Crain's Chicago Business
Gerald Haman is convinced: Creativity and innovation are the keys to success in business. And, at the headquarters of his Chicago company, SolutionPeople, he aims to convince others.

People who attend sessions at Mr. Haman's "Thinkubator" enter a loft environment that sets the traditional concept of a work space on its head. Baskets of toys, giant bean-bag chairs and a library of books on subjects like meditation and becoming an optimist fill the room.

"Tests show that by the age of 40, most adults are about 2% as creative as they were at age 5," says Mr. Haman, whose client roster includes Chrysler Corp., Lucent Technologies Inc., Valvoline Oil Co. and Peoples Energy Corp. "Education, which teaches us to memorize, follow the rules, think logically and get serious, may be one of the reasons. But you can be taught how to rediscover your creativity."

And that's what Mr. Haman, who refers to himself as a "creatician," has set out to do, with a mix of tools, toys and games, art supplies and a dash of the latest research in psychology and meditation techniques.

In the 1980s, corporate training sessions focused on leadership and team-building. Today, employees at all levels are being taught how to improve their creative and innovative thinking skills. According to Training Magazine, 48% of U.S. companies are offering creativity and innovation training to employees.

Recognizing the need for creative thinking -- but perhaps lacking all the tools to foster it -- many managers fall back on the age-old "brainstorming session," sometimes with unsatisfying results.

"In typical brainstorming sessions, you get about a 5% return on the mish-mash of ideas," says Gary Vlk, a partner at One Smooth Stone in Downers Grove, a recent client of Mr. Haman's.

But turning "brainstormed" ideas into valuable or profitable solutions is the next step. Mr. Haman says that's where innovation training comes in.

"Innovation training is at the core of improving profitability and employee satisfaction," he says.

So, he's developed hands-on tools to teach clients the fundamentals of innovation. Among them is his KnowBrainer, a deck of cards containing key terms that executive teams can use to spark ideas, such as "investigate needs," "evaluate solutions" and "activate plans."

Mr. Haman emphasizes the need to visualize what other people need and want -- a '90s spin on the old "the customer is always right" maxim. With that in mind, a recent client, Cole Creative Group, worked with Mr. Haman and the KnowBrainer on a plan for pitching its product.

"Our mind-set was that we had a great product and great promotion, so why wouldn't our customer want us?" says President Chris Cole. "But Gerald helped us put ourselves in the customer's shoes and think about her needs first."

By JANICE ROSENBERG - April 06, 1998 Reprinted with permission