Thursday, December 10, 2009

Big Changes for Christmas - Exclusive Interview With Nick Clouse Junior

An insightful and perhaps shocking interview with the man who holds all of the reins regarding the running of Christmas.

Watch here or go directly to YouTube.

Monday, November 30, 2009

10 People Who Can Help With Your Innovation Project

Here Ten is often seen as a magic number when providing solutions to problems. In this case it is a convenient way to provide a shortlist as there are a potentially huge number of people who can assist. Read on to find out who can help and why.
1. You
You have the vision and have seen a way forward. A project needs to be started, the only way it can fail is through inaction so it is down to you to set the ball rolling.

2. Boss
A potential ally and gatekeeper. Get your bosses blessing (how is another matter) and those who waiver will follow.

3. Spouse
You will need an understanding spouse as there could be long days and filled weekends in store. You also need someone who knows you best to appraise your strengths and weaknesses and who will 'tell you like it is'.

4. Children
Children are very good at asking awkward questions and making suggestions as they have not been conditioned by life. Particularly useful for products and services aimed at consumers.

5. Pub Landlord
Often ridiculed, but they are in a position where they can solicit opinion from a huge number of people. Good for testing ideas and taking soundings of a market. If you want to go up market, go to a golf club or wine bar!

6. Secretary
Another potential ally or gatekeeper. Secretaries or Pas often have access to a huge number of people and are well informed regarding office politics. Use as a sounding board and a source of knowledge.

7. Receptionist
Yet another person who interacts frequently with a huge number of people. They know who visits, leaves parcels, makes phone calls etc and are well placed to advise on networks and the interface with the outside world. Use your delivery drivers in this way too!

8. Finance Director
Finance is often seen as very logical but it can be used creatively as the fuel for innovation projects. Convince this person of the benefits of your project before the naysayers get to them and resources will be easier to come by.

9. Customers
I'm sure you do canvass the opinions of customers but how do you treat them? As responders to questions or as a huge body of knowledge to tap into. If you deal with them regularly and have a relationship with them then can you also tap into the bodies of knowledge that they have? Talk to suppliers also.

10. Standards Bodies
Often seen as gatekeepers, standards bodies and even your own Quality department can help you identify issues before they arise as well as spot barriers that might keep your competitors at bay but allow you access to a market niche.

Enhancing Creativity - 10 Phrases To Avoid

This brief list is distilled from a very long list of phrases gathered over many years. Each phrase is given along with comments on its appropriateness and potential underlying meanings. If you hear these uttered then a warning bell should sound inside your head. These are all potential blocks to personal and organisational Creativity.

1. We tried that before
Well yes you might have done but were the circumstances the same and what happened exactly? Perhaps whatever you did was not executed correctly or you did not have the right skills? This is a phrase usually uttered by someone who has a vested interested in doing things in one particular way or who dislikes change. Try saying "When we tried this previously we got these results, how can we improve on this?"

2. That's not my job
Maybe not, but if you are looking to the future then it may currently be nobody's job. Again a phrase uttered by those who dislike change in their personal workspace or who simply want more money. If you are trying to get someone to behave differently then point out the advantages to a) themselves b) the organisation (in that order).

3. We don't have the time
Time always gets filled with something so it really is a question of what is more important. Are you looking to the future, do you have your backs against the wall? What is the result if you do NOT do this?

4. It's too radical a change
The word radical has to be taken in context. Any step towards where you wish to go has to be good. There will be repercussions though and if sufficient research is carried out, any unwanted effects can be minimised. This is a phrase uttered by the risk averse.

5. The staff will never buy it
Who said this? Someone is attempting to predict what a group of people will say. Taken at face value, it is a reason not to proceed, but try asking your staff. Likely to be uttered by those opposed to change.

6. Let's get back to reality
What is reality when thinking about the future? If you want to maintain the status quo then fine, but if you wish to improve things then you will have to dream a little (of new products) or try to predict the marketplace.

7. Let's give it more thought
This is used as a political gambit to bury ideas or by those who prefer talk to action. The ONLY reason an innovation project can fail is through inaction.

8. Let's form a committee
A way of gathering like minded people together to oppose an idea! Cynical perhaps, but committees with the best intentions often slow things down. Empower people to DO things and co-opt others if necessary.

9. It won't pay for itself
Does it have to? What is the cost of not taking a course of action? It may cost $10000 and only make $5000 but what if it prevents the company from going bust? Cost, like benefit can be measured in many ways.

10. If it ain't broke, don't fix it
Only if you wish to get the same results all the time. Broke is like cost, dependent on context. A system can have worked well in the past, but if the future is different from the past then your system could well be 'Broke' sooner than you think. This is often used by those who have actually invented the 'Unbroke' systems.

Innovation or Lean?

A recent article published on the Knowledge@Wharton website suggested that the philosophy of Lean could exist along with Innovation. After reading the article I have two questions:
  1. Why would you want them to?
  2. Why put Innovation into a box (like Lean or BPR) when an Innovation system has the ability to change and respond to its surroundings?
The article states "Lean has come to mean an integrated, end-to-end process viewpoint that combines the concepts of waste elimination, just-in time inventory management, built-in quality, and worker involvement -- supported by a cultural focus on problem solving. Can such practical principles be applied to innovation, or would lean's structure and discipline snuff out the creative spark that underlies the birth and development of great ideas? Can lean co-exist with innovation?"

The article suggests that Lean brings structure and predictability to Innovation without sufficiently defining Innovation. Innovation requires a framework within which we generate ideas, experiment and develop new products, services and processes. Such frameworks exist and also provide ways of measuring and monitoring Innovation. In that sense we have structure and predictability within Innovation so we do not need Lean also. The very definition of Lean also implies that the flexibility and adaptability required to change, either in times of crisis or to seize opportunities, may have been engineered out of an organisation.

Those who fully embrace Innovation will understand that Innovation systems evolve and fully embrace such aspects as new ideas of collaborative working, new leadership and organisational models, empowerment and customer engagement. These attributes are not specific to Innovation systems nor are they specific characteristics of Lean.

An Innovation system can exhibit Lean characteristics if necessary, but a Lean system cannot be truly Innovative since there is always be an intellectual overhead in an Innovation system and so the Lean system will become 'non Lean'.

Another contentious topic is that of separating idea from development. It is true that the mix of people that are required during the many phases of Innovation may change, but once more this is a characteristic of Innovation, that things change. In fact, idea and development must be connected. What if the technology to implement an idea does not exist and ideas must be generated in order to put an idea into production? Imagine the first time Silicon wafers were used to produce chips in large numbers. I cannot imagine that those who developed the chips were completely separated from those who developed production processes.

So if Innovation is an end to end process which provides a framework, is adaptable to changing conditions and which can be measured, why would we wish to consider Lean? One possible (and perhaps cynical) answer is that those who promote Lean would lose a possible source of revenue or that they simply do not understand Innovation - after all, it does have ambiguity built in!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Business as usual - not anymore!

