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Report 103

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

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Wednesday 16 August 2012
Issue 213

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.


Note

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

  1. The Anticonventional Thinking (ACT) Method (2.0)
  2. Making Sure Your IP Is Protected
  3. Anticonventional Thinking Workshops for You

Also some self promotional stuff about anticonventional thinking....


 

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The Anticonventional Thinking (ACT) Method (2.0)

by Jeffrey Baumgartner

Note: This is an excerpt from the white paper, Anticonventional Thinking (ACT 2.0). You can download the paper (PDF; 0.5MB) by clicking this link.

I introduced the anticonventional thinking (ACT) about a year ago and presented it at the European Conference of Creativity and Innovation (ECCI) in 2011. Since then, I have presented it in workshops and have faciltated ACTings (ACT sessions). In doing so, I have realised that the method could be improved. In particular, the method needed simplification and clarity. Hence, I have rewritten the ACT whitepaper. Below is a description of the method.

ACT is a four-step process for generating creative, unconventional ideas to accomplish goals and then defining an initial action plan to implement the ideas.

1. Deconstruct and understand the situation.
2. Create a sexy goal.
3. Devise, debate and develop ideas.
4. Outline an action plan.

The process is specifically designed to trick the mind to take an unconventional approach to the situation and make it easy to generate creative ideas. The logic behind ACT is explained in the next chapter of this paper.

Step 1: Deconstruct the Situation

ACT starts with a problem or a goal, which we will call a “situation”. As tempted as you may be to start suggesting ideas the moment you think you have a problem, don’t! You will most likely only have conventional ideas. Instead, you need to deconstruct the situation in order to understand it better. You do this by asking open-ended questions. ACT provides questions in two categories. In addition, you can ask questions of your own devising.

  1. Understanding. These questions help you understand the situation better. They include: the Five Whys (see below).
  2. Context. These questions help you understand the context of the situation better, such as “By what criteria will we judge a potential solution?” and “Who needs to be involved in the implementation of the solution?”

The Five Whys1 is a simple yet powerful way to analyse a problem. Simply ask “Why is this a problem?” or “Why do I wish to achieve this goal?” once you have an answer, ask why again. Repeat until you have asked why five times – or cannot go deeper. You should always start your deconstruction with the five whys.

In addition to asking questions, you must also find answers to them. If you are not sure of an answer to a particular question and do not know where to find it, make up an answer. That will suffice.

Step 2: Create a Sexy Goal

Once you understand your situation and its context, you should formulate a sexy goal to shoot for. A sexy goal is:

  1. intriguing
  2. provocative
  3. desirable

Defining a sexy goal is important. As noted, a conventional goal encourages conventional solutions. A well framed sexy goal motivates unconventional solutions. Indeed, it makes coming up with creative ideas easy!
Sometimes sexy goals are obvious. If not, we can ask questions about the situation, questions specifically designed to help reformulate your goal into a sexy one. ACT provides a number of such questions, such as: “Can you formulate this goal using a superlative?” and “Why is this goal boring/conventional?”

Step 3: Devise, Debate and Develop Ideas

Once you have your sexy goal set, the next step is to come up with creative, unconventional ideas. However, we do not want a long list of ideas or a whiteboard full of sticky-notes. Instead, the aim is to play with ideas, question them, debate them, reject ones that do not work and develop into bigger concepts the ones that do work.

In ACT you are encouraged to criticise ideas, especially boring ideas, but also ideas that you do not believe are viable. However, you must follow the rules of debate when ACTing (doing an ACT session). Indeed, I recommend you put these rules on the wall before you start.

Rules of Debate

  1. Always criticise boring ideas.
  2. Criticise the idea and not the person asking it.
  3. If you criticise an idea, you must allow the person who suggested it and anyone else to defend the idea.

In addition, if a participant of the session is higher in the corporate hierarchy than the others, she must tell people that she expects to hear her ideas criticised and will be disappointed if this does not happen.
Continue to ask questions about the sexy goal as well as the ideas proposed during this part of the session. This helps stimulate imagination and encourages the development of ideas.

At the end of step 3, you should have very few, very strong ideas. Often, you will have focused on one idea and will have developed it in some detail with additional ideas. For instance, if you are ACTing for a new floor cleaning product your company could introduce, you might explore a few ideas, such as odours or products for special floor types before you settle on a product that includes a mild insecticide to keep bugs away. If you feel this idea has potential, you start to focus on the features of the new product, perhaps the composition, dealing with safety issues and so on. If over time, this idea seems not to work, you would reject it – or put it aside – and explore other ideas.

