Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Wednesday 1 February 2012
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.
THE NEGLECTED IMAGINATION
With all the fuss about innovation and even a growing interest in creativity, it is easy to neglect the Imagination. But if innovation is important to you and your business, then imagination is essential.
Think about it. I’ve long defined business innovation as being the implementation of creative ideas in order to generate value, typically through increased revenues, reduced costs or both. Creativity can be defined as using your imagination to solve problems. Assuming you accept my definitions, innovation is dependent upon creativity which is dependent upon imagination. Yet, in the current business climate with its focus on structured innovation processes, lots of analytics and presenting results in colourful graphs – the poor neglected imagination of your people is forgotten!
Frankly, the best idea management software in the world, the most sophisticated mind-mapping tools and perfectly managed brainstorming sessions are worth absolutely nothing if participants’ imaginations are neglected. However, exploiting the imagination in yourself, let alone others, is no easy task. The imagination is a fickle beast. Most people are taught to outgrow it somewhere in early adolescence. Those of us who ignored such advice, often to our peril, cannot always turn it on or off at will.
Your Imagination Does Not Like Your Desk
Certainly, one of the world’s worst places for accessing your imagination is your office desk, with your computer on, emails pouring in and a to-do list a kilometre long.
This is probably why so many great business ideas are first scribbled out on a cocktail napkin. Once people leave the office, relax over a drink and laugh at the corporate silliness that drives them all nuts, their imaginations come out to play. And, a drink or two, in moderation, lowers inhibitions – a scenario the shy imagination often finds welcoming.
Likewise, many people are inspired with great ideas after a sound sleep. I believe this is because dreaming provides the uncontrolled imagination the opportunity to play with ideas.
Where do you get your best ideas? After sleeping? In the bath? While walking? Whatever the case, it is doubtless a time when you are relaxed and your imagination feels it is safe to come out to play.
Coaxing Your Imagination Out of Hiding
What does this mean for you? If you find ideas do not come easily to you, then you need to find your imagination and coax it out of hiding. The best way to do this is through play and relaxation. Music and meditation can also help, it seems (see article “A successful Journey Through the Imagination with Bach” below).
In order to achieve an imaginative state, you probably need to leave your desk and office. Go out for a walk, listen to a concert, visit an art gallery, imagine you are a superhero. Play music. Paint. Draw. Dream. Let your inner child out. Whatever it takes, do it!
Coaxing Other People’s Imaginations Out
If you run a company and you want better results from brainstorms and ideas campaigns, you need to give your employees the opportunity to tap into their imaginations. Importantly, you have to realise that they cannot do that sitting in front of their desks facing a stack of work and the boss’s orders to be imaginative -- or creative or innovative, for that matter. Indeed, when the boss tells employees to be innovative, she usually means she wants creative ideas and those, as we have seen, require imagination.
Employees need to be able to leave their desks, relax, play and dream. Some companies have had success with relaxing creativity spaces furnished with beanbag chairs, toys, paper and coffee machines. Many companies have indirectly provided freedom by giving employees flexibility to work when, where and how they want, provided they get results. Sometimes it might be in your interest to let a team go out to lunch and suggest they order a decent bottle of wine to go with it. Such practice is not unusual in parts of Europe, particularly the South. But be sure no one is drinking and driving, of course. No idea is worth a deadly accident.
Rather than push everyone in your company to sit at their desks and contribute ideas to the suggestion scheme, invite small teams to leave the office for a few hours or longer in order to find an inspirational place in which their imaginations can run free.
Indeed, just imagine what would happen if you did all of these things! You’d have the most creative company on the planet.
THE REALITY OF BUSINESS IN A FAIRY TALE
By Fernando SousaIf we ask what are the most important problems that companies face right now, we only need to take a look at the media for an answer. Lack of cash flow, lack of access to credit, late payments, high fixed costs, tax burdens on the final products, difficulties in accessing new markets, crushing profit margins and uncertainty about the returns on investments, to name but a few. Meanwhile, the labour force fears staff reductions, terminations, lay-offs and low productivity.
