Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Tuesday, 17 June 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.
GETTING EMOTIONAL ABOUT INNOVATION
How do you feel about innovation? If you are anything like me, you get excited about both the process of innovation and the innovations that result from the process. However, it is important to bear in mind that not everyone feels the same way. Indeed, many unenlightened souls feel at best bored and at worst afraid of innovation.
If you are managing innovation at your firm, this is a critical concept. If your colleagues are afraid of innovation, it will be difficult to get them to participate positively in your initiatives and even more difficult to motivate them to implement what creative ideas you do manage to generate.
On the other hand, if you can instil a sense of excitement in colleagues, your innovation initiative is so much more likely to succeed. Indeed, in my business I talk to a lot of innovation managers and I can almost always predict who will be most successful simply by the level of enthusiasm with which they approach the topic.
First, let's break innovation into two separate components and look at each: (1) your innovation process and (2) actually innovating.
The Innovation Process – Not Another Boring Business Trend
For many employees, innovation seems to be the latest in a never ending train of business trends that top management latch onto, promote for a few months and then drop when they learn of the next trend. These employees will most likely greet your innovation process with a raised eyebrow and a yawn. They expect they will hear a lot of rhetoric over the next few months. But they don't expect it to actually affect their work.
As the innovation manager, you need to prove them wrong. Otherwise, they will perceive participation in your initiatives as being a waste of time. They will avoid participating where possible and minimise participation where they have no choice. It goes without saying that such an attitude does not typically generate innovative ideas.
Your job is to demonstrate to your colleagues that innovation is not just the latest boring business trend. Rather it is becoming a key component of your firm's operations.
Worse than Boredom
Some people will have a stronger emotion about your innovation initiative: fear. For every creative thinker who likes a dynamic, challenging job, there are many other people who prefer a structured, predictable and undemanding job. They prefer consistency and security over excitement and opportunity. An innovation initiative threatens them with change and unpredictability. Moreover, such people tend not to see themselves as being creative. As a result, they will also fear that they will perform poorly in your initiative.
You need to reassure them that your innovation process is not a threat and, perhaps more importantly, that no one will be judged by the quality of her ideas. Rather, people will be judged by their level of participation. You can also point out that while they may feel they are not creative, methodical workers are often particularly good at looking at and improving the details of big new ideas proposed by others. Remind them also that organisational innovation is a collaborative activity.
Innovations: an Emotional Hot Zone
The level of emotions associated with the innovation process is nothing compared to the level of emotion associated with the innovations themselves. Sadly, many of these emotions are negative. Let's look at a few.
“Management loves Sara's idea. They always love her ideas and ignore mine. If this keeps up, she's sure to get the head of department position when Lisa retires next year. I've got to show them that Sara's idea is not really any good if I want that promotion!”
Jealousy has spoiled many an innovation initiative. A Belgian manufacturing firm recently ran an ideas campaign with factory workers. One employee had a very promising idea, but he was not particularly good at written communication. So, his team leader spent considerable time helping the employee develop and write down his idea. In the end, the employee received a reward for the idea and the team leader did not. The team leader was not particularly happy about this and complained to the person in charge of the ideas campaign who told me about it.
I suggested that with the next ideas campaign the company should reward teams rather than individuals for creative ideas. This would get all team members involved in developing ideas and ensure everyone is rewarded. This would not only reduce jealousy, but should even result in improved ideas as a result of the group effort.
This is the key point regarding innovation jealousy: people are not usually jealous of their colleagues' innovativeness. Rather they are jealous of the rewards their colleagues receive; rewards such as recognition, promotion and gifts. And it is recognition that causes the greatest jealousy.
To avoid this, you should read up on rewards schemes (see http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/rewards.php for instance) In particular, rewards should focus on levels of participation rather than quality of ideas. That's because brilliant ideas are seldom the work of a single individual. Rather, they are built upon small ideas of colleagues and others. Reward everyone who takes part and you will reduce jealousy significantly.
Innovations normally result in change. Major innovations result in major changes. For many people, change at the work place causes a sense of insecurity and fear: “how will this change affect my job?” “Will it cost me my job?” “I don't know anything about this new technology? What will happen to me?”. Imagine how chemists at film manufacturers and processors must have felt in recent years as digital photography has made film based picture taking almost obsolete!
And, if we are honest, the fear of change in the workplace is often well grounded!
