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!