Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Tuesday, 15 January 2008
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.
PUTTING YOUR INNOVATION INITIATIVE IN ORDER
If you were to decide to launch a career in surgery, you would not start off by jumping into an operating theatre and performing open heart surgery. Likewise, if you are launching an innovation initiative in your firm, you should not start off by setting up an idea management tool and immediately trying to capture ideas. Because just as the consequences of the first scenario would likely result in a dead patient, the consequences of the second would likely result in a dead innovation initiative.
When firms do begin an innovation initiative by trying to capture ideas before laying the groundwork, the results are typically...
Far fewer ideas captured than anticipated.
Low levels of employee participation. Those ideas that are captured generally come from a small group of people.
Few, if any ideas implemented.
Belief among employees that the initiative served no real purpose and was a waste of their time and effort. Lack of implemented ideas is their strongest evidence.
General disillusionment with corporate innovation schemes.
That's why it is important to set up your innovation initiative in the correct order.
There are six simple steps to setting up your innovation initiative. It is critical to follow them in the correct order.
1) Design your initiative
2) Establish a budget
3) Promote the initiative
4) Idea Management tool (ideally, Jenni)
5) Flow of evaluated ideas
6) Implement ideas and reap profits
Let's take a look at each of these steps.
1) Design Your Initiative.
Once you have committed your firm to getting serious about innovation and implementing idea management, the first step is to actually design the initiative. One good starting place might be “The Corporate Innovation Machine”, an essay I wrote a couple of years ago which several innovation consultants have confessed they use in their training programmes. You can download this popular paper from http://www.creativejeffrey.com/innovation/
If, like a lot of managers, you follow the obsessively strict regime approach to corporate planning, you need to loosen up. Leave room to be flexible, adopt to changing circumstances and be innovative with your innovation plan. So, while planning the initiative is important, that plan must allow for change over time.
2) Budget Innovation
A lot of organisations try launching innovation initiatives without providing any budget. The result, of course, is that nothing much happens. You need to allot budget for the initiative, for tools, for promotion and for implementing the more radical ideas that are generated. A lot of managers have trouble with this last point. They shouldn't
A good innovation programme will generate some radical, transformational ideas. Such ideas have the potential to change the industry. But they might also fail completely. Transformational ideas are typically perceived as too risky by approval committees in large established organisations. And as a result are almost always implemented by small, entrepreneurial firms where decisions are made by a single, innovative entrepreneur.
However, if you allot a portion of your innovation budget for experimenting with more radical ideas, you can compete with those entrepreneurs. Even if 9 out of 10 your radical ideas fail, that 10th idea may well generate enough income to cover the costs of the failures and bring in a nice profit to boot. More importantly, transformational innovations insure you stay far ahead of your competitors.
For more information on budgeting for innovation, take a look at the 6 November 2007 issue of Report 103 at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/report103/archive.php?issue_no=20071106
3) Promote Your Innovation Programme
When well thought out innovation initiatives don't result in innovative ideas, lack of promotion is often a chief cause. If employees do not know you want their ideas, they will not contribute any ideas. If they do not know why you want their ideas, they are unlikely to contribute ideas. And if they do not appreciate the priority of innovation in your firm, they are unlikely to prioritise the contribution of ideas over other day-to-day tasks that keep them busy. The result, of course, is not many ideas!
Thus, it is important to explain to your employees what you are doing, why you are doing it and why it is important. It should be clear that innovation is a high priority and that employees will be rewarded for contributing to the firm's innovative success.
Likewise, it is also important to communicate to your shareholders, customers, suppliers and the general public. This shows you are serious about innovation and committed to innovating.
Assuming your firm has communications experts on the payroll, this is a good time to take advantage of their expertise.
4) Idea Management and the Like
Finally, you have reached the point at which you can start generating ideas to feed your innovation initiative. Ideally, this will come from a variety of approaches including brainstorming, buying ideas from suppliers and probably the most effective approach: idea management.
Of course we believe that Jenni idea management software service (http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/) is the best tool for the job. It is easy to use, yet rich in features. Best of all, you also tap into my, my colleagues' and my business partners' creativity and innovation expertise when you use Jenni.
Your idea management system should not only serve as a tool for capturing ideas, it should also provide tools for evaluating ideas. Output should be quality ideas with real potential to cut costs, increase revenue or bring other clear benefits to your firm.
