Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Innovation and the challenge of growth

Constant innovation is a characteristic of many successful growing companies. Staying ahead of the competition requires inventiveness at individual, group, and company levels. As companies grow, market demands and competition can force them to maintain a culture of continuous innovation. Growth, however, also creates a need for structure and control, which can make a culture of innovation difficult to sustain.

Erosion of flexibility
Sustainable growth requires increased operational scale, but companies cannot scale their operations effectively without implementing formal structures and processes. Growth can strain the entrepreneurial philosophy that has fuelled a company’s success. More importantly, it can erode corporate flexibility. As management layers increase, they create islands of data, knowledge, and intelligence that can complicate a company’s decision-making processes.

Reduced tolerance of risk
Developing new ideas is a risk-intensive process that requires significant resources. As companies grow, their risk profile must become more conservative as shareholders expect them to stabilise operations and manage their business according to financial criteria.

Collision of cultures
As companies grow, they require people who can guide them through each stage of their organisational development. However, companies also have to evolve to meet changing internal and external priorities. As a result, a company’s corporate culture is pulled between two ways: established employees who are used to a stable and familiar environment, and newer employees who have a different mindset, a higher tolerance for risk, and place less value on organisational structure. Left unchecked, this dichotomy can cause a company’s culture to be dictated by employee self-interest rather than corporate objectives.

Taking on the challenge
Sustaining an innovative culture requires companies to create environments where creative thinking is central to corporate values, actions, and assumptions. Innovative companies require employees who seek new opportunities, accept risk, collaborate well with others, and commit themselves to the organisation. Innovative companies also require leaders that will work to create those kinds of environments and will guide and promote innovative behaviour.

  1. Create the required foundation
    Companies need to assess the role of innovation within their organisations, make the necessary adjustments to their goals and their corporate culture, and redefine the responsibilities of their leaders.

  2. Enhance operations to foster innovation
    By creating an environment that empowers employees, companies will promote the collaboration required to generate and implement new ideas.

  3. Manage the ongoing change
    Companies must create teams to guide them through periods of change, manage their employees’ anxieties, and set small milestones to be used to gauge enthusiasm.

How do you know if you have the right foundation? A comprehensive assessment can be carried out using our Innovation Toolkit, however why not take this simple test to assess the state of your company?

Answer the following questions with a YES, NO or SORT OF.

Do you have the required foundation?
1. Does innovation continually contribute to revenue
generation and cost savings within your company?
2. Is innovation pervasive across the company, or is it isolated to specific groups?
3. Do your employees understand how innovation relates to the corporate vision and goals?
4. Have you created a set of core values, beliefs, and norms in order to guide the development of your corporate culture?
5. Have you redefined the roles of your company leaders to encourage and champion creative activities?

Do your operations foster innovation?
6. Does your workforce consist of people who have the ability to approach problems in an unconventional manner?
7. When hiring new employees, do you look for people who are willing to challenge the status quo and pursue new trends and directions?
8. Do you involve employees in the hiring process?
9. Do you have programs and activities that allow for meaningful interaction between new and existing employees?
10. Do you encourage your employees to be divergent thinkers and ensure that they have the right information and resources to follow through on their ideas?
11. Have you assessed your company’s organizational structure to identify and remove decision-making bottlenecks?
12. Is there a high degree of trust and open communication between various groups in your company?
13. Do you balance empowerment with accountability by creating a set of metrics for your employees to work toward?
14. Do your employees feel secure enough to believe that should their ideas fail to realize the desired result it will not affect their position within the company?
15. Does your company have a reward system that fosters behaviour that contributes to innovation?

How do you manage change?
16. Do you have a team of dedicated individuals, composed of representative employees, that lead and champion the changes required to sustain innovation?
17. Does this team monitor the activities of the company and ensure that there are no inconsistencies in the practices expected and performed?
18. Does this team use dialogue and consensus-building to garner support for the changes at the departmental level?
19. Do you manage the expectations and anxieties of your employees by communicating why change is important, involving employees in the implementation process, and providing the time and opportunity to disengage from the status quo?
20. Do you articulate clear short-term goals and objectives, measure progress, and communicate evidence of success to maintain the momentum and enthusiasm of your employees as changes are implemented?

If more than 75 percent of your answers (16 of 20) are “Yes,” then your company is likely to be adequately addressing the challenge of fostering an innovative culture.

If 50 to 75 percent of your answers (10 to 15) are “Yes” or “Sort Of,” there is more work to be done in order to foster an innovative culture.

If less than 50 percent of your answers are either “Yes” or “Sort Of,” your company seriously needs to re-evaluate its approach towards fostering an innovative culture.

To find out more about managing Innovation visit our website and sign up for our free Creativity and Innovation newsletter.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Role of The Business Storyteller

A major role of senior management is to motivate people to reach certain goals. To do that, they must engage their emotions, and the key to their hearts is story. There are two ways to persuade people. The first is by using conventional rhetoric, which is what most executives are trained in. It’s an intellectual process, and in the business world it usually consists of a PowerPoint slide presentation in which you say, “Here is our company’s biggest challenge, and here is what we need to do to get ahead.” And you build your case by giving statistics, facts and quotes. But there are two major problems.

