My belief and experience revealed to me that not only was everyone born with the ability to innovate, but anyone can learn to do it better.

Anyone who has gone through the rigor of earning a PhD understands the weeks, months, even years, it can take to decide on a suitable research question for your dissertation. I didn’t know where to begin, the field of organizational behavior being so broad. My dissertation chairman, Dr. George Graen, was aware of my unique creativity work at P&G and said, “Why not find a way to expose the world to the value of creative problem solving and how you have made it work?” He felt this would be something of special merit both academically and real-world practicality.

For nine months I combed through everything I could find in the existing creativity literature to see what would or wouldn’t be useful to investigate. I discovered that almost all the research to date was very rudimentary and inconclusive on its value especially to real world situations; it was limited to academic experiments using brainstorming techniques in various ways to attempt solving presented problems. I found that in most cases some training might work with fictitious problems, but the moment it was tested in the real world with real people, it fell apart.

My own experience in the Procter and Gamble laboratory was very different; I suddenly realized that here was my opening opportunity. Throughout the years that I had been working, my belief and experience revealed to me that not only was everyone born with the ability to innovate, but anyone could also learn to do it better. The fuzzy situation I had been experiencing suddenly became clear. Perhaps, my contribution could be to find a way to use my newly acquired research skills and support this belief scientifically!


I knew that with good training in creative problem-solving people could learn skills on how to think and behave more creatively and produce more innovative results. I also knew that the training will not work unless it was of sufficient impact and duration to make participants internalize, accept, and practice the attitudes, behaviors and skills that had been taught. Skills like divergent and convergent thinking, and deferral of judgment. Then applying this to an innovative multistage process of finding and defining problems then finding and implementing solutions.

Now, I needed to get two groups of people, one to train and one to be the placebo, with a measure to show the difference, I had myself a dissertation.

Working at P&G provided me exactly this scenario. Real world, real people, real time. I got 32 factory engineers who were willing to divide into 2 groups and was able to randomly assign them, so I didn’t need to do a pretest. My observations then began, not just in one way but many. For example:

  • Questionnaires and paper and pencil tests that measured new skills in defining problems
    • new skills in defining problems
    • creating new ideas
    • reacting positively to new, unusual products
  • On the job observations of peers’ attitudes and behaviors by coworkers
  • Performance rating by supervisors
  • Tape recordings measuring problem finding skill performance

This comprehensive array of data gathering was highly unusual for an academic setting. It was my good fortune to have the resources that I enjoyed at P&G who supported the work because it was of high interest internally. Pulling it all together, I presented my oral dissertation in front of four University faculty members and two P&G R&D vice president level employees; the dissertation was selected as the best doctoral research in Industrial and Organizational Psychology in 1980 by the American Psychological Association and was published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Performance in 1982.


Whenever research is done, unexpected findings arise. The data indicated that different people preferred working in different stages of the process. This discovery led to my development of the Basadur Innovation Profile to encourage company trainees to share their workshop experience with fellow workers and also their families. I received requests for help from several companies like Ford, Frito Lay, and Federal Express, among many others. I typically followed the same consulting protocol for each situation. Each one began with a meeting with the client or customer, called a pre-consult, to better understand the real problem and to demonstrate the creative process that I would use.

In the demonstration I would keep an open mind, defer judgment, and treat the original problem as a “fuzzy situation”. That was step one. We then engaged the client in steps two and three, using fact finding questions and challenge mapping for problem definition (How Might I?). I would then help the client converge on one, sometimes a few, challenges and agree on one to proceed. From this I generated a proposal that would involve bringing a group together to apply the whole process starting with the selected “fuzzy situation”. Sometimes, we would agree on a next step right at the pre-consult and this might replace a proposal. Working together, we selected the key people who would best help the client solve the challenge.

As I mentioned above, during this process I came up with the first Profile, later to be developed into the Basadur Innovation Profile; a proven assessment tool validated by research that provides insight on how people and teams like to think during the innovative process. In 1985, my partner Carl Finkbeiner and I developed a 14-item scale questionnaire to measure a workshop trainee’s acceptance for generating new ideas (ideation) and for deferring judgment on new ideas.

I used the Basadur Profile in my training, research, and application work everywhere. The first technical manual and research paper wasn’t published until 1990. Originally it was a paper and pencil format and now is administered on the internet using more than fifteen different languages. My team and I spent the next 30 years improving the psychometrics, reliability, and validity of the profile and by 2007 we got it to the point where it couldn’t get much better. But it did, and we are now on our 5th improved version of the Profile.


Our training process also evolved as we utilized the Profile to create groups that had the right diversity, inclusion, and equity along with knowledge and experience and cognitive thinking styles. An agenda would be created including timing, location, facilities, and pre-work, if required, to get us off to a flying start. The client would be responsible for taking care of these logistics. Every problem-solving session would begin by engaging the team chosen with training to experience the different profile styles, innovation process and the divergent, convergent and deferral of judgment skills required.

It was vital for them to fully understand the importance of using the Profile styles in complementary ways. This required skills to collaborate effectively and respecting differences in the team. These skills and behaviors would significantly help them navigate their way, facilitated by myself, through the innovation process to achieve success and enjoy the experience.

