Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Tuesday, 7 November 2006
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.
Information on unsubscribing, archives, reprinting articles, etc can be found at the end of this newsletter.
ONE INNOVATION WONDERS – NOT ENOUGH
In the mid 1990s, Airbus had a very big, innovative idea: a massive passenger jet aeroplane capable of carrying 555 passengers on two levels. Moreover, using new technologies the aeroplane would be fuel efficient and have a greater range than existing jets. Launched in December 2000, the Airbus A380 prototype dwarfed the competitor's largest passenger jet: the Boeing 747. And as orders for the A380 poured in, the management of Boeing became understandably nervous. For years, their 747 was the only massive passenger aircraft and it owned the market for large transcontinental aeroplanes.
Boeing knew there was not room in the market for two massive jets of the size of the A380. So, instead of developing a competing product, Boeing worked on some less spectacularly innovative ideas of their own, focusing on smaller, faster, more fuel efficient passenger jets. Nevertheless, Boeing management remained nervous. Would Airbus overtake them and become a firm leader in civil aviation? Both airlines have for years been fighting neck and neck for the market in which presently there are no other serious players.
Unfortunately for Airbus, they followed their really big innovation – the A380 – with few other innovations. And those other innovations were related to the design of the 380 rather than manufacturing, other products, their processes or any other aspect of their operations.
Worse, manufacturing problems resulted in delays which were not helped by Airbus's highly bureaucratic structure and political inefficiency (Airbus is largely owned by the French, German, Spanish and British governments – so you can imagine that operational efficiency often gives way to satisfying political demands).
Worse still, Airbus had placed all of their eggs – and all of their innovation – in one basket: the A380. Meanwhile, their other planes were ageing and in need of updating.
The result? In spite of a huge innovation that had the aerospace sector salivating in anticipation, Airbus's shares are losing value and the company is likely to lose a lot of money before they make any on the A380. Indeed, costly delays mean they need to sell ever more of the A380s in order to earn back their investment.
Meanwhile, Boeing, with their steady stream of smaller innovations in various projects, together with innovations in their production process, is looking better all the time. They are more profitable, keeping closer to their schedule and innovating better.
Is the lesson to be learned here that little innovations are better than big innovations? No. The mistake that Airbus made is one that many other companies have made throughout history: failing to continue to innovate after that first big innovation.
Had Airbus continued to innovate, especially in improving manufacturing efficiency and existing aeroplane products, they would be in a far better position today, with reduced costs and an attractive range of products, instead of a single very attractive product that the customers cannot yet have.
Airbus is not alone. The dot-com boom resulted in a corporate graveyard of small businesses with one innovative idea each. Webvan was to have provided on-line ordering and home delivery of groceries (although an old Scottish friend of mine liked to point out that when he was a child, his mother could call the village grocer's and get a home delivery of her order), Boo.com had a highly innovative on-line fashion shop concept, Pointcast was a leader in “push” technology which would send web pages to your browser while you slept.
However, all of these organisations no longer exist – at least not in their original forms – for the simple reason that they failed to continue to innovate beyond their initial big, innovative idea.
WebVan was innovative in their idea and on-line ordering system, but failed completely to innovate in the logistics. And it was expensive logistics, in the end, that killed them. Boo.com was all innovative show and no innovative back-end. They went bankrupt.
The lesson to be learned, then, is very simple. When you have that really big, disruptive, amazing, incredible, world-changing idea, it should not mark the end of your innovation process. Rather, it should mark the beginning.
WATCH OUT FOR KNOW-IT-ALLS
When it comes to organisational innovation, probably the worst kind of person to have on your team is a know-it-all. You know the type of person I am writing about. A know-it-all is the kind of person who knows all the answers. He closes his ears and mind to everyone else in the group and expects others to accept his word as the final word on all matters (I am purposely using 'he' rather than my usual 'she' here as most know-it-alls seem to be men).
Know-it-alls are bad enough in any team. But when a team is meant to be innovative, it must generate and develop creative ideas. And creativity absolutely requires an open mind, a willingness to listen and an enthusiasm for trying new ideas even when they are not your own. Creativity involves being inspired by unrelated thoughts, knowledge and experience and combining that with your existing thoughts, knowledge and experience in order to devise new ideas.
Know-it-alls, with their closed minds and assuredness that their knowledge represents the sum knowledge of any relevant topic, are the exact opposite. They close their minds to external stimuli and are sure that any ideas not their own are inferior.
Unfortunately, the field of consultancy appeals to know-it-alls who are happy to tell business people what to do rather than listen and learn from business people. And as innovation has become a hot business topic, we are seeing more and more arrogant know-it-all innovation consultants who seem to know everything about innovation – but couldn't dream up an innovative idea if their lives depended upon it. Why? Because they have closed their minds to all but their own knowledge.
Consider: would you trust the instruction of an innovation consultant who was not creative? Probably no more than you would trust a swimming instructor who could not swim or a flying instructor who could not fly.
Indeed, the best innovation consultants and coaches will not only help you boost you and your team's innovation ability, but will also learn from you. The best innovation consultants will not only teach you how to generate creative ideas, but will generate some creative ideas for you as well. Most of all, the best innovation consultant will be as impressed with your ideas as you are with his.
So, if you are in the market for an innovation consultant, watch out for the know-it-alls who immediately lecture you with irrelevant statistics and promises of incredible results. Instead aim for the enthusiast who listens to you, is impressed by you and wants to work with you to help you develop your innovation potential.
PARENTS TEACH PROBLEM DEVELOPMENT NOT SOLVING
The other day I was chatting with a child psychologist friend of mine about problem solving when she made a remark that knocked me over with its obviousness.
She pointed out that when parents get into a fight, they have a tendency to send the children out of the room while they resolve their differences and (hopefully) try to solve the problem. Only once the problem is solved, are the children sought out and reassured that Mummy and Daddy still love each other and the kids.
However, consider the situation from the children's point of view. They see their mother and father having a disagreement which elevates into a fight. In other words, the children see the problem developing and being made worse by their two parents. Only then do the parents send the kids away while they SOLVE THE PROBLEM.
As a result, the kids learn about creating problems rather than solving problems. And that's too bad, because learning how to solve problems – all kinds of problems – is a key component to creative thinking.
Of course you would never have a fight with your spouse in front of the children – as I am sure your home is as full of marital bliss as the Baumgartner home. But if your friends are bickering in front of the children, tell them not to send the kids away while they solve the problem. Or, if they must send the kids away, then after the problem has been solved, your friends should explain to the children how they solved the problem. This will help children learn to solve problems and at least one problem solving approach.
Here is an entertaining collection of little household innovations. It helps if you understand German. But the ideas are interesting and generally understandable by their pictures alone. Check it out at http://www.atelier-v.ch/01.htm.
How MTV Channels Innovation.
The Power of Ordinary Practices
If you want to keep up with the latest news in business innovation, I recommend Chuck Frey's INNOVATIONweek (http://www.innovationtools.com/News/subscribe.asp). It's the only e-newsletter that keeps you up-to-date on all of the latest innovation news, research, trends, case histories of leading companies and more. And it's the perfect complement to Report 103!
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