Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Thursday 8 September 2011
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your twice-monthly (or thereabouts) 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.
JEFFREY IS ON TWITTER: @creativeJeffrey
Follow CreativeJeffrey (that’s me!) on Twitter at http://twitter.com/creativeJeffrey.
GRASS-ROOTS CREATIVITY AND INSTITUTIONAL INNOVATION
Last week, I had the pleasure of delivering a keynote presentation at the Fourth South African Innovation Summit, which was brilliantly co-organised by my good friend Itha Taljaard. As it was my first time in South Africa, the Innovation Summit was a tremendous learning experience for me as well as the audience. Part of that learning experience was in fact a reminder about something which is already familiar: the disconnect between grass-roots creativity and institutional innovation. This is an issue that I have come across in emerging economies as well as in developed countries.
The Summit presented a typical emerging economy scenario. On one hand, there were examples of how individuals and small groups in the villages exploited their creative thinking ability to devise opportunities to generate an income. For instance, I met a young man who had invented a mobile Internet cafe. It was essentially a cart with drinks and computer terminals. It could be driven from village to village in order to provide Internet connectivity for a fee. Innovations like this potentially provide a win-win situation. An entrepreneur can purchase a mobile Internet cafe relatively inexpensively, take it to the villages and earn an income through providing drinks and Internet services. Meanwhile, villagers can use the mobile Internet cafes to communicate and access information – especially that not available by mobile telephone (see below).
Also at the Summit, officials from government supported agencies and several business leaders bemoaned the lack of innovation in South African industries. And by my understanding they are correct. Bigger business in South Africa is not innovating sufficiently and this will make it increasingly difficult for the country to compete globally, particularly in view of the innovation being shown in countries like Brazil, India and China. To make matters worse, the country suffers a high unemployment level. Clearly, concerted efforts to boost innovation at the industrial level can only benefit this potential-rich country.
Meanwhile in Ghana
Meanwhile, in Ghana, a small company called Esoko provides crop price information via SMS text message. A rural farmer can send an SMS message with key words, such as “pineapple”, to the Esoko server and receive by return SMS a list of pineapple prices in major markets across the country. The entire transaction is done via software. Armed with this information, the farmer can negotiate a better price with local middlemen or even go elsewhere to sell his products.
Likewise, farmers can monitor prices for their products and identify times to sell at maximum profit. This tiny amount of information allows the relatively poor farmers to increase substantially their income and improve their lives – for the cost of a precious few test messages. Similar services have also appeared in India(1) and other countries.
Nevertheless, Ghana is another country that lacks a reputation for industrial innovation.
But these countries are not alone. When I lived in Thailand during the 90s, I saw similar examples of villages using creativity to finance and set up small businesses. At the same time, big businesses were failing to innovate and continue to be weak in this area, this lack of industrial innovation has cost Thailand dearly as China and India have grown and taken over many markets that once belonged to Thailand, such as textiles and electronics.
The Big Bad Disconnect
Clearly, in all these cases there is a huge disconnect between what I like to call “grassroot creativity”, which is what happens at the local level, and institutional innovation, which is programmes launched by governments and government run (or supported) bodies which promote innovation. These bodies often collect statistics, decry the lack of innovation and launch programmes to attempt to promote innovation. However, what they resoundingly fail to do is to look at what is happening at the grassroots level and ask “how might we exploit this incredible local creativity to the benefit of our country?” After all, innovation need not be restricted to large scale manufacturing. Indeed, it is often the small start-ups that launch breakthrough innovations even in wealthy countries.
In other words, cultural innovation solutions need not focus on programmes for big companies Rather, they can provide opportunities for determined entrepreneurs at the grassroots level.
Not Just Emerging Economies
If you think this is an issue that is exclusive to emerging economies, I would kindly suggest that you think again! In Europe, you can often see a high level of creativity from small businesses and independent professionals. In Brussels, for instance, a group called Betagroup (http://www.betagroup.be/) comprises some 2000 creative entrepreneur members. Likewise, groups like The Hub (http://the-hub.net/) support innovative social entrepreneurship. Many members of these groups, who use them to network and collaborate, struggle to develop and grow small businesses. They lack not for creativity, but for investment and resources.
At the same time, individual European governments and the European Commission are regularly announcing new programmes to promote innovation; new legislation to promote innovation and statistics demonstrating a lack of innovation. Sadly, participating in these programmes often involves filling in complex forms, meeting pointless bureaucratic requirements (such as being able to demonstrate three years of profitable trading – something which most innovative new start-ups simply cannot do!) and following strict procedures.