You will find a lot more information about idea management on the Jenni pages (http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/) on jpb.com.
5) Implement the Good Ideas
Last, but not least, you need to implement the good ideas your idea management tool delivers. This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how many firms fail to do this. Not implementing ideas is generally due to poor planning, risk aversion and lack of budget for implementing the more radical innovative ideas.
Indeed, what often happens is that decision makers are scared to implement radical ideas for fear of the inherent risk associated with them. However, if you have planned well, promoted the importance of innovation (making it clear that innovation is not just about generating creative ideas, but also about implementing them) and provided budget for implementing more radical ideas (see above) – implementation should not be a problem.
Once innovative ideas start generating income – some of that income can feed the innovation budget – thus making the programme sustainable.
By establishing and following an innovation plan, your initiative is far likelier to succeed than if you just start capturing ideas and ask middle managers to do innovation. If you want help in planning your innovation initiative, we'd be happy to do what we can. Contact us or your nearest jpb.com partner association .
YOUR EMPLOYEES THOUGHT UP YOUR COMPETITORS' INNOVATIONS FIRST
Consider this: for every innovation your competitor successfully launches, at least one employee in your firm almost certainly had had a similar idea. And, if your firm had recognised, captured and implemented that idea first, it would be your firm reaping the profits of the innovation.
Think about it. You are a creative thinker. Doubtless, over the years you have had numerous creative ideas that one organisation or another brought to market and profited handsomely from. Most likely you simply did not have the wherewithal to implement the ideas yourself. Perhaps you were in the wrong industry. Perhaps you did not have sufficient interest to take the idea further. Perhaps you were keen to take the idea further, but worked in a firm which discouraged the idea – or your creativity.
This kind of thing is normal. Very, very rarely does a single person have a brilliant business idea. Frequently, however, it is only a small team in one company implements a brilliant business idea.
Assuming your firm has 100s or 1000s of employees, nearly all of whom have probably experienced the above scenario, you can be sure that at least one – and probably several – employees have also dreamed up every innovation your competitors have launched. For whatever reason, your competitors recognised and implemented ideas that you missed.
Your solution to out-innovating your competitors is simple and twofold. Firstly, you need to launch an innovation initiative centred around idea management – enabling you to easily capture innovative ideas from your employees and facilitating idea evaluation. Secondly, you need to ask the right questions and challenge your employees with those questions so that they are thinking creatively and sharing innovative ideas that allow you to keep ahead of the competition.
Thus, while a simple suggestion scheme may capture lots of ideas, the poor structure of suggestion schemes makes it difficult to recognise powerful ideas. Worse, open suggestion schemes tend to encourage people to contribute non-innovative ideas (such as existing ideas they see on television, read about in the press or learn about from others). A campaign based idea management system, on the other hand, based around innovation challenges, makes employees think about current business needs, makes them more likely to propose innovative ideas and makes it easier to recognise the winning ideas.
THE WEB: A PRODUCTIVITY KILLER OR AN INSPIRATION?
A lot has been written about the web being a productivity killer. In 2005, research by Websense indicated that US businesses were losing US$178 billion annually – or about $5,000 per employee – to time wasted by employees using the web for personal activities while at work.
Let us put aside for a moment the fact that Websense is web content filtering company that just happens to sell products that help companies restrict such personal use of the web. Let us also dismiss the fact that employees laden with company cellphones, laptops and – increasingly – Blackberries are spending substantial parts of their personal time doing work (I can think of a couple of friends' wives who would happily pay for a content filtering system that would restrict the amount of work their husbands did during family time!) Let us also forget that even without the Internet, employees spend time taking personal telephone calls, chatting by the water-cooler, taking long lunch-breaks in order to get the shopping done and even taking naps in the toilet stalls.
Even with all of these issues in mind, there can be no doubt that employees spend time browsing Facebook, shopping on-line, e-mailing friends and exchanging jokes. Is this necessarily a bad thing? The answer is no.
The Value of Employees Playing On-Line
The East of England Development Agency found in 2004 that only about 10% of employees had creative ideas while at their desks; with only 6% of woman and 17% of men saying they have ideas at the workplace.
That's not surprising. Most people's workspaces are uninspiring. They are great for getting routine work done and often well structured in order to facilitate accomplishing typical day-to-day tasks. But they are uninspiring and overly familiar to their occupants.