The best thing you can do is to apply your innovation process to allay this fear. Run ideas campaigns about how new ideas will be implemented, how they will affect operations and so on. If people's jobs will be affected, then run ideas campaigns on how those changes should be implemented at the individual level. Bear in mind that if a radical new technology threatens to change your industry, there are three approaches you can take. You can adopt the new technology, you can look for other business applications for your existing technology or you can do both. I recommend both. (See also the previous issue of Report 103: http://www.creativejeffrey.com/report103/archive.php?issue_no=20080603
Where some people may fear innovations and their consequences, others get angry with innovations for the same reason. They see innovations as a threat. But rather than fear, they get angry.
Anger can be worse than fear in some respects, because in extreme cases, angry people may sabotage the implementation of those innovations, thus damaging property, the business and possibly harming employees.
Worse still, people who are afraid can easily be driven to anger, particularly if there is a central figure – perhaps a charismatic and popular employee -- who becomes the focal point of expressing the anger. One employee can cause considerable damage. A mob can be a disaster!
As is the case with fear, the best solution is to apply the innovation process to the concerns that cause the anger. And involve everyone!
Fortunately, not all emotions associated with innovations are negative. People can also become excited by innovations, especially transformational innovations, exciting new products and the like. They appreciate the challenges such innovations bring and take pride in being part of an organisation that is leading the sector rather than trailing. People, in short, like you and I.
The more you, as an innovation manager, can make your colleagues feel excited about innovations, the more likely those innovations are to succeed.
Corporate Culture is the Key. Companies like WL Gore, Google and many Silicon Valley start ups embrace innovation and change. Older, more bureaucratic firms tend to be the opposite. Indeed, employees in such firms are likely to have taken their jobs in part for the security they offer.
Fortunately, firms can change. In the 1960s, IBM was considered a highly conformist organisation full of identically dressed engineers who provided unoriginal but reliable technical solutions. Today, IBM has embraced innovation and remains at the forefront of many new technologies.
Unfortunately, if you are in charge of innovation at a conservative firm without much of an innovation culture, you have a substantial job ahead of you, one that involves not only implementing innovation tools, but also implementing a culture of innovation and even being a bit of a therapist.
On the positive side, that's one heck of an innovation challenge!
GOOD IDEA FOR REWARDING INNOVATION: A LOTTERY
I was speaking with a new client recently about the importance of reward schemes particularly in the early stages of a new innovation initiative. We were talking about how difficult it is to get people to participate in any kind of initiative. And this is true. We have found that the only real problem our clients ever have with Jenni (our idea management software service, see: http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni) is getting their employees to log into Jenni and use it in the first place. Once their employees have started using Jenni, it's not much of a problem any more.
Fortunately, we have experience and can offer our clients a lot of advice not only about promoting the use of Jenni, but also increasing participation levels in their other innovation activities.
We often recommend small rewards for participation. A chocolate for every idea submitted. A t-shirt for every participant and so on. Such rewards are small in value, but significant enough to encourage people to log into Jenni and use it.
The problem with small rewards, particularly in large, global organisations is the complexity of delivering them to people across multiple offices.
The client in question has a clever alternative: a lottery with a a small number of bigger prizes. Every participant of the ideas campaign gets a virtual lottery ticket (based on the idea id number). At the end of a campaign, a lottery is held and the holders of tickets whose numbers are drawn win the prizes.
The result is that only a smaller number of gifts have to be purchased and distributed. Nevertheless, everyone who participates in the campaign has a chance to win prizes. Better, those who participate more are more likely to win.
Our client reported impressive results. Why not try it yourself?
STRESS AND CREATIVITY
Feeling a bit stressed? I'm not surprised. A lot of people are these days, what with the economy slowing down, housing prices falling and jobs becoming harder to find. Oh, and with about half of all marriages ending in divorce (at least in Europe and the USA), you may well be suffering marital stress. Got kids? They are a worry, aren't they? You'd like to be a better parent – but you simply haven't the time. It all adds to the stress level. I don't know about you, but I sometimes feel as though I might simply explode. But then there would be the mess to clean up and that worries me too.
The truth is, most of us are under a great deal of stress at various times of our lives. And with slowing economies, more of us than ever are stressed out.
Moreover, test after test has demonstrated that people are less creative (and hence less innovative) when stressed. This is hardly surprising. After all, if our minds are preoccupied with unrelated concerns, there is less cranial capacity for idea generation. Worse, when we do get ideas, our decision making process is often corrupted by stress.
