Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Tuesday, 6 March 2007
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.
THE CREATIVE IDEA IMPLEMENTATION PLAN (VERSION 1.0)
There are a number of reasons why creative ideas fail to become innovations. Sometimes it is because the idea, which seems brilliant in concept, is flawed in application. More often, the problem is that organisations invest in creative ideation initiatives (often called “innovation initiatives”), such as brainstorming events, idea management, ideas campaigns and the like, but fail to invest in implementing the most creative ideas that come from those initiatives.
Indeed, you have probably experienced this typical scenario: a company invests in generating ideas via brainstorming events that involve a lot of highly paid managers and researchers. A number of promising creative ideas are generated. Sometimes business plans are developed. Sometimes prototypes are built. Sometimes not. But, at some point between the identification of a promising idea and beginning to implement that idea, the idea is killed.
There are many reasons why creative ideas are killed, however, almost all of them have to do with risk. Implementing a new idea is perceived as risky and people in the company do not wish to undertake that risk. So, the idea is killed. Needless-to-say, investing in a creative idea generation initiative in order to generate creative ideas you will never implement is an expensive method of accomplishing absolutely nothing.
Unwillingness to implement creative ideas is not only a weakness with companies, individuals have the same problem. Imagine a young person applying for a job with Levi Strauss & Co and having the idea to write her CV (résumé in US English) on a pair of Levis jeans and sending it to her perspective employer. Such a creative approach to applying for a job would almost certainly stand out and grab the attention of the hiring person. It could very well result in an interview – particularly if the company values creativity as Levi Strauss does. Or it could result in the CV imprinted jeans being promptly rubbished as ridiculous (note: I have no idea how Levi Strauss would react in this scenario). In my experience, most people who had such a creative idea would be unwilling to risk carrying it out.
Such a waste of creative time, energy and money does no one any good and makes the world a more boring place than it could be.
In order to help individuals and organisations more rationally plan the implementation of creative ideas, I have looked at why ideas are not implemented (at the organisational level and individual level) and have drawn up a Creative Idea Implementation Plan (CIIP). You can even download an Creative Idea Implementation Plan template and accompanying cash-flow template (see link at the end of the article).
Before you implement your idea, you need to describe it in detail. Separately, you should describe what makes the idea special, that is: what is the unique selling point (USP)? Once you have done this, ask yourself how you might push the USP even further in order to make your idea even more special.
Benefits and Risks
The next step is to do a simple risk versus benefits analysis. That may sound complex, but might simply be a matter of drawing up a table with a column labelled “benefits” and one called “risks”. Then simply lists the benefits and risks in their appropriate columns. If the risks are greater than the benefits, you need to rethink your idea and focus on greater benefits. Review your USP in particular.
A stumbling block is something that can stop, damage or destroy your implementation before it is complete. Early stumbling blocks, such as getting approval from a notoriously conservative committee, lack of budget or risk adverse managers can kill a creative idea at an early stage of its implementation. To prevent this from happening, you should list all of the possible stumbling blocks that exist between now and the successful implementation of your idea. Then look at each stumbling block and indicate how you will deal with it. Being prepared for stumbling blocks not only makes it easier to get past them, but also impresses the people who are responsible for the stumbling blocks. (And most stumbling blocks are caused by people!)
Speaking of people, make a list of people – as well as organisations and groups - who should be involved in your implementation. These may be colleagues who will buy into your idea, making it easier to sell to top management or they may be designers who will build a prototype to demonstrate your idea. A complex business idea often requires the involvement of numerous people.
Implementing the idea may include the necessity of gaining authorisations from one or more bodies. Authorisations may include approval from people in your company, licenses from government offices and certificats from professional bodies. If an idea is in a new area, it is best to research relevant government regulations – you may be in for a surprise. For example, here in Belgium, licenses and regulations that apply to a restaurant depend on whether or not it serves potatoes!
Calculate the costs of implementing your idea and what is the likely income. For most business ideas, you will probably want to prepare a cash-flow table to calculate the costs and income over time (you can download our template, see end of article). If you can demonstrate a cash-flow with minimal outlay and a large reward potential, you will find it significantly easier to convince people to buy into your idea.
With all but the simplest ideas, you should draw up a list of milestones that must be achieved along the way towards implementing your idea. For example, a new product idea might require a business case, a prototype, market research, product testing, etc. In addition, milestones can be good points for determining whether or not to continue with an idea; or for considering modifications to the idea.
Very often, when considering implementing a creative idea, committees will water down the idea and make it less risky. Unfortunately, removing risk from an idea is the same as removing creativity. A creative idea with its risk removed is often a mediocre idea. A better approach is to go ahead with a risky, creative idea, but to have an escape plan. For example: if the idea does not meet certain milestones within a determined time frame, you agree to stop it. If sales do not reach a specific target after one year, you stop it. And so on. Predetermining an escape plan mitigates risk and ensures you or your company will not continue to throw money at an idea that eventually proves unlikely to meet its potential.
