Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Tuesday, 19 June 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.
INNOVATION VS. THE PROCESS OF INNOVATION
Some years ago, there was a woman who did cleaning and housework for us. She seemed especially keen on cleaning the tile floor in the kitchen and almost every day scrubbed it.
But one night, after a few weeks of this, I noticed that my feet were sticking to the floor as I walked around in the kitchen. Moreover, I realised that this had been going on for some time. So, I got out a mop, filled a bucket with water and floor cleaner and mopped. It quickly became obvious that the floor was filthy. I went through several buckets of water and periodically had to get down on my hands and knees to scrub away dried food – or worse – before I finished. And our kitchen was small.
It soon became clear that this curious woman was far keener on the process of cleaning the floor than on actually making the floor clean.
Unnecessarily Complex Processes
I see the same thing happening in a number of organisations. They are far keener on implementing a process of innovation than they are on innovating. Occasionally when prospective clients look at Jenni, they will be uninterested in her collaborative idea development tools, flexible evaluation tools or ease of use. But they will be fascinated by reporting tools and be disappointed that Jenni does not offer even more excessively detailed reporting tools.(On the other hand, research and development people tend to love Jenni because it doesn't bog them down in unnecessary process, rather it provides a simple to use, yet comprehensive tool set that allows them to start innovating right away, yet still provides reporting tools to keep senior management happy For more info, see http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/)
I have also looked at highly complex innovation processes implemented by some companies – often guided by high priced innovation consultants whose hourly rates ensure they get rich supporting their complex systems.
Unfortunately, while many such companies are very good at successfully implementing complex processes, they are not so good at successfully implementing innovative ideas. That's because, like the curious cleaning woman, they are far keener on the process of innovating than they are on actually innovating.
Why Is This the Case?
I believe the main reason many companies set up highly complex, yet usually ineffective, innovation management process is the MBA (master of business education) degree. MBA courses teach a highly analytical approach to business that is measurable in all kinds of ways. It involves testing every assumption and following proven models. And all of this works fine for many business processes. Marketers need to understand their customers, their customers' needs, the market and the competition in order to establish an effective marketing strategy. Financial people need to measure financial data in order to understand what's happening with the money and how to organise it effectively. After all, in a billion dollar turn-over company, an improvement of a half a percent on earnings equates to $5 million increased income.
But, innovation is not like other business processes. It is not as predictable as market trends or finances. It requires a lot more experimentation, trial and error and freedom to explore new ideas.
A company that requires employees go through a time consuming 24 step process in order to submit a single idea is ensuring a lot of employees will not submit ideas. An organisation that requires that employees immediately evaluate ideas according to rigid criteria sets ensure that employees will reject most of their ideas – particularly the most creative ideas. A firm that demands an in-depth report be submitted for every idea will turn people off submitting ideas as they won't want to have to deal with the associated additional administration.
Such companies may know: how long it takes to develop an idea, what time of day most ideas occur, how many people collaborated on each idea, the word count of the idea and the detailed feedback of the 17 committees which reviewed the idea. They will have in-depth reports on ideas, ideas campaigns and idea submitters. Every employee will be mapped to some kind of innovation assessment tool and every idea costed to the nearest penny.
What they will not have is innovative ideas. Their creative thinkers will much prefer being creative over participating in an innovation process which is more about administration than being creative. The committees will, as committees inevitably do, reject the most creative ideas as being too risky, water down the moderately creative ideas in order to reduce risk and approve the least creative ideas as they are least risky. And, in the rare event a creative idea does make it through the system, the resulting innovation takes so long to hit the market that it is no longer very innovative.
It should be noted that here I am looking at the business analytical process of innovation. There is another process that is critical to innovation. It can also be very time consuming and sometimes rather costly. It's called experimentation or trial and error. For instance, in inventing the motorised aeroplane the Wright brothers tested many hundreds of ideas. Indeed, they tried over 200 wing shapes in their make-shift wind tunnel in order to find the right shape for a steerable glider (which eventually led to the motorised aeroplane).
Indeed, most successful, innovative new products have a long history of mistakes, bad assumptions and failed ideas behind them. Moreover, such a process of trial and error is essential for big innovation.
But, the process of trial and error experimentation involves actually being creative and innovating, rather than filling in complex forms, compiling long reports and presenting lots of numbers to a committee.
