Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Wednesday 12 July 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.
Most articles in this issue of Report 103 can also be found in the archives together with dozens more articles, papers and thoughts.
In this issue of Report 103
- Designing the Perfect Ideas Competition
- Learn Anticonventional Thinking with Me
(shameless self-promotion for my services; but it is these services that fund Report 103's continued publication, so consider them, please!)
- What if you change IWWMI into WASNT?
- Going Against the Crowd
Also some self promotional stuff about anticonventional thinking....
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Sorry about the reduced frequency of publishing Report 103 these past weeks. I have been travelling both for business and pleasure. Moreover, I have been spending some time rethinking the structure of the jpb.com web site and the nature of this newsletter. As a result, I expect Report 103 publication will remain sporadic over the summer (in the Northern Hemisphere, that is). As always, your thoughts are welcome.
Designing the Perfect Ideas Competition
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
Recently, a human resources professional asked me about how to do an ideas competition in her company. Since the advice was freely given, rather than part of a contract, I shall freely share it here as well.
Teams Versus Teams
Firstly, rather than having individuals submit ideas and reward the best ideas, I recommend you have teams submit proposals or project summaries. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, a small group collaborating on a problem offers a higher creativity potential than does an individual. Moreover, when teams compete, you team's member are motivated to collaborate with each other in order to build ideas. When individuals compete against each other, you motivate them to keep secrets from each other rather than collaborate to build ideas. After all, if a person shares an idea with someone else, that other person might steal the idea. Finally, if you have an ideas competition between individuals, you can expect about 20-30% of eligible participants to submit ideas. The other 70-80% will not bother. If you pressure them, they may share mediocre ideas in order to discharge their responsibilities. If, however, you put people in relatively small teams, each team member is more likely to participate to help her team.
Ask For More Than Ideas
Rather than ask people to submit simple ideas to a problem, ask them to come up with something more detailed, such as a project summary, a proposal or a design. The problem with raw ideas is that very little normally happens with them. A lot of ideas are a headache to administer, most will be rejected and those ideas selected for further development are seldom further developed! (And none of this is particularly motivational!) On the other hand, a project proposal is taken more seriously, can be discussed in detail and can be modified to meet business needs. If you want a high level of creativity in the solutions, do not ask for ideas and hope some of them will be creative. Rather, formulate a provocative challenge that pushes people to think differently than they usually do. For instance, rather than ask them to come up with new telecommunications products to offer customers, ask them to design the worst possible product -- that your number one competitor could launch! (For more about this, see my article on Anticonventional Thinking
Do not, I repeat, do not tell people you will choose the "best ideas" or "best proposal". This will motivate people to submit proposals that are very similar to existing products, services or processes. Rather, define a set of criteria for evaluating proposals and inform participants of these criteria. If you want very creative ideas, make sure "creative" or "crazy" or "outrageous" is the first criteria. If teams feel they need to develop the "best proposal" they will follow your company's typical, best practice in developing a predictable solution. If, however, teams know they need a highly creative proposal that will increase market share and help your company develop a reputation for innovative products, they will respond accordingly.
Define Teams Randomly
When you ask people to form teams, they will naturally form teams with other people they know and are comfortable working with. That's fine if you want a low level of creativity. If you want a high level of creativity, you need diversity and a bit of tension. The easiest way to do this is to devise a means of assigning people to teams randomly. If the competition involves multiple divisions in your company, then ensure that at least one person from each division is on each team (assuming, of course, that is mathematically possible). People may be uncomfortable with this initially. But, that discomfort and the diversity will pay dividends in terms of the results. As an added benefit, you help people in your company develop new internal networks that will benefit them in the future.
The winning team should win two rewards. The first reward should be mostly symbolic and need not have much material value. A trophy or a plaque will suffice. A celebration lunch together in a nice restaurant is also good. The aim of this reward is to acknowledge the winning team's efforts and ideas. The second reward is the more important one. It is to allow the team to develop their proposal into an actual project. Note, however, that if the proposal is very creative, it may be challenging to implement, particularly if your company does not have a culture for implementing highly innovative projects. If this is the case, the first step the winning team should perform is to prepare an implementation plan that addresses the potential hurdles and defines approaches to leap over those hurdles.
That's it! This approach is very different to the usual ideas based competition using a suggestion or idea management tool. However, its aim is not to create a list of creative ideas. Its aim is to enable teams to implement creative ideas in order to make your company more innovative.
Learn Anticonventional Thinking with Me!
Although I give away a lot of advice on creativity and innovation as well as consult, I am at my best when delivering interactive workshops on my anticonventional thinking (ACT) approach to creativity. ACT combines an understanding of the weaknesses inherent in brainstorming; the ways in which highly creative people -- such as artists and writers -- collaborate; and research into how the mind solves problems in order to provide an effective and fun approach to being creative.
Over the past few months, I have delivered ACT workshops in Belgium, Portugal and the United States. Each of these workshops combined theory, explanation and a lot of hands-on practice in which participants actually used ACT in order to generate creative solutions to business problems their businesses were facing.
So, not only did they get solutions, but they also learned how to do ACT on their own in the future. Over the next few months, I will be delivering further workshops in Belgium, the UK and Dubai. If you think you and your colleagues could benefit from such a workshop, let me know!
What if you change IWWMI into WASNT?
By Fernando Cardoso de Sousa
President of the Portuguese Association for Creativity and Innovation - APGICO
It is very likely that you are familiar with the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving (CPS) process, as well with the expression IWWMI (In What Ways Might I [we]….?) , which initiates each problem definition. Once the chosen definition is set, the solution finding step normally follows, listing as many ideas as the group can jot down, no matter its relevance or feasibility. This is a golden rule of brainstorming, as it is supposed that quantity breeds quality and no sort of judgment or self restriction of ideas must take place during the divergent phase.
