Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Creativity and Quality


The long held belief that creativity is a talent possessed only by a gifted few who can see beyond current paradigms. Creativity is a skill that can be developed and enhanced through structured learning and training. Let me share these thoughts on the relationship between creativity and quality. In this essay let me show my views on possible limitations of traditional quality improvement thinking and demonstrate the importance that creativity plays in enhancing quality improvement efforts.  

Conformists are good at playing the game. At school they quickly learn how to pass tests, how to please the teacher and how to copy when necessary. Later in life they are also good at assessing the game that is in play and then good at playing that game. 

So we have tended to leave creativity to the rebels. These are the people who cannot play the game, do not want to play the game and even want to be different for the sake of being different. We have been satisfied with that image of creativity. We have supposed that creativity is a combination of 'rebellious' motivation and inborn talent. Suppose that image of creativity is not only wrong but also dangerous. Suppose that it is dangerous because it prevents us from advancing the serious use of creativity. 

We can, I believe, move away from this old fashioned view of creativity. To move away from the notion that creativity is just messing around with brainstorming and hoping new ideas will happen. 

Consider an ordinary person who is bound up tightly with a rope. Obviously that person is not able to play the violin. If the tied-up person cannot play the violin then surely cutting the rope and freeing that person makes the person a violinist? This is an absurd leap of logic. Freeing the person may be a necessary step toward violin playing but does not, by itself, provide violin-playing skills. Why then do we apply this absurd logic to creativity?

We have observed that inhibited people are not creative. We then suppose that "liberating" people will suddenly make them creative. It does not follow at all. Yet almost the entire effort toward encouraging creative thinking has been concerned with freeing people up and liberating them from their inhibitions. It is supposed to be enough to be crazy. No wonder creativity is not taken seriously and is not as effective as it might be. 

Today, for the first time in history, we can understand the 'game' or creativity. This means that the conformists can now learn to play this game. Because conformists are better at learning and playing games, there is now a strong possibility that conformists will actually become more creative than the rebels, if the conformists have the motivation.  

How are the conformists going to get the creative motivation, which is so natural to the rebels? There are two approaches.  

1 Conformists can be shown the "logic" of creativity. We now know that there is an absolute mathematical need for creativity in any self-organising information system such as human perception. I have found that mathematicians, highly technical people and accountants, for example, suddenly see the logical basis of creativity. One time I was explaining Mind control methods to a group of students. At first they were doubtful, but once they could see the logic behind the techniques, they tried them out and were surprised to find that they worked. 

2 Exhorting people to be creative has only a very limited effect on motivation and even that limited effect wears off pretty quickly. It is far better to demonstrate some Mind Control techniques. Once people find that they can use such techniques systematically and that they produce results, then motivation follows. If you find that you can be creative, then you want to be.  


My research covered many of the complicated interactive systems in the human body: respiration, circulation, kidneys, endocrine glands and so on. I was forced to develop concepts to deal with self-organising information systems. 

In the book Mind Control System, which is based on how nerve networks allowed information to organise itself into sequences or routine patterns. At the time it was written, those ideas were unusual. Today they are mainstream thinking. In fact, those who have read the book observed that I was writing about these things before mathematicians started looking at chaos and non-linear, unstable systems.

With just 9 items of clothing to put on in the morning, (depending on ones cultural dress) there are millions of ways of getting dressed, though not all these are feasible. If the brain was not so excellent at forming the routine patterns of perception and action, life would be impossible. It is the excellence of the brain as a self-organising information system that allows experience to organise itself into routine patterns. This is the basis of perception. In fact, the brain is even better than that because it can centre patterns, which computers find very hard to do. 

In such systems, there is no access to the side branches from the main track, but there is access to the main track, but there is access to the main track from the side-tracks. This basic asymmetry of patterns gives rise to both humour and creativity. That is why humour is the most significant behaviour of the human brain because it indicates the existence of a self-organising system.

With creativity we somehow jump across to the side-track from the main track. That is why all valued creative ideas are always logical in hindsight. Unfortunately, we have believed that because creative ideas are logical in hindsight, then logic should be enough in foresight. This is totally untrue in a patterning system but quite true in a passive system. It is this recent "universe" switch from passive information systems to self-organising systems that has allowed us to understand the nature of creativity. 

As a direct result of this understanding, we can design deliberate and formal Mind Control tools such as random entry and provocation. These formal tools can be learned, practised and used systematically. They can be used by individuals on their own. There is no need for a brainstorming tool. We deliberate use of such systematic tools is very different from just messing around and hoping things happen. For example, there are the formal methods of "movement', which is an active mental operation and not just a suspension of judgement. 


While we have sought to improve quality in most places, the one area we have neglected has been our thinking. We may have sought to do better what we are already doing, but we have not sought better ways of doing things.

In the first part of this essay, I sought to show what happens when we apply quality to creativity itself. We get a very different and much more powerful process. But we can also apply quality to other aspects of thinking.

For example, the traditional Western method of argument is time consuming, wasteful, inefficient and subject to political abuse. We can replace this adversarial method with effective thinking in which all those present think co-operatively. The directions for the effective efforts are set by the Six Thinking caps. The white cap indicates a focus on information. The red cap legitimised an expression of feeling and intuition.

The black cap is for caution. The yellow cap asks for benefits and values. The green cap is for creative effort. The blue cap is for control of the thinking process itself. 

The six-cap method is now being widely used by many major people. Using such methods reduced thinking time by 75 percent. This method allows all the "intellectual horsepower" of those attending a meeting to be used productively. It also prevents politics. The green cap provides a specific place for creativity and the black cap ensures that criticism is only used in its proper place.

Our basic secular thinking habits were set 2,500 years ago by the Greek gang of three (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle). It is a system based on analysis, judgement and argument. It is a system that is lacking in creative, constructive and design energy.  


There is a reason why this essay may appear to have been written backwards. Why have I written about creativity first and about the need for creativity in quality programs second? The reason is that unless the reader has a clear understanding of what I mean by creativity (serious creativity), there is no point in setting the place of creativity in quality programs.  


This is a basic habit of Western thinking. If you can only get rid of faults everything else will be fine. There are two obvious dangers:  

1 We only focus our thinking on what is wrong.  
2 Getting rid of the faults in a poorly designed system does not result in a better-designed system. 

Nevertheless, the early successes of quality programs often arise from the removal of faults, inefficiencies, wastage and problems. This part is intellectually easy, even if implementation is not quite so easy.

When this easy part has been done, TQM programs often run out of steam. Even within this problem-solving phase, there may be a need for serious creativity to help solve some of the problems.  


If we are too successful in improving the current way of doing things, then we can get locked into that current way, just as we have become locked into our traditional thinking habits. 

The goal of quality programs should not be just to improve present methods but also to seek alternative methods of reaching the agreed objectives. 

Creativity is needed to generate the alternatives. Often there is a need for new concepts. When the alternatives have been generated, then they can be measured against each other and against the current method. 

Success in improving the quality of the existing method may lock us into continuing that particular operation when a creative challenge would have shown that the whole operation did not need doing at all.  


We can improve the current way of reaching the current objective. 

We can find a different way to reach the current objective. 

We can change the objective itself. 

Creativity can be helpful in getting us to think freely about what we are trying to do. Creativity opens up possibilities. Creativity provokes our thinking about objectives.  


Particularly in the health field, values and expectations are complex and change every day. For example, a severely ill patient may prefer the surveillance of a general ward because fear is uppermost. A convalescing patient may prefer the comfort of privacy. One patient may value charm but another prefers brusque efficiency. Some people like the freedom of choice. Others do not want to be burdened by having to make decisions. Some value full information, others do not want to be confused by information. 

Creativity helps in the exploration of values and the design of new values.

Changes in expectations can dramatically lower costs. How can we get such changes in expectations?  


It is easy to focus on problems and defects. It is difficult to focus on things that are going well. It is even more difficult to focus on things we do not even notice. 


Quality is no longer enough

When quality programs have been running for some time the fizz goes out of them and they can become boring. But that is only a minor problem compared to the more fundamental issues that I intend to cover here.

