A weekly newsletter on creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.
Tuesday, 31 August 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.
INNOVATION STRATEGY GOALS
If you want to make your company – or indeed yourself – more innovative, the first step is to devise an innovation strategy. Without one, your efforts to be more innovative will be haphazard as will your results.
An innovation strategy differs from other forms of corporate strategy in one key way (at least according to the Baumgartner Theory of Innovation Strategy): while most strategies incorporate precise, detailed goals to aim for, innovation strategies should have fuzzy goals.
The reason for this is simple: innovation needs lots of room for surprises. If you tell people exactly what kind of ideas they may have, there will be two consequences:
1) Most detrimentally, employees will become demotivated. And demotivated people are less likely to share ideas with their employers than motivated people. Indeed, demotivated people are likely to think more about after work than work itself. And that's no good for the company.
2) Although employees will probably have the kind of ideas you specify, they will also have other ideas. Ideas that could transform your business. All but the most determined rebels, however, will keep those transformational ideas to themselves. Why share ideas the company has indicated it does not want?
That is not to say that you cannot specify the kinds of ideas you want. Rather you must not be overly restrictive about ideas. Consider two office chair manufacturers:
1) Ms. Boss tells her employees that the only thing that matters to customers is having stylish, comfortable chairs. She already has an expensive designer to worry about style. So, she only wants to hear ideas about how to improve the comfort of the chairs.
2) Ms. Leader tells her employees that she is adopting a new innovation strategy aimed at making their company the most innovative office chair manufacturer in the world. As a result, she is interested in all ideas that will make the firm more innovative, particularly ideas that help serve customers better and more efficiently. Because comfort is a key issue for Ms. Leader's company, she informs staff that ideas about making chairs more comfortable are particularly welcome.
As you can see, Ms. Leader has indicated an enthusiasm for innovation and her employees' ideas. At the same time, she has indicated one direction of ideas that are particularly welcome. As a result, her staff have a focus for new ideas, but know that if they have other ideas along the way, those ideas will be welcome by the firm.
Ms. Boss, on the other hand, has indicated no interest in innovation and has indicated the only kind of ideas she is interested in. Worse, she has decided that only the designer may communicate ideas about design. It is clear not only which employer is going to get the most and best ideas, but also which employer would be the most desirable to work for.
What kind of fuzzy goals can you strive for? For small to medium sized companies, one key fuzzy goal should be to define a niche for your company – such as office chair manufacturer – and aim to become the local, national or global leader in that niche.
Manufacturers can aim to replace (for example) 10% of their products with new products every year as well as improve the efficiency of their manufacturing by a 10% every year. A service company can aim to introduce a minimum of five new services every year as well as to find ways to differentiate their services from their competitors'.
Large companies, in particular, should aim to improve internal efficiency through innovation.
Such goals, while giving a clear direction, leave lots of room for innovation, lots of room for surprises and lots of room for transforming today's business into something even better tomorrow.
What are your innovation goals? How fuzzy are they? Talk about it on ValpoCella, the discussion forum for applied creativity and innovation in business. It's moderated by me: http://www.creativejeffrey.com/valpocella/.
If you are adopting an innovation strategy in your organisation, it is critical to communicate the results on a regular basis. Otherwise, your strategy risks collapsing before you have implemented the first ideas.
One problem with becoming more innovative is that in the early stages, it is not that obvious to employees that their firm is, in fact, becoming more innovative. The company still operates as it always has, they still do their jobs. The only difference is likely to be an initial announcement of an innovation strategy and an invitation to submit ideas to a suggestion box or idea management system.
Most idea management systems – particularly open systems (see last week's issue of Report 103: http://www.creativejeffrey.com/report103/archive.php?issue_no=20040824) - allow users to see ideas being submitted and implemented. Our system (http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/), for example, allows people to subscribe to idea categories in order to be notified when new ideas are submitted. Users can also read implementation reports and subscribe to receive notification of new reports on specific ideas. Hence users can dynamically control the amount of reporting that is sent to them and they can search for reports whenever they wish to do so.
Nevertheless, checking the idea management system still requires that staff take the initiative. To ensure that all staff are not only updated on your corporate innovation activities, but are encouraged to become a actively involved in innovation, regular reporting of innovation is essential.
Reporting may be via whatever means you use to communicate with your staff: in-house newsletters, intranet, staff meetings or memos. If you have no regular or consistent means of communicating with your staff – you should urgently establish one. Poor internal communications is a tremendous barrier to organisational innovation – but that's another story.
If none of your regular methods of communication are suitable, I suggest you launch a monthly innovation memo to be distributed throughout the company.
Whatever approach you take, reporting should provide:
- Numbers of new ideas submitted as a whole and in terms of ideas per employee.
- Number of ideas evaluated.
- Number of ideas implemented.
- Summaries of some or all of the implemented ideas (depending on number of ideas) and how they can be expected to benefit the firm.- Results of completed implementations.
- Monetary results; such as how much the company has saved, how much the company has earned, etc.
- Rewards people have received for ideas.
- Unexpected results, such as an accountant who has a successful new product idea.
- A call to the reader to become involved in your corporate innovation initiative.
- Any other information relevant to your particular innovation initiative.
You will find that most staff get excited about working for an innovative company – which encourages participation in the innovation initiative and makes people proud to work for your company.
THE CREATIVE PRISONER
For the last summer issue of Report 103, here's a variation on a joke I heard the other day. It is a wonderful example of creative problem solving. I have no idea where this joke came from. If you know the source, please let me know.
A creative accountant was sent to prison for being too creative with his clients' tax returns. There was also some question about his wife who had not been seen since she became friendly with a saxophonist from a jazz band (although I believe they ran off to Bolivia together).
One day, the jailed accountant received a letter from his widower father. The letter was a chatty one and included a paragraph: “Unfortunately, without your being here, I won't be able to plough the garden in order to plant vegetables this year. My back has been playing up and I simply haven't the strength at my age.”
The son promptly wrote his father: “Dear Dad, whatever you do, do NOT dig up the back yard behind the pond. That's where I buried the bodies! ”
At 6:00 the next morning, the local police and FBI arrived, with sirens blaring, and dug up the entire back yard behind the pond. After finding nothing, the FBI and police apologised and left.
The following day, the dad received another letter from his son: “Dear Dad, under the circumstances, that was the best I could do. The patch behind the pond has the best soil for vegetables. Good luck with the gardening...”