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Report 103

Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.

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Tuesday, 5 February 2008
Issue 121

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 AND ECONOMIC SLOW-DOWN

I was living in Bangkok in 1997 when the Thai Baht collapsed, wrecking havoc upon the local economy and sending other South-East Asian economies into free fall. At the time, I was running a web and multimedia production company – which had been a pioneer in the field. Although we were a well established company – business slowed dramatically in the months following the collapse. The reason was not hard to fathom. The Internet was still a very new concept to Thai managers. And with their debts ballooning (many companies had taken on debt in US dollars – so when the Baht's value fell dramatically against the dollar, debts grew huge in Baht terms) and demand rapidly disappearing, managers were unwilling to risk investing in a new and not well understood communications medium.

That was a mistake, especially for our primary client type: Thai companies marketing internationally. The web allowed them to reach a larger audience at lower cost, while facilitating better, lower cost communication. All benefits at any time, but particularly so during a recession.

Fortunately, we pulled through thanks to our reputation for quality and service.

Now the US economy is slowing down and there are real fears for a recession. Moreover, a US recession will almost certainly have strong consequences globally. As a result, I fear many companies, that are just dipping their toes in implementing innovation tools such as idea management, will follow the example of the Thai companies in 1997 and back off investing in innovation – particularly if the slowdown becomes a recession.

Managerial Conservatism

There's nothing like a recession to bring on managerial conservatism. Business leaders watching their markets shrink fear investing in anything new or in anything which they believe to be potentially risky. They fear that if the investment does not pay off, their situation will be made worse. This would not only be bad for their companies, but also for their jobs!

Because idea management – or any structured innovation process (although idea management is the most effective) – is a new concept to many managers, I predict that too many of them will opt to put off investing in idea management over the next year or two.

This is an even bigger mistake than the Thai managers made. There is one very big reason for this and numerous smaller reasons.

The big reason relates to the only reason any business should invest in idea management: to keep ahead of the competition. This is particularly important during an economic slowdown when markets are stagnating or even shrinking. You and your competitors have fewer opportunities to sell your products. So whoever can better serve their customers will come through the economic slow-down in better shape.

In addition, your innovation prospects are further improved if your competitors' managers take the typical conservative route to surviving the slow-down: avoidance of anything new and untried. If your competitors are afraid to innovate, while you innovate, you gain further competitive advantage.

Other Benefits

In addition to helping you increase your competitive lead over other businesses in your sector, idea management brings other benefits to your firm:

1. You Cut Costs
While the glamorous side of innovation is about disruptive new products that redefine a market, the less sexy but still important side of innovation is about cost cutting. Indeed, companies like Dell and Toyota are considered major innovators, even though their products are not particularly exciting. They have continuously innovated by cutting costs in their production lines, enabling them to manufacture their respective products more cost effectively.

Cost cutting is important to every industry in good times and bad times. But it is during bad times that cost cutting becomes critical. And the people who generally have the best ideas about how to reduce operational expenses in your firm are the people who are performing the operations. Idea management, of course, allows you to solicit and capture ideas from all of those people.

2. You Better Meet Your Customer Needs
This should be obvious to everyone in a business, particularly the managers, but is surprisingly often overlooked. The better you meet your customer needs, the more likely you are to sell to your customers. And when the number of customers (or their budgets) are dwindling – making those customers happy is a good way to retain them.

Again, idea management via ideas campaigns focusing on customer needs – and ideally involving customers – is an excellent way to discover and implement innovative ways of ensuring your products and services best meet your customers' needs.

3. You Boost Your Image
When the business press is full of bad news, your good news has substantial public relations benefits. Implementing innovative new products, services and operations boost your image to your customers, employees and shareholders. That's always good, but even better when people are worried about the economy.


Don't Just Manage Ideas – Implement Them

While continuing to invest in idea management during economic downturns is an effective way to survive the slow-down, a critical component of the process is implementing the innovative ideas you capture. So be sure that you are not falling into the trap of generating great ideas that your decision makers will be afraid to implement!

Best of All

Best of all, an idea management solution is a relatively inexpensive investment. Jenni idea management, for instance, probably costs less per employee than you spend on coffee. Of course the major cost is not in software, but in employee time spent innovating. But a tool like Jenni, which focuses innovation on business needs and makes managing your innovation process more efficient ensures you maximise your employees' innovation potential while minimising costs.

Conclusion: don't be afraid to innovate!