Water is necessary for soup but soup is more than water. If you are given a bowl of soup that is just pure water you do not criticise the water. If a car has a flat tire you do not criticise the three inflated tires but point out the deficiency. In exactly the same way it may be necessary at this stage to point out that quality programs are wonderful but to ask whether they are sufficient. That is no criticism of quality programs, which usually do a much-needed job very well. 

Three phases of Western business management

We can begin by distinguishing three phases in the evolution of Western business management.

Phase one…problem solving, This phase lasted a very long time (from the mid 1940s to the mid 1960s). It was firmly based on the saying: If it isn’t broke don't fix it." Western business had a virtual monopoly in an expanding market. Business was set on a prosperous path and ‘maintenance' was enough. Why waste time fixing something that was not broken? Problems were a 'deviation' that had to be fixed so that we could get back to the proper path. 

The gang of three…This phase fitted in very well with the negative orientation of Western thinking which was derived from the infamous Greek gang of three: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. This style of thinking placed argument or confrontation as central to Western thinking culture.

Argument meant pointing out what was wrong in the other party's view or proposal. Sadly we still put far too much emphasis on this in the teaching of critical thinking in schools instead of productive thinking.

Central to this Western thinking is the notion that if you remove the faults then all will be well. So problem solving was enough. Find the problem, define the problem, solve the problem and all will be well.

The traditional approach to 'improvement' was the same. We looked for faults, defects, weaknesses and bottlenecks and then set about putting these right. Far too many quality programs today still operate on that basis.

Then along came the Japanese. The most striking thing about Japanese culture is not that it has extra features but that it is without some of the major defects of Western thinking such as the negative orientation and ego problems (and short term maximisation). The Japanese had not been influenced by classic Greek thinking so they did not set out to find what was wrong-they set out to make things better. This is a totally different approach.

The Japanese do solve problems and correct faults but that is only the beginning of improvement. Then they go on to make better what already seems perfect. Awareness of this approach and loss of market share forced the West into a second phase.

Phase two…quality and continuous improvement. To compete with the Japanese, Western business was forced to move away from the problem-solving phase. You could solve all your problems but that only brought you back to where you had been. Meanwhile your competitors were making improvements at points, which were not problems and one day you woke up and found that you had been left far behind.

So the West had to set about doing what came more naturally to the Japanese who never had the negative orientation of thinking. The West had to devise and institute formal quality programs, which were concerned with continuous improvement.

This was no longer just a matter of problem solving and fixing defects but of making better what was already good. So came the notion of quality and continuous improvement.

The choice of the word quality is a good one. You can have an adequate suit which performs the functions of a suit but you can also have a quality suit. With the quality suit you are still always trying to improve the quality.

In addition to everything else the quality movement set up frameworks such as quality circles or teams which encouraged people to examine what they were doing instead of just doing it automatically. The motivation value of this was considerable even if few changes were actually made. There were now two levels of achievement. The first was doing what you were supposed to be doing. The second was attempting to improve the process itself. 

The quick results trap…In traditional cost cutting or slimming down programs the big benefits come early. It is not too difficult to get rid of the fat and inefficiencies that have built up over the good years when there was no pressure on costs. But as costs are cut and efficiency is increased then it becomes more and more difficult to get results.

The same thing happens with quality programs. The best results come early and the more successful the programs the more difficult it becomes to get big results alter. This is when quality programs can become boring. At this point there is a need to shift to the third phase of business which is just beginning.

Phase three…creativity or quality plus. The German economy has thrived to the point where it became the world's largest exporter. This is in spite of very high wage rates and much longer holidays than in other industrial countries (five weeks vacation a year). The success of the German economy was based on excellence and high quality particularly in the field of engineering.

This high quality was based on two things. The first thing was a very highly skilled work force, which comes from a unique apprenticeship system in which workers learn their skills through early on-the-job training. The second thing was a conscious decision to put quality before creativity.

The quality, first and only trap…Putting quality before creativity makes a lot of sense. Creativity without quality is not worth much as US and British industry found when competing with the Germans and the Japanese. Quality without creativity does have a high value so long as your competitors cannot also offer quality, then you have to go further.

