Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Wednesday 17 October 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
- What Happened to Report 103?
- Best Ideas Are Never Very Creative
- Anticonventional Thinking and Implementation
- New Implementation Plan Workshop
- The Two Meanings of Brainstorming
Also some self promotional stuff about anticonventional thinking....
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What Happened to Report 103?
Sadly, I have not been able to publish Report 103 as often as usual these past months owing to a lot of travel -- too much in fact. Thanks to the growing popularity of anticonventional thinking, I have been invited to do workshops in Europe, America, the Middle East and Asia. Recently, I spent a week in Dubai working with the office of the Prime Minister. Later this week, I will be doing a workshop with an electrconics company. It will involve people in Belgium and Shanghai.
Perhaps the nicest accolade was when an accountant came to me after a workshop and told me that she was so impressed with what she learned, she would personally look after my invoice and ensure I was paid promptly!
If you would like to know more about my workshops, you can find more information here. You can find more information about anticonventional thinking here. Or you can just call me on +32 2 305 6591 (land line), +32 478 549 428 (GSM) or Skype EuroJeffrey (note: I am in Belgium, on central European time). You can also use the online form.
Best Ideas Are Never Very Creative
Very often brainstorms, ideas campaigns and similar idea extravaganzas end with a vague notion of choosing the best idea. The problem here is that a truly creative idea, the kind of idea that has the potential to become a breakthrough innovation is seldom the best solution to the problem or the best path to achieving a goal -- for the very simple reason that highly creative ideas are original. They cannot directly be compared to existing notions. If you come up with a technology for a hyper-space drive, you cannot compare it to other hyper-space drives. You have invented the only one. Rather, you can compare it to similar existing technology, such as rocket engines or ion thrusters. But these are very different things and so the comparison is difficult and may focus on the wrong criteria. Let's look at some more concrete examples.
Ford Model T
Consider the Ford Model T, the car developed by Henry Ford. When it was launched in 1908, it was not the best car on the market. Indeed, other cars of the time were more powerful, more comfortable and more luxurious. But they were also very expensive; toys for the rich. As far as the middle class of the time was concerned, personal transportation options mostly involved horses. Henry Ford's innovation, of course, was to build a reliable and affordable car using a new manufacturing process: the production line. The production line cut costs through efficiency improvements as well as providing consistency from vehicle to vehicle. As a result, the Model T was the first affordable car for the growing middle-classes. But at the time of its launch, its competition was the horse. Indeed, Mr. Ford famously said that if he asked his customers what they wanted, they would have told him a faster horse.
Early digital cameras produced very low quality results. Even today, a good 35 mm SLR (single lens reflex) camera using film is capable of producing better quality images than nearly all digital SLR cameras. So, if people in the film industry were asked 10 years ago: which is better, improved film or digital images, they would have answered "improved film". The problem, in this case, is that they were looking at the wrong criteria: quality of images and ease of printing. However, digital photography has become the standard for completely different reasons: convenience, no need to buy film, ability to manipulate images immediately and ease of sharing images on the Internet. In fact, most people do not care a great deal about the quality of images.
Now, of course, the camera business is facing a new foe: telephones. If you go to many tourist sights today, you will see more people taking pictures with their telephones than with cameras. Sure, cameras can almost always take better quality pictures than telephones. But they lack the convenience.
Best ≠ Most Creative
If you look at breakthrough, and especially disruptive, innovation, you will see that the ideas behind the innovation were either so original they could not be compared to existing technology, or sufficiently different that when compared to existing technology they compared poorly.
If you are looking for truly original ideas, then you need to remove the word "best" from your evaluation process. Replace it with words such as "most creative", "most original" or "zaniest". Moreover, make it clear from the beginning that you are not interested in "best" ideas. Research has shown that when you tell people in a brainstorm that the best ideas will be rewarded, the ideas generated are less creative than when you give no such advice. However, if you tell people the most creative or most original ideas will be rewarded, then you see a much higher level of creativity.1
Of course not every idea you implement in your company needs to be a potential breakthrough innovation. You also need to improve your existing products, services and processes continually. In such cases, the best ideas may suffice. But when you are looking for high level, breakthrough innovation, you need to seek totally new ideas and not simply the best idea.
1. V S Gerlach, Schutz, Baker, Mazer, (1964) "Effects of Variations in Test Directions on Originality Test Response", Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 55 No 2, pp 79-84.
Anticonventional Thinking and Implementation
One of the problems with brainstorming and its more formalised offspring, creative problem solving (CPS), is that while it has specific rules for generating lots of ideas, it is vague when it comes to the process of choosing one or more ideas to develop. As a result, the action taken at the end of a brainstorm is often a vague vote for the "best idea". Sadly, in most companies, government offices and other organisations, the best idea is not the most creative1 (see also article above). Moreover, voting for the best idea only creates a democratic trend towards the safest, most conventional, most familiar ideas2,3. Indeed, if you want to choose the most creative ideas to develop at the end of a brainstorm, I suspect you would have better results if you asked participants which ideas they would least like to implement. My guess is that this would identify the most creative ideas -- however, this is only guess.
As result of this vagueness, too many brainstorms and related idea collection initiatives result in a pot of unacted-upon ideas. Likewise, many companies' suggestion scheme and idea management software contain databases full of ideas that have not been developed further. At workshops and conferences, I sometimes ask the audience how many of them have participated in a brainstorm -- almost everyone's hand goes up. If I then ask how many of those brainstorms resulted in highly creative ideas being implemented, very few hands remain standing. Sometimes none.
If There Is Only One Idea...
