Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your monthly 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.
HURDLES ARE FOR JUMPING OVER
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
If there is one thing that innovation people like to talk about, it is hurdles to innovation. Indeed, most innovation consultants would delight in giving you a list of their perceived top 10 hurdles to innovation. Moreover, if you ask employees in most companies, what are the hurdles they face in implementing an innovation process, they will quickly list a handful of them.
The thing to remember, however, is that hurdles are for jumping over. More interestingly, the best method of jumping over innovation hurdles is through creativity and innovation!
In most companies, the hurdles to innovation are similar. Middle managers, in particular, are widely perceived as culprits keen to sidetrack creative ideas before they even have a chance to become innovations. There are numerous reasons for this. A manager may fear that a subordinate with a brilliant idea might take her job. She may not want to deal with the change implicit in implementing the idea. She may fear the loss of her own power through empowering a subordinate to take charge of implementing a potentially innovative idea.
This is not to say that all middle managers are innovation hurdles. Rather that in many firms, many middle managers are perceived as hurdles. Moreover, because they provide the link between the people on the ground and upper management, they can be a very high hurdle indeed.
On the other hand, when middle managers are conducive to the innovation process, it is a huge benefit to any large company. But when they are hurdles, that becomes a problem.
Problems Are Challenges
But wait! As we have learned before, right here in these very pages of Report 103, the innovation process typically starts with a problem. It simply needs to be turned into a challenge so that people can work on solving the problem with creative ideas!
The first step in the creative problem solving process, which is the basis of the front end of any viable innovation process, is to understand better the problem. Sticking with middle managers, you need to ask firstly, “How are middle managers creating hurdles to the innovation process?” The answer is probably simple: they are rejecting ideas from subordinates, they are discouraging subordinates from sharing ideas and they are reprimanding subordinates who attempt to test ideas without first seeking middle management approval. In particularly ugly cases, middle managers may be stealing subordinates' ideas and claiming them as their own, thereby killing all desire of subordinates to share ideas and creating too much ill-will.
The second step in the process, and this is the most important step, is to use the information from step one in order to ask why questions, for example: “why are middle managers suppressing ideas?”
The answer might be: “because they have no motivation to push good ideas forward.” That's a good answer. But it's not good enough. Indeed, the best practice is to ask “why?” five times. By doing so, you may discover that managers are not rewarded for forwarding their subordinates' ideas; that they are overly pressured to perform routine tasks; and that they may lose budget and promotional prospects if they back a failing idea. In short, they are not rewarded in any way for pushing ideas forward, even if those ideas are winners, but they risk consequences if an idea they champion does not work.
In such an environment, any potentially innovative idea starts with a tremendous handicap. Moreover, one can hardly blame the middle managers for discouraging ideas.
The next step in the innovation process is to define the criteria by which you will evaluate ideas. This can be done before or after the idea generation process, but it is usually more businesslike to do it beforehand. In this situation, criteria will probably include: viability of implementing the idea, ease of implementing the idea, expected effectiveness of the idea; avoidance of conflict from middle managers, minimal disruption (In some cases, you may actually want to encourage disruption in a new process. But, for all the sexiness of “disruptive innovation” the truth is, most employees do not like their jobs to be disrupted)
With this information, it becomes relatively easy to formulate one or more innovation challenges that can be used to generate ideas. For example: “in what ways might we motivate [or 'reward'] managers to champion new ideas from their subordinates?” or “in what ways might we encourage middle managers to start more innovative projects with their teams?”
At this stage, you go through the usual idea generation process and get lots of ideas. This done, you can combine ideas and evaluate them using the criteria you have identified. Now, does that not sound like a lot more fun than moaning about middle managers being hurdles to innovation?
Best of all, this process can be used to identify and define other hurdles to innovation as well as generate ideas to solve them. Indeed, the biggest hurdle to innovation is probably allowing hurdles to become insurmountable. But you would never catch an athlete thinking that way!
DECISION MAKING, INNOVATION AND CONTRACTS
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
As I have stressed many times in the past in this publication, we define business innovation as the implementation of creative ideas in order to generate value, typically through increased income, reduced operational costs or, ideally, both. However, in order to achieve that implementation, a decision has to be made. Curiously, this can sometimes be one of the most challenging elements of the innovation process! Worse, the more potentially innovative an idea is, the harder it can be to make that decision.
As a result, many potentially innovative ideas stay on the drawing board for ages, with no one willing to implement them or reject them. In part, this is because highly innovative ideas are a gamble. If they succeed, they mean increased profits for the company and recognition for the team behind them. There could be promotions and rewards involved. That's all very nice, of course.
If they fail, on the other hand, there could be consequences, particularly if your firm does not recognise failure as an important part of the innovation process. Failure, of course, involves loss of budget invested in the implementation. In a worse case scenario, reputations are damaged, employees are reprimanded and promotions passed over. No one likes that.