That is why German industry may be in bad trouble in the near future because they have not yet realised that others are catching up on quality. For example Germany has fallen far behind the electronics area and is seeking to catch up through joint ventures with the Japanese.

The limit to quality alone, water is necessary for soup but soup is more than water. Flavour without water does not make soup. Creativity without quality is of little value but quality alone is also not enough.

The word quality is a good word and implies doing what you are doing better. This is very important and very valid. But making better fountain pens when you should have been switching over to ballpoints may not be the best thing to do. There will always be a niche for high quality expensive fountain pens but that is a small specialist market. At this point we come to the chief limitation of the notion of quality.

Should we expand quality's definition? I see a very considerable danger in expanding the notion of quality to include everything good that can be done. There is danger in expanding the notion of quality to include their creative change of concept as well.

The danger is that when we seek to expand a word beyond its true meaning we only end up confusing people and also losing the power of the original meaning. There is exactly the same danger in the teaching of 'critical thinking' in schools. The proponents of critical thinking claim that it covers all thinking, which is clearly nonsense.

The word 'critical' comes from the Greek kritikos, which means judgement. Indeed, judgement is an important part of thinking but there is also the need for generative and productive thinking. In the same way we must not lose the value of the word quality by pretending that it includes all that needs doing. We end up by de-valuing that word and not doing all that needs doing.

So we need to acknowledge the great value of quality and the continuing need for it. And then we need to add the concept of creativity as well. This is in no sense a criticism of quality or an attack on quality. Recall, if you will, that to point out that flatness of one tire does not attack the full inflation of the other tires.

Organisation for quality and creativity

Many large organisations are slowly coming to realise the importance of adding creativity to their quality programs. 

Organisation for quality and creativity…This means creativity throughout the organisations and not just in special areas such as marketing, corporate strategy, research and development, etcetera. It is right that quality should come before creativity but eventually there comes a time when creativity needs to be added to quality. 

Some organisations such have started to talk about 're-engineering' which introduces the concept of creativity. Instead of doing the same thing better. Is there a different and better way of doing it?

Two approaches to company wide creativity.

The tool-kit approach. The simplest approach is to seek to introduce creative thinking techniques into the quality programs as tools for achieving continuous improvement and even changing concepts. In this way the tools become available to everyone working within the framework of the existing quality programs.

The introduction of the tools can be done in a format and systematic manner though properly trained facilitators or trainers. The important point is that it needs to be done seriously and should not just be a token gesture towards creativity with some weak brainstorming sessions.

Creativity in all areas is going to be the key ingredient for business success. As technology becomes a commodity and all competitors reach the same level of competence, it is only creativity should not be seen just as a subset of quality or only as a tool kit for quality programs.

Creativity needs to exist in its own right in an organisation with a nominated champion and where possible, a creativity centre. This creativity centre can then provide the training and tool kit for the quality program.

Fixing misperceptions about creativity.

There is a huge amount of nonsense and rubbish written about creativity. It is a subject, which attracts a large number of operators who have loads of style but only incompetently borrowed substance. Much of the confusion arises from some basic misperceptions about creativity.

Creativity misperception number one. Artistic creativity and conceptual creativity are the same thing.

The word 'creativity' in the English language unfortunately includes the arts. So it is supposed that all artists are creative. This is not so. Many artists are simply productive stylists who produce within a style or perception and expression. This has nothing whatever to do with changing concepts.

We need to distinguish clearly between the creativity involved in changing concepts and artistic creativity. Being artistically inclined does not make a person creative or capable of training others in creativity.

Creativity misperception number two. Everyone is creative but has been untrained or inhibited by peers.

There is a tradition that everyone is really creative and that we have all been inhibited by a school system that demands the one right answer and by the fear of seeming ridiculous. The hope is that if we become liberated and freed from such inhibitions then we shall all be creative.

This is nonsense. The brain is not designed to be creative and if it were so designed then life would be impossible. The brain is designed to set up perceptual patterns and to stick to them. To be creative we have to do things which are 'not natural' and which go against the way the brain is designed to work. So removing inhibitions only has a mild effect.

