Jeffrey Rovell & Associates, Inc.
Jeff Rovell's creativity sessions have energized companies around the world for nearly fifteen years.

Jeff says: Since 1973 I have had the luxury of working with dozens of companies throughout the medical device world. Over the years, understanding the process of innovation became a passion of mine. The way that some companies introduce new products on a regular basis while others fail to do so with equal consistency is fascinating -- and it can determine success or failure more than any other factor. I wondered: could I teach companies to become more creative than their competitors?

All work and no play...

I had long been convinced that a fun and open atmosphere can stimulate creative thinking. Even the most well-educated and intelligent people can find themselves in a rut when they live in a cubicle. In addition, large companies, often with many divisions and departments, teach people to learn their specific role and stick to it. In fact, it is cooperation and sharing knowledge across the organization that fosters innovation.

One way to get people to think big thoughts is to make them feel little again. Bringing people together to think big thoughts is a lot of what the creativity session accomplishes. By taking executives to a children's museum and feeding them a McDonald's Happy Meal, I found that I could facilitate and stimulate creative thinking about future opportunities. In one case, again in a children's museum, the management team put on a puppet show which portrayed the president in a way addressing some of the team's internal problems. Taking people out of the office and into a place where they could redefine their personalities and roles gave them to courage to say out loud what they had been thinking only to themselves.

Another tactic I use is to ask people to envision what they think their particular business will be like ten years from now. I tell them to explain it to me as though it were a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal. It's amazing how accurately people can predict their own success! At some companies, I've handed out Legos and told them to build their own vision of the future -- and they build everything from miniature medical devices to micro manufacturing plants. Since no one has ever predicted the future, we talk about creating the future by expanding our thinking and discussing ways of identifying enabling technologies that will get them to the future first.

Orchestrating the Future

Another lesson I try to communicate is that getting to the future is an active process. It does not happen to you -- you have to make it happen. I use the metaphor of an orchestra and a conductor. We need to learn to orchestrate the future ourselves by bringing many different skills, technologies, and partners, and making them work in concert.

Orchestrating the future means working in a much larger space than you're used to. Instead of going it alone and inventing from scratch, we seek out new partners and existing technologies that can be applied to our opportunities. We learn how to bring many resources to bear early on so that we can accurately home in on a truly creative solution to the opportunity.

Another part of orchestrating the future is continued growth and change in your ideas over time. As the product develops, we continually test our assumptions, both amongst ourselves and with customers. I identify Fast Failures as a key part of a product's ultimate success. Learning to spot a bad idea or a roadblock early, and to find another, creative route, means that you are actively insuring the project's success instead of simply following along.

Getting to the Future Faster

The orchestra is the metaphor I use for product development because, like an orchestra, a product development team must simultaneously focus on their own virtuosity, while also blending their skills together to communicate a single and optimal product to the audience. Though everybody has their appropriate role, being creative means being able to go beyond the ordinary and be more open and energetic about working with the other musicians.

The sessions often begin with a song I write about the company, and end when I give each participant a real conductor's baton. To get the feeling of an orchestra, we conduct to a recording of a great classical piece, such as "The Four Seasons." The batons are my gift to them as a rememberance of the session, and I ask them to keep it on their desks as a reminder that we are all not only members of the orchestra, but conductors of the future as well. Getting to the future faster is only possible when you understand the degree to which you can shape and direct that future. Nobody has ever predicted the future -- so companies must orchestrate it for themselves.