That said, of course a certain amount of analytics and reporting regarding the innovation process is essential. But it should not get in the way of the actual innovation. Otherwise your process will be more successful than its goals!
I am delighted that this week's issue of Report 103 includes not one, but three quest writers who have authored two articles for you. I think that's terrific. Not only do you get quality articles from other experts in the creativity and innovation field, but my work is also made easier! More about the writers below.
If you would like to contribute an article to Report 103, please let me know. If the article has already been written, feel free to forward it to me for consideration. If you wish to write a new article, I suggest you e-mail me a summary before you begin writing.
- Articles must be..
- About creativity and innovation
- Publishable without special formatting or images (images can be included on the web version of this newsletter).
- Yours to distribute (ie. you have copyright or authorisation to reproduce)
Now here is the first of this week's guest writers...
by Randah Tahar
Creativity can be taught, nurtured, and enhanced. It does not belong solely to the artist among us, and is certainly not genetically limited to the gifted.
In a series of articles, posts and quick tips, I hope to expand the creative capacity of non profits and social enterprises and provide a new tool to help spark their inner ingenuity.
Live Brainstorming Sessions
Every organization uses it. Every manager, board member, director, volunteer, participant or member has played a part in it at least once a year. We are talking brainstorming sessions.
Personally, I have been in so many to the point that I get a headache afterwards from all the thinking about how to get out of them. Just think for a second how many sessions have you been into that you can consider effective.
Brainstorming is a powerful tool, if used correctly, it can enhance any decision a manager is ready to take. But just like any power tool, you must follow the instructions on how to put it together and use it, else you risk doing a bad job, or worse, harming yourself.
Take your mind back to the last brainstorming session you attended. What do
you think was good about it? What did it lack? Did you contribute to it? Get
something out of it?
In this article, I give you 10 guidelines to conduct a successful brainstorming session.
1. Come prepared. And invite others to do so too.
If you notify all the participants 2 days in advance of the purpose of your session, and ask them to come ready with one or two ideas, you will have a head-start. People won’t take those precious first awkward moments to set their inner moods.
2. Invite others to the party.
Yes the team members are the only ones concerned with the longer working hours, but if you invite people from other departments, some participants or board members, you might be surprised at what they can offer you. Maybe your colleague has access to technology that will cut in half the time you need to write your report, your participant has extra hours to volunteer with clean-up, or the director was so impressed that she decided to increase your budget to add another worker! Throw in some munchies and drinks to feed the tummies as you drain their brains.
3. Think and re-think the real issue.
Tackle the problem, not the symptoms. Re-writing that question or issue will open new lines of thought and increase the quality of the ideas. For example, if the session’s title is: “How can we involve board members in fund raising”, a new statement – such as “How can we make the board member involved in a particular program” – will add new dimensions to your ideas. Play with the statement for a while before settling on one to start the session.
In a previous workshop I conducted in creative thinking, the group stated that a problem they faced in their daily work was lack of mental stimulation. I asked them to state the question once, and then change the verb each time. Following are some of the results:
Q1: In what ways can we occupy our minds?
Q2: In what ways can we get more information and knowledge?
Q3: In what ways can we become more interested?
Q4: In what ways can we make our work more exciting?
Q5: In what ways can we engage ourselves?
Each question will require a different thinking mode, resulting in multiple-levelled solutions for the same problem.
4. Record as you go.
Don’t forget a single word. Assign a note taker to write everything in front of everyone – to enhance each others’ ideas – and give that person a chance to contribute as well.
5. Defer judgement.
Imagine a pearl diver, plunging in the middle of the sea only to collect one oyster, swim back to surface, straight to shore and open the oyster, only to find nothing. Then he must put on his suit again and paddle back for a second one.
You do the same thing when you stop at each idea to evaluate it.
In one of the sessions I attended, three out of five suggestions I proposed were rejected on the spot by the facilitator, “We don’t have enough money for that”, or “We cannot designate a worker for that”. Not only was I put off and in so refused to participate any more, the group lost the opportunity to enhance my ideas to better fit their needs. Other members didn’t propose any ideas out of fear of being rejected and the talk remained between the facilitator and director.
A brainstorming is just this: storming! In a real climate storm, you don’t stop running to assess the damage. You keep running until you reach a dead-end or your time runs up. But unlike a real weather condition, you have options in this room-temperature setting: you can re-state the problem to open a new stream of thoughts, or schedule another session to follow up.
