A weekly newsletter on creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.
Tuesday, 5 October 2004
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your weekly newsletter on
Creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.
As always, if you have news about creativity, idea innovation or invention
please feel free to forward it to me for potential inclusion in Report103. Your
comments and feedback are also always welcome.
Some years ago, I took my brother-in-law to a monastery in Ayudaya (many young
men in Thailand and other Buddhist countries do a brief stint in the monastery
in order to obtain merit; this is what my brother in law was doing). At the
time I was running two businesses in hectic Bangkok. I remember taking him to
his room where there was a simple wooden plank bed, a mattress and a shelf with
a small pile of books about the Lord Buddha and his teachings. For the next
three weeks he would lead a simple life of meditation and learning. Most of
all, I remember thinking that if I could replace the small pile of books with
a variety of literature and a few tomes on technology and e-business practises,
hiding away in a monastery in the countryside would be a truly great thing for
the creative mind: a chance to really think without the interruptions of a business:
telephones, e-mail, meetings, staff problems and so on.
I was reminded of this the other day when I read that a couple of times a year,
Bill Gates does essentially what I dreamed of doing in Ayudaya. He takes a stack
of books on the latest business trends to a remote cabin in the woods where
he spends a week or so of uninterrupted reading and thinking.
Sadly, in our modern world, this is an increasingly hard thing to do. It wasn't
always this way. There was a time when vacations meant taking a break from work
and refreshing the mind. In part, this is because 20 years ago, mobile
telephones were not commonplace and only technical academics even knew what
e-mail was. So, employees turned off their day to day worries and focused on
enjoying their holidays.
These days, most employees – at least at the management level and above
– feel obliged to stay in touch with the office when they go on holiday.
They leave their cellphones on and regularly check their e-mail. I understand
this work obsession is at its worst in hard working America, but few European
or Japanese managers would go on holiday without at least bringing their work
cellphone along. Most would be hard pressed not to check in with the office
once in a while.
This is great for managing the mundane, day to day operations of your business,
but lousy for thinking big thoughts, reviewing the big issues and generating
those revolutionary ideas that could transform your business. Indeed, senior
managers who insist on remaining in contact with their companies every single
working day of the year are probably doing their companies a disservice. They
are doing fine on the details, but failing on the big-picture. Most senior managers
should be focusing on the latter.
If you are a business owner, senior manager or otherwise responsible for strategic
issues (rather than day-to-day issues), you should follow the example of my
brother-in-law and Bill Gates. Spend at least one week a year where you disconnect
completely from your company. Switch off your mobile phone, leave your laptop
at home, select a few good books, get yourself a nice thick blank notebook and
run off somewhere quiet and inspirational where you can think. It will take
a couple of days for your mind to break away from the day to day issues and,
like an newly ex-smoker, you may even have desperate pangs for a cellphone and
a call to your secretary. Ignore these pangs. If your secretary and staff are
any good, they will manage fine without you. You should think, innovate and
After three or four days, you will be amazed at how clear-thinking you have
become and the kind of ideas you have. The only problem is that you may not
want to go back to work!
At jpb.com, we've taken this concept one step further by designing a collection
of brainstorm retreats. The idea is that a team of executives leave their cellphones,
laptops and trivial worries behind and retire to a secluded hotel in a naturally
beautiful area (such as the Belgian Ardeenes, the Swiss Alps, the Dartmoor in
the UK, Chiang Mai in Thailand or the like). Once there, we run through some
exercises to clear the executives' minds. This is followed by a number of customised
brainstorming exercises designed to get the executives generating ideas related
to the key strategic issues relevant to their companies. It is a time to think
about strategy and the big picture.
Brainstorming retreats combine the collective innovative potential of a team
of executives together with the concept of getting away from day-to-day distractions
which not only distract them from thinking, but also tend to focus their thinking
on the wrong issues.
For more information, please
feel free to contact me directly or visit http://www.jpb.com/services/.
WHY YOU NEED IDEA MANAGEMENT
I've written a lot about idea management in Report 103 – which isn't
surprising as it is my company's major product. And I have often stressed the
advantages of idea management for companies that want to grow through innovation.
But to discover the real reason why medium to large companies need an idea
management tool to innovate better and grow from innovation look no further
than the company canteen or the nearby pub where staff go for a drink after
If you were to visit either of these places and listen, you would discover
that the employees of nearly every company have lots and lots of ideas about
how the company could operate more efficiently, how the company could improve
its products and services, how the company could improve customer relations
and much more.
