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Aha! Moment: How Creativity Really Works

Not so long ago in a post about the use of brainstorming in business, I introduced research that proves that brainstorming doesn’t really work. Repeated studies showed that the group setting of brainstorming doesn’t really promote creativity and that people are better off brainstorming solo. In this post I will explore this notion further, and suggest a new approach to business creativity.

Let’s start with what stands behind the popularity of brainstorming. In 1981, Roger Sperry won a Nobel Prize for his theory on the two sides of the brain. He suggested that while the left brain is analytical and rational the right is creative and intuitive. Because of its straightforwardness and simplicity, this model was widely adopted in the business world. The model led to creativity-oriented firms using beanbags instead of chairs and slides instead of stairs; these were all efforts aimed at supporting the activation of the right brain. This model is also the reason why brainstorming is so widely used; brainstorming sessions have become the official place for people to turn off their left brain and think only from their right brain.

However, in 1998 a new breakthrough model of the brain that overthrew the two-sided brain approach was introduced. The new model, called “intelligent memory,” suggests that intuitive and analytic functions of the brain work side by side rather than cancel each other out. According to this model, information gathered over the years is categorized and stored in your brain. As new information comes in, the brain searches to find if it fits any old information already stored. If a match is found, the old memories combine with the new ones, a process that results in a thought. When a new pattern or category is formed, the thought would feel like an aha! moment.

So, what will replace brainstorming? One option is the GE Matrix. The GE Matrix, which was implemented at General Electric in the late ’90s as the main strategy design and problem-solving tool, takes advantage of this updated model of the brain. The GE Matrix turned the process of intelligent memory into a step-by-step strategic tool that supports utilizing existing elements in new combinations. The new combinations that result in the creation of innovative ideas are critical in various steps of the strategic process: coming up with different ideas and situations to analyze, choosing the right course of action, and planning the successful implementation of the strategic move.

Based on: Duggan, William. “How Aha! Really Happens.” Strategy Business Magazine. 61 (2010): n. page. Print.

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