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.