A fortnightly newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Tuesday, 15 February 2005
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your weekly newsletter on creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
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. .
Information on unsubscribing, archives, reprinting articles, etc can be found at the end of this newsletter.
CREATIVE PROBLEM INTERPRETATION
An old salesman joke goes something like this: two shoe salesmen from competing shoe factories were sent to a vast, developing country. After a few days, one of them telephones the headquarters and says: “I cannot sell shoes here! No one wears any! I'm coming home tomorrow.”
A few days later, the other rings his office demanding, “send me all the catalogues you can, the market potential is unlimited: no one wears shoes here!”
When confronted with a problem, the first salesman immediately assumed there was no solution and left. The second looked at the problem differently and saw a huge opportunity.
This is very important. Creative problem solving is not merely about finding creative solutions to problems, it is also about interpreting the problem in creative ways.
Consider an example from business. Polariod devised the digital film back (a film back is a cartridge, that holds photographic film, that is attached to the back of big studio cameras) for large format cameras in the early 1990s. However, they had a problem which prevented them not only from taking the product to market, but also from developing the idea further. They could not come up with an effective method of printing the pictures produced in the digital film backs.
If instead of asking themselves how to print digital images, Polaroid had asked themselves what are the opportunities for digital images which cannot readily be printed, they would have doubtless devised many interesting – and profitable - ideas.
Internet access via mobile telephone is another example of interpreting the problem badly. At the dawn of the new millennium, Japan, Europe and the USA (among other countries) looked at opportunities for providing Internet connectivity via mobile telephone. The USA believed there were no opportunities there. “Americans already access the Internet via PCs at home and at work, why on earth would they want to connect via a tiny little telephones with tiny little screens?”
Europe saw opportunity, but they did not look at the problem effectively. Europe said: “Our most profitable customers are business customers. We can provide them with Internet connectivity and get even more money from them. Now, how can we modify our GSM phones to allow web browsing?”
Japan, however, looked at the problem as a whole: “young people are our most enthusiastic telephone users – even if they are not our most profitable. Moreover, young people are more likely to try something new simply for its novelty value. So, how can we offer fun Internet services for young people and how can we redesign telephones to allow web browsing?”
Japan, of course, was most successful with their i-mode and j-phone services which offered high speed Internet connectivity and fun oriented web sites designed especially for young mobile telephone users.
Europe launched WAP, which offered a lesser standard of Internet connectivity – and it bombed completely. Businesspeople simply are not as adept as younger people at using keypads quickly. Moreover, they saw no added value in most WAP services.
America almost completely missed the initial phase of Internet connectivity via mobile phone.
An additional result of this is that Japan is the world leader in mobile telephone innovation, Europe is substantially behind Japan and America is trailing in last place.
The lesson to be learned here is: when confronted with a problem that demands a creative solution, do not begin by brainstorming or mind-mapping solutions. Begin by brainstorming or mind-mapping alternative ways of looking at the problem. In particular, make sure you are looking at the whole problem. Then see if the problem can be stated in a way that presents an opportunity.
For example, a typical problem of many small and medium sized businesses is: “We have plenty of leads, but we are not converting them into sales;” which is usually interpreted as: “we need to convert more of our leads into opportunities;” or “we need to get better qualified leads which are easier to turn into opportunities.”
But another way of looking at the problem is: “we have lots of leads.” Suddenly, that does not seem like such a problem, does it? Indeed, it is full of opportunity. For example, you could sell or rent those leads to other companies in order to gain an additional income stream. You could perform a survey of those leads and identify products and services that would better appeal to them. You could even look for ways to get your leads to help you sell your products to their leads, such as via an affiliate programme.
So, the next time you are faced with a difficult problem: review and re-evaluate the problem first. Then look for solutions.
I've often talked about the difference between individual innovation and organisational innovation. And these differences are important. The characteristics that make a person more innovative are rather different to the characteristics which make an organisation more innovative.