Expanding my research also evolved naturally. The more companies I worked with, the more I discovered how transmissible the Profile was, regardless of an organization’s complexities. When working with Toshiba it was apparent that they knew how to problem find. Any newly hired scientist or engineer had to start their career in sales, as upper management wanted them to learn the problems of their customers first. Other companies nurtured employee suggestion systems and it wasn’t uncommon to have employees implementing as many as 50 new ideas in a year; whereas in Canada/USA, we are lucky to have 1 or 2.


When I asked how much revenue they made from their suggestion system, they said it didn’t matter. What mattered was that it motivated their employees in all their work. The process of innovation was a way of life there. Victories were celebrated as a team, and posters were hung everywhere to encourage ideas and problem finding. There are 9 theories of motivation and they all agree that if you get people engaged in creative work, they become more motivated and will produce results of all kinds. This isn’t just with innovation, but in all areas of their work and their personal life. We seem to do the opposite in North America. We try to find ways to motivate people first so they will produce results.



  • Experimental study showed that analytically oriented and skeptical manufacturing engineers accepted our training just as well as other audiences.
  • Two kinds of participants attended: those who attended individually and those who came in intact groups.  The intact groups maintained the training effects back on the job longer than the individuals who returned to their jobs alone.
  • Evidence that employees need a supportive organization to maintain their newly acquired creative behaviors.
  • Our confidence increased, understanding that our system can work with all kinds of people even with those who might seem more difficult to train.


  • Because of my reputation of being able to increase creativity in the real world, I was asked to write an article on needed research in creativity for business and industrial applications. This included a variety of considerations and requirements beyond simply training people what organizational leaders must undertake:

Frontiers of creativity research: Beyond the basics. (Editor: Isaksen, S.G.) Chapter 13. Buffalo, N.Y.: Bearly SIPSYS


  • First trip to Japan to study innovative companies
  • Showed how innovative companies put a high premium on problem finding and problem definition (which we don’t do here)
  • We found that Japanese managers were similar to North American managers in that they both accepted the value of learning to defer judgment and active divergence in our training. The acceptance of active divergence was not as strong as in North America possibly because Japanese culture does not encourage individual “wild ideas” as much.
  • This provided encouragement that our principles of creating innovative behavior probably work around the globe.


  • Three additional divergent thinking attitudes that influence organizational creative behavior were identified (not feeling too busy for new ideas, valuing new ideas, and belief that creativity is not only for a select few)
  • We were able to measure positive effects of our training on all three
  • Joined preference for deferring judgment and active divergence which were identified in our earlier research


  • How to diagnose and solve real life problems using the Basadur Profile
  • Real company examples shared


  • Where are the generators? In almost all companies they were the smallest group at every level


  • Established scientific reliability psychometrics of the Profile on a huge base
  • Provided Profile style preferences across occupations and organizational levels


  • Established the scientific predictive validity of the Profile

Over the years I discovered that I could energize companies like Ford, Frito Lay, and P&G to achieve significant results. Frito Lay saved approximately 500 million dollars in less than 5 years by learning to innovate. P&G was able to reduce their costs by 4% annually just by having their employees participate in innovative behavior. We also worked with a technology company in the dental care field. They learned how to interact more effectively with their customers and the value of their stock rose very significantly, by a factor of 10.


These are real results, from the real world. We developed a way of measuring attitudes and behaviors that allowed individuals to collaborate and thrive. In the year 2000, at McMaster University, I took 196 students and put them in teams of 4 with a real-world innovation problem. We measured the teams at each stage and in the end had a panel of 4 judges from the business world.

The teams that were diverse in thinking styles were significantly more successful than those that teams that were made up of the same style. However, the less diverse teams said they enjoyed the experience more. This is because they were working with people who thought like they did and thus they lacked the rigor of using all parts of the innovation process.

In other research, my students discovered that, when teams took the time to collaboratively define a problem in new ways, they could create a new problem definition that all members could accept. They realized that by thinking innovatively and creatively about defining the problem, rather than jumping into solutions, they would view the problem from many different perspectives and get new solutions which everyone could embrace.

It was important for me to continue publishing these research papers that did earn scientific recognition as well as student buy-in. It also supported my view that anyone would be capable of innovating and those that did innovate could learn to innovate better.


Innovation is a process and there are many reasons why it is so difficult to grasp. One reason is that no one wants to take ownership of a problem because they have a fear of change. We, as a society, are often quick to judge ideas prematurely and get caught up in our own rigidity. Carl Jung was once reputed to say, “Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge”. If companies can open their minds and allow employees a forum that is free of premature judgment, a blueprint for success is uncovered.

To foster innovation, you don’t have to pay millions of dollars to a consulting company. Instead, try getting your employees involved in finding and solving creative problems. They know your business better than any outside expert.

The most innovative companies will be the ones where the leader wants change and is willing to take a risk. It is important for the leader to ensure the company creates an infrastructure made up of groups of employees, all with an equal chance to participate, solving problems together that would contribute to the needed change. These teams do need to be trained in the innovative process to work.

With the right team and the right process, you will generate valuable results. Teams discover that as each new solution is implemented, it generates new important problems to pursue. The process thus continues and never ends because the process is circular and each solution breeds new and important problems to solve.

There are many very successful examples of companies that have followed this blueprint proving that any company is capable of innovation and anyone can innovate…even you.


Part 1 – I Was An Innovator, But I Didn’t Know It

Part 2 – From innovator to teaching innovation