Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Tuesday, 16 October 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.
WHERE'S THE MONEY?
Quick question: what is your innovation budget?
If your answer was, “we don't have an innovation budget, you might as well stop reading Report 103, forget about innovation and focus on doing business the way you have always done business. After all, if your firm does not allot any money to innovation, you are unlikely to get much accomplished in the way of innovation.
You might, of course, argue that although you do not have an innovation budget as such, innovation is covered in other budgets, such as research and development, operations or elsewhere.
That's better than nothing. But only a little. The truth is, if your firm is proclaiming the importance of innovation or if your firm is planning on prioritising innovation, the first thing you need to do is to give innovation a budget. In the corporate world, any action which does not have an allocated budget effectively does not exist.
Why You Need an Innovation Budget
There are a number of reasons why a budget should be your first innovation priority.
More than anything else, having a clearly defined innovation budget tells employees that the company is serious about innovation. The CEO can shout from the top of the Eiffel Tower that innovation is the firm's top priority. But until there is money for innovation, few people in the firm will take it seriously.
Once a budget exists, departmental managers will each want a piece of it – and the bigger the better. Of course the only way a manager will get a piece is by starting up an innovative project. Moreover, managers will strive to make those projects succeed so that they may claim more budget next year. Thus, managers will be putting more quality time into their innovative projects.
Any budget requires that users report on how the money is being used, what results have been achieved and what milestones are ahead. Again, this forces managers to put quality time and effort into their innovation projects.
An innovation budget should be available across the firm. Today, the closest most firms come to an innovation budget is their research and development (R&D) budget. That, however, is tied up with the R&D department. If the sales people want to try some innovative new lead generation techniques – there is usually no budget for it.
An innovation budget provides for an allowable and clearly defined amount of risk. And this is critical for innovation. As has been stressed in this journal many times before: implementing innovative ideas is risky. When they succeed, innovations can be hugely profitable. But, because the most innovative ideas are usually the most unlike your current business activities, they are more likely to fail than incremental improvements.
Consider a marketing director with a creative idea that could be a very powerful way of generating new business. But, because it is unproven might likewise not succeed and prove a waste of money. She is unlikely to want to allot marketing budget to that idea. She worries that if the idea does not work, her department will look bad, budget for less risky actions will be lost and the money wasted on the failed project may be difficult to reclaim in the next budget request. On the other hand, if she knows that she has a certain amount of innovation budget for new ideas, she can take innovative risks without risking her existing budget Nevertheless, as already explained, she will be motivated to try and make her innovative idea succeed.
Unless your firm is truly dedicated to innovation (as opposed to simply claiming you are dedicated to innovation as many firms do today), five percent of your available budget would make an excellent innovation budget. It would be sufficient to allow a number of innovative projects to take place, without threatening your firm's normal operations.
However, any budget you can get for innovation is better than none – even if it is only a few scant thousand Euro (dollars/pounds/etc). A small budget is a start and will at least encourage some small innovative thinking. And it may lead to a bigger budget in the future.
This article is based on a conversation between Jan-Erik Kristoffersen, an innovation trainer and facilitator, and myself. Jan-Erik runs Idesmia (http://www.idesmia.no/) which is the Norway sales and service provider for Jenni idea management web service.
I am pleased to include a new article by Stephen Sweid, who has previously contributed articles to Report 103. In this article, Stephen looks at using the mindmap as a strategic planning tool.
STRATEGIC PLANNING DEMYSTIFIED WITH THE MINDMAP.
I use the Mindmap technique as a starting point in almost every exercise I give during business training courses. Prior to group games, participants are usually asked to spend the first two to four minutes of every exercise generating and organizing ideas on their own, and plotting them on paper in a Mindmap structure. This approach is very stimulating, indeed when the course requires intense mental effort and creative thinking, such as the case with strategic planning. The Mindmap technique seems to act like a magic switch that instantly elevates the brain to higher levels of performance.
Newcomers to strategic planning find it sometimes difficult to visualize why and how the vision translates into goals or objectives, and how goals translate into strategies, and how strategies end up in action plans. People often confuse goals (where we are going) with strategies (how we get there), and do not comprehend how a strategy can be also considered as a goal when deriving action plans.
