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13 Dec 2012

Creative Innovation (Pt 12): Associative Thinking

This entry is part 12 of 18 in the series Creative Innovation

It’s difficult to discuss creative innovation without addressing associative thinking (aka Intersectional ThinkingTM). It’s the act of comparing something to another to explain, create and innovate. In essence, it’s pragmatic analogizing. For example, it’s looking at a bird and thinking about a human flying machine.

While there are many publications such as Frans Johansson’s book, The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures, discussing associative thinking and its history, there are far fewer describing how someone is actually supposed to think associatively. Nevertheless, as Giovanni Gavetti writes in “The New Psychology of Strategic Leadership” (Harvard Business Review, July-August 2011 edition), innovation, and thus, associative thinking becomes increasingly important to an enterprise’s success in a swiftly changing world.

Associative thinking is a strong source of creativity and innovation.

Often though, some of our more common practices are actually associative thinking. For example, in her article, “Coming Through When It Matters Most” (Harvard Business Review, April 2012 edition), Heidi Gardner writes about putting “client experts on the team” working with it. Moreover, she emphasizes experts with diverse knowledge of the client, “not just technical knowledge” but “also insights into its culture, power structures, informal working relations, individual predilections, and working styles.”

When it comes to forming associative thinking teams, it means that broad experiences, interests, expertise, motivations and talents trump narrow ones. People who like many types of foods, music, books, activities, movies, experiences, people etc. are more likely to have associative thinking advantages than those with more narrow ones.

Therefore, if we cannot find, or do not have, individuals with such qualities, then we need to form teams that will. This is where people  mix, disruptors, dissenters and managers capable of managing a diverse workforce become extremely important. Whether a person or a team, associative thinking prefers diversity and breadth, not sameness and narrowness.


Series Navigation<< Creative Innovation (Pt 11): Quantification Restricts CreativityCreative Innovation (Pt 13): Overcoming Biases >>

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