A weekly newsletter on creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.
Tuesday, 9 November 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.
THE SLANDER OF AN HONOURABLE WORD
One of the victims of last week's presidential election in the USA was a fine, honourable word: “liberal”. Again and again, President George Bush accused Senator John Kerry of being a liberal – and the expression on the president's face showed that in his mind, being a liberal was somewhat worse than being a mutant serial killer and rapist from Al Qaeda.
“There's a word for that,” the president liked to say after defining another (to his thinking) Kerry shortcoming, “it's called liberalism.” Indeed, Bush even called Kerry the most liberal senator.
Frankly, I would be honoured to be called a liberal. The American Heritage dictionary (since we are referring to the US election, we'll look at an American dictionary) defines liberal as:
“a) Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
b) Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.”
To my mind, that definition describes an innovative thinker: someone who is free from traditional, in-the-box thinking and is able to open their minds to new ideas for progress. Being broad minded is certainly critical for innovators.
President Bush, on the other hand, describes himself as a conservative. I'm not so sure I like that word. Let us again refer to the American Heritage dictionary:
“a) Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.
b) Traditional or restrained in style: a conservative dark suit.
c) Moderate; cautious: a conservative estimate.”
That sounds like the exact opposite of an innovator: someone who is quite happy inside the box and doesn't want to think outside it at all.
In order to be creative; in order to dream up innovative new ideas on a regular basis; in order to make those ideas happen in an often conservative world, you need to be a liberal thinker. Moreover, you should take pride in being a liberal thinker and encourage others to do likewise.
If you are running a company, then you must push the liberal envelope even further. Most people perceive corporate culture as being conservative: you do your job in a particular way, do not make waves and show suitable respect to your superiors in order to succeed. To overcome such conservative corporate culture, you need to instate liberal policies, encourage liberal thinking and be more liberal in your management techniques. Only with such a liberal approach can you expect your company to truly innovate.
Unfortunately, when the president of the United States runs around the country implying that being a liberal is an evil and dangerous thing, it can only do bad things for the country's liberal thinkers and how they are perceived by others.
I would humbly suggest that the president use terms like “left-wing”, “leftist”, “socialist” (okay, okay, even the most left wing politicians in America are well to the right of socialism) or why not resurrect a good, old-fashioned political insult: “communist.” But, for goodness sakes, let us promote liberal thinking, not slander it.
One of the more controversial areas in idea management is rewarding ideas. While almost all idea management experts agree that ideas should be rewarded in some ways – and all absolutely agree that it is critical that good ideas and their contributors be recognised – there is a lot of disagreement over what kind of rewards work best.
In business, the most obvious award for a good idea is payment. After all, if a good idea brings substantial cost savings or increased revenue at minimal investment, it only makes sense to give the employee who suggested the idea a piece of the income gain.
But a funny thing happens when you start throwing money around: people get greedy. And that causes all kinds of problems ranging from bad feelings to outright fraud, not to mention demotivation.
Consider: Sally submits an idea to her company's idea management system. Joyce, Frank and Zelda all collaborate on the idea by providing comments which turn Sally's good idea into a terrific idea that leads to the company saving a half million euro. The company sees that Sally devised the idea and they give her a 5,000 Euro reward. In all probability, Joyce, Frank and Zelda will be less than happy with that result. Indeed, they are all too likely to decide that it is not worth their effort to collaborate on ideas in the future – if that effort leads to someone else being rewarded. As a result of rewarding an idea, Sally's company has motivated one person, but demotivated three others as well as discouraged collaboration – something which is critical to an effective idea management system. And that is a best case scenario!
What if Sally talks about her idea with her immediate superior, Anne. Anne sees it as a great idea, but wants to buy a new car. So, she tells Sally it is a crazy idea and that she would likely be ridiculed for even suggesting it. Since good ideas can often sound crazy, Sally is all to likely to heed her superior's warning and drop the idea.
Anne, meanwhile, promptly submits the idea as her own and gets the reward. You can imagine how Sally is likely to feel about such a situation. At best Sally will no longer trust management. At worst she will leave the company all together.
Moreover, it is easy to reward good ideas when the going is good, but much harder when the economy slows down and profits slip. Nevertheless, employees will see that Sally got 5,000 Euro for her idea in 1999; but that a similar idea in 2004 might only earn 500 Euro as a result of cost cutting. Employees are more likely to note the devaluation of their innovative efforts rather than the result of economic necessity.