Now imagine that you replace the IWWMI question by the expression WASNT (What Are the Steps Needed To…?) What do you think it would happen to the group?
The answer is that some team members will try to contribute with original or even “crazy” ideas, as they normally do. But then, you as a facilitator, will have to remind the group that the question requires action steps, not just ideas. For example, if the problem statement is “What are the steps needed to bring financial sustainability to the company?”, some team members might suggest ideas like “Organize new events”, “Increase sales”, etc., which cannot be seen as action steps to solve the problem.
Once you call their attention to this fact, what might be the result?
In many cases, complete silence will follow. Does this mean that you asked the wrong question? No, it means that people are looking for ways to solve the problem, and it might take some time. Do not give up. As a skilled facilitator you know the techniques that can be used to restore participation. You simply use them.
As a result, you may hear a first contribution (e.g. “Generate trust factors for banks”). Not very original but needed. And a second (e.g. “Negotiate a plan for the payment of social security debts”). A bit more strange, but also needed. And others will follow until you have a list of steps that the group thinks might solve the problem. Then you order them in sequence and start designing the action plan.
Some readers might say they do not agree with CPS procedures. Others do not expect a big difference in results, just by changing the way you formulate the question. Others will claim that the task list is doomed to failure, as it does not take into consideration the “acceptance plan” to overcome resistance. Yet others will see in this the end of the “idea” as the central part in creative thinking, the loss of the value of divergent thinking, or even that the WASNT method can no longer be considered CPS.
Before you make these judgments, why don’t you give it a try? If you do, let me give you just three tips:
After setting the session’s objective with the client, take some time to discuss team composition, including those people who know about the objective, may be affected by the outcomes, or have the power to stop or accelerate the decisions made. If the team covers all these sources, you do not have to worry about ideas or resistance's, because you have everything in the team. Just worry about facilitation, especially in mediating client-team relationships, and in increasing project commitment. In the example provided, imagine that the steps were suggested by a bank manager and a social security manager invited to be part of the team.
Reduce the duration of the session to be no more than four hours, so that the team leaves the session knowing what will be required from every team member; how each task must be done and to what standards; possible costs; and everything that must go with the action plan. Do not forget to increase commitment by adding milestones, follow up procedures, communication tasks, project manager designation, and the like. All those who begin the session must remain with it until its end. It will be difficult to achieve this, in a company setting, if there is a large break during the session. Cut fact finding, idea finding and decision making; cut any time devoted to training; cut everything that does not produce project commitment.
Let creativity happen during plan implementation. During the session, each team member will learn to define the problems and find ways to solve them. The ‘Aha!’ may not occur during the initial meeting but many ‘Ahas!’ will happen during plan implementation. Just think of ways to maintain project commitment and the rest will follow.
Do you believe it is possible for so many things to happen simply because you
changed the wording of problem definition? Why don’t you give it a try?
If you do perhaps you will be amazed with what happens when you transform individual
creativity into team innovation; when you pick each individual’s will
do make things better and turn it into a profitable achievement for the company.
A Comment from Jeffrey
Fernando, whom I have the pleasure of knowing as a friend as well as working with, and I have had some discussions about his WASNT approach and the results he has seen with it. I strongly suggest you give it a try with your next anticonventional thinking (ACT), brainstorming or creative problem solving session and see what kind of results you get. If you do, let us know your thoughts! Fernando and I would be most interested to know what you think.
Going Against the Crowd
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
With the growing popularity of open innovation, crowdsourcing and web based suggestion schemes where the best ideas are decided by popular votes, many of us tend to forget a very simply truism: creative people do not follow the crowd. At minimum, they do their own thing. At best, they lead the crowd. Highly creative people tend to be non-conformists who do their own things irrespective of the crowd. Some purposely go against popular trends in order to demonstrate their uniqueness and creativity. Others, often those who are most creative, often seem blithely unaware of the crowd, so focused are they on doing their own things.
Why does this matter? Many tools for creativity and innovation are about attracting not only the crowd for ideas, but also for selecting the "best ideas" among the many ideas submitted by the crowd. Hence the term "crowdsourcing".
The people who populate and are most active on on-line suggestion schemes are often those who wish to please the crowd -- and therefore get the most votes. Those of us who prefer to provoke the crowd know that we are all too likely to be jeered off such web sites. We know that our ideas will most likely be disparaged by the masses. And we know that other highly creative people are equally unlikely to spend time on such on-line places.
What Does This Mean For You?
What does this mean for you? It means you need to think about the true purpose of any crowd-based (whether internal or public) suggestion scheme or idea collection system. Do you wish to get high levels of participation and lots of ideas which focus on incremental improvements? Do you wish to encourage dialogue and participation among large groups of people -- with little actual interest in creative ideas? Do you wish to give many people the opportunity to feel good about being creative? Or, do you wish to generate some highly creative ideas that you hope to implement?
Believe it or not, all of these options are perfectly legitimate reasons to collect ideas from groups of people. This is an important truth: very often, idea collection systems are really not at all about innovation. Rather they are about participation and feeling good. However, if you aim to collect truly creative ideas; ideas that have the potential to become breakthrough innovations; ideas that could knock people's socks off, then you really do not want the crowd. Rather, you want the oddballs, weirdoes and rebels who at best stay clear of the crowds and at worst provoke them.
Such people will not participate in your crowdsourced ideation initiative. You will need to find them and engage them one at a time. It can be a lot of work. And it requires working with often overly sensitive people. However, I can promise you one thing: if you can get together five or six diverse and truly creative misfits, you will have a team that can provide you with far more creativity than can a crowd of 1000s using a web based suggestion tool.
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