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Going "Illegal" For Innovative Ideas
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By Art Cornwell

Learning to think innovatively is nothing more than putting aside previously held positions, and trying new positions.

Old Habits

All through our developing years we are taught to use historical information to reach decisions that fit neatly into historical patterns. Our education, professional experience, and personal habits all reinforce this approach.

One of the more subtle of these learned formats is our inherent regard for the laws and rules that govern our society. All during our formative years we are taught to limit our actions and thoughts to account for any laws or rules which might apply. By doing so, we assure that our actions will fit within and reinforce the norms established by society.

Break The "Idea Law"

Laws become so much a part of our thought processes, that we allow them to affect our mental flexibility without being aware of it. This may not seem to be a huge problem. After all, who would make decisions that were contradictory to the law? However, innovative ideas frequently come out of irresponsible suggestions. Perhaps we could increase our number of creative ideas if we could temporarily set aside the limits imposed on us by laws and rules. These laws and rules are
appropriate to consider in the "weeding out" phase of reviewing ideas, but not in the initial "idea" phase.

A participant in an innovation seminar I conducted recently provided an excellent example of how temporarily setting aside laws and rules can encourage creative ideas. Participants were told to select a problem that they currently dealt with, and one for which they would like new solutions. They were further instructed to focus on alternative solutions to that problem that would fall outside some law or rule.

One of the members of the group came from a human resource area, and her problem dealt with recruiting new employees. Her company had a long and solid reputation in its community, and generally had little difficulty recruiting new people. One area of the company, due to low starting salaries, was extremely difficult to keep at full staff.

Kidnap The Children

Following the above instructions, she developed a list of "extra-legal" suggestions that would fix her problem. One of these suggestions was to kidnap the children of the applicants and hold them ransom in exchange for employment. This suggestion certainly fit the criterion of being "outside the law," as no firm would seriously entertain it.

One of the other participants in her group then suggested that it was possible to legally "kidnap" the children of the applicants. Since most applicants were mothers, it was reasonable to assume that many of them would have a problem finding a competent day care facility. If her firm offered in-plant day care for employees' children, they would, in effect, be "kidnapping" those children in exchange for their mothers' labors.

Day care isn't a new idea. But, combining it with the costs of turn-over may make it acceptable in this situation. By temporarily setting aside the restraints imposed by laws and rules, this executive developed a workable, and legal, solution she hadn't thought of.

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