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

Tuesday, 27 July 2004
Issue 27

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. E-mail me at jeffreyb@jpb.com.

REDUCTIVE INNOVATION

Innovation is often seen as an additive thing: adding new features to products, devising new ways of serving customers, dreaming up new methods of marketing, creating new internal processes to improve efficiency and so on.

In fact, innovation can also be reductive, taking away from products and services in order to have a better product or better serve customers.

The budget airlines such as Ryan Air, EasyJet and Southwest have succeeded largely by using reductive creativity. For example, producing, delivering, receiving and managing aeroplane tickets is expensive, so the budget airlines have for the most part got rid of tickets, relying on e-tickets instead. Likewise, they have done away with sales offices by automating and putting on line booking services, which has saved them heaps of money.

If you want to try reductive innovation in your business, look at your cost centres – the activities that cost you the most. One at a time, envision dropping those cost centres. Now, devise a means of operating your business without those cost centres. Sometimes it simply won't work. But when it does, the effects are likely to be impressive.

Bear in mind that implementing your reductive ideas might cost you a few customers. For example, the budget airlines that have completely got rid of non-Internet ticket sales miss out on customers who cannot order on line. But their cost savings by not supporting multiple methods of ticket sales more than makes up for the lost sales.

Nevertheless, it is important to look at the consequences of dropping cost centres. If your customers perceive that they lose by cutting cost centres, you may well lose customers. Most people who have ordered airline tickets over the web have found the process more convenient than calling the airline or visiting travel agents. Hence, airline customers do not perceive they are losing out when they are restricted to ordering on line. Indeed, with a good on-line ordering system and low costs, most customers will feel they benefit.

On the other hand, my brother not long ago flew out from New York to visit me in Erps-Kwerps (that's in Belgium,in case you didn't know) on a non-Budget airline which he had flown a number of times before. On the most recent occasion, however, he was charged for wine with his meal. Since it was an intercontinental flight and he paid a significant sum for his ticket, he was disappointed. He will be visiting me again. This time he will be taking another airline. Although having to pay for wine with his meal was not the deciding factor, that little innovation of the airlines is likely to be less than entirely effective.

Reductive creativity, incidentally, is powerful tool for writers. Most writers use far too many words to say what they mean, ironically reducing clarity. Find out for yourself. The next time you write a paper, article or advertisement, write it. Then try to halve the word count. It may not be easy, but you will be impressed by the results.


FAILURE OF IMAGINATION

As you have probably read elsewhere, the USA's September 11 Commission concluded that a “failure of imagination” prevented America from anticipating and preventing Al Qaeda's attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

That governments and their associated civil services lack imagination will come as no surprise to anyone. And we should not forget that the CIA and FBI, as glamorous as they may seem on TV and in spy novels, are parts of the American civil service and are ruled by the same kind of bureaucracy that rules customs, tax authorities and other government organisations.

There are two main reasons for bureaucratic lack of imagination: people and procedures. (Civil servants, do not be offended! Read on...)

Jobs in the civil service generally provide long term security and slow but steady promotion through the ranks. Unlike in business (at least more dynamic, innovative businesses), people who bring innovative new ideas to the civil service will not be rewarded with big promotions, huge pay rises or royalties on their ideas. At best they will receive an incremental promotion and salary increase. On the other hand, a bad idea or gaining the reputation for being a person who rocks the boat can result in going for a long time without any incremental promotion or pay rise. In other words, there are penalties but few rewards for innovation in most civil services. As a result, even imaginative people in government tend to keep their creativity to themselves.

On top of that, civil services tend to be bogged down in precise rules and procedures which are set down in law – and so cannot be ignored no matter what the circumstances. And when every action is guided by unbreakable rules, there is little room for manoeuvre.

To make matters worse, most civil services are extremely reluctant to dispose of old procedures, even if circumstances cause those procedures to become obsolete. Instead, new rules are added to old procedures, making them even more complicated.

The combination of penalties but no rewards for innovation and complicated, unbreakable rules almost entirely removes any hope for innovation in most civil services. There are of course exceptions – but not as many as there should be.

Sadly, there are no easy fixes. Bureaucratic procedures are too ingrained to be easily changed and people within bureaucracies are understandably reluctant to have their employers undergo great changes that could change the one thing they value most about their jobs: security.

My proposal is to create a ministry of creativity that would promote imagination, creativity and innovation in government. It would be staffed by a variety of incorrigible creative thinkers from all kinds of backgrounds. They would have three areas of responsibility.