But, I have not yet properly emphasised the biggest benefit of organisational innovation: a cumulative creativity that derives from the varied knowledge and experience of the members of an organisation.
While one creative person alone can have great ideas, she is inevitably limited by her knowledge, experience and culture. Five people from different backgrounds, yet working together, can come up with a broader range of ideas. More importantly, they can combine ideas from this broader range into more sophisticated and more elaborate ideas than any individual of the group could do on her own.
And, as the size of the group grows, so too does its creative potential. Indeed, this is why research and development divisions of scientifically oriented companies do not – unlike many films depict – comprise a single mad scientist genius with unruly hair and a lot of bizarre electronic gear lying around. Rather, research and development departments comprise teams of researches who collaborate together to devise innovative new ideas that no single member of the team could manage on her own.
Even on-line treasure hunts and brain teasers are being taken over by creative teams collaborating to solve problems. For example, Michael Stadther's popular children's book “A Treasure's Trove” includes clues about 12 gems – worth a total of US$1 million – hidden in various locations across the USA. The idea was that individuals could follow the clues and discover the gems hidden nearest them.
However, individuals are losing out to on-line teams which work together to solve the clues in the book and discover the hidden gems (for more info on this and other teams solving on-line mysteries, see: http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,66578,00.html). And it seems the on-line teams are winning.
There are two things to bear in mind here. Firstly, the biggest benefit from organisational or group innovation is bigger and better ideas than are possible from individual innovation. Secondly, in order to benefit from these bigger and better ideas it is essential to establish in your organisation collaborative tools and facilities for creative thinking, such as....
Idea management solutions (such as Jenni idea management – http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni) which allow enterprise-wide collaborative idea development
Ideas campaign and brainstorming tools (such as Jenni IdeasCampaign; http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/ideascampaigns.php; and Sylvia Web Brainstorm; http://www.creativejeffrey.com/sylvia/) which allow people to collaboratively generate or build ideas for specific issues.
Brainstorming sessions with varied participants
Providing plenty of collaborative workspaces where people can sit together and work on problems
Bringing together diverse people to solve problems or work on creative issues.
- This last point is particularly important. Management tends to create teams of people filled with people from the relevant department. For example, if new ideas for improving the work environment and employee productivity are needed; management tends to put the problem to a team of human resources staff. Management may even bring in outside human resource consultants.
A far more effective approach, if innovative ideas are wanted, is to bring together a variety of employees from various divisions. Better still, I would suggest selecting at least a few members of the team randomly.
The result will be a far larger and more diverse team looking for solutions. And to managers who think that only human resources people can have ideas about human resources and only marketing people can have ideas about marketing and so on; I say: “you are terribly, terribly wrong”.
So, the next time you need a creative team, select the team members out of a hat!
REMINDER: FREE TRIAL IDEAS CAMPAIGN
We have recently completed the Jenni IdeasCampaign virtual software which allows you to run a web based ideas campaign to generate ideas on for a specific problem or issue. Simply go to http://www.creativejeffrey.com/campaign, register and set a topic or issue for which you want ideas. Once you've done this, you will automatically receive a URL for your ideas campaign. You can invite colleagues, business partners or anyone to browse, submit or collaborate on ideas.
In order to let you – and us – test Jenni IdeasCampaign, we are allowing anyone to set up a free mini IdeasCampaign. Free campaigns are limited to 20 users, 50 ideas and two weeks.
Full ideas campaigns allow an unlimited number of users and ideas and you pay by the amount of time you want your ideas campaign to run. They may also be customised to meet your specific requirements.
For more information about Jenni IdeasCampaign itself, visit http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/ideascampaign.php.
INNOVATE NOW... THEN
It's a little out of date, but highly relevant still today this article from Fast Company entitled “Innovate Now!” which emphasises the importance of making bold, radical decisions. Read it at http://www.fastcompany.com/online/65/innovation.html.
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