Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Tuesday, 18 July 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.
CORPORATE IMAGINATION EXERCISES
Innovation is the implementation of creative ideas. Creative ideas are the output of imagination. Just about every CEO these days insists that innovation is critical to her firm's future. Curiously, precious few talk about the importance of imagination. But, without imagination, you will not foster innovation. The result is rather like a car maker attempting to make cars without thinking about the engines.
What this means is that if you want to make the most of the innovation potential of your employees, you need to encourage and promote the use of imagination. This includes institutionalising imagination so that it becomes a core corporate competence. It includes having the CEO talk about the importance of imagination to her employees and to her firm. It includes exercising imagination so each employee can use hers at a moment's notice. After all, unexercised imagination gets flabby and slow.
Here are some activities that not only exercise the imagination, but sometimes result in innovative ideas and new ways of thinking about key corporate issues.
“Role play” is a grown-up term for the games of pretend that we used to play as children. Role play is about two or more people taking on defined roles and playing out a little drama. For example, you can role play the act of selling a service to a difficult client. Have someone from the sales department play the difficult client (sales people will have experience with such people and will be able to play them realistically) have another person from any department other than sales play the role of the sales person. Have the two people play out a sales meeting. Tell them to let loose and push their characters. Have others watch the role play and invite them to shout suggestions to the players. Discuss the results afterwards.
You can role play customer complaints, negotiating with suppliers, dealing with specific problems and much more. You can even move away from scenarios based around your business and role-play other activities, such as job interviews, negotiations (which do not involve company activities), handling emotions and much more.
Role plays are terrific methods of exercising imagination because they force role players to pretend to be people different to themselves, think differently than they usually do and respond to imaginary issues. Indeed, it is important to have participants play roles dissimilar to their actual characters and positions in the company.
As an added benefit, when you role play business related scenarios, you also help train your employees to better understand your business, their colleagues, your clients and how to perform tasks more effectively. Indeed, if you are not using role play in your training, you should.
What would happen if your head office was blown up in a terrorist explosion? How might you ensure your business survived? What new legislation might destroy your business? How might you work around such legislation? What is the worst thing your competition could do to you? How might you react? What technical developments might make your product obsolete overnight (use your imagination, don't be afraid to think about developments such as time travel, teleportation, mind reading, etc.)? What might you do if one or more of those developments took place tomorrow?
Brainstorming extreme scenarios such as these and then brainstorming possible solutions to the scenarios is a great way of stretching your imagination. For example a facilitator working with an airline asks employees the question: “what technological developments could make our business obsolete overnight?” A little brainstorming might discover threats such as teleportation, super high-speed rail travel, cheap solar powered rocket cars and so on.
The facilitator then divides the group into small teams. Each team could take one scenario and come up with solutions. Encourage them to forget any perceived limitations and push their imaginations. After a few hours or days (depending on your time frame for this exercise), have the teams meet up, share and discuss their solutions.
Because extreme scenarios involve drastic, yet unlikely events, they stretch the imagination. Envisioning such events and dreaming up methods of coping with them pushes the imagination yet further.
Yet, as unlikely as extreme scenarios usually are, thinking about their consequences sometimes results in powerful ideas that can be implemented – to your benefit – without the extreme scenario actually occurring in real life. And you never know. Before 11 September 2001, the idea of terrorists crashing aeroplanes into the World Trade Centre would have been perceived as an extreme scenario – and an unlikely one at that.
Long Term Envisioning
Try to imagine what your company will be like in 50 years. 100 years. 200 years. Draw up a plan of what you will be doing, what the market will be like and how you got there. Better still, divide a large group into several teams of about five participants each. Have each team draw up a vision plan for the year 2106. Then bring everyone together and present the plans. Share and compare.
Getting beyond the usual one year, five year or even ten year business plan, puts you into the unknowable future. Without clear facts to guide you, you are left to your imagination to create a vision of that far future.
Nevertheless, some of the ideas you dream up for the next century may suggest realistic goals for the near future. Yet again, this is an imagination exercise that sometimes provides potential practical benefits.
100 Uses for Your Product / 100 New Services
A classic creativity exercise is to find 100 uses for a brick, a bucket of water, a bathtub or any other commonplace object. Such exercises stretch your imagination. So, why not try the same, but using one of your products as the focus of the challenge? Get a group together and brainstorm 100 uses for the product.
If you are a service company, that may not be possible. Instead, brainstorm 100 new services you could offer using your existing resources.
This exercise not only stretches the imagination, but focuses it on a key component of your business and so can result in practical ideas which can readily be implemented. It's rather like bicycling 10 km to the shops and back. Not only do you get exercise, but you get the shopping done as well.
