5 Principles for Radically Improving Your Creativity: The O.T.H.E.R. Loop


"The art and science of invention can be effectively learned as well as taught." Rod King


Almost twenty years ago, there was a polarizing argument in the magic (conjuring) community. Some magicians were arguing that invention of magic tricks could be learned but cannot be taught. In other words, learning to invent takes place mainly through tacit knowledge and experiential learning. Other magicians thought that the invention of magic tricks could systematically be learned and taught just like in the subjects of design and engineering.

I belong to the school of thought that believes that invention including those relating to magic tricks could be systematically learned as well as taught. Invention involves a combination of art-and-science principles that can explicitly be taught. Nevertheless, decoding or deciphering the principles of invention is an arduous exercise. Many inventors just invent as a habit and way of life; they hardly know how they get ideas for invention or how they come about their inventions. This trend is consistent with the pattern of the evolution of knowledge systems which proceed from intuition (blackbox system) through rule-based systems (heuristics) to precision-based and algorithmic systems (machine/computer-based learning).  In due term, intuitive and expert knowledge becomes commoditized and "democratized" as the learning curve for getting a job done is flattened. 

With regard to the invention of magic tricks, I decided to take a different ("out-of-the-box") approach to demonstrating that the invention of magic tricks could explicitly be learned as well as taught. I decided to invent the world's first meta-magic software: a software that automatically invents diverse magic tricks. The magic invention software, which I developed, was covered by Jeremy Wagstaff  in an online article for the Wall Street Journal. The software invents more than 200 magic tricks in less than 30 seconds. So, how did I do it?

Invention and creativity take place at multiple levels. As I intend this article to be short, I'll not go into the details of invention and creativity. My general approach is to consider invention, creativity, and innovation as tasks of creative problem discovery and solvingEvery object in the real world exhibits a trade-off, that is, it has advantages (delight) and disadvantages (pain) for a given job to get done. An inventor or creative should be able to rapidly and creatively discover as well as solve emerging problems (trade-offs) for a targeted customer segment. An inventor should rapidly and continuously try to maximize customer delight and minimize pain while using little or no external resources, that is, at no extra cost and in no time. "Free, Perfect, Now" should be the daily mantra of a prolific inventor.

At a conceptual level, approaches to creative problem finding and solving are similar. For the consumate inventor or creative, the goal is the pursuit of perfection: an ideal or a perfect product, service, and/or business model (engine). I should point out, however, that while, at a high or abstract level, approaches to macro-problem finding and solving are similar within and across domains, approaches and tools differ at a detailed level. In my view, every novel, non-routine, messy, or wicked problem under the sun is discovered and solved using the 3 P's of the Lean Planning (Problem Solving) Cycle: Problem-Plan-PrototypeCompetitive advantage is usually achieved by rapidly going around the Lean Planning or 3P-Problem Solving Cycle while increasing learning.

Also, I have found five principles to be of extreme help in developing and nurturing the mindset of a perpetual inventor or creative. The five principles are visually summarized in the O.T.H.E.R. Loop below and can be used in each phase of the 3P-Lean Planning Cycle. The loop can be regarded as the "5 Habits" of highly proficient inventors and creatives.

Geniuses from Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein through Picasso and Richard Feynman to Genrich Altshuller, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and Sergei Brin constantly use the O.T.H.E.R. Loop. Geniuses and extraordinary innovators master use of this O.T.H.E.R. Loop which goes beyond the platitude of "Think out of the box" and the pedestrian tool of "Brainstorming." The O.T.H.E.R. Loop is particularly effective for discovering and solving wicked problems that are prevalent in today's world of unprecedented volatility, uncertainty, complex, and ambiguity.

If you'd like to immediately and radically improve your creativity, I'd suggest that you start to daily use the framework of the 3P-Lean Planning Cycle while applying the five principles of the O.T.H.E.R. Loop. Your focus should be on discovering and solving apparently impossible problems that you encounter as well as to messy and wicked problems especially in your domain. The simplest tool for discovering customer problems is probably the FTW spectrum, which largely summarizes Steve Jobs' approach to innovation. Also, the FTW Spectrum directly relates to the 3P's of the Lean Planning Cycle, that is, Problem Discovery, Planning, and Prototyping.


Today, many entrepreneurs, startups, and established organizations are talking about using the Lean Startup Approach to continuously innovate on products, services, and business models. However, the Lean Startup Approach suffers from a paucity of effective tools. Starting with the 3P-Lean Planning Cycle, O.T.H.E.R. Loop, and FTW Spectrum with a view to applying them for continuous improvement and innovation projects, one may obtain an effective way to rapidly get a higher return on investment for Lean Startup projects. The aforementioned tools are completely compatible with and extend ideas and principles of the Lean Startup approach.

So, are you ready to deliberately start using the 3P-Lean Planning Cycle, the O.T.H.E.R. Loop, and FTW Spectrum? We eagerly await your feedback.

Oh, and one more thing ... Do you think that creativity can be learned by and taught to anyone especially for delivering significant bottom-line impact in business?



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