Thursday, December 13, 2007

Resources for Creativity

There are many hits to my website from people searching for ‘resources for creativity’. Goodness knows what they are actually looking for. Some may be looking for resources for training and workshops but many appear to be looking for a list of tools and materials that are mandatory or desirable for getting Creativity into an organisation.

So what is the answer to the question ‘What do I need to be creative?’ For a perfect creative situation the answer is that you need absolutely nothing as any resources can be created from scratch. The real truth is that organisations are not patient and do like to get a head start. Also the mix of human resources may not be ideal so here is the list that you need:

  • External stimulus or facilitation
  • An agreed set of objectives
  • Internal champions/creative catalysts
  • An initial embryonic framework for promoting creativity
  • Time and space for employees to be creative
  • Enlightened managers who will actively ‘un manage’ creativity
  • A light touch audit method
  • A simple but effective library of techniques that individuals can use
  • A method of capturing, storing and retrieving ideas and feedback

Seeing the above list you may be tempted to ‘go it alone’ and some may find that they succeed however the following should be borne in mind:

  • Internally led idea generation initiatives often fail or do not deliver as expected
  • Externally led idea generation initiatives often fail or do not deliver as expected
  • Simply running creativity training courses will have no beneficial effect on your bottom line
  • Leaving creativity and innovation solely in the hand of your HR department will often consign them to the wilderness

The moral is to get some good advice, target your scarce resources and do not commit to anyone who wishes you to create a long lasting dependency on them.

The Confusion of Innovation

On my travels I talk to a number of people who claim that they just don’t ‘get innovation’. Holistic, whole company Innovation is an abstract concept but how complicated is it? The answer may be more puzzling than you think.

First of all let us consider a simple Innovation project. Typically it consists of a number of steps from inception through, audit, idea generation and prototyping to roll out. Add some project management and knowledge transfer activities and you have it nailed. So far so good, although you may question what these steps actually are.

Now we are ready to consider continuous Innovation. Imagine all your Innovation steps neatly drawn out onto a Gantt chart and then wrap them around on themselves so that your nice straight lines become a series of concentric circles. This is but a snapshot in time so now add the time dimension. Imagine your circles turned on their side like a series of disks and then add time by moving the disks from left to right. You should now be looking at a series of concentric cylinders.

Now many companies will have several ongoing Innovation initiatives, all at different stages and involving different people so consider all of your innovation projects in the manner described above – several sets of concentric cylinders all moving at varying rates and requiring management and resources. Would this convince you that your organisation, and especially your managers, need some assistance in getting to grips with the situation?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Why Does My Organisation Need Creativity?

When was the last time you got into a difficult situation? Have you ever forgotten a present for a special occasion and found yourself making elaborate excuses? Well this is your creativity at work. Some people have more than others but we all have at least a spark. But why is this useful to your organisation?

Like people, organisations find themselves in difficult situations due to increased competition, global trading conditions or just increased pressure from stakeholders to perform better. There is no manual to escape, no ‘get out of jail free’ card. You will need to rely on the creativity of people at all levels within the organisation, not just management, marketing or your research and development team.

Unlike computers, people can process huge amounts of information instantaneously and then apply something completely illogical – intuition. Intuition is not crystal ball gazing but is decision making based on knowledge that cannot be currently expressed externally.

The three main drivers for creativity are knowledge and experience, frameworks and techniques and intrinsic motivation. To allow Creativity to flourish you will need to address these three areas. The interesting things is that if you have a Creative organisation you will have intrinsic motivation present amongst your employees but the converse is not necessarily true. If you have intrinsically motivated staff they may or may not be creative. Remember, a cat is a four legged animal but not all four legged animals are cats!

If you address all of the factors that affect organisational creativity then not only will you benefit directly from having a creative resource but you will gain an intrinsically motivated workforce for free. Perhaps it really is possible to get something for nothing.

Do I Need To be Creative?

The answer to this question is ‘No’. Refer to the Innovation Equation and you will soon understand why. An Innovation System is desirable from the point of view of developing new products, services or processes but it takes a wide variety of skills to make such a system work effectively. The only real requirement is for you, and those around you to have an open mind and be open to the possibility that the way you have run your company up until now may not be the same as the way it needs to be run from now onwards. This applies even if you currently run a successful business.

