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Report 103

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

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Tuesday, 3 November 2009
Issue 159

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.


GUEST WRITER

Once again, I am pleased to bring you a thought provoking article and paper written by a guest writer. If you would like to contribute an article to Report 103, please contact me and tell me about your article/idea.


METRICS FOR IDEA GENERATION
By Dr. Brian Glassman
Ph.D in Innovation Management

Metrics are one of many tools to monitor the performance of a process. For idea generation there are no general metrics which span across industries. Instead, an innovation manager must select idea generation metrics based on the strategy of their company and their current idea needs. The following white paper will discuss the selection of metrics for idea generation projects, and the
management of the process given its’ inputs and outputs. Further, a management chart tool is introduced to aid in managing the process.

Background

My Ph.D advisory board members at Purdue insisted that I find a common set of outputs and performance measures for idea generation that I could base an objective study on. Unfortunately, I struggled to find any such metrics, and I finally concluded that there were no general set of metrics for idea generation which were applicable across industries; hence I had to settle on subjective measures for my studies.

Interestingly as my research continued, I found that an individual company could adopt a custom set of idea generation metrics which would suit them very well. The following section will explain why there are no general metrics applicable across industries, but the subsequent section will show you how to select metrics specific to your company and its needs.

In my search for general metrics I had to consider many things, the most important being the differences amongst industries and their particular new product idea needs. The literature suggested many metrics for idea generation: patents per employee, ideas per employee, quality of ideas, time to generate ideas, quality of ideas, cost to create an idea, an ideas ability to fill the front end portfolio, revenue per idea, and so on… Interestingly, I found that none of these metrics were applicable across several industries; let me give some examples to demonstrate.

Ideas per Employee

“Ideas per employee” can be thought of as a simple useful metric, but how many new product ideas does a company really need? Small startups, which are highly resource constrained, should dedicate their business to one or two products and hence they have a very small need for new ideas. Large manufacturing companies with several thousand employees (like lawn mower manufactures) could similarly have a limited budget for developing new products and effectively only need a moderate size batch of new product ideas, maybe say 400 to 500 to build on. However, companies in creative
areas, like home furnishing products, need a constant stream of ideas to stoke their product lines. In this case “ideas per design employee” is a vital metric because it directly translates into the effectiveness of their design department at coming up with new ideas.

Another interesting metric is “revenue per idea created” because it accounts for the output of the idea generation and innovation process, but again this is not generally applicable. Take two companies one in technology and one in housewares. The technology company has to invest large amounts of money to develop a single idea, thus it is in their interest to seek out a large number of ideas and develop only the best; where as, for the housewares company this metric may be useful in showing how effective the design department is at creating successful new product ideas.

Some Metrics only Effective for Specific Project Types

To complicate things further, a set of metrics may be only effective for certain types of projects. For example, if that same housewares company wants to make a radical new product line they should create a lot more ideas than normal and not hold the design employees to that “revenue per idea created” metric. However, if the idea generation activities are tasked with supporting an existing product line it may be reasonable to use a “revenue per idea created” metric.

Going through the above mentioned list of metrics one can easily pick industries in which a particular metric does not make sense or is even harmful; and conversely, one can pick metrics which are logical and helpful. So the question becomes, what metrics should a company use to help guide its’ idea generation process?

You can download Dr. Glassman's complete paper on Metrics for Idea Generation as a PDF file from http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/White_Paper_Metrics_for_Idea_Generation_Glassman_2009.pdf

ABOUT DR. BRIAN GLASSMAN

Brian Glassman, Ph.D., has just graduated from the College of Technology at Purdue University specializing in Innovation Management and Technology Commercialization and is currently seeking employment. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering and a second M.S. in Engineering Management from Duke University. His research, consulting, and scholarly interests continue to explore the many facets of Innovation Management and Technology Commercialization; and he is a passionately-driven entrepreneur.

 

BACK TO INNOVATION BASICS

If you are a regular reader of Report103, you will know we are writing a serious of articles on the basic terminology and processes associated with innovation. Following an informal survey some weeks ago, we have found that there is a lack of clarity with respect to the basic terms used in innovation – there is even disagreement on the definition very word itself! Hence, I've made the rather audacious move to run in Report 103 a series of articles covering basic terms and processes associated with innovation. If you missed the introduction to this series of articles or would like to read it again, you can do so at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/innovation_basics.php

 

BRAINSTORMING, IDEATION AND IDEA GENERATION

The word brainstorming is widely used in two ways. Firstly, in the formal sense of the word, it describes a structured activity designed to enable a group of people to generate creative ideas. Secondly, in the informal sense, brainstorming is often used to describe any action to generate ideas. “Let's you and I sit down and brainstorm some ideas for that problem,” is a typical usage of the informal usage of the term.

