A weekly newsletter on creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.
Tuesday, 11 May 2004
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your weekly newsletter on Creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.
As always, if you have news about creativity, please feel free to forward it to me for potential inclusion in Report103.
THE BIG IDEA MAY NOT BE BIG ENOUGH
One of the problems with a good idea is that it can be a tremendous creativity inhibitor. It works like this: when we have a really good idea, we are too easily impressed with it. We become excited about implementing it, expectant of praise for our clever thinking and look forward to results.
Unfortunately, good ideas are often the spark of great ideas. But they need to be pushed further, they need more creative input. Consider the invention of post-it notes. Spencer Silver, a researcher at 3M, was trying to find a strong adhesive. One attempt resulted in an adhesive that was far weaker than what 3M already had. So it was set aside and almost forgotten. Four years later, another 3M chap, Arthur Fry, was singing in his church choir. He had marked the pages of upcoming hymns with bookmarks, which worked fine until he opened the page. Then they fell to the floor. Remembering Mr. Silver's invention of a weak adhesive, Mr. Fry had a GOOD idea: the weak adhesive stuck to one side of a piece of paper would make an excellent bookmark.
Mr. Fry shared his invention with colleagues in the office and the response was good. But only a portion of the adhesive bookmarks he had made got used. After all, there are only so many pages that need to be bookmarked in the average office.
It wasn't until some weeks later, when Mr. Fry wanted to highlight a sentence in a report to his boss, that he had an inspiration. He stuck one of his bookmarks to the report with an arrow pointing to the sentence in question. His boss returned the report with a comment scribbled on the bookmark and, finally, the potential of Mr. Fry's “bookmarks” became clear.
Because Mr. Fry had a good idea: adhesive bookmarks, he was temporarily blinded to the full potential of his invention. Indeed, he is fortunate 3M did not go to market with adhesive bookmarks. Had they done so, it is almost certain one of their competitors would have seen the full potential of the product.
Very likely this kind of thing has happened to you. You have a good idea, which impresses people, only to have someone else take the idea further, turn it into a great idea and profit from it. Creative people, ironically, are particularly susceptible to this.
This is why, when you have a good idea, you should always push it further to see what you can do with it
If you are working alone, the best technique is to write the idea down. Then think about how you can push the idea further, and write those “sub-ideas” down. Then push the paper aside and work on something else. Later, look at the idea again and see how you might develop it further. Make additional notes. Later still, do the same thing. Then put the notes aside, ideally for at least 24 hours. Look at them again, note down any new sub-ideas. Finally cross out all of the unrealistic sub-ideas. At this point, one of two possibilities should emerge:
1) A good idea will have grown to a great idea, or;
2) The idea will not look so good any more and you can abandon it before wasting too much time on it.
Alternatively, if you are working as part of a team, introduce your idea to your team, let everyone think about it for a short time: at least one hour, but no more than one day. Then run a brainstorming session to see how you can push the idea further (if you are not familiar with traditional brainstorming techniques, you will find a step-by-step guide at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/brainstorming.php – see also the next article)
If you get in the habit of pushing good ideas, you will soon find the quality of your ideas improving.
GREAT BRAINSTORMING – SHAME ABOUT THE RESULTS
Many times have I sat through open-ended brainstorming sessions (not organised by me, I might add) which produce lots of good ideas and a handful of potentially brilliant ideas. But because those brainstorming sessions are open ended, the result has frequently been the same: nothing.
By open ended, I mean that the brainstorming sessions are designed to generate lots of ideas. Provided the sessions follow a few standard procedures, such as: everyone is encouraged to contribute, crazy ideas are welcomed and no ideas are criticised during the ideation stage; these sessions do indeed generate ideas. However, the sessions do not include any means of evaluating ideas in order to determine which ideas are likely to work best.
Look at the situation from the point of view (for example) of the busy executives called in to participate in a brainstorming session that is designed to help them identify new value added services they can offer their clients. The executives participate and, being good executives, have good ideas. At the end of the session, everyone agrees that some really promising ideas have been proposed and that the company will soon be generating more income by serving their customers better – thanks to these new ideas.