This is not to say that a monetary rewards system cannot work. However, the system has to be perceived as fair, it must reward all people involved in an idea and it needs to be sustainable over the long term.
One means of implementing a fair rewards system is a carefully designed point system where employees receive points for submitting ideas, collaborating on ideas and implementing ideas. Companies can then design a system for exchanging points for gifts or other rewards. Or they might simply use the points themselves as a means of rewarding innovators.
Incidentally, Jenni idea management offers a points management module that allows you to give and manage points for ideas, collaboration and implementation.
Some companies reward employees with special privileges. In Europe, a popular reward is the right to attend international conferences. Thus the rewardee gets a special benefit, but the company also benefits from the knowledge gained and contacts made at the conference. Additional holiday time, lunch vouchers and other benefits are also sometimes granted.
Other companies have had success by simply granting points to people who contribute ideas. Adding recognition by featuring top innovators (by points) in the company newsletter, on the Intranet and even in the idea management tool iteself are all ways to grant recognition to your idea givers.
You might even try the Baumgartner system for rewarding good children. When either of my sons behaves particularly well or accomplishes a challenging task, we give him a sticker which he proudly sticks on his shirt. The sticker itself is not important to the boys – what the sticker represents is. They are surprisingly proud of their stickers and it is an excellent motivational tool. However, I know of no companies handing out stickers to their top innovators. But, it would make an interesting experiment, wouldn't it?
What is critical is that the company promptly and publicly recognises people who contribute ideas. Recognition, more than anything else, demonstrates that the company values the ideas its employees submit and motivates people to continue innovating.
If you would like to discuss innovation rewards with us, contact me today.
HIGH RISK IDEAS BUDGET
Some radical new ideas are so obviously brilliant that you can implement them and watch the money roll in. But these ideas are few and far between. Most radical ideas are highly risky. If they work, they might put your company way ahead of the competition and establish your firm as a market leader; or they might slash 25% off your operational costs; or they might cost your company an arm and a leg.
Unfortunately, a lot of companies do not implement their hottest ideas precisely for this risk factor. Although everyone in the company loves the idea, the CFO reviews the numbers and says it is just too risky to contemplate.
Clearly, of course, no company should put the entire enterprise at risk. However, every company can and should establish a high risk budget for implementing radical ideas. This might represent five percent of the operational budget or 25%. It depends on the company and the market.
By defining a part of the budget for risky projects, you give your company an opportunity to implement the most exciting ideas. Many will fail. But a few will work. And a small number will be real winners that will repay your high risk ideas budget many times over.
Moreover, granting an employee – or a team of employees - a portion of your high risk idea budget can be a powerful reward (see previous story on rewarding innovation).
WHAT IS VIRTUAL SOFTWARE ANYWAY?
You may have noticed that I refer to Jenni idea management and Sylvia Web BrainStormer as virtual software. This is our own term for what the software industry likes to call ASP (application service provider) solutions. But, we do not like jargon in general and most of us think that ASP is a particularly unfriendly bit of jargon.
Virtual software, means you get the advantages of quality software without the disadvantages – such as costs and complications. Consider Jenni for instance. If you opt to implement Jenni idea management as the basis for your idea management programme, we install Jenni on a dedicated server we maintain on a server farm (a building with lots of web servers all carefully maintained, 24 hours a day, by a team of engineers). You and your colleagues operate Jenni via web pages on the Internet. There is no need to install anything.
Whenever we upgrade Jenni (ie. Develop a new version; add new features; improve performance; etc.), we quickly upgrade your version as well – normally over the weekend in order to minimise any disruption to you.
In addition, we provide user support, technical support and even innovation support. Better still, we are setting up a global support team via our creative network. In addition to Belgium, we already have support available in the USA, India and should soon have it in Australia.
You get all of this for a per user service subscription fee paid quarterly (see above or http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/pricing.php). Thus, not only are your costs spread over the long term, but there are none of the surprises typical of enterprise software: no need to purchase and install servers; no need to purchase database or web server licenses; no need to hire extra computer people to maintain the software; no need to hire helpdesk staff and no need to buy new versions – you get everything in the subscription fee.
The result is not only reduced costs spread over a longer period, but a higher quality of service. For more information, please contact me.