Formal Brainstorming

The formal term brainstorming was coined by Alex Osborn, a co-founder of the BDO advertising agency, which eventually became BBDO, a global advertising giant. Osborn described in his seminal book, Applied Imagination (1953), a process which he had perfected at his agency and which he called “brainstorming”. (1)

His brainstorming method was largely what we know today. You have a facilitator and a group of people. The facilitator posts a problem on a chalkboard (or whiteboard or flipchart) and participants are invited to shout out their ideas in a free flowing, criticism free environment. He observed that if you remove judgement from the brainstorming, people would be less inhibited and hence more creative.

Osborn listed four rules of brainstorming:

1. Focus on quantity
2. Withhold criticism
3. Welcome unusual ideas
4. Combine and improve ideas

The Problem with Formal Brainstorming

The problem with brainstorming, as described by Osborn, is that it has been proven to be less than effective! We will not go into details here, but tests have shown again and again that if you take a group of people, give them a problem and have them individually write their ideas down on paper, you will get a wider range of ideas (ie. more creativity) than you would get if you put the participants in a room and had them brainstorming together in the traditional way. (2)

It is important to bear in mind that this research does not question Osborn's four rules of brainstorming, which have been proven highly effective! The research only questions the technique itself.

To a certain degree, a good facilitator can overcome some of the problems (which are listed in the article Visual Brainstorming http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/visual_brainstorming.php) with group brainstorming. Moreover, there are some alternative approaches which seem to be more effective.

Alternative Approaches to Brainstorming

Non-verbal brainstorming, in which people draw pictures together, build ideas out of construction toys or otherwise build ideas without talking has been shown to be more effective. Exactly why this is true is unclear. This has also been covered in the article Visual Brainstorming.

Likewise, electronic brainstorming, that is where people submit solutions to a creative challenge (ie. a problem or goal) using on-line forms, has been demonstrated to be effective as it overcomes a number of the issues which impede traditional brainstorming. Ideas campaigns, which are more sophisticated versions of on-line brainstorming, are also effective for the same reasons.

A popular brainstorming variation on the Osborn method is to have people write ideas on Post-Its and sticktheir ideas to a wall. Then the facilitator leads the group in combining related ideas. This is followed by another round of idea writing and sticking. I have not read much research on this approach, but in general I understand it is effective.

An approach I have used is to have people write ideas individually for 10 minutes. Then put the people in pairs, have them compare and combine ideas as well as be inspired and add new ideas. Then the pairs are combined into larger groups and the process is repeated. We go through several rounds of this until the entire group is comparing ideas. This approach allows people to work individually to start with and moves on to small groups, thus ensuring all brainstormers have time to think about their own ideas and participate in the activity. I've not seen or performed research on this technique, but my own experience has been very positive!

Informal Brainstorming

As noted, the word brainstorming is often bandied about to describe any idea generation action, irrespective of whether or not Osborn's four rules are followed. And this has become so commonplace that we should accept the informal use of brainstorm as an acceptable definition. Nevertheless, a better term for informal brainstorming would probably be “Ideation”, a broad term that would define any action of formulating ideas individually or in group. Hence, brainstorming could be considered a subcategory of ideation.

For personal reasons that are not even clear to me, I've never liked the word “ideation” Perhaps this is partly because in psychology, the word also means the conceptualisation of an idea, which is a different action. I prefer to use the term: “idea generation” which, of course, describes the simple process of generating ideas. And as an electrical generator creates electricity from fuel, idea generation creates ideas from mental fuel!

Like ideation, the term idea generation can describe any activity, whether it be Osborn's brainstorming technique, jpb.com's ideas campaign technique or sitting alone with a notebook and writing down ideas that solve a personal problem!

References:
1) A.F. Osborn (1963) Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem Solving (Third Revised Edition). New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

2) Numerous papers have looked at this issue, one of the first was aptly: D.W. Taylor, P.C. Berry, C.H. Block (1958) “Does Group Participation When Using Brainstorming Facilitate or Inhibit Creative Thinking?” Administrative Science Quarterly 3, no 1. pp 23-47.

