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Report 103

A fortnightly newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.

Tuesday, 12 April 2005
Issue 55

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, imagination, ideas, or innovation 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.

SPECIAL ISSUE FOR CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION DAY

Normally, the next issue of Report 103 is not due until next week. But this issue could not wait. As you may know, 21 April is Creativity and Innovation Day (http://www.creativityday.org/). In nearby Brussels, we will be holding a serious of workshops on creativity and innovation. Indeed, I will also present my Innovation Battle Plan (see below).

For more information about Creativity Day in Brussels, please visit http://www.thinkingoutloud.info

THE INNOVATION BATTLE PLAN

Introduction...

Innovation is all the rage in business management books and workshops these days. And while many experts proclaim the value of innovation and even tell you what kind of innovative ideas you should be having, few provide a step by step process for becoming a more innovative firm.
Innovation, of course, is more than simply having ideas or installing an idea management system. It is about a commitment from management, establishing a trusting environment for sharing ideas, collaboration and more. It is about establishing a collaborative idea management process and more.
The Innovation Battle Plan provides a straightforward nine step procedure for transforming you company into an innovation driven firm. The steps are logical and very likely some of them are already in place.

Implementing the Innovation Battle Plan requires commitment and investment. Nevertheless, there is a clear ROI:

Clearly, the commitment and investment are worth it.

The Nine Steps...

1. Innovative Leadership

The commitment to innovation needs to come from the top. If senior management does not demonstrate such a commitment, the workforce is hardly likely to follow.

The best demonstration of innovative leadership is to make bold innovative changes in corporate strategy. Carlos Ghosn, who transformed Nissan from a loss making car manufacturer into a highly profitable one is a good example. Although he closed factories and reduced the number of models manufactured by Nissan, he also accelerated the development of exciting new cars. Likewise, Lou Gerstner, who transfromed IBM from a staid computer manufacturer into an e-business and services company. Such bold transformations send clear signals to the workforce:

1)Top management is willing to take calculated risks with new ideas and new ways of working. This suggests that the workforce can also feel freer to take calculated risks with new ideas that offer a potential pay off.

2)You are changing the operations of your company and once change is in the air it can easily become infectious. “If management is going to change the very core of what our company is about,” your employees will think, “then we might as well change the way things work in our department.” That kind of thinking positively invites creativity and innovation.

Such bold transformations are not always necessary and in some cases may not even be desirable. Milder changes in operational strategy, products or services can send strong signals to the workforce that management has embraced change and new ideas.
It is equally important that top management promotes innovation and the benefits of innovation across the workforce. This can be done through propaganda (see below).

Finally, management must ensure that an environment of trust exists at the workplace. If people do not trust management, their colleagues or even the company itself, they will not share ideas with the company. This is to do with creative risk (see below) as well as the fear that management may take their ideas without rewarding the idea generators.

If it does not exist already, establishing an environment of trust is no easy task. But if you transparently implement the Innovation Battle Plan, ensuring everyone understands every step, you will go a long way in establishing that environment of trust.

2. Propaganda
Propaganda is critical to winning any battle and the Innovation Battle Plan is no exception. Your propaganda – or “communications plan” to use a more commonplace business term – should do several things.

1)Communicate senior management's innovation actions and messages.
2)Communicate Your Innovation Battle Plan and how it will be implemented.
3)Continually promote the benefits of creativity and innovation.
4)Promote each new ideas campaign as well as ideas campaigns in general (see below).
5)Regularly recognise and reward your innovators.
6)Promote new innovations and explain how they benefit the company.
7)Regularly report on the results of the Innovation Battle Plan's implementation.

The propaganda must target not only your workforce, but also shareholders, customers, suppliers and business partners. And it must be on-going. If you only blast your workforce with propaganda at the beginning of the Innovation Battle Plan, but do not follow up, then the battle plan will quickly lose momentum as your employees suspect that innovation was just a fad rather than a commitment.

3. Sqash Creative Risk

If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it
- Albert Einstein

Creative risk is the invisible enemy and one of the Innovation Battle Plan's greatest threats. You must reduce it as much as possible in order for the Innovation Battle Plan to succeed.
Creative risk is the perceived risk that members of your workforce associate with sharing ideas, particularly highly creative ideas. To understand why, bear in mind that creative ideas can also sound crazy; and the more creative the idea, the crazier it seems. Most people are understandably reluctant to publicly share ideas which may seem crazy. They fear ridicule and worse. Indeed, in very conservative firms, someone who “rocks the boat” with crazy ideas is in danger of reprimand, being labelled a trouble-maker and losing out on promotion.

Other firms may claim to welcome innovation, but they do not permit failure. This is very nearly as bad as forbidding innovation. Innovation does fail sometimes. But it also succeeds tremendously at other times. This is the inherent risk in innovation. Creative people understand this risk. If they work in companies that do not tolerate failure at any level, they will learn to keep their creative ideas to themselves, rather than share those ideas and risk the consequences of failure.

As a part of squashing creative risk, you need to make it clear in your communications plan that no one will be reprimanded for crazy or bad ideas and that when innovation fails, it should be perceived as a learning experience. In any event, small scale trials, prototyping, market research and other tools can be used to test ideas before implementing them on the full scale – therefore reducing and controlling risk.

