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The Creative Priority – Only half true about organizational creativity? December 6, 2009

Posted by Sehoon Min in The Creative Priority.
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This book, Creative Priority, is about the way an organization can be formed and operated with creativity as the founding and operating principle not as some good-to-have add-on.  The author, Jarry Hirshberg, suggests what leaders need to do (or not do) to create an organization with creativity as the number one priority under eleven “strategies” in four mutually linked categories – Polarity, Unprecedented Thinking, Beyond the Edges, and Synthesis – based on his experiences of founding an independent design organization, Nissan Design International (NDI) as an affiliate of that Japanese auto maker. 

Regarding these four categories, the follwing is the most interesting takeaways from each.

1) Polarity is about iginiting creative spart by retaining conflicting cultural and disciplinary viewpoints in the organization.  What was interesting about this section was the author’s emphasis that the constructive polarity should be created from the very starting step of recruiting members of the organization.  He mentions that the  consideration of the mix, balance, and texture of the group is of critical importance when deciding whom to hire.

2) Hirshberg say unprecedented thinking can prosper by creatively digesting the precedented ideas and thinkings.  For this, he says “It is essential for an organization to ensure that as much work as possible remains, be they blunders and miscalculations, appreciated, visible and available to everyone.

3) In “Beyond the Edges”, Hirshberg argues that the active exchange with different cultures and disciplines (e.g. with foreign nations, different industries, different departments) helps the organization and its members to identify the assumptions that they were taking for granted.  One of the first step of creating something new is to rethink those assumptions.

4)  In the forth section “Synthesis”, creativity can only come to life through mental muscles that can bring everything together into coherent whole.  Hirshberg argues, the mastery of information collection and interpretation are the key foundations.  To emphasize this, he quotes “statistics are like a bikini.  What they reveal is suggestive, what they hide is vital.”   In this spirit, he also clarifies that “creativity is the mastery of information and skills in the service of dreams.”  

For Hirshberg, creativity is something discomforting, something that has conflicts and confusions as part of its nature.  Therefore, this book Creative Priority is devoted to how a leader can nurture this chaos and tunnel it toward something constructive.   I understand that some culture, environment or even a leadership style should be in place, i.e. the things that Hirshbers book describes, to unleash those creative energies in an organization, especially in business organizations where as Roger Martins says the demand for reliability is naturally dominant.  

On the other hand, I think it is eaqually important to articulate that breeding chaos is not enough for an organization to constantly generate creative outputs into market.   Creativity of the members of the organization should be distinguished from the organization’s capability of generating creative outcome and, especially, the capability of doing so sustainably over extended period of time.   For this, I believe some sorts of discipline, methodology, or process of generating innovative outcome should be in place.   This may even require different look on creativity.  I guess that is what the organizations like IDEO, Doblin or other successful innovation companies have been trying to do already.


The Creative Priority, Jerry Hirshberg December 1, 2009

Posted by Aaron Schwartz in The Creative Priority.
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I believe the accolades that Jerry Hirshberg received for his book, The Creative Priority, must have been an incredibly well-deserved when it was written. Reading it after 10 weeks of a Design Thinking class, it seems clear that most of Hirshberg’s ideas serve as or mimic the foundations of the discipline. As such, I am choosing to treat this blog posting a little differently than my others, and am chronicling what I find to be his most impactful ideas (along with a few quotations that merited double-underlines while I was reading).

By way of background, the book is about Hirshberg’s founding of NDI [Nissan Design International], Nissan’s beach-head in the U.S. The company decided to mix Japanese technical expertise with American design expertise, and hired Hirshberg from GM by offering him free reign to create the organization however he wanted. In Jerry’s own words, the entire NDI organization was structured around the creative process, as opposed to most companies that hide the creative people in the corner. Now, on to some insights!

1)      One must explore everything. You should be naïve and open before rejecting anything

2)      Don’t forget to play! Hirshberg fashioned NDI into a “sandbox” and in fact accepted contracts to design other products (e.g. a vacuum and a world-class yacht) in order to allow his team to stretch their creative minds

3)      Incorporate different viewpoints – “the probabilities for unexpected juxtapositions are sharply increased”

4)       NDI restricts its earliest brainstorming to figuring out what are the critical questions! This goes against a common desire to race for a satisfactory answer. In fact, if we were to consider the counterfactual for a lot of the “answers” we have arrived to in life and business, we may find that we satisficed instead of maximizing.

5)      Be comfortable to let your ideas – and to steal others’. Similar to Bill Buxton, Hirshberg encourages people to let their ideas free, so that others can comment and the team can iterate to create a great product.

6)      Again, like Buxton, Hirshberg calls for the intentional blurring of responsibilities. An example: in terms of designing a car, he believed that the engineer is responsible for the coefficient of drag while the designer is responsible for the coefficient of “beauty.” Yet, both are responsible for creating a great car, so they must work together.

7)      Beware statistics as the be-all-end-all. Attack difficult problems, even if data is sparse

8)      Always re-examine decisions and assumptions on a project.

Random lessons

9)      Hirshberg tells of the time he was told, by his boss at GM: “Kid, the secret to great leadership is being able to say “fuck you” in the morning and “how ‘bout lunch” by noon”.

10)   It’s okay to say that you’re not satisfied with a product: “At NDI, the rules were: Anyone from any department in the company who was interested was welcome; if they felt the design was stupid, they were to say so; and they didn’t need to have a better solution”

11)   If customers seem to want contradictory things . . . be creative and find a way to do it!

The Creative Priority: Ask Creative Questions, Let People Think November 23, 2009

Posted by Katie Swinerton in The Creative Priority.
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Jerry Hirshberg is the founder and president of Nissan Design International and somewhat of a guru on creativity in organizations. In his book The Creative Priority, Hirshberg discusses one of his strategies for fostering creative thinking: posing critical, creative questions. I really like this idea. When we MBAs think about brainstorming, we often think about sitting around a conference table, and throwing possible solutions up on a whiteboard. Hirshberg encourages us to abandon this approach and instead “take a step back from the canvas” and to frame our thinking around really good, compelling questions.

He says “[t]he form of a question itself contains both the limits and the potential character of its possible answers. Thinking about a car as a people-mover suggests an utterly different set of possibilities than framing it as a mode of personal transportation, an expression of individual style, or a mobile pollution device on four wheels.”

People don’t come to their ah-ha moments in meetings. These moments happen on walks, in the shower and as we’re falling asleep. By posing the right framing questions in meetings, and allowing people to take their time in pondering these, I think we can foster greater, more creative solutions in our organizations.