Creativity misperception number three.  We need only understand left and right brain functions, and increase right brain thinking.

The split between right and left brain had some usefulness in indicating a different sort of thinking but has since done far more harm than it offered value.

The left brain is the educated brain and has learned what things are and how to use language and symbols etcetera. The right brain is innocent. This innocence may have value in such areas as drawing and music but not much value in conceptual matters. PET scans of the brain show that when a person is being creative, both sides of the brain are in use the whole time. There is the added danger of fatalistic categorisation: "I am left brain." "She is right brain," etcetera. This gives a totally false impression, for creativity can be learned by anyone.

Creativity misperception number four. Brainstorming in a group is the end all and be all of creativity.

The old idea of brainstorming has held back the development of serious creativity. Brainstorming was developed for the advertising industry where novelty is sufficient to create value. Everywhere else novelty has to be turned into something practical.

Brainstorming is a very weak technique and people trained in brainstorming are often unable to deal systematically with new concepts. Because brainstorming is now traditional, it is often felt that creativity requires only a brainstorming session. Brainstorming has also led people to believe that creativity has to be a group process. This is not true, creative thinking processes can be used by a person entirely on his or her own.

Creativity misconception number five. Creativity and structure don't mix.

There is a feeling that creativity is a matter of intuition and inspiration and that any structural approach is a contradiction in terms. Again this is nonsense.

There are many examples of liberating structures; language is a liberating structure, which allows us to do things we could not do without it. A cup is a liberating structure that allows us to drink liquids more easily. A ladder is a liberating structure, which allows us to get to new places. A boat is a liberating structure etcetera. So also are the systematic tools of creativity and the book MCS that allows us to handle perceptions in novel ways.

Mind Control System

It was precisely to get away from the vagueness and confusion of the term creativity that the term MCS came. It is specifically concerned with changing concepts and perceptions.

A structured approach to creativity… In the end, specific thinking tools must be practical, simple, and powerful.

Creative thinking based on the formal and structured use of such tools does not depend on inspiration or being in the right mood. Nor is it a matter of loose brainstorming in the hope that something copes up. The mental operation of movement can be used systematically to get value from provocations. This is totally different from the weak admonition to 'withhold judgement.'

Summing Up

When quality is poor there is a need for quality improvement but as quality improves there is a need to supplement quality with creative thinking. 

Four points come to mind here: 

1. There comes a point when we have to wonder whether doing things in a different way may not be more useful than doing things better in the same old way. This applies both to internal operations within an organisation and to what the organisation has to offer to its market.  
2. Competence will not be enough when everyone else is as competent. Water is necessary for soup but soup is more than water.  
3. Creativity can provide a tool kit for quality programs but creativity needs to exist in its own right within an organisation. 
4. Generate innovative solutions. Focus your creative energy and turn problems into opportunities! 

Tap into your creative energy, add strength to your natural abilities, improving teamwork, productivity & profit. Think creative on everyday issues!

Changing the Corporate Mindset can be as easy as Changing A Hat. Replace one-dimensional thinking from emotion to facts, positive to negative, critical to creative. Make your thinking more deliberate and generate more ideas, identify alternatives, stimulate innovation & solve problems faster. Improve teamwork & have better meetings.
Be a visionary, improve quality and out think your competition using these MCS Tools.

Simplifying complications is the first essential of success. In an increasingly complex world, "Simplicity" is becoming one of the key values. There is often a much simpler way of doing things, if you make the effort to look for it.

Simplicity does not just happen, it has to be inculcated. In MCS you will learn the use and value of simplicity, why people hate simplicity and love complexity, overview of methods, techniques and approaches to simplify, dangers of simplicity and the rules of Simplicity

Innovation is the key to survival in this ever-changing and competitive world. Having the leading edge and competitive advantage are insufficient to maintain the marketing position. Innovation ensures that you consolidate & champion your company's products in the do-or-die marketplace. 

Achieve higher levels of creativity & memory, clearer organisation of thoughts, increased concentration and more concise communication Improve access to your memory for better recall and retention. 



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