Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Innovation - A Human Race (Christmas remix 2011)

This article is perhaps more relevant now than when it was originally written. The balance seems to be shifting rapidly and those who once led the world in terms of Innovation are struggling a little and those who considered themselves to be lagging behind are feeling the wind in their sails.

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.

2012 will be an exciting year!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Elf and Safety Issues (remix)

Do you think that we should consider cancelling Christmas?

No this is not a manifesto from a fringe group who are avoiding the frayed nerves and expense associated with Christmas Shopping, cooking, boisterous children and upset tummies. Christmas is a time where a million and one things must happen and be in place (more or less) by the time presents are unwrapped on Christmas day.

To be honest most of us manage it. We enjoy (or tolerate) the influx of friends and family and for once we seem capable of multi tasking i.e. having a drink, fixing the tree, carving the turkey. Using Christmas as a metaphor, why can't we do all these things in the workplace? Why can't we encourage diversity, set objectives, plan and execute strategies?

A subtle clue might be in where the focus lies. As individuals, who do we focus on at work, who do we focus on at home (especially at Christmas)? Now think about where the most dramatic results are achieved!

So far we have considered taking Christmas to work, but what if it were to be the other way around? Just think of all of the rules which we tolerate at work, or at least put up with because it suits us. Here are just a few of the issues that might surface during the festive season:

  • Tall object with pine needles - removed for health and safety reasons 
  • Three Wise Men - disbanded because of contravention of equal opportunities policy 
  • Baby in a stable - social services involved, baby now in care, animal rights protesters angry because of displaced donkeys 
  • Larger house needed - health and safety dictate that there is not enough floor space per human/animal/present 
  • Christmas dinner cancelled - no proper workstation assessment carried out on dining table and various rickety items of furniture that we use 
  • No presents - Santa has not been on a manual handling course 
The list could be endless. There is a serious point to be made though. Yes we do need some frameworks to work within, and for someone to look out for the less fortunate and disadvantaged, but too many rules and too many people saying NO is stifling. In the current economic climate we need to bend or even break the rules where necessary.

So its time to decide whether in 2012 you wish to embrace a more creative and productive way of working or wither away under a pile of rules and red tape. Remember, if Christmas really was like work, it would be cancelled. Long live Creativity and Christmas!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Creativity - Why It Pays To Be Inefficient

This seems an odd thing to be calling for, especially when trying to sell the idea of creativity to businesses. Generating ideas for a purpose consists of divergent and convergent phases but our brains cannot handle divergence and convergence simultaneously without exploding!! Have you ever tried sitting in a group brainstorming to solve just one problem. It probably failed, partly because you selected the wrong technique but also because you were trying to do 2 things at once. Separating these phases will help but will introduce inefficiency. You will generate many more ideas (good) but you may have to spend more time sorting them out (not so good).

We also tend to build a framework around our idea generation sessions, partly because we wish them to be focused. But these restrictions on the problem/process will also have an effect on ideas and solutions generated. If you lead people down a particular path, do not be surprised if their ideas only reflect the scenery observed from the path! People must be allowed to wander off piste a little.

There is also pressure to jump from the normal state of creating relatively practical ideas to creating wacky ideas. If this is what you need to do then you will need to build up to it. People need a little practice in the techniques that they use and also some time to realise that they have permission to leave normality behind. For this reason I find that a 2 day session is better than 1, the most useful being day 2 and day 1 almost being a warm up.

To obtain maximum inefficiency:

  • Allow time for distinct divergent and convergent phases
  • Ensure suitably provocative stimuli
  • Create an appropriate idea management system
  • Use an experienced facilitator

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Be Creative, Dare To Be Different!

Thanks to fellow PSA member Reg Athwal for this ...

To maintain a healthy level of insanity...try the following 8 or 9 things

1. At lunch time, sit in your parked car with sunglasses on and point a hair dryer at passing cars. See if they slow down.

2. On all your cheque stubs, write ' For Marijuana.'

3. Skip down the street rather than walk and see how many looks you get.

4. Order a Diet Water whenever you go out to eat,with a serious face.

5. Sing along at The Opera.

6. When the money comes out the ATM, scream 'I Won! I Won!'

7. When leaving the Zoo, start running towards the Car Park, yelling 'Run for your lives! They're loose!'

8. Tell your children over Dinner, 'Due to the Economy, we are going to have to let one of you go.'

And the final way to keep a healthy level of insanity.

9. Pick up a box of condoms at the pharmacy, go to the counter and ask where the fitting room is.

Share or send this to someone to make them smile. It's called .... THERAPY

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A Simpleton's Manifesto For The UK

I do not claim to be an economist, I am just someone who looks at systems and situations and asks questions like 'do we have to do it this way?' or 'has it always been like this?'

My soapbox moment relates to the UK economy but could apply equally to many of the countries that are experiencing economic difficulties just now.

Many parts of England and all of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are heavily dependent on the public sector for jobs. With budget cuts the UK government is telling councils and government departments that they must hack huge sums of their budgets. It sounds sensible at first until you realise that:

  • The departments left behind cannot actually provide a proper service anyway
  • The so called Big Society cannot plug the gaps
  • The private sector cannot create jobs at the rate that the government is cutting them
  • More people will end up unemployed and claiming benefits
  • More unemployed equals less money spent in shops and other businesses
Does it have to be this way? What if we kept employment artificially high in the public sector but made it more capable of doing more and providing better services or slimming itself down through efficiency rather than surgery. Could we not have a situation where:
  • We improve the performance of the public sector
  • The Big Society can do its work without being stretched to breaking point
  • We do not rely on the private sector but both sectors work together for economic prosperity
  • There is no steep rise in people claiming benefit
  • We continue to spend in our businesses and on the high street
I am no economist and someone far cleverer would need to do the maths but I do wonder if anyone has really considered the possible alternatives. Mr Cameron says there is no Plan B. I disagree, there are many possibilities but not all will be compatible with coalition policy.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Creativity - Do You Really Get It?

You like creative ideas, do you not?  After all you are reading this article. I expect if you were to ask friends and colleagues, you would discover that they like creative ideas too. At least that is what they would say as it is expected of us in this day and age. Most people say that they like creative ideas and then convince themselves that it is true.

