Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why Innovation Programmes Fail

There is only one real reason for your Innovation programmes to fail and that is the fact that you have taken no action at all! I’m sure, however, that is not what you want to hear and you will be shouting ‘not true’ at you computer screen. One of the components of any such programme is learning, so that even if you don’t hit the targets you set for yourself you will collect some knowledge on the way and thus not ‘fail’. The only way you can fail, therefore, is by not doing anything thus not making any progress and not learning anything.

If you have read much literature on the topic of Change Management then inaction will be a recurring theme. Many Managers mistake discussion, planning and specification for action thus they believe that an initiative may be underway when it is not. When asked what is happening they will tell you that the Innovation Task Force is meeting regularly and soon they will have objectives and a plan. Great in the early stages but you should ask the question ‘Have you actually done anything?’. In many cases the answer will be no. So no surprise that your initiative will be flagged as failing when it never actually started. To Innovate you must DO SOMETHING.

Readers will I’m sure like a few pointers as to why they have not made the progress they anticipated when they have taken action, so here are some potential reasons. Not all will apply to you but use them as a checklist:

  • Employees do not know about your initiative – check communications
  • Employees do not care about your initiative – check motivation and morale as well as management sponsorship
  • Poor performance – did you identify any areas for training and development?
  • Nothing is happening – have you officially kicked things off, have you changed what YOU do? Are others sabotaging your efforts?
  • It all seems like hard work – do you have a team in place to help?
There are four broad categories of people to address when kicking off your innovation programme:
  • Enthusiasts – no problem here, welcome them with open arms
  • Disbelievers – ‘no that will never happen’, simply ‘do’ and conquer
  • The Angry – ‘over my dead body’ hard work (see below)
  • The Followers – ‘well if its going ahead I might as well tag along’, welcome these people also.
It is only the Angry (or Awkward) who pose a problem. What you need to realise is that a 70:30 rule applies here. If you run your innovation programme in an appropriate manner (you can borrow from Change Management here) then you will have 70% of your employees onside. There things aren’t so bad are they? So just DO, and you can’t actually fail!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Working With Generation Why?

History has defined a series of generations such as the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and now Generation Z. Generation Y are the children of Generation X and are now in their late teens to early twenties, the University and College students of today. As far as technology was concerned they went from geek to chic. Generation X grew up as technology and the internet was mushrooming and Generation Y simply went gadget mad. They grew up in times of economic prosperity and so created a different outlook on life. Don’t like your job, then go and get another? Want to work from home, no problem?

Generation Y is more brand and image conscious, they are more likely to have addictions and undesirable habits, they exhibit less loyalty to employers and their family units are prone to breaking down.

Next comes Generation Z, or ‘Generation Why?’ as I like to call it. The world has changed very rapidly of late. We have seen the power of developing countries such as India, China and Brazil as well as global warming, famine, the collapse of financial systems and now the election of a black American president. We are entering an age where things are less certain (and hence anything is possible) and which will breed a new classification of human being. They will be innovators in the true sense of the word, choosing to be adaptable and flexible in their home lives as well as at work.

Unlike their predecessors, Generation Why? Will be asking tough questions such as ‘Why must we do things in this way?’, ‘Why do we have to make a mess of the planet?’, ‘Why won’t you listen to me?’. They will be like constantly inquisitive teenagers and using their skills and imagination to get what they want. Being slightly less materialistic than Generation X they will be willing to put in more effort at work, but only if it matches their own goals and aspirations.

Sounds like a nightmare? Not at all. There is a generation who are able and willing to look at things differently and get off their backsides. Great things can be achieved but only if these people are ‘managed’ in the right way i.e. given the right resources, intrinsically motivated and contained within ‘light touch’ management systems. This will be a challenge for Managers and Human Resources specialists but the results will be worth waiting for and help is already at hand to start the process.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What Recession - reasons to be cheerful

The recession may have touched us all but it is not nearly as bad as the pundits and commentators would have us believe. One or two businesses have gone under but I am here and you are still here reading this. We are all still 'in the game' so we have some of the skills and resources necessary to survive. We must at the very least be capable of examining our external environment and reacting to it in a positive manner. We are flexible, adaptable, resourceful and understand our own competencies.

A downturn is a good time to plan and watch what others are doing. Take a look at your competitors, visit their shops and trade stands or use their services. See how your competitors are handling the bad times, take on board their good ideas and learn from the bad ones. In short be ready to beat them when the time is right. Use this slack time to review your own business, something you will not have time to do in the busier times ahead. Now is also a good time to woo new clients even if they are not going to buy from you right now. Understand them and listen to their woes. We are experts in our field.

We know that things are cyclical and so we can safely assume that after the crash will come a period of growth once more. We cannot say for sure what the timescales will be but we know that it will happen. We have demonstrated our flexibility in surviving initially and then been cunning in our approach to observing our competitors, creating a plan and acquiring resources. We have a business that will thrive when the time is right. In the meantime, leverage your expertise and assist your customers to save money or add value for existing customers (without charging them extra). We thoroughly understand our customers and our marketplace.

So you:
  • are flexible, adaptable, resourceful and self aware
  • experts in your field
  • thoroughly understand your customers and your marketplace

Congratulations, you are now innovating!

Creativity - Getting It Right (Part 2)

There are a number of things that can be done to ensure that creative workshops go with a bang or at least a colourful fizz and meet the objectives so carefully set out for them. Here are a few more suggestions to build on those I gave you in a previous article.

Invite appreciative inquiry - the good news is this, you don't have to teach people how to be creative. They already are. All you need to do is facilitate the process that helps people access the part of themselves that is already creative. One way to do this is to help participants recall a time in their lives when creativity was flourishing for them. Known as "appreciative inquiry," you are simply allowing participants to wax lyrical about past successful creative ventures - no matter how small. These animated reflections will really get the creative juices flowing.

Don't think, do! - brainstorming sessions, are "head sessions," requiring a significant amount of thinking. But that is not the only way to get at good ideas. In fact, one of the best ways to quicken the appearance of good ideas is to "not think." Mozart used to exercise before sitting down to compose, the holder of the most patents ever liked to swim underwater before he invented and Socrates used to take his students for a walk. Somehow, these seemingly mindless excursions free up brainpower. The best and fastest way to accomplish this is with hands-on, interactive problem-solving activities that have high relevance to the brainstorming challenge or group dynamic.

Tell stories - story telling is a great way to help people get insights and make creative connections. That's why great teachers, since the beginning of time, have used parables to make their point. The stories we recommend you tell are what we call "teaching" stories - that is, intriguing stories with a moral. Or, they may be business-related stories concerning best practice or interesting case studies relevant to the brainstorm topic. It can be useful to intersperse these stories throughout your session, especially after participants have been working hard and need a breather.

Invite humour and playfulness - the right use of humour is a great way to help people tap into their right brains. Indeed, "haha" and "aha" are closely related. Both are the result of a surprise or discontinuity. You laugh when your expectations are confronted in a delightful way. Please note, however, that your use of humour must not be demeaning to anyone in the room. Freud explained that every joke has a victim and is used by the teller to gain advantage over the victim, that is, it's used to affirm power. And we know that when we're getting into the realm of power and the yielding of power, we are using our left-brains. Even more important than "joke telling" is a free flowing sense of playfulness. Everyone likes to play. The more you can achieve the goals of your session by interjecting playfulness into the process, the better.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Innovation - Transferring Know How

This is intended to be an outline of a system that will allow Innovation know-how such as knowledge, behaviours and cultural attributes to be transferred from a standalone or bolt on Innovation project and disseminated throughout the host organisation. Knowledge can be thrown like a stone into a pond and the ripples will then spread at their own speed across the pond. Organisations are not as fluid as our metaphorical pond but it is possible for knowledge to spread through the creation of Innovation Action groups that are not dissimilar to quality circles and action learning groups. They do, however, have some fundamental differences. They are:
  • not unique, they have boundary spanners that overlap
  • they can multiply, rather like human cells
  • they are not confined to improving quality or modifying behaviours
  • they act as catalysts and are not just suggestion boxes or talking shops
  • they are bi directional, 'ripples' can travel both inwards and outwards
  • they do not rely on technology
So how is it done? Well the minute details are secret but the recipe is as follows. Select a number of Innovation Ambassadors and ensure that they have an appropriate balance of coaching, facilitation and action learning skills as well as the latest strategic objectives of the organisation. Next create a number of Innovation Action groups spread through tout the organisation, both geographically and functionally. Ensure that the composition is as varied as possible and give them one of your Ambassadors as a leader/facilitator. Each should also be 'seeded' with an initial idea/knowledge item to work on. These groups can then:
  • work out the best ways of spreading know how in their local context
  • create links with other groups to increase their reach
  • combine existing knowledge to create new knowledge
  • capture knowledge and ideas
  • use their problem exploration and solving skills
  • create new groups
  • act as libraries of knowledge and resources
The entire system can be independent (and devoid) of technology although technology can act as an enabler where appropriate. Technology on its own cannot act as a knowledge transfer mechanism so if anyone tries to sell you a computer system as a solution to your knowledge problems then please run in the opposite direction.

