A weekly newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation
Tuesday, 4 January 2005
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your weekly newsletter on
creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
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.
Information on unsubscribing, archives, reprinting articles, etc can be found
at the end of this newsletter.
HAPPY NEW YEAR
Welcome to the first issue of Report 103 for 2005. One of the unfortunate changes
for the new year is that Report 103 shall henceforth be published on the first
and third Tuesday of the month rather than weekly as has been the case in the
past. As much as I enjoy writing this newsletter – and the feedback you
have given me - I simply do not have the time to put together Report 103 on
a weekly basis and maintain a quality level readers like you clearly demand.
In the meantime, best wishes for a dynamic and profitable New Year to you.
DON'T BE LIMITED BY LIMITATIONS
Draw a square on a piece of paper. Immediately above the square, write the
word “Goal”. This square represents the realm of ideas for a particular
issue or problem. When you generate ideas for the problem, they should fit in
the square. The closer those ideas are to your goal, the higher they will sit
in the square.
Across the middle of the square, from left to right, draw a dashed line. Below
the line, write “limitations”. Above the line write “good
When we are trying to dream up ideas for a particular problem, we have a tendency
to look at the limitations and focus our ideation on ideas that meet the demands
of our limitations. In short, we only consider ideas that come within the “good
ideas” portion of our realm of ideas. Ideas that do not make it into the
good ideas realm are often rejected immediately.
That is not a good idea! In fact, it is squelching your imagination and restricting
the creative potential of your ideas. Instead, when generating ideas, make a
note of all of your ideas, regardless of whether they fall in the “good
ideas” realm or the “limitations” realm.
Now, take the square you have drawn, add a little star below the dotted line
and label it “idea”. Draw an arrow from the star to a point well
above the dotted line.
As the illustration shows, you need to take an idea that falls within the limitations
realm and modify it in such a way that you bring it into the “good ideas”
Consider, by way of example, a hypothetical group of talented programmers who
have recently lost their jobs and are looking for ideas for earning an income.
They are all honest people, so when one of them jokingly says, “we could
rob a bank”, they all laugh and reject the idea as a joke. Because they
are honest, one of their limitations is any money making idea must be legally
Now, consider a more creative group of jobless programmers in the same situation.
One of them says, “we could rob a bank.” But this time, instead
of rejecting the idea, they try and find ways to bring the idea up from the
limitations realm into the good ideas realm. They play with the idea and come
up with some interesting alternatives.
“We could make a computer game about robbing banks,” says one programmer.
“Or we could design security software to help banks prevent electronic
theft,” says another.
“Or we could offer to analyse banks' computer systems to search for security
holes that could lead to robberies,” says another.
“Or we could provide banks with advice on how to deal with phishing,”
says another. Phishing is the term used for e-mails which claim to be from a
bank and attempt to trick you into giving your bank account information. (for
more information on phishing, see http://www.antiphishing.org/)
As you can see, by trying to take an idea out of the realm of limitations and
into the realm of good ideas, the creative group of programmers comes up with
three interesting alternative solutions.
Likewise, when you are trying to find good ideas, do not reject the ones that
do not meet your requirements. Rather consider how you can modify those ideas
so they do meet your requirements. The result will almost certainly be more
creative ideas and a more dynamic way of looking at problems.
Skunkworks is defined by dictionary.com (www.dictionary.com)
as “a small, loosely structured corporate research and development unit
or subsidiary formed to foster innovation.”
Skunkworks generally aim to develop innovative projects and are usually free
from the usual requirement of coming up with immediately profitable ideas. Indeed,
most ideas that come out of skunkworks are not immediately profitable and may
never be profitable. But they do enhance an organisation's reputation for being
innovative and they often provide the organisation with knowledge and ideas
that can be applied to existing products and services profitably. And, from
time to time skunkworks do come up with products which are stunningly successful
and highly profitable.
A number of innovative companies have skunkworks. Lockheed Martin has had one
for over 60 years (http://www.lockheedmartin.com/wms/findPage.do?dsp=fec&ci=15919&rsbci=0&fti=0&ti=0&sc=400).
IBM, Apple, NASA, HP and others acknowledge running skunkworks projects.
Google allows its employees to spend up to 20% of their time on unofficial
projects – in other words: skunkworks.
Of course it easy for such big companies, with multibillion dollar budgets,
to support skunkworks. Nevertheless, any company that wishes to take an innovative
lead in its sector should have a skunkworks; or at least run skunkworks projects
from time to time.