 

HOW TO HIJACK YOUR COMPANY'S SUGGESTION SCHEME

Has your firm implemented one of the many new suggestion scheme software applications now available on the market? If so, you have a wonderful opportunity to hijack it and ensure your personal agenda, rather than corporate strategy, becomes the focus of your firm's idea generation activities. Of course, this will probably get you in deep trouble and could cost you your job. So, bear in mind there are minor consequences. But, let's throw caution to the wind and have some fun!

Why is it so easy to hijack a web based suggestion scheme? It is simple because most corporate suggestion schemes put the users (usually employees, but possibly also customers, suppliers or even the general public) in control of your ideation process. As we will see, this is not a good thing, particularly if you want to align your innovation process with strategy. In truth, senior management should control the innovation process, while users should participate in the generation of ideas that respond to specific challenges. More on that later. First let's see how you can hijack your firm's suggestion tool.

The Hijacking Process

Let's imagine you are an engineer based in a lovely New York City (NYC) office of a large, high technology electronics firm. You have a great office, travel opportunities and work closely with your manufacturing centres in Alabama, Texas, New Mexico, Guang'an China and Bangkok, Thailand. However, following the economic downturn and a recent merger, the company has decided to close numerous offices, including your NYC office, centralise all management in Smalltown Alabama – a lovely place, but frankly rather boring compared to NYC – and off-shore core manufacturing to the Chinese factories. Other factories will be closed and much of the manufacturing will be outsourced. Video conferencing will replace all non-essential travel and so on. In short, your great office and travel opportunities will soon disappear and work life will be less fun!

In all this cost cutting, management has invested in a cheap “idea management” software that is basically a suggestion scheme. Employees are invited to submit their ideas on any topic by filling in an on-line form. They can also add comments to their colleagues' ideas as well as vote for their favourite ideas. Management hopes that employees will submit new efficiency ideas that can further reduce costs during these difficult times. But management are also open to new product and product improvement ideas as well as any other great ideas employees might have. However, there is no way to actually channel creativity in their preferred directions. After all, the tool is just an electronic suggestion scheme. Nevertheless, it looks great and boasts powerful web 2.0 features. Let's call the suggestion scheme tool “IdeaBank”.

Changes

On the Intranet, the firm's CEO talks about the importance of changes taking place and asks people to submit to IdeaBank suggestions about further improving operational efficiency during this time of change.

You, like many of your colleagues, do not like the change. You'd rather stay in your NYC office, travel regularly to the companies other locations (business class, of course!) and maintain the flexibility you have grown used to. So, you log into IdeaBank and suggest “Don't close down the NYC office!” A number of colleagues like the idea and vote it up. It quickly becomes a popular idea with lots of votes. This gives you a very different idea.

At lunch, in the staff canteen, you suggest to friends that everyone should submit ideas about not moving and not making changes and you all agree to vote for each others' ideas. Within 24 hours, the IdeaBank is swimming in ideas about staying in NYC, not closing factories, not reducing travel and not making changes. And these ideas are getting votes not just from your and your friends at lunch, but from many other employees who are unhappy about moving and possibly losing their jobs. Others simply see the popularity of your ideas and vote for them as well.

By this time, management face a dilemma. If they delete your and your colleagues' ideas from IdeaBank, it will seem they are censoring free expression and not listening to employee feedback. If they ignore the ideas, in spite of their popularity, it will seem that management is not really interested in employee ideas.

Of course, they could listen to the employees, cancel the closures, not move and keep on as before, hoping that the economy will improve before they lose too much money. But that is not in keeping with their new strategy. And, since their main competitors operate more efficiently, it is not a winning option for the company itself.

What Can Management Do?

One likely scenario, of course, is that the trouble-makers who initiated the hijacking of IdeaBank are identified and laid off supposedly as part of a general downsizing. On one hand, firing people gets rid of some troublemakers. However, those so-called troublemakers might also be considered creative individuals who have demonstrated initiative and leadership! Better managed, they could be a real benefit to the company and its innovation initiative.

Most likely, management will decide to quietly close IdeaBank and declare that the innovation initiative was a failure. Sadly, it is also likely to make management reluctant to invest in better tools that are actually designed according to the principles of the innovation process, which is not the case with suggestion scheme software.