The problem is that despite what they say, many people do not like creative ideas. When put under pressure in the workplace their feelings become more pronounced. It seems that the ambiguity and uncertainty cause people to feel unsafe and hence creative ideas are banished.

This has implications for innovation and in particular idea generation processes. When directed to generate creative ideas, participants may subconsciously reject them in favour of safer and more seemingly practical ideas. This could lead to incremental rather than radical improvements despite our best intentions.

So how come people have such negative feelings about creative ideas? When promoting or sponsoring a new idea, people can experience failure, visions of risk, rejection or humiliation when presenting the idea to others, and uncertainty about when their idea will ever become reality. Uncertainty is something that many of us will strive strongly to reduce. Hence, people can have negative associations with novelty and hence creative ideas.

Failure, risk and rejection are strong emotions but in a recession when people are worried about their jobs, stressed over long hours or wondering how they will manage their social lives, it is not surprising that any action that could lead to failure, risk and rejection would be considered synonymous with “pain”!

If uncertainty makes creative ideas seem less acceptable then in times of uncertainty you will encounter increased anti creative feelings which is exactly the opposite of what our organisations need right now. This will severely hinder any innovation process. Another undesirable side effect is the way in which these negative feelings impact on self censorship. Before anyone suggests an idea in a brainstorming session, submits it to an idea management system or proposes it to their manager, they need to make a decision in their own mind whether to voice the idea or keep it to themselves. The logical assumption from our discussion so far is that people will censor their ideas even more. So how do we get the great ideas that help us through the recession?

The big question is how can we make creative ideas (or the thought of them) more attractive in the eyes of our colleagues and bosses? Once way we can do this is to remove anxiety over rejection. To do this we can ensure people that we are generating multiple ideas, all of which will have merits, and one or more may be implemented. This prevents people from holding back on the basis that their idea is not good enough to be 'the one'. Also building techniques may help here so that rather than a group continuously generating multiple ideas, they can help to build one really good and well formed idea.

In addition, reducing the fear of creativity requires that you reduce the perceived risk of failure and rejection. It is no coincidence that firms like Apple and Google, where the leaders are truly enthusiastic about creative idea, have the most success with creativity. Likewise, innovative start-ups, led by creative founders, often boast highly creative teams in their early years. In other words, if your CEO does not simply espouse the importance of innovation, but goes out on a limb themselves with creative ideas, it will doubtless make people below them feel less frightened of creative ideas.

Creating an environment where having your idea rejected is a positive thing would doubtless be great. But this is more easily said than done. Other actions associated with a culture of innovation are likewise likely to make people more comfortable with creative ideas.

Distancing people from a problem can result in a higher level of creativity since this is reducing the amount of censorship. This could be via abstraction, making a problem less concrete, or taking people physically away from the problem. One such way of achieving this is to change perspective by pretending to be outside your organisation, perhaps a competitor. For instance, “what could your competitor do that would keep you awake at night with worry?” or “What is the most threatening new product idea your competitors might put on the market?”.

If people have difficulty gaining acceptance for creative ideas especially when more practical and unoriginal options are at hand, we may need to shift our efforts from identifying how to generate more creative ideas to identifying how to help innovative institutions recognise and accept creativity.

Monday, October 24, 2011

An Innovation Paradox - Succeeding by Failing Faster

Development lifecycles have been shrinking rapidly so those that do spend extraordinary amounts of time over developing a new product or service will lose out to the competition. Also, our competitors are developing the ability to catch up and copy our initiatives even faster than before. We must therefore develop new ideas quickly and be ready to repeat that process after a short time. There will therefore be more frantic development activity.

Our frantic actions might increase the frequency with which things don't go according to plan but reduced preparation and planning time also increases the risk of failure still further. The number of failures we have must go up! Some people say "these are not failures, they are learning opportunities". Any lessons worth learning must be captured but if we did not achieve our objective then we failed. What we have to do next is to pick ourselves up quickly and try once more.

Dusting ourselves off and trying again is not unusual for many people who spend their time in laboratories or similar environments, however corporately we tend not to tolerate failure so we call it something else or sweep it under the carpet. The boss wants to know how many times you succeeded, not how many times you failed. But what if you calibrated your innovation pipeline and determined that only 1 in 10 projects succeeded. You could report either that 1 succeeded or 9 failed. Imagine now that you have developed a rapid process for bringing ideas to market but that the ratio of success to failure was still the same. Your boss might be unhappy if you tell him that you have had 900 failures in the same period of time but the flip side is that you will also have had 100 successes.

Assuming that we are not failing due to incompetence then both numbers actually indicate our level of activity. In reality it does not matter which set of numbers we use but those who sit around the boardroom table must understand that the more we do and the faster we do it, the more likely we are to fail. The flip side is that the more we do and the faster we do it the more likely we are to succeed.

The upshot is that we must become more comfortable with the concept of failure whatever words we use to describe it. We must become smarter about failing and focus on lessons learned not punishment and our corporate cultures must change to reflect this.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Innovation - Where Are Your Weak Points?

In many cases it is our starting point that is a major weakness. Have we got our Innovation Strategy right? At what point do we commit energy and resources to bringing a new idea to market? Often the test is whether the new idea has potential for creating value for the organisation. Unless you have started a business from scratch, providing resources for your new idea may remove resources (people, money, materials) from other areas of your business. The question you must ask is not just 'will it work?' but 'can we get it to work without any damage being done to our current business?'. Our Innovation Strategy is thus firmly tied to our long term objectives.

Do you go with all of your new ideas if they look like they will work? How do you select which ones to work with? Selecting idea needs to be ruthless carried out. Ask yourself the following:

  • Does it work?
  • Is this aligned with our objectives and company values?
  • Can this be scaled up or transferred to a different cultural setting?
  • Does this help or hinder our other activities

In short our inventors must develop some business capabilities!

New ideas are complex. They are often generated to solve a problem but to get an idea to market may provide further challenges. A new drug may cure a disease but it may have side effects, be expensive or difficult to package or have a short shelf life. To create value you need to show how your new idea will create value for your customer perhaps through time, cost or efficiency savings. You cannot simply say, 'Here is the new wonder drug' and expect hospitals to be placing orders immediately.