However, if we ask managers and employees what they really want to improve, their responses focus on issues around communication: coordination and internal communication, customer relations, resistance to change and corporate identity. Apparently they feel that all of the rest are minor issues. Moreover, they consider other issues, such as innovation, competitiveness and social capital, as already classic. If you ask managers what exactly the communication problem is about, they do not know very well, nor do they know why it is so often cited. Of course, if the answer was easy, the problem would be easily solved. It is not!
Solution in a Fairy Tale?
And as the clarification of a complex problem can benefit from an analogical thinking, why can’t we invoke such simple things as the fairy tales* in order to find a solution? In fact, we know that these good stories translate social problems into simple language. So let us try to understand communication problems using this metaphor.
This idea came to us while organizing the 12th European Conference on Creativity and Innovation (ECCI XII). We wanted to increase networking among participants and we knew that we needed to expand the interaction before and after the conference. Therefore we decided to organize the delegates in groups and asked each delegate to choose a fairy tale from a list of 15 stories as well as a character from the story. Once the choice was made, we initiated an interaction using a problem solving approach, making analogies between the stories and the obstacles to collaboration in organizations (the conference title was “The ultimate learning experience in collaboration”).
When each group attained a certain dimension, we asked members to list organizational problems that they think the story suggested, under the chosen character’s point of view. After each participant had chosen, the entire group’s list of problems was sent to everyone in the group. People was asked to choose a specific problem from the list, according to each one’s notion of relative importance. From the choices made, a problem was selected in each group and participants were asked to indicate which actions should be performed in order to solve the problem – from each character’s point of view. From the lists received, a final list was compiled and sent to every participant in the group. Then each participant was asked to choose a task to be responsible for, during and after the conference.
During the conference, each group had a big storyboard in the conference lobby where the planned tasks were shown. It was everybody’s mission to provide suggestions on how to accomplish each task. At the end of the conference all lists were consolidated and we are still collecting cases that (we hope) will give way to a publication devoted to the understanding of collaboration in organizations.
Alice in Wonderland
Getting back to the communication problems. If we remember “Alice in Wonderland”, what problems would the characters cite as barriers to communication? Alice wonders why people follow rules and regulations that are seemingly meaningless, they do not even question those rules! The Mad Hatter thinks that people develop a range of activities and routines that make sense for them but to the outside observer seem absurd. He believes that these things that make no sense within the system as a whole. He knows that organizations develop sometimes a private reality which has little to do with the real world, isolating it in exactly the same way a person isolates from others.
Both characters are afraid of the Queen of Hearts, who only has exaggerated and distorted thoughts about what should be done. She asks rhetorical questions, with no real interest in the answers. It is true that a possible defence would be the humour that helps make things more flexible, but who dares to look unconventional and defend the respect for the power of nonsense? The Cheshire Cat knows that those who laugh at the idea in force are subject to beheading.
Within this framework of behaviour, oblivious to reality and subject to the unquestionable will of power, people isolate themselves and reduce their level of commitment to working together in the collective future. Indeed, Alice reinforces this view by pointing out that she is so involved in her activities that she does not find time to collaborate with other people. The Mad Hatter reinforces this by saying that such collaboration does not just happen because people are not willing to drink tea together. The White Rabbit helps by saying that the culture of competition is gaining ground to collaboration; people are being rewarded for arriving first, or being stronger. As Alice says, people have forgotten the feeling of flow for collaborating together.In the end, everyone knows that it is not exactly the lack of time that motivates this to happen. There is plenty of time. For example, consider those boring meetings in which Alice wakes up from time to tim only to conclude that it is best to go back to sleep. These meetings where the flowers never agree with each other because they all say something different, making it impossible to achieve mutual understanding. The White Rabbit also thinks it is because they complain that they do not have time, are in a hurry and, therefore, take much longer than the necessary if one stops to listen to each other.All this means that Alice never knows exactly who is sincere and who is not. She does not know who to trust in order to collaborate.
Thus, it seems so easy to understand the most complex problems of communication in organizations, does it not? After all, they can all be found in the fairy tales.(*) Collection organized by Francisca Castro
About the Author
The Brussels Imagination Club, which I set up with my good friend Andy Whittle, is a place to try out new things. Last week, I convinced another good friend, acclaimed concert violinist Olga Guy, to try out something really different. I wanted to take people on a journey into their imaginations with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. To do this, we combined elements of relaxation inspired by Buddhist meditation (having spent a decade in Thailand, I know a thing or two about this), story telling and, critically, Bach’s music – in this case his violin sonatas.