First, the people you’re talking to have their own set of rules, statistics, and life experiences. While you’re trying to persuade them, they are arguing with you in their heads. Second, if you do succeed in persuading them, you’ve done so only on an intellectual basis. That’s not good enough, because people are not inspired to act by reason alone.

The other way to persuade people – and ultimately a much more powerful way – is by uniting an idea with an emotion. The best way to do that is by telling a compelling story. In a story, you not only weave a lot of information into the telling but you also arouse your listener’s emotions and energy. Persuading with a story is hard. Any intelligent person can sit down and make lists.

It takes rationality but little creativity to design an argument using conventional rhetoric. But it demands vivid insight and storytelling skill to present an idea that packs enough emotional power to be memorable. If you can harness imagination and the principles of a well-told story, then you get people rising to their feet amid thunderous applause instead of yawning and ignoring you.

Read more on using Storytelling in a business context in future blogs and see the Creative Business Solutions' website for more creative ways to get ahead in business.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Gods And Creativity

Below is one of my favourite tales from an old training book. Simple but effective. Read on ...

It was not long after the Gods had created humankind that they began to realise their mistake. The creatures that they had created were so adept, so skilful, so full of curiosity and the spirit of enquiry that it was only a matter of time before they would start to challenge the Gods themselves for supremacy.

To ensure their pre-eminence the Gods held a large conference to discuss the issue. Gods were summoned from all over the known and unknown worlds. The debates were long, detailed, and soul-searching.

All the Gods were very clear about one thing. The difference between them and mortals was the differences between the quality of the resources they had. While humans had their egos and were concerned with the external, material aspects of the world, the Gods had spirit, soul, and an understanding of the workings of the inner self.

The danger was that sooner or later the humans would want some of that too.

The Gods decided to hide their precious resources. The question was: where? This was the reason for the length and passion of the debates at the Great Conference of the Gods.

Some suggested hiding these resources at the top of the highest mountain. But it was realised that sooner or later the humans would scale such a mountain.

And the deepest crater in the deepest ocean would be discovered.

And mines would be sunk into the earth.

And the most impenetrable jungles would give up their secrets.

And mechanical birds would explore the sky and space.

And the moon and the planets would become tourist attractions.

And even the wisest and most creative of the Gods fell silent as if every avenue had been explored and found wanting.

Until the Littlest God, who had been silent until now, spoke up. “Why don’t we hide these resources inside each human? They’ll never think to look for them there.”

For more snippets of information, hints and tips relating to creativity and innovation why not visit our website and sign up for our regular newsletter?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Working with aliens

Not an episode of Star Trek but one of my favourite techniques for a) generating results b) getting a reaction from colleagues.

This technique is one of a series in which random stimuli are used and alternative viewpoints are adopted. It works best with well defined problems or where new products or services are being considered.

To start, define the problem or situation as best you can and brief those who are taking part. A group of half a dozen or so is ideal.

Imagine that an alien spaceship has landed on earth and the aliens are looking at your problem or the object that you have described. Next try to imagine what sort of questions the aliens would be asking, what would they be curious about? Many of the checklist techniques can provide some guidance here. A possible list could be:

  • What is the purpose of this?

  • How does it work?

  • Why does it have to be this way?

  • Why do these earthlings use these materials?

  • Is it useful to me?

  • Why does this matter, and to whom?

  • Is it worth any money?

  • Is there any other value?

  • Could it be used for …..?

These (and other questions) should be asked with childlike innocence i.e. assume no familiarity with earthly concepts.

The questions may throw up some ideas which indicate that the original starting point was flawed. If this is the case then revisit the problem definition stage of the creative problem solving process. If some common themes emerge then record these and use them as random stimuli for further excursions or use a form of association to group some of themes to see if they suggest further options, choices or ideas.

To find out more about Creative Problem Solving and to obtain another forty seven great techniques visit the Creative Business Solutions product store. You can also sign up for our regular electronic newsletter too.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Are you trying to develop ideas for a new product or service?

Are you stuck? Well here is a simple technique that might help you out. Take that idea and try to apply some of the items in the following 'List And Twist' checklist to it. They may seem strange but they just might jog your memory! For instance I showed the list to someone who was writing a children's book and they were taken by the suggestion of adding a smell! The net result - a scratch and sniff book. Try it for yourself and see.

