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Blended Module 2: Creativity

by Ann Vandenbroucke (VIVES University of Applied Sciences) and
Delphine Van Iseghem (VIVES University of Applied Sciences)

Welcome ECMT+ Blended Module!

By following this guide you will learn to be more creative.
You can find the solutions of the exercises via the following link:

Solutions to the exercises in the creativity module

Step 1: Starting formulation

Innovative ideas can come about spontaneously or accidentally, but very often they are an answer to a problem or an opportunity or an irritation. In these cases, they will have more chances of success as a business idea, as a solution is offered for something that affects several people. This means that before you get started with your creative process, it is better to first make a good problem/irritation/opportunity starting formulation. Depending on how the starting formulation is formulated, you will arrive at totally different solutions during the creative process.

Basic rules for a good starting formulation:

  • State the goal in one sentence
  • Don’t formulate in broad or general terms but maintain a concrete focus (for example don’t say: ‘How can we solve the problem of traffic jams?’ but say ‘How can we solve the traffic problem on a specific highway during the morning rush hour?’)
  • Mention the problem owner in the formulation to create stronger involvement (for example: ‘How can companies in a specific city contribute to carpooling during the morning rush hour?)
  • A question that starts with ‘HOW’ or ‘CREATE’ invites new ideas
  • Find a challenging and attractive formulation for your goal


A company has a parking problem: there is not enough room for all the personnel to come and park on the company site. Depending on what we want to achieve with the creative solutions, we could have different starting formulations.

  • How can we create more parking spaces on the site of our company? (you are looking for a solution that implies the creation of more parking places)
  • How can we motivate the personnel not to come to work by car but by public transport? (you want to change the behaviour of the personnel)
  • How can we motivate the personnel to carpool? (you want to change the behaviour of the personnel)
  • How can we stop people complaining about the lack of parking place? (you want to change the behaviour of the personnel)
  • Depending on the outcome you want, you choose another starting formulation for your problem / opportunity / irritation.

If all the people involved in the creative process, start from the same starting formulation, you will get the answers / solutions you were looking for. If you start the creative process by just saying that there is a parking problem, you probably will get totally different solutions than the ones you were hoping for which might also cause friction between the people who took part in the brainstorming session because some solutions might be rejected as they are no answer to the question you had in mind.


  • You are a last-year student and you want to travel for a year after graduating. To be able to do so, you will not only need money but you also have to convince your parents of these plans. Formulate at least three starting formulations for the problems you see here.
  • Your company has problems with clients who don’t pay their invoices on time. Make a good starting formulation to start a brainstorming session to find solutions.

Step 2: Diverging phase

In this phase you try to come up with as many ideas as possible to solve the starting formulation. In this phase imagination is key. Wild ideas are cherished and built upon. It is not necessary yet to think about feasibility in this phase. Gut feeling and intuition play an important role here. It is interesting to have a wide variety and diversity of ideas. This allows you to afterwards combine ideas that don’t seem related at first sight and this is a perfect way to come to innovation.

Watch the following film for a definition of divergent thinking:

During this phase it is very important to respect a number of basic rules:

  • Postpone judgement!! Every idea is welcome in this phase. You don’t think about feasibility yet (technical, budgetary, …)
  • Foster openness within the creative group: make sure that people dare to express their ideas, that they are not afraid that team members will laugh with him/her afterwards.
  • Pay extra attention to naïve ideas: crazy ideas, ideas that do not seem feasible at all, strange ideas. Those are the ideas from which innovation can arise.
  • No hierarchy, no arrogance: each team member has the same value, no bosses. The variety of people increases the quality of the ideas.
  • Hitchhike on others’ ideas. Use other ideas as stepping stones for new ideas. You can maybe combine ideas of other people to come up with a new concept.

There are a lot of techniques that can help you to improve your divergent thinking. We will only explain a couple of easy to learn methods here.

All the techniques make use of :

  • Estrangement: this means that you deliberately move away from your problem and focus on something (totally) different first.
  • Resociation (association): you try to combine the ideas you came up with in the estrangement phase with your specific problem.

Techniques you can use:

1. Presuppositions / assumptions / Reverse thinking

How does it work?

  • List your assumptions about a subject.
  • Challenge your fundamental assumptions by reversing them. Write down the opposite of each assumption.
  • Ask yourself how to accomplish each reversal. List as many useful viewpoints as you can.


You want to start a new kind of restaurant.

  1. You would begin by listing the assumptions you make about restaurants: paper menus, offer food, tables, cutlery, nice atmosphere, good smell, … . Let’s take out one assumption : All restaurants have menus, mostly on paper.
  2. Next, you would reverse this to: I will start a restaurant that does not have a (paper) menu.
  3. Now, look for ways to make the “reversal” work and list every idea you can. “How can I operate a viable restaurant that does not have a menu?”
  4. One idea would be to have the chef come to the table and display what the chef bought that day at the meat market, fish market and vegetable market. The customer checks off the ingredients he or she likes and the chef prepares a special dish based on the “selected” ingredients. The chef also names the dish after the customer and prints out the recipe for the customer to take home. You might call the restaurant “The Creative Chef.” Another idea could be to banish all the paper and go for iPads on the tables or integrated in the tables.


  1. Immigration is a problem in a lot of countries as people are escaping bad circumstances in their home countries. Use the technique of presuppositions to find solutions to problems with immigrants.
  2. You are the manager of a supermarket and you know that there are a lot of complaints about the long queues at the checkout. Use the technique of presuppositions to find solutions to the queueing problem.

2. Keeping a journal

Journals are an effective way to record ideas that one thinks of spontaneously. By carrying a journal, one can create a collection of thoughts on various subjects that later become a source book of ideas. People often have insights at unusual times and places. By keeping a journal, one can capture these ideas and use them later when developing and organizing materials in the prewriting stage.


  • Write down remarkable innovations (in your own environment, in the world)
  • Write down inspiring quotes
  • Take a look at new shops/businesses
  • Write down an idea / opportunity / irritation / problem per day and look for solutions

3. Analogy

In the technique of analogy, use is made of something that is completely outside the problem. This can be a country, an object, an animal, an action hero, ... . It must be something that is inspiring and of which a number of characteristics can be noted down. After this the characteristics are resociated with the problem. This way one can come up with very surprising new ideas.


  • Well-known examples that were inspired by nature (also called biomimicry): bullet trains inspired by kingfisher birds, antimicrobial film mimicking sharkskin, harvesting water like a beetle, ventilation systems inspired by termites, planes inspired by birds, …
  • A designer wants inspiration for a design of a new table but had no inspiration. He thinks of an elephant and writes down all the features of an elephant: good memory, lives in herds, grey skin, ivory teeth, trunk, fat belly, Africa and Asia, … After that he resociates with the problem: live in herds => table with smaller tables that can be put together, good memory => built in screen/tablet, trunk => vacuum cleaner built-in in the table, …


- Try to find a solution for the lack of visibility of teenagers who go to school by bike. Use the firefly as a source of inspiration.

- You want to start an innovative kind of bar. Use an art gallery as a source of inspiration.

4. Free incubation

Sometimes the brain is tired of thinking and inventing new ideas and solutions. At that point, there will be no fresh ideas. The brain then needs peace and quiet. While we are no longer consciously concerned with the problem, the brain will continue unconsciously, so that suddenly there can be good inspiration. The period in which you leave the brain to rest is the incubation period. Here everyone has to look for methods that work for him/her to relax. Some examples: sports, hiking, driving around (by car / train), listening or playing music, yoga, ...

There are many other techniques that can help to come up with many and new ideas. The techniques mentioned are only a modest start to coming up with more ideas than anyone would have without using the techniques.

With creativity it is just like with sports. Training is needed if we are to be better at it. The more the techniques are practiced, the better you will get at applying them spontaneously.


  • Try to find out for yourself which method of free incubation works best for you. Try other methods as well to discover whether they can relax/inspire you.


Step 3: Converging phase

Once you have generated as many ideas as possible to solve the initial problem or irritation, you have to pick the best possible idea out of the multitude of ideas.

This phase consists of selecting, developing (refining, checking, correcting) and executing the best idea(s).

Again, a number of techniques can be found to do this. We will only look at one technique for each phase:

- Selecting: COCD-matrix

- Developing: 6 thinking hats of De Bono

- Executing: business model canvas.

3.1 Selecting

The COCD box was developed by the COCD (Center for Development of Creative Thinking), a Belgian organization specialized in creativity since 1977. The COCD Box is inspired by Mark Raison’s work on idea generation and selection.

It helps you to select the most promising ideas from the diverging phase with less restraints from the feasibility. The Box has two axes: the originality of the idea and its ease of implementation. Original but not (yet) feasible are placed in the yellow square, original and feasible are placed in the red square, the feasible and already known ideas should be placed in the blue square.

The most innovative ideas to focus on, are to be found in the red square. Those are feasible as well as innovative. Yellow ideas are the ones you should keep in mind for the future and blue ideas are the ideas that are already known.


In a municipality where there is still a lot of agriculture, a few local associations decide to join forces and organise an original festival that is linked to agriculture but at the same time is very innovative.