A number of approaches were tried in order to facilitate the notion of how a strategy can become a goal, one using the following example: You want to go to a location in the city that requires a taxi. Your goal is the location and the taxi represents the strategy (means) to get there. Now for a moment you forget about where you are going, and your main concern (objective) is to find a taxi in the street. While waiting a friend drives by in his car and sees you, and tells you he is going to the same location, but you decline to join him because you are busy waiting for a taxi, i.e. your main goal has become to find a taxi! Still, some people were not able to digest this abstract notion.
Things metamorphosed instantly when the Eureka moment struck: Why not start the mindmap with the "vision" placed in the core and work your way outwards, drawing the different goals to realize the vision, and then drawing the different strategies for each goal, and reaching finally in the outskirts the action plans to realize each strategy?
In short, in the center you have the vision (the dream), and the farther out you go you get to the real world with the action plans. Hence in the center you have the dream, and in the outskirts you see the many small tasks that you need to perform on the ground to realize your dream. More or less, you only need to consider the points in the circumference of the mindmap structure, which represent the clear actions to take.
To make it even plainer, a down-to-earth example can be used to apply the notion: Your vision is to "buy a house". You plug in the center "buy a house". Then you ask yourself: What things you need to be consider and realize to fulfill this dream: specifications, money, location, search, timing and so on. Each point branches out automatically into options, and each option breaks down finally in the periphery into things to do.
By applying the mindmap notion for the preparation of strategic plans only very few people kept questioning the logical progression from vision to action plan, and how a strategy can be also considered a goal from the point of view of the action plan. With the mindmap approach the relationship between the vision and action plans became very plain.
This experience is most probably not new, particularly when it comes to people who use mindmap software in their daily life for preparing business plans and the like. Still, the sharing of this experience might be interesting to people who do not yet see strategic planning from the Mindmap perspective. The usually feared strategic planning concept becomes more or less kid's play when using the mindmap.
Evidently the strategic planning process involves much more than the plain logical sequence. I have helped prepare many strategic plans, and have gone through the different complex evaluation and implementation steps with the shared involvement of management and stakeholders etc. Nevertheless, one cannot deny that the notion is compelling: in the center you have the vision, and the action plans are waiting to be picked in the periphery!
About the Author
Dr Stephen Sweid
P O Box 29585, Dubai, U.A.E,
Tel: +971 6 556 8990, Fax: +971 6 556 8991
The author is a business consultant with over 15 years international consulting experience, including creativity and innovation.
STRUCTURING CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION
As any parent knows, children need structure. While they will often claim to like freedom, kids generally do best when there is a consistent schedule to their days, they know what their household and familial responsibilities are, they know what they can get away with and what they cannot do.
Likewise, most employees like structure, albeit not to the same depth. They are more comfortable if they have a clear idea of their responsibilities, know how standard tasks should be performed and have relatively structured work days. Freedom to pursue new ideas and flexibility are appreciated, but even these are often most appreciated when incorporated into the employee's work structure.
Generally, such structures are a good thing. Employees feel more secure as the structures enable them to know that they are fulfilling their responsibilities, while employers know that work is being accomplished according to the organisation's overall structure.
Why Structures May Impede Creative Thinking
Unfortunately, when organisations initiate an innovation initiative it may be perceived by many employees as disruptive of their structures. Asking employees to contribute creative ideas to the firm is in itself an unstructured task. Employees are unsure of what is wanted, creative thinking is a comparatively unstructured process and determining how well you are doing in terms of participating in a creative thinking process is not easy. Moreover, creative thinking generally requires breaking down structures and combining existing ideas in new ways.
As a result, a lot of people choose not to participate in innovation initiatives. And when forced to participate, often share incremental ideas that are far less creative than they are capable of devising.
Injecting Creativity into Structure
Fortunately, the solution is relatively easy. Just as your children's structures should include ample time for free play, so too should your employees' structures include time and methods for creative thinking. This can include providing creative thinking tools such as Jenni idea management web service (http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni), mind-mapping tools, creative thinking rooms (eg. Meeting rooms especially designed for creative thinking and brainstorming; often such rooms have comfy chairs, games, paper, inspiring music and other features to encourage creative thinking)and the like.