At the beginning of the workshop, I opened a discussion about the imagination. It is fascinating the many different perspectives people have about this important human mental function. Then, I invited everyone to write down any problems, challenges or creative projects they were working on and for which the needed inspiration. This completed, we launched them on their journey into their minds.
A Few Concerns
I confess I was rather concerned about how this would work. Usually, my creativity workshops take a far more clinical approach based on the latest understanding of creativity and collaboration. For instance, if you look at my controversial anticonventional thinking method, you will see that it is actually well backed up by research. In addition, in order to put the 25 participants into a relaxed state, I would need to be relaxed. But, if you’ve ever seen me speaking or facilitating a workshop, you will know that I am usually hyperactive and hyper-enthusiastic on stage. Lastly, although Olga and I both have substantial public performance experience, we had never worked together before on a project that was different to what we are both most used to. Olga, for her part, is used to playing at concert halls and not small workshop spaces with mediocre acoustics.
Fortunately, the workshop worked far better than we had hoped! At the end of the journey, everyone was given a few minutes to write down any inspiration they had. I know from experience that if you do not write down such inspirations immediately, they are soon lost. Nearly everyone promptly started writing vigorously and continued to do so for several minutes.
Better than Expected!
Once this was done, we invited people who wished to share their experiences to do so. One person spoke of journeying through a complex maze. Another spoke of landscapes. More than one person spoke of being overwhelmed by emotions. Although everyone shared the same direction and music, everyone’s journey was unique. When asked what they got out of the workshop, one man simply held up a sheet of paper full of tightly written text.
I had also warned people that sometimes it takes ideas time to take shape in the mind and that they might find inspiration coming not immediately after the journey, but rather the next day. Indeed, that happened. Two people contacted me to say that the following morning they awoke with ideas that solved problems they had been working on for some time.
Improving on the Concept
Admittedly, there were a few flaws. Transitions from one phase to the next of the journey were not as smooth as we would have liked. And two people said that although they enjoyed the music immensely, they did not find themselves going into the dream-like meditative state that most people entered. Interestingly, one of these people was a classical music aficionado who, I expect probably concentrated on the music too much. The other is an artist who prefers her own methods for journeying into her imagination. Everyone else, however, reported an interesting and sometimes fascinating experience.
Of course, this is what the Imagination Club is about: testing new ideas with a receptive audience. It provides professionals with feedback to improve their concepts and non-professionals with the opportunity to test their skills.
Based on what we learned from this trial run at the Imagination Club, Olga and I are polishing up the method and already are in talks with a couple of venues in the Brussels area regarding a bigger event. In addition, we will be offering a slightly modified version of our method to businesses as a means of enabling employees to relax, reflect and solve problems.
If you are interested in learning more about hosting a Journey Through the Imagination with Bach at your organisation, contact me soon. Our schedules for 2012 are filling up already. Follow this link to contract me...
If you are interested in knowing more about the Brussels Imagination Club, please visit http://www.imaginationclub.be. There is also a Brisbane Imagination Club http://imaginationclubau.wordpress.com/ run by Stuart Ayling. If you are interested in starting an Imagination Club, contact me for more information.
Olga’s CD, of Ysaye’s violin concertos, is to be released later this month. Click here for a preview. Meanwhile, more information can be found about Olga and her workcan be found on her web site.
JOHN CLEESE – A LECTURE ON CREATIVITY
Some years ago, John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, gave a lecture on Creativity. If you have a spare half hour, it is well worth watching.
THE WAY OF THE INNOVATION MASTER
If you enjoy Report 103, you’ll love my book The Way of the Innovation Master, which explains everything you need to know in order to launch an innovation initiative in your company. Not only is it a great read, but it makes for a wonderful Christmas present! Learn more and order yours in print or digital versions from http://www.creativejeffrey.com/books/.
GET CREATIVE WITH JEFFREY
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