How high do you set the bar when testing your ideas? Do you use objective or subjective tests? It is better to have a mixture of both and ensure that all of the criteria that you identify are met. Another way of testing is to use existing customers. They are often flattered when you think they are worthy of trialling your very latest innovation! But, not everyone does this!

A huge potential problem area is the window in time where your idea or prototype is turned into reality. Your development team throw the idea over the wall into production and think 'job done'. Until you are selling gizmos buy the lorry load, everybody should still be contributing although the balance will change. You will need more human resources than you thought and also more cash. There is also a danger of stagnation as your new product or service falls into the gap between development and production. A highly motivated and charismatic leader is needed to ensure to see things through.

Do you have everything you need to get your new idea into the market? Have you considered external partners, especially if this might improve your success rate? Even if you have, how ready are you in terms of a) people b) protecting intellectual property? Sometimes the 'missing ingredient' needs to come from elsewhere.

Even when you have considered all of the above, have you spent time looking at the culture of innovation within our organisation? If innovation is a separate entity rather than embedded completely within the business, how do you cope with this? Do employees rotate through the innovation function and if not does this create tension? How is the learning from the development process captured and then disseminated? Just ask yourself, does the way we do things round here help our hinder our innovation efforts? You will be surprised at the impact that small changes can have.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Map Is Not The Territory

To have a shared understanding with one or more people it helps to understand they are not using the same map as you are.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioners tell us that even though we may believe other people are like us, the truth is that each of us has our own personal perception of the world. As human beings, we respond to people, situations, events and circumstances through our internal maps. Our maps can be likened to a camera lens filter. Every experience we have from the moment of birth to the present serve as filters through which we perceive current events and situations in our lives. These filters, or maps, influence our reactions and decision making in the here and now. Two people who share an experience will often notice significantly different things about that experience, respond differently and store different memories of the experience.

So NLP tells us that “the map is not the territory", it is our individual interpretation of the territory. Great, NLP folks can tell us something useful, but how is this useful to us?

Being relatively new additions to the business leader's toolkit, creativity and innovation are topics that inspire a huge number of articles and books to be written. Some of these contain insights and wise words but many are 'how to' books. Remember that these are 'maps', somebody else's perception of what is happening/has happened in the past. Not only are many context specific but much information is often left out.

Many an innovation initiative has become de-railed because someone has read the book and failed to appreciate that it is not a step by step guide, a map that covers all eventualities. By all means buy more books and consult widely about the territory that you are entering. Also remember that as long as you have your wits about you, exploring can often be the best way to map out your own territory.

For the same reason, creative techniques should also be properly researched. Some such as visualisation can cause distress if used incorrectly and others can cause anger as well as not having the effects that you were anticipating.

Remember that to explore new territory you need to obtain or create a map especially when passing on knowledge to others. How often has the CEO's speech been misinterpreted because employees do not share the same perception or vision of the company? Never forget that "the map is not the territory".

Monday, September 26, 2011

Remove The Blockages And Let The Solutions Flow

There are many ways in which you can be stopped from creating solutions and generating ideas. Some are physical but many are psychological. Here are five such blockages together with suggestions for removing them.

1. Copying is cheating
This may be the case for school examinations but not in the world of business. Really great ideas are often protected with patents and copyright so you cannot use them (not without fear of legal action anyway). If an idea is not protected then you can use it, I call it 'creative swiping'. Tell the doubters that this will get things done quickly and that you can make your own mark by tailoring the idea for you own purposes. This is exactly the philosophy behind Open Source Software.

2. We Must Figure It Out Ourselves
There is great pleasure in doing this however why should you do this if someone else has already done so? Save time and create original ideas elsewhere. Avoid getting into this situation by rewarding people according to the generation of a solution rather than for the effort put in to generating a solution. They will soon get the message.

3. We Are Inferior If We Cannot Figure Things Out
This is a natural feeling and if bad if you are always taking in ideas from outside (some people do however make a good business out of this). At some point your problem solving team will generate ideas that other people will wish to use so the balance can be redressed. You should emphasise that customisation and adaptation are as important as original thought.

4. Problems Are Owned By Individuals
People have a great attachment to the problems that they work on, particularly engineers and scientists. They can be reluctant to share their problems so you can explain that the issue is critical (making them feel important) so it might be necessary to involve others or look outside the organisation as a normal part of solving problems. Do not remove ownership from the original owner if at all possible and never force people to work on issues that they do not own or have no interest in if you wish them to remain motivated.

5. Fear Of Being Replaced
This is common when it is suggested that problem owners share their problems of look for outside help. Reinforce the idea that nobody is being replaced and that looking elsewhere for solutions is part of the problem solver's toolkit.

Address the above and you will notice an improvement immediately.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Power Of 'Why?'

Sometimes it is ‘obvious’ what our problem is and so the answer is obvious too. This may very well be the case, but just in case it is not or perhaps to uncover a better solution we might need to uncover the real reason for something going wrong.

Problems and issues also tend to be multi layered and we have to scratch below the surface to work out what is really happening. Be careful when using it as continuously asking someone else ‘Why?’ may make them defensive.

Imagine the simple scenario ‘sales are falling’. One possible assumption might be that our sales people are no good at their job so we might replace them or retrain them. First, let us ask ‘Why?’

Q. Why are sales falling?
A. Because customers don’t like our products

Q. Why don’t they like our products?
A. Because they are outdated, not as cool as this year’s model

Q. Why are our products outdated?
A. Because we have not developed any new ones for 5 years

Q. Why have we not done this before?
A. Because the boss has not allowed us

Q. Why has the boss behaved in this way?
A. Because they have no spare time to spend

In this simple example our initial assumption of having a poor sales force is incorrect, the underlying issue is that the boss (possibly you!) has no time either because of high workload or poor time management. We can also see that the issue has multiple layers and unless the issues at lower layers are resolved then our initial problem is unlikely to be properly resolved.

You could thus use this for:
  • Identifying the need for a new product or service
  • Determining why your competitors are more attractive to customers
  • Asking why your costs are higher than they should be
… and many more.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Innovation - What's In It For Me?