Add a step, Find other uses, Slow down, Rearrange the steps, Improve the quality,
Add motion, Add an ingredient, Make it easier, Change packaging, Combine ingredients,
Align with other product, De-automate parts, Make it more extreme, Make it more expensive , Put some fun in it, Substitute materials, Find new distribution, Change the state,
Make it self service, Combine other processes, Change the shape , Add more service,
Make it a game, Put a story with it, Celebrity connection, Reverse the concept,
Turn it upside down, Purify it, Add nostalgia, Add smell

For more ideas visit http://www.creative4business.co.uk.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Humour and Creativity

Consider the following (depending on which country you are from you may miss the point in one or two):

"If you see someone doing the impossible, don't interrupt them"
Amar Bose (Bose Corporation

"Space is not remote, you can get there in an hour if you can make your car travel vertically"
Fred Hoyle (Astronomer)

"A sure cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree"
Spike Milligan (Comedian)

"I took a speed reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. Its about Russia"
Woody Allen (Comedian)

"Those who say it can't be done are being passed by those who are doing it"

"I said 'nearest the bull starts'. He said 'baa', I said 'moo'. He said 'you start'"
Peter Kaye (Comedian)

"'Hallo Rabbit', he said, 'Is that you?'. 'Lets pretend it isn't' said Rabbit, 'and see what happens'"
Winnie-the-pooh (bear, philosopher and explorer)

Now you may chuckle at one or more of the above, but did you wonder why? It is the juxtaposition of (strange) ideas that does it. It is exactly this mode of thinking that we need in the business world to be able to see things from a new perspective, generate ideas and spot new opportunities.

For more ideas visit www.creative4business.co.uk and see what happens.

Monday, October 03, 2005

You can only manage what you can measure

There are many who say that you can only manage what you can measure. I tend to agree with that sentiment so how can I then suggest that Innovation can be managed successfully?

The answer is that Innovation can be measured. What's new I hear you ask? We have always been able to measure this using Key Performance Indicators. KPIs do not measure Innovation directly, they measure the result of Innovation. This is nit picking a little but imagine setting up an Innovation project, and the finding out from your KPIs that the number of widgets falling off your production line has doubled.

At first this seems good but ask yourself how many widgets could you actually produce? How will you know when your Innovation project really is producing the goods? Would it be nice to actually look at that process itself?

The Innovation Toolkit from Creative Business Solutions does just that. At a top level it provides some graphical output that gives you a feel for how you are doing and then provides some more concrete results so that you can a) see what you are currently doing well b) create an action plan to fix the things that are not doing so well.

All of this looks at 'soft factors' such as culture, leadership and management, desire to win, grasp of external factors etc.

To find out more about managing Innovation visit http://www.creative4business.co.uk/innovation.html now.

Friday, August 05, 2005

So you think you're not creative?

This article is about valuing the creative potential in all of us, and trying to create room for it to flourish. A reasonable degree of creativity is a natural output of mentally and socially healthy people. As in any other human activity, practice and training can develop it. It is, however, quite a fragile state, and many things can, and often do, disrupt it, so that in many cases we are not operating to our full potential.

This implies that if you want to produce a modest increase in creativity, it is usually much more cost-effective to develop people and to remove some of the obstacles, than to try to find Leonardos and Einsteins to build your team from! If you can discover how to release it, creativity will find its own ways to blossom.

One of the most basic requirements is that creativity needs 'space' (in a metaphorical rather than literal sense). New responses to a problem require more mental processing than standard ones. So if you are under severe time pressure and/ or you are endlessly being interrupted and/ or your brain is caught up with obsessive routines, or preoccupied with panic or rage (or even passion!), creativity is going to be difficult! Some of the ways of creating mental space when you are working on your own include the following.

  • Schedule real 'quality time' for imaginative thinking. If at all possible, give yourself regular 'down-time' from your main role to allow time for thinking. With good forward thinking and preparation, you can often make space, e.g. by scheduling thinking time in quiet periods before the storm. For millennia, most religious traditions have built into their lifestyles regular periods of receptive contemplation and reflection. There were, and are, good reasons for this! It does not have to be anything very elaborate - perhaps just a regular walk, a round of golf, or whatever.

  • Time-share your brain. Another alternative is to dedicate thinking capacity instead of time. Leave the problem ticking over at the back of your mind and carry a notebook everywhere to record ideas as they occur to you. This can merge into 'guerilla' creativity (see below).

  • Make psychological space. Use psychological development, assertiveness training, stress management and related approaches to develop the ability to remain calm, relaxed and fully attentive even under high pressure. In this way you can bring your whole mental resource to bear even under very difficult conditions. In effect you develop an 'inner space' on which you can draw when you need to.

Methods you can use when working with others include the following.

  • Set up a formal creativity session. This, of course, is the classic solution. Notice that as well as providing a physical place where classic creativity methods can be used, it also provides a symbolic space (see the earlier discussion of play). One of the benefits of holding a problem-solving workshop or training course is that it 'gives permission' for participants to set aside their normal responsibilities for a while, to concentrate on a particular issue. This 'permissiongiving' aspect may not be so clear in techniques where the participants do not physically come together (e.g. postal methods such as Delphi, or where people collaborate over computer networks).

