The Anticipation Creativity Technique (Episode 30)

Interview with Nina Maldonado, Agile Transformation & Digital Innovation Manager at AkzoNobel.

Here is an interesting thing I just learned today: AkzoNobel, the paint company, has sold a lot of paint the last few months. What makes it interesting is the reason:

There was a virus outbreak in Wuhan.

And then it spread to Italy.

And then it spread to the rest of the world.

And then countries went into lockdowns.

And then people started to work from home.

And then people were spending so much more time at home than they normally do that they started to notice that their walls needed re-painting.

And then they bought more paint, which made paint sales go up for AkzoNobel …

This story was told to me by Nina Maldonado, Agile Transformation & Digital Innovation Manager at AkzoNobel, and she ended her story by laughingly adding: “Oh my gosh, we are selling lots of paints! I even repainted the walls in my own house, and so did three of my neighbours.” It’s clear that Covid has been bad for many industries, but it has been good for the painting business at AkzoNobel.

That a virus outbreak in China would led to more paint sales is not immediately apparent, but when you hear it it makes sense. And to me it becomes a great story about a creativity technique called “anticipation”.

Very often when we try to be creative we pick a problem and try to solve it.

But “anticipationing” – a word I just made up to describe the practice of actively trying to anticipate as far as you possibly can imagine – is about helping our mind come up with new ideas by freeing ourselves from the current problems and instead look into potential future problems (and solutions).

Very often when we are trying to be creative we get the advice to keep asking “why?”. We are taught that not until we get to the answer of the 4th or 5th “why” have we really gotten to the core of a problem.

Anticipationing is instead about asking “and then?” for or five times, in order to get long enough into the future to see new opportunities.

If repeatedly asking “why?” is like digging deeper and deeper into the ground for the true problem, then repeatedly asking “and then?” is like digging deeper and deeper into a mountain. Both techniques are digging deeper – but digging deeper in different directions, one deeper into the current problem, one deeper into the future.

The etymology of the word “anticipate” actually means “to cause to happen sooner” so when you anticipate something you are grasping the future.

Anticipationing is different from forecasting or strategy. The idea is not to necessarily be right about what is going to happen in the future, but to take your mind on a journey into the future in order to see an alternative future, to identify new, potential problems and discover new opportunities. When using Anticipationing as a creativity technique you keep asking “and then…?” until you reach an absurd future future. Or until this imagination journey has helped you see the world in a different light.

Try it the next time you have an area where you want to come up with new ideas. Who knows where you will end up.




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