Of course innovative firms understand that failure is a learning process and that the teams behind failed projects should be respected and invited to share their learning Then they should be given new innovative projects to tackle. Nevertheless, even in such firms, people would rather back winning ideas than the other kind.
With all of this in mind, it is no wonder many innovative ideas are left waiting for a decision, which means that the company in question is not achieving its innovation potential.
Not Just a Yes-No Decision
The thing to bear in mind here is that decisions do not need to be a simple yes or no; go or no go. Rather they can be made based on measurable contingents or milestones. In other words, the innovative project can be given the go-ahead, but it must meet certain goals within a set time frame. If it does not, the project can either be cancelled or reviewed – depending on the terms of the decision.
Sometimes, you need to go even further. It is necessary to review potential failure scenarios and the consequences of those scenarios. With that information in mind, you can devise actions to take in the event of failure, which may even turn a failure into a partial success.
When a decision goes from being a simple yes-no choice to a more complex set of terms, it becomes a contract between the team members and management. After all, a contract is essentially a decision to proceed on an agreement complete with detailed terms on what happens in the event of any foreseeable contingency.
Such a contract can indeed be very effective. By envisioning all possibilities, the team responsible can move forward in confidence. Likewise, management can be assured that if things go wrong, the project will not bleed money – something that we managers really dislike! On the other hand, if a team wishes to progress on a project, but finds that senior managers will not give them the okay because of the feared risk, the team can prepare such a contract for management to agree to.
As a result, ever more innovative decisions can be made while keeping risk in check. This is an ideal scenario for any firm.
CREATIVE SMALL BUSINESSES DELIBERATELY FOSTER CREATIVITY
by Edward Glassman. Ph.D.
I have written many articles about creative businesses, Here are some major strategies they used to foster creativity at work worth considering for your business.
The Roles of Top Management. Top management viewed creativity as important to the success of the business, and to remaining competitive. Management deliberately called for creativity. Policies solicit new ideas, reduce bureaucracy, encourage change and different ways of doing things, foster the entrepreneurial spirit, and the belief that people want to be creative. Management tends to give little direction and few guidelines on the implementation of agreed upon goals, respects people’s competence, encourages risk and helps people learn from mistakes, wants people to excel and achieve, and promotes from within. They demand practical, profitable results.
Power Sharing. People used words like autonomy, freedom, empowerment, independence, and individual thinking. They’re urged to make decisions, create solutions to work problems, and told that the best person to solve a problem is the one working on it. Not a lot of permissions are needed to get the job done with room to innovate. Once there is agreement on the goals, they’re given the creative freedom to do the job. Teams are assigned missions, and then turned loose to achieve goals. People are trusted and relied on to make on-the-spot decisions to help customers.
Hiring. These businesses hire diverse people with untraditional backgrounds, good people given lots of leeway, thinking, talented people who are trusted to do the job.
Rewards. Creativity is enjoyable, and that’s one reward. Ideas are also rewarded with recognition and full credit. Profit sharing and bonuses were mentioned to motivate people to either implement or tell new ideas to management.
Informality. People highlighted reduced bureaucracy, vague or no job descriptions, few rules to limit creativity, fluid organization structure, lack of pigeon-holing, no dead end jobs, informal interaction, calling people co-workers (not subordinates), informal job structures, and more.
Time. Many people mentioned enough time to be creative, and setting deadlines to encourage creative thinking.
Creative Climate. Most people used phrases like contagious creativity, friendly environment, be innovative and solve problems creatively, solicit and listen to new ideas, creative physical environment, individualized work area, celebrations, proximity to creative people, caring people, people feel valuable, decent treatment, catch people doing things right, sense of ownership, personal growth, achievement, and self-direction, and more.
Teams and Teamwork. Most people mentioned teams, cooperation, and creative teamwork. They used phrases like fluid teams, respect each other’s competence, trust, clearly agreed on goals, being open to new ideas, creativity procedures, getting out of the box, and more.
Practical Creativity. Creativity had practical results. People started with spaced out, grandiose ideas, and business realities brought them back to earth.
Sources for New Ideas. Many people spotlighted outside stimulation. They mentioned colleagues, other people, books, travel, competitors, trade fairs, magazines, customer suggestions, other stores, and team meetings as sources for their ideas. Ideas are not creative in a vacuum. Creativity depends on past experiences and knowledge, so the more you know and interact with others, the more creative you can be.
Sharing Knowledge, Ideas and Values. Some businesses train and publish newsletters to keep their people informed. They share new ideas to foster creativity and effectiveness.
I am impressed by what these creative companies do to foster creativity. Many of these strategies can work in your company. Make an action plan to introduce those that you think would increase creativity in your company.
