Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your monthly 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.
HURDLES ARE FOR JUMPING OVER
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
If there is one thing that innovation people like to talk about, it is hurdles
to innovation. Indeed, most innovation consultants would delight in giving you
a list of their perceived top 10 hurdles to innovation. Moreover, if you ask
employees in most companies, what are the hurdles they face in implementing
an innovation process, they will quickly list a handful of them.
The thing to remember, however, is that hurdles are for jumping over. More
interestingly, the best method of jumping over innovation hurdles is through
creativity and innovation!
In most companies, the hurdles to innovation are similar. Middle managers,
in particular, are widely perceived as culprits keen to sidetrack creative ideas
before they even have a chance to become innovations. There are numerous reasons
for this. A manager may fear that a subordinate with a brilliant idea might
take her job. She may not want to deal with the change implicit in implementing
the idea. She may fear the loss of her own power through empowering a subordinate
to take charge of implementing a potentially innovative idea.
This is not to say that all middle managers are innovation hurdles. Rather
that in many firms, many middle managers are perceived as hurdles. Moreover,
because they provide the link between the people on the ground and upper management,
they can be a very high hurdle indeed.
On the other hand, when middle managers are conducive to the innovation process,
it is a huge benefit to any large company. But when they are hurdles, that becomes
Problems Are Challenges
But wait! As we have learned before, right here in these very pages of Report
103, the innovation process typically starts with a problem. It simply needs
to be turned into a challenge so that people can work on solving the problem
with creative ideas!
The first step in the creative problem solving process, which is the basis
of the front end of any viable innovation process, is to understand better the
problem. Sticking with middle managers, you need to ask firstly, “How
are middle managers creating hurdles to the innovation process?” The answer
is probably simple: they are rejecting ideas from subordinates, they are discouraging
subordinates from sharing ideas and they are reprimanding subordinates who attempt
to test ideas without first seeking middle management approval. In particularly
ugly cases, middle managers may be stealing subordinates' ideas and claiming
them as their own, thereby killing all desire of subordinates to share ideas
and creating too much ill-will.
The second step in the process, and this is the most important step, is to
use the information from step one in order to ask why questions, for example:
“why are middle managers suppressing ideas?”
The answer might be: “because they have no motivation to push good ideas
forward.” That's a good answer. But it's not good enough. Indeed, the
best practice is to ask “why?” five times. By doing so, you may
discover that managers are not rewarded for forwarding their subordinates' ideas;
that they are overly pressured to perform routine tasks; and that they may lose
budget and promotional prospects if they back a failing idea. In short, they
are not rewarded in any way for pushing ideas forward, even if those ideas are
winners, but they risk consequences if an idea they champion does not work.
In such an environment, any potentially innovative idea starts with a tremendous
handicap. Moreover, one can hardly blame the middle managers for discouraging
The next step in the innovation process is to define the criteria by which
you will evaluate ideas. This can be done before or after the idea generation
process, but it is usually more businesslike to do it beforehand. In this situation,
criteria will probably include: viability of implementing the idea, ease of
implementing the idea, expected effectiveness of the idea; avoidance of conflict
from middle managers, minimal disruption (In some cases, you may actually want
to encourage disruption in a new process. But, for all the sexiness of “disruptive
innovation” the truth is, most employees do not like their jobs to be
With this information, it becomes relatively easy to formulate one or more
innovation challenges that can be used to generate ideas. For example: “in
what ways might we motivate [or 'reward'] managers to champion new ideas from
their subordinates?” or “in what ways might we encourage middle
managers to start more innovative projects with their teams?”
At this stage, you go through the usual idea generation process and get lots
of ideas. This done, you can combine ideas and evaluate them using the criteria
you have identified. Now, does that not sound like a lot more fun than moaning
about middle managers being hurdles to innovation?
Best of all, this process can be used to identify and define other hurdles
to innovation as well as generate ideas to solve them. Indeed, the biggest hurdle
to innovation is probably allowing hurdles to become insurmountable. But you
would never catch an athlete thinking that way!
DECISION MAKING, INNOVATION AND CONTRACTS
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
As I have stressed many times in the past in this publication, we define business
innovation as the implementation of creative ideas in order to generate value,
typically through increased income, reduced operational costs or, ideally, both.
However, in order to achieve that implementation, a decision has to be made.
Curiously, this can sometimes be one of the most challenging elements of the
innovation process! Worse, the more potentially innovative an idea is, the harder
it can be to make that decision.