This approach is very different to brainstorming. To illustrate, this is what you can expect from a brainstorm: a lot of ideas:

Brainstorms generate lots of disparate ideas

And this is what you can expect from ACTing, a big idea (or two or three) that incorporates many smaller ideas.

In ACT, you can expect to develop a big concept and then add ideas to it.


If you are familiar with brainstorming or working with people who are, you will need to stress the differences between brainstorming and ACT. However, when people get used to ACT, it will become very natural.

Non-Step: Evaluation

ACT aims to forgo evaluation. Ideally the devise, debate and develop ideas step will leave you with a concept to work with. However, in some cases you may have several ideas or an external committee which must review ideas. In this case, ideas are best evaluated by a pre-established criteria set. Moreover, these criteria should be communicated to the participants of the ACTing in advance so they can be considered throughout the process.

Step 4: Action Plan

# With any luck you will now have a creative, unconventional idea that you expect will enable you to achieve your sexy goal. It would be very easy to stop here and bask in the glory of your creativity! Don’t! You need to outline an action plan that can bring your brilliant idea to fruition.

My friend and creativity expert Fernando Cardoso de Sousa has developed a wonderful and simple approach to outlining a preliminay action plan. Simply ask the ASKing team to to prepare a WASNT (What Are the Steps Needed To) document for the idea. For example, let us imagine that the sexy new product solution is to build a mobile telephone into a pair of rings, one worn on the thumb and the other on the pinky so that people can make phone calls using only their hands. You would then ask: “What are the steps needed to realise our dual-ring-phone?” Then you would build a list of steps that might include:

  1. Build a mock-up to sell internally
  2. Build a prototype to test technically
  3. Present prototype to marketing
  4. And so on...

However, in real life the list would be more detailed. Assigning people to take charge of each task is also important. The WASNT document is not a project outline. It is simply a proposed action plan to get started. Indeed, in many cases, the first step will be to prepare a detailed project outline.

Innovation and Risk

In the corporate world, highly creative ideas suffer several handicaps. Two of them should concern you while drafting the action plan. Firstly, highly creative ideas are risky. Secondly, as a result of that riskiness, they can often be difficult to sell to decision makers be they individuals or committees.

A breakthrough innovation could transform your company. It could turn a floundering company into a market leader; it could turn an annual loss into an annual profit. But it could also fail miserably. There are all kinds of reasons for this. The technology may be more complex than you realise, the need may not exist in the marketplace. You may be too far ahead of your time. Your customers may simply be too conservative in their preferences. For example, from a technical perspective, probably the most innovative American car manufacturer ever was Cord Automobile. In the 1930s, Cord’s strategy was to build unique, innovative cars. And they did! But, before the 1930s was out, the company was out of business. It seems that people did not want such innovative cars at the time.

Decision makers tend to be risk adverse and, as a result, may be quick to try and kill off a very creative idea in spite of its potential for innovation. Worse, in most organisations, there are far more people with the power to kill an idea than there are with the power to authorise one.

You need to bear this in mind when drawing up an action plan. Think about who needs to buy into an idea, who might kill an idea, who could help and what obstacles you might face. ACT provides a number of questions (you’ve probably noticed by now that ACT is big on questions!) that can help groups plan for the challenges of implementing a highly creative idea. In addition, you can look at my Creative Idea Implementation Plan (CIIP)4 which addresses many of these challenges.

Do It!

If you’ve followed the process, you will now have an incredible, creative idea to achieve your goal and a plan to get started on it. So, what are you waiting for? Get started! In my experience, the number one reason innovations do not happen is inaction on creative ideas. That’s one reason why the action plan is a critical part of ACT.

 

Making Sure Your IP Is Protected

By Jennifer Motia

You've created an amazing product and you are ready to introduce it to the world. One of the most important considerations for an entrepreneur bringing a new product to market is intellectual property protection. This sets the foundation for everything from selling and manufacturing the product to licensing it and defending your right to distribute the product if that's ever challenged.

Considering the investment of effort, time, and money that goes into developing products, you want to take all the steps necessary to ensure that your new device is a successful and a profitable investment. Here's how to keep your original ideas and your brand reputation intact, no matter what type of products you're dealing with.