So the answer is ‘No’ but what should you be aware of? Well you will need to take a look at the staff you have and see what their strengths are and fill any gaps. They may need to be reorganised, either logically or geographically. Employees may need some sort of training but they will almost certainly require your ‘permission’ to behave and think in new ways.

If you are not one of the creative people yourself then you might need to widen your leadership and management skills. How would you react to the following?

  • Drastically changed working patterns

  • Having you decisions questioned

  • More testing and trialling

  • The business not being ‘lean and mean’

  • Requests to but things that are not core to your business

These are just a fraction of the things that could occur and which you will have to be ready for. Don’t panic, there will be other people in the same situation. The good thing is that by using tools such as the Innovation Equation, this whole process can be managed successfully and measured so that you have control over it.

Understanding The Innovation Equation

To see my innovation equation please take a look here where you will see the various components explained. This equation is both simple and profound. It states that innovation is simply a blend of creativity (coming up with new ideas), managing know how (the things we already know) and the frameworks that we put in place to help these processes along. Note that I have not mentioned Research and Development, High Technology, Science or any of the other keywords that both companies and governments like to use in their strategy documents. Cutting edge R & D is simply applied creativity with the emphasis on the ‘R’ whilst Product Development uses some Creativity but using existing ideas and Know How. Production is simply a physical manifestation of Know How. This may not suit those who have a drum to beat but it does keep things nice and simple.

This equation also helps to show that it takes a variety of different types of people to make innovation happen. We are talking about an innovation system rather than group of innovative people. After all, a truly creative person is the last person who you might want to look after your company accounts! On the other hand, just because your company accountant is logical, any system that you have for capturing and managing good ideas must not prevent them from making contributions.

The other main ideas to take away from the Innovation Equation are:

  • Try to bulldoze changes through your company and output can go down

  • The more mature and refined your innovation frameworks become, the greater the benefit you will derive from them

  • Innovation is essentially about people not technology

  • Innovation can be measured directly

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Don't forget the low tech

Frequently we think of Innovation as being the latest, modern and often high tech gadget. Given that Innovation can be about combining old knowledge in new ways it often pays to reflect on what we already know. Years ago Russian troops were issued with pacthes that contained maggots that were used to combat infection in open wounds. Now that many viruses have become resistant to drugs, the same techniques are being used to combat MRSA in hospitals.

There was recently an articles published on the BBC news website about 'Bibliomulas' in Venezuela. In many countries we have mobile libraries, trucks or buses that travel around taking books to remote villages. In mountainous terrain, how do you do this? The answer is simple, take the concept of a mobile library but substitute the vehicle. In this case use a mule.

But why stop there? In the mountains the farmers have no telephones or computers but they could do with the ability to send messages and order food and goods from the valleys. So now these trusty libraries are equipped with mobile phones and laptops.

I'm sure that readers can think of many other such tales of ingenuity. High tech is fun and bewildering but often the combination with low tech is what gets the Innovation into everyday use.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Innovation and Culture

Whilst talking to many people about innovation there is one question that they all ask. 'Do you have experience of of working in my industry sector?'. Quite often the answer is is 'no' and the conversation ends there as many people are risk averse. I have always maintained that the good innovation models (mine included of course!) can be used in any industry and any country.

The drivers for innovation, the support processes that need to be put in place and any other strategic concept are all transferable. What is not always transferable is the local detail e.g. how do you manage knowledge locally, impart ideas to those from a different culture or even run training courses. I always maintain that the greatest experts in any industry are the company themselves. They have the knowledge, they need a model. Why pay huge fees to buy often contradictory advice from a company or consultant that claims to have industry specific knowledge.

So buy my model please, it works! But what are the most common local differences you ask? Here is a short and definitely not a definitive list:

  • Time - Arab cultures have a very different model of time whilst many Latin American, Mediterranean and Far Eastern cultures are less precise than in the UK.
  • Risk - the same cultures who are less precise may also tend to be less risk averse and more playful.
  • Ideas - some cultures readily adopt well formed ideas and in some you will need to plant seeds and let them grow.
  • Business etiquette - no matter how creative you are, certain norms will need to be followed, not because they are part of business but because they are social and in many cultures business/social boundaries are blurred.
  • Groups - there are varying expectations as to how groups or teams form, what their purposes are and what is expected by/from them.

