Understanding the Power of Creative Thinking & Innovative Design

Altitude sat down with our Founder, Brian Matt, to chat about his views on the power of creative thinking and innovative design. Matt shares his thoughts and insights here with us.

Altitude:  What roles does creativity play in business and why? Is this innovation or innovative design?

Brian:  I see creativity as generating new ideas, evaluating them effectively, and taking action to turn them into new goods and services to solve problems – you know, creating multiple options. I see innovation as related, but slightly different. I think that innovation introduces change into relatively stable systems and is the work that makes it viable (simply making something better than we found it). The role of creative thinking and innovation in the entrepreneurial business environment is critical to success.

Without the creativity that produces new and valuable ideas, innovation wanes, therefore choking the progress and growth of businesses. The functional utility of creative ideas correlates directly with tolerance for risk. Of course the one big idea that gets someone started is important, but the superior leaders have to be constantly creative in their thinking to adapt every situation to their advantage.

There are three reasons why people are motivated to innovate. They have the need for:

– novel, varied, and complex inspiration

– communicating ideas and values

– solving problems

In order to be creative, one must be able to view things in new ways or from a different perspective. Among other things, new possibilities or new alternatives must be generated.

Creativity is the primary driver of innovation, an occurrence whereby something new and valuable is created (such as an idea, a solution, or an invention). It is also the qualitative impetus behind any given act of creation, and it is generally perceived to be associated with intelligence and cognition.

Assessing creativity is subjective. Even though there are many assessment tools available, typically they are based on perceptions, personal opinions, values, beliefs, or preferences rather than on evidence. Innovation seems to be less subjective. Either you change something or you don’t. The differentiator is the degree by which a concept is novel. Tests of creativity measure not only the number of alternatives that people can generate, but also the uniqueness of those alternatives and possibly the relevance to which they apply.


Altitude: Is creativity really a team sport?

Brian:  Andrew Bellay, President and Co-Founder of FounderSoup, once wrote for Stanford University’s Entrepreneurship Network, “Tremendous value can literally be pulled out of thin air when smart people unite around a common passion. I’ve seen it happen many times and it’s truly magical to watch great teams form and create value for their customers.”

Company leaders cannot be good at everything, so they need to spread the load to get things done effectively, especially given their time and resource constraints. Constructing a valuable team, and more importantly, working together successfully will drive business success in almost any environment. That said, in a company or department of say 50 people, you don’t want 50 creative innovators. That would be utter chaos. Each situation is unique, but in reality, a group only needs a small proportion of creative thinkers and the rest need to be implementers. I think the genius is in developing a rich process filled with the complexities of organizing, operating, and assuming the risk for a business venture within a finely tuned team that offers the right balance of creative thinkers among implementers, strategists, visionaries and so on.

As a leader, my success always comes from aligned collaboration with other people. Constructing a valuable team, and more importantly, working together successfully, will drive business success in almost any environment. The best team captains know their strengths and use other people’s strengths to fortify their alliances. Of course there is an assumption in all of this; the market’s needs must match the team’s solutions.


Altitude: How do companies identify and use creative thinkers for innovative design and new product ideas?

Brian:  First, I think it’s important to know that there are almost infinite types of creativity and a broad spectrum of ability. If we think of a sliding scale where a “1” is a mild creator generating a low variety of ideas, and a “10” is a wild creator generating a great variety of ideas, I think the average US Corporation is made up of 95% level-3 creative thinkers. Of those creative thinkers, less than half are set up to be true innovators. Not having much choice, I believe that non-inventive people replace creativity with process.

As a consultant, our clients do not really want to spend money on process though; they want to buy the answers. The dilemma is that the management doesn’t trust the answers unless they are involved in the process. It’s a wasteful and vicious circular game that corporations play – and we need to be resourceful to avoid being stuck in the middle. In fact, I think the majority of the world is made up of level-3s and lower. We don’t want too many level 7’s or higher in a company anyway; otherwise there would be bedlam. Situational dependent, I think the magic number is 5%.

Here’s the secret:  the 1’s, 2’s, and 3’s need to support and collaborate with the 7’s, 8’s, and 9’s, then get out of the way to let innovation happen. An organization really doesn’t want more than one level-10 person because they are typically so extreme in their idea generation and very idealistic in their nature that blending them into a classic organization can be volatile to the overall culture and success of the company.


So be sure you assess your organization and team to be sure you are capitalizing on the power of creative thinking and innovative design skills to propel good ideas and then your business forward. For more on creative thinking, please check out our paper on What is Design Thinking: The Power of Human-Centered Design.


Brian Matt

Posted By: 

Brian Matt

Founder & Chairman