Innovation Blog

Personal Creativity Machine – Do YOU Have One?

By Shlomo Maital

I have been a management educator for 26 years, dating back to 1984, when I began teaching R&D engineers in MIT Sloan School of Management’s Management of Technology M.Sc. program.  For years, I taught a disguised version of microeconomics, showing how simple economic tools could be used by innovators to create and develop great new products.  I wrote two textbooks on this and it seemed that they were reasonably useful for managers and engineers.  But lately, in my workshops for managers, I’ve discovered that there is a far deeper need than economic tools.  Managers need personal creativity tools.  They have worked for years for large global bureaucratic organizations, in most cases (very few large global organizations are NOT bureaucratic), and their innate creativity has been brutally beaten out of them.  Many of them believe that they have lost it – that they are no longer creative, though they once were.  I find this particularly sad and disheartening, because I know for certain that high-potential creativity exists in every human being, and is often repressed, but never destroyed.  Every five-year-old child is super-creative.  Buy them an expensive toy, and they take it out of the box – and play with the box, making it into anything and everything.  Kids haven’t yet learned the rules. So they create as if there were none.  (See Sir Ken Robinson’s wonderful TED lecture on how schools destroy creativity, and why we need to reinvent them). 

So lately, in my workshops, I have been helping my managers build “Personal Creativity Machines” (PCM’s).  These are individually-tailored toolboxes, unique for each individual (no two PCM’s are alike, just a no two persons’ fingerprints are the same).  They are designed to be used daily, to prevent rust from gathering, and to be applied to absolutely everything and anything we do, not just to inventing gadgets.  They are aimed at enriching our lives, because it is far more interesting to do things better, faster, easier, differently, than to do the same thing the same way again and again, until our brain cells die from fatigue and boredom.  My students’ PCM’s seek to empower individuals and restore their faith in their own creativity, to show them that the fires of invention may have been partially doused by bureaucrats, but the spark never EVER goes out completely, and it can and should be re-energized into a raging flame of innovation. A PCM is a structured orderly process for identifying needs and finding innovative ways to satisfy them.  “Brainstorming” is rarely effective. There has to be SOME structure in creativity, though every person needs different types of such structures.

Your PCM has to be tailored to your own passions, interests and learning styles, and to the environment in which you function.  It requires a difficult inward journey of self-discovery, and a difficult prolonged outward journey to the edges of the universe, to explore human society and human needs that want and need innovators.   I have been astonished at the variety and quality of these PCM’s, that each manager-student creates at the conclusion of my workshops.  I now have a very rich collection.  One day, I think I will gather them into a book.  The idea?  Not for readers to borrow them, but to inspire readers to invent their own unique PCM.

Do YOU have a PCM?  Do you use it regularly?  Why? Or why not?