Employees love success so start talking about it - all of the time. Above all, people ask 'what's in it for me?' The answer does not have to be money, think of it in terms of value where value can be one or more of:
  • recognition from the business or organisation
  • recognition from management and peers
  • monetary rewards
  • the opportunity to help others (and feel good)
  • creating a feeling of belonging
  • the opportunity to use infrequently used skills
  • the opportunity to collaborate and learn
  • the opportunity to bring something completely new into the world
It is difficult to address all of the above but your Innovation initiative can be designed to meet more than one. The number and type of benefits you cover will depend on your organisation and possibly national cultural issues.

Innovation, particularly Open Innovation is a social activity so networking activities such as using Social Media can be used to provide benefits and also to spread news of your success. Others will then be more inclined to join in and contribute. The more minds you connect, the greater the value you can generate for your business whether you seek new products and services or just process improvement.

Apart from asking themselves the question 'what's in it for me?' people will also wonder 'how painful will it be?' or 'how much effort will it take?'. All interactions involve a degree of friction or tension so let us go with this engineering metaphor and consider how we might 'oil the wheels' of our Innovation project or programme to ensure things run as smoothly as possible.

All of your contributors will take value from the project in their own way so you will need to ensure that you generate and distribute value in as many ways as possible. It is also good practice to ensure that the personal values of individuals are aligned with the values of the business.

People can also be aligned with your aims (hence pulling in the same direction) if you create a clear and compelling story about your Innovation challenge that will resonate with all of your participants. Such a story can also be used to set out goals, definition of success and rules of engagement which will help you to manage expectations. Do the groundwork first and success will follow!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Audacious Ideas

With most ideas, there is a correlation between how audacious or risky an idea is and its potential for economic reward. Disruptive or radical innovation produce  ideas which disrupt industry and dramatically change a business sector. These are audacious and highly risky but if they work out as hoped, they bring huge rewards.

Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis developed their own voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and then built a business around it - Skype. They offered free telephone calls over the World Wide Web as well as cheap calls via the Web to ordinary telephones. Their business model was audacious. A couple of unknown Swedish guys took on the world's telephone service providers. Their idea was both innovative and seriously risky. Potential users might well have decided they did not trust  VoIP or Internet Service Providers who  might have tried to block Skype calls. In which case, the two Swedish guys would have lost a lot of money.

Skype has been a huge success story. There are more than 100 million Skype users around the world and the two founders sold their company to eBay for USD2.4 billion. Not bad for an audacious idea.

To visualise the importance of audaciousness in business innovation, imagine a simple graph with X and Y axis. The right end of the X axis is marked "Audacity", the left end is marked "Boringness". The top of the Y axis is labelled "Risk/Rewards". The bottom is labelled "Stability". Next, draw a narrow diagonal bar from the bottom left corner of the graph to the upper right corner. This bar represents the range where most business ideas fall. Audacious business ideas are risky yet innovative. Boring business ideas are safe and not very risky. But they do not bring high rewards. Most business ideas, of course, tend to fall near the axis.

There are several useful things we can learn from this exercise.
  1. In Europe and America we tend to favour highly innovative ideas, but it seems that a handful of boring business ideas resulting in incremental innovation can also bring benefits. You should not focus all your innovative efforts on big, disruptive innovation. A number of smaller, moderately innovative ideas should be mixed in.
  2. Many companies have an overly strict review process that requires every single dea pass a number of hurdles before it is implemented. All too often committees reduce the risk of the idea. They seek to protect the company against risk or most likely they seek to protect their own jobs by not sanctioning risk projects. By reducing risk, they are also making an idea more boring, less innovative and reducing the potential reward.
  3. Conversely, an idea can often be pushed to be more audacious, thus increasing its reward potential - but also its risk. Bear this in mind the next time you brainstorm ideas. When you get a few good ideas, don't stop there. Push the best ideas further.
  4. If an idea is very boring and of low risk, its reward potential is also low. Thus you need to be certain that the cost of implementing the idea will not be greater than the rewards it brings in.
So, the next time you have a business idea, go on and be audacious. Push the idea to the limits and don't be afraid to go with it.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Doing Creativity the Steve Martin Way

These thoughts were inspired by some works of the comedian Steve Martin and have been toned down a little!

"All knowledge is or is about to become old-fashioned. There is room for something new".

Remember that all but the greatest theory, most of the data and knowledge acquired by scientists will become increasingly irrelevant as it is supplanted by new theory and applicable data. Someone has to provide that new theory and data, why shouldn't it be you?

"There is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration".

It's OK to fantasize about success. Dream your wild-ass dreams. Creativity is often manic. Just remember that there is a reason folks talk about manic depression. In the end, most of your ideas won't work out. That's normal. Creativity is about generating 100 ideas, so that you can recognise just one good one.

"It was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical. Like lucky cards in poker, you can count on them occurring over time. What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstances".

When you find your niche, when you have your business idea, make sure that you are consistently good at what you do, no matter what the circumstances or market conditions.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Do you belong to the Ideas Cult?

The Cult of Ideas is a dangerous body lurking within the field of corporate innovation. It is a disturbing grouping in which members worship massive numbers of ideas above all else. On the surface, this seems a good thing. After all, innovations are founded on ideas, are they not? So, if a company wants to innovate, the more ideas it creates the better. Sadly, however, the truth is that the cult of ideas can actually stifle creativity and inhibit innovation.

The cult manifests itself when Starbucks proclaims that they have received over 100,000 ideas from their on-line suggestion web site or when IBM boasts of Idea Jams that generate many tens of thousands of ideas.  It is easy to understand why the Cult has grown so powerful. Most senior managers come from analytical backgrounds, often with MBAs from prestigious academic institutions.

Unfortunately, finding meaningful numbers in the innovation process can be tricky. Technology and pharmaceutical companies can count their patents - and many do. But patents fail to measure efficiency and business model innovation, which are also important. Moreover, many innovative firms take out few patents. The number of new products launched every year, or the income generated by products introduced in the past five years is another approach for measuring product innovation - but it also fails to recognise other forms of innovation. A visit to any supermarket suggests we must question whether the introduction of new products truly represents innovation. A look at all the variations of washing up liquid or soap powder, many of which claim to be "new", for instance, is hardly indicative of product innovation.