For more information about Jenni, please visit http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/

 

GUEST WRITER

I am delighted to offer you another article from my friend and creative whiz Randah Taher. The article below is an introduction to a more substantial white paper which you may download from the web site (link is at the end of the article).

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.

By the way, if you would like to contribute an article to Report 103, I'd like to know about it.


ORGANIZATIONAL CREATIVITY THROUGH SPACE DESIGN

By Randah Taher

Both exterior and interior design influence individual and team performances using its shapes, textures and materials; while opening them up to our own interpretations. When it comes to space design and its effect on creativity, flexibility is the key word. With space design, we strike a balance between dense areas that enhance interactions and transform thoughts into team work, and separate closed areas that boost individuals’ concentration and development of ideas.

Taking into account the different activities that occur in the work space environment, flexibility also manifests itself in movable furniture, multiple write-on surfaces, multimedia tools, the physical distance between team members, and communication spaces that support both small and large group sizes. Features such as ceilings, windows and hallways have been proved to alter our perceptions in the space, and in essence, our feelings of freedom or confinement.

Designing rooms to mirror the activities performed within their walls can enhance the creativity potential of the place, and at the same time, represent the values and purposes of the organization as a whole.

With each purpose, we convey sensations that express the intent of those who are to use a space and those who are to be influenced by it, all the while keeping flexible as to how to interpret the designs according to needs and activities.

Suggestions to Organizations

Traditionally the workspace has been designed favouring one particular setting – offices or cubicles vs. open-plan space – and this pattern cannot accommodate the different phases of creativity. As a consequence, it is to be expected that offices offering hybrid infrastructure will become more popular in organizations (Haner, 2005), suggesting that “if the firm is to invest resources in the creation of a dedicated innovation environment, then it is essential that the strategic intentions underpinning this space are explicit” (Moultrie et al, 2007, p.61).

In this sense, VanGundy (1992) persuades companies to design a creativity room specifically for this purpose and load it with materials, books, idea generation aids and group setting.

Design firms such as IDEO also develop spaces that support visualization, exploration and inspiration through access to materials and artifacts. Another example is a space developed to improve and advance pharmaceutical products (Kristensen, 2004), as they provided a separate area with walls and floor filled with objects and models, bulletin boards, flat tabletops, drawers, cabinets, progress reports, sketches, computers with CAD, metal and wood workshops, competing products, props, wood and metal workshops, recording of previous sessions, bulletins displayed previous attempts, isolation from disturbance. Companies can add to this list by providing different layouts for the activities taken in the office; such as access to information and support, gathering zones and interaction areas for informal as well as formal meetings and sections and moving furniture for different thinking processes.

Other organizations might want to adopt some guidelines to creativity and problem solving. A well known model developed by Alex Osborn and Sid Parnes is called the Creative Problem Solving (CPS). Supporters of this method use stages to move between steps. Those stages can be installed in the design blueprint and plan for rooms that can be called: The Clarification Chamber ® (CC), The Transformational Hall ® (TH) or the Implementation Lab ® (IL). (Puccio, Murdock, & Mance, 2007; Taher, 2008).

As per the architectural design, while some design values are targeted at encouraging specific behaviours (i.e. Futuristic, playful, minimalist, etc), the use of imagery can reinforce actions, i.e. triangular room for creative divergence (Moultrie et al, 2007, p.61). I am not suggesting constructing the building itself as triangular, as this might impede future changes to the place, but the use of temporary architecture has more to offer than meets the eye. Those installations can exist “without a determinate function, because they are free to suggest uses rather than being governed by them, and because they are free to exist on sites inaccessible to permanent architecture (Lévesque, 2007, P.2). As in the unfinished, Levesque presumes, “one can imagine new realities” (P.2).

In conclusion, the essential meaning of the space is to allow emotions to surface in the work area in order to further enhance the performance of the occupants and not necessarily suppress them for productivity's sake. Whether it is the movable walls that support small and big group sizes or the warm colors that contrast a high-stress environment, movable furniture that accommodates informal idea development, or the geometrical propositions that stimulate various expressions of movement, serious effort on understanding the effects of such atmosphere will stimulate creative behavior in the work environment.

You can download Randah's full paper at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/creative_spaces_Taher.pdf (PDF document about 750KB)

For the full research study, please read “Organizational Creativity Through Space Design”, Randah Taher, January 2008. visit http://contagiouscreativity.wordpress.com

 

REWARDING TEAMS

When it comes to rewarding innovation, many managers focus on rewarding individuals. This is a good thing. Indeed, a well designed rewards scheme is crucial to the success of any innovation initiative, particularly in organisations which are new to innovation.

