Ongoing Transcendental Situations - or...
Why Your Colleagues Put Their Own Innovation First
Ongoing transcendental situations sounds awfully posh, doesn't it? It's the sort of thing you might say to impress a cute young member of the opposite sex at a philosophy seminar. In fact, it simply means continually being on the look out for ideas for certain situations. Let me explain.
In Anticonventional Thinking (ACT), as in Inner-Mind Creativity/Cosmic Creativity, we recognise that in any given situation, you have a wide choice of actions you can take, ranging from doing nothing, to doing the conventional thing, to doing something unusual, to doing something completely unconventional and creative to doing something bonkers. Most of the time, we simply do the conventional thing and often do not even stop to consider our options. (Follow this link to learn more about situations and especially transcendental situations)
A transcendental situation is one in which you consciously decide to take, or at least consider taking, unconventional, creative action. In creative problem solving (CPS) or brainstorming, this is often referred to as a problem. In most business innovation initiatives, we usually deal with each transcendental situation as a one-off event, running an ACT session or ideas campaign in order to find a creative solution. You want to improve customer service, so you run an ideas campaign on your idea management software. You want to find new products to sell to existing B2B customers, so you run an ACT session.
These approaches are good for focusing corporate thinking on specific issues which are important to your company.
Once Is Not Always Enough
However, many of the people in your organisation, especially the more creative people, have on-going transcendental situations in their minds. The on-line marketing manager is continually thinking about how better to promote your products on-line. She checks out new social media, looks at what others are doing and realises the web is an over-crowded place full of information, advertising and other stuff. In order to stand out from all the noise, she needs to think creatively and do something bold, different and unconventional. Ideas may strike at any time and be inspired by anything. Hopefully, she writes them down.
The CEO is continually thinking about options for the company, new directions she might take, new products the company might build, new markets to enter and more.
The research and development person is regularly thinking about new ways to make products and packaging as well as new products to make.
The innovation manager is always looking for creative new ways to promote and facilitate innovation.
Now, if you are that innovation manager (or innovation VP or director or thug), this raises a couple of important points. Firstly, most people will feel that their transcendental situations are more important than the ACT sessions, ideas campaigns and brainstorms you organise. Sure, they are happy to contribute ideas when they can. But, good performance in their job requires that they regularly come up with and implement ideas relevant to their positions and transcendental situations. In other words, the on-line marketing specialist can probably be persuaded to suggest some ideas about product improvement in your ideas campaign -- but these ideas and her performance in the ideas campaign are not as important to her as coming up with new ideas to exploit social media. Think about how her boss will judge her come evaluation time.
Secondly, she hopefully already has a process for developing her on-line marketing ideas. So she has no need to submit them on the company suggestion scheme. Instead, she probably presents them to her manager, perhaps during the regular marketing department meeting or perhaps informally whenever she has ideas.
As innovation manager, you face two questions here. Firstly, how can you help the on-line marketing manager be more creative and innovate better? And, secondly, is it even worth your time to help her? After all, she has an existing way of doing things that very possibly works. Moreover, if you are being judged by the results of ideas campaigns, brainstorms and other ideation activities, will your contribution to her innovation even be recognised? If not, should you use your limited time to help?
The answer to the last question is, yes, of course you should. But also ensure your reporting to senior management reflects the effort make and the results you achieve!
How do you help her and others with ongoing transcendental situations on their
minds? There are a few things you can do.
A Clear Path from Idea to Implementation
If you want to help your colleagues develop, test and implement their ideas (for their ongoing transcendental situations), ensure that there is a clear path from idea to implementation in various divisions. In particular, look for barriers that might prevent exceptionally creative ideas from being developed and implemented. In most organisations, little incremental improvement ideas are easy to implement. Bigger, more unconventional ideas, on the other hand, are much more challenging to implement.
In particular, and this will be difficult, look at the middle managers. They are often the gate-keepers to innovation in that they are the ones who must approve their teams' ideas in order for those ideas to go further. If you ask people privately about barriers to innovation in their workplaces, many people will list their managers as one of the most significant. On a more positive note, those who have succeeded with implementing innovative ideas tend to cite their managers for support. In other words, middle managers can be villains or heroes when it comes to innovation. Your job is to encourage them to be heroes!
