Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Tuesday, 19 September 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.
CREATIVITY, THE BRAIN AND YOU
Creativity seems to be hard-wired into the brain. Or as Drs. Kenneth M. Heilman, Stephen E. Nadeau, and David O. Beversdorf, put it in their article, "Creative Innovation: Possible Brain Mechanisms" (PDF document; 144KB) which appeared in Neurocase in 2003: highly creative individuals "may be endowed with brains that are capable of storing extensive specialized knowledge in their temporoparietal cortex, be capable of frontal mediated divergent thinking, and have a special ability to modulate the frontal lobe-locus coeruleus (norepinephrine) system, such that during creative innovation cerebral levels of norepinephrine diminish, leading to the discovery of novel orderly relationships." The authors further state: "...creative innovation might require the coactivation and communication between regions of the brain that ordinarily are not strongly connected."
In other words, creative thinkers store knowledge and use knowledge differently than non-creative thinkers. And while it may be possible to increase creative ability in children, it is very difficult, if not impossible to increase creative ability in adults.
Importantly, this does not mean that people are either creative or not creative. Nor does it mean that people cannot learn to be more creative. It simply means that highly creative people like you and I have slightly different brains than normally creative people
This has several important implications for managers.
1. Teaching creativity has severe limitations
Assuming the above findings are correct, you cannot teach people to be substantially more creative than they already are. Their brains are not readily capable of becoming substantially more creative. Moreover, in our experience, if you push people to be more creative than they are comfortable being, you are likely to make them uncomfortable and that is actually detrimental to their work performance. That said, certain forms of brain damage have been shown to result in increased artistic creativity – so you could experiment with the deliberate damaging of your employees' brains in hopes of creating a more creative workforce. However, this is not to be recommended for all kinds of legal and ethical reasons!
However, the creative deficiency in most organisation is not a result of insufficiently creative employees, rather it is the result of organisations not taking advantage of their employees' creativity. Worse, many firms actively seem to discourage creativity. Not providing a means of sharing ideas, being critical of ideas, not rewarding ideas and reprimanding employees who suggest seemingly bad ideas are all examples of effectively discouraging creativity.
Even firms that actively encourage creativity neglect to provide one highly important facility for creative thinking: time. Without time to think, even creative geniuses will be limited in their ability to develop innovative ideas.
Moreover, most employees have, over the years, become conditioned to performing in a non-creative manner. They are taught to follow procedures rather than question procedures. They have been taught to follow step-by-step processes rather than find alternative steps to take. They have been taught to perform tasks according to the procedures rather than the results. Hence, there is substantial room for training employees to shed their conditioning and let loose their creativity; effectively enabling employees to become more creative at work.
I recently performed an experimental workshop that attempted to encourage participants to regress to childhood thinking and build things with building blocks and Legos. The results were very interesting although far from conclusive. Nevertheless, participants were clearly able to shed their conditioning temporarily in order to play with toys in a creative way.
In addition, managers can be taught to encourage and promote creative thinking from their teams. This is something we at jpb.com focus on in our “Creativity and Innovation for Managers” internal workshops (http://www.creativejeffrey.com/services/index.php).
2. Creative Thinkers Are Divergent Thinkers
Creative thinkers are not quiet, obedient workers who follow procedures unquestioningly and always nod in agreement to their superiors. Quite the opposite. Creative thinking is literally divergent thinking and so creative thinkers are divergent thinkers. Creative thinkers question processes and procedures in order to better understand the underlying structures. Creative thinkers may openly disagree with company policies. By constantly suggesting new ideas, new ways of doing things and changes to the existing procedures, they often give the impression of criticising business as usual. And, indeed, they might do just that sometimes.
Creative thinkers are bored by monotony and are constantly looking for new ways to do things. They often brake rules and may be perceived by their colleagues as being eccentric, if not downright weird. Imagine Albert Einstein in his first real job as a clerk in the Swiss Patent Office.
As a result, highly creative people can be difficult employees. They may be discipline problems, they may set bad examples to their colleagues, they may disrupt the office and more. At minimum, they will diverge from the norm. At maximum, they will be headache inducing.
3. Creative people are prone to mental illness
The article also looked at associations between depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety problems, alcoholism and substance abuse and found apparent neurological links. Certainly, evidence has long suggested that creative people are prone to mental disorders.
As an employer, this means that not only are highly creative employees divergent and sometimes difficult to handle, they are also more likely to suffer from mental problems that can impair their ability to work and be creative for your firm.
The highly creative employee's colleagues can also become confused by someone who one day is highly charged, enthusiastic and full of ideas and the next day is so depressed she finds it hard to say “good morning” to her co-workers.
Dealing with alcoholics and drug addicts is a highly complex issue I will not go into here.
What does this mean for managers like you?
Rather than try and train employees to be more creative, you need to modify corporate culture to be more nurturing of your employees' existing creativity. You also need to give creative thinkers the freedom and time to be creative. Lastly, training should focus on shedding anti-creative conditioning rather than increasing creativity.
Accept that some people are not creative and prefer not to be creative while others cannot help but be creative, it is wired into their brains. Nevertheless, such people can support each other. The highly structured, detail oriented employee can be the perfect complement to the highly creative and chaotic big picture thinker. Building teams that mix creative ability and other abilities and skills can maximise the creative value you get from your most creative people.
Be aware that highly creative people may pose problems in your organisation and look for ways that give creative people freedom to be divergent while minimising disruption to less creative, more methodical workers.
The result will be a more creative and innovative organisation.
