Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Tuesday, 21 February 2006
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.
SPONTANEOUS VERSUS SOLUTION ORIENTED CREATIVITY
Creativity can come in two forms: spontaneous creativity and solution oriented creativity.
Spontaneous creativity is the creativity we often associate with artists. It is about ideas seemingly coming out of nowhere: ideas for painting, ideas for sculptures, ideas for novels and the like. Spontaneous creativity can also happen in business. Indeed, revolutionary ideas are often the result of spontaneous creativity. A research team accidentally discovering a unique property of a new material and seeing a market opportunity, is an example of spontaneous creativity.
Solution-oriented creativity is when you have a specific problem to solve and actively look for creative solutions that solve the problem. Ideas campaigns, brainstorming and general problem solving are all examples of solution-oriented creativity.
Although the term spontaneous implies the idea appears suddenly, that need not be the case. Indeed, spontaneous ideas often slowly form in people's minds and require time to develop.
Spontaneous creativity often starts with a spontaneous idea, but then requires solution oriented creativity to perfect. For example, Henry Ford had the idea to bring together the concept of the motorcar – which in his day was a luxury item hand built for each buyer – and the production line in order to make inexpensive cars that middle class and poorer people could afford. However, in order to turn that spontaneous idea into reality, he had to solve hundreds of practical problems along the way. That required solution oriented creativity.
Thomas Edison invented the light bulb and perhaps more importantly, he had a vision for nationwide electrical power generating plants, an electricity grid and all the other bits and pieces necessary to bring electrical power into the home. Like Ford, Edison started with a couple of spontaneous ideas, but had hundreds of problems to solve in order to turn his core ideas into reality.
In the corporate environment, it is easier to encourage and manage solution oriented creativity than spontaneous creativity. After all, it is easier to ask your employees to suggest ideas that respond to a specific problem than it is to demand that they have spontaneous ideas. Compare: “In what ways might we improve the functionality of our digital cameras” to “I want you all to bring me a creative idea next week.”
This is one reason why campaign based idea management is more effective than open suggestion based idea management in large organisations. It is why brainstorming works when you have a specific challenge to respond to. Imagine going to a brainstorming session where 12 people were gathered in a room and just told to come up with ideas, any ideas.
Moreover, solution oriented creativity is easier to evaluate as the problem you are seeking to solve typically has inherent criteria that must be met in a specific solution. Most likely, you will also have several proposed solutions which can be compared for viability.
Nevertheless, companies that want to be innovative must be open to spontaneous ideas. Surprisingly, many are not. The best spontaneous ideas are so radical and unexpected that they often seem crazy and undoable. As my favourite Einstein quote goes: “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”
When confronted by such radical ideas, all but the most visionary managers are likely to be critical: “it will never work”, “we've been making widgets this way for 50 years, do you really think you can transform the business overnight?”. Worse, radical ideas – especially disruptive ones – can threaten businesses and sometimes entire sectors. Think digital cameras. Think Internet telephony. Imagine an employee in a national telecommunications company five years ago suggesting the idea of offering free Internet telephone calls to customers. Chances are, such an idea would have been laughed out of existence. Yet today, with small upstarts like Skype offering free and nearly free Internet telephoney, all the telecommunications companies are desperately seeking ways to earn money from Internet telephony. If only they had considered the idea five years ago, they would be well ahead of the competition.
Thus companies that want to fully benefit from both forms of creativity need to make available tools and train managers to...
a) Listen and respond positively to spontaneous ideas. (See There's No Such Thing as a Bad Ideas; Report 103 17 January 2006 issue; http://www.creativejeffrey.com/report103/archive.php?issue_no=20060117)
b) Use standard creative problem solving methodology.
c) Set up and manage ideas campaigns (see http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/ for information on our campaign based idea management solution), brainstorming events and other problem solving idea generation activities.
If you would like more information on how to apply such tools and training in your firm, just let me know.
YOU CANNOT MICROMANAGE INNOVATION
A major corporate enemy of innovation is micromanagement. A micromanager is, of course, a manager who has to control every detail of her operational area. She believes that only she knows the right way to get work done in her division/company and does not trust her subordinates to accomplish their tasks as well as she could. The micromanager is generally a negative person who rules by constantly nagging scolding her subordinates when they do not perform tasks as she would and fusses over each step subordinates take towards accomplishing their tasks.
The micromanager is often found at the helm of a small company she started herself. To some extent, this is understandable. She has invested her own money and spent considerable time establishing her company and as the company grows, she is reluctant to let her employees do things differently. Unfortunately, if she does not let go, her company will remain forever small.
However, micromanagers are also rife in the area of middle management. Here, they are most often insecure people who do not know how to manage people and so manage tasks.
Mircromanagers are not good for companies, they stunt growth, demotivate staff and - worst of all – stifle innovation. This is because they break several key rules of establishing an innovative work environment:
1. Trust. A few years ago, PWC (http://www.pwc.com) compiled a comprehensive survey on innovation in large organisations. What they found was that the most important component that every innovative company shared was an atmosphere of trust. If people are in a trusting atmosphere, they are more willing to take the personal risk of proposing new ideas and taking responsibility for those new ideas. Moreover, if employees trust their superiors and their company, they will trust the company to recognise and reward their innovativeness. Unfortunately, the loudest statement a micromanager makes to her subordinates is: “I don't trust you to accomplish this task, so I am going to watch over your ever step and correct your every move.”
