Innovation isn’t a Linear Process @Medici_Manager

David Burkus

When I started researching creativity and innovation, one of the thought leaders I kept reading from again and again was Keith Sawyer. His book, Group Genius, was the first to truly examine collaborative creativity. His textbook, Explaining Creativity, was the first comprehensive review of creativity research. Naturally, I was inclined to read and review Keith’s newest book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity.

Zig Zag is a practitioner book. Although it is steeped in research, its coverage of that research is accessible to all. Likewise, there are practices and exercises throughout the book all designed to help enhance your creative ability. Zig Zag grew out of Sawyer’s Explaining Creativity, in which he summarizes all of the research on the creative process and arrives at an 8-stage model that all creativity and innovation efforts move through. Put simply, the eight stages are as follows:

  • Ask – how to ask the right questions for the most novel answers
  • Learn – how to prepare your mind for creativity
  • Look – how to be aware of the answers all around you
  • Play – how to free your mind to imagine possible worlds
  • Think – how to have way more ideas than you’ll ever need
  • Fuse – how to combine ideas in surprising new ways
  • Choose – how to pick the best ideas
  • Make – how to get your ideas out into the world to drive your creativity forward

While lots of creativity and innovation books promote their trademark process, one thing that makes Sawyer’s unique is his assertion (supported by research) that his eight stages aren’t really stages at all, not in the sense of a linear progression through stages. Instead, the creative process zigs and zags through these stages, doubling back or jumping around when necessary. This assertion has significant implications for organizations that are wed to the concept of a smooth, predictable process. When it comes to generating innovation products and services, Sawyer reveals, it takes a few zigs and zags.

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