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Report 103
A weekly newsletter on creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.

Tuesday, 3 February 2004
Issue 2

Hello and welcome to the second issue of Report 103, probably the world's best weekly e-newsletter on creativity, ideas, innovation and invention – at least I like to think so.

Once again, I welcome your feedback and criticisms on how I can make this newsletter better serve you. Let me know what works, what doesn't and what might if it were in this newsletter. And, if you just want to talk about creativity, ideas, innovation or invention, feel free to drop me a line. Better yet, you can join ValpoCella (, our discussion forum on applied creativity and innovation in business.


Business is getting serious about innovation

According to the Boston Consulting Group's (BCG) “Innovation to Cash” study results released in January, 64% of global businesses will increase their spending on product, system or process innovation in 2004. Interestingly, some 57% of respondents to the BCG's survey said they were unhappy with their firms' return on innovation investment to date. Nevertheless, almost 69% of the respondents said that innovation was a top three business priority.

Read the press release at
Visit BCG's web site (not working at time of writing) at

The most hated invention...

The Lemelson-MIT Invention Index is an annual Study that gauges Americans' Attitudes Toward Inventions. This year, it informs us that the cell phone has narrowly beaten the alarm clock as the most hated invention, and yet one which we cannot live without. Some 30% of respondents listed the cellphone as the hated, but necessary invention; compared to 25% listing alarm clocks and 23% listing television. It would be interesting to see similar surveys for Europe and Asia, where cell phones are much more appreciated and the level of service from mobile telephony companies much higher.

The Lemelson-MIT Invention Index also asks respondents how globally competitive the US will be 10 years from now in terms off innovation. All together, 80% said that the US would continue to lead – although 57% said the US would loose ground to other countries. The results are an interesting combination of Americans' confidence in the ability to lead the world in technological innovation, combined with concern that the USA will not always be so innovatively competitive.

For more information, see

Incidentally, MIT-Lemelson programme is an interesting one that promotes invention, particular to youth. Visit their web site to learn more:

Innovation in developing countries

There is a tendency to believe, at least in developed countries, that corporate innovation only really happens in developed countries. After all, companies in developed countries have bigger budgets, access to the latest technologies and a well educated work force. Of course that view is totally wrong as readers from developing countries well know. However, the innovation in companies in developing countries is suited to the local economy and environment. Global companies are finally realising this and allowing offices in developing countries to innovate according the local market's needs. Harvard Business School's “Working Knowledge” has an interesting article called “What Developing-World Companies
Teach Us About Innovation” at


Web based BrainStorming software

Sylvia is our latest web based BrainStorming tool. It allows you to run focused BrainStorming sessions, on the web, with up to nine other people anywhere in the world. Sylvia is very simple. You log-in and set up a BrainStorming session; indicating the issue you wish to BrainStorm and the criteria for evaluating the ideas you generate. Then you invite participants, who can be anywhere in the world provided they have an Internet connection and a web browser.

Once the session starts, each participant enters ideas onto the web based form while watching the ideas being generated by other participants. As a result, each user is inspired by others' ideas and users can build on each others' suggestions. A time limit brings some tension which also helps keep ideas flowing.

At the end of the session, each participant selects the ideas she thinks are best and logs off. The owner of the session can then use Sylvia's powerful evaluation tool to determine which ideas will best meet the owner's criteria. Once this is complete, Sylvia issues a report on screen and sends a copy to the owner's e-mail address.

Sylvia has proven effective for BrainStorming sessions on corporate strategy, devising a slogan, restructuring human resources and choosing new product lines for export.

