This matches how your brain works when you have a flash of insight. Your mind wanders from piece to piece of the puzzle, searching its shelves for pieces that go together, and only when it finds them does it know what the full picture looks like. The GE matrix turns that process into a team exercise, and the shelves on which the pieces of the puzzle are located stretch across the whole world. As the team progresses, its members might restate the situation, revise the rows of actions, and change the columns of sources. That’s exactly what your brain does before a flash of insight. And when does the team stop? When a combination strikes the members as promising. It usually happens in pieces, as people come in with connections that struck them overnight. Or they might spend weeks and come up with nothing at all. The process can’t be forced. But the GE matrix helps to keep it moving.
Over the years, companies have used many other techniques that parallel how intelligent memory produces creative ideas. For example, instead of brainstorming to generate creative ideas in an hour or two, some companies do “reverse brainstorming.” The leaders tell their staff to bring to a meeting ideas they’ve had over the past week, for everyone to hear and think about. Unfortunately, these good practices are scattered among a much larger number of techniques based on the false notion of the left and right brain.
Eventually, we can expect more techniques based on the new science of intelligent memory to replace methods from the previous paradigm. Companies that get there first will have a distinct advantage. What innovation methods does your company use, and in which paradigm do they fit, the old view of the mind or the new? The race is on, and to the winner go the spoils.
Reprint No. 10405
- William Duggan is a professor at Columbia Business School, where he teaches innovation in the MBA, executive MBA, and executive education programs. He is the author of Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement (Columbia Business School Publishing, 2007).