The list is not exhaustive and is based on my dealings with other cultures in the fields of creativity and innovation only. For in depth advice please consult an expert in your chosen culture.

Is it good to be lean?

Many people believe that lean 'everything' is good without knowing what it really means. Even the term 'Lean Innovation' has been used. How can a process that can potentially generate hundreds or thousands of new ideas by described as, or made lean? Could it be that we do not know what lean actually is?

I started thinking about 'lean' whilst on holiday. I booked a last minute break to Greece and was expecting the worst, only the sun could make up for the horrendous time I was expecting to have. Nothing could have been further from the truth. We did not have to pick up our tickets at the airport, we had brilliant transfers, we picked up our hire car in the middle of nowhere without signing any paperwork .... Hang on, you said ....Yes I know it sounds odd but it was just symptomatic of the way in which the holiday company, car hire company and all of the rest of the components were plugged together.

On our Greek island it would be impossible for a coach to visit all of the accommodation but we all had hire cars. The solution was to leave a line of hire cars by the side of the road, drop people off and let them drive to their villa and fill in the paperwork later and let the car hire company collect it in the evening. This was heaven compared to waiting for 2 hours in blazing sun in Majorca before picking up a car. Their answer was cold drinks but it still took 2 hours.

We still do not know how the excellent welcome hampers got from the local town to the holiday properties, everything seemed invisible and it worked like a dream. Creative it certainly was, lean it almost certainly was not. Other tour operators are lean - I know which I would prefer.

I also read a good book whilst in Greece, 'Stuart a life backwards' by Alistair Masters. The subject is fascinating but I was intrigued by the style. The book started in the present and then went backwards in time. This gave me an interesting thought. Many things work well forwards and in reverse, a bit like the Greek holiday machine but some things do not (remember your worn bicycle sprocket and chain from childhood). Even if your business process is not meant to work in reverse, try thinking about it in that way and any deficiencies will leap out at you. Fixing this will leave your process well oiled and maybe leaner.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Is your thinking really creative?

When people say they are creative or that they believe in creative thinking, what exactly are they talking about? Where is this creativity supposed to be?

There are many artists, sculptors, poets etc who produce material that is claimed to be creative. The reality is that they are not creative at all. Consider the artist who throws paint at a canvas to produce an abstract picture. The artist is more often than not trying to confuse or shock the public and in some cases use a form of intellectual snobbery. The next time they paint they may very well use the same technique - where is the creativity in that? This is even more relevant to the topic of design.

Today I read a very interesting article on the BBC website about the building of new fleet of nuclear submarines for the British Navy. My curiosity was aroused when there was a mention of Psychologists attending board meetings and so I read on.

A submarine is a large horizontal metal tube so think how hard it must be to install all of the heavy equipment and machinery. Not so here. The solution? Build the hull in sections but upright and then lower in the equipment with a simple crane. Next rotate the sections so that they are horizontal and then join them. It saves a huge amount of money and time and reduces risk.

Now who is the creative, the artist or designer who uses the same techniques, or the submarine builder who is constantly looking for new ways of seeing problems and then solving them? You decide!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Innovation – the way it works

This is not the definitive guide to innovation. It is just one way, and it works. The process outlined below is for a single innovation project, not continuous innovation. That is a step too far for a newsletter.

To start with there will be some sort of startup event in which key stakeholders are seen to give approval. The traditional rallying call to troops is not appropriate here. Next you are likely to take stock of where you are in terms of skills and capabilities. Our Innovation Toolkit can help you to do this. The ‘end of the beginning’ is to set up the necessary infrastructure, define objectives etc.

If there are any skills or capability gaps then these need to be covered with appropriate training before entering a research phase. This includes market research, feasibility, trend spotting, reviewing legislation etc.

Next comes the idea generation phase. Although it sounds like chaos, the aim is to produce a number of options for products, services or processes but to then filter them down to a manageable number.

There will then be a period where ideas are prototyped, tested and refined. At this point (and not before) you can produce a plan for your new business venture and work with production and operations people to implement and roll out your idea.

Although you will be sitting down pleased with yourself at this point you need to do one more thing, ensure that the lessons learned (from success as well as failure) are captured for future use.