I and many others spend our time talking to businesses and posting articles extolling the virtues of Innovation, how it provides us with new products and services, boosts our intrinsic motivation, helps us get to grips with a changing world .... and survive.

After doing this for nearly eight years, the number of businesses listening is growing but not at a fast rate. There are many people still with their heads in the sand. A recent tweet suggested that the last seven words of a dying business are "We've never done it that way before". How many businesses worldwide are sticking to the old ways of doing things, either because they are afraid or ignorant of alternatives?

A recent email conversation with a colleague in Australia put everything neatly into perspective. He stated that without Creativity and Innovation to be able to adapt and change we are left with a scenario put forward by Peter Drucker. The only method we have of differentiating our products and services within the marketplace is through pricing. Assuming that we have a product that will sell, we can only make ourselves more attractive than the competition by reducing our prices.

Even the most short sighted business leader can see that a huge number of companies that do not possess the financial clout or bank balances of large corporations will die - possibly uttering the seven words mentioned previously. What is your business going to do? It is no time for Business as Usual anymore.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Creativity, Braintorming, Outcome Driven, Open, Customer Driven - STOP

I normally carefully plan the articles that I post to my blog and to various websites that I subscribe to but in this case I am driven by Innovation Rage!

Each day I see posts telling me exactly how to be creative, how to manage my innovation projects and who I should collaborate with. Each time the articles seem to become more prescriptive and hence more constraining. Taken too much further this would mean that all of those innovation gurus out there are actually stifling Creativity and Innovation. Remember, Charles Handy once said that guru is just a word that Americans use instead of charlatan!!

As a recent post suggested, Innovation is about tomorrow and not yesterday or even today, so how can we predict in such detail? Surely Innovation is about attitude, behaviours, skills and know how? We take a look at where we might like to go and then apply ourselves to getting there? Maybe we take a circuitous route, maybe we never get there at all but we usually go somewhere.

Is SatNav innovation applied to transport or is it restricting our enjoyment of travel? Would it be more innovative to ban SatNav or maps? Perhaps we should ban private vehicles so that travel becomes a social experience as we are compelled to interact with each other?

I'm sure that the companies that we most think of as innovative such as Google, 3M etc don't have a complete documented system (if there is a manual they won't follow it) they just get on with it. The 'system' such as it is, is embedded in company culture. Those wanting to adopt someone else's Innovation best practice should be careful. Best practice is yesterday's implementation and taken out of context can be dangerous.

So throw away the labels and your best practice manuals and start experimenting (and throw away your SatNav if you dare).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Can Creativity flourish in your working environment?

Here are some golden rules that you can use as a checklist to see if a) creativity could flourish if you are looking to embrace it or b) to find out why your best efforts at being creative are failing dismally.

Here are some rules for dealing with things on a personal level:
  • Mindsets must change, even if the changes are small
  • Explore the 'givens', the problem boundaries
  • Look at the broad picture AND details
  • Value play
  • Build up, say 'yes and' not 'yes but'
  • Learn to live with ambiguity
  • Don't force creativity on people, nurture what is there
  • Involve other people
  • Be receptive, watch and listen
  • Know what your objectives are
  • Cycle often, close late - don't just plump for the quickest option
  • Manage the process, if you don't it will be a playground
... and here are some things from the wider environment:
  • Whatever you do must be fun!
  • Manage interpersonal differences, they will come to the fore
  • Manage status differences, these will appear too
  • Manage expectations, be realistic but have goals
  • Inhibition and risk need to minimised, people need to feel comfortable
  • Minimise group and critical pressure, use the first checklist to help here
  • Ban distractions, ban laptops and mobile phones for a day if necessary
  • Logistics, pay attention to small things such as decor, refreshments etc
Pay attention to the above and you have a good chance of succeeding. Now all you need to know is WHAT to do!

Creative technique - Working With Aliens

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

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

Imagine that an alien spaceship has landed on earth and the aliens are looking at your problem or the object that you have described. Next try to imagine what sort of questions the aliens would be asking, what would they be curious about? Many of the checklist techniques can provide some guidance here. A possible list could be:
  • What is the purpose of this?
  • How does it work?
  • Why does it have to be this way?
  • Why do these earthlings use these materials?
  • Is it useful to me?
  • Can I eat it?
  • Why does this matter, and to whom?
  • Is it worth any money?
  • Is there any other value?
  • Could it be used for .....?
These (and other questions) should be asked with childlike innocence i.e. assume no familiarity with earthly concepts.

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

Innovation - a human race

I often get asked about the pace of innovation in different countries or their ability to innovate. Many such questions come from people whose awareness of global issues is sadly lacking and who represent so called developed countries. The answer I give to them is the same as the one I give to those in less developed countries who are seeking inspiration and motivation for their efforts.

My own personal definition of Innovation is purely based on Human Capital so I choose a metaphor that involves people. Think of Innovation as a race, but with a difference. Some runners have an advantage in that they start further ahead, perhaps because of a time or resource advantage and some start with varying degrees of disadvantage.

Those initially at the front may be well trained and have the latest sparkly gear but they are running almost as fast as they can - improvements being measured only in small amounts. Our runners at the rear will acquire the trappings of leading athletes such as running gear, coaches etc in due course.

There are still two very important factors to consider. How long is the race and how fast can those at the back run? The race we are in is, I believe, a long one with sustainability and resilience to crises being key. So, the longer race will provide greater opportunity for less developed countries to narrow the gap. If their natural talent is greater than developed countries, the race could be close.

My word of warning to those in the lead currently is never underestimate the opposition and look over your shoulder once in a while. My words of encouragement to those at the rear is to believe in your talent.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Who are your competitors?

It might seem a silly question, but do your know who your competitors are? If you are in retail you might list some shops on your high street or name your local supermarket chain. These provide some competition in that they sell goods and services that compete with yours. The trouble is you may have more competition than you think.

What exactly are you competing for? If you are a shop then you are competing for the money (or credit card) in some one's pocket. What else can they spend their finite resources on? If you are a pub then your customers could do any of the following:

  • buy drink from the local supermarket
  • go to the local bowling alley
  • visit the local chip shop or pizza takeaway
  • go to the gym

So the money can go to a number of places which may also be time or season dependent. The gym option may be number one just after Christmas or before the holiday season.

So you should think about:

  • who else might be competing for the money in your customers pockets
  • what factors might affect the spending patterns of customers
  • what exactly are selling to your customers (and why)
  • do you know everything about your customers
  • can you sell anything different to your customers

This may lead you to other discussions regarding the direction of your business and where you intend it to be in the future (strategy in consultant speak). This may not have been on your 'to do' list for today but it just might help you ride out the recession.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Calling all CEOs – why do you avoid Creativity and Innovation?

The message from myself and many others banging the innovation drum is relatively simple. Embrace innovation and you have a unique competitive advantage. You will be able to fully exploit the skills of your workforce, develop new products, services or processes according to your type of business and most importantly of all you will create a business that is sustainable and which will survive not only the current economic crisis but any that may occur in the future. So why do you not take action, why do you think the risk is too high – or to put it another way, what are you scared of?