1. Patent your product or process

Patenting your product prevents copycats from stealing your ideas, and shows that you've created an original and unique device or process. Whether you've developed a completely new product or simply improved on the original design of an existing product, patenting your product is an important element to help protect your idea.

Patents protect both unique products and processes, such as a brand new machine or an improved way of manufacturing something. As the inventor of a product or process, you are granted sole rights to that product when you obtain a patent. These sole rights encompass the rights to manufacture, sell, and distribute the product. Patents also preserve your right to sell or license the technology to another firm.

Before you go ahead with your invention, it's a good idea to check out whether or not something like it is already patented. You can browse to see if there are any products like yours already on the market or learn more about the patenting process at the United States Trade and Patent Office website: http://www.uspto.gov/patents/process/search/. Filing a patent can be a complicated and expensive process, so consider hiring a professional to help you navigate the system.

2. Copyrighting your book, album, or work of art

Maybe you are an author who has just written your first book, and you are hoping to get it published. Or you are a musician who has just produced your first album. Copyrighting is similar to patenting in that it protects your writing, music, or art from copycats, and designates your work as original. Having your written, musical, or artistic product copyrighted protects your right to make money from the product and prevent copycats and pirates from profiting off of your work.

Copyrighting is a less complex process than patenting. If you'd like to copyright a document you've written, you can easily just write a note at the bottom with the date indicating that it's copyrighted to your business. One popular method is to then send yourself a sealed, registered document via the US Postal Service containing the document and not opening it; by doing so, you've effectively made the USPS a witness to your copyright in case of any confusion.

If you'd like to further protect your work, you can also go through a formal process with the United States government at the following site: http://www.copyright.gov/.  The process is relatively straightforward and the fees are affordable.

3. Trademarking your brand, logo, product name...

If you are running a business, you've probably worked really hard to develop your reputation and brand recognition. While you don't necessarily need a trademark, it is helpful in protecting your business, product names, and logos. Trademarks cover brand names, visual elements, and written elements such as product names and taglines.

Under US law, a trademark is considered a form of property. So if you are looking to protect your brand or an innovative product name or logo, you may want to consider applying for a trademark.  This can help prevent brand erosion and give you legal recourse if anyone encroaches on your brand. The trademarking process involves several steps. To learn more and apply for a trademark for your business or product name, you can visit the United States Trade and Patent Office website at: http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/index.jsp.  It can also be worthwhile to consider hiring a professional to assist with the trademark process.

Protecting your intellectual property is a crucial step on the road to success for your business. Understanding what types of intellectual property protection your business and products require is an important step in the right direction. This ensures that your original idea is protected by law from copycats, and gives you the peace of mind knowing that you are the sole owner of the product or process that you spent your time developing. While this effort may take an investment of time or capital, it's well worth it to establish a solid legal foundation upon which your business can continue to grow in the years ahead.

About the Author

Jennifer Motian researches patent sales. She’s been involved in the IP industry for over 10 years.

 

Anticonventional Thinking (ACT) Workshops for You

Anticonventional thinking (ACT) is a new approach to individual and collaborative creative thinking that I have developed. It is based on...

I have already delivered customised ACT workshops for companies and government bodies in Europe and North America and have more booked for the remainder of the year.

Moreover, based on my experiences with workshops and how participants have responded, I have tweaked and improved ACT, making it easier to understand and use. So, if you would like to provide your company, your division or your team with an effective creative thinking tool that is about achieving goals rather than generating lots of ideas you will never use, get in touch with me! I can custom-design an ACT workshop that not only trains you and your people how to use the method, but also involves actively generating creative solutions to solve your problems and achieve your strategic goals!

My schedule for the year is filling up -- and as a single father, I cannot be on the road all the time. To ensure I can work with you, contact me as soon as possible!

 

ARCHIVES

You can find this and every issue of Report 103 ever written at our archives.


Happy thinking!

Jeffrey Baumgartner


 

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

 

 


 

My other web projects

My other web projects

CreativeJeffrey.com: 100s of articles, videos and cartoons on creativity   Jeffosophy.com - possibly useful things I have learned over the years.   Kwerps.com: reflections on international living and travel.   Ungodly.com - paintings, drawings, photographs and cartoons by Jeffrey