So managers have latched on to the counting of ideas and the assumption that lots and lots of ideas must be a good thing. This has been enhanced by innovation service providers who also espouse the notion that more ideas are better than fewer. And from this situation has grown the Cult of Ideas which is further fuelled by the efforts of Innovation consultants and vendors of Idea Management solutions.

So why is this cult bad? Ideas on their own are good but it is the pursuit of ever increasing numbers that is not so good. We tend to forget what we are supposed to do next! If we do not actually implement ideas but simply sit around and make plans then our innovation programs are guaranteed to fail. Ideas must be put into practice and economic value created. Companies such as Google and Apple rarely brag about how many ideas they generate. They demonstrate innovation. Take a look at Fast Company's list of most innovative companies (http://www.fastcompany.com/most-innovative-companies/2011/). Those at the top of the pile are recognised for their innovations and not for quantities of ideas.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Innovation - Food for thought

If you search Amazon for "Innovation," you'll get over 43,000 book titles with many more ebooks and blog articles scattered around the Internet, many of which I am responsible for. So what are these volumes all about and why so many for such a simple word - Innovation?

The challenge starts with the definition of innovation. Most of the definitions I've seen are overly complicated and do nothing other than help persuade the man in the street that Innovation is too complicated and should be left well alone. It can be made complicated but need not be.

The founder of the low cost airline JetBlue said "Innovation is trying to figure out a way to do something better than it's ever been done before". And Thomas Edison's said "There's a way to do it better-find it". Which just about covers it all.

So far, so good. Our high level definition opens up innovation, and makes it accessible, regardless of industry sector or function. Let us move on to some basic principles, what I call the Three Pillars of Innovation:
  1. Ingenuity. Ingenuity is human creativity plus application, idea plus execution. Ideas on their own are invention and execution is simply working harder not smarter. We need both.
  2. Perfection. Imperfection is what drives innovation, because nothing's perfect. Perfection is a pursuit, a journey, not a destination. The destination is a place called "Better." We may have to know when to call it a day and move on to our next challenge as we can never actually attain perfection.
  3. Fit. Any innovation has to fit with your customers, market and expertise. There is no point creating something just for the sake of it. Or to put it another way, if you have the best mousetrap that the world has ever seen, you must have a really big issue with mice!
There has to be some element of each of the above for an Innovation to be successful. The big challenge for businesses is to ensure adherence to these key principles on a daily basis.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Paradoxes of Creativity

I like this list of paradoxes of creativity from leading creativity thinker Michael Michalko (author of Thinkertoys).

He states that to create, a person must: 
  1. Have knowledge but forget the knowledge.
  2. See unexpected connections in things but not have a mental disorder.
  3. Work hard but spend time doing nothing.
  4. Create many ideas yet most of them are useless.
  5. Look at the same thing as everyone else, yet see something different.
  6. Desire success but learn how to fail.
  7. Be persistent but not stubborn.
  8. Listen to experts but know how to disregard them.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Innovation series - Coke's answer to the iPad

Coke's new Freestyle vending machine offers a range of up to 125 different drinks and is expected to transform the business through its ability to gather vast amounts of customer data each day.

Coke was aware that the US consumer wanted more variety from Coke's dispensers than it was providing but they could not foresee how much variety was being demanded."We initially thought it might be 20 or 30 different drinks," says Coca-Cola Freestyle general manager Gene Farrell. "The research came back and told us it was more like 100."

This is a huge leap from traditional vending machines that usually offer half a dozen or so variants out of the 500 brands that Coca-Cola actually owns. "The same research told us that the customer didn't want a bartender to serve them from behind a counter in a restaurant," says Farrell. "They wanted to be able to mix their own drinks."

Coke customers can put together their own drinks combinations using the machine, so if they want to, they can combine the eight flavours of Sprite available in the US, including bitter lemon citrus grapefruit, and lemon and lime. Coke also reacts to feedback. They noticed customers writing on Facebook that there were only two flavours of Coke Zero, so they added the full array of flavours."

In developing the self-serve drinks mixer, Coca-Cola called in some external expertise in the fields of software, technology and design from the likes of Microsoft, Apple, Ferrari and BMW. That industry collaboration seemed to ensure the Freestyle's success, according to Farrell. "Consumers love it. We've been in the market since 2010 now and we're seeing double-digit increases in sales. Our restaurant customers are telling us that their Freestyle machines account for increases in traffic."

All the machines are connected via a wired network and each downloads consumption data by brand and day-part for every restaurant they are in. "We can gather all that data and look at it by region, by customer type and by channel. We're using that data in different ways. For example, we've developed a free iPhone app that allows the user to create their own drink by mixing the choices available. We're putting a barcode reader into the machine so that it can talk directly to your mobile device," says Farrell. New products can also be tested via the machines and geographic and lifestyle data can be captured also. No longer is Coke a 'one size fits all' product.

This type of thinking looks set to revolutionise Coke's business, what can it do for yours?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dare To Be Different,Innovation In Banking

Retail banks can no longer assume that the growth and returns that they once enjoyed will continue. Amid a host of banking competitors - including new market entrants, forward-thinking incumbents and non-banks - banks need to differentiate themselves in ways that are not easily copied. To restore confidence and realise strong future returns, banks must set the stage now.

Here are some stories from a few (five) years ago that illustrate potential innovations in banking (thank you to IBM's Business Value Institute for this material). Some are with us today. What do you think banking will look like 5 years from now?

Samson lives in Soweto and works at one of the big factories near Johannesburg, South Africa. With Soweto's high crime rate, he is pleased to make small payments free of charge from his account using his mobile phone. Samson can now keep less cash in his pocket, finally making banking affordable, safer and convenient for him.

Luis, in his San Diego office, reads with interest an e-mail from his online bank that shows him how to better manage his finances. It provides a series of steps he can take to improve his credit rating over the next four months, and outlines the potential savings on his outstanding loans and credit debt.

As he walks past a new electronics megastore in Bangalore, Anil receives on his mobile wallet a credit offer to buy a flat panel television. Interestingly the offer is from a U.S.-based bank taking advantage of the booming consumer credit market in India.