In anticonventional thinking (ACT) which focuses on developing a big idea -- rather than lots of little ideas -- this is less of a problem. By questioning, debating, criticising and improving the big idea during the ideation phase, there is no need to select ideas at the end of the session. Moreover, the final step in ACT requires that participants prepare a step-by-step action plan defining what needs to be done to implement the idea and who should take charge off that step4. The result: people leave the event with a big idea for achieving a goal together with a list of steps they need to take in order to make it happen.
Proponents of brainstorming argue that it is only by generating lots of ideas that we can find the most creative idea. They say that by focusing on a single solution (or a very small number of solutions), ACT may cause us to miss out on a much more creative idea. My argument is twofold. Firstly, their argument is based on an assumption. I know of no tests demonstrating that more ideas are necessary for a higher level of creativity. Secondly, if the aim of an ideation event is to achieve a creative goal (solve a problem with creativity), then an implemented idea is far more valuable than 100 creative ideas stuck to a whiteboard or sitting in a database.
Moreover, ACT emulates more closely the way highly creative people like artists, writers, composers and research scientists work. They seldom do "brainstorming" in its traditional sense. For example, a group of scientists trying to find a cure for a specific condition will gather a lot of information; formulate a single hypothesis (rather than a lot of ideas) often through argument and debate; and prepare an action plan to test the hypothesis. If their experiment does not work, they learn from it, revise their hypothesis and try again. A theatre group wanting to stage a performance of Romeo and Juliet will discuss, argue and play with various ways to present the play until they settle on a particular theme. For example, they might decide to stage it in a modern, urban environment. Then they will build up ideas about scenery, scene setting, costumes and so on. Then various members of the group take responsibility for tasks (the director details each scene, the costume designer starts designing costumes, etc) In my experience, such creative collaborations do not brainstorm for lots of ideas and choose the best idea. Rather they have a creative discussion that eventually settles on a particular approach. Once this is set, it is developed through more ideas. Finally, when the concept becomes sufficiently solid, people take responsibility and get to work.
Consider that drama group and compare it to the last brainstorm you participated in. The drama group will inevitably perform Romeo and Juliet using ideas they built up during their preliminary conversation. What happened to the ideas submitted at your brainstorm?
If you want a creative thinking approach that leads to action, ACT is far more likely to succeed than brainstorming.
- V S Gerlach, Schutz, Baker, Mazer, (1964) "Effects of Variations in Test Directions on Originality Test Response", Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 55 No 2, pp 79-84.
- “Experimental Study of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial
Cultural Market”; by
Matthew J. Salganik,1,2* Peter Sheridan Dodds,2* Duncan J. Watts; Science 311, 854 (2006); DOI: 10.1126/science.1121066 (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/reprint/311/5762/854.pdf -- PDF document)
- “Collaborative Fixation: Effects of Others’ Ideas on Brainstorming” by Nicholas W. Kohn1* and Steven M. Smith; Applied Cognitive Psychology; 29 March 2010 (http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/123329584/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0)
- F. de Sousa (2012) "What if you change IWWMI into WASNT?" http://www.creativejeffrey.com/creative/wasnt.php?subject_code=1
New Implementation Plan Workshop
Many organisations have no problem with ideas; they have lots of creative thinkers. However, they find that few creative ideas are implemented. Does this sound familiar? If so, it means your organisation is falling well short of its innovation potential for the simple lack of an innovation implementation process. This equals lost opportunity and reduced income.
To help organisations like these (and perhaps yours), I have developed an Innovation Implementation Plan workshop designed to help you and your colleagues define standardised implementation plans and processes suited to your business's needs.
The workshop is fun, highly interactive and produces results you can put to use immediately.
We start by devising some truly crazy new ideas -- using anticonventional thinking and a dose of humour. From there we build idealised implementation plans, compare them to reality in your organisation and then, using anticonventional thinking, devise a series of steps that bridge the innovation-implementation weaknesses in your company. With this, it is a simple matter of drawing up innovation processes that fit your corporate culture and make it easy for people with great ideas to turn them into profitable innovations.
Not only does this translate into additional revenue for your company, but you can also expect a higher level of employee satisfaction.
This workshop is ideally suited for groups of 12-24 people; though larger groups are possible. I recommend that you include people from various parts of the company in order to bring diversity of understanding and thinking to the workshop. The workshop is designed to last about one day. However, shorter or longer variations can also be provided (shorter periods simply mean less time for your people to work on the exercises. However, they can do further work after workshop).
The Two Meanings of Brainstorming
Brainstorming has two meanings and because it is a subject much discussed in this newsletter and elsewhere, it is worth being clear about the difference.
In creativity circles, brainstorming is a structured creative thinking process invented by Alex Osborn in the 1950s (I believe) for use in his advertising agency. He later wrote about it in his books and it quickly became the standard group based creative thinking process. In a traditional brainstorm, you post a problem on a whiteboard or chalkboard and invite a group of people to suggest ideas. There is to be no criticism of ideas and all ideas are welcome. Participants are encouraged to come up with crazy ideas. This formal brainstorming process has been coming under a lot of criticism lately, including by me. The process is based on a number of assumptions by Mr. Osborn -- but in a clinical setting, most of the assumptions have been proved wrong. Needless-to-say, many people in the creativity field -- especially those who make a living facilitating brainstorming -- refuse to accept the criticism and insist that brainstorming works for them.
Because of the popularity of the formal method, the verb "to brainstorm" has also become a generic term to describe coming up with a lot of ideas to solve a problem. In this case, there is no formal process involved. For instance, you and your spouse might brainstorm holiday destinations or ideas for a housewarming party. In this case, you are probably not running a formal brainstorm, but just sharing ideas.
Normally, in this journal, when I use the term "brainstorm" and its variants, I am referring to the formal process. For the informal activity, I use terms like "ideation"and "idea generation" in this situation.
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