Clearly, then, one good way to inspire creative ideas in employees is to permit them to leave their desks and workspaces. That can be done physically, by encouraging employees to leave the office for walks, visiting inspirational places, talking to people and so on.
It can also be done virtually, by permitting employees to browse the web, visit inspiring web sites, meet people and so on. Effective use of networking sites such as Facebook, Linked-in, Bebo and others allow employees to expand their network of contacts to the global level. Employees can tap into these networks for knowledge, opinion and ideas – all of which feed creativity and can result in innovation.
In fact, we frequently get requests from organisations wanting to reproduce jpb.com creativity and innovation articles on Intranets, in employee newsletters, in presentations and as handouts during workshops and seminars. Yet, I expect many of the requesters stumbled upon the jpb.com web site while browsing the web for reasons not directly related to work.
But Rules Are Needed
Of course you cannot simply allow and encourage employees to browse and play on the web and via e-mail with wild abandon. You need to set clear rules, in particular in these three areas:
1) Security and Confidentiality.
Employees need to understand issues of security and confidentiality of company data. Employees should know what they can discuss publicly and what information needs to stay inside the company. Care also needs to be taken that employees don't give away information indirectly. For instance, if your software programmers participate in e-mail discussion lists where they can ask questions and seek advice on technial issues, they need to be careful about what they ask. A question about how to solve a programming problem can give clues to other IT people about your projects. Moreover, since most discussion fora are archived on the web, your competitors can search that information to gain clues about your new projects. One way around this, of course, is to encourage employees to use non-work e-mail (such as gmail.com, yahoo.com, etc) for participating in professional fora.
2) Steer Clear of Offensive Material.
I have always been amazed when IT managers tell me how much porn is downloaded by people at their firms (yes, most firms monitor this kind of thing). I appreciate some material is accidentally downloaded. Several years ago, my then secretary absent-mindedly went to whitehouse.com rather than whitehouse.gov to research an issue of US politics. At the time (and very possibly still today – I am not going to check!), whitehouse.com was an extremely pornographic web site which not only shocked her relative open-mindedness of such issues (she was French,after all!), but also launched an endless stream of new web browsers all displaying ever more explicit content! The poor girl panicked and manually switched off her computer in order to get rid of the explosion of unwanted images. I understand a primary school teacher in the USA very nearly went to jail for making a similar mistake.
But, mistakes aside, pornography, racist content, violence and other content which is likely to offend colleagues is frequently downloaded and even shared with others in the firm and outside. Viewing this kind of content must be prohibited as must be sending it to colleagues, clients and suppliers no matter how open minded employees may believe them to be.
Finally, it should be clear that employees must give priority to work based tasks before spending time on the web. That said, from anecdotal evidence, I believe that one reason a lot of middle managers spend a lot of time on the web is because they do not have enough work to do! Actively browsing the web gives the impression to colleagues that one is busy doing some kind of work.
When middle managers are under-worked, it is often because their employers do not empower them to embark on their own projects, experiment with new ideas or start other activities that might better benefit the company. This may because managers are only allowed to do what they are told to do; or because there are complex procedures required to launch new projects. If this is the case in your organisation – change it. Intelligent, creative people with spare time on their hands and an itch to look busy are a wonderful resource for innovation. You should be exploiting that resource rather than leaving it to browse the web in order to look busy!
Finally, assuming you decide to be relaxed about employees browsing the web and communicating on-line, consider encouraging them to share their best resources. This could be done via an Intranet forum, knowledge management tool or on-line link-sharing tools. Sharing resources encourages responsible web-surfing and provides your firm with a rich directory of on-line information.
ADVERTISING ON REPORT 103 ARCHIVES
If you have visited the Report 103 archives and some other informational pages on the jpb.com web site this year, you may have noticed advertising here and there. This is something that I have been considering for a long time, but have regularly declined to do. However, the www.jpb.com web site has hundreds of pages of content – almost all of it freely available and we felt that it was time to look at monetising those informational pages with the aim of making them self-sufficient financially.
We will watch the results over the next few months to determine whether or not to continue with advertising and, if so, how to proceed. We are hoping that there will be sufficient advertising revenue to support more diverse content and more frequent new material on the site.
We are also hoping that the Google Adsense programme we are using will result in advertising that is useful to you.
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.