Creativity - Getting it Right

For the past 6 years, I have been working with a range of organisations who have identified the need to raise the bar for innovation and creative thinking. One thing that's become very clear to me is that as many as 95% of all the people who end up in my workshop sessions are predominantly left-brained. They want to "get out of the box," but first they want to define the box, measure the box, compare it to other boxes, and/or send the box upstairs to make sure that everyone signs off on the collective vision of non-boxiness.

There are a number of things that can be done to ensure that creative workshops go with a bang or at least a colourful fizz and meet the objectives so carefully set out for them. Here are just a few, I'll slip a few more into later articles.

Establish credibility - if you do not already know the participants in your workshop then get some biographical material to participants before the session begins. Include anything that will help people understand that you have the experience and expertise to be a valuable resource. If this is not possible, introduce yourself early in the session and describe your qualifications. You must reassure participants that you just didn't walk off the street with a magic marker in your hand. Doubt kills creativity. Do everything possible to remove doubt from the room.

Clarify outcomes and address expectations - if you are going to take people on a creative journey, it's a good idea to start with the big picture. Even though you know that "the map is not the territory", participants will need confirmation they are not participating in a big improvisation session. People are just not ready for the "I'll play it first and tell you what it is later," approach. They need a clear picture of the day. Otherwise, they will be too uncomfortable to let go. Simply and clearly describe the process and agenda for your session, as well as the deliverables they can expect.

Establish ground rules - if you want to break new ground in a creative thinking session, you will need to establish clear ground rules first. Participants need to know what game they are playing - which behaviours are acceptable and which are not. You are, in effect, establishing an ideal "culture of innovation" in the room - the kind of mood that will be conducive to the appearance of new ideas. Rather than telling people what these ground rules should be, your task is to facilitate the process by which participants identify the ground rules they want to live by. These ground rules help create the safety required for the "shy" right brain to make its appearance. They also secure everyone's permission for you to play your facilitator role - an assumed ground rule that will need to be articulated - especially since there are likely to be a number of participants who do not like giving up control to someone who they've never met before or someone they have some reservations about.

Break the ice - most people who end up in your creative workshop will probably not be in a creative mindset when they enter the room. On the contrary, they are likely to be hurried, multi-tasking, overloaded with information, overwhelmed with tasks, and/or feeling underappreciated. One way or another they are likely to be dwelling in the logical, linear, left side of their brain. What they need is some kind of transition - a bridge from the world of "human doings" to the world of "human beings." A well-facilitated icebreaker is the best way to do this.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

An afternoon of Strategy

Can Strategy really be put into the same category as a good book, your favourite CD or a celebrity chef? Can you really do it justice in an afternoon? The answer is most definitely yes and you can make it just as pleasurable with or without a teapot and a plate of custard creams.

No, I have not lost my marbles, I just believe that many organisations spend too much time sitting around a polished table poring over management accounts, making poor decisions and crafting strategies that they are unable to communicate to their workforces. And what is the result, a thick document that ends up in the shredder, and even worse does not help the organisation in any way at all.

So how is this feat to be achieved, read on.

First of all we have to make an assumption that those running the organisation are at least technically competent, even if their management and leadership styles are less than ideal. They should have a good idea of the state of the company, the competition, the environment and of course the employees.

Step 1, stare hard at your organisation and look at all aspects of it, not just the balance sheet or profit and loss account. How adaptable is it, have you got the right skills, is it too big or too small or perhaps suited for other markets? Record this information in a suitable fashion, maybe using sketches, mindmaps or pictures (you will see why shortly).

Step 2, gaze into the future (how far in advance is up to you) and create a really good idea of what the organisation needs to be like in order to fend off the competition, where it will be, how it will work, what markets it will be in. If your time horizon is short then you can simply extrapolate from existing data. If you have a long time horizon then you may need to consider scenario planning or some sort of Futures Programme. Don't be influenced too much by the present, your organisation should be succeeding on its own a a point in the future.

Step 3, create a storyboard. A simple version may consist of 6 boxes on a sheet of flip chart paper. Number the boxes 1 to 6 and put the output from Step 1 into box 1 and the output from Step 2 into box 6. This is easier if you use visual items such as pictures but adapt everything to suit yourselves. You can even add or remove boxes if you wish. By now you will have guessed that the Step 4 is to fill in the intermediate steps but going backwards from the future to the present, by asking 'how did we get here?' rather than 'how do we get there?'. This way you will always get to your desired end point!

The results of steps 1 to 4 is a storyboard that many in the creative industries will be familiar with. It tells a story which is how we prefer to take in information. It also allows others to add their own perspective without actually changing the story (try doing that with a strategy document). This raw document can also be used immediately by Human Resources and Marketing to communicate this strategy to employees and other stakeholders and it can be updated regularly.

This method really does work, why not give it a try?

Calibrating your idea generation pipeline

Most large organisations talk about their 'sales pipeline'. Without knowing all of the details we understand that a) the pipeline should produce a stream of sales b) the pipeline should ideally be full. Linked to this we also understand that to produce a certain volume of sales we need a given number of contacts, sales appointments or exhibitions to go to. To increase sales we simply tweak our pipeline and hey presto, something happens.

When it comes to ideas we are not quite so methodical. Ideas are random and come along whenever they feel like it, right? Well yes and no. A large number of random ideas will at some stage begin to feel less random but the actual ideas (or quality) might still be so.

Imagine a business based on ideas. DIY suppliers such as tool manufacturers consistently seem to be trying to catch our eyes with drills, screwdrivers, unbreakable gardening implements etc. Your sales and marketing department may tell you that to keep ahead of the competition you need to have 5 new products each year in production and ready for distribution. Now let us work from the other end. A typical idea generation session might generate say 1500 ideas of which 150 might be worth considering and 15 worth trying to mock up or create prototypes. This might lead to only 1 product. At least you know that you might need to run 4 such sessions or create over 6000 wacky ideas.

Then you must allow for some sort of customer feedback, production set up etc which means that your year timeframe has now become 6 months! At least if you can calibrate your processes you can actually plan getting an idea from conception to customer, and with feedback built into the system you will get better at it. Then, when your Sales Director says 'we need a new product for this market, now' you can estimate the effort and cost required and tell him how long he will have to wait. Remember, miracles we can cope with but the impossible takes a little longer!

The same concept can be applied to services although the ratio of wacky ideas to actual services will be different. Also, because there is little manufacturing involved, services can be brought to the market place quicker.

Creativity and Innovation in the Public Sector

I imagine that there are some readers who will eagerly begin reading this article expecting me to either say how great the public sector is in this area (like steering a tanker, sterling effort, lots of good work being done) or how bad and behind the times they are (bureaucracy, bound by unions, outdated structures, jobs for life). Both groups will be disappointed I'm afraid. It would be foolish to make a sweeping statement about the performance of hundreds of thousands of people in such an article.

Just like the private sector, there are good and bad examples. The drivers and barriers are the same but the resources and tactics used may differ. What I will do is discuss these and leave it to the readers to decide what is applicable in their particular case. The only requirement on the reader is that they are not allowed to say 'we could not do that here, it just would not work'. Creativity and Innovation is for you, you just don't know how to embrace it. First of all let us look at the overall shape of an organisation and ask the following questions:
  • Are management always micromanaging staff?
  • Do you work on your own or as groups of individuals?
  • Is there a lack of desire to win or meet targets?
  • Is there a lack of vision of what winning looks like?
  • Are you inward looking?
  • Do you have a relatively small number of external relationships?
  • Do you have a stagnant culture with some stress and/or low morale?
  • The right environment does not exist for employees to stretch themselves?
  • Management do not get the best from employees?

If you answer 'yes' or agree with one or more of the above then your capacity to innovate will be hampered. Agree with them all and you need to change jobs quickly. If you are a manager in a public sector organisation and have grudgingly given 'yes' answers on the grounds that the organisation is tackling the issues in question, ask how fast are things changing, will the project ever be complete, will it make any difference?

Many public sector services have had innovation written into their service plans in the last few years and failed to deliver, mainly because those producing the plans inserted the word Innovation without understanding what it meant in a local context.

If you are intrigued by the 'finger in the air' test above then you might also like to think about the following topics - strategic barriers, organisational and corporate culture, learning, leadership and management, process and structure, collaboration and knowledge sharing. If you sense any black marks in those areas then perhaps you should start creating an action plan sooner rather than later.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The future's bright - how do we get there?

In a previous article some of the benefits of using Futures were outlined. But you would like to know how to benefit from Futures wouldn’t you?

The first stage is a huge information gathering exercise (remember the analogy of a ship’s wake, we need all of this information). At the same time there needs to be some degree of focus. We cannot just generate the answer to the question ‘What does the future look like?’ A more reasonable question might be ‘What does the market for personal computers look like in 2020?’ or ‘What will the requirements for transport infrastructure in Wales be in 2025?’

Once these areas have been identified we then begin to look at the drivers that affect these areas and existing trends that are already apparent. We also look a little further afield and scan the time horizon as far ahead as we can. All the time we gather information, taking care not to filter it too much as the ‘signals’ that we are looking for easily get lost in the ‘noise’ and we never know at the start how much weight (or credibility) to attribute to the information we are gathering.

At this point we have an idea of what we wish to look at and the various factors that might affect it. Now we add the questions, what if oil prices trebled or the population halved, working through a number of scenarios and seeing how this changes the future. Then we throw in the wildcards, who predicted 9/11 in the USA or the bombings in London? Who foresaw the so called credit crunch?

And how can we make this tangible at the end of the exercise? There are two main ways of examining strategy, observing the future from the present and working out how to get there and the most powerful version which is to look back towards the present from the future and describing how we got here. This is where our storytelling skills come into their own and we generate buy in.

We can predict the future up to 30 years ahead in order to inform strategy making and investment decisions for public and private sector bodies by using:

  • Information from expert groups
  • Widely available information
  • A number of carefully chosen scenarios
  • Both existing knowledge and by introducing wildcards
  • Storytelling and other creative techniques to facilitate information gathering and generating buy in

For further information on how Futures can be used to help your organisation please get in touch now.

The future's bright - what does it look like?

The best way to ensure that your business not only survives, but thrives, is to know what the future holds. Many people profess to do this already but what is it exactly that they are doing? From your existing management information you might be able to predict the amount of resources required (both human and material) as well as the features of your competitive environment. How far in the future can you do this without resorting to sticking a wetted finger into the air? The answer is probably less than 12 months.

The question is, how far can we look into the future and with what certainty? The answer is anything from 5 to 30 years is possible, and that would certainly help with crafting strategy and changing the direction of even the largest multi national business if this is required. But how?

Most people are familiar with the passage of a ship on the ocean that leaves a wake behind. By examining the wake and knowing how much time has passed, one or more experts could tell you something about the ship, its speed and course. Now imagine that you are at the tail end of the wake but you are in the present, the ship is in the future and not visible to you. If you could pick up all of the bits of information that are present, look at the patterns, and have access to experts then it is possible to gain sufficient information to predict the future for your company.

Predicting the future has developed into a whole new topic known as … Futures. Most gurus will use prediction, based on facts, certainty and giving you answers. It sounds safe but its usefulness over time is limited and it does not deal with the uncertainty of the future. Futures uses a degree of imagination, stories (or scenarios) and a whole lot of questions to rigorously examine the future and it can look decades ahead.

Businesses might wish to use futures to quantify risks and opportunities, craft strategies, inform investment decisions and fuel their innovation programmes. Government and other public sector bodies have broadly similar aims – creating policies, identifying areas for intervention, investment and education needs.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Where is your Giraffe?

You may remember a previous article 'The Creative Management Challenge' which posed some simple questions such as 'How do you get a giraffe into a refrigerator?' There were some novel answers to that particular question, note that there is no correct answer for two reasons. First of all the problem situation was not fully specified, leaving many questions un answered. What size is the refrigerator, where is it, does it have to get in unaided or can force be used? Secondly there was a deliberate intention to introduce ambiguity. There was no mention of the size of the giraffe, whether it was real/stuffed/inflatable or could it be folded/squashed in any way.

In our businesses we tend to have many giraffes, situations that we have not properly understood with solutions that do not take into account all of the relevant factors or which have been constructed as a result of poor decision making. Curiously, unlike the tall animals, these giraffes seem to exist unnoticed. Why is this, how can all of these poor decisions be swept under the carpet. The answer is of course ego. We do not like to admit that we do not have all of the answers, that we are not in control of our business. The irony is that by ignoring or hiding these 'giraffes' we are actually admitting that we are not in control.

So how can we help ourselves?

  • Examine all of the boundaries to any problem, test them and do not introduce any that do not have to be there.
  • Ask questions, why do things have to be the way they are?
  • Look at things in as many different ways as possible, inside out, upside down or from a customer or competitor viewpoint.
And finally, just to stop you wasting time chasing your tail, ask yourself the question, 'What would happen if I ignored this situation altogether?' If the answer is nothing then you have one less thing to worry about and a greater feeling of being in control. You are beginning to understand your giraffe!

The Slipping Point

Most readers will be familiar with, or have heard of Malcolm Gladwell's best selling business book 'The Tipping Point'. The author suggests that there is a point at which you need apply only a small effort to create an effect. This is rather like giving the final push to topple a large boulder or tipping a finely balanced set of scales. If only we could find this point, we could all save ourselves time and effort.

Once the tipping point is found then we, and our businesses will be beating the competition and lining our pockets with untold riches, right? Is there anything to stop us? Well, quite a lot actually. Take the simple case of sitting down on a chair. You see the chair, walk round to the front and then sit down. Did you check that the chair was still there or that it did not have a wobbly leg. Most of the time nothing will happen but what happens in the 1 in 100 or 1 in 1000 cases when a practical joker has removed the chair?

This is a somewhat simplified example but neatly illustrates the point that we must keep our wits about us at all times. Having created a strategy for the future we want it to succeed but how many of us do not keep watch? What is it exactly that we are watching for? This is where we come to The Slipping Point. If you were driving up a slippery slope or along an icy road it would be the place where you lost grip, where your forward momentum slowed, and where things just did not go as planned. What can be done about this?
  • Ensure Management are 'Hands Ready' i.e. they are aware of what is going on but are not micro-managing or too eager to take control. This provides space to see the bigger picture.
  • Do your employees work in teams? The more they do this, the more support they provide, the more knowledge is shared and the more flexible they are when confronted with challenges.
  • Is there a desire to win or are you all there to pick up your pay cheques?
  • Even if you have a desire to win, do you know how to win?
  • Keep an eye on the external environment, competitors, customers and any other factors that could affect the economic landscape.
  • Foster as many external relationships as you can. These provide information and can also be leveraged in times of need.
  • Promote the right culture. Transparency and morale are often used but infrequently heeded. Lead by example and gain trust and you will be in good shape.
  • Promote the concept of stretch, an environment in which your employees and management alike are challenged and allowed to learn.
  • Get the best from your staff. This extends from what management actually 'do' to staff to encourage and motivate them as well as reward systems.

Pay attention to the above and you have a very good chance of executing that carefully crafted strategy and avoiding The Slipping Point.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Creativity – selecting the right technique

You, your staff or even your boss have been on a course or bought a self help book that described some creative techniques. You have tried one or two and they sort of worked, but not as you had hoped. Or maybe they did not work at all. Why could this be?

Sometimes Creativity just doesn’t work for one or more of the following reasons:
  • The problem scenario or situation has not been properly defined
  • The facilitator does not have the correct skills
  • The participants are unwilling

Or more than likely the wrong techniques have been selected. Alas you cannot use brainstorming for everything! So how should you go about categorising and selecting techniques?
The following ideas might be useful:

Group/Solo working – who is going to use this technique? Will you use it for one person or a group?

Converge/Diverge – are you looking to focus on, or identify just one possibility or are you wishing to actively generate many options or ideas?

Exploration/description – does the technique allow you to just explore or perhaps describe the situation more fully?

Reality checking/planning – you know what the possibilities are but you need to check that your ideas are feasible or to set out some course of action.

Idea generation/building – this is divergent but are you generating los of ideas or taking a smaller number and building upon them?

If we want to classify Reverse Brainstorming (click here for my blog article) then we could classify it as Solo or group working, convergent, exploring, idea generation. A Cartoon Storyboard could be classified as Solo or Group working, convergent, planning or building.

So how should you select a technique? Often we wish to perform several actions one after the other but for the sake of simplicity lets imagine you need some ideas about how to beef up your sales and marketing effort. You could work either on your own or in a group, you simply wish to generate a large number of ideas in a short space of time. Something like Reverse Brainstorming or a Nominal Group Technique might be the answer. If, however, you needed to explore or describe your current situation before moving on to generate ideas then the above techniques would not be ideal and you might find a modelling, drawing or even visualisation technique more useful.

Go on, try it! You might even find this Creativity stuff useful.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Creative Management Challenge

Below are four simple questions. Try to answer them all before looking at the answers.
  • Q1 How do you put a giraffe into a fridge?
  • Q2 How do you put and elephant into a fridge?
  • Q3 The King of the Jungle is holding a meeting for all of the animals. One of them is not there. Which one?
  • Q4 You are standing on the bank of an Alligator infested river and have to get to the other side. What do you do?

A survey by Accenture found that around 90% of Managers are likely to answer all of the questions incorrectly. Many school children under the age of six will actually get these questions right. What does this say about Management thinking? And now for the answers:

  • A1 Open the fridge, put the giraffe inside, close the fridge.
  • A2 Open the fridge, remove the giraffe, put the elephant inside, close the fridge.
  • A3 The elephant. The elephant is in the fridge.
  • A4 You swim across the river because all the alligators are attending the gathering.

I can already hear you say "Its not fair" and "they are for kids". This is what the questions are trying to find out:
  • Q1 checks to see if you try to make simple things complicated and make assumptions about problem boundaries. Nobody actually said that the fridge was not big enough to put a giraffe inside!
  • Q2 tests your ability to consider previous actions. Who says that they are four separate questions?
  • Q3 simply tests your memory.
  • Q4 checks to see how quickly you learn. After all you must have got question 4 correct if you were a successful Senior Manager.

Try these on your colleagues and see what happens.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Solving problems creatively - 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.'

Innovation – what a consultant will not tell you

Have you noticed how consultants and academics tend to turn innovation into a highly complex system involving numerous processes, approaches and models (requiring you to spend even more on consultants)?

Such systems are promoted by consultants who charge by the day for implementing and teaching their complex systems - which require many, many months to implement. Worse, consultants scare their clients into believing that not implementing the consultants' system will lead to failure. Indeed, when the system does fail, the consultant can easily blame the client for not implementing the complex system properly.

But, these consultants are wrong! Innovation need not be complex. In fact, complex systems actually stifle creativity and hence innovation. Most organisations contain many creative thinkers and innovators: their employees; and many external creative thinkers: their customers. All that they require is:
  • The ability to make people comfortable about sharing their ideas and to make mistakes without suffering any consequences.
  • That management demonstrate their commitment and ability to be creative themselves.
  • Budget - funds will be necessary, however they will be modest in comparison to the demands of the consultants!
  • Tools for capturing and managing ideas, techniques for generating and shaping ideas and a method of measuring the fruits of your labours.
  • Space and more importantly time to meet, share ideas or just think.
  • Rewards, a fair system that rewards idea generation, knowledge sharing and team working.
How all of these components come together will vary from firm to firm. What is important is that these components exist, that there is flexibility and that ideas are implemented. Of course these components of corporate innovation are greatly simplified. Nevertheless, they provide the mainstay of an innovation plan.

So don't let the expensive consultants fool you. An innovation strategy is relatively easy provided you have the commitment, the desire and resources. It should fit your organisation with minimal disruption and you should not be left with a strong dependency on any outside organisation.