A weekly newsletter on creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.
Tuesday, 2 November 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.
If your email box seemed a little empty last Tuesday, it is because I was unable
to write and send out Report 103 owing to super full schedule and a number of
unexpected meetings early last week. My apologies. Writing Report 103 for you
is one of my favourite work activities.
Interesting ideas often come from bringing two commonplace ideas
together to create a unique concept and developing that
Training + Brainstorming = KnowledgeStorming
Brainstorming – at least the ideation portion of brainstorming –
is about pushing people to stretch their minds and devise ideas. It is about
bringing together the knowledge, experience and ideas of a variety of people
in order to come up with ideas that those people would be unlikely to dream
up individually. It is also about creating an atmosphere which encourages people
to be daring with their thinking and suggest ideas that they might shy away
from in more formal environments.
Professional training – at least in the traditional sense – is
about giving people knowledge which they can use in order to perform certain
tasks better. Training can combine lecturing, reading, hands-on trials (either
in real life or using simulators) and testing in order to transfer the knowledge
from the trainer to the trainees.
Clearly traditional training is effective for teaching specific tasks, such
as how to use software tools, how to operate a machine tool, how to enter the
company's accounts into the accounting system and so on.
KnowledgeStorming, on the other hand, is about stretching people's minds through
sharing knowledge, experience and ideas in order to create a highly customised
organic form of training. KnowledgeStorming is effective when training a group
of people to apply a tool, practice or strategy to their organisation. While
traditional training is effective for training people how to use a specific
software product, KnowledgeStorming would be an effective means of training
people how to apply the software in their company's operations.
Consider training a sales team of 12 people. One approach is to have an experienced,
successful sales professional explain her techniques to the team. This can,
of course, be highly effective. After all, a successful salesperson clearly
knows a few things about selling stuff. E-learning tools, books and training
videos individually and in combination can also be effective.
An alternative would be to use KnowledgeStorming. For example, a sales director
observes that her sales people are getting lots of leads, but they are not closing
as many sales as they should. She decides to KnowledgeStorm train them.
The first step is to bring the entire team together for a half day. Begin by
discussing what KnowledgeStorming is about. Then spend a little time discussing
the issue of closing sales. Make sure that the discussion does not go off topic.
Once people are thinking about sales and closing them, ask everyone to brainstorm
problems that prevent them from closing sales. All participants should shout
out problems while a facilitator writes them down. All problems should be written
down and there should be no criticising of any problems suggested. Allow about
20-30 minutes. Then select the key problems and compile them into three big
problems or sets of related problems.
The next step is to divide the team into three groups of four people. Each
group then brainstorms ideas that would resolve their set of problems. Once
this is done, they select the best solutions and share them with the entire
team. With the help of a facilitator, the best solutions from each group are
put on a white board. These are finally compiled into a set of solutions which
is then developed into a new approach to closing sales. At this time the first
training session should end.
Already, members of the sales force will have had many ideas about improving
their closing skills. Individuals will have ideas about solving their own specific
problems and the group will have a new approach to work with.
Nevertheless, a follow up session should be held within one or two days. This
allows the salespeople to think about their ideas and the new approach to closing
sales. During the follow up session, any afterthoughts are added to the new
approach and the approach can be further refined, perhaps with a step-by-step
plan for closing sales. The plan can be tested initially in role-play scenarios
(where one person plays a salesperson and the other a prospective customer)
for further refinement.
Finally, of course, the new plan must be tested in the field and a follow up
session held in order to review the results and further refine the sales plan
KnowledgeStorming has the advantage in that it uses your own teams combined
knowledge and experience (which is normally substantial). Moreover, it is necessarily
highly customised to meet your specific needs. As a result, it can be a highly
effective addition to your set of professional training tools.
If you are interested in exploring how KnowledgeStorming can work for your
contact me for a no obligation discussion on the possibilities.
METAPHORICAL CREATIVE CONCEPT MODELLING
“Metaphorical creative concept modelling,” now that's a mouthful,
Over the years, I have found that when working with a team of people in order
to develop a concept (such as the basics of a new software tool, devising a
marketing plan for an all new product or developing a new service), using a
metaphor for the concept itself is a great tool. It helps team members generate
exciting ideas and encourages out of the box thinking. Incidentally, food often
makes the best metaphor – perhaps because everyone can identify with food.
For example: during an early meeting with my Belgian sales partner, we were
looking at how to integrate our idea management virtual software with their
intranet products in a comprehensive marketing concept. We used the process
of baking a cake in a bakery as a metaphor.