Firstly, ministry of creativity would form a communications centre for government. All bodies of government would communicate their ideas, activities and knowledge to the ministry. Likewise, the ministry would monitor these bodies, review what it learns and look for synergies.

Secondly, the ministry would provide creative suggestions based ideas submitted, knowledge gained and synergies discovered. They might suggest combining dissimilar government services, removing services or offering all new services. They may even suggest completely changing the way services are delivered.

Thirdly, they would promote creativity and imagination across all services. Moreover, they would have the power to reward people who offer good ideas; ideas that cut costs or help government serve their constituency better.

Finally, I would suggest that an idea management system is implemented across all government agencies and managed by the ministry of creativity. This would ensure that civil servants with good ideas would be able to communicate the ideas to an office that would appreciate the ideas, reward the idea contributors and be able to implement the ideas.

Regular readers of Report 103 will certainly be able to guess which idea management system I would recommend! (hint for new readers: http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/).


KNOW THE RULES BEFORE YOU BREAK THEM

I studied to be a sculptor. Like most would-be artists, I had to spend a great deal of time learning the basics from how to draw to how to mix plaster. Unfortunately, I soon got caught up in travel, teaching, entrepreneurship and computers and have never done much professional sculpting. We'll never know if the world lost out on a great sculptor so you could read this newsletter.

But, all the great artists likewise learned the basics of art before specialising. Although many people have commented that their three year old child could paint as well as Picasso, the truth is that he was extremely competent at all the technical aspects of painting. And it was because of his high level of competence combined his with immense creativity, that he was able to launch new artistic movements.

Likewise, virtually every musician has to spend hours practising the basics, such as learning to read music, learning notes, learning timing and more. It is only when musicians completely understand every aspect of music that they can learn how to break the rules to create compelling new music.

Indeed, in order to innovate in just about any field, it is essential to understand the rules in order to know which rules you can break.

Note, that I used the term “innovate.” In order to have creative ideas, it is often not essential to know the rules. You might very well have a terrific idea about a creative painting. But, unless you are a painter, you will probably not be able to paint it yourself. You would have to describe the idea to a competent painter in order to see your idea implemented.

Likewise, when I moved from low tax Asia to high tax Europe in late 1998, I had a lot of very creative ideas about how to manage my income in order to minimise taxes. However, my Belgian accountant – who knows tax law in Belgium (where I moved) as well as other European countries - promptly pointed out that many of my ideas broke not just rules, but the law. Clearly that would not do. Nevertheless, he was able to take some of my ideas, modify them using his knowledge and implement them so that I was “managing” my taxes rather than “avoiding” them, which would have been illegal.

Many times in this newsletter, I have emphasised the importance of bringing people from a variety of backgrounds together to generate ideas. I have written many times that companies should allow everyone in the enterprise to propose ideas and collaborate on ideas – even when those people work in divisions that are unrelated to their ideas. This is because such people can bring new thinking and, as a result, highly creative ideas to those areas.

Nevertheless, when it comes time to plan the implementation of those ideas, it is critical to have an expert – who knows all the rules – to be actively involved in the implementation plan. In many cases, the expert should oversee the plan as well as the implementation itself.


NEWS FROM JPB.COM

We've just finished an upgrade of Jenni enterprise idea management. The bulk of the upgrade has focused on developing an all new implementation management that better follows our clients' and partners' methodology for implementing ideas.

The new implementation manager includes more sophisticated implementation flow, a progress metre, a reporting tool and dynamic cost, revenue and RoI (return on ideas) calculation. For more information, visit http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/.

Incidentally, Jenni, like all our tools, is a web application which you and your staff access via the Internet. Rather than buying software, paying implementation fees and most likely having to purchase additional hardware and licenses, you simply pay a low subscription fee based on the number of users. The subscription fee includes access, support, maintenance and upgrades.

You can learn more about pricing and even use our RoI calculator via the web site.


TALK ABOUT IT

If you want to debate the articles in Report 103 or just want to talk innovation and creativity with a group of impressively knowledgeable creativity and innovation professionals, writers, artists and others, join ValpoCella – an e-mail based discussion forum on applied creativity and innovation in business. Send an empty e-mail to valpocella-subscribe@topica.com or visit http://www.creativejeffrey.com/valpocella/


Happy thinking,

Jeffrey Baumgartner

 

 


 

 

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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium

 

 


 

My other web projects

My other web projects

CreativeJeffrey.com: 100s of articles, videos and cartoons on creativity   Jeffosophy.com - possibly useful things I have learned over the years.   Kwerps.com: reflections on international living and travel.   Ungodly.com - paintings, drawings, photographs and cartoons by Jeffrey