After completing a PhD in organisational psychology and starting out as a consumer psychologist in advertising, Amantha Imber wondered why the research she had read was not being applied to help firms innovate.
What was the use of having a body of scientific research, including proven drivers to innovation, if it was not being used to help companies grow?
“There was a gap between academic research and what happens ‘in the real world’,” she says.
So she started her own creativity and innovation consultancy company to do just that – use academic research to improve innovation in companies.
Six years later the consultancy she founded, Inventium, is advising some of the world’s best-known corporations, including Coca-Cola Amatil, American Express, Qantas and Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
Inventium won this year’s BRW Client Choice Award for best management consulting firm. The awards are run by Beaton and are based on responses from more than 40,000 professional services clients to ensure their independence.
Inventium, which operates out of Melbourne co-working space The Hub, also helps compile BRW’s Innovative Companies list. The two award programs are completely separate.
Its projects range from $10,000 training packages that help staff build on their “breakthrough ideas” to $200,000, 18-month projects to help companies design and facilitate a process for making innovation a reality.
Her own firm’s revenue has grown 50 per cent year-on-year over the past four years and will approach $1.5 million this year, she says.
What makes her consultancy different from the “fluff” espoused by others, Imber claims, is that everything it does is underpinned by the research of organisational psychologists, neuroscientists and cognitive scientists.
Rather than simply recite the lateral thinking techniques developed by Edward de Bono in the 1970s, she says her consultancy helps companies produce concrete results.
Imber is fascinated by studies that looked at how people can think more creatively and what organisations need to do to support them.
This, she says, increases a company’s capacity to innovate and achieve whatever goals it sets.
Solutions can range from the next best gadget or product or improving processes and developing better supply chain solutions.
“People talk about trying to build a culture of innovation. From analysis we know what sorts of elements need to be present,” Imber says. “One of the most important is that staff need to feel a sense of challenge. They also need to have the resources to deliver. People need to feel that risk-taking is allowed and failure is not terrible, but rather an opportunity to learn.”
She says there are keys to transforming ideas into realities.
“Crush assumptions,” she says. “Whenever we set out to solve a problem, we have assumptions that fence in our thinking. By deliberately crushing assumptions and asking ‘What if the opposite was true?’ you can significantly increase your creativity.”
Time of day can also have an impact on ideas generation. Research on decision fatigue shows that people make far better decisions first thing in the morning, Imber says.
“Never make an important decision after lunch. Being a successful innovator involves making optimal decisions about things such as which ideas to progress and which to leave behind.”
And if you’re stuck for ideas, taking the leisurely approach, like going for a walk, isn’t a corporate sin, Imber says.
“When we distract ourselves from a problem, our unconscious mind takes over and thinks of creative solutions on our behalf.”
And there are some other more physical tips to getting the creative blood pumping at any time.
This is the one time when clenching your fists in the workplace is not going to be frowned on..
“The simple action of clenching your left hand into a fist activates a circuit in your brain that is responsible for creativity and will significantly increase your ability to generate breakthrough, innovative solutions to challenges.”