A weekly newsletter on creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.
Tuesday, 1 June 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, idea innovation or invention please feel free to forward it to me for potential inclusion in Report103. Your comments and feedback are also always welcome.
I was kindly invited to Prague to speak at the Business and Innovation conference yesterday. Indeed, I am writing this from Prague airport.
Judging from the crowds of tourists packing Prague's historical centre, it is hard to believe that anyone has not yet been to Prague. But, if you have not, I recommend a visit; not just to Prague, but to the Czech republic. It is a beautiful country with many stunningly beautiful places. It is also a country that has made remarkable progress since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Perhaps because I am an artist by training (and at heart), I find it necessary from time to time to visit beautiful places in order to recharge my creative batteries. What recharges your creative batteries? It is important to know and to take time out from work for the occasional recharge.
I have written often in this newsletter about idea management as a means for organisations to become more innovative and so more competitive. Since my company develops idea management software, it is clear that I have ulterior motives for this enthusiasm. But of course there are other methods for boosting corporate innovation. One such method is establishing creative teams to solve problems and dream up new ideas.
The advantage creative teams have is that they can focus on issues and come up with solutions quickly – within hours if necessary. This can be critical when urgent problems need solving, ideas in very specific categories are required or a high level of confidentiality is necessary. Of course, creative teams should be considered complementary to idea management and other innovation solutions, not an exclusive alternative.
Creative teams should include 8-10 people. It is critical that they come from different departments and have different backgrounds. If you put together a team of exclusively marketing people to solve marketing problems, they will come up with the same ideas they always have. Many bosses find it hard to believe that people in R&D, human resources and accounting can have ideas about marketing. But they can, as can marketing people have ideas relevant to other areas.
Creative teams should include a mixture of members:
One leader to oversee the group. Although the leader should be a creative person, her real skill should be in encouraging creativity in others, organising meetings and liaising with management
One person who knows the organisation very well and who can provide advice on how ideas can be implemented in the organisation. This person could also be the team leader.
Five to seven creative people who are strong on idea generation.
One administrative person who can take notes, keep people on track and prepare reports and summaries of meetings.
One or more experts (optional). If the creative team is dealing with a highly specialised topic, it is necessary to include experts in that topics. The experts may be among the creative people or may be advisors to the team.
It is important that the teams remain creative ones with the aim of coming up with a wide variety of ideas. Creative teams should not be allowed to become committees. If they do, they should be disbanded immediately. Creative teams are meant to generate ideas. Committees inevitably dilute good ideas.
Indeed, creative teams should be actively encouraged to dream up and explore wild and crazy ideas. A lot of wild and crazy ideas are just that, concepts that could never work. But, a precious few will prove to be revolutionary ideas that save the organisation substantial sums, or bring in new revenues. Clearly, people need to come up with a lot of overly wild and crazy ideas to find the beauties.
Creative teams should sometimes use formal brainstorming sessions (see Report 103 issue 11 May 2004; http://www.creativejeffrey.com/report103/archive.php?issue_no=20040511) and http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/brainstorming.php and http://www.creativejeffrey.com/sylvia/ for more information about how to brainstorm and to learn about our brainstorming tool). Formal brainstorming, in which you generate lots of ideas and then evaluate those ideas to determine which best meets your criteria, works best when you have a specific problem that needs solving or you have clear idea of the kind of solutions you want.
At other times, when you want to explore ideas in a more general way, creative team meetings should focus on discussion and informal brainstorming. In this case, the meeting should be divided into four parts:
A general discussion of the issue (approximately 10% of the time).
An idea generation phase similar to the first part of a brainstorming session. Here everyone tries to dream up ideas, which the administrative person takes down on paper. No ideas are criticised or dismissed during this phase. (50%).
A consolidation phase in which ideas are discussed, clearly undoable ideas are dismissed and complementary ideas are combined (20%).
A wrap up phase in which conclusions are agreed upon and next steps are decided (20%).
Creative teams can be put together afresh for each issue or the can be established for set periods of time and meet whenever a new issue demands their attention. Creative teams should not be permanent as they are likely to become stale over time.
If you do establish ongoing creative teams, it is advisable to set their lifetimes – probably three to six months – in advance. This will prevent hard feelings of rejection at the time of disbandment.
Larger organisations are likely to have several creative teams. Creative bright-sparks should be put into new teams with different members each time to ensure the widest variety of synergies and new ideas
JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF TENSION
Believe it or not, these newsletters are almost always desperately written Monday night or Tuesday morning in order to send them to you Tuesday (ideally by noon my time, but meetings and travel mean that's not always possible).
Years ago, I wrote two monthly and one fortnightly columns for a couple of magazines. Whenever I tried to write columns in advance, ideas simply refused to come. So, I inevitably wrote the columns in haste the day before the deadline. Nevertheless, the columns were popular and got good feedback from readers.
Likewise, consider these two tasks:
- Come up with a dozen creative ideas
- Come up with a dozen uses for precisely three shoebox. The ideas must not involve shoes or storing things.
If you are like most people, you would probably have more creative ideas for the second task, even though it places restrictions on you.
A certain amount of tension often helps people behave more creatively. This is because tension focuses the mind on the problem. Moreover, for creative people, tension is a challenge that encourages them to find innovative solutions which meet the restrictions placed upon them.
This suggests that organisations which want their people to produce more creative results should provide a certain amount of tension. Too much tension, of course, is no good. It will only stress out your creative people.
Tension can be created by establishing tight, albeit realistic, deadlines at the conceptual stages of new projects.
Tension can be created by establishing detailed restrictions to the project. Limiting the kind of solutions that will work at an early stage focuses people's creativity on that limited area of possibility. An added advantage is that ideas are not rejected at a later stage because they do not meet restrictions unknown to the creative thinkers at the ideation stage.
You may well find that your creative thinkers will initially complain about such restrictions, particularly if you have not posed such restrictions in the past. Nevertheless, encourage them and be sure to praise, if not reward, their ideas afterwards.
Creative restrictions can also be introduced in other, sometimes more playful, ways. Restricting a proposal to a very limited amount of space (say 200 words), requiring that a proposal be made to fit an analogy or insisting that an idea be demonstrated in cartoon panels are all ways of pushing people to have more ideas. With a little creativity,you can doubtless come up with other, playful restrictions. Moreover, such playful restrictions can make the ideation process more fun than usual.
As an example of using such limitations, I once led a team doing the initial specification of a software project. I decided to call the proposal “Project Lasagne”. Every aspect of the general specifications had to be associated with lasagne in one way or another. Not only did this help generate a lot of interesting ideas, it made the presentation to management easier as well.
Of course, in the corporate world, there are often more tension-inducing restrictions than we want. It is important to see those as potential creativity helpers whenever possible.
Thanks to those of you who have expressed interest in the creative network. So far, about a dozen of you have expressed interest. I will continue working on developing the network in coming weeks. If you are interested in becoming part of an informal creative network, please refer to last week's issue (http://www.creativejeffrey.com/report103/archive.php?issue_no=20040525) or contact me via the web form.