  • Develop skills in 'guerilla' creativity. As many organizations become leaner, the opportunity cost of a formal creativity session increases and such sessions become harder to set up. One solution is to interleave a kind of 'distributed creativity' into other activities. For instance, if you cannot manage a formal brainstorming afternoon with a few colleagues, perhaps you can incorporate an element of brainstorming into your next few corridor conversations, pub lunches or train journeys. You will not be able to use the more elaborate formal methods, so you will have to introduce creative practices discreetly into your conversation in ways that are almost invisible. By getting creativity to ride on the back of other activities, the additional time-cost attributable specifically to creativity can be minimal.

  • Delegate creativity. Even when you are at your wits' end with pressure, anxiety, exhaustion, etc., there will be others who are not. If you have a good network of trustworthy friends, colleagues, family or even consultants (!) you may sometimes be able to 'borrow' some surrogate creative time from them by asking them to have a go at solving your problem for you.

Here is just one idea for finding something creative in what could otherwise be a very ordinary situation. Find some more in the YES you can ebook series here.

'In-and-out' listening - a basic method for guerilla creativity

When you next have a problem you want ideas for, practise listening in one-to-one settings, adopting 'in-and-out' thinking.

First of all, listen closely and attentively so your partner begins to open up, following their own train of thought. Then, as you listen, try also letting your imagination roam around what your partner says, both hearing them and letting yourself make connections between their words and your problem. If it works well, you may be able to get quite good ideas from very ordinary conversations.

This is a very good method when sitting in bars and pavement cafes where there are plenty of distractions. Happy experimenting!

Find out more about using creativity as a business tool at http://www.creative4business.co.uk/creativity.html

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Leadership and Management Models

This article contains some suggestions on implementing a new model for leadership and management within an organisation currently undergoing change and which may continue to do so for a period of time. It does not constitute any form of plan or proposal.

Most models that are currently in use are clumsy, the most basic simply comprising of Role, Job Description and links to a structure chart. Such models:

  • Do not provide individuals with sensible objectives i.e. outcomes or behaviours
  • Do not provide links with the overall strategy of the organisation
  • Are not helpful in aligning individuals with organisations, particularly during reviews

Steps have been taken over many years to define competences either in terms of outcomes or behaviours or a mixture. Recently the Management Standards Centre has been engaged in producing a new set of national standards that are based on behaviours. This is broadly true, each unit being defined in terms of ‘outcomes of effective performance’ and ‘behaviours which underpin effective performance’. I believe that these offer a method of defining a sensible model for use within an organisation, particularly as they place significance on innovation and managing change. The draft standards are however, a little light on detail and may be seen at the very top of organisations as trivial. There may also be some stigma regarding language i.e. competences. For the same reason ‘standards’ may not be acceptable to all.

Within organisations there may often be an element of change fatigue where successive regimes have introduced and re-introduced procedures for such things as reward, appraisal and recruitment.

With this in mind I believe that the starting point should be a model of the organisation which is complex enough not to be dismissed and simple enough to be understood! (see the Innovation Equation and accompanying notes for an example of this type of model). With the correct analogy/metaphor and a link to organisational objectives it is easy for all to see where they fit into such a model. It is then relatively easy to make links to what each individual does and how they do it. More importantly everyone will know what they have done and how well they have done it. The keys here are transparency, links to objectives and simplicity.

Thinking about a model often leads to the word ‘framework’ which is a good word to use as it implies management but still allows room for manoeuvre (creativity and innovation). Being part of a model which is multi dimensional instead of 2D, means that the traditional structure chart can be replaced with a symbol of the future. This will also help in removing one source of tension that emerges when people appear above others on an organisational structure chart.

If a new model is created and a framework is set up then the remaining task is to create a description of how individuals people fit into the model. Imagine being a cog inside a machine – your day consists of rotating endlessly whilst engaging with other cogs and wheels. You stop for breaks whilst you are oiled and the machine is filled up. Creating such a description will cover the outcomes and behaviours as well as what is required or expected from others. A non linear storytelling approach is helpful here in allowing the creation of an organisational metaphor linking the individual components.

This somewhat abstract concept, when turned into reality, will encapsulate the characteristics of both the people and the culture of the organisation. What is more, during a period of change, the model can be used to create a vision of the future and to encourage buy-in. Note that organisational components need not necessarily be people, they can be functions, machines or interfaces to the outside world.

The main difference between this and other models is that an employee now has a clearer idea of why he/she is doing what they are doing.

The key steps should be to:

  • Create an organisational model
  • Map the model onto reality
  • Create a leadership and management framework
    - Describe place/functionality within the model
    - Describe interfaces to people and things
    - Describe abstract concepts such as use of time, capturing ideas, knowledge
    - How is effectiveness measured?
    - Effect on reward and appraisal scheme?
  • Ensure transparency
  • Create links to objectives
  • Ensure simplicity
  • Promote the concept effectively
  • Monitor the benefits against cost!!

