A weekly newsletter on creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.
Tuesday, 23 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.
Over the past couple of years, “innovation” has become an incredibly sexy business term. Every business aims to be innovative. Every business knows that it needs to innovate to grow. Even the staid European Commission has been launching research programmes aimed at making European Community businesses more innovative.
Likewise, creativity is an admired skill in business these days. Once only advertising people were expected to be creative. Today, most businesses seek creative people. And that makes sense. Innovation is creativity implemented. So, if you want to run an innovative company, you need creative people.
Imagination, however, is not a word you hear much about in business. Few companies, outside electronic game producers, would describe themselves as imaginative.
To do a quick and dirty survey, I went to www.monster.com – a major job search web site – and searched for jobs in the New York City area. The search term “innovative” delivered 960 jobs; “creative” brought up over 1000 jobs; and imagination found only nine jobs! Of the many thousands of jobs advertised in Monster.com for the New York City area, only nine are for imaginative people.
That is a shame – and a mistake. Imagination is the number one tool for creativity and innovation. Without imagination, people can not look at problems from new perspectives. Without imagination, people cannot imagine how various solutions to a problem would work. Without imagination, people simply cannot dream up new ideas.
And imagination is so much more than a basic tool for creativity. Imagination allows people to put themselves in the shoes of others – such as customers and colleagues – in order to understand them better and work with them better.
Imagination provides the vision that allows people to see in their minds how a process will work from beginning to end. Imagination allows people to see what may go wrong in a process and envision how various solutions might solve those problems.
Imagination allows leaders to envision the big picture and devise strategy.
In short, I would say that imagination should be seen as a critical skill in any innovative employee, not to mention top management. Moreover, when hiring people, testing their imaginative skills should be a prerequisite. Fortunately, this is not difficult. It is a matter of describing problem wrought and unusual scenarios to prospective employees and seeing how they would resolve the problems. Insist they describe their solutions in reference to the scenario rather than past activities.
For example, you are hiring a sales manager. Here are two scenarios that come to mind:
1) You have all but made a $10 million sale to a client in Chicago (you are based in New York City). However, the client's decision maker is about to leave on holiday and so you must fly to Chicago to close the sale. At JFK airport, you buy a coffee and fall asleep. A day later, you wake up in Vientiane (capital of Laos) airport. You are unharmed, but have no money, no passport, no personal documents. Just the clothes on your back. What do you do? How can you save yourself and the sale?
2) You fly across the country to visit the purchasing manager of a major client. You have already spoken to her on the telephone. She is interested but wants a face-to-face meeting to close the sale. When you arrive at the client's office, you learn that the head of purchasing you spoke to has been fired for soliciting kick-backs from suppliers. Meanwhile, no one in the company has heard of you, there is no record of discussion between the fired head of purchasing and you and the replacement head of purchasing has never heard of your company. Moreover, the client suspects that you had been planning to pay a kickback to the ex head of purchasing. (which, of course, is not true).
These are just two off the wall scenarios that would challenge the thinking of a perspective employee and allow you to determine her imaginative skills as well as her problem solving skills.
Of course, to devise such scenarios you will need a good imagination!
But that's not a problem, is it?
One of the more delicate tasks of the innovative manager is rejecting ideas, particularly big ideas. As I have repeatedly stated in this newsletter and elsewhere, your most creative people will also be your most prolific idea generators. Creative thinkers have ideas all the time. Indeed, it is by not censoring their thinking that they come up with ideas that others would never consider. As a result, creative thinkers do not just come up with great ideas, they also come up with a lot of daft ideas.
Unfortunately, creative thinkers also tend to be more sensitive than others. I have no idea why this is, but anyone who has had to deal with creative teams will certainly verify it.
As an innovative manager, you need to be able to reject ideas without demotivating creative thinkers. This can be a challenge. A harsh rejection such as “that's the stupidest idea I've heard all year” will certainly not be taken well (especially in late November). Indeed, it may ensure the idea generator never shares another idea with you again!
Worse, of course, is criticising the person together with her ideas. “Good Lord Sally, you do come up with some silly ideas,” will hardly motivate Sally to share future ideas with you. Too bad. If Sally has silly ideas, she probably has brilliant ones as well.
Another problem with a harsh or personal rejection of an idea is that while the idea may seem silly to you, it might actually be brilliant. As Albert Einstein once said “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” So be careful about rejecting a daft idea outright. You could be remember as the person who sent a 100 million Euro idea to the competition.
So, when your creative people come up with seemingly bad ideas, do not reject them outright and certainly do not be harsh about it. Get a second opinion and a third and a fourth. If everyone agrees with you, then have a chat with the idea originator. Thank her for her ideas. Explain that you and several colleagues reviewed it, but you do not feel that it will work. Explain why.
By telling the idea originator that others have looked at the idea, you demonstrate that you valued the idea enough to get other people involved. By explaining why the idea will not work, you give the idea generator feedback that will allow her to self-evaluate future ideas further before generating the idea.
In a large organisation, such dedication to rejected ideas can be extremely time consuming. Here, an open, collaborative idea management tool that is well promoted ensures that ideas are viewed by many. Collaborative comments from colleagues not only help build good ideas into better ideas, but can also provide constructive criticism for poor ideas.
Jenni Idea Management (our tool – I always slip a commercial into this newsletter, don't I?) also includes a “LightBulb rating” system that allows colleagues to informally rate ideas on a scale of one to five (rather like the star rating system on Amazon.com or IMDB). In addition to getting colleagues more involved in reviewing and collaborating on each others' ideas, the LightBulb rating tool can also help the innovation manager overseeing the idea management tool. If she sees that an idea, which did not impress her much, has received a high LightBulb rating from colleagues, she will know she should run the idea through a Jenni's formal evaluation tool for expert feedback. (see http://www.creativejeffrey.com/articles/article_evaluation.php?topic=products&jenni=y)
COMMUNITY IDEA MANAGEMENT
When this newsletter covers issues related to idea management, it is almost always corporate idea management. In fact, a number of non-profit organisations and government offices are also using idea management.
To the best of my knowledge, however, there are no towns, villages or other local communities using idea management as a community development tool. If there are, I would love to hear about it. If not, that is too bad. Local communities could benefit from a tool that allows everyone in the community to contribute and collaborate on ideas.
Every member of a local community, particularly those who are home-owners, have a stake in that community. By being able to contribute ideas and work on ideas, people can collaboratively develop their community in the ways they want, explore new possibilities for the community and work together to make the community an even better place to live.
Better still, an idea management tool which allows you to learn about other users and build teams (such as our Jenni idea management) would be perfect for bringing people with common interests together.
In such a scenario, the future potential of the local community need only be limited by the cumulative imagination of the people who live and work there.
Best wishes to our US readers for a happy Thanksgiving!