2. Freedom: It goes without saying that employees need freedom to devise, explore and implement new ideas. If employees must implement each task following a precise step-by-step plan with no room for trying new ideas, they will not bother devising new ideas. Indeed, in the recent Report 103 article on the top ten enablers of organisational creativity, enabler number six was:
“Personal authority to initiate change / individual empowerment
Respondents talked about how much freedom and authority they had to initiate change – some gave it to themselves, others waited for it to be given. Many spoke of the anxiety that at times accompanies empowerment. Ideally empowerment of people results in increased initiative, involvement, enthusiasm, innovation and speed but also has a cost in terms of increased anxiety and stress levels.”
Moreover, an innovative work environment MUST offer the freedom to make mistakes.
3. Positive reinforcement: being innovative is potentially risky. New ideas may be laughed at. People wanting to change the established operational procedures may be branded rebels. A new idea implemented could go wrong and the easiest person to blame is the one who proposed and promoted the idea in the first place. However, micromanagers inevitably rule by negative reinforcement. Subordinates are scolded for making mistakes, but seldom rewarded for doing things properly – and never rewarded for finding better ways of doing things than the micromanager offers.
Are you a micromanager? A good article at http://www.busreslab.com/policies/badpol8.htm
provides questions to ask yourself to determine whether or not you might be
a micromanager. It also provides tips on what to do. Unfortunately, changing
behaviour is much easier said (especially by consultants) than done.
Are you restricted by a micromanager? If so, it is even trickier. Micromanagers do not take criticism well, particularly from subordinates. You are probably best off looking for a new position elsewhere in your current employer's firm or in another firm.
NEW ARTICLES AT JPB.COM
We have just added a couple of interesting articles to our creativity library at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/.
Ideas: Just the Tip of the Iceberg of Positive Effects from a Creative Working Culture (http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/Iceberg_baermann.pdf - PDF document; 134kb), by our associate and US creativity and innovation consultant/trainer Maren Baermann, explains that establishing a culture of innovation brings a company many more benefits than just ideas.
2006 – A New Year Filled with Opportunities, Ideas, Inventions and
Innovations! (http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/idebanken2006.pdf - PDF document 330kb) is Anders Meiton's message for innovators in 2006. This broad essay covers a number issues relevant to innovation this year.
KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT AND THE AGING WORKFORCE
As you doubtless know, the populations of most developed countries are ageing rapidly. A baby boom in the years following World War II followed by a baby dearth as women married later and had fewer children has resulted in a large number of people now reaching retirement age – and fewer young people replacing them.
This has all kinds of social and economic implications which are not our concern here. However, many firms are facing a knowledge time-bomb as a result of the ageing workforce – and since knowledge management is related to idea management (and, by the most amazing of coincidences, one of our products), it is our concern here.
The problem is, of course, as old people reach retirement age they retire. And unless their employers make an effort to capture retiring employees' knowledge, it will be lost forever. This is an on-going problem for many companies as staff come and go. But with a disproportionate number of experienced and knowledgeable employees on the verge of leaving, it is a potential crisis for many firms.
As a result: now, more than ever, companies like yours must make sure they offer a means of capturing the knowledge and experience of their senior staff and make it available to younger employees.
Although there are numerous knowledge management tools on the market, it has always struck me that the most effective web based knowledge management tool has been the humble web-based discussion forum. The discussion forum provides a simple, easy to use tool that allows people to ask questions and others to answer those questions. As a result, knowledge flows on an as-needed basis. However, as more and more questions are answered, the forum also becomes a reference tool which users can search in order to find the answers to their questions. If the forum is well structured, it allows users to seek knowledge via navigating categories and following discussion threads. Ideally, the forum will also offer a search tool for finding information (however, for public forums on the web, Google often provides an effective search tool).
Most knowledge management tools, on the other hand, are based on people entering, editing and structuring knowledge they believe will be useful to less experienced employees. There are two flaws with this model.
1. The information you believe will be useful to a colleague may not be so useful. Perhaps it is now general knowledge or operational changes mean the information is no longer useful. Alternatively, knowledge which you assume to be known by all may in fact be knowledge that is known only to you. As a result, much knowledge submitted to knowledge management tools is often widely known or less than useful while much useful knowledge is absent.
2. There is little motivation to enter knowledge on to a web form in hopes your colleagues may find it useful, particularly if you have a lot of other tasks to manage. Answering questions at the very least gives the satisfaction of helping out a colleague and another human being. The gratitude of that colleague is further motivation.
We offer a simple, web based question and answer tool that allows people to post questions and others to answer them. It is based on the discussion forum model, but also offers category management, document and image attachments, various access rights and search. The tool, Xandra, is also absurdly inexpensive and easy to use. Better still, you can try it out with our compliments for one month. Learn more at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/xandra/
WANT TO MAKE A COMPLICATED DECISION? JUST STOP THINKING
According to Ap Dijksterhuis, a psychologist at the University of Amsterdam: when people have to make complex decisions the most effective ploy they can follow is to stop thinking about the decision issues for a while and allow their instincts to lead them. Read more inthis article in The Guardian and this article in the Telegraph
This is interesting in that it follows recent research which shows that people often have their most creative solutions to problems after sleeping on the problem – rather than while mulling over it – and that when experienced managers make decisions based on their hunches – rather than extensive research and analysis – they often make better decisions.
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Report 103 is edited by Jeffrey Baumgartner and is published on the first and third Tuesday of every month.
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