Ironically, if you ask most small business owners and entrepreneurs how government might best support them, the typical answer will be: “by leaving us be!” Small businesses want things like reduced administration during business set-up, far less legislation in operating small businesses (in some countries, one must acquire all kinds of obscure licenses and permissions in order to trade) and less hassle from the government. Indeed, about the only thing small business owners would like from their government is access to loans, bank guarantees and grants to support businesses during their early days.
Indeed, in most cases, if government run innovation programmes were dismantled and their funding was put into programmes to provide small, simple, bureaucracy-free loans and guarantees for small companies, my guess is that creativity and innovation in their countries would flourish! If they further took a sledgehammer to the mess of laws which trip up small businesses and discourage entrepreneurs, they would promptly become innovation powerhouses. Indeed, it is no accident that the country most commonly identified with business innovation, the USA, has far fewer government sponsored business innovation programmes than most countries and provides relatively fast, low administration business set up.
1.My notebook from the 4th South Africa Innovation Summit, http://www.innovationsummit.co.za/
2.Ken Banks, “In African agriculture, information is power”, National Geographic Daily News, 6 September 2011 (http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/09/05/in-african-agriculture-information-is-power/)
READ JEFFREY’S BOOK ON MASTERING INNOVATION
If you enjoy Report 103, you’ll love my book: THE WAY OF THE INNOVATION MASTER. It’s a creative look at how you can become an innovation master and lead your company on a path of innovation. More information at http://www.creativejeffrey.com/books/
Workplace innovation is about improving the way that employees interact and use their places of work. In the near future it will lead to a radical re-invention of the very concept of the workplace. Unlike product and process innovation, whose value is typically evident through increased income and reduced operating costs, workplace innovation is about creating working environments that better suit families and, particularly, women. More importantly, we can expect to see substantial breakthough workplace innovation over the next 20-30 years. Participation, if not leadership, in this area will be critical to companies that want to keep a competitive edge for the future. This is simply because the best employees will move to those companies that innovate to make the workplace more suitable to their needs, rather than stay at those companies that refuse to change.
To understand why this will happen, let us look at the workplace and how it has changed over a couple of generations. When I was a child in America and the UK, my family was typical. My father started, fresh out of university, as an engineer and slowly worked his way up through a large multinational company. An intelligent and hardworking man, he soon found himself in management and climbed many layers before he retired a few years ago. Meanwhile, my mother was a housewife who stayed at home, kept our house clean and raised my brothers and I. Very nearly all of my friends were in a similar situation. Indeed, few mothers worked and those that did often did so part time as they were also responsible for all the childcare in their families.
My father worked a regular schedule, going to work every morning and coming home shortly before dinner time. Sometimes, in the evening, he’d do a bit of paperwork in his study. But he only ever took phone calls at home in the event of an emergency. Weekends were spent with the family.
Today, of course, the stay-at-home housewife looking after the children is rarity. Among my friends, both partners in almost every couple work in offices. Moreover, after work and during the weekends, they are often taking calls and checking emails. Children are in day care and afters-school activities until such time as they are old enough to travel to and from school on their own. Often, retired grandparents are co-opted into providing childcare.
Where families are less well educated, men are more likely to work in factories or doing other manual labour while women are more likely to be working in offices. Sadly, as manufacturing heads to lower income countries, men are finding it increasingly difficult to find work.
Some interesting things are happening in educational demographics the world over. Today in almost every subject in almost every university on the planet, more women than men are enrolled in graduate and post graduate courses. As a result, ever more women are entering the work force at a higher level in the organisational ladder. At the same time, ever fewer men have suitable qualifications to become knowledge workers. Traditionally, such men have worked in factories, mining and other labour-intensive fields. But many such jobs are leaving the rich world for emerging economies.
This means that in most companies higher level employees are more likely to be women than men. This trend will increase. At present, it is only in the top tiers of management that men still dominate. This seems to be for two reasons. Firstly, men may be preventing women from reaching the board level in order to protect their own turf. However, there is no way to judge how true this may be. Secondly, many women take time off to have children and look after them during their first months or years. Unfortunately, they often find it hard to re-enter the workforce at the same level which they held when they left. Meanwhile, high-flying males continue climbing the corporate ladders (often while their wives sacrifice career opportunities in order to raise the children!)
Moreover, when mothers re-enter the workforce, even after short maternity leaves, the workplace environment becomes less friendly. High-powered executives-to-be are expected to put in long hours, travel widely and often take up overseas positions to prove their mettle. In traditional families where men worked and women stayed at home – this was no problem. But when both partners are working and women are nevertheless expected to take on the bulk of childcare, it becomes problematic.
But as more and more women take over management and leadership roles in business, I believe this will change. I hear stories about how women managers are sympathetic to other women’s needs in the office. For instance, they will try to hold meetings earlier in the day when children will still be in school.
