Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business – delivered to your e-mail box on the first and third Tuesday of every month.
Tuesday, 6 September 2005
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your fortnightly 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.
MIXING AND MATCHING GROUPS FOR CREATIVITY
Any innovation expert will agree that the key to building creative teams or groups is to populate them with a variety of people of different backgrounds and expertises. Let's call such groups multidisciplinary teams. Carlos Ghosn - who recently turned Nissan around from being a boring car manufacturer losing billions of dollars a year into a highly profitable car company with a handful of exciting new cars and multibillion dollar profits - provides a good example. He attributes a substantial part of his success to establishing multi-functional teams to handle projects.
For example, if you are looking for new ideas for improving your sales department's performance, the worst team you could build to find creative solutions would be a team comprised of sales staff. They almost certainly all have similar backgrounds, they work together every day, often eat lunch together and frequently go for a drink after work together. They are used to each other and each others' ideas. As clever as they certainly are, they alone are unlikely to come up with radically creative new sales ideas.
On the other hand, a team comprising people from sales, marketing, operations, research and development, accounting, human resources and logistics would dream up substantially more creative ideas; including ideas that the sales people would never think up on their own. That's because a variety of people with a variety of backgrounds will have a wider range of knowledge combined with a variety of problem solving approaches. Moreover, team members who do not come from sales will also have the advantage of not being constrained by established corporate ways of thinking about sales.
While the notion of filling creative teams with a variety of different kinds of people is clear cut, actually filling those teams with a variety of different kinds of people is often a challenge.
Keeping with our example, if the senior sales manager wants to come up with creative ideas for improving sales, the only people she has the authority to assign tasks to will often be the sales people. If she starts trying to pull people from other departments to participate in her creative team, there is a good chance other departments will cry foul.
Even if the sales manager is in a position to borrow people from other departments, there is a good chance she does not know many people outside of sales, making it difficult for her to put together a varied team of problem solvers.
Clearly, in order to facilitate multidisciplinary teams, top management needs to permit and encourage managers to borrow people from various departments for project teams, brainstorming and advisory boards. One approach might be to create a market for staff sharing. If department A borrows someone from Department B for two days, Department B would then have the right to borrow someone from Department A for two days.
In addition, a means of selecting team members from other departments should be established. A staff directory would be a good start, but staff directories are not usually so good at indicating people's creativity levels. Of course the sales manager could simply ask the HR manager to provide someone creative for a project team. But, the HR manager might be tempted to lend the sales manager her least productive staff member in order to minimise disruption to her department.
Humour can be a great indicator of creativity. Most genuinely funny people are also creative. Indeed, I would argue that creativity is essential to humour (humour and creativity is a topic I've covered in Report 103 in the past. See the archives at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/report103/archives.php for articles). Selecting a couple of clowns from other departments, therefore, can be a good way for the sales manager to bring new creative thinkers into her project team.
Alternatively, you could select people from your company directory at random. If your IT staff have a little spare time, you can have them write a programme to randomly select staff member from the LDAP server (a directory of users found in most corporate networks). This would be a relatively simple tool to facilitate populating creative teams with a random selection of people from different backgrounds and expertises.
If you are running a workshop and want to break the big group into smaller project teams, it is always best to randomise the teams. If you ask people to form teams, they will inevitably select people they know or the people sitting nearest them in the workshop. Counting off (ie. Counting 1 – 2 – 3 – 1 – 2 ... and putting the 1's in one team, the 2's in another team, etc), randomly appointing people to teams or having people select teams from a hat (ie. Fill a hat with one slip of paper for each participant. Each paper has a team name on it. People select a paper from the hat in order to determine their team) are all good ways to ensure teams have varied populations.
There are in fact many methods to ensure teams have a variety of people in them. The method is not so important as the result. Thus if your company does not have a mechanism for facilitating cross functional teams, you need to make such a mechanism. And if you do not encourage cross functional teams, you need to start encouraging them as soon as you finish reading this newsletter!
TOTAL OPEN COLLABORATION IN IDEA MANAGEMENT
In view of the fact that every innovation expert agrees on the importance of multi-functional teams, it surprises me that most suggestion schemes and idea management processes do not facilitate true open collaboration across the organisation. In general, there seem to be three approaches to collaboration in suggestion schemes...
1) The Zero Collaboration Approach. In many suggestion schemes, when a person has an idea, she submits it to a suggestion box (which may be an e-mail address or an on-line idea management tool). That idea is sent to evaluation. The evaluators make suggestions and send the idea back to the submitter for development and resubmission. The evaluation team is usually comprised of experts on the topic (ie. A group of similar minded people working in the same or closely associated divisions). This is not very multidisciplinary.
2) Limited Collaboration Approach. Some suggestion schemes allow a person with an idea to bring together colleagues to work on the idea. Once they are finished, the idea is routed to an evaluation team as described above. This system is fine. But most people will obviously select collaborators they know from their divisions at work, rather than select people from a different divisions and locations. As a result, the collaboration team is not particularly multidisciplinary.
3) Total Cross-Enterprise Collaboration Approach: You will probably not be surprised to learn that Jenni idea management (our idea management virtual software: http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/) allows total, open collaboration across the enterprise. The process is simple and was inspired by web based discussion forums where people from around the world share ideas, help each other solve problems and generally network.
