Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in
Tuesday, 6 December 2005
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your fortnightly newsletter
on creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
As always, if you have news about creativity, imagination, ideas, or innovation
please feel free to forward it to me for potential inclusion in Report103. Your
comments and feedback are also always welcome. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information on unsubscribing, archives, reprinting articles, etc can be found
at the end of this newsletter.
THE GREAT INNOVATION LIE
Like any good managing director, I regularly watch what the competition and
others in our field are up to. One thing I have noticed over recent months is
a tendency to turn corporate innovation into a highly complex system involving
numerous processes, approaches and models.
Such systems are being promoted by consultants who, not surprisingly, charge
by the hour for implementing and teaching their systems. Unfortunately, when
firms decide they need to implement an innovation strategy and meet with such
high priced consultants, the firms are scared by the complex systems that must
be implemented. When different consultants preach different systems, it only
makes matters worse.
The problem is, corporate innovation need not be horrendously complex. Indeed,
highly complex systems can actually stifle creativity. And since innovation
is the result of successfully implemented creative ideas, it is clear that systems
that stifle creativity are not going to maximise innovation. Quite the opposite.
As I have written before, medium to large organisations already contain many
internal creative thinkers: the employees; and many external creative thinkers:
the customers. All that is needed is...
Trust: to make people comfortable about sharing their ideas with the organisation.
They need to feel they can make mistakes without suffering undue consequences.
Management buy-in: management must demonstrate their commitment to innovation
through internal and external communications media. Management must also
demonstrate being creative themselves; as well as a willingness to try out
creative, yet risky ideas.
Budget: is necessary to implement highly creative or disruptive ideas,
which by nature are more risky than less creative ideas. Money must also
be found for investing for tools (see below) that facilitate idea sharing
and development and training in the use of those tools.
Tools: such as an idea management tool for soliciting, capturing and evaluating
ideas from the employees. Used well, an idea management tool is the best
on-going tool for idea capture. Also useful are creative project teams,
brainstorming sessions, mind-mapping tools and other items which facilitate
creative thinking and collaboration.
Evaluation methods: are necessary for evaluating ideas generated by the
tools. Many tools, such as idea management systems, include evaluation components.
Note: one must be careful not to over-evaluate an idea. Too much concern
about risk can lead evaluators to discourage creativity in order to minimise
risk (see article “Too many evaluators spoil the idea” in the
20 September 2005 issue of Report 103 (http://www.jpb.com/report103/archive.php?issue_no=20050920).
Facilities: including meeting rooms, other spaces where people can meet
and share ideas, white boards, post-its, pens and other things which facilitate
creative meetings and brainstorming.
Rewards: whether recognition, small gifts or granting special privileges,
some kind of fair reward scheme motivates people to share their creative
ideas with the organisation.
Time: employees need time to be creative (see second article below).
How all of these components come together will vary from firm to firm. What
is important is that these components exist, that there is flexibility and that
ideas are implemented – nothing spoils a great idea management system
than not implementing ideas that are generated by the system.
Of course the above components of corporate innovation are highly simplified.
Nevertheless, they provide the backbone of a corporate innovation plan and can
quickly be elaborated to provide a more detailed structure. For more details
on a simple, but effective organisational innovation strategy, see the Corporate
Innovation Strategy Plan at http://www.jpb.com/innovation/.
So, don't let the expensive consultants fool you. An innovation strategy is
relatively easy provided you have the commitment, the desire and the budget.
Moreover, the strategy should be designed to fit your firm with minimal disruption.
If you want some help, just let me know. We can get you set up with a customised,
but simple innovation plan in a week or two. And we don't like to think of ourselves
as highly expensive consultants – rather value-for-money facilitators
who can help you develop the right strategy for your firm!
TIME TO BE CREATIVE
An oft overlooked aspect of organisational innovation is time. Time is necessary
for creativity. It is necessary for thinking through ideas and developing ideas.
And, if a new idea is a good one, time is needed to implement that idea. Indeed,
in Wayne Morris's Survey of Organisational Creativity (see “Organisational
Creativity – the Top 10 Enablers”; 4 October 2005 issue of Report
Time was sited as the most important enabler of organisational creativity for
the firms surveyed.
Certainly, a complaint we have often heard from employees in organisations
which have hastily implemented innovation demands without proper planning is,
“I already have more work than I can do in a day and now they want me
to be creative too!”
Sadly, when you have a number of tasks with rapidly approaching deadlines together
with specific responsibilities associated with your position, it can be hard
to find time to be creative. After all, being creative has no specific deadline.
Your employer cannot usually force you to be creative.
Rather, organisations need to provide employees with the time to be creative
as well as the motivation to share their creative ideas with the organisation.
We shall look at motivation in a future issue of Report 103. Our concern here
is with time.
Management needs to provide staff with more time to be creative. Sadly, that
is something much easier said than done. Forcing staff to work longer hours
in order to be more creative will hardly motivate them. Telling staff that they
can give creativity priority over other tasks, when they know that deadlines
are unchanged, will not encourage people to be more creative.
Granting staff a set amount of time for creative thinking and developing ideas
can be effective, but only if pressure to complete other work is not so great
that staff do not take advantage of their creative time. Google famously encourages
staff to devote up to 20% of their time on unofficial creative projects and
the results have ensured that Google remains a highly innovative company in
spite of its size.
More controversially, management could outsource more “grunt work”
in order to relieve local staff from having to complete routine tasks. As a
result, they would have more time to focus on devising and developing creative
ideas. Perhaps this could be tied into a rewards scheme in which staff who contribute
good ideas to the company can outsource tasks in order to give themselves more
time to develop ideas.
In many cases, people will have insufficient time because they are using time
inefficiently. Time management training can help staff learn to use their time
more efficiently, thus giving them more time to be creative. This is particularly
true if the training incorporates the issue of finding creative time.
As well as providing time, idea contribution should be simple and undemanding.
If an employee will have to spend substantial amounts of time in submitting
an idea to an idea management software program, the chances are she will not
bother. The half hour necessary to submit an idea could be better spent finishing
up the financial projections for the next quarter – or so she will think.
This is why Jenni idea management (http://www.jpb.com/jenni/) makes it quick
and easy to submit ideas. Moreover, Jenni's idea space is transparent, allowing
users to see and build upon each others' ideas. Thus if an employee sees a similar
idea to hers, she need not take the time to resubmit the idea herself, but rather
can build on the similar idea.
Focusing innovation by ideas campaigns with specific problems or issues allows
people to focus their creativity, which is more time efficient than just sitting
down and deciding to be more creative.
Whatever methods your firm adopts, the important things is to find a means
of providing staff with true creative thinking time. If you don't, your staff
will simply not have the time to be creative – no matter how much you
invest in your innovation strategy.
TIME PRESSURE AND CREATIVITY
Speaking of time and creativity, Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile
is doing a ten-year study looking at, among other things, how time pressure
in a corporate setting affects employee creativity. Some of her key findings
can be found at http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item.jhtml?id=3525&t=organizations.
It makes interesting reading as the results are not what you probably expect.
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