But, rewarding teams can also be an effective strategy for rewarding innovation and one that brings added benefits over rewarding individuals.

Benefit 1: Improved Collaboration

When you reward individuals for innovation, each individual wants to own the best ideas in order to be rewarded for them. As a result, an idea owner may retain information so that her team-mates cannot improve upon her ideas. She is also likely to become defensive about her ideas for fear that improvements will erode her ownership of the idea and threaten her rewards.

On the other hand, if the entire team benefits from good ideas, the individual's best strategy is to share information and collaborate in order to ensure that the team produces better ideas and so is more likely to be rewarded for those ideas.

Moreover, collaboratively developed ideas are potentially more innovative and more powerful than individually developed ideas. As the old adage states: two heads are better than one. And a dozen heads are better still.

More creative minds bring together more knowledge, more experience and more ideas. In an ideal scenario, the result is a broader, more creative range of thinking and that translates into more creative ideas. Of course there is a lot that can go wrong in collaborative innovation – but that is the subject for another article (actually it has been covered in several Report 103 articles – see http://www.creativejeffrey.com/report103/archives.php )

Benefit 2: Faster Team Bonding

As we have noted, rewarding teams encourages collaboration. This is important in the early days of a team when members may not know each other well and may be reluctant to co-operate. By encouraging team members to bond and work together, the team collaborates sooner and generates results faster.

Benefit 3: Easier Sell

When a creative idea is developed collaboratively by a group, each member has a stake in the idea and the desire to see it implemented. This makes the idea more likely to be sold to top management and so more likely to make the transition from a creative idea to a profitable innovation.

As made clear in benefit 1, when you reward collaboration, you get collaborative idea development.

Benefit 4: Improved Team Spirit

When team members collaborate in order to gain rewards or other benefits, there is inevitably a greater sense of belonging to the team, sharing the team's values and wanting the team to succeed in its tasks. This is what we call, “team spirit”. When there is good team spirit, teams perform well together and the team generates better results.

Clearly building teams and rewarding each as a group for its creativity and innovation is an effective method not only for promoting collaborative creativity, but also for making it more likely that ideas will come to life.

However, it is also important to change membership of teams on a regular basis – at least if creative thinking is your goal.

As teams develop together, they eventually move towards groupthink. That is, a particular approach to problem solving becomes the norm and the team becomes poor at approaching problems and generating creative solutions in ways that differ from its groupthink. Moreover, as group members grow to know each other, they learn from each other and come to predict how fellow group members will respond to challenges and ideas. As a result, thinking tends to get stale and the level of creativity falls. However, the potential of each member – who has learned from the others - increases.

Thus, it is better to disband teams frequently and create new ones.

In other words, your team strategy is a simple cycle: build new teams, reward teams, disband teams, build new teams and so on.

Finally, bear in mind that rewards for teams should not necessarily replace rewards for individuals. You should offer both to encourage participation in innovation activities.

For more about rewarding individuals for creativity and innovation, please take a look at the article REWARDING INNOVATION at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/rewards.php


EVENT: CREATIVITY & INNOVATION MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE

Buffalo, New York; 28-30 May 2008

The Creativity and Innovation Management Journal and the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College, in Buffalo New York, are proud to co-host the 2nd Creativity and Innovation Management (CIM) International Conference.

The CIM conference will explore the idea of “integrating inquiry and action” through presentations by business leaders and recognized thought leaders in the fields of creativity and innovation. The Creativity and Innovation Management Journal will sponsor the conference in conjunction with the International center for Studies in Creativity, Buffalo State College.

Learn from more than 30 paper presentations as well as keynote speakers, including Professor Micheal Mumford from the University of Oklahoma, Professor Tudor Rickards University of Manchester, Dr. Ming-Huei Chen of Chung Hsing University, Taiwan, Professor Todd Lubart of University of Paris, Miriam Kelly of Fisher Price Toys, and Dr. Casimer DeCusatis of IBM.

Learn more and register at www.buffalostate.edu/creativity/x735.xml

YOUR EVENT

Want to publicise your event in Report 103? E-mail me the details at jeffreyb@jpb.com.

 

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!


Happy thinking!

Jeffrey Baumgartner

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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.

 

 


 

 

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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium