Creative thinking

How great business innovators are made (not born)

July 13, 2011: 2:13 PM ET

You don't need to play the part of Steve Jobs and take off for an Ashram to become more creative, but two new books leave little doubt that becoming a more innovative thinker requires serious prep work.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE -- Not long ago, creativity guru Todd Henry recommended to one of his consulting clients, a high-ranking manager, that he set aside one hour a week to generate new ideas -- "one hour, predictably scheduled, no exceptions and no violations," Henry says in his book, The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment's Notice. "This is not time to do work. This is time to think about work."

That executive's reaction, Henry recalls: "He fired back at me, 'What?! You just want me to sit around and think?!"

In today's wired, 24/7 business climate, most people can relate. Who has time to sit and ponder? Yet, Henry writes, companies pay employees, particularly leaders, for the value they create, and "you can create infinitely greater value for the company in an hour of skilled, focused thought about critical problems than by responding to your email slightly faster."

Let's say you're willing to try setting aside an hour a week for pondering, but you think you're just not the creative type. "There is a persistent myth in the workplace that creativity is a mystical and elusive force that sits somewhere between prayer and the U.S. tax code on the ambiguity scale," Henry muses.

In coaching hundreds of businesspeople through his firm, Accidental Creative, Henry writes, he's realized that anyone, from graphic artists to chief financial officers, can boost their capacity for "regular flashes of creative insight."

An essential step: Get out of your own way. Unlike most tomes on innovation, The Accidental Creative acknowledges the real-world stumbling blocks that would-be innovators face -- from fear of failure to bureaucratic busywork -- and offers specific strategies for getting past them. More

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