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Which Creative Idea Will Succeed? Can We Predict It?

By Shlomo Maital   

bad idea1

     Can you predict which creative ideas will succeed and which will fail?   There is a great deal of research on how to foster creative ideas – but much too little on implementation and choosing good ideas and dumping bad ones. A recent article in Administrative Science Quarterly, latest issue (2016),   the leading organizational behavior journal, sheds light on this. [1]

     Here are the main findings:

  • Using both a field study of 339 professionals in the circus arts industry and a lab experiment, I examine the conditions for accurate creative forecasting, focusing on the effect of creators’ and managers’ roles.
  • In the field study, creators and managers forecasted the success of new circus acts with audiences, and the accuracy of these forecasts was assessed using data from 13,248 audience members. Results suggest that creators were more accurate than managers when forecasting about others’ novel ideas, but not their own.

This is a crucial finding. Entrepreneur: You are NOT not good at forecasting the success of your own ideas.   Get help. Get feedback. Validate, validate, validate. Your own passion about your change-the-world idea is often misleading.   Check it out.

  • Results from the lab experiment show that creators’ advantage over managers in predicting success may be tied to the emphasis on both divergent thinking (idea generation) and convergent thinking (idea evaluation) in the creator role, while the manager role emphasizes only convergent thinking.

   In our (Ruttenberg and Maital) model of creativity, “zoom out” (divergent thinking) and “zoom in” (convergent thinking) must be used together, sequentially. Managers use mainly zoom-in. And hence, according to Berg, they often get it wrong. Creators use both.

     One conclusion?   Innovation managers must cultivate more zoom-out thinking. Open the windows, and the doors, managers!   The nature of your job is such that you tend to keep them closed, and lose crucial information and make bad decisions as a result.

   This helps explain why creative thinking is hard to sustain. As organizations grow, they become ‘convergent’…focused, narrowly.   And they lose innovative spark. Solution? Open the windows!

[1] Balancing on the Creative Highwire: Forecasting the Success of Novel Ideas in Organizations, by Justin M. Berg

Scientific Evidence: Origins of Creativity

By Shlomo Maital

Scientific American

In our book Cracking the Creativity Code:   my friend and co-author Arie Ruttenberg and I present a framework for creativity called ZiZoZi – zoom in (on the problem), zoom out (to find solutions), zoom back in to apply them.  Repeat as needed.

   Recently browsing through old Scientific American issues, (March 2013), I found an especially wonderful one on “The Evolution of Creativity”. In it Heather Pringle, who writes on archaeology, explores how human creativity evolved, over thousands of years of human history. It includes this passage, which describes a process similar to zoom in/zoom out:

     “….[creative] individuals are excellent woolgatherers. When tackling a problem [according to cognitive scientist Liane Gabora, U. of British Columbia, and Scott Barry Kaufman, psychologist at NYU],   they first let their minds wander, allowing one memory or thought to spontaneously conjure up another. [Zoom Out].

   “This free association encourages analogies and gives trise to thoughts that break out of the box.   Then as these individuals settle on a vague idea for a solution, they switch to a more analytic mode of thought. They zero in on only the most relevant properties, Gabora says, and they start refining an idea to make it work. [Zoom In].

     Gabora believes that as hominoids developed bigger brains, this led to a greater ability to ‘free associate’. More stimuli could be encoded in a brain made up of many billions of neurons. More neurons could participate in the encoding of a particular episode, leading to a finer-grained memory and more potential routes for associating one stimulus with another.

   The key seems to be the word “associate”.   Creative people link things that other people find totally unrelated. These ‘leaps’ of insight occur in brains that are good at making such connections.

     And the more we practice, the better we get at it.  

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital