Creativity can be corporate virtue
A senior executive for a global manufacturing company learned how to identify and solve the source of recurring quality issues.
A mid-level executive at an entertainment company transformed his office desk into a tool used to gather ideas. He turned his glass-topped wood desk into an “ideation board” and now feels the freedom to note an idea without having to pre-judge whether it’s a good one.
The founder of a consumer-product company wants to better understand his customers, and is developing ideas to help him determine the best mix of follow-on products and also develop a more effective marketing message.
These people-centered examples were generated by area business leaders at a recent workshop in York dedicated to promoting creative solutions in the corporate world.
The instructor was a York business owner and college instructor, Erin Casey, who sees a great opportunity to help companies help employees be more creative problem-solvers.
So instead of just seeking a solution the old-fashioned way, she said she wants executives and employees to know that “we all have creativity, but we often don’t know how to tap into it. We want to show people a way to more easily solve problems more creatively.”
Casey, owner of Design Quake, a business consulting and training firm in downtown York, leads an ongoing series of workshops called “Design Thinking,” a creative problem-solving system taught at Stanford University and used by companies like Pfizer pharmaceuticals and JetBlue Airlines.
Participants work on action plans that they can use to apply “Design Thinking” to their own work challenges or opportunities. The action plan identifies specific steps they can take over a day, a week and two weeks, explained Casey, who talks with participants two weeks to a month after the workshop ends to follow up on how the plan is working.
And when she follows up, “many of them are identifying larger projects or areas that they want to use these tools for,” she said, adding that many in business want to be more creative problem-solvers.
Among the goals of the design-thinking concept is to understanding the customer and to avoid defaulting to “the most convenient and simplest solution,” said York College administrator and professor Dominic DelliCarpini, who was at a recent workshop hosted by Casey.
Seminars focused on creativity greatly help the college’s students as they prepare to enter the business world, said DelliCarpini, who is dean of York College’s Center for Community Engagement.
“They recognize that they ought not just go to the simplest and quickest solution. To me, that’s what critical thinking is,” DelliCarpini added.
Casey, who teaches a course on design thinking at York College and has an MBA from Stanford University, said she wants her business to offer “a turnkey approach to help companies solve sticky problems and take advantage of new opportunities.”
The “Design Thinking” concept was created by the founders of IDEO, a product and process-design firm in Silicon Valley that worked on the design of the first mouse for Apple Inc.
Her workshops offer a fresh perspective on an organization’s problems, she noted, but “we don’t believe we know more about your business than your team.”
Eric Menzer, president of the York Revolution minor-league baseball team and a former Wagman Construction Inc. executive and York City official, is a big fan of creative thinking in business.
“Creativity is critically important in figuring out either, A, how to entertain and delight our customers, or B, deliver the product in the most cost-effective way possible,” Menzer said. “After all, this isn’t just a hobby … this is a for-profit business, so you’re always looking at ways to innovate, to be cost-effective, and creativity’s a big part of that.”
But creativity has to come with certain controls, Menzer continued.
The goal, he said, “is innovation, creativity, fresh thinking, but in an organized fashion that actually allows you to execute on it. Creativity with a purpose … and geared toward an actual end goal of an improvement in the product that actually meets a customer’s need, and not a need you made up.”
Devising creative solutions for a business problem can sometimes mean the person who thought up the idea runs into obstacles, noted York County executive coach Anita Marchesani.
“People say they want things to be different, but they don’t want to change,” said Marchesani, of Manchester Township, York County.
Marchesani, a licensed psychologist, works with a wide range of clients from a wide range of industries, and she talks a lot with them about business risk and thinking in new ways.
“Even in something like expanding (your business) geographically … it doesn’t seem creative, but it is, to find out where you want to go, how to find customers and where to find your support staff. The more you talk about your ideas, and the more people can challenge you” on them, it becomes clearer whether it might work, she said.
Being creative is just “thinking outside the box to handle something in a different way than you did before,” said a Lancaster County business coach, Karl Diffenderfer of Maytown. “Being creative is getting away from the things that distract us” and doing something different, from walking a trail to compiling new ideas on a whiteboard, he added.