Heather, at home in London, is delighted that her bank finally lets her transact across different financial products - even different institutions - through the bank's own portal. No need to visit multiple sites to check account balances or transfer money among institutions. And, it's easy to optimize bonus points earned through her personalized loyalty program.

All of these people share one thing: their banks were giving them useful tools that were tailored to meet their particular needs. These futuristic scenarios demonstrate how retail banks can step beyond the expected; for example, by doing more than just improving the speed of existing processes and offerings.

Today, banks are pushing the limits of organic growth, and of growth via mergers and acquisitions. Increased competition and more discerning clients around the world mean it's more important than ever to stand out in the marketplace. So, how can retail banks differentiate themselves and continue to grow?

To distinguish themselves, banks must look beyond new product introduction and spread accountability for innovation throughout the organization. Shareholder value will be created by those that nurture the capabilities that support ongoing innovation, not just within bank walls, but also by looking outside the institution for new ideas, including partnering opportunities.

Innovating On A Budget

The current recession is a problem. It is hurting businesses of all sizes in all sectors. The solution is innovation. Innovation can help you to cut costs, improve margins, retain customers, acquire new customers, gain market share and  ultimately to survive. But when you are cutting costs and squeezing resources in all areas how can you find the people, time and money for innovation? Since experiments are not guaranteed to succeed it can look wasteful to fund large innovation projects.

Here are five tips to help you innovate on a budget:
  1. Tell people that you want their ideas. Tell your staff, tell your customers and tell your suppliers that you want ideas that will help streamline the business, improve service, cut costs or delight customers. Tell everyone! If you do not have an effective suggestions scheme then set one up. Listen to all suggestions with an open mind and evaluate them constructively.
  2. Allocate a budget for innovation. You do not get innovation for free. You must allocate time, people and money but you do not have to be extravagant. The most important thing is to give people some time and space to generate, evaluate, select and test Ideas. Google famously gives all employees one a day a week for this sort of activity. You do not have to be quite so generous - maybe one afternoon a month will work for you. However you do it you allow people to have ideas and experiment.
  3. Move quickly. Once you have selected a promising idea move rapidly to building a model that you can show to people. This might be built in Lego, it might be a series of sketches or a role play. Once you show it to selected customers or other stakeholders you can quickly get useful feedback and of course funding.
  4. Kill the losers. Set standards for innovations - e.g. Can we make money at this? Is there a real need? Can we make it work? Can we win with this? If the answers are negative then be prepared to cancel the project and move onto something else. Resources are limited and should only be devoted to potential winners. Be ruthless!
  5. Pinch other people's ideas, we call this 'creative swiping'. A low cost way to innovate is to copy ideas from other industries or other places and to try them in your business. What are they doing in other countries to solve this kind of problem? What can you use that is new to you but has been proved elsewhere?
Make innovation a priority and add it to people's objectives. You have to make the current model work better and at the same time find ways to replace it with something better. Continuous innovation is demanding but rewarding, and is the best way to survive.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Innovation - Asking The Right Questions

Asking the right questions can often get us off to a good start. Below is a list of some questions that you might like to ask yourself either as a group or as an individual. The questions might provide useful answers or lead you to explore other avenues.
  1. What is the biggest (avoidable) hassle that our customers have to put up with?
  2. Are there any recent changes in rules or regulations that affect our customers?
  3. Who does/does not use or products/services?
  4. Who is prevented from using our products/services?
  5. Where do our products/services perform unexpectedly well/badly?
  6. Does anyone use our products/services in ways that we never intended?
  7. Who does this the best/worst? What can we learn from them?
  8. How could this be improved if I had all of the resources that I needed?
  9. Can we improve our products our services by changing people, materials or technology?
  10. What are our top 5 sources of business?
  11. What facilities are least used/most used?
  12. Can we make our offerings easier to understand/buy?
  13. Do we know the cost structure of our offerings?
  14. Who benefits the most from our products/services?
  15. Do we have all of the skills that we require?
  16. Do we understand the competitive landscape?
  17. Are we duplicating our efforts in any way?
  18. What could we do better with more training?
  19. Do we have the right resources/sufficient resources?
  20. Can we bend the rules? Have we tested the rules?

Monday, April 11, 2011

When is a change not a change?

This is not a trick question. Many of us have undergone change programmes over the years and many have not worked or had no effect. Why is this? The answer is quite simple, the initiatives have not been Change programmes, they have mostly been renaming exercises. The phrase ‘rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic’ springs to mind here and it is most unfortunate that such exercises have largely been carried out in the public sector in the UK since the economic downturn began to bite.

So what has actually been happening, particularly in our councils and Civil Service? Luckily for employees, the public sector currently has a policy of no compulsory redundancies, which means that only costs other than labour can be cut which in turn leads to the desire for greater efficiency. The desire for greater efficiency then leads to the reorganisation of people. Structures, responsibilities and titles change but job descriptions, behaviours and attitudes do not.

Why does this matter if the organisation has not had to shed employees other than through voluntary schemes, after all efficiency has been addressed and costs cut! Let us go back to the reasons for change, to alter the way in which the organization works (effectively and efficiency) and ensure that it is fit to face the future. To do this we have:

  • Shed staff, often indiscriminately
  • Adopted best practice from external sources
  • Changed the organisational structure chart
  • Amended job titles
What we have also done is:

  • Lost valuable knowledge and experience
  • Failed to communicate the reasons for change and expectations
  • Addressed any necessary changes in behavior
  • Failed to address insecurities regarding the future
We are likely to end up with an organisation that wants to work as it has always done (but when it has let valuable employees go) but which its masters want to go in a different direction. Think of a train running on tracks with the Chief Executive running alongside shouting ‘no, over here. Go this way’. Many will say that this is all that can be achieved in the current climate in a short space of time. My point is that the work should have been carried out properly over a longer period of time if those in power had the skill and foresight to begin the changes a couple of years ago.

