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

Tuesday, 14 September 2004
Issue 34

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.

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE BENEFITS

Some years ago when I was doing consultancy work for the European Commission, I was passed a petition asking that the Commission install showers in their buildings. The argument behind the petition was that a lot of people bicycled to work. But in summer months it was very hot and so cyclists were often sweaty and uncomfortable at work.

It was a good idea – for the bicyclists, anyway – but as far as I know, the Commission's buildings still do not have showers for regular staff. I expect you are no more surprised by this than I am. The idea, as good as it was, was sold to the Commission only as benefiting the cyclists. It offered no benefits to the Commission itself or its constituency.

This is a problem with a lot of great ideas that occur to people in organisations, whether government offices or private businesses: the ideas offer no clear benefits for the organisations or the people they serve.

Consider a hypothetical scenario. Over lunch in the corporate canteen, some employees talk about what a great idea it would be if the company provided a siesta room so they could take short naps during the day.

Chances are, these employees would not dare take their idea further. They would doubtless fear being laughed at or, worse, being branded as lazy by management. Even if they did propose the idea their idea, of providing beds so they could take afternoon naps to management, most managers would turn it down for obvious reasons.

Now, let us pretend that one of the employees remembers reading about the productivity benefits of a short mid-afternoon nap. She does a bit of research on her own time and confirms that scientific research has proven that very short mid-afternoon naps can boost productivity significantly.

She compiles her research into a little presentation and finishes it with a proposal for a trial siesta room with strict rules to prevent its abuse. She argues that mid-afternoon sleepiness of staff is detrimental to the company's current productivity. By providing a siesta room where people can take short naps of up to a half hour, the company can actually expect to increase productivity. Moreover, she suggests that the company run a survey of users of the trial siesta room to test its productivity value.

Suddenly, the concept of a siesta room where employees can take naps no longer seems a daft idea. Rather, it is an idea with concrete BENEFITS to the company. Moreover, it includes a means of testing and confirming those benefits. As a result, the idea has a far greater chance of being implemented.

When selling an idea, whether internally to your own company or externally to customers or suppliers, it is essential to emphasise the benefits of implementing that idea. If you can provide a means of testing those benefits, all the better.

Unfortunately, this is something creative thinkers often neglect to do. Because they get excited about their ideas and the creativity of their ideas, they forget to review the benefits and then sell their ideas based on those benefits. Instead, they are more likely sell their ideas based on the creativity of the ideas.

If you are actively soliciting ideas from your employees – such as via an idea management or employee suggestion box system – communicate to employees the importance of indicating the benefits (to the organisation) of an idea together with the idea itself.

This will encourage employees to self-evaluate ideas prior to submitting them and will result in a higher standard of idea being submitted to the organisation.

Integrating benefits reporting with idea submission and evaluation is, incidentally, an integral part of Jenni idea management web application. Learn more at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/.

Although I have focused more on selling ideas internally in companies, demonstrating benefits is essential for selling ideas to people outside your organisation and extremely useful for selling creative ideas.

A classic example is a book proposal (“finally”, I can hear all my writer subscribers sighing with relief, “he's addressing writers!”). Very often authors, particularly less experienced ones, prepare a book proposal as a summary of their book idea. As good as that idea may be, it is then up to the publisher to determine how that idea will benefit the publisher. A far more effective means of preparing a book proposal is to start the proposal with an explanation of the benefits to the publisher that would result from publishing the book.

For example, you could prepare a proposal for a book about the history of the US Constitution. If you stopped with this, most publishers would probably yawn and ask their secretaries to send you a rejection slip – particularly if you are not an established author.

If, on the other hand, you were to do the same proposal, but point out that you write a blog (if you do not know what a blog is, look here: http://www.google.com/search?q=define:Blog )on the US Constitution and its application to legal issues and that the blog is read by 100,000 people per month and, moreover, if you were to offer to promote the book on your blog, you would have a better far better chance of convincing the publisher to publish your book. If you also point out that renewed patriotism in America has resulted in growing public interest in the Constitution, that would help your case even further. These benefits would go far to guarantee sales of your book, which would result in greater profits to the publisher. And that is just the kind of benefit most publishers like.

So, the next time you have a great idea. Don't stop there. Think through the benefits. And then sell the idea based on those benefits.


EXCERCISING THE MIND

Minds, like bodies, need exercise to keep fit. If you don't exercise your mind, it will get flabby and useless. If you are fortunate to have a job which brings you fresh challenges on a regular basis, you are lucky. Chances are you are getting substantial mental exercise at work.

Unfortunately, many people are not so lucky. Many jobs bring the same kinds of challenges over and over again, rather than providing the kind of variety that keeps one's mind in tip-top shape. The situation is particularly bad for young people. Although their minds are biologically at the peak of creative ability, their newness to the workforce and lack of experience often puts them in less challenging jobs. It is the equivalent of putting an athlete in a desk job. She may do well, but her body will soon lose its athletic build unless she maintains it in her spare time.

At the other end of the spectrum, many people who had challenging jobs for decades find themselves with far fewer mental challenges upon retirement.

If you are not getting enough mental exercise at work or retirement, it is important to get mental exercise on your own time. Even if you are getting mental exercise at work, additional exercise is not a bad thing.

Fortunately, there are an abundance of ways to exercise the mind:

Read: novels, classics, science, history, business, philosophy, indeed all kinds of books are wonderful for the mind. Reading, itself, exercises the mind and forces you to think about the words you are seeing. Books, more than anything else can educate us, can challenge our thoughts and can bring us new ideas. Whenever I go anywhere, there are three things I always bring with me: a notebook, a pen or pencil and a book or magazine to read should I find myself with some spare time.

Cultural holidays: visiting places of cultural, historical or archaeological interest is not only a great way to make holidays more memorable, it is a great method of gaining insight into your own and other people's cultures. And that is good mental exercise.

Debate: arguing or debating intellectual issues is a terrific means of exercising the brain. In some cultures, political, philosophical and cultural debate are a part of socialising and it is possible to have heated arguments while still remaining the closest of friends. I remember teaching in Lisbon during an election years ago. Two young students got into a heated argument to the point where one punched the other. I scolded them promptly. But, the young men had been close friends before the fight and remained so afterwards. Sadly, in other cultures, aggressive debate (even without the punches) is not acceptable. To criticise a person's political or social beliefs is perceived as criticising that person.

Art: drawing, sculpting, playing a musical instrument and writing are all marvellous methods of exercising the mind. Likewise, viewing art, listening to concerts and, as I mentioned above, reading are great methods of exercising the mind.

Puzzles: Crossword puzzles, mazes, jigsaw puzzles, logic puzzles, indeed all kinds of puzzles are good creative exercise provided they are not too easy to complete.


NEW AT JPB.COM: STEP BY STEP REPORT: MANAGING EFFECTIVE BRAINSTORMING SESSIONS

Owing to the strong interest in brainstorming we've seen from visitors to the jpb.com web site, we've prepared a 19 page “Step by Step Report: Managing Effective Brainstorming Sessions” which provides a detailed explanation of how to set up and manage brainstorming sessions as well as how to evaluate the results in order to determine which of the many ideas generated is most likely to work. This is the first in our envisaged series of Step by Step reports. The report is available for USD24.99 / EUR 19.99 from http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/brainstorming_report.php.


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