THE CREATIVE BRAIN OF THE CREATIVE ORGANISATION
The article ("Creative Innovation: Possible Brain Mechanisms"; PDF document; 144KB) above described highly creative people as having brains "that are capable of storing extensive specialized knowledge in their temporoparietal cortex [and are] capable of frontal mediated divergent thinking...”
This is exactly the creative structure that exist within innovative companies: a population of employees with extensive specialised knowledge of numerous subjects, a means of allowing employees to tap into each others' knowledge and the ability to take various people's knowledge and combine it in divergent ways in order to develop creative (ie. divergent) ideas.
Of course every organisation has a population of employees with extensive specialised knowledge on a variety of subjects – with the possible exception of those firms hiring only zombies. Where firms are weak is in facilitating the sharing of knowledge in order to combine concepts and build divergent ideas. Many companies provide neither the facilities to share ideas nor the encouragement to explore ideas developed through sharing.
Both are critical. In order to take advantage of the cumulative knowledge and creativity of your employees, you need to facilitate their collaborative idea development. This can be done through brainstorming and other group ideation events, ideas campaigns that allow open collaboration and simply encouraging employees to share ideas with each other. Providing numerous places for employees to sit and discuss ideas greatly facilitates the sharing of ideas.
Secondly, when employees develop ideas, you need to provide positive motivation such as complimenting ideas, discussing ideas, challenging idea submitters on how to overcome weaknesses in their ideas and, of course, implementing ideas.
Believe it or not, I have seen a number of companies which provide tools for sharing and developing ideas, but where senior management proceeds to ignore the ideas developed by their employees. Not surprisingly, employees soon learn to keep ideas to themselves. Surprisingly, such managers often wonder why their innovation programmes don't work.
It is important to note that in the creative organisation, the importance is not so much on the individual creativity of each employee. Rather, the critical aspect is in facilitating the communication of ideas between employees. A dozen moderately creative employees given the opportunity and encouragement to develop ideas can be far more creative than a couple of highly creative people who receive neither opportunity nor encouragement.
OPEN VERSUS CLOSED INNOVATION
Traditionally, corporate innovation has been part of a closed system. Employees within the organisation have and develop ideas. Ideas with the best prospects are developed internally and usually in great secrecy. Patents are applied for, ideas are implemented and new products and services result.
Closed innovation systems and secrecy are understandable. Out-innovating the competition is one of the most effective methods of keeping ahead of the competition.
However, the Internet, e-business, improved communications and dot-com craziness have resulted in effective open innovation systems which involve: getting all of your business partners involved in your innovation, sharing ideas openly and even announcing new ideas on your web site, e-mail newsletters and anywhere else.
The most extreme form of open innovation is the open source movement that is responsible for software such as Linux, PHP, MySQL, Mozilla web browser and others. Open source software is developed by large groups of dispersed people with no professional relationship with each and only a desire to work together to create great software. However, most open source projects are non-profit actions of enthusiasts, rather than profit making companies. MySQL AB, the Swedish company that has developed the MySQL open source database is, however, an exception.
Nevertheless, a number of companies have followed the middle road of open innovation. We are one of them.
Our policy at jpb.com has always been to invite creative ideas from business partners, clients, prospective clients, friends and the open public. We often publish new ideas on our website, in this eJournal and in other fora in order to get public feedback on our ideas.
We have made mistakes, of course. But, because we are open, we have discovered our mistakes quickly and have taken action on them quickly. We have had good ideas taken by our competitors and used as their own. But that only confirms which ideas are good – and that we are innovators in our field.
The result is, in spite of being a tiny company based in a small village in Belgium, we have a world-wide reputation for knowing a thing or two about organisational innovation and as being a provider of a leading idea management software service. Had we followed a closed innovation strategy, you would not be reading this eJournal and we would have a much smaller market. Hence, for small organisations like ours, taking an open innovation route can be a very effective approach – even if it does cost us the loss of the occasional good idea.
However, it is not merely small firms that have chosen the path of open innovation. P&G, a global manufacturer and marketer of consumer goods has recently embraced open innovation. P&G's “Connect and Develop” programme uses technology and networks to seek out new ideas for future products. The firm has set a goal of obtaining 50% of their innovation from outside the company. At present, about 35% of innovation comes from outside the firm.
Of course, P&G will not be as open as we are about new ideas. They will doubtless seek patents on every innovation and develop products in greater secrecy than do we. Nevertheless, P&G clearly sees that an open innovation system is for them a more effective innovation system than a closed one.
How about your firm? If you've been keeping innovation to yourself, perhaps it is time you opened up and involved your business partners and customers in your innovation.
SYLVIA WEB BRAINSTORMER UPGRADE
We've just finished upgrading Sylvia Web Brainstormer – now version 3.0. Unlike most software upgrades, however, the latest Sylvia has less code and fewer features than the previous version. After listening to feedback from users and watching how Sylvia was used, it became clear that, more than anything else, people wanted a very easy to use on-line brainstorming tool.
So we ripped out code, threw unnecessary features in the rubbish bin and have made Sylvia as easy to use as possible.
You can try out the new Sylvia fee at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/brainstormer/ and learn more about Sylvia at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/sylvia/. A Sylvia Web BrainStormer corporate version provides added privacy and security for a very low rental fee (rentals can be as short as one week or long term).
INSIDE LENOVO'S DESIGN QUEST
Business Week has run a fascinating article about how Lenovo – the Chinese firm that recently purchased IBM's PC manufacturing division – has had to innovate to compete effectively with the better known Dell and HP in China. China, of course, is a very different market than most western markets and even Chinese companies have a lot to learn.
Read more at...
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!
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 Baumgartnerand is published on the first and third Tuesday of every month.
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