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Report 103

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

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Wednesday, 15 September 2010
Issue 172

Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your twice-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.

Information on unsubscribing, archives, reprinting articles, etc can be found at the end of this newsletter.

 

STOP AND THINK!

Innovation experts love to make lists of obstacles to innovation. These lists include issues like lack of time, resistance to change, poor communication, middle management and so on. Employees like to site obstacles such as these in part because they place the blame on the organisation and their mangers rather than on themselves. And, indeed, can you imagine a middle manager responding to a questionnaire on obstacles to innovation with the answer: “why, I believe I am a major obstacle to innovation in this firm.”? But the truth is, possibly the biggest obstacle to innovation is simply that people do not stop and think!

Let’s think about this for a moment, if you will. The first element of the innovation process is creativity. Creative ideas, which are implemented and generate value, usually through increased revenue or reduced operating costs or both, become innovations. Without creativity there is no innovation.

Moreover, most creative thinking in organisations follows, at least to some extent, creative problem solving (CPS) methodology (see http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/cps.php for my variation on CPS). At minimum, this means examining a problem in order to identify the underlying issues, formulating a challenge and generating ideas that could potentially solve the problem. For instance, if your firm decides to launch a new product, there will be a number of implicit and explicit creative challenges you and your employees will tackle, including: the appearance of the product, functionality, how to build it, where to build it, market placement and so on. Even if you do not use formal brainstorming sessions and idea management tools to generating ideas to solve these problems, your employees will informally generate and evaluate ideas.

Of course, with a major action like launching a new product, it is inevitable that people will focus on generating ideas, creative thinking and innovation. But with minor issues, this is often not the case.

Taking a Creative Approach with Routine Tasks

For instance, imagine you need to make a Powerpoint presentation to a new client to whom you want to emphasise your company’s strong customer orientation. If you are like most people, you will pull out your standard corporate Powerpoint presentation, which is follows corporate style guidelines, includes your mission statement, some attractive numbers, a few colourful bar graphs and some slogans. You will most likely add an extra couple of slides about customer service and some numbers comparing your firm to the competition for customer satisfaction. You’ve done it before. It’s easy, fast and you will be done in time for lunch! But it won’t be a very creative presentation. Why not? Because you won’t have spent any time thinking about the presentation, the purpose of the presentation, the client or their expectations.

Another approach would be to stop and think.

In doing so, you might realise that neither the client nor you really want a typical business presentation. So, instead, you tell a story about a client with similar needs to the new client’s. You tell how the client came to your firm, how your people went out of their way to serve the client and the results achieved. Rather than bar graphs, numbers and bullet points, each white slide has a single word on it, a word emphasising a key point in the dialogue.

Or perhaps you decide to do away with Powerpoint all together and use children’s wooden building blocks to demonstrate how your firm works, to present information and to show links to customers. You might also include an exercise in which you and the client build something together in order to demonstrate how you collaborate. At the same time, one of your colleagues washes the client’s car, just to emphasise your deep commitment to customer service.

Either of these alternative presentation methods would be more fun that a standard presentation to develop, would doubtless make a lasting impact on the client and would certainly demonstrate creativity. But they would require that you stop and think before starting what is usually a mundane task.

Google: Creative Friend or Foe?

When faced with a problem for which the company does not have an established action, many people still don’t think. They Google. Using the famous search engine, they find a few relevant web pages, read them and follow whichever approach seems best. This can be a quick way to solve problems, but following someone else’s established and published actions is hardly creative. Bear in mind, no organisation ever became an innovative leader in their market by following the competition’s every move!

To use a non-business example, let’s imagine you want to make a spinach quiche. You have some cooking experience, and can imagine what is probably in a quiche, but have never actually cooked one before. Moreover, you do not own any cookbooks. What do you do? If you are like many people, you Google spinach quiche recipes, look at a few and select the best compromise between what looks good and what you can make in terms of available ingredients and so on. Then you follow the recipe. No doubt it will be a very good quiche – and the planning will only take a few minutes. But it will not be a terribly creative quiche.

A much more creative approach would be to use your imagination in order to determine what would make a yummy quiche. Probably you will do a little idea generation in your mind, imagining certain ingredients and how they would taste together before deciding on what to include. Once you’ve planned the recipe in your mind, you put everything together and hope for the best. This approach will take a little longer to get started, but will certainly result in a more creative quiche. However, it is also a riskier approach. The quiche might not be as good as a closely followed recipe – at least not the first time. However, if you persevere in your quiche experimentation, you will soon be making a delicious and creative quiche in your own style.

The middle approach, of course, would be to use Google for information and inspiration. In this case, you would search for spinach quiche recipes. But rather than follow any one of them precisely, you might combine elements of two or more recipes and add your own modifications as well. The resulting quiche would likely be very similar to one of the recipes you found via Google, but it would also be somewhat creative as a result of your modifications.