Of course, imagination exercises take up valuable time and do not always bring in immediately usable results. But, just as an athlete must exercise regularly to stay in shape and perform to the best of her abilities, so too must your corporate imagination get regular exercise in order that your employees innovate to the best of their abilities.
If you would like help organising imagination exercises in your firm, give me a call or send me an e-mail to discuss what we can do to get your people thinking even better than they do now. In addition, Jenni idea management readily facilitates many of the above exercises and allows everyone in your firm - wherever they may be located – to participate.
WHEN YOU NEED TO BE CREATIVE FAST
For most of us, it is not difficult to come up with creative ideas if we have some time to think about the problem and generate ideas. As I have remarked before, creative thinkers are not people who periodically have brilliantly creative ideas. Rather, they are people who have lots of ideas all the time. Some of those ideas are brilliant, many are fair and a few are daft. If you have time to think about a problem, you have time to generate ideas and time to choose which are most likely to be brilliant.
Sometimes, however, there is no time to think. You need to be creative on your feet now. In a job interview, you may be given a challenge in which you need to respond quickly. A client's question, a complaint, sales negotiations, supplier problems and many other events may depend that you think quickly on your feet and devise solutions immediately. In many cases, a creative solution can make the difference between getting the job or client – and losing the job or client.
In such scenarios, naturally creative people have the advantage. They are always generating ideas and will be able to generate ideas to respond to the challenge or problem. Moreover, they are more likely to come up with outrageous ideas that are usually the best solutions when you need to be creative fast. I'll explain why later.
For people who like more time to think a problem through, who prefer to use creativity tools to help generate ideas or who want to evaluate ideas before proposing them, such scenarios are difficult. It's painful when you know you are creative, but cannot respond with a creative solution quickly.
The first step is to pose the problem as a creative or innovation challenge (for more on innovation challenges, see Dr. Van Gundy's article “The care and framing of strategic innovation challenges” http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/VanGundyFrameInnov.pdf - PDF document 537kb). Sadly, when you have to be creative fast, there is little time to really think out a creative challenge. On the other hand, the question a prospective employer or client asks you is often a form of creative challenge, although it may be necessary to reword it in your mind. That said, the challenge a prospective employer or client asks may not be the best reflection of what really they want to know.
For example, a job interviewer asks: “sales of product X have been declining in recent years – especially to our target market of 18-30 year old single women. What new features would you add to make our product more attractive to them?” That is not her real problem.
Indeed, the best response might well be: “I believe the problem is that your product has too many features and, as a result, is difficult to use. I would actually look at its core functionality, focus on those features and remove everything else,” or “I would look at ways of making those features more intuitive to use,” or “My mother and her friends love product X. I believe you are targeting the wrong audience. I would focus on 35-60 year old women.”
In this case, the real challenge should have been stated as: “What actions might we take to improve the sales of product X?”
What this means is that if you are being given a problem or asked a question, you must not only listen to the question, but also determine what the true needs of the questioner are, and formulate your challenge around that – quickly.
The next step is to generate some ideas in your mind – and do not grab the first idea that formulates there. Rather generate a few ideas, so you have something to choose from. Your first response is not likely to be a particularly creative one. But your fifth or tenth or twentieth response probably will be creative. And as in any idea generation situation, generate ideas freely at first – then analyse them to determine which are likely to work best.
If you are in a job interview situation where you are being judged by your creative thinking and problem solving skills, it is a good exercise to vocalise your thinking, from the formulation of the challenge to to idea generation to the selection of the best idea or ideas. The job interviewer is not really interested in the idea you generate. Rather she is interested in the way you generate ideas and respond to problems.
In sales situation or other business situation, on the other hand, you are probably – but not necessarily - being judged by the idea. Here it is better to do the idea generation in your head and respond with an idea or two or three together with your reasoning behind the idea. The more creative or outrageous the idea, the more you will need the rationalisation to defend it.
In fact, if you are in a situation where you need to be creative fast, it is usually best to propose the most outrageous idea that comes to mind. There are several reasons for this.
In most scenarios, the idea you propose will not be implemented immediately. A very creative, far out idea will impress people more than a mundane idea. If a client asks how your service could solve a problem, a wild and creative response will impress her. But she will probably not implement your suggestion immediately. There will be time to review the idea and determine how to implement it practically.
If the idea will be implemented quickly, it will almost inevitably go through some kind of evaluation process – perhaps a quick ad hoc process, such as asking questions about the practical side of the implementation. Review processes, especially quick ad hoc ones, are notorious for 'normalising' radical ideas. And that means reducing the outrageousness and creativity of the original idea. If an idea is very creative, it can afford to lose more creativeness than can a moderately creative idea.
