A fortnightly newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Tuesday, 19 April 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, 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.
CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP PRECOGNITION
According to Bain & Company's 2005 Management Tools & Trends survey (7,283 respondents from over 70 countries; see report at http://www.bain.com/management_tools/mt_detail.asp?groupcode=4&id=19962&menu_url=articles_overview.asp), some two thirds of executives say that insufficient customer insight is hurting their performance. This suggests that the market for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is likely to grow as managers look for tools to help them better understand their customers.
This is of course important, and CRM tools can help a company not only better understand their customers, but serve their customers better in real time, particularly with on-line transactions.
But, CRM tools can only provide insight on what your customers think they want now. By the time you collect and collate data and act upon it, you are responding to what your customers wanted months ago.
In many scenarios, this is acceptable. For example, customers probably want the same thing in bookcases today as they will next year and the year after.
But responding to customers' outdated wants is hardly a way to be innovative. Moreover, if your competitors are using similar CRM tools, they are probably making similar assumptions about customer wants and taking similar actions.
In order to take an innovative lead with products and services, you need to, at the least, determine what customers will want six months to a year or more from now. Better still, you should create in your customers an all new desire for a product they never knew they wanted.
The Sony Walkman is a good example. Until the Sony Walkman came along, not many people walking down the road or jogging or riding the metro were thinking to themselves: “wouldn't it be great if I could put a little stereophonic cassette tape player in my pocket and connect it to my ears via tiny headphones in order to shut out the world and create my own musical space, even though I am in public.”
Nevertheless, Sony brought the Walkman to market and proved that there was a huge number of people who wanted just such a musical experience in their pocket. Even my Dad bought a Sony Walkman!
Of course it is one thing to tell you to determine or create customers needs before the customers are aware of those needs. It is quite another to actually determine or create those needs. Nevertheless, I can supply you with a few tools to help with the job.
Firstly, look at the current trends that your CRM tools are telling you about. And through brainstorming and ideas campaigns, push and stretch those trends in every conceivable manner to see what you can devise.
In the 1950s and 60s, teenagers put small transistor radios against their ears to listen to pop music from their favourite radio stations. Quality was appalling, but teenagers could hear the music they wanted when they wanted it. Then there was the “ghetto blaster”, a portable stereo that young people could balance on their shoulders in order blast their favourite music out. But ghetto blasters were neither convenient nor subtle. Certainly not my Dad's kind of thing.
Meanwhile, young people were spending ever more money on phonographic records and cassette tapes. Putting all those trends together and pushing ideas around could easily have led a creative team to come up with the idea of a Walkman: a small, convenient portable music box which provided quality music and did not disturb others.
Another useful tool for pre-guessing trends is one of my favourites: idea management. By focusing a part of your idea management programme – such as via an ideas campaign - on pre-guessing or creating future customer trends, you can stretch your employees' collective imagination to come up with new ideas. And if your company sells to consumers, you have a strong advantage that your staff should also be your customers and so can readily look at your products from the customer's point of view.
Better still: get your customers involved in your idea generation and development process. Tools like Jenni Idea Management and Jenni Ideas Campaign (http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/) allow you to invite your customers to share and collaborate on ideas with your staff.
Unlike CRM, which looks for overall trends – in other words, what large numbers of people are doing – idea management allows you to capture the ideas of the creative thinkers among your customers, staff and business partners.
Of course another way to come up with highly creative new product ideas is simply giving your research and development people some freedom and trust to experiment with new ideas and concepts. More than a few terrific new products have come from just such fiddling with parts and tools in the research and development rooms.
CIWI: NETWORKING SITE FOR CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION PROFESSIONALS
Unless you've been on Mars for the past year, you will be familiar with networking tools like LinkedIn, OpenBC, Friendster and the like. Now there is a networking site especially for creativity and innovation professionals like you: CIWI. According to Steffan Konrath, founder of CIWI: “CIWI is the place to discover creative and innovative people, to connect and to market and disseminate ideas.”
Steffan, incidentally, is the founder of IM-BOOT and a well known name in European creativity circles.
I'd like to see CIWI succeed. So, check it out at http://www.ciwi.biz/ - and feel free to connect to me if you decide to join.
