Skip to content

Arranged Marriages and Innovation: Why you need the explosive sparking of creative thinkers to the critical analysts!

By Karla Schlaepfer
innovative culture, apple, creativity, convergent critical thinkers, co-creation, collaboration, management

Why do hot oil and water explode? Because at the atomic level, the hot excited particles collide but cannot merge. The water immediately boils and flashes in to steam, expanding exponentially outwards (exploding). Let’s compare this to the boiling point of a creative or divergent thinker which is often so much higher than that of a more cautious critical analyst type. An “explosion” is unavoidable when these opposites are forced to cooperate.

Now, let’s assume that the creative thinker is like the oil and the analyst or critical thinker is comparable to the water. Both kinds of thinking are essential ingredients for every design centric innovative company. Just as they are for both cooking and baking. All companies are dependent on the strengths generated by the variety of staff; a healthy balance of introverts and extroverts, a mixture of mindsets, talent, abilities and personalities for success. This is especially important in the areas of design, strategy and marketing of innovative products and services. Now here’s the deal, and this is what one of my favorite people who I love to hate, Steve Jobs, could do really well. He was able to bring together both – the hot oil and water. He could steer the explosive outcomes effectively, like no one before him. To design and sell iconic products that we still love (well, yes, more or less, even if we don’t stand in line anymore!).

Explosions can be quite profitable.

Building a design centric organization requires embracing the awesome critical thinking people in it. But here’s the hard part within the context of divergent thinking across the business … Imagine telling a strong willed CEO or leader, who is a critical thinker, to work within a new framework for thinking and idea generation. Try telling a senior leader their 30 years of work experience is super valuable, but you need it in the context of “your” thinking reality distortion field call “design.

In his insightful Zurb blog text, Bryan Zmijewski highlights the “genius of Steve”. He also pinpoints one of Jobs best strategies for sparking creative design outcomes that were radically innovative and different.  Steve Jobs knew that asking all his employees to think differently wasn’t necessary (or possible!). His genius was in instilling the feeling that they were thinking differently. In Steve’s world, he simply needed his critical thinkers to be open minded to his concept and feel connected to this way of creative (divergent) thinking.

“They had the feeling they were all in on something big”

Many of us know the story of how Steve Jobs shook up the corporate establishment when he went back to Apple in 1997. His Apple ad campaign “The Crazy Ones” became iconic. It is remembered today as a beautiful tribute to those radical geniuses who dared to believe the impossible, think differently and changed the world around them. The ad made a huge impact. Without actually naming Apple or Mac products, this series advertised and helped start a new kind of innovative culture – or at least it did in peoples’ heads and hearts. And the public and the Apple employees were in on it – they had the feeling something amazing was about to unfold and they wanted to be part of it.

The anticipation or hype of what was to come helped Jobs meet the resistance. He choreographed and drummed up open excitement and enthusiasm. Then he rode this wave of open energy in order to create a new kind of explosive problem space for all his people to use (and) to find innovative answers. How? He had everyone believing and owning the Apple vision. He used the power of reframing to trigger better performance. Jobs got top creative talents to make “insanely good” Mac products that were emotionally more like fashion design than computers. These computers were the first that could be described as beautiful.

One of the Apple board members at that time was Oracle’s former CEO Larry Ellison. Ellison’s comments seem very prophetic today.

“I think Apple needs to worry less about competing with Microsoft and worry more about doing things that are different. It’s back to innovation. It’s back to creativity. It’s back to vision,” he said. “Apple is the only lifestyle brand in the computer industry. It’s the only company that people feel passionate about. My company Oracle – it is a huge company, IBM is a huge company, Microsoft is a huge company, but no one has incredible emotions associated with these companies. Only Apple is really a lifestyle brand.”

This is glorious stuff! To lead by design means not only to work from an empathetic user-focused perspective. Strong creative leaders lead by design, by making problem space real and leveraging the strengths of both camps. The richness of hot oil and the clarity of the water.  By the acknowledgement and acceptance for both divergent and convergent critical thinkers.

Leading by design means leading co-creation though collaboration.  This collaboration leverages the awesome powers of diversity. For example, building teams that include T-shaped personalities. (T-shaped refers to term coined by IDEO. It is a person’s social and emotional intelligence, attitudes helpfulness, combined with individual expertise in a person’s own area or special skill). For co-creation to really work, these teams must have the trust and autonomy from the leaders to use their mental problem space to experiment, imagine and even play. They need the permission to take a deep dive, – at least temporarily – to test alternatives, to fail and learn, to optimize prototypes and constantly question company conventions.

Are the results pushing at the edges of the companies comfort zone?

Cultivate empathy and respect for each other. For both the oil and the water thinkers. Be clear about why both matter for the success of the company. The “we” is always stronger than the “I”. This understanding is vital.  Coach the critical thinkers to better understand, feel connected to and be able to work together within the messy creative world of divergent thinking. Help the creative thinkers to use business constraints as real challenges that spur their problem solving and reframing abilities. Use the power of re-framing to help both become more productive. Make everyone feel that they are connected to the big future picture – the story of your company’s future. And don’t forget to make some noise! Communicate the story.

“Make some noise!”

Remember the title of this blog piece? Well, ring those bells, if you want to move forward towards innovative products and services, there’s gotta be a wedding!

Which leads to the question: How can you create solution spaces to inspire both kinds of thinkers to feel the sparks? For people to dare to think different(ly)?

Karla Schlaepfer

Like water and hot oil, innovation needs the explosive sparking of creative thinkers & analysts!

p.s. for all you scientists who are telling me that hot oil doesn’t really “explode” in contact with water, watch this!