Creative Thinking With...

Incremental Creativity:

The CANI evolutionary approach to creative innovation

Most creative thinking does not come in blinding flashes but in bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece, incremental stages. We get an idea and then we improve it over time. This is known as evolutionary creativity (for some exasperated partners of inventors, it's better known as 'tinkering'!).

Incremental creativity is a great concept to embrace. It frees you up from a need to be perfect from the get go. Entrepreneurs (and software developers) love that and say it is more important to get an idea going than to have it be perfect from the very start (see 'Ready, Fire. Aim' by Michael Masterson).

You can think of this as a stepping-stone approach to creativity. One step leads to another and leads to another and so on. New ideas are born out of old ones. But you need to have had and developed the old idea before you get to the new ones. This is the magic!

Kaizen is a Japanese word that captures the spirit of incremental creativity perfectly. It means continuous improvement. It's a business strategy and philosophy which encourages everyone within an organisation to come up with ways, every day, to improve everything within that organisation or industry. Can you imagine thinking that way? Can you see how that approach can reap massive rewards over the long term?

Life coach extraordinaire, Tony Robbins, applied Kaizen to personal development. He encourages you to live by the CANI formula. CANI stands for Constant And Never-ending Improvement! You see, once again, we have that idea of making small daily steps or just improving things by a few more percent. Over the long term this creates massive personal evolution!

The School of Thinking have two wonderful little formulas that tie in nicely with this evolutionary creativity concept.

The first is called the power of ten and is symbolised as '10x'. What this means is that you try and list ways of how you can make something 10 times better, 10 times cheaper, 10 times more profitable, 10 times more enjoyable (or whatever... you get the point) or you use it to list 10 different ways something could be improved.

The other formula is 'CVStoBVS' and that stands for Current View of Situation to Better View of Situation. This little anacronym is used as a mini-mantra to drill home the concept of looking for the new, slightly improved view of a situation or idea. It revolves around this concept of improving on what has already been achieved.

Evolutionary or incremental creativity is very much embraced by the geniuses and great minds of the world. The briefest look at the biographies of some of the geniuses of the world will reveal a familiar theme... this idea of 'standing on the shoulders of giants' -- something that most great minds admit to. This again simply reminds us that the current generation builds upon the ideas and understandings that have been reached by previous thinkers.

Kaizen At Work

As mentioned, the Japanese take this idea of incremental improvements very seriously, and workforces are encouraged to submit ideas on how things can be improved. Toyota Motors receive over 1.5 million suggestions a year from their workers, and 95% of them are put to practical use. If you think that's impressive, Masushita, the electronics company, receive about 6.5 million ideas from their staff and are equally committed to putting those ideas into operation. Nissan Motors are so keen on improving the way the work and produce motors that, "any suggestion that saves at least 0.6 seconds -- the time it takes a worker to stretch out his hand or walk half a step -- is seriously considered by management."

How to apply incremental creativity

To tap into this sense of making sure and steady progress, embrace the Kaizen-CANI philosophy, and tap the School of Thinking formulas to keep this strategy front of your mind. Ask yourself questions like, 'How could this be improved? What would make this better? What isn't perfect yet?'

Get specific if you need: 'How could I increase sales by 10%? What can we do to shave 5% off the bottom line? How can we improve fuel efficiency in this engine by 8%?' etc

Basically, accept that you don't need to make big radical evolutionary leaps. They'll happen if you simply commit to making small daily or weekly improvements. Just keep plugging away and making it better! Look at the basic ideas and concepts you are dealing with, right now, and give some time to combining them and seeing how they can give rise to new ideas or improved ideas. Remember, new ideas are born from old ideas in a stepping stone fashion. Keep moving forward, keep making small steps forward, and you'll soon be looking back and thinking, 'Wow! It's incredible how much I've achieved and how far I've come!"