We've taken an innovative approach to pricing with Sylvia, payment is on a per use basis. So there is no need to invest in and install software, nor is there an obligation to sign up for long-term contracts. In addition, it is possible to try out Sylvia free of charge. For more information and to test Sylvia, please visit


Invent your own dreams

I don't understand why the Japanese moan that their schools are not developing creative thinkers. I believe some of the most fascinating inventions of the past few decades have come from the land of the rising sun. One of the most recent inventions is Yumemi Kobo, a machine which supposedly allows you to author your own dreams. You simply record the dreams story line into a machine, go to sleep and the machine does the rest. The machine is at the experimental phase. Read more at and

Build a better button and the world will beat a path to your door –

There is a saying in English: “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” (Henry David Thoreau, 1854),which is also the dream of every amateur inventor hoping to go professional. Nine years ago, Maggie Rentos invented not a better mousetrap but a better button: a button you could stick on to a garment, making it ideal for the quick fixing of shirts, trousers and jackets. Convinced that it would be a big seller, especially to busy people who needed a quick button fix – Rentos went to tremendous time and expense to patent and launch her product. Sales, in fact, have been dismal. The saga of her invention and attempts to sell it is interesting and instructive:

Inflatable baby cot (crib)

If you've ever travelled with babies or small children, you will appreciate Jo Bradford's invention of an inflatable baby cot (crib in US English) for babies and toddlers. The cot weighs a mere 4 kilos (8.8 lbs) and can be tightly folded away. The real wonder of this invention is why no one thought of it before. More info at


Creativity quotient

One of my more controversial beliefs – at least in creativity circles – is that adults have relatively fixed creativity quotients. Some people are naturally very creative, always dreaming up ideas, always coming up with new ways of doing things. Others really have to struggle to have a half-way innovative and they won't like having it. Most people, of course, fall somewhere in the middle. This creativity quotient, I argue, is largely set in individuals by the time they reach adulthood.

Creativity is like most mental skills such as intelligence, memory, mechanical thinking and other processes of the mind. A person with an average intelligence quotient can certainly learn more and become more knowledgeable but she will never become a genius. Likewise, a marginally creative person can never become a creative genius no matter how hard she tries, how many seminars she attends, how many improve-your-creativity books she reads. However, she can certainly improve her creative thinking skills via such techniques.

There's nothing wrong with this. Everyone has a collection of intellectual strengths and weaknesses which seem to balance out. We are all familiar with the absent minded professor who is a creative genius, but cannot remember his own telephone number or forgets where he is going while walking across campus. Likewise, we all know the ultra-organised administrator who can find any file, e-mail, telephone number or receipt in seconds, but couldn't dream up an original idea if his life depended upon it. Such stereotypes are extreme, but reflect real-life balances of mental skills that we all have. (How about you? What are your intellectual strengths and weaknesses?)

This concept is important for companies wanting to improve their innovation potential. Rather than trying to make every employee a creative genius, which is likely to frustrate everyone (except, of course, the creative geniuses) it makes more sense to make the company as a whole more creative. Creative companies exploit each individual's intellectual strong and weak points and use them to corporate advantage.

In order to become such an organisation, a few key structural aspects need to be set in place:

1) Top management need to want to lead a more innovative company. This means demonstrating an openness to new ideas; listening to suggestions from all levels of the organisation, rewarding good ideas and not punishing people for contributing or trying out poor ideas.

2)There needs to be transparent communication across the company. Everyone needs to know, or be able to find out, what is happening elsewhere in the company. Moreover, people need to be able to communicate to anyone else in the company. If Sarah in accounting has a brilliant idea for the sales people, she needs to have a means of communicating that idea.

3) The company needs to identify who their creative thinkers are and give them the opportunity to think and contribute their thoughts. Those creative people should then become involved in innovation across the organisation. This can be done by asking for their feedback on new activities, inviting them to brainstorming sessions and having them participate in key meetings.

4) Finally, the company should implement an idea management strategy that allows anyone in the company to contribute and collaborate on ideas. The strategy also needs an effective means of evaluating ideas and rewarding people who contribute good ideas. Presently, there are a number of idea management software tools on the market. I think Jenni ( is the best, of course, but it is important to find the right tool and strategy for each organisation.






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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium