Yin Yang flow

Harnessing the Yin Yang flow of innovation

Two weeks ago, we discussed how to embrace the Yin Yang concept of Chinese philosophy as a simple but effective way to talk about creativity and innovation, especially here in Asia where Thinkergy has its home base. We learned that to build a creative company, we need to focus on boosting its creative Yin energy: hire and promote more creative Yin people; have a leader with a creative Yin mindset; and gradually build a creative Yin culture. Today, let’s talk about the fourth and final aspect: the creative process — and how you may use the Yin Yang flow of innovation to guide your thinking while working on a creative project.

Master creative projects using a Yin Yang flow in the creative process

When you want to pursue a creative project with an innovation project team, you can use the dynamic interplay of Yin Yang to guide you in a simple way through the various phases of the creative process. Why? Almost all creative processes unfold in a harmonious rhythm of divergent thinking alternating with convergent thinking:

  • Yang energy represents convergent thinking, meaning we “narrow down” our thinking by employing more left brain-directed cognitive processes like analysis, critical evaluation and rational decision-making.
  • In contrast, Yin energy aligns with divergent thinking, broadening our horizons by using more right brain-directed cognitive activities such as empathizing, ideating and imagining.

How does the Yin Yang flow of innovation unfold?

I designed a simple creative process flow that unfolds in seven Yin Yang-cycles. Each starts convergent thinking (Yang) that is followed by a phase of divergent thinking (Yin). An innovation project team can apply these seven cycles over seven time intervals (e.g., half-days, days or weeks). How exactly do these seven cycles of the Yin Yang flow work?

Yang 1: State your case. Specify what the innovation project is all about: the creative challenge, and what you know about the case. We converge our thinking to what we initially perceive to be the essential facets of the case.

Yin 1: Explore your challenge. Next, diverge the thinking by examining the case more broadly, based on the four cardinal points of the compass:

  • Check for “True North” by examining facts, assumptions, beliefs and rules.
  • Go West to curiously ask and answer many questions related to the case, especially those that make people feel uncomfortable.
  • Head South to look at your case from new viewpoints, especially those of your customers and other key stakeholders.
  • Look East to map and sketch what you know about your case.

Yang 2: Frame your real challenge. Condense all your learnings from phase 1 by framing what you uncovered as your real innovation challenge, which typically differs from what you initially perceived.

Yin 2: Generate hundreds of ideas. Have fun and enjoy brainstorming and ideating many, many ideas for your challenge with the help of creativity tools. Make an effort to generate at least 250 ideas with your innovation team. Follow the ground rules of brainstorming and ideation, especially Rule No. 1: “No killing of ideas.”

Yang 3: Discover intriguing ideas. Review what you’ve generated to find roughly fifty ideas that are more interesting — or maybe even a bit wild. When you narrow down your idea pool, and throw away all conventional and obvious ideas, you engage in Yang-style convergent thinking.

Yin 3: Design realistic, meaningful concepts. Use the three creative principles of elaboration, combination and transmutation:

  • Detail out and enlarge interesting ideas that already carry enough value potential by themselves (elaboration).
  • Find ideas that seem to connect, then combine those into more valuable concepts (combination).
  • Take a wild idea and creatively look for ways to tame its wild nature while preserving its intriguing aspects (transmutation).

Shoot for at least a dozen idea concept with your innovation team in this phase.

Yang 4: Evaluate your idea concepts. Now it’s time for some critical convergent thinking. Evaluate and critique each concept in your idea concept portfolio to better understand its pros and cons.

Yin 4: Enhance and rapidly prototype promising concepts. Take a look at the cons of each concept and ask: “How can we creatively fix these bugs?” Then, do rapid prototyping on the most promising concepts to quickly learn more about their value potential and feasibility through iterative rounds of trial and error coupled with feedback.

Yang 5: Select your top idea concept. Select at least one top idea for real life activation. Use simple voting techniques to reach a team consensus, or employ more advanced decision-making tools to settle diverging views.

Yin 5: Design a winning pitch. Every top idea needs support from superiors, sponsors and suppliers to secure the resources to bring it to life. Create an impactful idea pitch that animates the benefits of your idea by addressing both the functional and emotional needs of those whose support is critical.

Yang 6: Pitch your top idea. Use Yang energy to pitch and convincingly respond to any questions raised. If your pitch succeeds, move to the next Yin phase, otherwise lick your wounds and go back to the previous one.

Yin 6: Party. You’ve succeeded and earned the funding and approval needed for activating your top idea. Celebrate the moment. You’ve thought and worked hard to create a winning idea, and you will have to put in lots more effort to bring it to life.

Yang 7: Plan for idea activation, then activate your top idea. Specify key parameters, and begin with the activation of your funded idea, reviewing your progress at every critical milestone and adjusting your plan if needed.

Yin 7: Release the idea into the market. Create a momentum-building launch event. Then, start shipping and continue creatively promoting your “wow” innovation. Finally, begin the Yin Yang flow anew by starting a new innovation project.

Nota bene: The Yin Yang flow of innovation is a simplification of Thinkergy’s awards-winning innovation process method X-IDEA. If you like to learn more about the Yin-Yang nature of innovation, check out an earlier article that was published in this column on 31 March 2011 titled “Understanding the Yin Yang of innovation”.

Contact us if you want to learn more about our innovation trainings, about X-IDEA or about the Yin Yang flow of innovation.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 16 March 2017.