A communication plan clarifies who should learn about the implementation, when they should learn about it and how. A communication plan may also indicate who should not know about the idea implementation, particularly at the early stages. For instance, if you are working on a breakthrough idea, you may want to keep it secret as long as possible to prevent your competitors from learning what you are doing. On the other hand, you might want to communicate about your highly innovative idea immediately in order to be recognised as the first moving innovator behind the new idea.
Even if you are implementing a personal idea, communicating it can help give you the confidence to see it through to completion. Moreover, discussing the idea with friends, family and colleagues may provide valuable input about how to make the idea more innovative.
The last step of the implementation plan is the step by step action plan. This will describe every step you take, how long each step will take and what should be achieved. It will incorporate much of the information above. Indeed, by compiling the information above first, you can better develop a cast iron action plan that increases the likeliness that your idea will be implemented effectively. And that is what turns a creative idea into an innovation.
A final note, CIIP is a new document – let's call it CIIP version 1.0. I would like to hear your feedback on how we can improve it and make CIIP version 2.0 an even more useful innovation tool.
To download the template for the creative idea implementation plan and the cash-flow tool, go to http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/ciip.php and scroll to the bottom of the page.
We are delighted to offer what I think is a really cool optional component for Jenni Idea Management Software Service: Mobile Jenni.
Mobile Jenni allows you to route part – or all – of your ideas campaigns through mobile telephones and other mobile devices. Mobile Jenni does this by providing an SMS text messaging option for various kinds of notification together with an optimised mobile interface for users accessing Jenni via mobile telephone, PDA or other mobile device.
Jenni, as clients and regular readers will know, uses the ideas campaign approach to idea management. An ideas campaign starts with an innovation challenge, such as “How might we improve product X?”, followed by a collaborative idea generation phase typically lasting 2-6 weeks, followed by an idea review phase for determining which ideas to implement, followed hopefully – see article above – by idea implementation.
When you set up an ideas campaign with Mobile Jenni, you can notify employees of the innovation challenge via e-mail and SMS messages, depending on each employee's preference. An employee with access to a computer can access Jenni's normal user friendly screen to read up on the innovation challenge, browse colleagues' ideas, build on those ideas and submit her own ideas. If an employee does not have a computer available, she may easily access the mobile interface – which is also extremely intuitive – by telephone or other device in order to browse, build upon and submit ideas.
Moreover, she can be notified by SMS message when colleagues build on her ideas, when ideas are submitted to an ideas campaign and when her idea goes through various review stages such as evaluation, SWOT analysis and testing.
In some geographical areas, we can even offer the possibility of submitting ideas by SMS text message – although this will cause users to miss out on opportunities to browse and build upon colleagues' ideas easily.
Mobile Jenni is particularly useful for businesses where many employees are not at desks with computers in front of them, such as business which run: factories, warehouses, retail outlets, service personnel who are on the road all day and sales people who are on the road all day.
Even in situations where users of your idea management system may not have a PC on their desks or Internet enabled mobile telephones, Mobile Jenni can facilitate their participation in collaborative idea management initiatives. For example, you can provide computer kiosks near the canteen, break areas, toilets and elsewhere. This way employees can be notified of ideas campaigns and the progress of their ideas by mobile telephone (and nearly everyone has a mobile telephone), but log into a kiosk to submit ideas and browse colleagues' ideas.
Mobile Jenni can also be used as an effective and unique marketing tool in which you can solicit ideas from customers – especially young customers (young people today seem to have amazing thumbs capable of typing text messages at remarkable speed, don't they?) - via their mobile telephones.
For more information about Mobile Jenni, contact us. If you are not ready to talk to anyone yet, you can find all kinds of information about Jenni at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/
BRAINSTORM THE BARRIERS
When we brainstorm – or run any kind of ideation event, such as an ideas campaign, innovation initiative and so on – we tend to formulate positive innovation challenges, such as “How might we make product X more appealing to young women?” or “In what ways might we reduce the cost of manufacturing our widgets?”
This can, of course, be very effective. However, another approach to take is to brainstorm the barriers, hurdles, walls and whatever else is preventing you from achieving your innovative goal.
Using the examples above, instead of asking: “How might we make product X more appealing to young women?” we might ask “For what reasons is product X not sufficiently appealing to young women?” or “What might be preventing young women from buying product X?” Instead of asking: “In what ways might we reduce the cost of manufacturing our widgets?”, we might ask “What is preventing us from reducing the cost of manufacturing our widgets?” or “For what reasons can we not manufacture our widgets at zero cost?”
The resulting ideas, of course, are not so much ideas as courses of action you can take to innovate. For example, brainstorming “What might be preventing young women from buying product X?” may bring results such as “it is too confusing to use”, “the advertising is too sexy and sexist”, “It smells bad when turned on.”
Each result presents a course of action that might make your product X more appealing to young women. And by looking at the barriers, you present yourself with opportunities.
Try it, you will be impressed with the results.
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!
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