Are you willing to challenge conventional thinking? It takes courage, and it’s not easy. In his book “Disruption,” Jean-Marie Dru, co-founder and chairman of a Paris- based global advertising agency with offices in 27 countries, gave examples of challenging conventional thinking:

»» It was conventional thinking to consider computers as being reserved for specialists. But Apple questioned that assumption.
»» It was conventional thinking that women should grow old gracefully. But Oil of Ole challenged that assumption every day.

Dru argues that disruption is about finding the strategic idea that overturns conventions in the marketplace and that makes it possible to reach a new vision or give new substance to an existing vision. Disruption is all about displacing limits. It is a three-step process that can be turned into a discipline:

  1. Systematically identify the conventions. It’s not as easy as it sounds. habits prevent us from identifying existing conventions.
  2. Identify the problem with the convention that creates an opportunity.
  3.  Envision a new way of solving or removing a limitation.

Mario and Cathy Costantini decided to locate the headquarters and manufacturing plant of their now nationally famous business, La Lune Collection, in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee. They met with police officials and found that everyone warned them that crime in the area depressed real estate prices and made it difficult to recruit talented employees. Most of the petty crimes were caused by juveniles who had nothing to do. They challenged conventional thinking by founding the Holton Youth Center, which provided an outlet for young people. Their manufacturing plant is now highly successful, and is one of the reasons that Alterra decided to locate its headquarters and plant only a few blocks away. So how do you ensure that your organization systematically identifies conventional thinking and is willing to creatively look for alternatives? Josh Linkner, in his book “Disciplined Dreaming,” suggests a test you can administer. Take this to your team and have them answer each statement: strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree or strongly agree.

  1. Before beginning a project that requires creativity, we always understand clearly what we’re trying to accomplish.
  2. We are comfortable sharing our opinions and taking risks at work.
  3.  We have many sources of inspiration at our disposal and rarely run out of sources of creativity.
  4. My colleagues have many breakthrough ideas, and we regularly challenge and question the status quo.
  5.  We regularly use warm-up exercises to prepare to unleash the best in creative thinking.
  6. Our brainstorming sessions are frequent, fun, focused and productive.
  7. We have in place a system for sorting good ones.
  8. In our company creativity is for everyone, not just something those “art” people do.
  9. When working on new ideas, we leave our normal surroundings and find a physical environment that enables our creativity.
  10. When my team works together to develop new ideas, we use many different and powerful tools to uncover our best thinking.
  11.  Our company has a system for measuring ideas and creativity.
  12. Creativity is valued, nurtured and rewarded in our organization.
  13. We are willing to challenge conventional thinking. We rarely accept things as they are.
  14. We have vivid imaginations and often come up with wacky ideas.
  15. Once we have a good idea, we usually test it before bringing it to the world.
  16. We feel comfortable taking risks and contributing our most innovative ideas with no fear of embarrassment or retribution.
  17. We regularly use metaphors and analogies.
  18. We generate good ideas, and there’s always a clear next step for putting them into action.

If you do not score high with lots of “strongly agree” answers, you have a lot of work to do in the world of innovation and creativity. If you don’t do it now, your competitors will do it for you, and the result will not be pretty.

Mario’s home country was Argentina. When he was a young child, his father applied for a telephone. It took forever because the government was in charge of the allocation of phones. When he came to America, his father asked AT&T for a phone, and within one day they had a new phone system in place. Why? The private market rewards creativity, innovation and delivery of needed services.

Your bottom line: “An optimist expects his dreams to come true; a pessimist expects his nightmares to.”

It is time to start gathering your organization and collectively answering these questions. Find out whether you really do have a culture and organization geared to innovation and creativity!