"Despite the diversity of tools to support creative thinking, all such tools are based on three simple principles: attention, escape, and movement. This simple, three-part structure opens the way to the development of an infinite number of methods for DirectedCreativity. You can now develop your own techniques that are specifically suited to the issues you are dealing with, to your own personality and preferences, or to the subtle dynamics of a particular group. There is no magic in the methods written down in books; at least no magic that you cannot duplicate on your own."

Using the Three Principles to Design a Creative Thinking Exercise for an Accounting Firm


Steven Ross is the quality manager for the accounting firm of Smith, Jones, and Duzkiwitz (SJ&D). The firm has 63 accountants and is one of the largest and most respected firms in the city. But, with its size and respectability, SJ&D has also developed a reputation for being somewhat "stuffy." The size, prestige, and tradition of the firm has worked in its favor in the past when most of the local economy revolved around similarly conservative, large employers. But that has changed over the years. Corporate downsizing has shifted the center of the local business community. A much greater percentage of the local economy is now based on small, entrepreneurial businesses started by those caught up in the downsizing trend.

These new business leaders need SJ&D's accounting and financial services, but wood-paneled offices, country-club lunches, and formal relationships mean little to them. Many of the firm's clients -- small business owners who are quickly becoming millionaires -- show up at meetings in denim jeans and pull-over shirts. (Much to the dismay of the firm's partners who wouldn't think of conducting business in anything other than a well-tailored suit.) Finance is important to these new business leaders, but so are lots of other operational and developmental details of their business. What they want are innovative services tailored to their needs and lifestyles. And that is exactly what they are starting to get from some of the small accounting firms in the city.

To their credit, the partners in the firm have recognized the need for innovative change and are anxious to do something about it. Mr. Duzkiwitz -- none of the junior members of the firm would dare to call him by his first name, Raymond -- called Steven Ross to his office a few days ago and asked him to head up an effort to generate some innovative pilot services in the firm.

Mr. Duzkiwitz Will See You Now....

"Come in, come in, Steven... good to see you again," Mr. Duzkiwitz said with a firm handshake. "Let me get right to the point," he continued, taking his position in the big leather chair behind the massive oak desk in his well-appointed office.

"Innovation... that's what are clients do in their own businesses... that's what they expect of us... and that is exactly what we're going to give them." "I figured," Mr. Duzkiwitz continued, "that since this need is primarily driven by the customers, that this was a natural for you and the quality management effort."

"But," Mr. Duzkiwitz continued, peering over the top of his reading glasses, "I am not looking for small improvements. And I also don't want the firm being seen as simply copying what other accounting firms are doing. We didn't get to where we are today by following the crowd. The clients we are losing are creative innovators in their own fields. And they expect their accounting firm to be an innovator in its field."

"What we need are some new, fresh ideas," Duzkiwitz continued leaning back in his chair. "Creativity. Service. That's the ticket. A year from now, I want the local business section of the newspaper to feature a story on us hailing the innovative services that we have brought to our clients."

Calvin, Herbert (i.e., "Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones") I, and the rest of the partners are behind you on this. We'll personally spearhead the changes, but we need some ideas to run with. We have every confidence in your ability to deliver. We suggest you form a team to begin working on it right away. I'll have Elaine send out a memo stating that you have my full authority to proceed in the exploratory phase of this effort."

Duzkiwitz swiveled in his chair to access his calendar on the firm's computer system. "Can we get an initial set of ideas back from your team in, say... a month?"

Designing the DirectedCreativity Plan

Quite a challenge. Clearly, Steven Ross and his colleagues can use their analytical skills to do some useful background work. But, just as clearly, this group is going to need some creative, outside-the-box ideas in customer service.

Using the principles of attention, escape, and movement, let's quickly construct a DirectedCreativity plan for Steven's team.

Accounting firms tend to be rule-oriented and paradigm-bound, so it might be good to begin by paying attention to these traditional rules and paradigms. But it is not clear how open people will be to confronting these traditions head-on. Let's see... perhaps we could get at this by asking the design team to list all the ways in which a "typical" accounting firm is different from other organizations that are known for customer service. This would give us both escape and attention, so that is good.

Simply generating the list of other organizations that are known for great customer service would focus further attention on what we mean by "great service." So, it would be worthwhile to let the group do this. We could heighten the attention even more by actually sending out people to visit these organizations (another means of escape) with the purpose of bringing back at least three new observations about great customer service. Note that the requirement would be that people bring back new insights; not just a re-hash of what is already known. You really have to pay attention to discover something new.

Well, so far we have provided plenty of attention and escape. Now we need to plan some mental movement.

Suppose we took the items on the lists of ways in which an accounting firm is different from other organizations and parceled these out to groups of employees, asking them to come up with five concrete ways in which the firm could narrow the distinction represented by the item. Involving more people and asking for multiple ideas stimulates mental movement. We could further encourage this movement by asking the groups to use the rules of brainstorming. Going further, we should also ask them to submit at least one totally outrageous idea. We could then distribute these on e-mail and ask others to use them as stepping stones for generating practical ideas. These processes should generate quite a bit of mental movement in the firm over a several week period.

To continue the creative process, we will ask everyone to submit all their ideas to the original team for harvesting, development, and evaluation. Recall that these are the next steps in the model of the DirectedCreativity cycle. These next steps would involve further creative mental actions to focus attention on the pros and cons of each idea. The group could then actively search for ways to escape the cons that would otherwise result in rejection of the ideas. Further mental movement could occur as pieces of ideas are combined to form new ideas.

We will revisit Steven Ross and the challenge of generating service design innovations in our hypothetical accounting firm throughout this web site. We will use this example to illustrate a variety of tools for DirectedCreativity; methods that will take us well beyond this initial plan.

Anyone Can Do It!

See how easy it can be to invent your own methods for directing creative thoughts in a specific application. Now that you understand the basic principles, you can develop tools that are just as valid as anyone else's tools.

Specifically, you can design methods to accommodate various criteria:

As this example illustrates, you could develop your own methods, or borrow pieces of methods that you have learned about elsewhere. You could plan it all out, or let the process be emergent as you go along. There are many ways to succeed. Just remember: attention, escape, and movement. DirectedCreativity is the repeated application of these three, simple mental principles as we progress through the DirectedCreativity Cycle of preparation, imagination, development, and action.


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