Jot down everything! and then search for your treasure among those ideas.
6. Become a generator machine.
Never, NEVER, stop when you feel you have reached a suitable or good solution. You risk loosing a better one that might come in the next 4 minutes. Keep moving, with new fresh ideas or enhancing previous ones when you run out of juice. Radical and crazy ideas must not be confined in your brain cells. Get them all out on the table – and blackboard – as well.
At a non profit that ran a small video store, a crazy idea came in our brainstorming session on how to increase revenue: rent movies free of charge. Thankfully, that idea was not rejected, but worked with as is. The store decided to test it.
In a corner, a TV was set with lots of carpet space. It showed movies for free but sold popcorns, drinks, pizzas, and cushions. Soon sales took off and they learned something new. Now they rent the movies (for money) but provide a tested menu to order with every rented movie depending on its type (horror, comedy, drama) and it worked!
Set a timer (one hour) and continue to storm ideas.
7. Force large quotas.
Don’t stop because time ran out. Type the written ideas and send them to the team and others who didn’t attend the session. Ask each to add 2 more ideas to reach the 100 quota before moving to the next step of evaluating the ideas.
8. Elaborate and improve.
Connect two or more ideas to create a combined one, modify a plan by looking at it from different angles, the workers’, participants’, sponsors’, board members’, funders’, and other organizations’.
9. Enhance visuals.
On your flip chart you write the words that describe the proposed solution, but that is not your only option. Use sketches (my favorite is the stick man), drawings, color coding, arrows, triangles, stars and crooked lines to connect the thoughts. You will appreciate the masterpiece once you’re done. You might even consider framing it.
10. Threaten yourself.
Why not make everybody sit upright and tense by suggesting more government cuts? You can envision your problem from a different perspective by suggesting a reaction to a problem that increases the adrenaline in many non profits dramatically.
For example: instead of stating “In what ways may we improve our fund-raising efforts”, try asking “In what ways could the government shift their strategies that would really harm us”? or “How can we work so bad that we loose all the current funding”?. Here you list all the mishaps you can do – have fun imagining – in order to think of new venues, then implement the opposite ideas. You will get much more real – straight from the heart – ideas using this tool.
About the Author
Randah Taher is a project developer and trainer who worked in Montreal for 7 years before moving to Toronto where she currently resides. She works with learning, non profit organizations, and social enterprises, and is involved in projects concerning youth, education, and community revitalization. She consults and trains groups in creative thinking tools, innovative strategic management, restructuring and program development.
Randah is the founder and coordinator of “My Arabic Story”, a cultural hub with worldwide volunteers, telling folktales stories through storytelling, puppet shows, and other media. (www.myarabicstory.org). She is currently a graduate student at Buffalo State College getting her degree in Masters in Creative studies, while working as a freelancer consultant and trainer, and writes occasionally in “Contagious Creativity” http://contagiouscreativity.wordpress.com
THE WAY WE HANDLE IDEAS IS CRITICAL
by Chuck Yorke & Jim Garrick
Excerpt from their book: “Yes Innovation, Everyday Improvement Everyday
by Infinity press.
It sure seems that a vast majority of the ideas for improvement that usually come in from staff members are unworkable. We perceive that some are just downright terrible ideas, although once in a while we find gems that may make up for all the bad ideas.
We believe that this is just part of the process and that it finally leads to those winning ideas and a culture in an organization where the staff are highly motivated and feel very much a part and parcel of what the business is achieving.
Sadly, this isn’t true and it causes many leaders to give up too early when it comes to any program that is designed to motivate staff into making regular contributions of ideas for improvement.
Why is it then that we all readily accept the fact that any prospector who wants to be successful has to sift through a lot of dirt and grime to find the gold but expect only pure ore from our people, the first time around, in idea generation? Actually why do we expect idea generation to be any different from other aspects of life? Even the R&D departments of many Fortune 500 companies will usually handle many duds before they finally find a winner.
As a matter of fact, how you treat the ideas that you receive from your employees will usually have a major impact on the rate and quality of ideas you will continue to receive in the future. We feel that one great idea alone can pay all the R&D costs for the last 20 years and the next 20, and transform your organization to unimaginable levels of success. A single idea can have a massive impact.