New Technologies and Ways of Working
In fact, this is not enough. New technologies potentially enable increased flexibility in the workplace. Emails and telephone calls can be made from anywhere in the world. Collaboration software enables people to work on projects from their homes, while on the road and even in paediatricians’ waiting rooms!
Indeed, the irony is that today, most knowledge workers work far longer than the legal working day. When my father came home from work, that was largely it. He was out of contact, except in the case of an emergency. Today, people are routinely checking their mail and taking phone calls at night and over the weekend. Yet this time is seldom ever considered a part of their working hours.
When today’s and tomorrow’s best employees prefer not to work the same long hours and put in the same kind of travel mileage that my father did, the companies that want to hire them will have to change the concept of the workplace. They will need to make it more women friendly, more family friendly and less a part of the work experience.
This will require creativity to identify ways to do this and innovation to implement solutions. Part of the answer will doubtless involve more flexible working hours, evaluating employees based on input rather than hours spent at the desk and teleworking. More radical solutions may involve bringing the family to the workplace, for instance by having in office buildings playrooms for the children of employees, or removing the workplace all together, with employees working from home and meeting in coffee shops, hired conference rooms and in each others’ homes.
I am convinced that there will be some every exciting workplace innovations over the next 10 years. I would also advise any organisation that truly wants to employee the best people to start that innovation process now!
What do you think? If you would like to share ideas on the changing demographics of the workplace and innovation in the working environment, email me on email@example.com. I would love to share ideas with you!
ANTICONVENTIONAL THINKING DÉBUTS IN FARO!
I will make my first ever public presentation of Anticonventional thinking during an interactive workshop at the European Conference of Creativity and Innovation (ECCI) in Faro, Portugal in September. Join me and the cream of Europe’s creative thinking crop at ECCI – Europe’s most important creativity and innovation event of the year. More information at http://www.eaci.net/eccixii/
WONDERFUL SUMMIT IN SOUTH AFRICA
I am sending this issue of Report 103 from my hotel in Cape Town. Last week, I spoke at the South Africa Innovation Summit. Not only was the reception to my key-note presentation fantastic, but I met some truly wonderful people and learned a great deal about innovation in what is a very vibrant and exciting emerging economy.
Lastly, I would like to thank Report 103 readers and friends Kemble Elliot, Itha Taljaard and Peter Greenwall, for looking after me and showing me around their lovely country!
AND WHAT ABOUT YOUR CITY/COUNTRY?
In addition to the above public conferences, over the next few months, I am scheduled to be doing private talks and interactive workshops in Germany, Italy, Mexico and Belgium where I will help individuals, teams and organisations learn how to think more like creative geniuses. How about you? Would your team benefit from learning how to think more like creative geniuses? If so, contact me and tell me about your organisation and your needs.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH YAHOO?
If you have been using the Internet since the early days of the web, you will surely remember when Yahoo was the biggest name around. Its on-line directory was the best resource for finding information and it had one of the highest levels of traffic of any web site at the time. Later, it brought in banner advertising (for income), email and news. At the peak of the dot-com boom, it’s shares were worth US$125 each.
Today, the company has just fired Carol Bartz, its CEO, and its shares are trading at a tenth of their peak value. And while Yahoo is still one of the big names on the web, its shine has long since faded. It is not the market leader in search, web email or on-line news. And it seems to be trying to chase after Google rather than take its own lead.
Yahoo was originally a web directory, not a search engine. In the mid 90s, Yahoo’s founders and their early employees looked at every web site they knew about and ensured that each was properly categorised. Those of us wishing to have our web pages on Yahoo had to complete an on-line form with a description, proposed categories and other information about the pages. This worked fine in the old days when there were not so many web pages and the web was largely an honest place. But as the web began to grow too quickly and dishonest search engine optimisation specialists turned to tricks to maximise their clients’ presence on Yahoo and the search engines, Yahoo’s approach was no longer sustainable.
Today, clearly, Yahoo needs a breakthrough innovation that once again puts it at the forefront of one market category or another. Attempting to be as good as Google in search or email will only ensure it can never surpass second place. Yahoo needs somehow to be clearly different to Google in ways that make it appealing to Internet users.
What do you think? If you could be made CEO of Yahoo, how would you innovate to save the company?
JENNI IDEA MANAGEMENT
If you need to capture, evaluate and implement creative ideas from your workforce, your business partners and/or your customers, take a look at Jenni innovation process management software. It’s easy to use, fun and a bargain compared to competing products which lack the functionality and expertise in organisational innovation.
In North and South America: http://www.jenniusa.net/
Elsewhere in the world: http://www.creativejeffrey.com/jenni/
You can find this and every issue of Report 103 ever written at our archives on http://www.creativejeffrey.com/report103/
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.