When someone submits an idea to Jenni idea management, everyone participating in the ideas campaign (Jenni is a campaign based idea management tool, see http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/campaigns.php for more information on campaign based idea management) can read the idea and collaborate on it. As a result, people who do not know each, people who might live in different countries and work in completely different divisions can readily collaborate on an idea.
In our minds, anything less than total open collaboration does not truly take advantage of information technology to maximise the creative potential of your workforce.
Jenni also provides a Genius Directory to facilitate innovation networking. If someone collaborates on your idea, or if someone submits interesting ideas, you can look her up in the genius directory in order to learn more about her and to contact her. As a result, the Genius directory is an ideal tool for finding creative thinkers across your organisation and bringing them into your teams.
For more information about Jenni, look at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni or contact me or one of our sales reps for a demo and discussion of how Jenni can maximise the innovation potential of your organisation.
EVERYONE WANTS TO WORK FOR A MORE INNOVATIVE COMPANY
Petra (a friend) works in a small family owned chain of shops with about a half dozen other employees. Petra does not like her job or her employers very much. The employers seem to operate in an environment of mistrust. They mistrust their staff, whom they believe are trying to avoid work. They mistrust their customers even more, apparently assuming that every customer is a shoplifter until proven otherwise. However, the shop is a very good supplier in a niche market, so business grows slowly in spite of the bad management.
When Petra and her colleagues go to lunch together or go out after work, they inevitably gripe about work. I accidentally sat through such a gripefest a while back and vowed never again to allow myself to get trapped in a round of complaining like that.
Nevertheless, it interested me that their gripes were really ideas in disguise. “If we put those expensive products in a locked display case, no one could take them.” “If Mr. X assumed customers brought sales rather than that they were thieves, the environment in the shop would be more positive for us and the customers.” “Ms. X nags me that I am too slow with inventory checking, but if I do not check carefully, prices are not the same in all our shops. Customers notice this and they complain to me! Why can't Ms. X trust me just a little?” And so on.
Even though Petra and her colleagues do not like their work; even though they would leave in an instant if offered an even slightly better job; even though they complain constantly, they all really want their chain of shops to be more innovative. They would happily make the extra effort to implement their ideas in order to prove that these ideas would make the shop a better place to work and a better place to buy from – if only their employers would let them.
This situation is not unique. I have seen it in many companies and bureaucracies where people are dissatisfied and looking for new jobs. Inevitably, the one thing that would keep them not only working in their current jobs, but working harder, would be the opportunity to share their ideas with management and to implement those ideas in order to prove they would help the organisation function better – and be a better place in which to work.
Now if people are willing to go so far to help firms, which they do not like, to innovate; imagine how far people would be willing to go for firms which they do like.
Or to put the matter in another way: your employees desperately want to innovate. What opportunities and tools are you giving them to do so?
Arthur VanGundy kindly corrected me on the origin of the Notebook Exercise which I wrote about in last week's issue of Report 103 (http://www.creativejeffrey.com/report103/archive.php?issue_no=20050816). To quote...
“The notebook exercise as a formal technique generally is attributed to John Haefele who created it while working at Proctor & Gamble in the 1960s and he published a book on it. (I wrote about it in my Techniques of Structured Problem Solving, 1981; 1988. ) He called it “the Collective Notebook Method” and the original had participants recording one idea per day for a month and then a coordinator summarized the results. Alan Pearson in 1978 or 79 created a variation in which participants exchanged notebooks after two weeks to create some cross-fertilization which makes it similar to the Delphi method. I later wrote how it is like a brainwriting method which is what is described in your report, except people are not face to face. Of course, we now can do such things via email and also build in a provision to slow it down, which was Haefele's original intention (i.e., provide incubation over time).”
Dr. VanGundy, by the way, is a well known expert on creativity and particularly idea generation techniques. He has a number of books to his name. A mini-bio with links to some of his books is at http://www.gocreate.com/Brainline/brains/bios/vangundya.htm. You can also search Amazon for his books.
NEW NEWSLETTER: REPORT 105
In view of the success of Report 103, we are trying out a new concept. Report 105 is an e-newsletter of ideas about the future, technology, society, government, philosophy and more. Report 105 is a look into the future together with a collection of ideas ripe for exploiting. I hope it will be often provocative, sometimes controversial and regularly inspirational. In short, Report 105 is for anyone who likes ideas.
Report 105 will also be edited and largely written by me and the second issue will be out next Tuesday: 13 September 2005.
Subscribe by visiting http://www.creativejeffrey.com/report105/.
THE IMAGINATION CLUB
If you like being creative as much as reading about creativity, please join the Innovation Club. The Innovation Club is an informal e-mail based forum for stretching your imagination, sharing ideas and playing with ideas. Over the past few weeks that the imagination club has been active, we have had a variety of interesting creative challenges – and some even more interesting ideas developed.
This morning, Maulik Dave launched a most intriguing challenge:
“Your challenge is to think about the 'Next Great Invention' which will
change our or next generation's lifestyle entirely. Your imagination
should not be influenced by what news you have heard about new researches. It should be completely your brain's product.
I am intrigued to read what community members will dream up.
Interested? You can find more information at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/imagination/about.php.
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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