After completing high school, for once I didn’t know what to do next. I had always wanted to enroll in the local university, University of Toronto, but had not given thought to what course of study I should take. Engineering was suggested. I asked which engineering discipline would be the hardest, thinking hardest must be the best.  Everyone said, “Engineering Physics”. I spent the next four years solving equations, passing exams and getting “the one right answer”. In my last year, I worried that I may not be able to get a job since so much of what I had studied was theoretical. It turned out that many companies were hiring engineers and were less concerned with my specialty and more concerned with their company, their products, their people and pension plans.   

I was attracted to Procter and Gamble (P&G) in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada because their products were familiar to me and I connected with the people. Also, they offered me a choice of two options: starting a career in manufacturing or in research and development (R&D). Because I had never heard of the latter, I grabbed it.  

Almost all my work in R&D involved solving problems. Every problem was different, yet they all required creativity. It was here I realized the importance of working with people from all departments as well as suppliers and customers. In all cases, it was not only about what we were doing but how we were doing it. My expertise in creative problem solving began to develop and I seemed to be making a difference.  

A few years later, the company offered me a new opportunity at head office in Cincinnati. It was especially appealing in that it was a new and different P&G division and I was to be a key member. The Industrial Cleaning Products Division (ICPD) was something the company had never done before, all other divisions were retail, selling products to supermarkets. Now they wanted to sell industrial products to companies and organizations which represented a brand-new customer base.

innovation

I enjoyed the size of the company in Cincinnati and the many resources it provided. In addition, this new division was relatively unstructured and growing. This allowed me to apply my creativity and problem solving to make things happen almost every day. I was thriving, received three patents and brought several new products to market.

P&G also provided me with learning opportunities. In 1971, I attended the Creative Problem-Solving Institute (CPSI) where I met Sid Parnes and other creative leaders including Dr. J. P. Guilford.  Energized, I returned to Cincinnati with my new knowledge. Shortly after, I adapted Sid’s’ work to corporate applications and developed an 8-step circular process that worked well, delivering measurable results. This was a complete ongoing innovation process starting with finding new problems, possibilities and opportunities through to successfully implementation of new solutions. The key to the new process was learning how to think simply, like children, and to ask questions. I later called this process SIMPLEXITY. Procter & Gamble had become my laboratory for learning, posing questions about creative processes and their applications. In the meantime, Sid Parnes and I became lifetime colleagues and CPSI became a part of my life where I shared new research regularly.

With the many opportunities I had to test new products, I began to realize that our customers were more interested in the services we provided than the quality of our products. As our division developed, additional managers were brought into key positions.  They had been selected because of their successful careers in retail divisions but, unfortunately, they were not able to change their approach when selling to the new business customers. In realizing this deficiency and relaying it to senior management with solutions, my flexibility in thinking was recognized. My problem-solving track record with different departments and people was also acknowledged in the corporate offices and I was transferred to the Management Systems Division (MSD), which had been created to accelerate change and new methods throughout the entire Company. This move confirmed that I was good at the creative process, working with all people, in all divisions to find and solve problems.

Basadur innovation

With my broad exposure in the company, I learned the importance of diversity, inclusion, equality, engagement, and ownership. I soon realized that for any problem, you must have the right people. I remember a situation involving a marketing team that wanted to make new advertising claims on television. Their problem was that all claims had to be OK’d by the legal department. They told me that “legal” was tough and they wanted me to help them “get around” them. When we met to plan the meeting, I asked who would be on the team and they mentioned several people but there was no one from legal. When I asked them “what about legal?”, they looked at me benevolently and said, “Look kid, we don’t want them in here – we are trying to “get around” legal.” I naively blurted out, “Who knows more about getting around legal than legal? So legal got included and we solved the problem in less than a day. Normally, this would have taken months. For me, it was always about getting the right people together and engaging them in the right process. When this happened, innovation could thrive.

Successes like this led the company to send me to the University of Cincinnati where I studied, as a part time PhD student, in the School of Business. I majored in Organizational Behavior, with minors in Educational Psychology and Social Psychology. In 1977, I undertook my doctoral dissertation; a two-year experiment involving creativity training of engineers at P&G. I developed a scientific model that showed how creativity training worked and demonstrated that training in the creative process and process skills – specifically Simplexity – improved job performance. This work won the American Psychological Association’s S. Rains Wallace award in 1980 for the best industrial and organizational psychology dissertation. This experience taught me how to undertake research and that was when I began to visualize what would become The Center for Research in Applied Creativity. This would combine my desire to continue researching along with practicing application in the workplace.

While I was still in Ohio, other corporations learned of my successes and invited me to consult with them to improve their processes such as employee involvement and product innovation. I found the idea appealing and could draw on my academic and business experience to consult with companies. This became the crucibles in which I could test and expand my own knowledge of creative processes.  While P&G understood where I was coming from, it was reluctant to set a precedent by giving me special freedom to work with other corporations. I then realized that this kind of teaching, researching, and consulting belonged not in a single company but in a university.  It was time for a leap of faith.

My involvement at P&G was critical, and it was important that I facilitated in a nurturing way to help keep teams on track, focused, and positive. Communication among team members was the key and sticking to the process made this happen naturally. Overall, the team needed to remain confident that the process would work even in the most difficult situations. It seems simple but in fact, it requires hard work. However, if the process is diligently followed, one can become an innovator without realizing it. This is what happened to me. By using the process repeatedly, I could get more innovative results every time and my confidence in the process grew. I then made a career decision to make it my life’s work to teach others and show them that they, too, were innovators – they just didn’t know it.