The pleasing thing about all this is that it is possible to successfully plan your innovation project. Good luck with yours.

Does my bum look big in this?

As every man knows, this is a question that is impossible to answer. Say ‘yes’ and you will either be dead within seconds or you will be drowning in tears to the words ‘Are you saying I’m fat and ugly? You don’t love me any more do you?’ Reply ‘no’ and you will be accused of not wanting your partner to be slim and resemble a supermodel.

Joking aside, what sort of question is this anyway? Does it help, is there likely to be a way forward, can we develop a win-win situation? Much of creative thinking and hence innovation projects are based on subtle questions being asked at the right time. The art of questioning is paramount. Here are some examples of frequently heard, but not always helpful questions together with some suggested alternatives:
  • Why do we always do it this way? What sort of things would happen if we did it this (or any other) way?
  • Will it work? If it does not work, what is likely to happen?
  • How much will it cost? What is the target cost that we need to be aiming for?
  • What are we doing this for? The learning opportunities are incredible. Can we explore all of the options and capture the results?
  • When can we have a meeting to discuss this? We will start doing some prototyping and let you know our initial results as soon as we have them!
These alone could cause some of your team to lose the will to live. Assume you do actually get started, what about some questions that will help the creative process? The questions you ask will depend on whether you want to stimulate thinking, shift perspective, motivate others or break mindsets to name just a few.Here are one or two suggestions:
  • What would happen if we added banana flavouring? – random stimulus
  • What would happen if we did not do this at all? – shift perspective
  • All options are open, can we explore as many as possible and record our findings? – motivational
  • As we are all here can we try plan b instead of plan a and see what happens? – break mindset with different method plus peer pressure
As ever, this article is designed to make readers think about the questions they use. Oh and about the question in the title. Say ‘you look great’, ‘I agree with you’ or encourage a question of the type ‘I think I look great/fat/ugly/young, don’t you agree?’ If you think this is still fraught with danger then pretend not to hear the question.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Creativity Straw Poll

I have just put a rough straw poll onto my website to try and get a feel of the major barriers to creativity wtihin organisations. If you pick up on this post through an RSS feed or simply stumble upon it, I would appreciate it if you could literally spare 5 seconds maximum to click on a button on my website at

Monday, March 26, 2007

Creativity - What can I do on Monday?

You've heard the talk, read the book, bought the T-shirt but what practical steps can you take on Monday morning to help creativity to flourish?

To start off, here are a few ideas. However with your new found idea generation skills, you should be able to think of lots more.

  • Create space (physical and time) for idea generation
  • By cutting down on non essential meetings
  • Avoiding micro managing staff
  • Allowing time for ‘play' or to make mistakes (within reason)
  • Allowing interaction between individuals (at the coffee machine or water cooler).
  • Adopt simple techniques for modifying existing products or services
  • Think about having after action reviews to ensure that you avoid re-inventing the wheel.
  • Look at reward systems to encourage know-how to be shared and for salaries and bonuses to promote team working.
  • Hold curiosity meetings where people are allowed to ask ‘What if?'

Small organisations without boards could consider having an informal board of trusted acquaintances who will give advice in return for a meal, say.

Start looking at methods of gathering ideas that will encourage new ideas not just complaints (avoid the baggage of the traditional suggestion box). Ensure that contributions are recognised and that the process is transparent.

So what? You may say, these are not very creative. Well they are if you have been doing something else. Creative or alternative thinking does not mean playing with brightly coloured balls all day long. It means selecting appropriate techniques and methods from as wide a variety as possible and matching them to the task in hand to get the best results possible. Another reason to expand your management toolbox is to engage the widest audience possible. That person who yawns at meetings where documents are discussed might participate where a storyboard is used. Someone whose help you seek may apparently talk in riddles but they may in fact be using metaphor, try using their language.

One other thing to remember, just because the words ‘problem solving' are used it does not mean that you have to have a problem to be solved. You may need to reframe a situation i.e. get another perspective, either to be able to change it or make sure that you have left nothing out.

Let's look at the categories that techniques fall into:

Exploring/defining - such techniques can be used to try and find solutions to problems but they can also be used to find out more about an individual or group of people or try to create a shared understanding of a situation with abstract boundaries such as a vision or mission statement.

Idea generation - these techniques do exactly what it says on the tin. Brainstorming type techniques can be used to generate a large number of possibilities whilst nominal group techniques or modelling can create a shared idea amongst a group of people.

Screening - instead of just sitting around trying to vote for a preferred solution or rely on gut feel, there are a number of techniques that can help you such as bullet proofing.

Planning and prioritising - not quite planning in the true sense of the word but some of the screening techniques can help you prioritise and something like a storyboard is actually a plan (but without the small print) which can be turned into a readable document or used as a storyboard for PR or communications purposes.

Innovation - the people you need

How do you choose the right people who will support and nourish an innovation initiative? This article will attempt to provide you with a set of important roles together with some attributes of the people who should fill those roles. Here we are less concerned with titles or hierarchies and more concerned with getting the people who can help drive each critical role or task.

In reality, you will find people in your organization that will fit multiple roles; your goal is not to find an individual person for each role listed below, but rather to make sure your team covers each of the areas identified. Many times people can play multiple roles, especially in smaller organizations.

Connector Connectors have the ability to connect departments, organisations, and industries that normally would not be connected. Although they may be an expert in their own field, Connectors are generally people you'd describe as a mile wide and an inch deep. They know things about a variety of fields and industries and can connect them.

Collector The Collector holds the key position of collecting ideas and providing organised access to others who can help build the knowledge base and map what is already there.

Framer The Framer works with business functions and management to determine the appropriate evaluation schemes and frameworks teams should use to evaluate ideas fairly, transparently and consistently. The Framer can construct the evaluation frameworks which your team will use to evaluate your ideas, and ensure the evaluations are consistent and transparent.

Judge The Judge evaluates the ideas, using the Framer's framework. Generally speaking there are many "Judges" for any idea - often representing business functions (sales, marketing, R&D), regions or other business silos. Judges follow the evaluation criteria set by the Framers, who worked with all the entities involved in setting the evaluation framework.

Prototyper Many organisations are comfortable with their new product development (NPD) process. Once they know what to make or offer they are pretty efficient at producing it. The problem they have is how to capture ideas and evaluate them. The people identified above fulfill this need; however, a key person you must have is the Prototyper. Between evaluation and development there is an iterative process-the Prototyper is the master who makes rapid prototyping a reality.

Measurer You get what you measure. If you want your organisation to innovate, you have to establish what you will measure to make sure this happens. These metrics range from quantitative, such as time from idea submission to launch, to qualitative, such as what was learned from a failing.

Storyteller The Storyteller is one of the most valuable roles in the organization. The Storyteller's responsibility is to collect, keep, and tell stories about the organization. People respond to stories better than any other method of communication.

Lookout An important role in the identification of new trends and the analysis of those trends and the impacts they may have on your business is held by the Scout.
Scouts scan the future to understand how the industry is likely to change. What are the scenarios we might face? What technologies are in development that may affect our business? What might a competitor do that would upset our position in the market? What is hot in other industries that we might adapt?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

50 ways to a bright idea

When you have a bright idea there is always someone who takes the wind out of your sails by asking "what about ...?". Why not preempt them by doing a little homework first? Below are 50 questions, variations on the usual who, what, why, when, where. Think your idea through using these as prompts and see if you can improve your idea.

1. Who is affected by the problem?
2. Who else has it?
3. Who says it is a problem?
4. Who would like a solution?
5. Who would not like a solution?
6. Who could prevent a solution?
7. Who needs it solved more than you?

8. When does it occur?
9. When doesn't it occur?
10. When did it appear?
11. When will it disappear?
12. When do other people see your problem as a problem?
13. When don't other people see your problem as a problem?
14. When is the solution needed?
15. When might it occur again?
16. When will it get worse?
17. When will it get better?

18. Why is this situation a problem?
19. Why do you want to solve it?
20. Why don't you want to solve it?
21. Why doesn't it go away?
22. Why would someone else want to solve it?
23. Why wouldn't someone else want to solve it?
24. Why is it easy to solve?
25. Why is it hard to solve?

26. What might change about it?
27. What are its main weaknesses?
28. What do you like about it?
29. What do you dislike about it?
30. What can be changed about it?
31. What can't be changed?
32. What do you know about it?
33. What don't you know about it?
34. What will it be like if it is solved?
35. What will it be like if it isn't solved?
36. What have you done in the past with similar problems?
37. What principles underlie it?
38. What values underlie it?
39. What problem elements are related to one another?
40. What assumptions are you making about it?
41. What seems to be most important about it?
42. What seems to be least important about it?
43. What are the sub-problems?
44. What are your major objectives in solving it?
45. What else do you need to know?

46. Where is it most noticeable?
47. Where is it least noticeable?
48. Where else does it exist?
49. Where is the best place to begin looking for solutions?
50. Where does it fit in the larger scheme of things?

Innovation - who needs people?

The chances are that you do! Innovation is viewed as a “soft” science, hard to measure and hard to define. Other business functions such as purchasing, finance and manufacturing are easier to define and seem much more established and “concrete”. Purchasing, finance and manufacturing are accepted business functions with hierarchies and responsibilities. When we talk about innovation, however, the measurements, metrics and operations are less obvious. Few firms have an “innovation department” and even less have metrics around innovation or systems and processes to support innovation.

That’s why people are so important in an innovation initiative. Much of the work of innovation is at the “fuzzy front end” where there may not be as many clear cut milestones or metrics, and traditional transactional systems can’t provide much value. It is this ambiguity that is handled so well by people. In business as in life , the important things boil down to people.

I ask you to go to the cinema to watch a film and you say “who’s in it?” If you are browsing in a bookshop you will read the jacket notes to see who has recommended it and what the critics say about it. If you join a new company, project or team, you will ask “who is the boss, what are they like?” and “who else is working on this?” A venture capitalist’s main concern is the management team—who will be making this venture (and my money) work? The focus is always on people.

Innovation is an outgrowth of the people and the culture of the firm. If people are encouraged to innovate and compensated and motivated appropriately, the culture and processes will follow. If they are not motivated or compensated to be innovative, no amount of systems or processes will drive an innovation initiative. The people are the key to the success of innovation.

Why focus on people? Success in any endeavor is based on having the right people doing the right things the right way at the right time. If you want to implement a successful innovation initiative, you need the right people in place to succeed. People are going to implement the processes and systems to make things work. You need to identify those people. Additionally, different people bring different skill sets and viewpoints to any project, so exposing ideas and innovations to a broad team within your firm can improve the chances of success with new ideas. Finally, a few people who truly believe in an idea can overcome many barriers and management hurdles.

Just as Meredith Belbin defined his Team Roles, so there are a number of people that you need to make your innovation initiative work. The second part of this article – Innovation, the people you need describes the characteristics of these people.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Innovation – why best practice could be bad for you

Even though Quality is no longer the buzzword that it was in the 1980s, its offshoot, ‘Best Practice’ unfortunately lives on. In the private sector this does not have a huge impact because many organisations try and keep their cards close to their chests and often ‘reinvent the wheel’. In academia or public sector organisations, the sharing of Best Practice is widespread. In some cases, the accompanying knowledge is also transferred, but the dangers of doing this are great.

It always seemed to be the case that Quality was ‘inspected in’, i.e. the more you inspected a system, the more quality you got. This was thankfully superseded by modern quality systems where the emphasis was on the process itself. Best Practice seems to have followed a similar fate. It seems to be something that you give to other people and the more you give (or receive) the better it is. Or so the theory goes.

If someone tells you to do something but without telling you why, you would think twice about doing it, particularly if it might hurt. Often, organisations adopt working practices and tools simply because someone else is using them successfully and they have no idea why that course of action should work in a new situation or what the side effects might be.

For instance, I have a classic car which occasionally has a problem with a sticking carburettor float. The remedy is to tap it gently with a small hammer. Someone else might deduce that the way to fix a car which has stopped without explanation is to hit it under the bonnet with a hammer. I have made use of some knowledge that was transferred with the ‘Best Practice’. This is just one of the reasons why knowledge transfer is an important part of any Innovation Programme.

If we look at the world of Literature or Art, then copying what someone else has created is known, rather bluntly, as plagiarism. This is quite rightly frowned upon. Even if the originator gives you permission to duplicate the work, the original ‘soul’ or ‘emotion’ that went into the work is lost.

Next time you adopt Best Practice, think about what else you should be transferring into your organisation to make sure that it works.