This all sound very negative but is easily sorted by:

  • Ensuring a transfer of knowledge when staff leave
  • Employing change agents within the organisation to help with real change
  • Engage the employees at the ‘coalface’ – in a hierarchical organisation you could be ignoring 80% of the workforce
  • Focus on required behaviours rather than simply changing job titles
  • Encourage transparency wherever possible

Friday, April 08, 2011

Innovation – the forgotten masses

Here in the UK we are weighed down by policies for Innovation and a similar picture exists in many developed countries. There are grants for business, business support, incubators as well as sector clusters defined for aerospace, engineering, bio sciences and much more. What is actually happening here? Those in charge of policy making are in effect trying to pick which areas of the economy are going to produce the next exciting technology. It is a little like gambling on a horse but the question is should our money even be bet on a horse?

Currently large companies are able to fund their own Innovation efforts and small companies, particularly those connected to Universities seem to be well catered for in terms of funding and business support. Above a certain size of business there is a large gap into which most of our businesses fall, where external help is not forthcoming and their ability to help themselves is limited. If we forget for a minute about what Innovation outputs might actually be created (iPads, electric cars etc) and make Innovation generic rather than sector specific then surely these forgotten masses are capable of contributing a great deal to the economy. All we have to do is broaden our minds and think of Innovation in terms new products, processes and services not simply shiny new technology.

If every one of our medium sized business could increase its turnover by a small amount, say 10%, and perhaps take on 1 or 2 extra people then our unemployment problems would be solved and perhaps many of the social issues that accompany high unemployment. Better still, by focusing on all businesses we have avoided the situation where we put our eggs in one basket. We really can help everyone if we choose to do so.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Innovation – forget the words Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing

Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing have become buzz words of late which is a shame as it encourages those who blindly adopt best practice to jump on the bandwagon. It is often said that to truly understand a situation you must know enough to be afraid and there are too many consultants pushing concepts on unsuspecting businesses and organisations without really understanding what they are telling organisations to do.

The thing is that Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing really are valuable tools in our quest for Innovation. When innovating we have a dilemma, do we try to keep the fruits of our labours secret for as long as possible to secure as great a competitive advantage as possible, or do we throw our net outside of our organization to gather the maximum number of ideas and encourage communications/interactions with outside (and possibly competitor) organisations?

There are many issues surrounding Open Innovation, such as how to manage it, how to select the participants/collaborators and exploiting the results. Much of this is common sense if you have your wits about you. Essentially you have a choice, keep it in house or look outside, perhaps even conducting your business in public as some educational establishments do. The aim though, is to understand, not blindly follow the ‘How To Innovate For Dummies’ guide.

The fuel for Innovation is ideas and to generate ideas we need people to interact with each other. The more debate and creative tension, the higher the quality of ideas generated and the greater their number will be also. To get to this stage we need more bodies, a crowd. Crowdsourcing is effectively outsourcing the generation of ideas and the solution of problems to a crowd. The UK government’s attempt to gather ideas for policies via their website is an example of this. Your crowd can communicate remotely or be in the same location (see the Open Space technique) and interaction fuel debate or facilitate building of ideas.

Once again there are issues such as managing your crowd and capturing ideas, but once you are aware of the principle of Innovation then everything is pretty much common sense.

So please forget the words Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing but do learn as much as possible about them, understand the concepts and employ them properly. If you really do know enough to be afraid then you understand the concepts fully enough to be able to employ them to create success for your organisation.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Social Innovation- is this the way forward?

Being an advocate of social innovation I would say ‘of course’ but it depends on your definition and what your own particular situation is. I will start by making things complicated and offering two not entirely unconnected definitions.

Forget the use of the word ‘social’ to mean outside work and think of what it could mean. When we are being social we are interacting, sharing, caring and even building. We are essentially social beings (although some do like being alone) so why not focus on a type of innovation that makes use of our social characteristics?

In simple terms, think of innovation as a ‘people thing’ rather than a ‘gadget thing’. That is not to say we cannot have shiny gadgets, but that we should focus on how they got to be there (innovating rather than the innovation). This then leads to the possibility of innovating even when the output is not an innovation (perhaps a process innovation). Such a type of innovation is thus appropriate both inside and outside of the workplace.

So what about the other kind of ‘social innovation’? This is most definitely linked to the community/region/country as a whole. You should be thinking of innovation in community projects, healthcare, employment opportunities, arts etc. A good example might be the micro finance initiatives that have sprung up in many developing countries. We need this kind of innovation too.

Many countries are in a mess (the recession) and are cutting costs (in the public sector). We need to revert to being social creatures again or there will not be any people with any money to buy the shiny gadgets that we used to think of as innovation output. Businesses producing shiny gadgets will go bust leading to more misery. The UK government’s idea of ‘The Big Society’ to counterbalance the public sector cuts will fail dismally without a modicum of social innovation.

So the answer is that YES we most definitely need social innovation however you define it.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Should The Public Sector Be Quite So Public?

Is transparency costing us dearly?

I was speaking to Dr Paul Thomas (of BBC’s Ban The Boss programme) and something that he said stuck in my mind. He stated that ‘monitoring costs’. This is so obvious but I had never heard anybody say this before. Each time that we want to monitor something we have to define a process or assign someone to keep a look out. In many cases we might have to create a job for someone to oversee this. Thus a seemingly simple act might cost say £15,000 to £20,000 per year minimum. Why do we need to do this at all?

All across the country there are groups of people who are demanding to know how much their local council is spending on paperclips and they are justifying it by saying that if waste is eliminated our council tax will go down. Similar arguments are put forward for the Health Service and other public sector bodies. Why not simply say to the nosey parkers that the records are there for them to look at if they wish to fish in the filing cabinets and let our public sector workers do the work that they should be doing?

Isn’t it about time that we began to trust each other again? So what if my local council spends an extra £100 on paperclips as long as they deliver the service that they should? On the flip side, public sector employees and managers must understand that they are required to do their jobs as efficiently and effectively as possible. £100 on paperclips or £20,000 to monitor the stationery budget? It is a no brainer.

Recently I have spoken with many public sector managers, and budgets are being cut but the demands for accountability are increasing which are pushing up costs!! Since this is a zero sum game,  something somewhere is suffering. It is, spending on actually delivering services is being reduced.

Let us trust one another a little more and reduce the bureaucracy and overheads associated with monitoring and accountability. Let us reduce the number of managers, and learn to manage our public sector in a different and more effective manner. We really could reduce costs and maintain the standard of our services for long as possible. Let us be a little less public!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Does your HR department stifle Innovation?