Truth and Fiction

Although this story is fictional, it is based on a couple of actual scenarios which have been brought to my attention.

The true problem in each case is that the people in charge of innovation do not really understand the innovation process. To them, the concept of a suggestion scheme seems ideal. It's an easy to comprehend tool that allows anyone in the firm to suggest any idea. It would seem, then, that employees will share lots of brilliant ideas they have been unable to share in the past.

But that's not the way people actually develop creative ideas personally or in groups. Creative ideas are developed in order to solve problems or achieve goals. Hence, you need an idea management tool that allows management to publish those problems or goals as innovation challenges. Secondly, management needs to remain in control of the innovation process and ensure that ideas are in line with strategy. Again, innovation challenges based on strategic issues do this. Moreover, evaluation by experts, according to criteria defined by management, ensures that the ideas which are in keeping with strategy are the ones selected for development. Open suggestions and popularity votes cede control of innovation to users. At best, that means creative thinking is not in line with strategy and at worst means your suggestion scheme can be hijacked by creative troublemakers!

The Lesson to Be Learned

The lesson to be learned here, if you are a manager in charge of innovation rather than a troublemaker, is to understand the innovation process and if you intend to support it with software, ensure you choose a software that supports the process. Many don't. That means working with innovation experts rather than software experts and choosing a system that puts you in control of innovation, not your employees.

Of course, if you are a troublemaker, you will want to encourage management to do just the opposite!

 

JENNI: ALIGNING YOUR INNOVATION WITH YOUR STRATEGY

Did you know that Jenni is the only idea management software specifically designed to align innovation with strategy? From Jenni's sophisticated ideas campaign module that allows you to set up precisely targetted ideas campaigns to her criteria based evaluation tool that not only sets up multi-expert evaluations, but compiles the results in an easy to interpret report, Jenni is all about focusing innovation on your strategic needs. Better still, our experts are at your beck and call to coach you through the innovation process and its management.

Perhaps that's why a leading water provider in Australia selected Jenni to support innovation according to their complex strategic needs. Owing to severe drought, they needed to improve significantly the efficiency of their water delivery system, encourage customers to use less water and still make a profit. Moreover, with super busy employees, they needed a system that was incredibly easy for employees to grasp and use. They chose Jenni. And for three years, Jenni has supported ideas campaigns that have generated ideas leading to substantial efficiency improvements, resulting in reduced operational costs, communications ideas and more.

And perhaps that's why a global convenience food provider, that needed to improve the healthiness of their snack foods, choose Jenni for their research and development unit. They needed not only healthy snack food concepts, but also packaging that communicated this new brand value. Jenni did the trick and enabled their creative thinkers to generate all kinds of terrifically tasty and healthy food ideas.

How about your firm? If it is important that your innovation process is aligned with strategy, you owe it to your firm to learn more about how Jenni can help you innovate more effectively and gain an unfair advantage over your competition!

Tell us your strategic needs and we will tell you how Jenni can help you align your innovation to meet those needs – with complete confidentiality from our first conversation. Find your nearest Jenni representative at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/contact.php and we'll direct your questions to the person best placed to determine how we can answer them.

More information about Jenni, meanwhile, can be found at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/


ARE YOU AN INNOVATION CONSULTANT?

If you are providing innovation services such as consulting, training or coaching and want to add a great idea management software solution to your portfolio of products and services, contact me and let's talk about how Jenni can help your clients innovate better – and help you gain new clients.

You benefit from our generous commission programme, marketing on the popular www.jpb.com web site (150,000-200,000 page hits/month) and collaborating with a fantastic global team of innovation, marketing and sales experts (http://www.creativejeffrey.com/about/index.php). In addition, by packaging your services with Jenni, you can provide your clients with value added innovation services that help them increase profitability.

It's a fantastic win-win-win scenario for your, your client and 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!

 

ARCHIVES

You can find this and every issue of Report 103 ever written at our archives on http://www.creativejeffrey.com/report103/archives.php


Happy thinking!

Jeffrey Baumgartner

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Report 103 is a complimentary twice monthly eJournal 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

 

 


 

My other web projects

My other web projects

CreativeJeffrey.com: 100s of articles, videos and cartoons on creativity   Jeffosophy.com - possibly useful things I have learned over the years.   Kwerps.com: reflections on international living and travel.   Ungodly.com - paintings, drawings, photographs and cartoons by Jeffrey