CALL CENTRES ARE ALSO IDEA CENTRES
Call centres are often considered a necessary evil for software houses, airlines and other service companies. They are cost centres which soak up income rather than generate it. Many companies – at least in English speaking countries – are outsourcing their call centres to India. Even companies which do not outsource their call centres pay their call centre staff tiny wages. Many companies make matters worse by pressuring call centre staff to minimise costs by minimising the time of each call. Quick solutions are preferred over good solutions.
This is a shame, because call centres are where your business really interacts with customers. Call centres are where complaints are directed. And, as I pointed out many months ago – a customer complaint is simply an idea in disguise. If customers complain that your web site is too complicated for them to find answers – they are also giving you the idea to simplify the navigation of your web site so people can find answers more readily. Indeed, Sallie Mae (a US provider of student loans) made just such a discovery via their call centre. Fixing their web site, saved them US$56,000 in just three months.
While intelligent companies at least look at trends discovered by their call centres, few actually invite innovative ideas from their call centre staff.
This is an even bigger shame. Firstly, call centre staff are in direct contact with your customers and can pass on customer ideas as well as make their own suggestions about product and service improvements and even new product ideas. Moreover, most call centre staff find their jobs monotonous and less than fulfilling. Getting those staff involved in the corporate innovation process is also one way to make their jobs more fulfilling.
The solution is easy. If your company has an idea management programme in operation, ensure that call centre staff are involved – even if they are outsourced. Just because your call centre staff are contract workers in Mumbai (India), is no reason not to have them involved in your innovation process. Indeed, the cultural difference is likely to bring ever more creative ideas, not prevent them.
Secondly, get call centre staff to participate in brainstorming sessions and creative project teams. Their ideas and knowledge of your customers will prove invaluable.
21 APRIL: CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION DAY
This is a reminder that Thursday, 21 April is Creativity and Innovation Day. Here in Brussels, we'll be running some interesting workshops on creativity and innovation in the late afternoon and evening. Together with training partner Andy Whittle, I will provide an interactive introduction to the Innovation Battle Plan: a nine step plan designed to make your company more innovative. For more information about Creativity day in general, visit http://www.creativityday.org/. For more info about events in Brussels, visit http://www.thinkingoutloud.info/ or to register for events in Brussels, visit http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creativity_day/.
And check out what's happening in your area in innovation.
ANOTHER EU FRAMEWORK PROGRAMME
I see the European Commission is preparing a new Framework programme for research and innovation. In principle, the framework programme is an excellent idea. In a nutshell, the Framework Programme provides a structure whereby the Commission partially funds innovative research projects. Projects normally have to comprise two or more organisations (businesses, Universities, research institutes, etc) from at least two different EU countries. In theory, funding is for projects that are too innovative – and too risky – for businesses to fund on their own. Innovative organisations should be able to say: “we've got this really great research idea that is too far out for business, although we will build a business plan around it. Fortunately, all we need to do is find some dynamic European partners who can help us develop it and the Commission will give us 50% funding, so reducing our risk!”
The reality is that EU projects are highly administrative and bureaucratic. So much so, that small companies find it hard to participate. Indeed, the complex bureaucratic hurdles necessary to get funding can scare off small companies altogether. Moreover, the hurdles effectively create a cosy inner circle of organisations that have figured out the bureaucracy and basically earn their incomes by submitting project proposals to the EU. They do not see the EU as an innovative research supporter, but rather as a business opportunity. And why shouldn't they? This is how businesses operate.
Secondly, if a consortium of companies has their proposal accepted, they have to establish a strict project plan lasting from 18 to 36 months. Because the project plan is essentially a legal contract, little deviation is permitted. To make matters worse, it normally takes six to nine months from putting a proposal on paper to its acceptance by the commission. In other words, innovative projects must be devised between two and four years in advance of their completion – and the results must largely be predetermined.
That's all well and good, except that we all know that innovation also has much to do with experimentation, making mistakes (and learning from them) and changing direction when innovative new ideas suggest doing so.
But, because the European Framework Programme is highly bureaucratic and requires a predetermined development path, it essentially prohibits an innovative approaches to innovation.
That is a shame. Because the Framework Programme could be so much more than it is.
Read about the current Sixth Framework Programme here: http://fp6.cordis.lu/fp6/home.cfm and about preparations for the Seventh Framework Programme here: http://www.cordis.lu/innovation/en/policy/cip.htm
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