Each of the virtual software tools could be associated with an aspect of the
cake making and eating process. With this metaphor, it became remarkably easy
to design in an afternoon a comprehensive concept for marketing the software
The cake metaphor has since been all but forgotten, but the model itself has
proven an effective one.
On another occasion, when leading a team to determine the functionality of
a new software tool, we used the metaphor of lasagne. Every function of the
software was associated with some aspect of lasagne. We even codenamed the project
“project lasagne”. Again, the team came up with a wonderful variety
of creative ideas for functionality. Some ideas were silly. Many were not. Moreover,
when presenting project lasagne to senior management, we were able to use the
metaphor as a the structure for the presentation.
Using metaphors to design concepts works because: metaphors force people to
look at an issue from a different perspective, brings unusual notions into the
creative ideation process and makes people take a different approach to thinking
about solutions. In addition, metaphors force people to look at the big picture
- the cake or the lasagne - rather than the details, which is essential at the
concept definition phase. Last but not least, metaphors – particularly
food metaphors - often reduce project related stress and encourage team members
to take a more relaxed approach to the concept definition exercise. And when
people are more relaxed, they are more likely to take intellectual risks and
come up with more daring and creative ideas.
So, next time you want to define a concept or model for a project, start by
opening a cookbook!.
MOTIVATING INNOVATION OVER THE LONG TERM
One of the problems with implementing an idea management process across the
enterprise is motivating people to continue contributing and collaborating on
ideas over the long term.
Following the initial implementation and associated promotion of an idea management
programme, there is generally a lot of interest and a number of ideas are contributed.
However, without long-term motivational promotion, idea management programmes
can quickly stagnate.
There are a number of steps you can take to ensure your idea management programme
remains effective and your idea management solution continues to receive a steady
stream of good ideas (as I've mentioned in the past, an effective idea management
solution should average about 12 ideas per user per year).
1. Publicly implement ideas. If your staff do not believe that you are implementing
ideas, they will see the idea submission process as a waste of time and stop
contributing ideas. This is why old-fashioned suggestion box schemes so often
failed. Although management may have used ideas they found in the suggestion
box, they did not do so publicly and employees quickly came to believe that
ideas submitted to the suggestion box were ignored. On the other hand, If employees
know you are implementing their ideas, they will be motivated to continue contributing
2. Reward good ideas. This demonstrates that the company values good ideas
and that the people who contribute those ideas will be rewarded. Rewards need
not be monetary. They can be gifts, special privileges or forms of recognition.
A number of companies permit submitters of good ideas to attend overseas conferences,
3. Regularly remind employees that there is an idea management programme in
place and that good ideas are being contributed all the time. For instance,
if you have an in-house newsletter you can start a great ideas column with interesting
ideas, how they were implemented, the results and, of course, the people who
submitted them. In particular it can be highly motivational to publicise great
ideas from unexpected sources. Stories about a mail room clerk who has an idea
that substantially improves operational efficiency or a secretary who has a
great product idea have substantial motivational value for everyone.
4. Publicise great ideas via external media. Big ideas often make interesting
reading. So, when you implement a new product or operational idea, consider
submitting a press release on the idea – and be sure to name the person
who contributed the idea. Not only does this motivate people (study after study
has shown that recognition of their expertise is something all employees value
very highly indeed), but it also promotes your company as an innovative player.
5. Run focused, time limited idea campaigns on specific issues and promote
them across the enterprise. For example, run a two week campaign on ideas to
improve customer service efficiency or a one week campaign on ideas to improve
the speed of invoicing clients. Idea campaigns not only remind people of your
idea management programme, but also encourage people to focus their thinking
on specific issues.
By regularly bringing ideas, rewards and your idea management programme back
into the minds of your employees, you can ensure that employees are continually
motivated to contribute ideas that will help your company grow.
Of course, it requires time, effort and investment. But, as I pointed out two
weeks ago (“Ain't no such thing as free innovation”, http://www.jpb.com/report103/archive.php?issue_no=20041019),
your idea management investment can pay off quickly.
NIFTY WEB RESOURCES
A great source for cutting edge thinking on management is Harvard Business
School's Working Knowledge (HBSWK; http://hbswk.hbs.edu/),
a web site full of articles and book reviews, by Harvard Business School's faculty,
on business. And because innovation has become such a critical issue for businesses
lately, there are dozens of articles related to innovation.
You can subscribe to receive a weekly e-mail update on new articles in HBSWK.
I recommend doing so.