In fact, however, the busy executives are burdened with a whiteboard full of ideas, no indication of which ideas are likely to be most effective, no indication from management about where they should go with the ideas and, as a result, no real motivation to develop those ideas. So, they promptly get back to serving their customers as they always have and the brainstorming session is soon forgotten. From the company's point of view, a few thousand Euro have been wasted on an intellectual exercise with no real results.
In fact, there are two things that need to be done to make such a brainstorming session succeed. Firstly, and most importantly, it needs to conclude with some kind of evaluation process. I favour a combination gut-instinct and criteria based structured evaluation. First, the brainstormers agree on about five to ten ideas that they feel hold real potential. This is the gut instinct aspect.
Then the session organiser rates each idea according to how well it meets a set of criteria relevant to the organisation's particular needs. If the brainstormers are actively involved in the issue and implementation of the solutions, they could also be included in this part of the evaluation.
In the above example, criteria would likely include profit potential, ease of introducing such a service, relevancy to the organisation's existing services portfolio and low cost of implementation.
Once this is done, add up the points for each idea and you will have a ranked set of ideas, clearly demonstrating which ideas have the most potential. Typically it is worth going further with the top three ideas (more if the scores for the top ideas are very close).
The second thing that needs to be done is assigning people to prepare a business case for each of the top three ideas. If the brainstorming is not for a business, then people need to be assigned to analyse the top ideas and to present an implementation plan to the group within a limited time period.
Again, a step-by-step guide to BrainStorming can be found at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/brainstorming.php.
BRAINSTORMING IN THE INTERNET AGE
In the example above, bringing together 8-12 executives to brainstorm ideas can be costly. Bringing in executives from other offices and, particularly, other countries can be prohibitively expensive. Bringing more than a dozen people into the session not only adds to the cost, but often reduces the quality of the brainstorming session. It is difficult, if not impossible, for the organiser to hear and note down every idea. Moreover, quiet or shy people are unlikely to be heard at all.
In order to deal with scenarios like these, which are happening more and more often, we developed Sylvia Web BrainStorming. Sylvia allows up to 100 people located anywhere in the world (provided they have Internet connections) to participate.
Brainstormers enter ideas via a simple on-line form and watch as the ideas appear in the centre of the screen. Seeing other people's ideas inspire them to higher levels of creativity. And because every idea is stored in a database by our powerful server, no ideas are lost – no matter how many are proposed. As an added benefit, ideas are anonymous until the evaluation process. So people need not be shy about introducing wild ideas.
At the end of the ideation session, each user selects their favourite ideas and the session organiser can use Sylvia's evaluation tool to determine which ideas will work best. Once everything is completed, Sylvia generates a report and sends a copy to you via e-mail for convenient pasting into your standard report template.
Sylvia is a pay-per-use software, which means you only pay for brainstorming sessions you actually organise. Hence, there is no investment in purchasing, installing or maintaining software. Better still, you can try it out for free for two users – to see if it will work for you.
To learn more about Sylvia as well as to try it out, visit http://www.creativejeffrey.com/sylvia/.
GOT A GREAT NEW INVENTION? BE CAREFUL!
Inventors tend to be enthusiastic optimists. They have to be in order to believe in their inventions. Sadly, enthusiastic optimism makes inventors suckers for firms that claim to help inventors bring their inventions to the market. Indeed, inventors loose some US$300 million to such firms every year. An article, that goes into the risks of paying a firm to market your invention, can be found at http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4863987/.
What the article does not do is advise you in the event you do have an invention. So, I will advise you now.
First, spend a day searching Google to see if someone else has already started selling a similar invention.
Second, visit your library and borrow a couple of books about setting up a business in your country. This will give you a realistic idea of what is involved in building a business to sell your product. Do this even if you do not intend to set up your own business, it will help you better evaluate the business potential of your product.
Third, talk to trusted money people. They might include your bank manager,
local business angels (people who invest in businesses for equity stakes) and
entrepreneurial relatives. People like these can give you an objective perspective
of your product and tend to be well connected. They can advise you on trusted
people and firms that can help you patent and market your invention –
or warn you away before you waste too much money.