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The Three Cs of Innovative Thinking

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Using a real-world example, Lon S. Safko tells you how to use the three Cs Of Innovative Thinking (collect, calculate, and communicate) to think more creatively and innovatively.

Innovative Thinking is very popular right now—and for good reason. Corporate America is beginning to realize the importance of Innovative Thinking and how it allows us to be leaders in world technology by being more creative and competitive. Innovative thinking is what enabled companies such as Honda, Toyota, and Nissan to take huge market share from industry leaders such as General Motors and Ford, who somehow lost their capability to innovate (while most U.S. automobiles were made by hand, the Japanese employed robots). While U.S. autos were getting 16 miles per gallon (MPG), the Japanese autos were getting as high as 30 MPG. Their cars were efficient, inexpensive, and reliable. Even today the Japanese continue to surprise us with innovation: check out the Lexus LS 460, which parallel parks itself.

Innovative Thinking is about more than retaining or growing market share; it’s about creating new products and services, discovering new markets for existing products and services, and improving existing products and services, which all result in greater revenues. Innovative Thinking isn’t limited to the tangible; it can be applied to systemic issues, human resources, product delivery, market channels, sales, marketing, public relations, finance, ecommerce, web design, and even advertising.

As an example, in 1898 Joshua Lionel Cowen came up with an idea for a decorative lighting fixture for potted plants. It was a metal tube with a light bulb at the end and a dry cell battery that could run the light bulb for up to 30 days. Conrad Hubert, who worked for Cowen’s company, Eveready, came up with the idea of turning the poorly selling plant light into the world’s first flashlight. He began selling the batteries and the flashlight, together and as separate items. This shows Cowen’s ability to innovate and re-innovate.

Recognize Joshua’s middle name? Joshua became a multimillionaire in 1900 when he was trying to invent a store window display that incorporated a battery-powered toy car that traveled on a circular track. People wanted to buy the display more than the actual merchandise he was trying to sell. Cowen then started a company called Lionel Model Trains.

We are all born Innovative Thinkers. Just ask any child caught with his hand in a cookie jar. Innovative Thinking is present in us all, but during the course of our formative years, we are taught to suppress our individualism, our creativity, and our innovation. Our society believes that if we "fit in" and conform we will be happier in life. We are taught from an early age to always "color inside of the lines." As a result, we lose our ability to express our creativity and innovation as adults.

The good news is that there’s hope. Innovation is like any other skill, whether it’s riding a bike, playing the piano, or just being a good speller; it’s a learned behavior. In this article, I will show you the psychological and physiological obstacles to Innovative Thinking, and most importantly, I will offer a technique to help you become more proficient at Innovative Thinking.

Physiological Barriers to Innovative Thinking

Physiological barriers are one reason we aren’t always as innovative as we want to be. Physiological barriers include perceptual, emotional, cultural, and environmental elements. These barriers restrict our ability for our left brain (analytical)/right brain (creative) and conscious/subconscious to properly collect the information necessary, choose and calculate which information is important, and communicate those ideas to our consciousness, providing us with an innovative solution.

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