Even in companies where the staff have a low opinion of the company, you will
find that staff desperately want the company to operate better. People want
to feel good about working for their employers. They want their employers to
do well. And, most importantly, they have ideas about how to work towards these
Unfortunately, when most people come back from lunch at the canteen, there
is no convenient way for them to communicate their ideas to decision makers.
The employee with a great idea must either make a determined effort to communicate
that idea – usually by scheduling time with the manager she reports under.
She then must hope that the manager will communicate her idea upwards and, if
she has a normal ego, she will also hope the manager will credit her for the
idea if it succeeds.
For most people, this is too much effort. They do not bother. They talk about
their ideas at lunch and at the pub – but lament that their company is
too set in its ways to adopt such a good idea. Then they forget about their
ideas as they get back to work.
With an idea management system, however, people can immediately enter their
idea into the system where it should eventually be viewed by a decision maker.
If the idea management system is an open, collaborative system (like ours),
other colleagues can read her idea and collaborate on it – in the same
way that they do at the canteen or pub. Thus the idea grows.
Simply having a system – collaborative or not – to collect ideas
is not enough. Such a system would soon overflow with ideas and staff would
quickly ascertain that while the company is keen on collecting ideas, they are
not very interested in actually doing anything about those ideas. In such a
situation, staff will soon stop sharing their ideas outside the pub and canteen.
Thus, it is critical to have an evaluation system for determining the best
ideas and an open implementation system where employees can see ideas being
implemented; as well as oversee the implementation of some of their ideas.
It is only with such an open, collaborative idea management system that employees
will share their ideas with the organisation – instead of with their office
drinking buddies – and strive to successfully implement those ideas.
I've often discussed methods of boosting your creativity and coming up with
ideas. But it's also important to look at what activities can reduce your creativity.
Here are five:
1. Watching TV. Have you ever known someone who has been watching TV for hours
to suddenly stand up and say “I've just had a brilliant idea!” There
is a reason for this. TV zaps creativity. It's fine for relaxing, but seldom
stimulates the mind.
2. Thinking of potential consequences before thinking of potential results.
Certainly, you need to consider the consequences of implementing an idea before
implementing it. But too many people focus on the consequences at the ideation
stage. This generally causes people to reject ideas. Always focus on the potential
results first. If they are worthwhile then look at the potential consequences
and work out how to deal with them.
3. Being afraid of making a fool of yourself. The best ideas always seem crazy
at first. If you are afraid of making a fool of yourself, the chances are you
will keep your best ideas to yourself. Always bear in mind there are worse things
in life than making a fool of yourself; such as hearing someone else being praised
and promoted for implementing an idea you had first but were afraid to act upon.
4. Accepting the first idea that comes to mind as the best solution. When looking
for solutions, we generally come up with the tried and tested ideas first. Tried
and tested ideas are not necessarily bad – they may even be the best solutions
sometimes. But they are seldom creative.
5. Hanging around squelchers and negative people. Squelchers are people who
always criticise new ideas, usually with phrases like: “we've tried that
before. It didn't work”, “that's not the way we do things here.”,
“it'll never work” and so on. Squelchers will drain your ideas dry
and stifle your imagination.
What People Say About Jeffrey
"Your perspectives are very enlightening... In an ocean
of not-so-useful info about innovation, you manage to get the perls on a regular
basis." EO (Technology manufacturer)
"Thank You for spreading good words." RT (Artist)
"Thank you for sharing your ideas and insights and good
energy with all us creative folks round the world." JS (US state government)
"Always an inspiring newsletter." SL (Executive
"Thanks and keep up the great work." WN (Microelectronics
"Thank you for your thoughts. Quite refreshing.
I am such a fan of the Report 103." LM (Software company)
"You do absolutely amazing work and provide valuable content
as a gift - Thank You." HT (Business strategist)
"I love your newsletter - it is thought provoking and
creates a good energy." IM (Innovation facilitator)
"I have printed all your reports for my PhD thesis in
innovation and creativity. Amazing work, I really wish to congratulate you for
this magnificent effort." RF (PhD student)
"I just got my first copy of your newsletter. Wow! It's
wonderful! Very good advice, very helpful. Thank you! One of the few newsletters
I get that is worth reading and actually useful, thoughtful and inspired. Thank
you!" BB (Publisher)
"Your work is always well done, and thought provoking."
Boost the creativity of your team and the innovativeness of your company by hiring Jeffrey to facilitate an ACT, innovation implementation plan or other workshop with you!
Jeffrey's Book: The Way of the Innovation Master
If you've enjoyed reading Report 103, you will enjoy Jeffrey's book,
The Way of the Innovation Master even more!