Outrageous, highly creative ideas are inspirational and are good talking points. They encourage others involved in the problem solving to stretch their creativity and be more outrageous. As a result, even if the outrageous idea you propose is not the final solution, it will very likely inspire the final solution.
Nevertheless, when you are forced to be creative fast, it is wise to leave yourself an opening: “On the spot, I believe the best solution is not to replace your mechanical widget with an electronic widget. Rather, I believe you should redesign the entire assembly process around a just-in-time model. But, if you give me 24 hours, I expect I can offer a better, more detailed solution for you. I'll be in touch.”
As noted in the previous article, having a good imagination helps you generate ideas quickly and imagination exercises help prepare you and your colleagues to think better when they have to think fast. So, do your imagination exercises – regularly!
INTERESTING AND INSPIRING
The Accidental Innovator
A lot of great inventions, such as penicillin and vulcanised rubber (used to make car tyres) are the results of accidents. “The Accidental Innovator” on the Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge Web Site is an informative and interesting article on the roles accidents play in innovation. Intriguingly, the article goes into the notion of causing 'good' accidents in hopes that they will inspire innovation. The article is at http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5441.html and is worth thinking about when considering your own corporate innovation process. While the article looks at innovation in research and art, accidents can also inspire creative solutions in process improvements as well.
What Kind of Genius Are You?
Economist David Galenson has recently published an interesting theory which divides highly creative people into two broad groups...
“'Conceptual innovators,' ...make bold, dramatic leaps in their disciplines. They do their breakthrough work when they are young. Think Edvard Munch, Herman Melville, and Orson Welles. They make the rest of us feel like also-rans.”
“experimental innovators,” include geniuses like “Auguste Rodin, Mark Twain, and Alfred Hitchcock who proceed by a lifetime of trial and error and thus do their important work much later in their careers.”
Interestingly, Dr. Galenson shows how many conceptual innovators burn out at an early age – and are forever remembered for their early work. Experimental innovators, on the other hand, build a steady stream of innovative work throughout their lifetimes and often get better with age.
If you've ever felt jealous of people like Mozart or Picasso who created masterpieces long before they turned 30, you will find the Dr. Galenson's theory particularly comforting.
Read more at: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.07/genius.html.
The Wired 40
The Wired 40 is Wired magazine's take on the 40 most innovative companies in 2006. Look at their choices. Do you agree?
DANGERS OF WALKING FOR IDEAS
Regular readers of this eJournal will know that I highly recommend going for a walk if you are looking for ideas, seeking creative inspiration or trying to work out a problem. Moreover, you should be sure to bring a notebook – or at least some paper – and a pen to record any ideas that come to mind. Indeed, I learned this weekend that Ludwig van Beethoven also went for long walks, bringing a notebook with him to record his ideas.
However, one evening a few weeks ago, after a long day at the computer and bursting with excessive energy that needed burning off, I charged out of the house and aimed for a picaresque walk through some nearby fields. Within 200 metres of my home, I was already deep in thought on a particular issue and walked nose-first into a sign post.
I shall spare you the gory details, but it transpired that I broke my nose! This was deeply humiliating – particularly as I had to run a Thinking Outlould (http://www.creativejeffrey.com/tol/) session with a swollen nose and puffy eyes the following day.
In no time, I was out taking walks again. After all, they are critical for my well being and solving problems of all kinds. However, I have learned to watch where I am going!
Hence, it is worth bearing in mind that when a problem fills your mind, you are unlikely to perform other tasks as well as you might. The solution? Go for a walk, work out some solutions, write them down in the notebook you carry with you and, for goodness sakes, watch out for signposts!
LATEST IN BUSINESS INNOVATION
If you want to keep up with the latest news in business innovation, I recommend Chuck Frey's INNOVATIONweek (http://www.innovationtools.com/News/subscribe.asp). It's the only e-newsletter that keeps you up-to-date on all of the latest innovation news, research, trends, case histories of leading companies and more. And it's the perfect complement to Report 103!
HOW WELL DOES YOUR FIRM INNOVATE?
If you are reading Report 103, you clearly have an interest in innovation and most likely your firm has already made clear steps towards becoming more innovative – indeed, you may already have a successful innovation plan in place.
Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement. Perhaps we can help. From Jenni idea management, to a team of creative thinkers who can devise and organise activities to boost your corporate creativity, imagination and innovation we can provide a wide range of services.
Call or e-mail me to discuss what we can do for you and your firm. Or visit www.jpb.com for more information about our services.
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