Roberta J. Duffy
What exactly can an automobile designer have to say to a group of supply management professionals? Well, thinking outside one's area of expertise can be a great spur for creativity. And according to Jerry Hirshberg, a structured business setting is THE place to implement creativity. In fact, he says, "Don't make more room for creativity in business - make it a core element of business."
Conference participants were treated to an inspirational keynote address from Hirshberg as NAPM's 86th Annual International Conference and Educational Exhibit kicked off Sunday afternoon. You may recognize Hirshberg from the classy black and white Nissan commercials where he speaks about the design of Pathfinders, Altimas, Xterras, and Infinitis. But now, we'll also appreciate how he began Nissan Design International, along the way learning about Japanese culture and discovering how to stimulate creativity among his staff.
He tells the anecdote about his design team that was charged with creating some children's furniture. To determine which colors would be best, they headed to nearby daycare centers. Realizing that asking the children about their color preferences might not yield the most accurate results, they found a creative method of research: they emptied the nearby box of crayons and looked for which ones had been used to the shortest lengths.
He speaks of "creative abrasion," one of the strategies outlined in his book The Creative Priority. Creative abrasion is an environment where ideas are expressed but not judged. People make statements of feeling, but there is no debate nor defense. For example, if one person's priority is quality and another's is speed to market, merely stating these priorities can help create a period of ambivalence, during which ideas, designed to meet both objectives, can ferment, develop, and foster.
To create a creative abrasion environment, Hirshberg suggests the following strategies:
Hire in divergent pairs. Individuals with different perspectives and styles can complement each other when it comes to being creative.
Treat distinct disciplines as alien cultures. Hirshberg says he learned a great deal while exploring and trying to understand and appreciate the Japanese culture. The same can be done within business functions, as supply management works with engineering, finance, or marketing.
Embrace the dragon. This means that once an idea is formulated, one of the best things you can do is anticipate the idea's biggest challenger. Learn, understand, and embrace this barrier to the extent that you can view your proposed idea in the most critical terms. It will help you address the challenges and see the solutions required to get past the dragon.
Hirshberg was available after the keynote address to autograph copies of his book.
By Roberta J. Duffy, editor of Purchasing Today® magazine.