process of applied innovation is not linear. Every step of the process can and should repeat, especially where there needs to be clarity and re-calibration.
Breakthrough thinking is as much a science as is any engineering field, so the key is discipline. The process, therefore, is only as intuitive as the practitioner.

Keep at it! Those we would consider innovative are the ones who have raised this science to an art.



  • Great post! The iterate step is the step most forgotten IMHO.

    By Blogger Singing to Jeffrey's Tune, at 6:16 AM  

  • Thanks for this - just posted a link to WCIW (World Creativity and innovation week April 15 - 21) inspiration links at

    By Blogger marcisegal, at 10:57 AM  

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