They come up with a number of ideas and put them in the COCD box.

For the organisation of the event the will focus on the ideas in the red box.


  • The university wants to organise an original ‘student welcome’ event at the beginning of the academic year. Come up with as many ideas as possible (using some of the techniques mentioned in the diverging phase) and write all these ideas down in the right quadrant of the COCD-box.
  • As WW1 ended 100 years ago, the city wants to organise a remembrance activity unlike all the others. Come up with as many ideas as possible (using some of the techniques mentioned in the diverging phase) and write all these ideas down in the right quadrant of the COCD-box.
  • Go back to your ideas for the teenagers who need more visibility when going to school by bike. Put your ideas in the right quadrant of the COCD-box.

3.2 Developing

Once an idea has been chosen, it is important not be pleased with the rough idea but to turn the rough diamond into a shining gem. This means that you have to develop the chosen idea. You can do this, using a huge number of techniques. We will restrict ourselves to 1 technique: The 6 thinking hats of De Bono.

It is a simple but powerful technique, which can be used by individuals or groups, having a lot of impact on the idea being considered. It is simple to learn and implement and it produces immediate results.

The idea is that every person has his/her own personality. This implies that some people are inclined to look at everything from the positive side, others usually see the weak points or think about the processes or think with their heart. To be able to develop an idea it is interesting to look at the idea not only the way we prefer to but to be forced to think about it in other ways as well. The brain thinks in a number of distinct ways which can be deliberately challenged. When you look at the idea with the 6 thinking hats-technique, you will look at it from all different approaches. Your decisions will mix ambition, skill, sensitivity, creativity, and good contingency planning.

So, how do you use the tool?

You will put on one coloured hat after another and connected to the colour of the hat you are wearing you will look at the idea from another perspective.

Let’s start with the yellow hat. When you wear this hat, you ask yourself following questions:

  • What are the good points?
  • What are the benefits?
  • Why will this idea work?
  • Why is it worth doing?
  • How will it help us/others?
  • Why can it be done?

This hat is all about optimism and sunshine. You explore the values and the benefits.

By putting on the black hat, we ask opposite questions:

  • Is this true?
  • Will it work?
  • What are the weaknesses?
  • What is wrong with it?

Keywords are: caution, judgement, assessment, logic, consequences, weaknesses, flaws. You really wonder whether things will work and reasons why it wouldn’t work.

The red hat allows us to think with our heart and to express our feelings about an idea without having to explain why the idea makes you feel this way. We will ask questions like:

  • How do I feel about this right now?
  • How cold or warm do I feel about this?
  • How am I reacting to this?

The most important things here are intuition, emotion and (gut)feeling.

The forth head we put on is the white hat. This time, it’s all about facts and figures. Following questions are in place here:

  • What information/facts do we know?
  • What information is missing?
  • What information/facts would we like to have?
  • How are we going to get the information?
  • What is relevant?
  • What is most important?
  • How valid is this?

We examine the data: facts, figures and information. We try to gather all possible formal and informal information as if we were detectives.

When we put on the green hat, it’s all about creativity.

  • What are possible ways to work this out?
  • What are some other ways to solve the problem?

The green colour is associated with nature, it’s the colour of plants that spring from seeds. It represents movement and creativity. It is the hat that helps you to come up with new ideas, makes you make suggestions and look for alternatives. It stimulates you to think out of the box.

Last but definitely not least is the blue hat. This time it’s all about procedures and organisation. We will ask ourselves following questions:

  • What have we done so far?
  • What do we do next?
  • What decision have we reached?

This time we want to be in control, we will think about the thinking and about the organisation. We aim for focus and purpose and we want to come to decisions, conclusions and a good concrete action plan.

There is no strict order in which to use the thinking hats. You can use a sequence that suits you and that makes you feel comfortable.

After using all the hats, you can be sure that the idea was well thought through and the remarks can be used to develop the idea and take it to a next level.


  • Return to your idea about visibility for teenagers in traffic. Think about your preferred solution from the COCD-box by wearing all the different hats.

3.3 Executing

We have picked the best idea out of the multitude of ideas we had, we developed it into an even better idea by looking at it from very different angles. Now it is time for action.

We will make the idea more concrete by putting it in a business model canvas which is in fact a mini version of a business plan.

Some people think that the diverging phase is the only phase in which you need to be creative. This is absolutely not true. We already saw that for example when developing the idea there is something like a green hat that forces us to think outside the box and to come up with extra opportunities, ideas, chances.

The business model canvas should also be implemented as creatively as possible. If not, you will just be the next person using the same business model. Even if your product or service is not that new, you can make a difference by thinking of ways to be different from the competition.

