Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Tuesday, 16 September 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.
PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES
At least one multinational company I know of forbids its employees to use the word "problem". Instead employees must use the word "challenge". On one hand, I like this policy. When the word problem is used in business, it generally implies something has gone wrong; that there is a substantial obstacle to achieving a goal. And that can discourage creativity and hence innovation.
On the other hand, the word challenge suggests that there is something between you and your goal, but rather than a barrier, it is a trivial matter that a little creative thinking will overcome. Indeed, when running ideas campaigns, facilitating brainstorming events or training people in creative problem solving (CPS), we always use the term "challenge", rather than "problem", to define the focus of the idea generation. Challenges motivate clever people (like you, of course) to think creatively and generate solutions. Moreover, responding to a challenge encourages multiple ideas. Problems, on the other hand, imply there is a single correct solution. In part this is because the word problem has a distinct meaning in mathematics: a mathematical problem normally has a single correct solution.
Imagine a researcher is evaluating the results from a trial of a new asthma medication. She notes that a significant percentage of testers complain of sleepiness. She could tell her colleagues: "there is a problem with the new asthma medication: it causes some users to get sleepy!" or she could say, "we have a challenge with the new asthma medication: it causes some users to get sleepy!" The first phrase is more likely to induce groans and concerns. The second is more likely to encourage the research team to think about the challenge, propose ideas and develop solutions.
On a smaller scale, imagine a new marketing person assigned to make and deliver a presentation to some business partners. She could cry out: "I have a problem! The IT people haven't installed PowerPoint on my computer yet!" That would imply that she is unable to deliver the presentation. Better would be for her to say, "I don't have PowerPoint on my computer. I now face the challenge of finding another way to present my data!" By seeing the problem as a challenge in the second example, the marketing person is more likely to come up with a creative solution that could very well impress her audience far more than a PowerPoint presentation ever would.
Nevertheless, some problems are serious and deserve to be taken as such. "Challenge" does not imply the level of seriousness that problem does. Indeed, I cannot imagine James Lovell of Apollo 13 saying, "Houston, we've had a challenge here," when an oxygen tank blew up and threatened to kill the three astronauts on that spacecraft.
Likewise, in the example of the asthma medication, if the researcher discovered that some of the users' heads were exploding after taking medication, I dearly hope she would consider it a problem rather than a challenge!
So, while I like the idea of encouraging people within an organisation to use the word challenge in place of problem whenever possible and particularly when creative thinking would solve the problem; I do feel that corporate policy demanding that employees do not use the word problem is going to far. It's only going to cause problems in the end!
CLEANING UP QUICK AND DIRTY IDEA REVIEWS
A good brainstorming event can easily generate 50 or 100 ideas. An ideas campaign in a large enterprise can generate many more. As a result, the initial idea review is what we might call a quick and dirty elimination round (Q&DER)in which a team of evaluators read each idea. They quickly decide which ideas to retain for further evaluation and development and which ideas to dispose of immediately.
Unfortunately, there are two innovation threats in such Q&DERs:
1) Lack of defined criteria for determining which ideas should be retained and which should be eliminated
2) Not considering obvious methods of counteracting the weaknesses that cause an idea to be eliminated
Lack of Defined Criteria
Whenever people are reviewing a list of ideas for viability, they have some criteria in their minds. In a business environment, these criteria are likely to include budget, saleability, time-frames and the like. However, if the criteria are left unspoken, there are two dangers:
1) If there are multiple reviewers, they may have differing criteria sets in their minds. As a result, ideas are subject to a harsher first analysis which is overly likely to see off potentially good ideas. Imagine there are four evaluators each with three differing criteria on her mind. As a result, any idea would need to pass all 12 criteria (4 evaluators X 3 criteria each) in order to be considered for further analysis. And that further analysis might well be less rigorous than the Q&DER!
2) One or more reviewers may have inappropriate criteria in mind. For instance, imagine an ideas campaign seeking new product solutions. Senior management may not care so much about the cost of implementing the ideas as do about the return on investment (RoI) of the ideas. However, if evaluators are eliminating ideas they believe are too expensive, they may kill off potential new product ideas that offer tremendous RoI, albeit for a high initial investment.
Fortunately, the solution to this problem is obvious: clarify your elimination criteria prior to the Q&DER. Moreover, ensure that anyone involved in the Q&DER is clear about the criteria.
Counteracting Obvious Weaknesses in Ideas
Imagine you are part of a team evaluating new software ideas for mobile telephones. You generate a lot of ideas and need to do a Q&DER. Your Q&DER criterion is that ideas should be viable on a standard mobile telephone unit. Here are some of the ideas:
- Notepad for making notes.
- Application for finding friends in the area.
- E-book application so people could read books.
- Possibility to control heating/cooling devices in your home
Chances are you would dismiss the e-book application idea as being non-viable. After all telephone screens are too small to display more than a few words, resolution is poor and it would be irritating to have to scroll through an entire book.
But what about audio books? They form a huge and growing market. Friends of mine who commute by car to work listen to audio books on their car CD players. Would it not be even more convenient to carry the audio book in a telephone so that the user could listen to it whenever she has some spare time - and not just in her car?
Surely, then, the book application deserves a more thorough evaluation. But it would be unlikely to get that evaluation in an elimination round - particularly if there are 100 ideas to consider.
Even the Best Criteria Sets Are not Perfect
In this example, there was nothing wrong with the Q&DER criterion. The problem was that the idea - as originally stated - did not meet the criterion. However, with only minor modification the idea would have passed.
In fact, such elimination of potentially viable ideas happens frequently, not only in quick and dirty reviews, but also in formal evaluations simply because evaluators see their roles as being exclusively critics.
But they are not critics. Indeed, can you imagine having a team in your company called the "Idea Criticism Committee"? No. Evaluators are evaluators - that's we call them that!
Again, the solution to the problem is simple. Rather than simply reviewing ideas on a pass-fail basis, evaluators in the Q&DER should review each idea following three simple steps:
1) Does it meet the criteria? If so, it passes.
2) If not, MIGHT there be a way to change the failing point(s) so that it meets the criteria? If so, it passes.
3) If the idea fails both of the above, it is eliminated.
And the final rule of quick and dirty idea reviews is: if you are not sure whether or not an idea can be made to pass a criteria set, don't eliminate it. Once an idea is eliminated, it is quickly forgotten. On the other hand, if it does not pass a more structured evaluation later, the questionable idea can still be eliminated at that time.
INNOVATION = CHANGE
One of the perennial problems of organisational innovation is that it results in change. And in most organisations, most people don't like change. Change, at best, threatens employees' well developed routines and, at worst, threatens their jobs. An innovative improvement in the production process might cut five percent of your production costs. But it will mean changing the production process. That, in turn, means that production people will need to change their routines and some people might find that their tasks in the process are no longer required. For these people, that's scary!
Moreover the with radical innovation, there is inevitably radical change - and that tends to discomfort employees even mroe.
This is why employees tend to dislike change. It is also why they dislike innovation: because innovation = change in their minds. Indeed, when announcing innovations, you may well find that employees are doubtful that the new idea will work and will find all kinds of flaws in it.
What to Do
The best way to get employees to feel more positive about innovative change is to get them involved in the implementation phase and, in so doing, give them a sense of being stakeholders in the innovation.
If new ideas are being generated through idea management or other enterprise-wide innovation systems, employees will already have a sense of involvement in innovative new ideas. This is good. On the other hand, if ideas are coming from management and consultants, innovative new ideas will be a harder sell. But not impossible.
Step 1: Feedback and Challenged Feedback from the Beginning
Once an idea has been evaluated and approved by top management, the next step is the implementation plan. If the implementation will affect employees, you should solicit feedback from the beginning.
Now, as I've noted already, many employees will be against the innovation and that will cause them to be highly critical of it. They will tell you it will never work, it is too complicated, the customers won't like it, it will cost much more than expected and so on.
What you need to do is to question the criticisms and then turn them into challenges.
Criticism: It will cost much more than expected!
Question: Why will it cost more? What have we not anticipated when it comes to cost?
Challenge: In what ways might we reduce implementation costs?
Criticism: The customers will not like it!
Question: Why not? What in particular will the customers not like?
Challenge: In what ways can we make this idea more customer friendly?
By challenging employees to not only provide feedback, but also find solutions to the problems they identify, you do two things. Firstly, you often enable them to discover that perceived flaws are not so serious as they thought. Secondly, you begin the process of making employees stakeholders in the new ideas.
Step 2: Involve Employees in Implementation of Innovative Ideas
Once employees become more comfortable with the new ideas, the next step is to give them the opportunity to determine their roles in the implementation of those ideas. This not only helps ensure a smoother implementation, but also reassures employees that the innovation is unlikely to make them redundant. Just as important, the employees begin to visualise themselves as being involved in the implementation of the idea. And this gives each employee a firmer stake in the idea.
Team Effort in Change Acceptance
In large companies, these two steps may well be performed as team efforts, with teams of employees working together to develop feedback lists and then later generate solutions to the challenges. In step 2, teams can define roles across various job descriptions.
Needless-to-say, not every concern of every employee can be addressed. Likewise, not every employee will have a role in the implementation of every new innovation. But, by involving employees in the implementation process you minimise the resistance to change and make smoother the implementation of the idea. And that simply makes it easier to innovate!
INNOVATON GOES ON TRIAL - CONFERENCE IN SOUTH AFRICA
Innovation will be put on trial for the first time in South Africa. The prosecution will present detailed evidence, proving that Innovation is a member of an international crime syndicate which has robbed organisations worldwide of millions, with many false promises and little or no financial return. The defence will call on expert witnesses to vindicate the vast disbursements in the name of Innovation, and attempt to prove that the returns and knock-on benefits are well justified in the name of excellence, corporate progress and growth.
This is the premise for a very innovative seminar on innovation that is being held in Kempton Park, South Africa on 2 and 3 October. Participating will be a number of top names in Innovation in South Africa, including my friend Itha Taljaard who brought the conference to my attention.
For more information, got to http://www.futurebydesign.co.za/Innovation_Services.html and click on the link to download the PDF brochure.
JENNI IDEA MANAGEMENT
Have you been impressed recently by a clever new snack food product? Do you like the fact that snack foods are becoming healthier and more nutritious? You may be surprised to learn that a leading snack food manufacturer has been using Jenni idea management as a key component of their research division's innovation process. By running ideas campaigns focusing on key product issues like new flavour combinations, making their foods healthier without reducing flavour and even new packaging concepts, this company continually keeps ahead of the competition and remains a global leader in their field.
If you'd like to learn how Jenni can help you develop new products, improve existing products and cut operational costs throughout your firm; check out www.jpb.com/jenni/ or contact us to arrange a discussion. We're helping more and more companies around the world increase their profit margins through idea management.
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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