Creativity Techniques, Brain with Wheels

The key points in brief

  • Good ideas help companies to attain long-lasting success – so it makes sense to harness your employees’ creativity.
  • There are a number of promising creativity techniques out there for solving problems or coming up with fresh ideas.
  • Offering your employees an environment that is conducive to creativity can reap dividends.

Good ideas are the fuel that propels innovation, progress, and the long-term success of a company. They ensure that a company remains relevant and can hold its own in the long term in a constantly changing environment.

But the question is: How do you deliberately develop innovative ideas? Generally speaking, if you have more minds involved, you’ll end up with more new ideas. But another key to generating ideas is creativity. And, as everyone knows, this is not something that can be turned on at the flick of a switch. What’s more, good ideas must not only be convincing in theory, but must also work in practice.

Different creativity techniques for different goals

This is where creativity techniques can be beneficial. Everyone has heard of established intuitive creativity techniques like brainstorming and mind mapping. Over the years, however, a number of more specific methods and tools have been developed that help teams to think outside the box, break out of entrenched thought patterns, and so achieve innovative results. However, it’s easy to get fairly overwhelmed by the plethora of different creativity techniques on offer. Before you decide on a technique, you should ask yourself a few questions first:

  • What am I hoping to achieve with the creativity technique?
  • What stage of idea generation am I currently at?
  • How much relevant expertise is needed for the idea-generation process and who could offer such input?
  • What amount of resources – time, person-hours – are we able or willing to invest in generating ideas?

Your answers to these questions will help you find out which of the creativity techniques is most helpful for your project. To make the choice easier, let’s take a brief look at the most popular techniques. Note that the individual creativity techniques can be associated with different phases of the idea-generation process: from defining the problem statement, to identifying customer needs and finding ideas, through to creating a prototype.

Here is a list of common creativity techniques, grouped in the relevant phases of the idea-generation process:

  • Defining problem statements: Stretch Goals and Cause-and-Effect diagram
  • Identifying customer needs: Empathy Map
  • Generating ideas: 6-3-5 Method and 6 Thinking Hats
  • Prototyping: Wireframes and Business Model Prototyping

Read on for a description of the different techniques.

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Phase 1: Creativity techniques for defining problems

Stretch Goals

There is a tendency for teams to take an incremental – step-by-step – approach to finding solutions. Stretch Goals refers to goals that are intentionally very ambitious. By deliberately expanding the problem statement, you lay the foundation for innovative and in many cases more radical solutions, which can lead to completely new approaches to problem solving. The creativity technique Stretch Goals distinguishes between "vertical" and "horizontal" expansion. Vertical expansion involves defining new goals for existing products, services, or processes. For a vehicle manufacturer, for example, the goal could be to increase the range of an EV from 300 to 1,000 kilometers. Horizontal expansion, on the other hand, involves formulating completely new products, services, or processes, which may include new target markets or new framework conditions. For the above example, the manufacturer might consider creating a connected battery storage system for all its electric vehicles. 

Cause-and-Effect diagram

The Cause-and-Effect diagram, also known as the Ishikawa or fishbone diagram, is a discursive creativity technique that helps to identify and visualize the causes of a particular problem or anomaly. Creating a Cause-and-Effect diagram is usually a collaborative process in which the team discusses and collects ideas. This results in a structured overview of the possible causes of a problem and allows you to generate systematic solutions.

The first step is to identify the main problem to be analyzed. It is written down at the "head" of the fish, at the right-hand end. The next step is to formulate the main causes, the broad categories under which possible causes could fall. These main causes form the "main bone" of the fish. For each main cause, more specific causes are identified and drawn as "smaller bones" that branch off from the main bone. This technique allows teams to think systematically about possible causes and then look into them further.

Phase 2: Creativity techniques for identifying customer needs

Empathy Map

Companies need to know the needs of their target group – the more precisely, the better. Only then can they develop solutions for real-world problems and needs. The Empathy Map is a creative technique for better understanding your own customers and making them part of your business strategy. There are now several different variants of the Empathy Map. The customer perspective is often expressed under the following aspects: seeing, hearing, thinking, and feeling. The first step is to determine the context in which the person in the target group – the "persona" – is to be considered. The empathy map is best drawn in a large format using a collective note-taking method such as a whiteboard or flipchart. Now all team members are invited to contribute aspects, thoughts, and ideas and place them on the map – using post-its, for example – and then discuss them. Finally, all risks and benefits – or "Pains and Gains" – are summarized below the Empathy Map itself.

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Phase 3: Creativity techniques for generating ideas

6-3-5 Method

The 6-3-5 Method falls under brainwriting, which is a kind of brainstorming but in written form. As an intuitive creativity technique, it is ideal for the first phase of the creative process. There is no evaluation involved in this particular brainstorming method; it serves solely to collect ideas. The name of this technique is derived from the three essential characteristics of the method: Six participants each receive a sheet of paper on which they write down three ideas and then pass the sheets on to the next person five times in all. In the first round, each participant writes down no more than three ideas on the top line within a predetermined time. After each round, the sheets of paper are passed on clockwise, until they reach their original owner. In each round, three new or additional ideas are noted in the next line. The advantages of this technique: A relatively large number of ideas can be generated in a short space of time. It also avoids biases that can occur in classic brainstorming, such as confirmation bias – simply agreeing without thinking for yourself, because a statement confirms what you already think. Because the results of this intuitive creativity technique are still low on detail, they often serve as a starting point which can be developed further using other methods of Design Thinking.