In the business environment, Google is widely used for quick problem solving. However, the creative executive should always stop and think about a problem before using Google. And, she should normally use Google for research and inspiration rather than finding and following a strict recipe.

Stop and Listen and Think

Even when people do stop, think, devise creative ideas and share those ideas with their managers, those managers often fail to stop and think themselves. Rather, they tend to reject unusual ideas with statements like: “we don’t have time for that”, “we don’t have budget for that” or “that’s not how we do things here.” When this happens, subordinates’ creative ideas are not elevated and those subordinates become demotivated.

Indeed, imagine that an enthusiastic new employee is assigned to make a presentation to a new client. She wants to impress them. So, as we did above, she generates some alternative ideas, chooses to use building blocks to present the company and then tells her manager about her plan.

It would be nice to think her manager would listen to the idea, think about it and be impressed. But in truth many overworked managers are likely to say: “don’t be ridiculous. We always use the company Powerpoint presentation. You can find it on the intranet.” Boom! A creative idea is shot dead.

I’ve written in the past about how managers should receive ideas from employees. You can read more at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/threecs.php

Of course, it is not possible to stop, think and generate ideas for every problem that occurs in an office. In many cases, established protocol is the easiest and most efficient way to get things done. But it never hurts to stop and think for a moment before starting a task. Ask yourself: is there a better way? Often there is. Moreover, the better way may also be easier and less time consuming than established protocol. And that is always useful in a busy workplace.

 

GUEST AUTHOR

I am delighted to introduce you to Mike Dalton, who has kindly contributed to Report 103 a thought-provoking piece on single-tasking versus multi-tasking.

If you would like to contribute an article to Report 103, please contact me with a description of the article .

 

INNOVATION LESSONS FROM CHILDHOOD
by Michael A. Dalton

Funny thing, but as we grow-up and get “smarter”, we tend to make things more complicated than they need to be, and innovation is no exception. Innovation is complex enough to begin with; so let’s look at a lesson we learned as children that can help simplify it and deliver more impact.

My wife has taught four and five year olds for over 25 years now, and occasionally, I’m lucky enough to visit one of her classrooms and see her at work. When I do, I usually learn (or re-learn) something myself. During one visit, it struck me how smooth playtime was. You would think that a room full of five year olds would be a real beehive of activity; while the children were certainly displaying all of the energy and enthusiasm you would expect, they weren’t flitting from one activity to the next. Since five year olds don’t have the longest attention spans, I marvelled, “How do you keep them so focused?”

“It’s easy” she replied. “They know they’re not allowed to start a new activity until they finish playing with the old one and put it away.” Wow!

What a simple, but powerful lesson – Focus on one thing at a time and finish it before moving on to the next task. The children know they can’t jump from working on a puzzle over to the sand table until they’ve finished, picked up all the pieces, put them back in the box and put it back on the shelf.

To observe the world today, you would think it was just the opposite. Multi-tasking would appear to be critical to productivity. Why else would we hail it as a “must have” talent? Why would job descriptions list it as a required skill? We’ve forgotten that simple lesson from childhood. The reality is that multi-tasking is a myth: a myth that destroys productivity. That’s right; people can’t do multiple things at the same time.

Don’t take my word for it. Cognitive research has verified that people are incapable of multitasking.* Yes, almost anyone can walk and chew gum at the same time. But for any task that takes cognitive function such as thinking, writing, speaking, planning, or designing, we actually switch-task. We switch back and forth between tasks. That’s why talking on the phone and driving at the same time leads to the dangerous behaviors we’ve all seen like swerving, driving through red lights, or veering across multiple lanes to get to a missed exit.

Physical peril aside, the real problem is that multitasking is a huge productivity killer. Your brain takes time to switch from one activity to another; for highly complex tasks, like new product development, it can take 20 minutes to get back into a highly productive flow. Many times people struggle to get 20 minutes of uninterrupted work, so they rarely get into the zone. Additionally, when you switch tasks, you often forget some part of what you had been working on previously. Compound this with frequent switching throughout the day and it’s a wonder anything ever gets done.

How does this affect innovation? A study of engineers found that the percentage of value added work dropped rapidly when they were assigned to more than 2 projects at a time. With 5 projects, value add had dropped to only 20%. As multitasked as people are today, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s taking longer and longer to get all of the work done. What a demoralizing effect.

How can you avoid this problem? Simply limit the number of project assignments to just a few at a time and encourage focused effort on one task at a time. I routinely find companies assigning people to 5 or even 6 projects; so this one change could easily double productivity. Additionally, think about how much more engaged your workforce would be if 60-80% of their efforts were adding value rather than only 20-30%.