A major benefit of this approach is the ability to consider scenarios ie. What if? If the organisation was to become a learning organisation how would the model need to change, what effect might it have on the management framework, how easy is it to downsize or expand?


There are no new ‘off the shelf models’, however there are many different ways of customising and delivering the models that currently exist. The new MSC standards may provide a useful starting point although they contain much redundant material and can be sketchy in places. As with other models they can only describe the characteristics of an effective manager in a general way, not the characteristics of an effective manager in your organisation.

Any model must clearly define the concepts of leadership and management within your model. A good starting point for this is the work of Tony Cockerill and Harry Schroeder (High Performance Managerial Competences).

Care must be taken to ensure that the approach taken maps onto the way in which your organisation carries out its business, bearing in mind any changes that are likely to occur in the future. The keys are stakeholder buy-in and delivery (including format, language and support materials). See here for ideas on training Leaders and Managers or for helping them to think strategically.

Creative Business Solutions

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Innovating well - what to look for

The areas that should be looked at are outlined below. Some of the conditions for innovation may seem 'idealistic' and it is extremely unlikely that the perfect organisation exists. All of the key areas are important and it is useful to identify how effective organisations are and whether any aspects of the organisation are being neglected. This only gives a broad overview. To get a detailed picture it is necessry to look at how creativity and knowledge are used and manged.

Team Work

Within this area of focus we are interested in whether people work as individuals or in teams, how effective they are, and whether or not they are multi/single function. Another important factor is the degree of autonomy and whether bottom up communication is effective.

Hands-on Management

Here we look at how much interference there is by managers in every-day working and how prescriptive managers are. Also we are looking for what actions are taken when problems occur. Do managers take immediate control or do they trust the people working for them to resolve problems?

Desire To Win

Within this are of focus we look for evidence of a desire to win, to beat the competition. Even though there may be insufficient resources to carry out a project or implement a plan there should be a 'yes and ..' culture rather than 'yes but...'. Good ideas can be kept for future use, not dismissed out of hand for lack of finances, time etc. There should also be evidence of doing everything that can be done to secure even the smallest advantage such as protecting Intellectual Property and seeking external help. Ideas should be welcomed from all sources and winning organisations are likely to be less risk averse.

Knowing How To Win

Organisations that know how to win will have a thorough understanding of their marketplace and all of the factors that affect it such as the economy and relevant legislation. They are willing to exploit these factors and be first movers or early adopters.

Environmental Scanning

To be successful, organisations must be able to scan their environments and be aware of new competition, changes and spot trends and patterns. This information will then be used to determine key success factors within the marketplace and drive the building of strategic capabilities.

External Relationships

In order to maximise potential, it is necessary to nurture external relationships with both customers and suppliers. Is this being carried out regularly and effectively? Do organisations rely on single points of contact or do they interact at multiple levels, cementing ties? How well is information disseminated and vision, branding etc communicated to stakeholders?

Growing The Right Culture

A truly innovative culture relies heavily on intrinsic motivation. Employees must have a clear idea of what they are expected to achieve and of the amount of support that they have. Transparency on the part of senior management and 'leading by example' will build trust and encourage buy-in to strategic objectives. Motivation and morale should generally be high with little or no evidence of stress present.

Stretching To Achieve

When maximising potential it is often necessary to take employees out of their 'comfort zone'. To do this successfully there must be an effective framework for delivering the necessary training and development. Individuals should be encouraged to use their own initiative (subject to any safety or legal constraints), be responsible for their actions and learn from their mistakes.

Getting The Best From People

In order to get the best from employees it is necessary to involve everybody. Not only does this improve the culture but it maximises the resources that are available for generating ideas, capturing and storing knowledge. The greater the variety of sources, the greater the potential for innovation. It is also helpful if there is mutual support between employees, managers, colleagues and peers, especially where risk taking is encouraged. Another important factor is the reward systems that are in place. These need not necessarily be monetary rewards but should recognise team rather than individual contributions.

See how the above can be measured using the Innovation Toolkit.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Organisational Games that Block Creativity

Innovate or Perish?

The dynamics of modern business environment demand that we create and innovate faster and better than our competitors. Companies, and sometimes whole industries can be destroyed in record time due to their inability to innovate. Innovate or die!

Much has been researched, discovered and learned about how organisations can improve their ability to innovate. Many books have been written and whole new organisations have been created which now compete with each other to take their ideas about creative processes into other organisations. Which is very good news.

But what happens when the politics of self-interest come up against the creative process? What happens when ideas threaten egos? Much has been written about the obstacles to innovation. One blockage that gains little attention is the extent to which an organisation’s own internal politics can conspire against it and sabotage the creative process. Power, politics and innovation are uneasy bedfellows.

Anyone for Politics?
“Why is it that having great ideas isn’t the hard part of innovation? It’s the “making them happen” that hurts.”
(From: ?What If! by Dave Allan and others)

The team at Politics at Work Ltd are original thinkers, writers and trainers in this challenging area. Their catalogue of DirtyTricks at Work™ has identified over 50 political games, which inhibit organisational, team and individual performance, and many of these are worth learning and exploring in the creative context as they can directly undermine our attempts to be innovative.