In particular, following Google's example of giving staff a set time percentage
(and, ideally, budget allowance) to focus on skunkworks projects of their choice
is a great way to take an innovative lead in your sector.
But do bear in mind that this could result in an initially reduction of productivity.
Skunkworks projects almost never result in quick profits. But, expect a big
pay-off in the long term as the occasional skunkworks project pays off big time
and ideas generated in other skunkworks projects are implemented in existing
products and services.
KEEPING THE IDEAS FLOWING
A common problem with many employee suggestion systems, including idea management
tools, is that they capture a lot of ideas shortly after implementation. Then,
after a few months, use dies off and few ideas are contributed.
Here are some broad tips for keeping the ideas flowing in your idea management
Transparently implement ideas regularly. The biggest problem with the old
fashioned suggestion box is that most employees do not really believe that
you will do anything with their suggestions. And if they do not believe
you will do anything with their ideas, employees won't waste their time
sharing those ideas with you.
Idea Campaigns. Run short term campaigns to solicit ideas on specific,
focused issues. These campaigns should last about two weeks and should be
publicised as much as possible. Knowing that the issues are important and
time is limited will motivate people to contribute ideas. Incidentally,
Jenni Idea Management's (http://www.jpb.com/jenni/) dynamic category management
tool allows you to create static categories for general ideas and short
term categories for idea campaigns (see also article below).
Promote the idea management tool via other communications tools. Publishing
top ideas and/or your top idea contributors in your in-house newsletter
is a good way to demonstrate appreciation for ideas as well as to give public
recognition to idea contributors. One of our clients asked us to write some
code to put the five latest ideas, submitted to Jenni, on the front page
of their intranet site. This was an excellent idea for promoting Jenni.
Communicate directly with idea contributors. If someone submits a good
idea, give her a call or drop by her desk and compliment her idea and her
creativity. This shows that you really care about her idea and value her
Collect feedback from users of the system. Indeed, you could use the system
to collect ideas on improving the system. This is something we do: suggestions
from users, beta-testers, partners and even sales prospects have been implemented
When someone submits a particularly interesting idea, promote it and encourage
others to provide their feedback on the interesting idea. Jenni in fact
has a hot ideas feature that does this.
Establish a consistent rewards system. Rewards systems can be complicated
and if set up badly can actually reduce the number of ideas you receive.
However, a consistent system that focuses more on recognition than on the
material value of the rewards can be an effective means of motivating people
to share ideas.
DO NOT reprimand people for submitting poor ideas. I have seen this happen
more times than I can count. A company indicates that it wants to hear employees'
ideas. But, once management receives one poor idea, they criticise the submitter.
As you can imagine, this immediately sends a message to the company's creative
thinkers: “your ideas will get you in trouble. Keep them to yourself
What about you? What techniques have you found to keep employee suggestion
and idea management systems flowing? I'd
be fascinated to know.
JPB.COM NEWS: JENNI IDEAS CAMPAIGN
Following a request from a German manufacturer, we have developed a variation
of Jenni Idea Management virtual software called “Jenni IdeasCampaign”.
Unlike Jenni Idea Management, which allows you to dynamically create, modify
and destroy categories, Jenni IdeasCampaign allows you only to create temporary
campaigns to generate ideas on a specific issue or topic.
So, although Jenni IdeasCampaign is more limited in its functionality than
Jenni Idea Management, it is ideally suited for organisations which wish to
run a limited campaign with customers, employees, the general public or any
specified – or, indeed, unspecified - group of people. Jenni IdeasCampaign
does, however, include our powerful criteria based evaluation tool.
Jenni IdeasCampaign is available for short term rentals of one month (allowing
two weeks for generation of ideas and two weeks for evaluation of ideas), longer
term rentals and unlimited contracts for organisations which wish to run regular
In the latter case, we recommend Jenni Idea Management which allows you to
have static categories (ie. Categories which remain open indefinitely) and time
limited categories (for ideas campaigns). Jenni Idea Management also includes
an implementation manager and idea archiving which is not a part of Jenni IdeasCampaign.
For more information, visit http://www.jpb.com/jenni/ideascampaign.php
me via web form or on +32 2 305 6591.
Our Benelux sales partner has completed the Dutch language web site for Jenni,
which is marketed in Belgium as Innovation Manager. You can visit it at http://www.innovationmanager.be.
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Jeffrey's Book: The Way of the Innovation Master
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