Generating breakthrough creative ideas

How a hotel made revenue during COVID using creative & design thinking tools, to outperform their competitors by 150%.

COVID-19 was the ultimate wicked problem. It had been an unknown and unexpected challenge that turned everything upside down – particularly in the hospitality sector, which was hit the hardest. Hotels that relied on guests were empty, and their restaurants left desolate. No one knew known how long it would go on for, and therefore no one knew how to plan. The team had to be agile and move fast to innovate.


We had the opportunity to work with a luxury 5-star hotel faced with this challenge at the beginning of the pandemic. During this time we taught them a creative thinking model (Strategies for Innovative Development (SID)), which is designed to help generate breakthrough ideas using creative and critical thinking. The hotel used this model to find a way to deal with the COVID challenge, and to ensure they also walked away with a greater competitive advantage.


As the General Manager explained:

Your CREATE suite (with design thinking) paid for itself! I am going to share one idea that has generated since its inception over USD $750,000. Initially, we were hesitant to participate in any government/ tourism program to house quarantine guests. We did not know enough about the virus to “bring this into our home”, as well as the fact that we had not been vaccinated, and the impact it may have to the little wedding business we did have, as well as the negative connotations to being associated with the word quarantine.  After applying the training and several months into the pandemic the team came up with a creative way to engage in this business. By that stage we knew a little more about the virus and the whole hotel had been double vaccinated.

We called it “repatriation” and we focused it on the food and beverage. It was all about staying in luxurious accommodations and eating like a royal. Indulging in gourmet food. We further divided the food into Gourmet or Bento (for our Japanese guests). Visually the photo was also of food (only hotel in the city doing this) and the tag line was: “Return Home- Eat Well, Isolate like Royalty”.

We were able to charge a premium rate meaning that our average rate and incremental room service revenue went up. Our RGI (Revenue Generation Index- a measure to compare ourselves to the competition) is over 150% (100% would be fair share) and we are the only hotel in South East Asia and Korea in the chains forecasted to make budget this year!!! The employees last month received a service charge of over $500 and we have been mostly (with the exception of 2 months) at 100% salary due to our results.  I could not be happier with the team.  Thank you again!

See more about this Hotel Case Study and other case studies Case study



Why are both creative thinking + critical thinking important?  (also referred to as design thinking)


We need creative thinking to generate original ideas. Creative thinkers use divergent thinking strategies to challenge dogma and construct new combinations with unusual elements.

Yet we also need to be able to think critically to evaluate and implement the best ideas.

The complete creative process involves generating spontaneous creative insights while also harnessing an analytical approach. It means discovering those AH HA eureka moments through designing creative thinking opportunities, imagining what could be possible. It also involves bringing those ideas back down to earth when the time is right to ensure they are practical and actionable.



Breakthrough creative ideas: Creative thinking starts with asking questions

To best identify and define the challenges, the creative process needs to start with enquiry.

On average preschool children ask their parents about 100 questions a day, but this stops as we get older. We need to learn to recreate that naïve and open mindset that enables the exploration of a range of possibilities by asking more questions.

The first requirement of the creative process is therefore to cultivate curiosity.

We usually don’t actually see the world we live in as it is – but as we think it is. It is essential to broaden our thinking beyond our own perceptions and assumptions. These are usually based on the set of beliefs, experiences and prejudices we have built up over time. Kids can easily challenge these because they are not aware of what the dogma is. Creativity is often first about using questions to deconstruct these patterns of thinking and start fresh.

Questions not only open up possibilities, but also help us see things from others’ perspectives  – most importantly the customer / end user. If used well they can also provide focus and direction for identifying creative solutions.



Breakthrough creative ideas: Creative thinking is about unleashing your imagination

Once the right questions have been crafted it’s time to get creative through exploration.

When you have the ability to explore without constraints it is easier to move beyond what is habitual and common. Those with active imaginations have been responsible for getting us to the moon in rocket ships and to the depths of the oceans in submarines – they are comfortable with stretching beyond the usual boundaries or the standard norms and expectations.

The next step in the creative process is therefore to unleash your imagination.

There are plenty of design thinking tools that can help at this stage, such as brainstorming and mind mapping.


Breakthrough creative ideas: Beyond creative ideas to practical solutions

If children are such great creative thinkers in these areas, then why aren’t children CEOs of companies?

This is where the importance of critical thinking comes in.

Though many people would assume that generating ideas is the goal of the creative process, it is only half the story. Once you have generated some interesting options they need to be thoroughly analyzed.

Although children are great at asking questions and thinking freely, they are usually yet to learn how to critically evaluate and apply ideas.

Critical Thinking To Ground Creative Ideas

How to make sure creative breakthrough ideas can be strategically implemented


Why are children not CEOs of companies when they are great at creative thinking?’

This is a question we leave workshop participants with as we finish off our section on Creative thinking. Children might be great at creative thinking. In fact, 98% of children score high compared to 2% of adults. But children are not good at critical thinking—a balance of which is needed to run successful businesses. While creative thinking is the thinking we do when we generate ideas, critical thinking is the thinking we do when we judge those ideas. The problem here lies in the fact that not many people have both.

“growing up” kills creativity, and as we finally become capable of applying meaning and relevance to events as adults (APPLY), we are in danger of losing our ability to do the things we did so well as children, that is to: 1. challenge dogma (ENQUIRE), and 2. explore a range of ideas and bring together unprecedented elements (EXPLORE + SOLVE).

Creativity thinking involves a 4 step process, 1) ENQUIRE, 2) EXPLORE 3) SOLVE & 4) APPLY.  Sadly  children develop the first two (1) & (2)  then as adults lose them, just at the time when we’re learning to use stages (3) & (4) …”

Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it. Critical thinkers rigorously question ideas and assumptions rather than accepting them at face value. They will always seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments and findings represent the entire picture and are open to finding that they do not.

“Whereas creative thinking tries to create something new, critical thinking seeks to assess the worth or validity in something that already exists.”

The corporate world is awash with great ideas being bought to the market too soon by over-enthusiastic (or time-pressed tired) executives. From the Samsung folding phone to the Elon Musks tough, armoured glass truck (of which to demonstrate on stage he threw a rock at the window only to have it smashed)


Someone with critical thinking skills can:

  • Understand the links between ideas.
  • Determine the importance and relevance of arguments and ideas.
  • Recognise, build and appraise arguments.
  • Identify inconsistencies and errors in reasoning.
  • Approach problems in a consistent and systematic way.
  • Reflect on the justification of their own assumptions, beliefs and values.



The ‘Creativity for Start-ups’ Podcast-

Tools To Foster Creative Thinking (PodcastCSI2.1

YouTube:    Apple Podcast:    Soundcloud:    Spotify:



The ‘Creativity for Start-ups’ Podcast- Part 3: Critical Thinking  (Podcast) CSI2.2



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