6 Thinking Hats

The 6 Thinking Hats method is a creativity technique to help people structure and simplify the thinking process in group discussions. Each hat represents a different kind of thinking. By symbolically putting on different hats, the participants assume different roles, can adopt a different perspective, and look at different aspects of a problem or idea. Typically, the following hats are involved, each of which represents a new perspective:

1. White hat: Collects and presents objective facts, figures and information. 2. Red hat: This is about intuition, feelings, and opinions, without having to justify them. 3. Black hat: Looks at things critically, cautiously, and defensively, seeking potential problems or risks. 4. Yellow hat: Emphasizes advantages and positive aspects, looks for opportunities and benefits. 5. Green hat: This is the creative thinking hat, which encourages the generation of new ideas, alternatives, possibilities, and hypotheses. 6. Blue hat: Supervises and organizes the thinking, lays down the agenda, and summarizes results.

The idea behind the 6 Thinking Hats is both simple and effective: Everyone puts on the same hat for a while and thinks in parallel in a particular way.

Phase 4: Creativity techniques for prototyping


Wireframes are schematic representations of a website or app that visualize its basic design and structure without going into detailed design elements. They serve as a template for the subsequent design and help to plan the website navigation and the position of the various elements. Wireframes can be drawn using pen and paper or created with special software tools.

The creation of Wireframes usually involves the following steps: 1. Goal definition: Clarify the main goal of the site or app and what information or actions are most important to the user. 2. Research and data collection: Compile content and think about which elements are needed on the page. 3. Rough sketches: Draw your first sketches with a pen and paper to get a feel for the structure of the layout. 4. Get feedback: Present the Wireframe to team members, stakeholders, or potential users, and ask for feedback on layout, user navigation, and element placement. 5. Iteration: Revise the Wireframe based on the feedback. 6. Detail: As soon as the rough structure is in place, you can add more details, colors, and graphics in higher-resolution mock-ups or prototypes.

Business Model Prototyping (Business Model Canvas)

Business model prototypes make it possible to depict the relationships between different stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers, and manufacturers. The goal is to enhance your understanding of the individual relationships, motivational factors, and functions. The Business Model Canvas has established itself as a quasi-standard. It is a strategic management and lean startup template for developing new business models or documenting existing ones. The template comprises a visual chart with elements that describe various aspects of a company or product. The canvas consists of nine building blocks that form the basis of a company. These building blocks are displayed on a large sheet of paper or a board and placed in relation to each other. The nine building blocks are:

  1. Customer Segments: Who are we creating value for and who are the most important customers?
  2. Value Propositions: What value is delivered to which customer group?
  3. Channels – communication, distribution, and sales: How do our value propositions reach the customer?
  4. Customer Relationships: What does the relationship with the customer segments look like?
  5. Revenue Streams: What are customers really willing to pay for and how is the offering monetized?
  6. Key Resources: What resources does the business model need to make it work?
  7. Key Activities: Which key activities must be carried out by companies in order for the business model to be successfully implemented?
  8. Key Partners: Which key partners and suppliers are crucial to the implementation of the business model?
  9. Cost Structure: What are the most important costs involved in running the business model?

The Business Model Canvas is particularly useful because it offers a simple, clear way of visualizing a business model on one page. This facilitates the shared understanding, discussion, iteration, and adaptation of the business model. It was first presented by Alexander Osterwalder in his book “Business Model Generation” and has established itself worldwide as a standard tool for startups and companies.

Ideal conditions for creative working

The creativity techniques described above are good methods for stimulating the generation of ideas and creativity in teams, and for promoting them in a targeted manner in the form of workshops or working groups. However, even the best creativity technique is of little help if the requisite fundamentals and conditions are not in place to boost the general creativity of the teams. Here are nine tips to foster the creative spirit in your company:

  1. Open working environment: Create open spaces that encourage dialogue between staff. Flexible workspaces can help people to develop their creativity.
  2. Time for creativity: Allow regular time-outs for creativity sessions or allocate time slots for free thinking, during which people can work on their own ideas.
  3. Embrace diversity: Diversity in teams can lead to different perspectives and thus to new, creative ideas.
  4. Error and learning culture: See mistakes as an opportunity to learn and not as failure. This fosters a willingness to take risks and try out new ideas.
  5. Training: Offer workshops and training courses that train creative thinking, problem-solving skills or similar competences.
  6. Inspiring environment: Decorate offices with art, plants, and other inspiring elements. A pleasant atmosphere can boost creativity.
  7. Think outside the office: Organize team outings or retreats in new settings to broaden people’s horizons and gain fresh perspectives.
  8. Make use of technology: By using creative software tools or apps that help you visualize and manage ideas, you make the innovation process more efficient.
  9. Feedback culture: Establish a culture of open feedback, in which ideas can be shared and constructively discussed.

Follow this link for more tips on creating a corporate culture that fosters innovation and the creativity in your people.

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