If we are determined to nurture the creative spirit in our people and provide an organisational climate and environment where innovation and ideas flourish, then we must tackle these political games and negative thinking patterns directly.

Games of Resistance

So what does resistance to creativity and innovation look like and sound like? How will we know it when we experience it? The truth is that resistance in organisations takes many forms but much of it is quite subtle, it is indirect, and sadly much can even be deliberately covert or Machiavellian.

If we explore the myriad of interactions between people in organisations we discover a world of indirect transactions. People are frequently diverted away from clear and direct communication in the mistaken belief that others can’t or won’t be able to handle the truth. Also, many of us have concerns that voicing our doubts about an idea will be seen as rocking the boat or not being a team player.

Others are concerned that challenging the bosses great new idea (which might well be fundamentally flawed) might be a career decision. Because of this - mostly faulty - assumption, people interact obliquely, politically and indirectly.

There are many repetitive sequences of unhelpful interactions which take place and which we have defined as political games. What follows is a taster from the Politics at Work catalogue of DirtyTricks at Work™. More specifically these are some of the ways in which politics and innovation come into conflict with one another.

If we can learn how to recognise these inhibiting games, tactics and manoeuvres we have taken a big first step to increasing innovation. Further, if we are able to help people learn to counter them effectively, such a discovery would serve to protect the new, fresh, green shoots of ideas. These gems need to be nurtured through the first difficult stages of life if they are to make an impact to the competitive position of the business. These discoveries will start to transform the creative culture of the organisation.

Interesting Idea John…

As the great American business writer Peter Block observed, in its milder forms, resistance can be as simple as declaring that “I thought the ideas in your presentation were really interesting”. “Interesting” is the key word here, because it is the word people frequently use when they want to appear supportive and positive about an idea when really they are indirectly resisting. We say “interesting” when asked for feedback and we do not want to reveal our concerns and doubts. “Interesting” can even be code for “your work sucks and will spoil all my plans”.

Time Bandit

This is the tactic of resisting an idea or suggestion by pretending that the timing just isn’t right (and at the same time implying that at some future, unspecified date the timing will be more apposite) “Ben, the only thing wrong with your idea is the timing, come back in the spring and we’ll look at it again” Which is usually indirect code for “no way is this idea going any further!”

Of course there are times when an idea is a really good one, but the timing really is inappropriate and that to move it forward now would be a mistake. Under these circumstances this is not a game but a genuine interaction. However our research shows that playing Time Bandit is a highly popular tactic for resisting or sabotaging ideas that someone, usually out of political self-interest, does not want to see progressed.

The Creative Cuckoo

When Politics at Work first began research into organisational games, one of the first to be clarified was the Creative Cuckoo. Many of us will have had the misfortune to observe this game first hand. Many more will also have been taken in and exploited by this manoeuvre.

We have defined the Creative Cuckoo as “the tactic of stealing credit for the efforts or ideas of another”. The upside to this game is that at least the idea does get progressed. The huge downside is the betrayal of trust and damage to integrity, credibility, team working and morale that result. If our organisation has creative cuckoos nesting within it then creativity quickly becomes an endangered and protected species.

It is easy to see why people decide to protect their best ideas and compete to ensure that they get the credit for them. Sadly this is time and energy that could and should be directed back into the creative process, not into protectionism.

Tell Me More

This is the tactic of duplicitously resisting a valid suggestion or idea by demanding more research or data, in the hope that the other party will eventually be either distracted or exhausted and either drop the idea, or forget it. “Come back with a detailed proposal, with a clearly differentiated cost benefit matrix and we’ll look at it again.” And when they come back, more research is still required, and again, and again…

Of course it is appropriate that before new ideas are acted upon, that they should be researched and tested. It is prudent and appropriate for managers to place boundaries and reigns around the first flush of exhilaration that sweeps a new idea into awareness. Sadly though, this is also a convincing and apparently professional stance, which can often mask an inauthentic position and resistance.

Nit Picker

We were recently told the story of someone who once had a manager who so disliked their ideas that he would nit pick and find fault with everything they put forward. This resistance strategy hit new levels of absurdity one day when he had the temerity to ask if “the inverted commas are in the right font” for a new process idea they had put forward.

What lurked beneath his resistance was that he had a really clear vision of what he wanted and how he wanted to achieve it, and other people’s ideas frequently came into conflict with his. Unfortunately he chose to play a game of Nit Picker rather than communicate directly, fearing perhaps his people would not be able to handle his objections. Faced with this style of resistance perhaps unsurprisingly creativity was initially muffled and then disappeared.

Other political strategies for undermining creativity include…

Super Parent – They have seen it all and done it all before, and their experience is so vast and impressive that if they say it is a poor idea and won’t work, we are facing an uphill struggle. Their arrogance and ego demands complete acceptance and our capitulation, or else!

