Great to have Woody Bendle back this week with a new creative thinking exercise that, for those of you old enough to remember, will take you back to the 80's while it also has you pointed toward future ideas! Here's Woody . . .

 Creative Thinking Exercise – That’s Just the Way It Is

woody-bendle“The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones…” - John Maynard Keynes

I love this quote from Keynes.  In its brevity, it articulates two fundamental realities nearly every business faces.

  1. Most organizations typically aren’t lacking for new ideas; and
  2. The processes and procedures that helped to make organizations successful, are often the exact things preventing them from being innovative and finding that next level of new growth.

I have an idea…

Ideas are abundant – they really are. But good ideas worth backing are exceptionally rare.  By good idea, I mean a bona fide idea that can uniquely satisfy an important unmet or underserved consumer need.  And one that has the opportunity to create new consumer value in the marketplace.

Let’s face it, it feels awesome when you’ve come up with a really cool idea!  But, one of the most significant challenges every innovator faces is resisting the temptation to chase a cool idea rather than solving consumer needs.  This is a proven path to almost certain failure that we need not go down; but still so many do.

Innovation is a numbers game – just not in the way that many still think.  When 80%+ of all new products that launch each year fail, I would consider the current state of innovation a fundamentally broken numbers game.  Tossing the proverbial spaghetti against the wall is irresponsible; not to mention an incredible waste of time, effort and money.  There is however a better numbers game and that is generally regarded as the needs-first, or jobs-to-be-done approach to innovation.

By methodically and thoroughly understanding consumer needs and appropriately sizing up the market opportunity, you can flip the numbers from 80% failures to 80%+ successes. I don’t know about you but I like those numbers a whole lot better!

So, once you have identified the need(s) you wish to address, what do you do next?

Anyone got an idea?

Now is the time to come up with ideas.  Even though ideas can be abundant, coming up with well informed and focused ideas isn’t always easy.  Occasionally, you will be lucky and have one of those serendipitous eureka moments; but more times than not, it doesn’t work out this way.  Coming up with good new innovation ideas is hard work – really hard work.  And, thankfully hard work can often be made easier with creative thinking exercises.

One such creative thinking exercise I often like to use is one I call “That’s just the way it is” (cue Bruce Hornsby… now).

That’s Just the Way It Is, is pretty much what you might assume given the name.  This creative thinking exercise starts by identifying things are often regarded as standards, norms or expected protocols.  Many of you might have read (or at least remember the title from) Kriegel and Brandt’s 2008 book Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers” (affiliate link).

The "That's Just the Way It Is" Creative Thinking Exercise

That’s Just the Way It Is essentially builds upon the notion of challenging existing conventions (and / or sacred cows) as a way to identity opportunities for innovation.

There are five steps to this creative thinking exercise:

  1. Given the need(s) that you are attempting to innovate against, identify things (processes, procedures, designs, constructions, etc.) in your business or category that just are what they are.  These will be those things that are always done a certain way - and That’s Just the Way It Is.
  2. List as many reasons as you can think of for why this is (or might be) the case.
  3. List all of the ways (and reasons) the current state is good for your organization and all of the ways this is good for the consumer.
  4. List all of the ways (and reasons) the current state might be limiting (and potentially even a negative) for your organization and your consumers.  And finally…
  5. Take the thing you identified in step one and “go opposite.”  That is, what might it look like if you did the exact opposite (or reverse) of the thing you’ve identified.

Once you’ve completed steps 1-5 for the first thing came up with, keep going because this is where the real numbers game happens!

At this point in your idea generation phase, the more things you can identify that are Just the Way It Is, the better.  And more times than not, the things you come up with much later in this exercise are often the ones that have the best opportunity to be real game changers.


So what do you think? Is this a creative thinking exercise you can see adding to your creativity tool box?  Let me know!

Now, let’s get innovating!  Woody Bendle


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.


Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative thinking and ideas! For an organizational innovation success boost, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative plans to efficiently implement. Email us at or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.