First of all, let us look at risk. What is it? In its simplest guise it is just circumstances or events about which we know nothing or very little. So the more we know about something, the smaller the risk. Actually the likelihood of something bad happening may not actually change as we acquire knowledge ,but the fear associated with the potential risk may decrease or vanish. So CEOs may in fact be suffering from a fear of failure or looking foolish rather than actually considering the actual risks or benefits to their organisation.

What can be done to help? If we could provide you with the following, would that help?

  • An understanding of what is involved in leading an Innovative organisation – let’s remove the surprises
  • Support in providing awareness and education for managers and staff – everyone must know where they fit in
  • A proven methodology/framework so that you know what you are doing
  • A method of measuring innovation directly so you know where your money is being spent
  • New techniques to help you predict and plan for the future
  • Provision of some ongoing support

Would this help alleviate the risks so that you can harvest the benefits of Innovation? If not then Innovation may not be for you and sadly your long term future does not look too rosy.

Over and out!

The politics of Innovation – wising up to the gatekeepers

Organisations are filled with politics and organisational games. Here are just a few that are common culprits for stifling innovation.

An interesting idea
In a mild form, resistance can be as simple as declaring that "I thought the ideas in your presentation were really interesting". "Interesting" is the key word here, because it is the word people frequently use when they want to appear supportive and positive about an idea when really they are indirectly resisting. We say "interesting" when asked for feedback and we do not want to reveal our concerns and doubts. "Interesting" can even be a euphemism for "your ideas are rubbish and I will not support them".

Another Time
This is the tactic of resisting an idea or suggestion by pretending that the timing just isn't right (and at the same time implying that at some future, unspecified date the timing may be better) "The only thing wrong with your idea is the timing, come back in the New Year and we will take another look" This usually means "no way is this idea going any further!" Of course, the timing may genuinely be bad but often this tactic is used for sabotaging ideas that someone does not want to see implemented (out of political self interest).

More Information
This is the tactic of deliberately stalling a valid suggestion by continuously demanding more information, hoping that the other party will eventually drop the idea, or forget it.
It is entirely reasonable that before new ideas are acted upon, that they should be researched and tested. It is good practice for competent managers to ensure that bright new ideas do not propel organisations into oblivion but this can go too far. This is a convincing, ‘professional’ and deliberate viewpoint that hides genuine resistance.

The Wise One
They have seen it all and done it all before, and with their vast experience we would be foolish to ignore their protestations when they say it is a poor idea and won't work. We face an uphill struggle against arrogance and ego, it is them or us! Note the key to disarming such a person is that their wisdom is rooted in the past. Times change.

The idea is challenged on the scientific level and the resistance takes the form of long winded, confusing, jargon filled explanations which are presented as just being "helpful". They have seen it all before (and have a pile of facts to prove it) and see no new reason to go down a road which has already proved fruitless.

One recognised, these ploys can often be countered or you may just choose another course of action rather than waste your valuable energy.

Innovation – what terrorists can teach us

Much has been made of the latest terrible development in suicide bombings were bombers now carry explosives inside themselves. This development could be called ‘innovative’ but what is more important are the thought processes involved. Consider the following two scenarios.

Scenario one – a terrorist thinks to himself “I will try experimenting with putting explosives in different places and see what happens”. This is experimentation or play. The output is almost entirely random but in amongst those random thoughts are some ideas worth pursuing. The problem is undefined and the solutions will therefore be extremely random. The results may or may not work.

Scenario two – a terrorist thinks to himself “What sort of checks do the army and police have and where could I hide explosives to avoid these checks?”. This is innovation in action. The problem is reasonably well defined thus leaving the terrorist with the simple task of generating and evaluating ideas. The results are possibly devastating.

Now consider the other side of the equation. Lets try and outfox the terrorist. If we assume the terrorist is not very clever (a big mistake) then we think of a possible large number of methods of attack which we cannot possibly deal with (as in scenario one). If we assume that the terrorist is clever then he will try and find weak points, no matter how unlikely they are.

So which ‘route to market’ is the best for terrorist and which is best for the anti terrorist? For both, a degree of focus (scenario two) is important. The terrorist analogy does, however, go much deeper than this.

Let us consider high level enablers/barriers to Innovation such as vision, attitude to risk, empowerment of staff, knowing how to win, team working, culture, light touch management etc. Taking all of these into account, we can take a strategic snapshot of an innovative organisation such as 3M or Google and also of a known terrorist organisation. Comparing the two, we find that the ‘make up’ of a successful innovative organisation is very similar to that of a terrorist organisation. The major difference is of course ideology or vision.

So if you like your job, there is a strong vision, the culture suits you, you are stretched to your full potential, your organisation is fully aware of its competitive environment and is willing to take on a reasonable amount of risk – just exactly who are you working for?

Using such an analogy takes a bit of getting used to but try it, you might be amazed.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Creativity, Change and Diversity in the Land of Penguins

A brilliant short training video which can be aimed at so many areas of an organisation. Watch it with a view to working out what happens when you embrace creativity. What are the benefits, what are the compromises and what can you preserve? Enjoy!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Egg credit card woes - no creativity present

This is just to alert people to a new blog for individuals who might be having issues with their Egg credit card in the current economic climate.

If you wish to have a wry smile at a frustrating and futile interaction with Egg customer services then click here. Please feel free to add comments if you wish. Factual rather than libelous comments would be more welcome.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ten ways to Innovate

Many people are stuck when it comes to thinking about why or where you can innovate. You do not have to limit yourself to Marketing or R&D, anyone can get involved. Here are some hints as to where you can get started.

  1. Take a look at your business model i.e. How do you go about making money? Dell attempted to turn the turn the personal computer production business model on its head by collecting money before the customer’s PC was assembled and shipped. This greatly improved the cashflow of the business by holding funds for around seven to eight days.

  2. Organise your business networks and alliances i.e. Do you join forces with other businesses for mutual benefit? Many supermarket chains have ceased to run their own logistics and concentrated on their core businesses of selling goods. Wal-Mart suppliers have also joined forces (normally competitors) to ensure that small 'just in time' deliveries are aggregated to become cost effective.

  3. Do your processes and procedures support your core processes? i.e. How do you support the company's core processes and workers? Starbucks has delivered its profitable coffee experience to customers because it offered good wages and employment benefits to workers. These were often part time, well educated individuals or students who were motivated and proactive.

  4. Take a look at your core processes i.e. How do you create and add value to your offerings. Wal-Mart continues to grow profitably through real-time inventory management systems, aggressive contracts with merchandise suppliers, and feedback systems that give store managers the ability to identify changing buyer behaviours and respond rapidly.

  5. Product performance i.e. How do you design your core offerings The VW Beetle (in both its original and its newest form) took the market by storm, as did the Apple iPod and iPhone. These have performance designed in and can be spun out into multiple offerings.

  6. Product system i.e. How do you link and provide a platform for multiple products. Microsoft Office "bundles a variety of specific products (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) into a system designed to deliver productivity in the workplace whilst the iPhone now delivers pretty much the same on the move (plus a phone and entertainment). The system serves a number basic needs and solves consumer problems.

  7. Service i.e. How do you provide value to customers and consumers that goes beyond the norm? An international flight on a low cost airline will get you to your intended destination. A flight on say Emirates or Thai International will leave you wondering whether you have been flying at all. Do your customers want to just get there or get there refreshed and ready to clinch a big business deal?

  8. Channel i.e. How do you get your offerings to market? In the US Martha Stewart has developed a deep understanding of her customers so that she knows just which channels to use (stores, TV shows, magazines, online) to obtain huge sales volumes from a relatively small set of "home living" educational and product offerings. This is prety much the same technique as that used by shopping channels such as QVC.

  9. Brand i.e. How do you communicate your offerings. In the UK, the cute Meerkats employed by told us exactly what the online insurance seller did and did not do. The spin off was of course the hugely successful viral marketing campaign that accompanied it.

  10. Customer experience i.e. How do your customers feel when they interact with your company and its offerings? Harley Davidson has created a worldwide community of millions of customers, many of whom would describe "being a Harley Davidson owner" as a part of their identity. This also extends to some quaint British sports cars such as Morgan for instance.

These are only suggestions, there are probably many more places that you can innnovate. Good luck!

Entering the Age of Unreason

If you have not read Charles Handy’s book ‘The Age of Unreason’ then I heavily recommend it. In a nutshell it turns things upside down and tries to change our perspective on situations. One situation that Handy writes about is the issue of Consultants in our National Health Service. As most people realise, these are the most skilled and highly paid professionals. They often like to have time away from work, sometimes on holiday, sometimes playing golf and sometimes in lucrative private practice. Problems arise with their ever rising salaries. Handy’s solution is to keep paying them the same salary but allow them to work less time for the NHS. Their hourly or daily rate thus rises but the cost to the taxpayer does not. This leaves our consultants free to play golf (not earning any further money) or work in private practice and earn even more money.

Now this solution may not be ideal but it is a possible solution and it comes about by turning the situation upside down i.e. by not sticking to reason, hence the idea of Unreason. In the current world economic situation many rules have been discarded and hence reason has gone or been suspended. There is a new world order (possibly devoid of bankers) where new rules apply, or possibly where no rules apply. The situation is ripe for people with a fertile imagination and brimming with confidence to make an impact.

This course of action builds upon our banana observations and tries to examine the boundaries of a problem. First of all let us ask some questions:

  • Is the aim to increase the cost of consultants to the NHS?
  • Do we actually have to pay them more?
  • How might consultants like to spend their time?
  • Are there other ways for consultants to earn more?
  • Can we still make use of consultants for teaching training purposes?

Probing of the boundaries of the problem often reveals previously hidden courses of action. Some of these may be conditional e.g we can have consultants working less time but only if we safeguard some teaching time. OK, so lets do that.

A company supplying parts to the automotive industry was having a tough time. They did not like spending money on repairing equipment but needed to do something. Faults were usually reported to the factory manager who either did something about it or not (the more likely scenario). Control was taken away from the production line workers.

Luckily Unreason prevailed and the workers were empowered (grudgingly at first). So what happened?

  • Leaks were fixed in air hoses
  • Less leaks meant not running all of the air compressors
  • Air compressor running could be alternated this decreasing service bills
  • A total annual saving in running costs of £10,000 per annum
An the improvements did not stop there. Their colleagues who worked on an electro plating line began experimenting and found ways to double the throughput of the plating process simply by reorganising the positioning of components on the hangers that immersed them in the plating baths.

This is not quite so dramatic as Handy’s NHS solution but is a practical illustration of a burst of Unreason helping. Next time you get stuck, try asking ‘why do we have to do it this way?’ or ‘can we try doing it this way?’ and see what happens. You’ll be surprised.

Which way does your banana bend?

I often ask this question (even in polite conversation) and receive a blank stare from the recipient. The inference is, of course, that bananas do not bend in any particular direction. They are neither left nor right handed, erect or droopy, they just bend. Try grabbing a banana and placing it in front of you on table. Does it bend to the left or the right? Now turn it over, you should find that it now bends in the opposite direction.

Alas you do not have magic powers of banana bend reversal, but you have just demonstrated one of the most important characteristics of solving problems. You sometimes need the ability to look at a problem from a new perspective or just turn it on its head. I recently painted the outside walls of my house and was not looking forward to balancing precariously at the top of a ladder. It would have taken a long time to paint such a large area. But why not stay on the ground and take the paint roller up to the top of the walls? After a search in my local DIY store I found a suitable extending 5m pole and attachments that fitted to the top. I reckon that it took half the time it would have taken at the top of the ladder.

So next time you are faced with an issue, avoid rushing into the task (unless it really is that simple) and think about what you really want. In my case putting paint (relatively neatly) onto the walls of my house. I could stand anywhere as long as I could control paint delivery. Turn the problem on its head or try looking at it from a different (or different person’s) point of view.

A new building in France has a steep sloping roof covered in grass. The problem? How on earth to cut it. You could imagine all sorts of elegant engineering or bio engineering solutions but the solution used was to use hover mowers suspended on ropes from above.

Then of course, we also have that wonderful story of writing in space. The American solution? Develop a hugely expensive zero gravity biro. The Russian solution? Use a pencil!

So the next time you have a problem banana, try taking a look at it from all possible angles.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Removing blocks to Creativity

As if dealing with emotional and perceptual blocks isn't enough, we also need to overcome our cultural conditioning. Cultural blocks are created by attitudes in society and among our peers which have the effect of inhibiting creative thinking. Sometimes these cultural blocks are so much a part of our upbringing that we're practically blind to them.

Here are some of the most common cultural blocks:

"We must be logical about this"
Why is this so? You might need to specify your desired outcome but not the journey. Once in a awhile you might like to ban logic altogether and see what happens. Remember these three things:
  • Logic can solve problems, but creativity often requires a leap of the imagination
  • Creative ideas often don't make any sense at first
  • Just because an idea is illogical doesn't mean its 'bad'
Role stereotyping
Our inherently conservative culture sees to it that most of us grow up with the idea that creativity is not possible without advanced training, higher education, superior intelligence, etc. This is simply nonsense. Also creativity is often seen as the preserve of a particular function within a business.

"Playing is for kids"
Being creative means being willing and able to play with ideas, materials, and even your most basic ideas about reality. Creative thinking is a form of mental play. Relax your grown-up inhibitions and let your mind out to play more often. Also, many of us already work with prototypes which is simply a slightly restricted form of play.

"Fantasy and daydreams are useless distractions"
Early in life, we're taught that fantasy and daydreaming are unproductive and even dangerous to our health. Creative thinking requires that you be able to daydream and fantasize without feeling guilty for doing so. Strive to recognize and get past your conditioning. Those daydreams can also be useful as part of a futures programme where we predict the future many years in advance.

"Though shalt try nothing new"
This is the great unspoken commandment that directs many of our thoughts and actions. While change for its own sake is rarely creative, creativity requires openness to challenging the status quo. Ideas such as the wheel and space travel must have been as a result of trying something new. Just think what you could do!

"Creativity is too abstract"
Well yes and no. The techniques that we use to help generate and explore ideas can be a little strange but we can calibrate creative processes so we know how much return we get for a particular amount of time and effort. Those who like to plan and budget have no excuse for not joining in.

"I don't like to ask questions or criticise"
In many cultures it is not natural to openly question or comment on the ideas of others or examine the status quo. This can prevent progress so you can try and gently nudge people and show that questioning is ok but also we can use techniques with the 'challenging' built in or which concentrate on building ideas. There is no excuse not to embrace creative thinking.

Outcome Driven Innovation - problem or not?

Outcome Driven Innovation (ODI) clearly works for a number of organisations (usually larger organisations) and not for others. Why could this be? Personally I also have a number of issues with the methodology but this is not an attempt to pull ODI apart, rather to simply point out some issues and let others make up their minds as to what is best for them.

Innovation is, or should be, a hugely flexible process that works within a comprehensive framework but which is not overly specified. It may be further complicated by the (necessary) requirement that all areas of a business (and hence all of the people) become involved. If this does not happen then all we have is a glorified R&D department.

The specification of ODI seems to me at first sight to be very prescriptive but that is just an opinion. There is however, a danger that any business embracing ODI which has not fully bought into the philosophy of Innovation, could still be governed by left brained groupthink and could embark on a process of specifying and documenting everything. This could result in a) no action at all and the incorrect conclusion that Innovation does not work b) a rigid process that is in fact more akin to something resulting from Business Process Reengineering (BPR).

Another possible issue is the fact that one of the initial steps if to formulate an Innovation strategy when in fact the process will normally help create the strategy. Also, capturing customer inputs and looking at the broader marketplace will also help formulate the Innovation strategy.

From the outside, ODI looks like a tool driven methodology where you simply turn the handle on the sausage machine and things pop out. This is not Innovation, it is more like Taylor's scientific management. And another claim is that it has been developed over time, not a crime in itself but where is the (double loop) learning that means the methodology itself can be updated and grow as needs (and the market) change.

Finally, everything appears Marketing driven which is why many of us embraced Innovation in the first place. As they say, the devil is in the detail so readers should research ODI and then draw their own conclusions. After all, you should use the methodology/framework that is right for you, not just use something that is popular or recommended by a friend because it uses the word 'Innovation'.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Creative Leadership For Tough Times

Creative leaders can see the missing pieces of the puzzle Surely we just need good strong Leadership in tough times not 'airy fairy' Creative Leadership? If you share this view then I think we have our wires crossed already. Let me explain.

In the current economic climate we do need strong (or should I say bold) Leaders but traditional Leaders (and I include those who are up to date with such concepts as transformational and situational leadership here) often have a Leadership toolbox that is comprehensive but perhaps identical to those carried around by other Leaders. So if we all have the same tools and we all operate in the same marketplace then we still have a stalemate.

And now for the Creativity bit. I am not suggesting that our bold Leaders walk around with an armful of creative techniques and nothing else, just that they should supplement their Leadership toolbox with a selection of techniques that provide alternative ways of analysing and solving problems, decision making, planning and communicating. Leaders then have a larger repertoire of business tools at their disposal from which they can select the most appropriate and most effective.

But why are Creative techniques particularly good for the tough economic climate that we are now faced with? In short they can:
  • Provide competitive advantage as their usage often relies on tacit knowledge
  • Are more likely to unearth solutions that no one else has thought of or tried
  • Allow Leaders more time to focus on real business issues - these techniques can save time
  • Permit greater buy in from colleagues and employees and thus less resistance to change
  • Build intrinsic motivation amongst the workforce

Even in highly regulated industries such as Financial Services, Leaders can enhance their capability in this way. Remember it is only the outputs of your processes that may be regulated. Internally there are usually alternative ways of doing things!

The Magic Of Metaphor

Metaphor:life is a rollercoasterFirst of all what is a metaphor? Here I use the term metaphor and simile interchangeably but technically a simile is simply saying that one thing is like something else and a metaphor is saying that one thing is something else. A simile is thus a metaphor but a metaphor is not necessarily a simile. Enough of the terminology! Roll your mouse over the picture to the right to find a metaphor.

Sometimes exaggeration or humour might be involved to help make the point. Many men might use the metaphor of their mother-in-law being a dragon. They are not saying that she literally breathes fire and flies but that she might be a little fierce and protective of her daughter (or dominating her husband!!). You get the point.

Metaphor can help us all in a number of ways. For instance I am a very visual person so when people insist on describing things to me using just words I have to try very hard to take in all of the information. If, however, someone says that the situation is like say, finding a needle in a haystack then I comprehend the situation quite quickly i.e. I know the amount of effort required and the likely outcome. To reach a wider audience you might need to try using metaphors that rely on different language for those people who respond to audio or kinesthetic stimuli.

I often use a particular type of metaphor when explaining the usefulness of using creative or alternative techniques to examine a problem situation. I'm sure that many readers will have experienced the horrors of hunting for a house or flat. You have a look at the particulars and one person focuses on the kitchen, another on the garden and another on the bedrooms or garage. All of these individuals are seeing the same situation but from different viewpoints. So just like viewing a property we can examine other scenarios (physical or otherwise) from different perspectives. One or more of these might even provide a solution (in the case of a problem) or suggest a course of action.

Keen followers of Agatha Christie's fictional character Miss Marple will be familiar with her technique of mapping happenings of the wider world with things she could understand that occurred in her own village of St Mary Mead. So already we have a list of things that metaphors can help us with:
  • Giving explanations to those unfamiliar with a concept
  • Examining problem situations from an alternative perspective
  • Reframing situations
  • Communicating concepts to a wider audience
  • Learning or making sense of a concept that we are not currently familiar with

Another interesting use for metaphor is within stories and for use as a more sophisticated business tool but that is an article all of its own. But how about the application of metaphor, will it work for everyone and will it work everywhere?

We can use metaphor directly in:

  • Business
  • Politics
  • Creative Industries and the media
  • Any other areas that rely on human interaction

Metaphor works best when individuals can 'connect' easily with metaphors i.e. they are used to metaphor or storytelling and their lives are not littered with distractions. In developed countries we are buried underneath mountains of gadgets which we either rely on to automate our lives or which we take great delight in exploring in detail - we either want it to work or we want to read the instructions in detail. We do not wish to know that our new MP3 player is like a pepperoni pizza (or perhaps a more appropriate metaphor). I am speaking generally here, those who are emotionally intelligent will be using metaphor regularly.

In developing countries there is less technology and less complexity in life generally (but life is often very hard) and so people are often closer to their emotions. Storytelling and metaphors will work well here and have a very powerful effect. Rather like the argument that I put forward in a previous article regarding creativity in developed and developing countries, education also plays a part. So once again, who is best placed to take advantage of techniques such as this? Developed countries have a head start in the race to develop and are thus nearer the finishing line, but developing countries have the potential to be the faster runners!!!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Innovation - There's a head in my shed, starting out from scratch

Many fledgling businesses do actually start out from a shed at the bottom of the garden. Hewlett Packard started this way and many other technological breakthroughs too (remember Marconi?). The shed is, however, just a metaphor for that inappropriate and often cluttered place that we find ourselves in with our good ideas. We are simply a 'head in a shed'!

It does not matter whether you are a lone inventor who really does have a shed at the bottom of their garden or you work for a large organisation and your 'shed' is your office or laboratory. You have the same problems either way.

Take a look at this news article. The student in question is obviously talented but so what? She has very neatly illustrated our problem but in reverse. We are so familiar with the appearance of our shed, its contents and immediate surroundings that we see nothing else. We need a fresh perspective, new glasses (ditch the rose tinted ones) and a new mode of thinking. To go back to the first article in this newsletter and the concept of putting animals in places where they are not supposed to go - we have an elephant in our shed with us. It is an idea that has barged in and seems too big and well formed to be moved. We must replace it with a giraffe, something more suited to the marketplace, but how? And why a giraffe?

To continue using metaphors for a moment, the elephant is the easy option. Our minds often conjure up ideas that our egos build up into great and unbeatable business opportunities. These then take over our lives and we try to turn them into reality at all costs. These have barged into our lives like a stampeding elephant into our shed. In the world of inventors, elephants are ten a penny and we find them difficult to shake off. The giraffe is altogether more elegant and not so common, but how do we replace one by the other?

Here is a list of questions that we might ask ourselves:
  1. Do I really want to do this or am I just running away from something else?
  2. Is my idea well formed?
  3. Is this really different, does it solve a problem, has it been done before?
  4. Do I know what I am talking about, do others get it when I tell them about my idea(s)?
  5. Do I really understand the target environment/marketplace?
  6. Do I wish to retain ownership, am I willing to share?
  7. Have I sought views/opinions from others?
  8. How will I put this into practice/production?
  9. Have I got the right skills?
  10. Have I/we got the right environment?

Unlike the case of the disappearing car in the news article, you should now be more aware of what you are trying to do. Your grey elephant should have turned into something more elegant and more well formed. Why not take a look at some past newsletters and use some creative techniques to help investigate your new ideas in case you have missed something?

Good luck with your transformation!

Creative thoughts from under African skies

During my recent visit to Malawi I had the pleasure of speaking at seminars and workshops to a large number of charming and very interesting people. My aim was to try and provide some of the latest thinking on Creativity and Innovation in an organisational context and to try and encourage the people I met to use alternative modes of thinking.

Keen readers will remember the 'How do you get a giraffe into a fridge' test that I used last year (click on the giraffe to the right to revisit it). I used this on my audiences and was pleasantly surprised to find that answers were richer and more numerous than elsewhere. It is not right to say that Managers get the answers wrong but their responses are generally poorer than young children. My African friends did very well indeed so I began to wonder why this was. Was it a coincidence?

One of the central themes of Creativity is play, and education systems are designed to help us pass exams and be less creative. We then have to undergo a degree of 'unlearning' to be playful in the workplace. Keen followers of TED (see may be familiar with the thoughts of Sir Ken Robinson. Click here to view his moving and entertaining talk, but only if you have 20 minutes to spare!

In our so called developed countries we have extensive educational systems, whilst in developing countries the systems are often constrained to keeping young people in school and teaching basic skills well. Yet there has been an explosion in many developing nations within Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. In Cuba, trade embargoes have meant that motor engineers have created substitute brake fluid from shampoo and sugar whilst I have seen young boys in Africa change tractor tyres with only a few levers, a hand pump and some soapy water (no mean feat).

This natural creativity is present in us all when we are born but seems to remain only in countries where there are 'light touch' education systems. You may be thinking 'what about the effect of culture?' This is where things get a little complicated. In young people the two main drivers of Creativity are:
  1. An education system that does not stifle or judge
  2. A culture that allows play and lets 'children be children'

As we grow up, different factors come into play which are mainly cultural. This often means that:
  • In developed countries we are keen to be creative and innovative but we have lost the tools to work this way - our solution is to undertake even more training
  • In developing countries, people have the natural tools but social pressures sometimes inhibit the ability to be critical or express radical thoughts openly - some people are just too polite. The solution may just be to overcome these personal barriers
In my view, the developing countries could have the edge but it will be a close run thing. The situation is obviously more complicated but these points should give us all food for thought. Any feedback is always welcome!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Creativity and reggae

I recently had the good fortune to work with the British Council in Malawi promoting Creativity and Innovation. During the Taxi ride from Chileka airport into Blantyre we met a taxi driver who had a large stash of music and who was generous in playing it. The Black Missionaries are from Blantyre, Malawi and are currently the hottest act in the country. Play the video to experience their own brand of African reggae. I hope you enjoy the music as much as I did.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Creativity - Using Your Right Brain

Have you ever wondered why the answer to the problem that you have been trying to solve pops into your mind just as you are driving home, taking a shower or waiting in the queue at your local takeaway? The answer is that your Creative Right Brain has been thoughtfully working on the problem for you. So how does this happen when you have been wrestling with a particular conundrum all day?

Although not completely physiologically correct there is a useful Left Brain/Right Brain model that we can use. The left side of our brains is logical, linear and provides filtering of ideas, so although it will provide solutions it also has a nasty habit of saying 'but it won't work', 'that is not a good idea' or 'the boss will not be happy'.

The right hand side of our brains is linked to creative behaviour and does not have these filters thus increasing the range of possibilities. The problem is, how on earth do we hand our problem to one and not the other? Simple, we play tricks on it!

If you have something really tricky to work on then you should get stuck in at the start of the day (this trick works in a workshop environment too). Really get to grips with every facet of the problem, all of the bad bits, barriers or desirable outcomes. You are trying to mimic the situation where you work all day, drive home and experience the Eureka moment, except that we are trying to save you working all day and then going home late.

Back to the problem. Your logical Left Brain should really be getting stuck in so now is the time to hand over the problem. Go and get on with something else, distract the Left Brain and let the Right Brain do the work. This is what driving home or having a shower does when you have been working late. Distraction is important here, simply pretending to be busy or waiting will not work. The answer (or answers) to your problem will probably come to you at an unexpected or possibly inconvenient moment so remember to have a pen and paper handy at all times.

Good luck!

Modelling innovation culture using social media

I have my own unique model of Innovation which helps with obtaining 'buy in' and best of all, it leads to a method of measuring the capacity to innovate which is a much more sensitive measure than waiting for KPIs to change. I had been puzzling for a while about how to model the spread of Innovation and the transfer of knowledge as well as other issues such as communication and trust. Little did I know that I had already considered this without really understanding.

Recently, I attended a talk by Dr Kelly Page of Cardiff University about New Media and Web 2.0. I became particularly excited by some of the concepts and analysis surrounding Social Media such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.

In an (ideal) Innovation culture there is little or no hierarchy and knowledge flows at varying rates and often 'on demand'. There are groups of interest and depending on technology, trust relationships can also be built. Rather than humans adapting to technology (remember the first mobile phones, the birth of the Internet), technology is now being developed to match and mimic the behaviour of groups of people in a social environment.

Analysis of this behaviour is interesting. Looking at traffic on say Twitter, a group interested in a particular topic will have what looks like random connections. These are not random and are built upon interest, trust and knowledge amongst other things. Within Organisational Development we might say that these connections do not map onto an organisational structure chart but map onto informal advice, trust and communications networks.

So interactions within Social Media look like those in an ideal Innovation culture, and playing with this idea we can adapt our model for a range of situations. But these changes are incremental. We know that introducing certain technologies into society often changes society itself (electricity, telephone, motor car) so will introducing technologies such as Social Media actually lead to changes in society and in particular our businesses?

The answer is most definitely yes. By trying extreme versions of our new model we can safely say that hierarchies will die and that concepts such as vision and values will truly have shared ownership. Ultimately it will make our businesses more profitable as those working in them will be empowered and will all share responsibility for success. Those who cling onto the old hierarchies will find themselves bypassed in advice, trust and communications networks, they will be lonely. Watch this space for new developments (or should I say MySpace?).

Innovation - is there such a thing as best practice?

On many blogs and websites there is evidence of people asking for examples of best practice in Innovation and many (often poor) responses. The question is are those seeking an answer asking for the impossible and are those providing answers actually talking gibberish?

I have no doubt that the pleas for help are genuine but do those behind them know what they are asking for (and even why)? Those seeking knowledge about Innovation often do so for four main reasons:

  • They are stuck and want some (free) help to extract themselves from the mire
  • They are thinking about Innovation and believe that if they obtain the correct formula they can 'wing it' without really understanding the process
  • They are thinking about Innovation and want to have everything planned before they start
  • They are trying to set themselves up as gurus and want to attain 'guru ship' the easy way
Each of these reasons stems from a belief that there is one true way, which is not the case. There are many examples of 'best practice' being borrowed or transferred and working less effectively, or even not all, in its new environment. Environment and context are key here.

Consider the simple example of constructing a model aircraft from a kit made of plastic components, paint and glue. Such a kit made in Europe might be assembled with no problem in Europe or the USA but for reasons of heat or humidity there might be issues in India, that is unless someone with knowledge of the components of the kit and local environmental issues assists.

So when a kindly soul provides you with a copy of the One Minute Innovator or Innovation for Dummies and states 'it worked for me' you need to make sure you pay attention to the following:

  • Go elsewhere and obtain information about as many information projects as you can and learn from both successes and failures
  • Try and map the information you have onto your copy of Innovation for Dummies to get some sort of plan together
  • Thoroughly understand the differences between the examples given and your own environment paying particular attention to both corporate and organisational culture
  • Be prepared to learn as you go along and change your plans on the fly
Remember, 'best practice' transferred and applied without contextual knowledge is as much use as a chocolate teapot

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Morphological matrix

This is a form of random stimulation that can be used solo or in groups. It is ideal for generating ideas when you have an idea about WHAT you wish to do but not HOW you might go about doing it.

If you were a TV producer you might ask the question "How might we go about creating a new soap opera?" To use this technique in such a case first create a table with ten rows labelled 0 - 9 and 4 columns initially numbered 1 to 4.

Next perform the following steps:

  • Label each column with a different parameter or characteristic of the problem or task e.g. for our example column 1 could be target audience, column 2 - setting, column 3 - theme, column 4 - suggested title.
  • For column 1 generate varied and/or unusual ideas and fill the column (you now have ten wacky suggestions for target audience).
  • Repeat for column 2, column 3 and column 4. Try not to refer to adjacent columns when filling a column.
  • Randomly select four numbers in the range 0 - 9. To do this you could
    • Turn over 2 dominoes, 2 numbers on each end gives four numbers
    • Use the last four digits of your telephone number
    • Use the last four digits of your National Insurance number
    • Use the day and month of your birthday
  • Use the four numbers to generate combinations by using each number in turn as in index into one of the columns. Each set of four random numbers thus selects a target audience, setting, theme and title. Record your combination.
  • Repeat the previous step as many times as you wish (and keep recording the results). Note that this simple table can create 10,000 different combinations!
  • When you have sufficient combinations, choose one (or more if you have time) to examine in greater detail. You might use them as generated or they might suggest something else to you.

Good luck!

Building versus implementing

Like most people with websites I spend time analysing statistics from my website, especially the words and phrases that are typed into search engines such as Google and Yahoo.

One of the most frequent phrases or sentences that crops up is ‘implementing an innovation system’ or ‘implementing innovation’. This is both puzzling and worrying. It would seem to be a good thing that people and businesses are searching for information regarding Innovation but they seem to be thinking that Innovation is a system to be implemented rather like a book keeping system and that there is a magic prescription that they can follow that is to be found somewhere on the internet.

These Googlers are likely to be frustrated and will probably be heard to utter expletives at consultants who don’t give anything away unless they are paid exorbitant daily fee rates. Of course those who develop intellectual property will wish some reward but that is not the main reason for these frustrated Google users. The truth is that there simply is no prescription. It is possible to find checklists, frameworks and balanced scorecards as well as stories of success but nothing of use unless you first understand that an innovation system cannot be implemented.

Such a system must be built from the bottom up, with a thorough understanding of where you are starting out from and what you wish to achieve. What you may not know is how you are going to get there. This is what takes the leap of faith and which is often the reason for the consultants’ fees. Once you start, the process is a little like building a bespoke house brick by brick except that you may never finish.

A better term might be ‘growing’ rather than ‘building’ as Innovation frameworks tend to be based on soft skills and are unique to the businesses in which they exist. They may exhibit similar characteristics to one another on the surface but each company’s Innovation context differs due to the make up of its components, employees. This is what we strive for, deriving competitive advantage in a way that cannot be copied easily by others. Having a system that could be implemented from a standard blueprint would not be worth doing as others would copy it.

And those consultants? Yes you will need them to facilitate the process but beware those who wish to implement everything for you. You will be paying them for a system that can be easily copied – best to get the ideas then do the work yourself.

When is Creativity not creative?

There have been (and there will continue to be) debates about what exactly is creativity and what it means to be creative. I remember having a discussion with some artists about being creative. Being artistic, they naturally thought of themselves as creative and were seen in a similar way by the general public. To be fair, their methods and output was, to say the least, alternative but I posed them the question “If you use the same method for each piece of art work you produce, are you being creative even if the output changes?”

There is no real answer to that question, or rather there are billions of answers depending on who you ask. The reason is frame of reference. Creativity depends on who and where you are and possibly what has gone before, it is relative. One man’s creativity is another’s drudgery. What might be seen as creative in one business will be viewed as ‘old hat’ in another

So I might see someone else’s ideas and methods as mundane because I have seen it, done it and bought the T shirt. Does this mean that I have to keep pushing the boundaries? Again there are many possible answers. If you simply require new product ideas and have a perfectly good ‘creative’ technique to use which does create new product ideas then keep using it. Pushing the boundaries would simply waste time and could be considered frivolous. If, however it was your job to create new idea generation methods for your business then you would almost be duty bound to experiment wouldn’t you?

Then we also have the issue of whether it is the method or result that is classed as creative. In this case I suggest that it is terminology that is the issue. In business, it is an alternate way of thinking that matters, to be used to gain a different perspective or insight or to generate new ideas.

So to answer the original question, creativity may not be creative if you are observing someone else or if you are using the same method and not generating different results. Other than that, creativity is generally creative, but I’m sure readers will have a different opinion!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Introducing SCAMPER

This is an idea generation tool that can be used either solo or in groups. It is best used for generating ideas about something that you wish to modify in some way such as upgrade or enhance a current product or service. You need to create a 'problem statement' e.g. How might we make our car go faster?

SCAMPER is an acronym as defined below. Select a letter from the list and read its trigger word and associated questions. Ask yourself what new ideas do this word and questions suggest or try to associate the question and trigger word with your original statement. Record your ideas and then repeat this as many times as you want, each time picking a new letter from the SCAMPER list. Note you do not have to use the letters in sequence.

Substitute: what might you take away and put back in its place? What might you substitute, replace, exchange. Think of who else, what else, other ingredients, other material, different approach?

Combine: what two or more things might you put together? What could you combine this with, what sort of blend or alloy, assortment or ensemble?

Adapt: how might you change something to solve the problem? What could you do differently, what else is similar, have we done this before, what can I copy?

Modify, magnify, minify: what can be made bigger or smaller? How would things change if the object were made bigger or smaller. What could be increased or reduced in size or which attributes could be enhanced or diminished?

Put to other uses: what might be used in a different way? Can this be used for different purposes, does its properties suggest other uses, do its properties such as size or weight suggest other uses, can it be used in another context?

Eliminate: what might you get rid of? Can you leave something out, condense or concentrate, remove parts, make lighter?

Rearrange or reverse: what might you mix up or move around? Can you reverse roles, turn upside down (backwards or inside out), change perspective, alter timing, change objectives?

Your recorded ideas may themselves be combined or investigated further if necessary. Note these may not be sensible ideas (although they could be) and may just suggest ways forward for you or your business.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Making Good Use Of Institutional Failings

Normally we tend to diagnose failings within our organisations and then combat them with remedial programmes that often dismantle and then rebuild certain aspects of the organisation. Note that these characteristics are independent of the individuals that work within the organisation.

A well publicised example of such a failing was the accusation of institutionalised racism that was leveled at the Metropolitan Police here in the UK. No one individual was accused of being racist but the structure, processes, distribution of power, expressions of vision and beliefs was deemed to be supportive of racism.

So what might some of the characteristics of an institutional failing be and how can they be used to help us? I have alluded to one or two already but here is a short list:
  • Strong beliefs and a mechanism for communicating them
  • Well or clearly defined structures and processes
  • Power centred on a few individuals
  • An active 'grapevine' for informal communications
  • Well aligned communications, trust and advice networks
  • High degree of focus (not necessarily concern for) on people

This is not an exhaustive list but is representative of many undesirable institutional failings. Our natural tendency is to remove such characteristics through one or more change programmes and possibly staff development of some sort. For a large organisation the changes must be far reaching, difficult to plan (and control) and of course expensive. Had we been looking at undesirable furniture or waste paper then we would automatically think of recycling. Why not recycle these unwanted organisational characteristics and use them for a positive purpose?

One possible idea might be to create 'institutionalised creativity', a type of creativity that is inbuilt and pervades every part of the organisation in such a way that employees do not consciously think about it. Lets make use of a strong beliefs system (but change the beliefs), take advantage of clearly defined structures (but turn them into looser frameworks), use the company grapevine (as part of this process), be focused (but change this slightly) and make use of the centres of power (but make these sponsors of creative or innovative behaviour).

Such a programme may not be easy, but is it better than turning a whole organisation upside down?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Soft Infrastructure - essential for Innovation

Governments and most businesses will readily understand the term ‘infrastructure’. It is a collective term for roads, railways, airports, ports, telecommunications networks, supply pipelines etc. It is all to do with movement and these networks are all ‘hard’ i.e. they are made out of steel, concrete and copper and they can all be touched.

These networks all have one other common characteristic, whatever flows through them is rigidly controlled. Sometimes in straight lines and some times curves but always controlled by a boundary of concrete, steel, copper or some other tangible resource.

So what has this got to do with my organisation you may ask? One of the keys to the success of modern businesses, and the way to beat the current recession is Innovation. Innovation depends greatly on assets that are intangible, we cannot touch them. These include creativity, know how, intuition and cultural issues to name but a few. Many would identify these as ‘social’ or ‘human’ capital. The exact terminology is irrelevant, it is the ideas and knowledge of individuals that is important which can be enhanced by interaction. It is also independent of work so the term ‘social’ means inclusive rather than outside of the workplace.

To innovate successfully, these things too must move around both our businesses and our societies. Attempts have often been made in the past to codify these ideas, transmit them to another place and then try and extract both the message and the meaning of what has been received. Try having an email exchange with an angry colleague and you will understand the problems.

When we innovate, we also want things to travel in ways that are not constrained by boundaries and which certainly do not travel in straight lines. Just like the ripples on a pond we might wish some things to be broadcast, such as company culture. And like a networked computer system we will need some sort of storage and perhaps some form of maintenance function to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

When thinking of communicating within a corporate environment we often think of sending things out (pushing) or receiving from others (pulling). What about when things just sort of slosh about, and proceed at their own pace or when disruptive events occur and we need a system that repairs itself? We need a new type of network, one that is invisible and which connects everybody to everyone else. It must allow meaning, intuition, creativity and emotion to flow with no bottlenecks and no burst pipes. What we need therefore is the right sort of ‘network’ – a Soft Infrastructure.

Based on concepts such as coaching, action learning and knowledge agents this might be somewhat strange, but it is all possible. Can we afford not to install such networks in our organisations or in society in general?

Many Innovators or sponsors of Innovation will be keen to extol the virtues of traditional ‘hard’ networks such as broadband, telephone etc. It is clear that ‘soft’ networks will work on their own and that their working can be enhanced by technology but it is clear that technology on its own cannot do the job so why spend millions on copper and fibre when the components of the soft networks, people, are already in place? In the current economic crisis surely now is the right time to make the right connections?