Techno-Babble – The idea is challenged on the scientific level and the resistance takes the form of long winded, confusing, jargon filled explanations which are presented as just being “helpful”. Again rather like the Super Parent, they have seen it all before (and have a legion of facts to prove it) and see no new reason to go down a road which has already proved fruitless.

Naysayer – It can’t be done, it’s impossible, and it won’t work. The Naysayer denies that the idea is achievable and they are so convincing that they have even hypnotised themselves into believing it. In 1899 Charles Duell the Director of the US Patents office suggested that the government close the office because everything that could be invented had been invented. Margaret Thatcher believed that a female Prime Minister was unlikely and certainly “not in my lifetime” The Naysayer is naturally resistant to new ideas and possibilities and wants to recruit us to their cause.

Get Naked - This game starts when the most powerful person present has an idea - which everyone immediately knows is terrible - but no one says so, indeed some might even go out of their way to congratulate the boss on their brilliant insight. It is the modern organisational equivalent of the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. The upshot of this is that other ideas resident in people’s minds are much less likely to then be articulated because to do so might be interpreted as a challenge to the “Emperor”.

What If…

By now you will have got the message about how these games undermine the creative spirit in the organisation and if you want to learn more about combatting power and politics in the workplace then contact Politics At Work via their website http://www.politicsatwork.com/ . Imagine what we could achieve if we could change the culture and environment of the organisation to cut through these inappropriate behaviours into a more productive state.

For further details of using creativity and innovation as business tools visit the Creative Business Solutions website.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Breaking Mindsets

Often we think of having to change the mindsets of others, but what about our own? Shouldn’t we be challenging our own ideas as well as the ways of having ideas? The following list applies to both solo and group working:

  • Develop a wide range of experiences and interests. The richer the experience the wider the range of possibilities. Why not take a different route home or try a different bus?
  • Become aware of your own blind spots i.e. things that you do not think
    about consciously or sub-consciously.
  • Step into the shoes of all your stakeholders, even those with extreme
  • Try different techniques, mix up your ways of holding meetings, generating ideas etc. Keep the same ones and you will build up systematic blind spots
    or gaps in your thinking.
  • Try different modes of thinking. If you are naturally intuitive then try to be rational. If you are working in groups then change the balance of the group.
    If you are familiar with NLP representational systems then work with a
    different one.
  • Challenge of all of the ‘givens’. Many organisations do things because they have always been done like that. There are not always as many regulatory constraints as there might at first appear!

For more creative ideas on training or setting up innovation projects visit the Creative Business Solutions website.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Build up, don't knock down

This is sometimes described as learning to say 'Yes, and .. .' rather than 'Yes, but ... '. Any new idea will include lots of problematic elements, and the newer the idea, the more problematic it is likely to be. It is therefore very easy to kill ideas by highlighting their weaknesses. However, this will often 'throw the baby out with the bath water'. Even the silliest, weirdest or most impracticable of ideas will contain one or two per cent of potentially viable material or can be used as what de Bono referred to as an 'intermediate impossible' - a stepping-stone to other, more directly usable ideas.

'Building' techniques are extremely powerful, often very portable and can have very positive secondary effects:

  • They allow you to take virtually any input - a random piece of news, a nonexpert's misunderstanding, a tedious discussion with the office bore or an accidental meeting - and get useful ideas from it.
  • They can help you to remain attentive and interested longer and more often.
  • The other people involved will also tend to feel encouraged by having their tentative ideas valued and being helped to build them into realistic and acceptable plans.
  • This is the kind of experience that people want to try again, from which they learn a lot and which leaves them valuing you and the organization.

Suggestions for techniques to 'build' on an existing idea (sometimes called 'hitchhiking') are listed below.

  • Give priority to the useful aspects ('Yes, that idea would let us .. .').
  • Express problematic aspects in a form that allows them to be tackled ('That idea raises an interesting problem. I wonder how we could .. .').
  • Combine the idea with other ideas.
  • Transform the idea in various ways (e.g. bigger, smaller, reversed, changed roles).
  • Treat the idea as an exemplar for other possibilities (what different categories it could belong to, and what other ideas are suggested by these categories).
  • Express the idea in more abstract or concrete terms ('What is this idea an example of?' 'What examples are there of this idea?').
  • Represent it in a different medium (draw it, role-play it, sculpt it, etc.).
  • Reframe the idea (i.e. see it from someone else's viewpoint, from a different hierarchical level, in different contexts or on different time-scales).
  • Abstract the idea to a few key terms and then look up equivalents in a thesaurus (this method is the basis of some computer packages).
  • Find analogies to the idea and use these as stimuli for other ideas.
  • Use the idea to start a train of thought (in which case many of the other building mechanisms may be at work in a more or less automatic way - the more practised you are, the more automatic they become).

If you would like to learn more about using creative techniques then you might be interested in the new 'YES you can' ebook series which has 48 techniques for you to try.

Living with looseness

Neither creativity itself nor the issues that demand creativity are tidy or controlled. To handle this, you need a mental framework that is 'forgiving' of a necessary degree of confusion, ambiguity, uncertainty or contradiction, providing, of course, that a sufficient core of structure can be extracted from it to allow your activities to proceed. This article looks at the areas that managers seem to find most troublesome and suggests some skills and abilities that may require development.

There are five areas of ambiguity that managers find particularly troublesome:
  • Where the significance and reliability of information is problematical.
  • Where it is unclear at what level the problem needs to be tackled.
  • Where different value orientations lead to political and emotional clashes among key players, inside and outside the organization.
  • Where contradictions and paradoxes appear.
  • Where symbols and metaphors, rather than logical arguments, are used to advance a position.

If several of the above characteristics combine, the problems begin to disrupt a manager's normal routines, and stress levels climb. Situations like these test the limits of analysis, so strictly analytical skills tend to be less relevant. Skills and procedures such as those listed below often help to provide the 'looseness' needed to manage these difficult circumstances.
  • Problem-finding ability. A combination of judgement, intuition and logic that enables a manager to identify the right problem and to recognize opportunities.
  • Map-building ability. The skill of generating one or more ways of conceptualizing a problematic situation, including the ability to relate the demands of the situation to organizational and personal values and identity.
  • Janusian thinking. This refers to thinking that joins seemingly contradictory beliefs in a constructive way (the Roman god Janus faced in both directions at once).
  • Controlling and not controlling. Knowing when to let events follow their own course versus knowing when to intervene.
  • Humour that oils. This is humour that helps regulate stress and encourages creative juxtapositions, rather than biting, sarcastic, denigrating humour. Laughter is restorative - releasing tension and rejoining people.
  • Charisma. The ability to stir enthusiasm, commitment and confidence. It transforms everyday activities into purposeful pursuit of super-ordinate goals and heightens people's sense of their own power and their willingness to take risks.
  • The use of a core group embedded in a network of contacts and information. At the centre of any exercise in 'turbulence management' you usually find a core group - a few people meeting frequently face to face, working at least half-time in this role so that they can become really immersed in it.
  • The use of domain and direction planning rather than goal-directed planning. Knowing who you are and where you want to go is inherently more flexible and better adapted to the realities of acting under stress than thinking in terms of specific, objective, measurable goals.
  • Use ad hoc structures such as task forces and project teams. These temporary structures allow the organization to depart from old practices and to learn new behaviours - e.g. to examine the fundamentals of the business, or to experiment with the organization's traditional ways, or to educate key players in the new rules of the game.

Have a look at recent ebook excerpts for some more ideas or invest in the new YES you can ebook series.

Playing in Business - lets do more!

Does this mean that we can all regress into childhood and that making mistakes or behaving foolishly does not matter? Of course not. What we mean in this context is that a certain degree of chaos, learning from mistakes and not playing by the rules is acceptable. But why ‘play’ and not ‘explore’? Adult creativity is closer to childhood play than you might think and also ‘exploration’ still uses our adult rules with built in mindsets.

Play has several important characteristics which I will explore further.

We learn when we play as children, in fact this accounts for most of our early learning. Can you remember some of those early lessons before you went to primary school? Play acts as a learning laboratory for trying out different internal models on an external world. This is not dissimilar to our traditional brainstorming sessions.

Is play a practical task or imagination? A child that pretends his piece of cardboard is a knight’s sword is giving a simple piece of cardboard a set of magical qualities that are potentially limitless. As adults we use metaphor in much the same way.

Play also helps our sense of independence, and shows that we do not have to be compliant. This is an essential part of basic mental health. We need to have our own world and not be simply a part of someone else’s.

Play provides a protected area for our dreams. Once in the play state we do not say ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘don’t be silly’. Does this not remind you of brainstorming and other techniques? When you are free of the rules you are playing!!

Play provides a way of managing tensions between what is and what can be. Such tension can be temporarily reduced by imagining ways of closing the gap. A classical case of this is the technique of Visualisation.

Play is often accompanied by a particular state of mind. Just as a child can become lost in a game, so adults can become lost in a problem solving state once they have left their preconceptions behind.

There are emotional boundaries for children when play. The feelings conjured up by making imagination real must be containable. The same feelings exist when undertaking adult creative workshops and thus we can not play if we feel threatened.

As children, play is our main method of making both friends and enemies. Many suggest that it is only during play that true communication is possible because that is the only time that we share our innermost feelings. Those who have taken part in worthwhile group sessions will relate to the feelings of closeness that exist.

Given that shared culture, values, myths, metaphors, visions and more are the basis of many of our social groupings both inside and outside the workplace, why do we not play more often?

Creative Business Solutions are experts in applying creative techniques such as play to business situations. To find out more about training solutions, innovation projects or our self help ebook series YES you can, just click on the relevant link.