Examples of being creative with your business model

  • A company specialised in light catchers used to sell their product to be put on the roofs of factory buildings to save on energy because the light catchers reflect natural daylight in the warehouses so that less artificial light is needed. Due to the financial crisis companies didn’t want to invest in these expensive products anymore and the company was forced to change their business model. Instead of selling their light catchers they decided to go to companies, measure the use of electricity and artificial light in the buildings, put the light catchers on the roofs for free and then take a look at the energy costs afterwards. What the company saves on energy expenses is divided by 2 and Econation light catchers receives half of what the company wins for as long as the light catchers are intact. This means a switch of a revenue model based on a one-time sale to a model where you have a permanent income. (original way of filling in the part of revenue streams)
  • A fruit farmer found out that selling his fruit every week on the farmer’s market and to whole sellers wasn’t profitable anymore. He found out that companies were interested in weekly fruit baskets so he started composing fruit baskets with seasonal fruits and sold them to companies. Not only did he sell at a much better price, he was the first to deliver on a (2)weekly/monthly basis healthy and fresh snacks to companies. He changed his channels (directly to the customers instead of through the fruit auction) and developed a close relationship to his customers because he delivers directly to the end users.
  • Johnson and Johnson wanted to provide an anti-diarrhea kit to children in remote areas in Africa. The only problem was that those areas were not easily accessible. So, Johnson & Johnson had to look for a way to get it there. They found out that they didn’t have to do it all by themselves or by their own channels. As coca cola is one of the only products that you can find wherever you go in the world, coca cola has a very well elaborated channel of delivering the black liquid to even the most remote areas. That’s why Johnson & Johnson cooperated with coca cola and designed their ‘kit Yamoy’ to fit perfectly in a crate of coca cola so that the 2 products could be sent out together without extra costs for coca cola (key partners).
  • A Belgian student developed a mobile school to be used to teach street children in South-America. He wanted to use the mobile schools in more countries and attract people to teach with the help of these mobile schools so he needed money. He couldn’t just depend on government and charity so he started a company ‘Street Wize’ that gives coaching and training to companies and groups, using the strategies of the street children in South-America. Companies are willing to pay a lot for training so he was able to fund his social project with own resources. (revenue streams)
  • Blendle is a company with a unique selling proposition different from other newspapers or magazines. A lot of people buy a newspaper of magazine and only read the small part that interests them. Blendle offers the opportunity to people to only read what interests them. They pay per article. (key activity)
  • Ziferblat is a café where everything is for free, except the time you spend there. The idea originated from cafes where people come to work but hardly drink or eat something. To avoid this, this café offers drinks and some food that you don’t pay but you pay for the time you spend (revenue stream, key activity).
  • Apple is able to make people queue for their newest products. They have created a special customer relationship.


Think of a company you know, that could improve one of the items in the business model canvas. Make suggestions.

Literature list


  • Igor Byttebier & Ramon Vullings, 'Creativity in Business', bispublishers, 2015
  • Igor Byttebier & Ramon Vullings, 'Creativity today', bispublishers, 2009
  • Harry van der Schans, 'iDNA', uitgeverij Thema, 2015
  • Austin Kleon, 'Steal like an artist', Workman Publishing Company, 2012
  • Scott Belsky, 'Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the obstacles between vision & reality', Penguin, 2012
  • Peter Hinssen, 'The network Always wins', Mcgraw-Hill Education - Europe, 2015

Interesting facebook pages

  • Flanders DC
  • COCD
  • Exponential Academy
  • MOOC Ignite Your Everyday Creativity
  • Creativity
  • Creativity and business innovations
  • Business creativity and the creative economy
  • Creativity in business

Interesting internetsites

  • find great idea killers and share your own examples
  • get inspiration and help to boost ideas
  • the alternative to a ‘sitting’ meeting
  • the place to learn from failures and share your own nearlings
  • boost businessevents and sell your ideas
  • The Centre for the Development of Creative thinking
  • the European Association for creativity & innovation network
  • : the creativity and innovation network
  • innovation lessons from other sectors

For technical people like engineers we strongly recommend the the probably strongest creative technique called TRIZ the theory of inventive problem solving TRIZ began with the analysis if millions of patents over 1500 man-years of research.

The key findings are:

  1. All innovations emerge from only 40 inventive principles
  2. Technological trends are highly predicable
  3. The strongest solutions transform unwanted of harmful elements into useful resources
  4. The strongest solutions overcome the conflicts of trade-offs upon which most design practice is based

To find out more google the keyword TRIZ and you'll find many interesting sites among others: