Thursday, December 14, 2006

How To Generate 20 New Business Ideas Over Coffee

Reverse (or negative) brainstorming is an ideal technique for people in businesses of all sizes, either on their own or with colleagues. It can also be slotted into short periods of time such as coffee breaks, bus or train journeys or whilst waiting for someone. And if your board meeting drags on you can always let your mind wander a little!

To start with, select an issue or topic about which you need to generate ideas. The fact that some of you will be more familiar with the topic than others in a group situation doesn’t matter for this exercise. Everybody will get benefit from trying out the technique and swapping notes afterwards.

The topic should have a positive and possibility- focused phrasing, i.e. how can we gain/improve/create/diversify/build etc. Check everybody understands the question or statement.

If in a group, nominate someone to record ideas on a flipchart. If you are on your own then make sure you have a notepad handy.

Then (and only then) take the topic and reverse it. For example if your topic is “How to improve sales in the company?” reverse it to “How could we drive down sales as low as they could possibly go?"

Note down this reverse statement. Brainstorm for as many ideas as you can (about the reverse statement, forget the original topic for now) and record them. This is where human nature takes over, we are more likely to record negative ideas than positive ones.

Note your ideas verbatim. No judging or filtering of ideas to be made during ideas generation. Keep it quick and always include the unlikely, the weird and the apparently impossible.

Next, take those ideas and reverse them again. This can be done:

  • directly so if one had been, say “everybody stop talking”, the reverse might be “everybody talks much more” which might lead to ideas about chat rooms, coffee knowledge sharing hours, skill sharing sessions

  • by extracting a principle or meaning so “everybody stop talking” - interpreted as a restriction of rights - which reversed could mean ensuring that there is a policy for appropriate communication with ethnic groups within the company

Topics that you might like to investigate are:

  • How can I drive down sales?

  • How can I make my production line less efficient?

  • How can I waste as much time as possible during the day?

Even newcomers to this type of thinking should be able to generate 10-20 good ideas in around 20 minutes. Please let me know how you get on.

Solving those difficult business problems

This is a brief introduction to a problem solving technique known as Boundary Relaxation.

A problem boundary is the imaginary line between what a problem is, must be, should be, or could be, and what it isn't, mustn't be, shouldn't be, or couldn't be. This approach works by creating awareness of the different components of the boundary and then seeing how far they can be loosened. Here are some ways of making a boundary more visible.

NOT-ing the problem statement Take each significant term in a problem statement and define it more clearly by saying what it is not, for example:

  • How to develop (not replace, alter, reduce, ...)

  • the motorway (not other roads, airlines, ships, ... )

  • network (not piecemeal)

  • to allow for (not compel)

  • the gradual (neither imperceptible nor rapid)

  • replacement (not augmentation)

  • of rail (not air, ships, ...)

  • transport (not pleasure use, prestige use)

Boundary conditions not mentioned in the problem statement may often be found by looking elsewhere e.g. budgets, policy statements, market analyses, etc., and by 'asking around'. Sometimes you may need to 'read between the lines'.

Once a boundary feature has been identified dearly, then it is usually relatively simple to ask yourself and/or others involved 'Would it make the problem any easier to solve if this part of the boundary could be altered in some way?'. 'If so, under what circumstances could it be altered or ignored?'

It may be easier to get temporary leeway around a boundary by discreetly 'bending' it and making sure nothing goes wrong, than by trying to get formal permission to alter it. Many are familiar with the saying ‘Remember it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.'

Should Christmas be cancelled?

No this is not a statement from a fringe group who are avoiding the frayed nerves and expense associated with Christmas Shopping, cooking, boisterous children and upset tummies. Christmas is a time where a million and one things must happen and be in place (more or less) by the time presents are unwrapped on Christmas day.

To be honest most of us manage it. We enjoy (or tolerate) the influx of friends and family and for once we seem capable of multi tasking i.e. having a drink, fixing the tree, carving the turkey. Using Christmas as a metaphor, why can’t we do all these things in the workplace? Why can’t we encourage diversity, set objectives, plan and execute strategies?

A subtle clue might be in where the focus lies. As individuals, who do we focus on at work, who do we focus on at home (especially at Christmas)? Now think about where the most dramatic results are achieved!

So far we have considered taking Christmas to work, but what if it were to be the other way around? Here are just a few of the issues that might surface:

  • Tall object with pine needles – removed for health and safety reasons

  • Three Wise Men – disbanded because of contravention of equal opportunities policy

  • Baby in a stable – social services involved, baby now in care, animal rights protesters angry because of displaced donkeys

  • Larger house needed – health and safety dictate that there is not enough floor space per human/animal/present

  • Christmas dinner cancelled – no proper workstation assessment carried out on dining table and various rickety items of furniture that we use

  • No presents – Santa has not been on a manual handling course

The list could be endless. There is a serious point to be made though. Yes we do need some frameworks to work within, and for someone to look out for the less fortunate and disadvantaged, but too many rules and too many people saying NO is stifling.

So its time to decide whether in 2007 you wish to embrace a more creative and productive way of working or wither away under a pile of rules and red tape. Remember, if Christmas really was like work, it would be cancelled. Long live Christmas!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Business Burping

What on earth are ‘Business Burps’ you may be asking? It was a phrase I thought of whilst ... burping. Can you remember as a child when you first let out a burp after gulping a fizzy drink? Wasn’t it a bit exciting (as well as a little bit rude)? Weren’t your parents just a tiny bit embarrassed?

Well Business Burps are a little like this. They have the following characteristics:

  • Something unexpected happens following a period of high energy
  • There is excitement
  • There is resentment on the part of competition i.e. that’s not fair
  • There is some embarrassment on our part to exploit the situation
  • The event is likely to be totally ‘left field’

A recent example of this is Borat, the sixth most famous man in Kazakhstan. For those who are not familiar with Sacha Baron Cohen's character visit the officialwebsite. This is viral marketing at its very best. It is embarrassing, offensive to the Kazakhstan government (at first), completely unexpected and well thought out (Borat has his own website, mySpace etc) and many, if not most, people are talking about him.

So what has this got to do with ‘Business’. First of all Borat is business for his creator. Secondly his appearance is at odds with what has gone before. So if, like many businesses, Sacha Baron Cohen had adopted ‘Best Practice’ we would have just got yet another mediocre comedy film. Instead we got the product of ‘Next Practice’. Like Borat, our new business ideas must be the product of ‘Next Pratice’, a ‘Business Burp’. Not only should your idea be different, its method of delivery or production should be future looking too. So when you are next considering a strategy of innovation or business growth or ‘burping in the boardroom’ then consider
the following:

  • Is your idea unexpected (for the marketplace)?
  • Does the energy exist to see it through?
  • Does it have the impact for competitors to scream ‘its not fair’
  • Can you avoid the fear and other barriers that could stop you exploiting the situation?
  • Can this be delivered through new processes or working practices that make it even harder for competitors to copy?
  • Are you forward and outward looking?

To find out how your business can be helped to burp, contact us now.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Innovator's Toolkit

This article came about as a result of a presentation made recently. The aim was to assist business people and entrepreneurs by telling them what would happen when they were innovating, what it would feel like, what the cost would be and what impact there would be on staff, family and friends. This is information not readily given out by consultants and business support organisations. The ideas are all captured in a document entitled ‘How Innovation Works’ which is currently available in PDF format on request.

So what is first? Well, rather like installing a new IKEA kitchen, you need a case for actually doing it. In the case of the kitchen it is simple – we have no room, it is a health hazard etc. In many businesses it is a case of ‘we do this or go bust’ but there are less extreme reasons. Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want to do this?
  • What will I achieve?
  • Am I willing to take the risk?
  • Are my stakeholders with me?
  • Am I prepared to change?

Note at this stage you might not know what you are going to do but you will know why and that you have given yourself permission to carry on..

Rather like building that kitchen you will need some tools and a map. The first tool is a new brain! Not literally, but you will have to think differently.

“Hallo Rabbit,” he said, “is that you?” “Let’s pretend it isn’t,” said Rabbit, “and see what happens.” (Winnie-the-pooh)

Rather like Pooh and Rabbit we must adopt different modes of thinking. We will need to work with new tools, try out ideas, manage new staff and face new competition. The ideal model to follow is that of a modern terrorist organisation but without the flawed ideology. Think how they are managed and resourced, how they gather intelligence, how their networks are set up. You will need to consider one or all of the following:

  • Team working
  • Is management too hands on?
  • Is there a desire to win?
  • Do you know how to win?
  • Do you look inwards or outwards?
  • How do you manage external relationships?
  • Do you have the appropriate culture?
  • Do you get the best from your employees?

All of these things can be measured with our Innovation Toolkit.

Once you have the tools you will need some (metaphorical) space to work in. To create this consider:

  • Strategic barriers
  • Organisational culture and networks
  • Corporate culture
  • Learning ability
  • Process and structure

Is it hard to do? Well if you consider that you will have to come up with ideas, transfer knowledge, think in half a dozen or so different modes simultaneously and ‘herd cats’ then you have some idea of the task ahead. It is all perfectly possible and many have travelled the path.

It is possible to define a methodology to follow and plan both innovation projects and continuous innovation. The ‘How Innovation Works’ document will shed more light on the topic if your are interested.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Innovation - how long is a piece of string?

This is a question that children and parents often ask each other when playing and is of course a trick question. Why then do people ask the question 'how long will my innovation project take' when it too is a trick question? The reason it is a trick question is that rather like the piece of string we tend not to know where one (or both) ends are. Still, this is a question that I would like to answer, so that many of the SME owners can at least have an attempt at creating a budget for next year.
Here I am concerned with an innovation project run in isolation, not several running concurrently or an ongoing rolling programme. First of all let us identify the phases that the project must go through along with the number of people involved.
  • Startup
  • Audit
  • Setup and training
  • Research and idea generation
  • Testing and refining (including prototyping) if necessary
  • Implementation (possibly pre production if manufacturing)
  • Roll out

These seven phases can be further broken down or amalgamated as necessary. They outline a process for taking stock, gaining support and laying down rules before taking a hard look at your current starting point. You will need some training and development as you are about to enter into areas that you might not have been before. Have you often wondered why brainstorming works with and external facilitator but not with your own team?

The period of research and generating ideas is one that I term the 'Ideas Lab'. It is a period of intense activity but one where the greatest number of results are observed. Finally we come to the tough bit, actually turing ideas into reality so that the boss can see he has not been wasting his money.

If you are in a mature (as opposed to startup) business then such a cycle is likely to take 12-14 weeks to get to the point where you are ready to launch a new product or service. This gives business owners an idea of how long resources need to be committed for. Now here comes the really big problem, how many resources?

As a rule of thumb you might need some full or part time external help but you will need some internal liaison or project management and a number of people that cover all of the functional area within your company (marketing, sales, production, stores, finance) and possibly at different levels. This could easily be 6-15 people in a medium sized company but could be only 2 or 3 in a much smaller business.

So now you know you might need 6-15 people for around 12-14 weeks and some equipment/office space. This will give a very rough 'finger in the air' estimate, enough for you to be able to answer the question 'is this worth doing?' In today's economic climate you may very well be trying to decide the future of your business.

Busting the myths surrounding business creativity

Myth #1 Creativity Comes From Creative Types

The fact is, nearly all the research in this field shows that anyone with normal intelligence is capable of doing some creative work. Creativity depends on a number of things: experience, including knowledge and technical skills; talent; an ability to think in new ways; and the capacity to push through uncreative dry spells. Intrinsic motivation -- people who are turned on by their work often work creatively -- is especially critical.

Myth #2 Money Is a Creativity Motivator

Research shows that people put far more value on a work environment where creativity is supported, valued, and recognised. People want the opportunity to deeply engage in their work and make real progress. It is therefore critical for managers to match people to projects not only on the basis of their experience but also in terms of where their interests lie. People are most creative when they care about their work and they are being stretched.

Myth #3 Time Pressure Fuels Creativity

People are least creative when they are racing the clock. Actually, you may find that there are 'after effects' -- when people are working under great pressure, their creativity is likely to go down not only on that day but the following day or two days also. Time pressure stifles creativity because people can't deeply engage with the problem. Creativity requires an incubation period; people need time to soak in a problem and let the ideas bubble up.

Myth #4 Fear Forces Breakthroughs

A US research project coded 12,000 diary entries for the degree of fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, joy, and love that people were experiencing on a given day. They found that creativity is positively associated with joy and love and negatively associated with anger, fear, and anxiety. The entries showed that people are happiest when they come up with a creative idea, but they're more likely to have a breakthrough if they were happy the day before. When people are excited about their work, there's a better chance that they'll make a cognitive association that incubates overnight and shows up as a creative idea the next day. One day's happiness often predicts the next day's creativity!

Myth #5 Competition Beats Collaboration

Creativity takes a hit when people in a work group compete instead of collaborate. The most creative teams are those that have the confidence to share and debate ideas. But when people compete for recognition, they stop sharing information. And that's destructive because nobody in an organisation has all of the information required to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

Myth #6 A Streamlined Organisation Is a Creative Organisation

Creativity suffers greatly during a downsizing or restructuring. But it's often worse than many of us realise. A 6,000-person division of a global electronics company experienced a 25% downsizing, which lasted a painful 18 months. Every single one of the stimuli of creativity in the work environment was significantly reduced. Anticipation of the downsizing was worse than the downsizing itself -- people's fear of the unknown led them to basically disengage from the work. More troubling was the fact that five months after the downsizing, creativity was still significantly reduced.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Taking the 'In' out of Innovation

There have been many articles recently that have focused on putting the 'Lead' back into Leadership or the 'Man' back into Management. But what about Innovation, I thought, what does that need that it doesn't already have? One of my recent articles focused on Slow Innovation, going back to basics and making sure that everyone understands the concept, the parts that they play and the overall objectives.

This is, however, an internal issue for organisations. What is happening in the external environment that is helping or hindering Innovation? One possible problem is 'spin'. Innovation as a word is incredibly fashionable and sexy. To coin a phrase, it is 'in'. Unfortunately to take the 'in' out would take quite a bit of work, the best we can do is warn the participants in this fashion game.

Who is taking part and what is the problem here? First of all we have a message that 'Innovation is good' from governments, with grant funding for the wrong things, targeted at the wrong organisations, with advice from the wrong people! At a slightly lower level, Innovation is seen as a panacea for all ills. Wrong! If you hear this, an out of touch consultant is trying to sell you a 'thinly disguised' change program. Embedded within organisations are people jumping up and down shouting 'eureka' and wanting to set up innovation projects. Some may be well intentioned but they want to play with pet projects in their spare time.

This is making some very sweeping statements but next time someone in you organisation mentions innovation, think about what it is intended to do, and that everyone is speaking the same language. Ensure that Innovation is not just a fashion accessory, but an essential part of being a successful organisation.

Please feel free to browse more blog entries or visit the Creative Business Solutions website for more information.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Innovation and Organisational Networks

Typically an organisation chart shows control or seniority, it does not show how the organisation actually works. On a daily basis people communicate with each other, give advice and provide support for each other. These factors are mirrors for the organisational culture that exists and hence a determining factor in the ability of an organisation to innovate. It would therefore be useful to have a measure of the extent of the advice, trust and communications networks.

For a simple case each individual can be given a diagram of their whole organisation or team and asked to draw on the links for each of the three networks mentioned. This could prove cumbersome for larger groups and so it might be sufficient to determine a) the number of colleagues that an individual communicates with regularly and b) the number of other individuals that they have in each of their networks. All 3 types of network have a part to play, however if they are not well aligned or differ significantly from the organisation chart then major problems are likely to exist. Further problems may occur if they are not evenly distributed or there are significant bottlenecks. This data can also be used in other ways e.g. if you are considering using a particular individual as a change agent, make sure that they figure in most peoples’ trust and advice networks!

Communications Network - consider the largest group of people that an individual communicates with on a daily basis. Such communications can be written, verbal or electronic. It is also useful to identify if individuals communicate with people outside of their normal working groups and whether they have any formal responsibility for doing so. A network such as this carries significant amounts of traffic, some of it idle chat. However, it is often the case that random events within this network stimulate significant innovation events.

Trust Network - within any organisation there are networks of people with whom others are willing to share political information, company secrets or provide support in a crisis. A trust network is thus a very important part of an organisation, particularly in the areas of motivation and morale. Problems here are indicative of trouble ahead if it has not already surfaced. Symptoms may occur during times of great change e.g. merger, takeover and redundancy or as a result of years of neglect. In all cases, innovation (which relies on intrinsic motivation) will suffer.

Advice Network - an individual's advice network consists of those whom they give advice to and receive advice from. This is restricted to technical advice or advice on solving problems and is not concerned with personal problems. It is this network that carries the knowledge that is concerned with solving crucial business dilemmas.

Key Innovation Indicators

When you make any changes to your business you will automatically be looking at certain indicators to make sure that any changes have had a beneficial effect (won’t you?). The trouble is that there may very well be a time lag between making the changes and noticing the (hopefully beneficial) effect.

If you have been trying to make your organisation more innovative then you might consider some sort of before and after measurements in the areas described below. Whilst not a definitive list of things to look for, they will help you decide what, if anything, is working.

Team Working – are people working as individuals or as single/multifunction teams? How much autonomy do these teams have and are their opinions and feedback listened to?

Management Style – how much interference is there by managers in every-day working and how prescriptive are they? 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 – is there evidence of this throughout the organisation? Even when there are insufficient resources to carry out a project or implement a plan, is there a 'yes and ..' culture rather than 'yes but...'. Good ideas should be kept for future use, not dismissed out of hand for lack of finances, time etc. Organisations with a desire to win will also appear to be less risk averse.

Knowing How To Win – a desire is one thing but do you know how to win? Organisations that know how to win are likely to have a thorough understanding of their marketplace and all of the factors that affect it such as the economy, legislation and technological breakthroughs. They are willing to exploit such 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 should 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 need 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.

The Right Framework - when stretching individuals we must ensure that the right culture exists (see above). Such a culture includes, but is not necessarily restricted to such things as opportunities to develop skills, freedom to act on own initiative, work environment, acknowledgement of input, learning environment.

Getting The Best From People - 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. There must also be appropriate reward systems

All of these factors can be measured. Creative Business Solutions achieve this using their Innovation Toolkit. Click on the link or visit for more information.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Two loos, no time

Just think for a moment about your current lifestyle, well everyone’s really. We seem to have no time to wash the car, pick up the kids, go to the gym, cut the grass. And so the list goes one. Well in a way I am going to compound that but make it easier for you. You are going away on holiday soon and are keen to get away from all of those business problems, right? What if I suggested that they could be solved by the time you got back from holidays and all without you having to consciously do anything apart from soak up the sun and drink ice cold pina coladas?

Well here’s how. You may have heard of the right/left brain model, if not here is a recap. Your left brain is logical and handles logical stuff like numbers etc but it also filters ideas (no you can’t do it that way stupid). Your right brain is creative and will explore anything given the chance. To get your brain working while you are away, simply get right into your problem(s), understand every nuance and then distract your left brain by doing something such as – going on holiday. Some solutions may leap out at you and some may leak out on your return, but something will happen.

If you are feeling even more creative then why not use random stimulation whilst on holiday. This technique makes use of odd or wacky stimuli. If you are going away then the chances are you will see some unusual things that could trigger good ideas. How could that coconut help you at work, or that starfish, or that ice cream?

It’s a shame that we have no time for anything these days. We cannot even plan getting up in the morning, can’t stand queuing for the bathroom so two loos, no time.

Making use of the oddballs

Many organisations have an oddball character who sits in the corner of the office and does things in their own unique way. These people may very well be the cleverest and most valuable people in the company. You of course would dispute that wouldn’t you?

So how does your organisation work? Of course, you are the star and the place simply could not function without you. In your inner circle are a few highly driven and well motivated individuals who carry the whole business along. Some of your colleagues do an ok job, some are plainly not motivated and a waste of space and then there are the oddballs, the nutters who dress differently, crochet incessantly and go on caravanning holidays. What do they do apart from create endless piles of paper and tap on their calculators all day?

Just because these people use methods different from yours, it does not mean they are wrong. There ways of solving problems could be more effective than yours. What if they actually were doing a better job than you?

Jerry Sternin, former dean of Harvard Business School has labelled these people as positive deviants (PDs) and the process by which their activities are brought from the fringes of a group into the mainstream is termed positive deviance.

Sternin, has many case studies and examples of these types but his principle is that PDs should be used to change the behaviour of their peers so that improved practices are taken on and owned by the wider group, by a proves he calls ‘making the group the guru’. This is more effective than simply calling in outside experts and blindly following their instructions.

The beauty of this method is that it works in social as well as business environments. To see of you have a positive deviant in your office that can help you solve a particular problem, use Sternin’s 4 Ds:

  1. Define the problem that you wish to solve.e.g. salesmen are not selling enough widgets

  2. Determine if there are any deviants who exhibit the required behaviour e.g salesmen who are outselling their peers

  3. Discover what uncommon practices or strategies these people use to succeed e.g. less sales visits but explaining the marvels of widgets to customers

  4. Design an intervention that would enable others in the group to grasp the positive deviant behaviour e.g. allow salesmen to shadow deviants or get deviants to demonstrate their methods

Note this is not dissimilar to spreading best practice, the one huge difference is that positive deviance is not imposed from outside.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The New Language of Innovation

As innovation changes from a hard to a softer kind of process, so the language must change to reflect this. Below are a list of terms that we commonly use in our project teams or businesses together with a new vocabulary that we should all be coming to terms with.

Sales Pitch
As project become more transformational than transactional we need to be talking about creating a purpose not simply pitching an idea.

Many of us visualise the outcome but it needs to be vocalised also. We all respond to different stimuli so the desired outcome needs to represented in as many ways as possible to engage the whole project team.

When you are building something new and exciting then call your team something exciting. They are all creators in their own specialist field.

Demands very seldom work as intended. Create a dream and encourage others to buy in and follow it with you.

We all worry about the content of specifications and requirements documents. Consider the consequences of every action you take. Does it enhance the clients experience, does it add comfort, safety or fun?

Instead of cumbersome plan, create a story and storyboard to engage the team and encourage their contributions.

Your project needs to be run along business lines so run it like a business with your client as the major shareholder.

In line with the previous point, your management team are in fact a board.

Avoid these like the plague. If you must group people, do it according to the tasks that they are carrying out.

Abolish this, talking is all important to share knowledge and break down barriers. If you use technical terms, ensure they are understood by everyone.

Treat communications as if you were campaigning, make sure that everyone is convinced and understands the complex ideas that you are trying to get across.

Don’t dwell on accomplishing things. You have a dream to follow but remember if you are innovating then there will be some failures to learn from. Not accomplishing is not a disaster, you are undertaking an adventure.

These are damaging in large numbers. Encourage people to ask for advice or direction, not just question everything.

Doing should be replaced by learning.This way you have both action and the acquisition of knowledge.

Do not think linearly. You will be embarking on a journey and the path may twist and turn on the way.

If you are innovating you will be entering into uncharted territory on some occasions. Research cannot help you. Intuition must become part of your vocabulary.

Replace this with guidance, talking and a little intuition. No rigid procedures here!

A visitor could be a guest, but don’t take this too far.

If you take the time to create message then you want them to be remembered so focus on creating memories, a subtle but helpful distinction.

We often present our ideas and plans to people but in a collaborative environment we should be colluding or conspiring with all of our stakeholders.

If you are keeping records, make it interesting, richer and full of knowledge. The record of your journey through your innovation project is Your Story.

Service Innovation

This is not for those people who think that Innovation is about boffins in laboratories or selling technology from academic institutions into industry. As the UK becomes even more dependent on service industries a new type of innovation is emerging. Beware traditional gurus and business consultants, as there is competition out there.

I had the good fortune to be in the audience at a recent design event, where one of the speakers was Ralph Ardill, founder of the Brand Experience Consultancy. He is a designer with a track record of bringing life to some of the world’s leading brands such as Ford and Coca-Cola. Those in the know will already recognise him as being the person who led the project to design and build the Guinness Storehouse, currently the most famous visitor attraction in Ireland, and voted by some as the best in the world. Not many years ago it was an empty building within the perimeter of the Guinness brewery.

His foresight, and some may say creative thinking, led to Guinness buying into the idea of the ‘Pint building’, combining a tourist attraction, training and conference facilities, exhibition and retail space and regeneration of the local area. The multi disciplinary project team was pulled from many different business areas and was installed as a pseudo board to run the development project. Everyone, even the builders, were labelled as ‘creatives’ as each person had creative input.

Project structures were kept to a minimum, transparency was key and knowledge transfer was seen as high priority. Finally they defined their own language to avoid misunderstandings amongst the many represented disciplines.

Like many great innovation projects, the team managed to get their own space and define their own work environment but with specific targets. Add to that the vision and commitment of Guinness. The result, a bunch of right brained people led by (gulp) designers turned a leaking wreck into a major tourist attraction bringing in over 300,000 visitors per year at an average spend of 35 euros. Visit and see for yourself. Is this the future?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Slow Innovation

Around fifteen years ago, the Italian journalist Carlo Petrini was strolling past a new MacDonald's franchise in the centre of Rome and launched a major eating revolution. He paused and said: If this is fast food, why not have slow food? There have been other ‘slow’ movements such as ‘slow education’. In the business world there is huge pressure to deliver results ‘fast’, but do the changes we make, the consultants we employ, and the money we spend create a lasting difference to our businesses? We seem to make a constant stream of satisficing decisions that just get us by, until the next crisis that is.

In much the same way as the other ‘slow’ movements, I began thinking about ‘slow innovation’. Innovation has become a buzzword, if we just come up with some good ideas and do some market research then we are bound to get some new products into the market and ensure the future success of our organisation – right? Not necessarily.

What we have created, with our knee jerk reactions, is the fast business, driven by objectives that have not been thought through. What seems to matter is the outcome, not the process. In our quest to achieve a short term goal we have neglected the systems that should be put in place to properly manage ideas, to ‘un manage’ our employees, to create the right culture, ensure that our money is spent wisely and create a long term programme that will avoid a constant stream of (expensive) knee jerk interventions. As with fast food, these events are not pleasurable for our shareholders or staff. We will suffer from obesity (consultant overload), additives (things we do not need), hypertension (change fatigue) and of course an empty wallet. This is Taylor’s scientific management applied in the wrong context.

The route to slow innovation means savouring the flavours of diversity and learning, blending ideas and know how and ultimately becoming self sufficient. In our fast consumer society we can throw away what we grow tired of or find not to our taste. We cannot throw away our businesses and start again. Slow Innovation, the sustainable way, is surely a better way to create the business of the future.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Commercialising your ideas - PRD Partnership

Keen eyed blog readers will have noticed a link to PRD Partnership from this blog but I thought I'd write a little about who PRD are.

PRD Partnership brings together myself (Creativity and Innovation), Roger Croft (Strategy and Entrepreneurship) and Peregrine Nicholls (Sales, Marketing and Direct Marketing). We believe that this brings together a powerful combination of skills that can help organisations who are Innovating in some way. Creative techniques underpin all of our offerings which allows us to view business issues from an alternative perspective and hence provide alternative solutions. For some FREE tools see the downloads section of our website.

To define the offerings we have based our Commercialisng Your Ideas matrix upon the Ansoff matrix. The four quadrants we use are:
Clicking on the links will take you to the PRD website where these terms are more fully explained. Organisations may actively seek to enter into or move between the first three states but the last is one a place that organisations do not wish to remain in for long in the modern business climate.

PRD offer a range of tools and techniques that enable companies to commercialise their ideas (products, services or processes). These range from Strategy, Innovation and Culture audit throught to planning and workshops. For a full range of Products, Services and to meet the team, visit the PRD Partnership website.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sun Tzu - ancient author or Leadership guru?

In the field of leadership and management we are being constantly bombarded by new fads, some useful and some not so useful. In recent years we have seen charismatic leadership, transactional leadership, transformational leadership, level five leadership, emotional intelligence (EQ) and now spirituality.

These are all useful models and without them we would be hard pressed to make sense of the complexities of modern organisations and the people that lead them. But where do these models come from? Do they emerge from some sort of primeval soup, do people sit down in their offices and carefully construct them, or have they all appeared somewhere before?

How far have we really come with Leadership Thinking? If we go back to Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War', a 2,500 year old book on military strategy, we find that much of its teaching is still relevant to us today.What we do not see there, are the patterns and cycles to tell us what is next. Could it be that the next 'great thing' is sitting there on page forty two or is something big coming that we cannot see?

If you are interested, you should read the book for yourself. In a nutshell it has thirteen chapters ranging from Making of Plans to Espionage, all set in an Oriental context, many years ago. We need to use metaphor to draw out the learning. For instance the chapter Empty and Full provides lessons on leading from the front and leadership qualities that look like charismatic leadership. If you look carefully you can also find links to emotional intelligence and spirituality. So what's next?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Who is having all of the ideas?

This is a summary of the statistics produced as a result of a survey conducted by Vodafone UK.

Did you know that:

  • 70% of workers believe their company does not reward new ideas, and over half (54%) say they are not formally encouraged to come up with new ideas.

  • 79% of the workforce is not offered any financial incentive to innovate.

  • 60% of workers are given no time at all to generate ideas.

  • 24% of workers say that their ideas simply stay in their heads.

  • 93% agree that new ideas and processes are essential to the very survival of UK companies.

  • Two-thirds of senior managers say their organizations are innovative, while only 38% of skilled manual workers feel the same way.

  • 67% of young employees (aged 16–25) think of themselves as innovative, only 30% of employers agree.

In terms of age, over-55s are the most likely to come up with ideas at least once a day (12%) and in terms of seniority 23% of senior managers and professionals say they come up with new ideas at least daily with 51% of senior managers having ideas at least once per week as well as 37% of both middle management and new graduates.

But ideas are not the preserve of those in suits, 17% of unskilled manual workers, 18% of clerical staff and 22% of skilled manual workers also come up with new ideas at least once per week also.

Departments that generate most of the new ideas are Research & Development (43%), IT/Systems (42%) and Marketing (40%) with the Board next (35%).

The place where workers say they are most likely to come up with a new idea is at their desk (29%), followed by travelling in a car or train (24%) and in bed (20%). Interestingly, women seem to be more likely to come up with ideas in bed than men (22%, compared with 16%).

Respondents were realistic about their chances of coming up with a good idea while in the pub (4%) or on holiday (2%). The busy cluttered office is one of the least likely places for a new idea to be formed (3%). The research also finds that workers are more likely to be creative when the workplace is informal and relaxed (32%), with flexible hours (23%) following in importance. Over half (55%) of all respondents are more likely to come up with new ideas when given more time to think.

Read a more complete article and find the source of the original research by clicking on this link.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Business Creativity ( why you need it and how to buy it) Part 6

In the sixth and final article in this series I look at some guidelines for running a Creativity project and some hints on how to go about choosing an external consultant.

Running a creativity project/programme

The following guidelines provide a useful framework for the management of creativity:

  • Build in the expected outputs from the project and all budgetary and time constraints.

  • Flag up problems or uncertainties early on with the project early on so that remedial action can be taken. There will be more of these than usual.

  • Hold regular reviews on the progress and delivery. Ensure that progress is always being made but do not get heavy handed. Remember your employees are involved also!

  • Where necessary and agreed, provide staff, facilities and information promptly.

  • At the end of the project both parties should undertake a joint project review to see what has been learned. If knowledge transfer is not complete then now is the time to rectify this.

Choosing the right consultant

Many clients rely on word-of-mouth recommendations when selecting a consultant. This is often the way to go when running a creativity project since it depends heavily on trust and communications.

The guidelines below show the steps that might be taken in selecting a consultant:

  • Create as full a brief as is possible.

  • Conduct a discussion with your potential consultant and get to know as much about their proposed intervention as you can. Where does their expertise lie in terms of consultancy, facilitation and training and why are they using all these strange techniques?

  • Knowledge of their track record is useful but what is more important is assessing the potential in this particular case. A track record is not so useful when you are trying to achieve something different!

  • Create an efficient but not too restrictive reporting mechanism.

  • Make sure that there is an identified way to transfer knowledge to you.

  • Make sure that at the end of the project there is no lasting dependency.

  • Do not make a choice on price alone, often in the cases of creativity and innovation it is the cost of not taking a course of action that must be considered.

How you approach these steps is determined by the level of formality you require, and the level of client-consultant interaction you envisage. Each approach has its particular strengths and weaknesses, and needs to be evaluated on an organisation-by-organisation, and project-by-project, basis. Some organisations, and most public sector clients, have a more formalised approach to the purchase of consultancy.

There are many people trading as consultants including some ‘crossover’ consultants who have moved from the arts. Their interventions tend to be aimed purely at HR i.e. team building, leadership and motivation. Whilst they are useful they are not concerned with the process of using creativity as a tool for improving the whole of your business.

Also you should try to make some sort of measurement so that you know how much of an impact your consultant has made. I have my own tool for doing this (see The Innovation Toolkit) which looks at both creativity and innovation from a ‘soft skills’ point of view. Your chosen consultant should have a similar methodology available to them

The entire article on Buying Creativity can be read and downloaded by clicking on the link.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Business Creativity ( why you need it and how to buy it) Part 5

In the fifth article in this series I look at why a business might want to employ a consultant or facilitator to help them kick start a creativity or innovation programme.

Why use consultants?

For some reason, and I’m sure there is research somewhere on this topic, it is impossible for an organisation to kick-start their own creativity or innovation programme. Many have started and attempted to devise some sort of change programme, workshops or new processes but all fail shortly afterwards. What seems to be needed is an external kick (in the right place) that mobilises the internal resources of the business.

For many organisations, the resources and skills required exist within the business as it currently is. There is no need to recruit, or spend many hundreds of thousands of pounds on getting very expensive consultants to do the work for you. All you need is some external help with a plan, some training and development, facilitation and knowledge transfer before continuing on your own. It is likely that and organisation will not have the capability to keep abreast of the world of creativity so a regular ‘top up’ might be needed. But be wary of long term dependency on any outside agent.

Probably the single most important reason for hiring consultants is to bring in people with a particular set of skills. The more specialised a consultant is in his or her field, the more valuable they are to clients. Specialist know-how usually falls into two categories. First, there's 'industry-specific skills' – you need people who are experts in your sector. Second, there's what you could call 'issue-specific skills', which is where you need people who are experts in a particular issue – it may be a problem or an opportunity.

But there are times when you simply need help – bright, energetic people who are well-informed, who can help you get a new initiative up and running at a time when it's proving difficult to free up your own internal resources. You're quite definitely not looking for specialists here. You need the consultants to be very flexible – rolling up their sleeves and doing whatever it takes to get the job done – and that's something that requires a broad base of knowledge, rather than in-depth expertise in just one or two areas. It is this third category that your creativity or innovation consultant should fall.

Going back to the premise that the client is the person with intimate knowledge of their business and their market, the final ingredient is the ability to make things happen (i.e. know where to aim the kick).

Even in the smallest organisations, managers find it difficult to stand back and analyse what's happening. Opportunities are missed, and threats are ignored. Even where time is allowed for such reflection, how can you ensure that you're seeing what matters most to the organisation, not just what matters most to you as an individual? Outsiders, like consultants, can provide you with an invaluable perspective because they're looking at your organisation with new eyes.

There are also occasions when you want access – not so much to an outside view, or new data – but to creative thinking, when you want someone to sit down with your organisation and devise an innovative approach. It may be that you and everyone in your industry face a similar threat – for example, the appearance of new, potentially disruptive technology. All your competitors may have adopted the same stance, but you may be looking for a different approach, one that takes the problem and converts it into an opportunity for you to differentiate yourself.

In the sixth and final part of this series I will take a look at how a business might run a creativity programme and some tips about choosing an external consultant.

The entire article on Buying Creativity can be read and downloaded by clicking on the link.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Business Creativity ( why you need it and how to buy it) Part 4

In the fourth part of this series I take a look at managing creativity, the main uses of creativity and begin to investigate how to go about buying it.

Managing creativity

This seems to be an oxymoron, how can you manage a concept that demands free thinking, exploration and being able to live with ambiguity? The answer is simple (as opposed to easy). We have to construct processes that allow creativity to flourish and employ managers that are capable of working in such a way. How much time can employees spend at the coffee machine, how much time can they spend on research projects and can the company actually tolerate employees that do not conform to a stereotype? It is not a case of creativity or nothing, there are various shades, however businesses must be aware of the choices that they will need to make.

Main uses

Creativity has many uses but the following are the ones that I have come across most frequently.

  • Strategy - reviewing existing strategy and defining/clarifying new strategies

  • Scenario planning - using storytelling so that all parties can 'live' the story

  • Cultural change - mainly centred around motivationempoweringrment

  • Effectiveness of training and development - making use of creative techniques embedded in training courses

  • Part of innovation programmes - changing mindsets, changing existing structure and culture

How to buy Creativity

Here I refer simply to 'consultancy' although I am talking about all providers of creativity whether they act as consultants, trainers or facilitators. There are many factors which contribute to an effective working relationship between consultants and clients. It is crucial that a purchaser of consultancy understands what they aim to achieve from the outset. At the start of a project it is highly likely that there will be no objectives, and even when they are defined, a client will often be puzzled by the strange terminology that providers of creativity might be tempted to use.

At this point I urge clients to ask about the things that they are not clear about. This might not clarify everything but the client will establish that the consultant knows their subject matter thoroughly. This can be critical where a trainer might be employed instead of a facilitator.

The ultimate success of a consulting project is determined long before you've talked to an actual consultant, and depends on the extent to which you have been able to identify and agree the precise reasons why you're hiring consultants. In most organisations, managers think about these reasons in terms of what they expect the consultants to do, not in relation to the underlying role they're expecting the consultants to play. Nor do they consider how their expectations match the prevailing market conditions. What kind of client are you? How can you assess the risk of developing a unique approach? Are the issues you face new ones, or are you trying to catch up with your competitors?

In my next article I shall look at why you might need outside help to get your creativity programme going.

You can read the full text of Creativity as a Business Tool from the web by clicking on the link.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Business Creativity ( why you need it and how to buy it) Part 3

Yet more reasons why creativity can be useful for your business.

Changing attitude to risk

At first this seems a little odd. The purpose is not to try to make organisations as a whole take on greater risk, however individuals will need to be less risk averse. In a creative culture, individuals will need to stretch themselves and occasionally move out of their own comfort zone thus increasing their own personal risk. However, an increased emphasis on exploration and assessing opportunities means that activities can be undertaken with less risk (as increased knowledge equals less risk) and projects previously considered risky might become possible. A culture shift that encourages collaboration also decreases organisational risk due to the sharing of knowledge and ideas. It is not unknown for employees unwilling to share their knowledge to watch colleagues (and their employer) struggle. Measures to address this usually require changes to company remuneration and rewards schemes.

Improved learning and knowledge transfer

The culture and activities that surround creativity naturally support this as interaction is actively encouraged. This does not mean a noisy workplace with large groups huddled around the coffee machine but interaction should be encouraged and face to face dialogue should replace email. An often quoted statistic is that 80% of the world’s email travel less than 50 feet. One well known company realised that the tea ladies were the only people who regularly talked to all employees and made use of them as an unofficial company grapevine.

Communications of objectives

This is one of the things that most top management say that they do but one that the workforce will have an opposing view about. Employees do not doubt that there are objectives set but they just do not know what they are. Most MDs and CEOs will make a fair attempt at speaking to the workforce or delegating this to other managers but how do employees know what is expected of them, and more to the point, how their own contribution aids the success of the business.

The answer is ‘stories’, not the childhood stories that we all know, although the concepts are the same. A well crafted story often tells of a journey and consists of both explicit and implicit components. The former usually come from senior management together with an invitation to take part. Employees will embellish the story according to their own values and beliefs. Thus you have achieved one of the holy grails of HR, how to communicate strategy, gain the buy in of employees and ensure that the values of the employees and the company overlap. What’s more, the ‘story’ can be told verbally (say at a company meeting), visually (through a storyboard, video or poster) and easily translated for use in international companies.

In my next article I shall look at Managing Creativity and also the mian uses to which creativity can be put. I will then explore how a business should go about engaging the services of consultants, facilitators and trainers.

You can read the full text of Creativity as a Business Tool from the web by clicking on the link.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Business Creativity ( why you need it and how to buy it) Part 2

More reasons to embrace creativity in your business

Part of a successful innovation strategy

Taken to its simplest level, Innovation is simply a function of creativity (the way we generate ideas), knowledge (existing ideas and the ability to combine them) as well as the processes that have been put in place to manage all of this. Read about the Innovation Equation. Without creativity only incremental innovation can take place and then only in a small way. If you are considering new products, new markets or both the creativity will certainly help as you will definitely need to adopt new mindsets.

Improved organisational culture

There are three main drivers for creativity – intrinsic motivation, tools and techniques, existing knowledge and experience. If you accept that you are going to embrace creativity in some way then you will have to create a programme that directly or indirectly addresses these topics. The interesting thing is the link with intrinsic motivation. If your business has a culture of creativity then there will be high intrinsic motivation, however the converse is not necessarily true. High intrinsic motivation is the desire of many an HR department as it is linked to improved performance and low staff turnover.

There are other aspects of creativity too, such as improved communications and increased trust, which all contribute to improved organisational culture.

Removal of strategic barriers

Strategic barriers exist mainly because of mindsets and a lack of being able to see any other course of action apart from the current one. Also a rigid culture prevents a business of responding to a rapidly changing marketplace or to new business opportunities.

Adopting a more creative stance allows us to address the four main types of strategic barriers and in some cases remove them completely:

  • Preferred modes of operation

  • Too much or too little choice

  • Overcoming embedded values e.g. charities, religious organisation

  • Overcoming perceptual barriers e.g. self image or sensitivity to risk

In subsequent articles I shall look at further reasons to embrace creativity and also some of the things that businesses should consider when engaging external assistance. You can read the full text of Creativity as a Business Tool from the web by clicking on the link.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Business Creativity ( why you need it and how to buy it) Part 1

Why does a business need creativity?

Before answering this question, there is one point that should be made. Creativity, like Innovation is not absolute. Creativity in a business context is relative to the current and previous states of the business and its associated organisational culture. Most people who are in the business of providing creativity such as consultants, facilitators and trainers will tell you that the benefits are blindingly obvious. There again, most things are, with the benefit of hindsight. This series of articles is an attempt to crystallise some ideas on the topic of creativity in a business context and provide those who are starting out (or who are thinking of doing so) with some pointers.

Creativity is a powerful tool that can improve the performance of an organisation in an astonishing way and at this point it might be hard to see how. All I ask is that you keep an open mind whilst reading this blog. Please feel free to contact me and ask questions if you like. The paragraphs below list some of the main benefits of embracing creativity, but in the true sense of creativity there will be many readers who will find others. I certainly hope so.

Doing what you have always done

I’m sure that readers will be familiar with the saying “Do what you’ve always done and you’ll get what you’ve always got”. There may be little wrong with what you are currently doing but there is a grave danger of complacency and of developing limiting beliefs or a restrictive mindset. One of the lynchpins of creativity is that you keep an open mind and evaluate all of the options open to you. This does not mean that you have to change at all but that you are looking for new opportunities. In the modern business environment none of us can afford to be complacent. Creativity provides us with many techniques for helping people to see things in a new way and for helping to break mindsets should this be required.

Securing competitive advantage

Most consultants will tell you that their solutions will provide you with competitive advantage but creativity (and innovation) really can. This is because we are dealing with intangible assets which are difficult for competitors to copy, and because the assets in question are our employee’s ability to generate ideas and combine them there are also a huge number of possibilities. Idea generation, combination and transfer of tacit knowledge can occur throughout your business from lorry driver and cleaner to the boardroom. All you need to do is be able to collect and manage this process.

In subsequent articles I shall look at further reasons to embrace creativity and also some of the things that businesses should consider when engaging external assistance. You can read the full text of Creativity as a Business Tool from the web by clicking on the link.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Creativity and Politics

Are you fed up with the current state of British Politics? Do you have plenty of ideas about how things could be better but don't know which way to turn? Well now there is a new political party just for you.

The Emergent Party was founded by fellow PSA member Barry Mapp and is based on creative principles. For those who are fed-up with more of the same and who have ideas to contribute it is both a Think Tank and a political party.

The Emergent Party was officially registered in Great Britain and Northern Ireland with the Electoral Commission in August 2005. It welcomes members who wish to be active and help us to develop and also members who just want to be part of what they can see is going to be something very different.

The Emergent Party plans to be the "breath of fresh air" in British Politics. The Party is emerging from the frustration with "more-of-the-same" policies and politics (and the policies are clearly not leading to real overall improvement and very often are actually making matters worse).

At the last election no-one was able to register their vote for a Party that was thinking differently about all the issues of today. (As Einstein said "we cannot solve the problems of today by the same thinking that created these problems in the first place).

As a Party they are possibly unique, for in pre-launch phase they have no manifesto or policies (yet) and these too, with the help of members, will be "emergent".

If you feel that you can contribute and help build something different then visit the Emergent Party website to find out more about this exciting fusion of Creativity and Politics.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Innovation - who owns the apples?

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and if we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas” George Bernard Shaw

What has this to do with Innovation you may ask? Well the crux of the matter is the word have. Does it mean 'own' or does it mean 'have access to' and who actually does the 'having'? George Bernard Shaw was correct about ideas, knowledge is the only resource that does not lose value when you share it. If you are the initial source of knowledge then you will gain kudos and perhaps receive some financial gain which the leads many people to becide to become gurus and ration their knowledge, using it as a source of power.

Because people are resourceful you will soon find that your guru status evaporates and what knowledge you have is worth little as those around you will create their own knowledge or find a new guru.

Back to apples and innovation. In a truly innovative organisation or society we need to create a culture which would prove George Bernard Shaw wrong. If each of us has an apple and exchanges it then we each must have two apples - it is our concept of sharing, building upon ideas and skills, and saying 'yes and' that needs to be addressed. It is our interpretation of 'have' that needs some work so that it refers not to ownership but to shared access and potential.

One thing that George did not say was that if we kept the seeds from the fruit then planted them and cared for them we could create many more apples in the future. This may be a cultural shift and a metaphor too far for many businesses.

For different ideas about taking organisations forward visit the Creative Business Solutions website.