Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Tuesday, 4 April 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.
YOUR INNOVATION MANIFESTO
Everyone is talking about innovation these days. There is probably not a company on the planet that does not claim that innovation is a critical component of its future. We are getting new queries almost daily on how we can help organisations become more innovative.
Yet, companies are slow to act. I recently spoke to the innovation manager in a large, well known multinational. He complained that even he has problems selling innovative ideas to the very management that gave him his position to help the company innovate better.
Then, one day last week while responding to a query from a major scientific institution, it dawned on me: the first step any business ought to make on the road to innovation is to prepare an Innovation Manifesto, have the CEO and top managers sign it off and display it prominently in their organisation.
To make matters easier for you – as I know you are extremely busy these days – I've prepared a draft Innovation Manifesto which you are free to copy, modify, print, sign and display in your firm.
The [Company Name] Innovation Manifesto
In view of the fast changing marketplace, continuous introductions of new technologies and our competitors' relentless growth, our company declares that innovation shall rule our products, operations and actions.
Top management shall embrace, encourage and nurture innovation at all times. Every decision they make will take into consideration how that decision shall affect the innovativeness of the organisation.
Top management themselves shall adopt more creative behaviour – via training if need be – and demonstrate their creativity to employees, clients and shareholders.
The company shall communicate in every possible way the importance of innovation, the innovations we have performed and our future innovation goals. Such communications shall be both internal and external and target employees, customers, shareholders and the general public.
We shall establish a reasonable budget for implementing radically innovative ideas. The return on investment of implementation of those ideas shall take into consideration not only income, but also learning value. There will be no consequences for implementations which are not financially successful.
Managers shall ensure that each and every member of their team has time to be creative and understands that being creative – which leads to innovation – is a critical component of her job responsibilities.
Realising that innovation is our future, we shall all learn to greet new ideas with open arms and consider the innovative potential of those ideas. Rather than criticise ideas, as we have done in the past, we shall challenge those who propose ideas to improve their ideas and make them more innovative. (see There's No Such Thing as a Bad Idea in Report 103; 17 January 2006 issue: http://www.creativejeffrey.com/report103/archive.php?issue_no=20060117)
Creative thinking skills shall become a priority in our internal training programmes.
Employees shall be rewarded for their innovative ideas – even if those ideas are not implemented or are not profitable.
No employee shall ever be reprimanded for sharing an idea to others in the firm, even if the idea seems preposterous. We understand that one employee being scolded for sharing a silly idea can do irreparable damage to our firm's innovativeness.
We shall adopt an idea management process and system (see http://www.creativejeffrey.com/ideamanagement/index.php) in order to encourage, capture and evaluate innovative ideas from our employees.
Project teams shall be filled with a variety of people from various divisions in order to ensure breadth of creative thought and innovative solutions in all our projects.
We shall take great pride in our innovativeness and strive to improve it daily.
You probably already know what a SWOT analysis is: it's a review of an organisation's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. A SWOT analysis is basic marketing, yet an important exercise for steering your firm in the right direction.
An ISWOT analysis, as you have probably guessed, is an Innovative Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis. Likewise, it is an important exercise for your firm to undertake if you are serious about innovation. Indeed, I would suggest it is the second action your should perform after publishing your Innovation Manifesto (see article above).
An ISWOT analysis should not be based on management's assumptions alone. I have seen a few firms where top management trumpet the importance of innovation while staff lower down the corporate hierarchy complain that management is ignoring their ideas and that the firm is about as innovative as a turtle.
An ISWOT analysis should be made by surveying or talking to employees, customers and suppliers. It will be more effective if someone from outside the firm conducts the discussion as this will facilitate people opening up and being more honest. (Feel free to contact me about doing surveys for an ISWOT analysis.)
Let's look at each component of an ISWOT analysis.
Strengths are those areas of innovativeness in which your firm is strong. Strengths can include your firm's products being perceived as cutting edge; aspects of your operations being written up in business journals (for example, Toyota's “just in time manufacturing”); employees believing management is receptive to their ideas; an idea management or suggestion process that is actually being used; regular creativity training; skunkworks (a division that is free to explore innovative new ideas that may or may not be profitable); budget for high risk ideas; open communication across the firm; quick turnover of new products; and the like.
Weaknesses are, of course, the opposite of strengths. Weaknesses include a lack of the above strengths as well as other problems, such as a highly hierarchical structure, risk aversion, products that have hardly changed over many years, poor internal communications and long “sign-off chains” (when many people have to approve a decision before it can be implemented). People who are immediately critical of new ideas or reprimanding people who suggest crazy ideas are tremendous weaknesses.
Opportunities are ways to use your innovative strengths to your advantage. If you have a highly innovative research and development department, you should be able to use innovation process elsewhere in the firm in order to improve operational and marketing innovation. If you have strong communications in your firm, implementing an idea management solution will be much easier and more effective than if you have poor communications. Likewise, holes in the market are great innovation opportunities (“In what ways might we modify our product to fill that hole?”). If you have an idea management system, you can give everyone in the firm the opportunity to innovate. Providing a budget for high risk new ideas, or providing staff with time to innovate create powerful opportunities to develop innovative products and services.
Threats are areas where innovative weaknesses could endanger your firm. If your competitors are are introducing new products faster than you can, they could easily take market-share from you. If your firm has a culture of discouraging new ideas, then employees will not share new ideas with you. Indeed, they might leave you for the competition or, worse, leave you to start their own firm and become the competition. If you have a long sign-off chain, then good ideas quickly become eroded to become mediocre ideas. And so on.
An ISWOT Analysis will help you understand what your innovative strengths are, how you can build them up further, help you identify weaknesses and the threats they pose.
So, what are you waiting for? It's time to get started on your ISWOT Analysis today! Feel free to e-mail me if you want advice on how to get started.
In past issues of Report 103, I have written about people's natural inclination to be critical of new ideas. When a colleague at work suggests a radical new idea, most of us are naturally critical of the idea: “it will never work,” “We don't have the budget,” “You'd never get the CEO to approve that,” or the dreaded “That's not how we do things around here.”
Unfortunately, we tend to do the same thing to ourselves when we have an idea. Think about it. How often have you had a creative idea only to think a moment later about how much work it would be to implement; or that it would not quite work; or how hard it would be to sell the idea to your managers or customers – or husband or wife or parents, etc.
When this happens, we crumple up an idea and toss it into the rubbish bin of our mind. And the idea is soon forgotten.
That's too bad. Because if you give the idea more thought, you might find that it is indeed worth the effort to implement; or that with a few modifications it would work well; or how you could put together a prototype to demonstrate and sell the idea to your managers.
At other times, a film, a remark by a client, a piece of music or a child's actions might inspire a totally unrelated idea. But, because the idea is not in context with what you are doing, the idea is quickly forgotten. For example, you talk to a supplier about a delivery problem. Something the supplier says gives you an idea about improving your accounting procedures. However, because you are dealing with the delivery problem with your supplier, you return to your discussion and promptly forget the accounting idea.
This probably happens more often than you realise. Creativity is really about bringing together different old concepts in new ways in order to create new concepts. Thus, as you perform various activities throughout the day, as you watch others and listen to others, you cannot help to get input which can inspire new ideas.
Thus it is important to do three things:
Do not reject ideas out of hand. No matter how busy you are or how irrelevant an idea may seem, do not reject it.
Keep a notebook with you at all times and write down ideas whenever you have them. This will ensure that ideas are saved for future reference. Regular readers of Report 103 will know I believe that carrying a notebook and noting your ideas in it is the single most powerful way of improving your creativity.
When you have time, pull out your notebook or pull the ideas out of your head – the very act of writing ideas in a notebook will help you remember them better – look at the ideas you have saved and play with them. Think about how the ideas could be made better, think about how you could creatively sell the ideas to your managers, think about the benefits the idea might bring. If aspects of the idea worry you, ask yourself questions about how to deal with those aspects, such as “in what ways could I make implementing this idea easier?” or “how might I reduce the cost of implementing this idea?”
Once you get in the habit of remembering your ideas, writing them down and playing with them, it will seem you have become more creative, have more ideas and have better ideas. In fact, you will mostly just be remembering ideas you used to reject or forget.
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