4. Creative Collaboration

Diversity is the secret of creativity. When putting together teams or groups for brainstorming, managing projects, solving problems or performing any other activities, ensure that those teams comprise people with diverse backgrounds, come from different divisions and are of different ranks within the organisation. Such mixtures of people will bring a mixture of knowledge and ideas. Once they collaborate, they will build upon each others' ideas to create bigger, better more creative ideas than any individual could devise on her own. They become much more than teams: they become creative collaboration units that can ensure numerous victories in your Innovation Battle Plan.

Consider a company that wants to build a new corporate web site. If the project team comprises only IT people, the resulting web site will probably be highly sophisticated technically, be confusing for non technical people to use and provide insufficient information about the company. If, on the other hand, the project team comprises people from the IT, Marketing, Call Centre, Accounting, HR and other departments, you could expect a creative web site built from diverse ideas and offering features that would appeal to a wide range of users.

5. Ideas Campaigns

Once you have demonstrated bold leadership, launched your propaganda and begun to slash creative risk, you are ready to begin soliciting ideas from your staff. The best way to do this is via targeted campaigns in a structured idea management programme.

While many companies solicit ideas via suggestion boxes or open idea management tools that invite all ideas, the true innovators understand the importance of focusing innovation on key issues. This is what ideas campaigns are about.

As chief, you should grant all of your managers who have budget or decision making authority the right to launch and run ideas campaigns to solicit ideas. You should also encourage them to use regularly ideas campaigns as means of getting ideas that will feed continuous innovation in their departments.

Ideas campaigns work like this: the marketing manager (for example) wants creative ideas about how to launch a new product. She sets up and promotes an ideas campaign soliciting suggestions from everyone in the company (the marketing manager understands that with a wide variety of people participating in the campaign, she can expect highly varied and creative results – see creative collaboration above). The campaign runs for four weeks and invites everyone to submit their own ideas, browse their colleagues' ideas and even collaborate on any previously submitted idea. At the end of the campaign, the Marketing Manager has a large number of ideas, several of which appear very promising.

Ideas Campaigns should be managed via structured idea management tools that allow collaborative idea submission, evaluation and implementation support (see below).

6. Evaluations

As ideas campaigns capture more and more ideas, it becomes necessary to find a quick, accurate means of evaluating the most promising ideas to determine how well they meet the needs of the manager who launched the campaign. Criteria based evaluation by experts is the best approach. The first step is to prepare a set of criteria for determining how well an idea will solve a problem or accomplish the expected results.

Consider the example of the marketing manager's campaign for product launch ideas (above). To evaluate the most promising ideas, she would likely use criteria like these...

The second step is to send the ideas and evaluations to appropriate experts who can determine how well each idea meets each criteria as well as point out other factors which the manager may have missed. The advantage to criteria based evaluation is that relatively little time investment is required of the experts. Thus the manager can quickly see which ideas are likely to be most successful.

7. Pre-implementations and Implementations

Ideas which receive a high evaluation score, or which managers immediately sense will succeed, should be implemented. However, those idea which require a substantial investment should be run through a pre-implementation procedure first. This could include a trial run, a market survey, prototyping or similar. If the pre-implementation produces good results, a full implementation can follow.

Successful implementations of ideas are demonstrable evidence of successful campaigns and wins in the innovation battle plan. Successes should be measured where possible and noted in your communications plan.

Bear in mind that the implementation of a creative idea should also be a creative process. Thus the idea sharing and collaboration which occur at the ideas campaign stage should also be present during the implementation stage. This can be done by transparently implementing ideas while inviting collaborative feedback from colleagues.

8. Rewards

When people contribute or collaborate upon good ideas, it is important to reward them. Even when a good idea is not implemented, it should still be rewarded, indeed rewarding good ideas that are not implemented is a powerful way to demonstrate that the company values good ideas of all kinds.

Rewards can be in the form of work related benefits, such as additional holiday time or the right to attend overseas or out of state conferences. Rewards can be in the form of small gifts, such as restaurant vouchers or books. Rewards can simply be points. Rewards can be public recognition. Rewards should not be high value and should not be money. Money, in particular, tends to make people behave badly.

Whatever format of rewards you choose, it is important that they are granted consistently and fairly. Giving one person a huge gift and another a small gift for similar ideas is a sure way to create tension and demotivate your workforce.

9. Analyse and improve

As with any battle plan, you need to regularly analyse the results, look for points of improvement and implement those points. Continuous improvement leads to an ever better Innovation Battle Plan which leads to ever better ideas, a higher degree of innovation across the organisation, greater competitiveness and increased earnings. And don't be afraid to be innovative in your improvements on the Innovation Battle Plan!

Unlike many battle plans, the Innovation Battle Plan is never finished. You must always strive to improve your innovation processes. However, the biggest hurdle is at the launch stage. Once your company has implemented the innovation battle plan and all steps are fully operational, it is relatively easy to maintain the battle plan.

Unlike many battle plans, the Innovation Battle Plan is never finished. You must always strive to improve your innovation processes. However, the biggest hurdle is at the launch stage. Once your company has implemented the innovation battle plan and all steps are fully operational, it is relatively easy to maintain the battle plan.


Happy thinking

Jeffrey Baumgartner


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Report 103 is a complimentary weekly electronic newsletter from Bwiti bvba of Belgium (a jpb.com company: http://www.creativejeffrey.com). Archives and subscription information can be found at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/report103/

Report 103 is edited by Jeffrey Baumgartner And is published on the first and third Tuesday of every month.

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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium