Thursday, August 12, 2010

What makes a good idea?

Well first of all it is a good, no really great, idea to have a good idea! Sounds silly but many ideas are just that. I could have a really great idea about growing bananas underwater but something tells me that I would be wasting my time. When the go/no go decision is a little less obvious we must be a little more logical about testing for a good idea.

Here are ten suggestions as to how to test your idea:
  1. What problem (or business pain) is your idea targeted at?
  2. Is your idea well formed or do you have more work to do?
  3. Do you understand why your idea will appeal to potential customers?
  4. When you tell people about your idea do they get it immediately?
  5. Do you have a prototype or have you conducted a trial? Have you received positive feedback?
  6. Have you costed your idea, what will you sell it for?
  7. How will you make your product or deliver your service?
  8. Do you have the necessary skills and resources or will you buy them (where from)?
  9. Have you checked that nobody has done this before?
  10. Do you wish to retain ownership of your idea?
You may well have further tests in an organisation specific context e.g. does this fit with strategy or existing products but these are a good starting point. It is always best to test your ideas to avoid wasting time in a commercial environment. If not you may simply be playing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Entrepreneurs have nothing to fear but fear of failure

I have heard this before, but in this case I hold up my hands and say that I used creative swiping and stole the title from Sir Richard Branson. You really should read his interesting article on the topic.

Branson makes a very interesting point about fear of failure but how can innovation actually fail? It is quite simple, the only way is to DO NOTHING. Innovation is all about getting things done (or trying in the case of Virgin) and learning from the result whether it is success or failure. This way you can a) try again or b) use your acquired knowledge in some other way. The route forward may not necessarily be a straight line but you will move forward and potentially gain competitive advantage.

Thomas Edison is reported to have made over 2000 attempts at creating the first light bulb. His view of this was that he found 2000 ways not to make a light bulb. Imagine that there was no patent and a competitor had no knowledge of what Edison had done. Even if Edison was on attempt 1999 he was still 1999 steps ahead of his competitor, none of which he would have made without failing!!

In the words of Sir Richard Branson

“If you can identify and learn from your mistakes, you have a much greater chance of bouncing back from them -- and succeeding the next time”

but first of course you must actually do something or you are guaranteed to fail.

Business Creativity and Innovation - why aren't more companies taking it seriously?

Lets face it, most of the economies around the world have been in deep trouble for a couple of years and the problems do not look like they are going to end soon. We have politicians talking of radical reforms, new beginnings and innovative policies and then at the bottom of the chain there is us, the businesses both large and small that the politicians are betting on to help dig us out of the mess.

A lot of companies are making the right noises and I have contact with many who state that they wish to run 'innovation workshops', kick off an 'innovation programme' or make their business more creative. They all seem to appreciate that taking some action will improve many HR issues such as intrinsic motivation, communications and decision making to name a few. These businesses all claim to be looking to the future, to determine what the products and services of the future will look like and meet that challenge.

So senior managers, and above, are tackling strategic issues and seeking for the most effective tools to get the job done. Why is it then that when presented by a number of solid proposals that they do not go ahead? Mysteriously something comes up at the last minute, people cannot make the workshop, the cost is too high or best of all something more important has come up! What can be more important than the future of your company?

The worst offenders seem to be large multinational companies with a degree of financial inertia (maybe some cash in the bank and the ability to sit it out and see the competition wither) who elect to ride out the storm rather than steering around it. These companies need to be showing us the way and leading global recovery or else we are just going to be left with a handful of dinosaurs in sectors such as oil and gas, power generation and airlines.

So, my plea is, if the future really matters to your business then take Business Creativity and Innovation seriously and give it the time and funds that it deserves or you may not have a future.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Serendipity – luck or skill?

Serendipity was not a word that was in my vocabulary for a long time. I first encountered it whilst studying for my MBA and initially I took it to mean ‘good fortune’. To many this definition suffices but as far as exploiting serendipity in a corporate context is concerned there is much more to it.

Managers in most companies are aware that as far as creativity is concerned, potential (often greatly) exceeds performance. They are aware of the problem but are not sure exactly what they should do about it. Many creative initiatives are planned (are these truly creative?) and a large number are spontaneous. They often hit us when we least expect it and we are unaware of what form these events will be, where they will come from and who might get tangled up in them.

If the truly great potential is in the unexpected then what can be done to harness or capture the power of the unexpected?

A simple but powerful example of the power of the unexpected comes from Japan Railways. During the construction of a tunnel through Mt. Tanigawa engineers encountered many problems with water. Just as they began to provide a traditional draining solution enter an enterprising railway worker. He thought that the water tasted so good it ought to be bottled and sold as a premium brand mineral water rather than simply pumping it away. And so “Oshimizu” was born. It became so popular that Japan Railways installed Oshimizu vending machines on every one of its nearly platforms. Marketing material emphasises the purity of Mt. Tanigawa’s snow which is the source of the water and also the slow percolation through the rock which adds minerals. The product grew to include juices as well as iced and hot teas and coffees. By 1994, sales of Oshimizu branded drinks had risen to $47 million.

A natural tendency of management is to believe it’s more in control of events than it really is, or that it really needs to be in control of everything. Hence the proliferation of myths that hide the true source of creativity and the manuals and systems that allow management to successfully manage creativity.

We are all told that to be creative we must suspend our critical thinking. So if we all rearrange our office furniture or let our emails pile up for a day our companies will be brimming with creativity?

So Luck or Skill? Well as we can see from the Japan Railways example an unexpected event is nothing on its own. We need luck and an ability to react appropriately in a corporate environment.

Coming soon ... Six Steps to Turn Luck Into Profit.