What strategies can help you eliminate multi-tasking? The best of time management teaches the importance of being in the moment and focusing on the task at hand. When you are working on something, commit, focus, and work on that task until you complete it. For larger tasks, try putting blocks of time on your calendar.

To do this, you’ll also need to find a way to eliminate distractions:

The More Impact Bottom Line

In kindergarten, we learned that it’s best to focus on one thing at a time. As adults trying to jam as much as possible into our busy days, we quickly forget that lesson. For more impact from your innovation:

Communicate these changes and the reasons behind them across the organization so people understand and support the change.

End Notes:

* Rubinstein, Joshua S. and David E. Meyer, eds. Executive control of cognitive processes in task switching, Journal of Experimental Psychology – Human Perception and Performance, Vol. 27, No.4

 

ABOUT MIKE

Mike Dalton’s innovation improvement framework was sharpened over 24 years of product development, marketing and executive leadership at the multi-billion dollar SC Johnson family of companies. Mike is also the founder of Guided Innovation Group, whose simple mission is helping companies turn their new product innovation into bottom-line impact. Learn more about him and his company at http://www.guidedinnovation.com/.

 

CREATIVITY, THE BRAIN, AND EVOLUTION

An interesting article in Psychology Today looks at research to identify the physical side of creativity; specifically what happens in the brain when we are being creative and how the brains of creative people differ from those of not so creative people. Interesting reading at http://www.psychologytoday.com/node/41888

 

PROOF THAT WALKING IS GOOD FOR CREATIVITY

I have always argued that walking is great for creativity. Indeed, whenever I am stuck on a problem, need ideas or need to think a scenario through, I always go for a walk. I have even claimed that walking jiggles the brain cells, helping to bring in new ideas.

I am delighted that the researchers at the University of Illinois have finally proven me right. They found that walking “...can enhance the connectivity of important brain circuits, combat declines in brain function associated with aging and increase performance on cognitive tasks.”

You can read a summary of their findings here: http://www.news.illinois.edu/news/10/0826walk.html

However, walking for creativity is not without dangers. Several years ago, I was so deep in thought while walking that I walked right into a sign post – and broke my nose!

So, by all means, if you need to be creative, go for regular walks. But always watch where you are going!

 

PODCAST WITH LIZ MASSEY AND JEFFREY BAUMGARTNER

Back in January, Liz Massey interviewed me and we enjoyed a wide ranging discussion on creativity, business innovation and idea generation. The interview is now on-line in Liz’s web site and you can download a podcast of the interview on http://creativeliberty.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/interview-with-an-innovator-jeffrey-baumgartner/

About Liz

Liz Massey is a writer, editor, media producer and a creative agent provocateur. Experienced in artistic disciplines as diverse as music, photography, filmmaking and journalism, Liz has a deep hunger to understand how the creative process works. Read more of her work on http://creativeliberty.wordpress.com/services/

 

JENNI AMERICA

In a joint venture with Reliant Tech of New Jersey, USA, The Idea Hunter, of London, UK and Synopse of India, we (jpb.com) have launched a new company in the USAto oversee developing, selling and marketing Jenni innovation process management in the Americas and India. The new company, which will be led by Dan Kenyon, will enable us to serve better the American market and improve the pace of software development.

Dan has been representing Jenni software in America for several years now. He combines substantial big business experience, knowledge of the software market and familiarity with Jenni’s innovation process. And he’s a great guy. So, when we decided to establish the joint venture company, it was clear from the beginning that Dan would be the most suitable person to lead it.

In addition to focusing innovation services and marketing on the needs of the American market, we will also centralise development of the software from the US office.

Nevertheless, global operations and sales outside of the Americas and India will still be overseen by our offices in Erps-Kwerps, Belgium and London, UK.

 

JENNI INNOVATION PROCESS MANAGEMENT (IPM) SOFTWARE

Jenni innovation process management software is probably the best idea management software on the planet.

Jenni enables your managers to launch ideas campaigns to generate, develop and evaluate ideas that solve their business problems and enable them to achieve goals through innovation.

Unlike other idea management software products which capture a lot of ideas, but do little else, Jenni provides you with a structured process for idea generation, evaluation and implementation according to your strategic business needs.

For more information, see http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/ or reply to this newsletter and I will put you in touch with someone who can help you learn how Jenni can help your company out-innovate the competition.

 

JEFFREY'S PERSONAL AND UNGODLY CREATIVE ACTIVITY SPACE

If you have been reading Report 103 for a while and have begun to wonder what sort of chap I am in real life, you can visit my newly created personal web site at http://www.ungodly.com. It contains some artwork I have created recently (I am hoping to digitise older work soon) and a rather unusual blog.


Happy thinking!

Jeffrey Baumgartner

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Report 103 is a complimentary 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 a monthly basis.

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