Streamlined Innovation Approval
Explore the possibility of establishing a special, streamlined system for reviewing and approving crazy ideas. Regular competitions that allow employees to submit big ideas, often in the form of business plans, can be effective because they usually have the attention of senior managers. This allows people to bypass their middle managers and other approval committees that often kill risky, creative ideas. Winning the competition and the opportunity to launch a pet project is a powerful motivator for developing ideas in to creative visions. However, if you want truly innovative ideas, ensure that the competition awards creative, original ideas rather than simply the best ideas. (Read this for an explanation of why this is so).
An alternative would be a sophisticated alternative to a suggestion scheme in which participants would submit developed ideas or business plans. Requiring that submissions include more detailed information -- such as business cases, SWOT analyses, financial estimates -- would prevent people from submitting simple ideas more suitable for a typical suggestion scheme.
In designing these streamlined systems, bear in mind that in most companies,
there are many people who can kill a big, sexy creative idea and very few who
can approve one. Identify who can approve ideas and design a path that gets
ideas to them as quickly as possible.
Creativity training can help a lot, because it gives participants of the training programmes tools to think more creatively. In particular, look at trainers and workshop-givers who focus on analysing the transcendental situation (or problem or goal -- different approaches use different terminologies). I personally recommend ACT, of course. But there are other programmes that are almost as good.
Also, look for training programmes for managers; programmes that focus not
only on being creative but also on managing teams of creative people. As noted,
managers can easily kill the big creative ideas of their team members. But they
can also facilitate ideas. Training workshops that emphasise supporting creative
teams, challenging their people and championing good ideas can make a huge difference.
With a few words, a manager can kill the idea and motivation of a young employee
or she can challenge the employee to improve the idea and make it even more
viable. (For an example of
this, look at my article and video on the 3Cs).
Crazy Idea Meetings
Consider running a regular, perhaps monthly, crazy ideas meeting. In each meeting an individual or team can present a partially developed crazy idea to a diverse collection of colleagues from various divisions of the company. The idea owners have a set amount of time to present their ideas. This is followed by questions and answers and finally a feedback round designed to give realistic encouragement. This last point is important. Too much criticism will kill the enthusiasm of the idea owners. But too much praise may lead them to launch a project that is not viable as it is. Feedback, should focus not so much on weaknesses as how to strengthen the weaknesses.
Finally, every member of the meeting should say one thing he or she could do to help the idea owners. That may be a simple as providing an introduction or explaining how a process works; or it may be as involved as offering to mentor the idea owners.
Crazy idea meetings provide a safe and fun environment in which people can present crazy ideas and get the feedback necessary to make a realistic decision about whether or not to move forward. Moreover, if like most innovation managers, you are being watched by top management, you can be sure top management will take an interest in the crazy idea meetings.
If well done, crazy idea meetings not only give people a chance to present their crazy ideas, but should inspire the participants of the meeting to think more creatively about their own transcendental situations.
Of course, you might want to give the initiative a more business like name, like the Beta Ideas Group or the Innovators' Platform. That said, a friendlier name will make people feel more relaxed about sharing crazy ideas.
Take a look at the Imagination Club as an example. This is an informal, non-profit club that provides a platform for facilitators and trainers to experiment with new ideas in front of an intelligent, international audience. (Disclaimer: I am the co-founder of the Imagination Club)
No matter what you do, your colleagues -- especially the more creative ones -- will always have ongoing transcendental situations in the backs of their minds, looking for inspiration. As an innovation manager, you can help inspire them to be more creative and help provide them with paths that lead from idea to realisation. If you can achieve that, you will achieve great things for your organisation.
And I Am Always Here for You
If you need a hand setting up crazy idea meetings, designing streamlined innovation approval systems and training you and your colleagues how to think more creatively as well as innovate more effectively, get in touch. You know your company, culture and colleagues. I know creativity and innovation. Together, we can do incredible things for your company!
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