Our focus however should not be on those one-in-a-million ideas. To engage our people we need to focus on small ideas that make each person’s work easier and more interesting. Once we tap that creativity, small incremental improvements will motivate each individual and one day someone may have one of those great, huge, game changing ideas. Just don’t bet on it. That big idea can’t be our focus, the small ideas that allow people to participate in improving their work is what moves organizations forward.
About the Authors
Chuck Yorke assists companies in engaging their people to more the business forward. He is co-author of ?All You Gotta Do Is Ask,? a book which explains how to promote large numbers of ideas from employees.Chuck may be reached at http://www.peoplekaizen.com
Jim Garrick is an Industry Consultant with FedEx Services. Mr. Garrick is a Lean process improvement professional with over twenty years of consumer packaged goods, HVAC, automotive, and consulting experience. .
We are offering a new leasing model for Jenni idea management: Jenni Leasing. You get all the benefits of our traditional, comprehensive, full service package combined with the emotional security that your ideas are sitting on your firm's own server.
We normally 'sell' Jenni as a Software as a Service (SaaS) or as we sometimes like to say: Software as a FULL Service (SaaFS). This includes installing Jenni on a highly secure server maintained in the most secure server farm available and providing you and your colleagues with secure 24/7 access to your Jenni via the Internet. In addition, you get lightening fast, friendly and professional support when you need it (but you won't need it very much with Jenni) and even innovation coaching by telephone and e-mail at no additional cost (indeed, just last month I personally advised a top global snack food manufacturer on how to frame four innovation challenges which formed the basis of four successful ideas campaigns on Jenni – all as part of our SaaS package). In addition, you get maintenance and upgrades. All of this is included in the basic subscription fee for Jenni (if you are curious, you will find our fees on http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/pricing.php – we aren't ashamed of our prices!)
In spite of this full service, high security package, some clients are simply not happy about having their data secured on a server not controlled by their IT department (ironically, some clients particularly like the fact that Jenni and their data is stored on a server not controlled by their IT department!).
Sometimes, businesses have rules about data remaining on corporate servers. Sometimes people are just uncomfortable with the idea of their data on a server controlled by us. On a couple of occasions, prospective clients have even asked us: “What is to prevent you from looking at our innovative ideas and selling them to our competitors?” The obvious answer to that question is that that it would be professional suicide to do so. From a legal perspective, our contact with each client includes guarantees regarding intellectual property.
Nevertheless, as much as we favour SaaFS as a means of ensuring our clients' innovation programmes are a success, we appreciate some clients need their data to reside on their server. Hence we have developed what we call Jenni Leasing or Software as a Leased Service (SaaLS if you like acronyms). In this case, we install Jenni on your server using a secure remote connection. We maintain Jenni and install upgrades on your server regularly. In addition, we provide the support and innovation coaching services our clients love, all in a fixed price package based on the number of users of your implementation of Jenni.
The result is very nearly the service level we provide clients of our traditional SaaS implementations of Jenni combined with the emotional security of knowing all your data is stored in your IT facilities. The only limitation is that we are reliant upon your IT staff to provide some support and upgrade services on the server itself. And, of course, we cannot be responsible for problems that may result from your server being down, non-Jenni maintenance and other issues.
You can find more information about Jenni Leasing at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/lsaas.php ; Leasing pricing at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/pricing.php ; and Jenni idea management software service in general at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/index.php
After many months of inactivity, we have kick-started the Imagination Club and it is active once again.
The Imagination Club is an e-mail forum for playing with ideas, responding to creative challenges and talking about creativity and innovation. Members are from all over the world and are a truly fascinating group. A recent round of introductions humbled me!
To join the imagination club, just go to http://www.creativejeffrey.com/imagination/ and enter your name in the field.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Have got an opinion about any of the articles you have read in Report 103? Do you simply want to talk innovation? If so, please e-mail me! I have meet a number of fascinating people and have even made a few good friends as the result of correspondence with readers like you. Contact me here..
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 Baumgartner and is published on the first and third Tuesday of every month.
You may forward this copy of Report 103 to anyone, provided you forward it in its entirety and do not edit it in any way. If you wish to reprint only a part of Report 103, please contact Jeffrey Baumgartner.
Contributions and press releases are welcome. Please contact Jeffrey in the first instance.