About the Author
This article is taken from his book: “Team Creativity At Work I & II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best,” available from Amazon.com. Ed Glassman lives in Moore County, North Carolina (NC), where he wrote a column on “Creativity At Work’’ two times a week for the Citizen’s News-Record and a column on “Business Creativity” for the Triangle Business Journal in Raleigh. A Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he has lived in Chapel Hill, NC for 34 years and has written several books on creativity at work. He founded the Program For Team Excellence and Creativity at the university. He has led problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University and a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC. He can be contacted at his website: http://www.offbeatbooks.net/team-creativity-at-work-books.html
PASSING CONTROL DOWN THE HIERARCHY
In researching a paper, I came across an interesting blog post in the Wall Street Journal. It is about how the Bank of New Zealand allowed one of their branches to choose its own hours. Other branches learned about this and soon all were demanding the same rights. Some wanted to open late, some on weekends and so on. This initially caused chaos in the main office and many senior manages criticised the decision for political reasons. Others, had legitimate concerns. Nevertheless, these were overcome.
With their new found freedom, branches soon started making other decisions that generated new business and increased profitability. In short, they took control of their local innovation process and succeeded. This seems to have been largely owing to being given freedom to make some basic choices and, importantly, being given useful information from the main office that allowed the branches to make intelligent decisions.
I recommend reading the article: http://blogs.wsj.com/management/2009/08/07/unshackling-employees/
INNOVATION IN EMERGING ECONOMIES
The Economist last week published a special report on innovation in emerging economies. It is extremely interesting reading. The report notes that emerging countries are not simply regions of cheap labour and call centres. Rather they are centres of innovation which are innovating in innovative ways! This spells both threats and opportunities for organisations in developed countries. You can download the PDF of this special report at http://www.economist.com/members/survey_paybarrier.cfm?issue=20100501 or http://www.economist.com/specialreports/
Incidentally, we have also noticed from emerging economies an increased interest in our innovation process management software. Indeed, just last month, a leading agricultural firm in Namibia began using Jenni. And we are in talks with firms in South Africa, Turkey and Dubai. You can read more here: http://www.skynewswire.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=16119
QUALITY NOT QUANTITY IN IDEA MANAGEMENT (OUR ADV)
A number of businesses selling idea management software and services boast the high participation levels and astounding number of ideas generated by their software and services. This, of course, is fantastic if your firm is seeking ideas. If, on the other hand, your firm is actually hoping to innovate, then the number of ideas or levels of participation are largely irrelevant. What is important is the quality of ideas generated, their value potential and their relevance to your innovation goals. Generating 5,000 ideas where 50 are viable is clearly less economically efficient than generating 500 ideas in which 100 are viable. Not only does the latter scenario provide more viable ideas, but because you start from a smaller set of raw ideas, fewer resources need be invested in evaluating ideas in order to identify the winners.
We recognise this. Indeed, that's why our software: Jenni innovation process management (IPM) gives you complete control over your innovation process.
Jenni starts by using ideas campaigns to focus idea generation on strategic business problems defined by your management. Thus, ideas generated respond to actual business needs and not the whims of employees.
Moreover, Jenni's structured index of users that defines location, department and membership of teams, allow you to control who participates in any ideas campaign. You can open a campaign to the entire company, or limit it to one or more locations, business units or teams. In many cases, allowing a diverse team of 50 people around the world to focus on an innovation challenge is far more efficient and productive than opening up the challenge to all 10,000 employees in a firm.
Finally, Jenni's unparalleled evaluation tools make the process of identifying winning ideas efficient and effective.
Jenni makes no claims about the number of ideas generated. But we do guarantee that with our support, you can generate a high percentage of innovative ideas that keep your firm well ahead of the competition. More importantly, by aligning idea generation in Jenni with strategy, you can expect to improve your bottom line significantly – 1-2% annual improvement is not unrealistic.
Tell us your innovation goals and we'll tell you how Jenni can help you achieve them. For more information, visit http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/index.php or contact us to discuss your needs at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/contact.php
NEW: JENNI ON-LINE VIDEO DEMONSTRATION (OUR ADV)
In order to make it easier for you to see how Jenni works – and to show your colleagues how Jenni works, we have created a series of on-line videos demonstrating Jenni's key features. You can watch these videos by going to http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/demo.php and filling in the form. Within a minute or so, you will receive by e-mail log-in information that allows you to watch the video clips as many times as you wish – and even to share them with your colleagues.
Incidentally, the on-line videos were prepared by our very own, ace-creativity consultant Andrew Greaves. Greavsie, as he is known to friends and colleagues, is based in London and has helped leading companies, particularly in the media business, tap into the creative talent of their employees. If you would like to boost the creative thinking skills of your people, contact Greavsie to discuss your particular needs.
You can find this and every issue of Report 103 ever written at our archives on http://www.creativejeffrey.com/report103/archives.php
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Report 103 is edited by Jeffrey Baumgartner and is published on a monthly basis.
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