Unfortunately, stress is easily portable. If you are worried about the security of your job, you are likely to be stressed out at home, thus affecting your personal life. If your family life is undergoing problems, they will doubtless preoccupy you at work. If you have stress at home and work, they tend to feed off of each other and make your life miserable wherever you are.
Dealing with the Stress
There are all kinds of ways to deal with stress. Massage, medication, psychotherapy, exercise and more. However, as in many things, the best way to deal with stress is also the simplest: solve the problems that cause the stress.
Of course many of the problems that cause stress do not have simple solutions. But, devising an action plan and then following it is a tremendous stress release method. Knowing that the problem is manageable and that you are managing it relieves the stress significantly.
Creative Problem Solving
It is worth remembering that the most tried, tested and proven approach to creativity is creative problem solving (CPS). CPS can be applied to stress inducing problems very effectively. It's a simple five step process
One: Identify the Solvable Problem
The first step is to identify the solvable problem. Do not rush this. If you do not identify the correct problem at this stage, you will waste valuable time trying to solve a non-problem.
It is also important to realise that you may not be able to solve an underlying problem. But you can very often solve problems that are the result of the underlying one. For instance, the economic slow-down might threaten your company's future and, as a result, your job. You cannot change the economy. But if you are a senior manager, you can change your company's operations to enable it to better cope with economic slowdown. If you are an employee you can take action to secure your job - or make yourself more attractive to other employers. Perhaps looking for a job now might be advisable, before 1000s of your colleagues are doing the same.
If you are in the middle of a divorce which is causing you stress and worry, it may be too late to save the marriage and stop the divorce. Indeed, that might not be a viable solution in any event. However, you can tackle the associated issues which are causing stress.
In other cases, you can solve the underlying problem. If you are stressed due to a dispute between yourself and a co-worker, resolution is very viable. If you are stressed because your are spending more money than you are earning, you have a problem which can be relatively easily solved.
Two: Turn the Problem into a Creative Challenge
Once the solvable problem or problems have been identified, the next step is to transform them into creative challenges. For example
I am spending more money than I am earning!
In what ways might I reduce my spending?
My divorce is distracting me from my work!
What actions might I take to achieve a satisfactory settlement in my divorce?
With the economic slowdown, our sales are down 20%!
In what ways might we convince our customers to continue buying our widgets; or What other products might we sell our customers; or How might we reduce our operational costs by 20%?
For more information on framing innovative challenges, see “the Care and Framing of Innovation Challenges in the 18 September 2005 issue of Report 103 http://www.creativejeffrey.com/report103/archive.php?issue_no=20051018
Three: Generate Ideas
Once you have defined a creative challenge, generating ideas is easy, particularly for a creative person like yourself. Remember, though, that in creative problem solving it is best to generate a lot of ideas at this stage and avoid criticising or rejecting them until later.
Making lists of ideas, mind-mapping and other tools can help you generate ideas. But always bear in mind that a tool is just that: a tool. It won't generate ideas for your. That's your job.
It can also be useful to invite colleagues, friends and/or family to generate ideas with you. Whom you invite depends on the kind of problems you are working with.
Once you have generated a number of ideas, you can now get critical.
Four: Evaluate Your Ideas
Your second to last step is to evaluate your ideas in order to find those that are most likely to solve your problem most effectively. It is important to be careful in choosing your evaluation criteria. If you are stressed out due to the actions of another person, your initial desire may well be to include revenge as a key evaluation criterion. Sadly, revenge is seldom a good solution.
Rather you should look for solutions that will solve your problem most effectively, are easiest to implement and are most likely to be lasting.
Because it is difficult to be objective about stress inducing problems. You should ask a trusted friend or colleague to help you evaluate ideas and actions, ideally someone not directly affected by the problems at hand. Such a person can be more objective and help you better determine which solutions are likely to be the best solutions.
Five: Create an Action Plan... And Act!
It is unlikely that any single idea will solve your problem in one fell swoop. Indeed, it is unlikely that a single idea will suffice. Rather, it is more likely that several ideas will suggest themselves.
Thus, the almost final step in solving your stress-inducing problems is to draw up a viable action plan. This should be a series of steps you can take to solve the stress inducing problem or at least alleviate it.
Once this is done, it is probably a good idea to ask your trusted friend or colleague to review your action plan as well.
Then start acting! You will be amazed at how quickly the stress melts away.
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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