This is not directed at anyone in particular so there will be some readers within HR who take exception. I hope that these people realise that I am not suggesting that everyone who works in HR is a problem, just that the HR function more often than not can be a hindrance.

So what does your HR department do? I mean what does it REALLY do as opposed to the wise words on the intranet or in the employee handbook? Many HR departments have become less interested in people and more interested in compliance with employment law. This is not their fault but it still makes them part of the problem. So if I am a senior manager I know that my back is covered regarding the law, but what help will I get with changing culture, recruiting the right people, creating time and space for creative activities, and more importantly demonstrating how they affect the profitability of the business?

If you are really unlucky your HR department will be one step ahead of you and will have been renamed something like People and Organisational Development (or POD for short). POD are even worse as there is very little emphasis on people, the organisation or development. Still just payroll, employment law and Investors In People tick boxes. It is easy to kick these people when they are down but how can they really help, or if they cannot help, what help do you need to look out for? Here is a short list that might help:

Team Work – are people working as individuals or in teams, how effective are they, and are they multi/single function. Another important factor is the degree of autonomy and whether bottom up communication is effective.

Hands-on Management – how much interference is there by managers in every-day working and how prescriptive are managers?  What  actions are taken when problems occur. Do managers take immediate control or do they trust the people working for them to resolve problems?

Desire To Succeed – does everyone have a desire to succeed? Even though there may be insufficient resources to carry out a project or implement a plan there should be a 'yes and ..' culture rather than 'yes but...'. Good ideas can be kept for future use, not dismissed out of hand for lack of finances, time etc. There should also be evidence of doing everything that can be done to secure even the smallest advantage such as protecting Intellectual Property and seeking external help. Ideas should be welcomed from all sources and winning organisations are likely to be less risk averse.

Knowing How To Succeed - Organisations that know how to win will have a thorough understanding of their marketplace and all of the factors that affect it such as the economy and relevant legislation. They are willing to exploit these factors and be first movers or early adopters.

Environmental Scanning - To be successful, organisations must be able to scan their environments and be aware of new competition, changes and spot rends and patterns. This information will then be used to determine key success factors within the marketplace and drive the building of strategic capabilities.

External Relationships - In order to maximise potential, it is necessary to nurture external relationships with both customers and suppliers. Is this being carried out regularly and effectively? Do organisations rely on single points of contact or do they interact at multiple levels, cementing ties? How well is information disseminated and vision, branding etc communicated to stakeholders?

Growing The Right Culture - A truly innovative culture relies heavily on intrinsic motivation. Employees must have a clear idea of what they are expected to achieve and of the amount of support that they have. Transparency on the part of senior management and 'leading by example' will build trust and encourage buy-in to strategic objectives. Motivation and morale should generally be high with little or no evidence of stress present.

Stretching To Achieve - When stretching individuals we must ensure that the right culture exists. Such a culture includes, but is not necessarily restricted to such things as opportunities to develop skills, freedom to act on own initiative, work environment, acknowledgement of input, learning environment. This component is more concerned with the right environment for growth rather than what is actually done to/for employees.

Getting The Best From People - When maximising potential it is often necessary to take employees out of their 'comfort zone'. To do this successfully there must be an effective framework for delivering the necessary training and development. Individuals should be encouraged to use their own initiative (subject to any safety or legal constraints), be responsible for their actions and learn from their mistakes. There also needs to be appropriate reward systems.

By the time you get to this point you might be thinking ‘what has this got to do with me?’ The thing is, if you are a professional who works with, and wants to get the best out of people then it is your problem. If the big cheese and the rest of the board are taking strategic decisions and middle managers are busy managing, then as an HR professional you are in exactly the right place to create a blueprint for an innovative organisation. The question is, are you the right person, or have you got the right people?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Innovation – Avoid These Pitfalls To Ensure Success

In many organisations there can be tension between those promoting creativity, design and user centred approaches to Innovation and those who are bound entirely by procedures, plans and spreadsheets. I have often remarked that many people think of Innovation as a machine where you turn a handle after feeding in your ingredients, and a nice new Innovation will pop out. This is not the case! We should be focusing on the process of innovating (the people) rather than the end product. But what could be going wrong? Well here is a short list of things to beware of:
  1. Being unrealistic Innovation takes time, often more than we allocate for it. The results can also not be what we are expecting. Unrealistic (or irrelevant) objectives and timescales will kill . Try to think of the impact of your Innovation project rather than listing the results in a table. You should be explicit though!

  2. Protecting ego If you’re scared to be wrong, you won’t be able to lead innovation or lead the innovation process. Since Innovation is all about discussing new ideas you have to be prepared to be wrong or immerse yourself in completely alien concepts. If you are not doing this you are just reworking old stuff, not innovating.

  3. Believing process will save you Innovation processes are not what Innovation is about. They provide a framework within which leaders and facilitators work their magic. They also provide a sort of ‘incubator’ within which anything can happen and which is allowed to flourish when it does. Beware of allowing everything to happen though! You are in business to make money.

  4. Varied backgrounds and experience are not the same as cross functional teams In a bid to be innovative, many companies have put together cross functional teams. Such teams are a good idea since your project teams are liberated from the silos (departments) that may make up your business. However, what you are really looking for are different perspectives and experiences. It’s the people you must mix, not the functions.

  5. Believing that we know everything We often do know most things about our markets and customers BUT what we do not seem to be able to do is get started. We believe that we have all of the motivation and inspiration that we need. We sit at our desks and pore over emails but very few answers arrive that way. Go outside for inspiration, take your camera (or mobile phone) and see what is going on in the world. Drop in on an old lady for a cup of tea and ask her opinion. Do anything but sit on your chair all day!

  6. Talking rather than doing We often like to rubbish the ideas of others and try to make sure we have a complete solution before trying anything. Get prototyping (or playing) early on and get feedback and gather more ideas. We cannot learn by doing nothing, and hence we cannot innovate either.

  7. Converging (executing) rather than diverging (exploring) ‘Cycle often and close late’ is one of the main precepts of creativity in business. Too often we wish to nail everything down. The CEO wishes to know who is doing what and what the timescales are before we have finished exploring all of the possibilities. Senior managers must learn to live with a little ambiguity.