Your firm should provide training to teach employees how to incorporate creative thinking into their work structures. And those structures really ought to include a recommended time allotment for creative thinking and the pursuit of creative ideas. Google famously allows employees to spend 20% of their time chasing creative ideas. (Mind you, Google also less famously overworks employees to the point where that 20% would be considered overtime by European standards!) In many organisations a five to ten percent time allotment is probably more reasonable.
You might provide every employee with idea books (ie. small notebooks) which
they can keep on their desks for jotting down ideas when inspired by their work.
This would be an excellent means of integrating creative thinking into work
Ideas Campaigns to Focus and Structure Creative Thinking
Running regular ideas campaigns is ideal for incorporating creativity and innovation into work structures. These start with challenges, such as “In what ways might we cut costs in our logistics division”, “How might we improve product X?”, “How might we market product X in China?” and so on. Ideas are collaboratively developed over a short period of time – typically four weeks. At the end of the idea generation phase, ideas are evaluated and the best implemented.
Clearly, this approach to innovation is much more structured than suggestion boxes and idea initiatives which vaguely request employees to submit any idea that comes to mind.
That said, by having regular on-going ideas campaigns, you encourage employees to constantly look at business problems, evaluate them creatively and provide creative solutions. Jenni idea management web service allows you to do all of this. See http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/
Implementation Can Be Even More Threatening of Structures
As we have seen, with a little work and the right tools, it is not difficult to incorporate creative thinking into employees' work structures. However, corporate innovation comes from the profitable implementation of creative ideas. Moreover, as a rule of thumb, the more innovative the idea, the more disruptive is its implementation.
A new just-in-time inventory approach may cut your inventory costs by 20%. But it will probably radically restructure the work of many of your employees in your warehouses, trucks and factory floors. It may even result in laying off employees – and you cannot get more structurally disruptive than that!
Likewise, a new way of processing orders may disrupt the work of managers, sales staff, logistics people, accountants and others.
As a result, it often happens that an organisation invests time and money in creativity initiatives such as idea management or brainstorming. They invest more time in evaluating ideas in order to identify those with the most potential. But in the end, they do not implement their most creative ideas. Often this is largely about the inherent riskiness of new ideas. But the disruption to employees' structures as well as corporate structure can scare people off of implementing highly innovative new ideas.
The obvious way to get around this is to develop a complementary structure to implement together with the new idea. When people can see and understand the new structure and its advantages as well as how that new structure will fit in with their existing structures, they become more secure with the disruptive new idea.
While some creativity gurus will expect you to demolish your structures in order to be more creative and innovative, a more viable solution is to integrate creativity and innovation into your – and your employees' – existing structures. The result will be a more viable innovation strategy.
JENNI IN DENMARK
I am excited to announced that Innovisor (http://www.innovisor.dk) in Copenhagen is now our official distributor of Jenni idea management web service in Denmark.
Innovisor is an advisory company, focusing on Continuous Innovation – a well-proven approach to innovation ensuring continuous creation, maturation and evaluation of targeted business development ideas.
Clearly, the combination of Innovisor's continuous innovation advisory services and Jenni idea management web service as a tool for managing that innovation is a winning combination.
THE BRUSSELS IMAGINATION CLUB AND YOUR IMAGINATION CLUB
The Brussels Imagination Club is a group that meets twice a month for experimental short workshops related to creativity and innovation. They provide an opportunity for facilitators to try out new ideas, for participants to learn something and for everyone to meet a fascinating international group of people with a shared interest in creativity and innovation. If you live in or near Brussels, why not join us? E-mail me to be put on our mailing list.
If you are doing something similar, please add it to our very short list of global imagination clubs. If you would like to set up something similar, take a look at the documentation at http://brussels.imaginationclub.org/clubs/index.php and let me know.
IMAGINATION CLUB ON-LINE
In addition to the Imagination Club Brussels, we also support the Imagination Club on-line discussion forum. The discussion forum is a place to share ideas, stretch your imagination and talk about creativity and innovation. Imagination Club members come from around the world and are a rather amazing bunch. More info at http://www.imaginationclub.org/
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.
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