As a result, many potentially innovative ideas stay on the drawing board for
ages, with no one willing to implement them or reject them. In part, this is
because highly innovative ideas are a gamble. If they succeed, they mean increased
profits for the company and recognition for the team behind them. There could
be promotions and rewards involved. That's all very nice, of course.
If they fail, on the other hand, there could be consequences, particularly
if your firm does not recognise failure as an important part of the innovation
process. Failure, of course, involves loss of budget invested in the implementation.
In a worse case scenario, reputations are damaged, employees are reprimanded
and promotions passed over. No one likes that.
Of course innovative firms understand that failure is a learning process and
that the teams behind failed projects should be respected and invited to share
their learning Then they should be given new innovative projects to tackle.
Nevertheless, even in such firms, people would rather back winning ideas than
the other kind.
With all of this in mind, it is no wonder many innovative ideas are left waiting
for a decision, which means that the company in question is not achieving its
Not Just a Yes-No Decision
The thing to bear in mind here is that decisions do not need to be a simple
yes or no; go or no go. Rather they can be made based on measurable contingents
or milestones. In other words, the innovative project can be given the go-ahead,
but it must meet certain goals within a set time frame. If it does not, the
project can either be cancelled or reviewed – depending on the terms of
Sometimes, you need to go even further. It is necessary to review potential
failure scenarios and the consequences of those scenarios. With that information
in mind, you can devise actions to take in the event of failure, which may even
turn a failure into a partial success.
When a decision goes from being a simple yes-no choice to a more complex set
of terms, it becomes a contract between the team members and management. After
all, a contract is essentially a decision to proceed on an agreement complete
with detailed terms on what happens in the event of any foreseeable contingency.
Such a contract can indeed be very effective. By envisioning all possibilities,
the team responsible can move forward in confidence. Likewise, management can
be assured that if things go wrong, the project will not bleed money –
something that we managers really dislike! On the other hand, if a team wishes
to progress on a project, but finds that senior managers will not give them
the okay because of the feared risk, the team can prepare such a contract for
management to agree to.
As a result, ever more innovative decisions can be made while keeping risk
in check. This is an ideal scenario for any firm.
CREATIVE SMALL BUSINESSES DELIBERATELY FOSTER CREATIVITY
by Edward Glassman. Ph.D.
I have written many articles about creative businesses, Here are some major
strategies they used to foster creativity at work worth considering for your
The Roles of Top Management. Top management viewed creativity as
important to the success of the business, and to remaining competitive.
Management deliberately called for creativity. Policies solicit new ideas,
reduce bureaucracy, encourage change and different ways of doing things,
foster the entrepreneurial spirit, and the belief that people want to be
creative. Management tends to give little direction and few guidelines on
the implementation of agreed upon goals, respects people’s competence,
encourages risk and helps people learn from mistakes, wants people to excel
and achieve, and promotes from within. They demand practical, profitable
Power Sharing. People used words like autonomy, freedom, empowerment,
independence, and individual thinking. They’re urged to make decisions,
create solutions to work problems, and told that the best person to solve
a problem is the one working on it. Not a lot of permissions are needed
to get the job done with room to innovate. Once there is agreement on the
goals, they’re given the creative freedom to do the job. Teams are
assigned missions, and then turned loose to achieve goals. People are trusted
and relied on to make on-the-spot decisions to help customers.
Hiring. These businesses hire diverse people with untraditional
backgrounds, good people given lots of leeway, thinking, talented people
who are trusted to do the job.
Rewards. Creativity is enjoyable, and that’s one reward. Ideas
are also rewarded with recognition and full credit. Profit sharing and bonuses
were mentioned to motivate people to either implement or tell new ideas
Informality. People highlighted reduced bureaucracy, vague or no
job descriptions, few rules to limit creativity, fluid organization structure,
lack of pigeon-holing, no dead end jobs, informal interaction, calling people
co-workers (not subordinates), informal job structures, and more.
Time. Many people mentioned enough time to be creative, and setting
deadlines to encourage creative thinking.
Creative Climate. Most people used phrases like contagious creativity,
friendly environment, be innovative and solve problems creatively, solicit
and listen to new ideas, creative physical environment, individualized work
area, celebrations, proximity to creative people, caring people, people
feel valuable, decent treatment, catch people doing things right, sense
of ownership, personal growth, achievement, and self-direction, and more.
Teams and Teamwork. Most people mentioned teams, cooperation, and
creative teamwork. They used phrases like fluid teams, respect each other’s
competence, trust, clearly agreed on goals, being open to new ideas, creativity
procedures, getting out of the box, and more.
Practical Creativity. Creativity had practical results. People started
with spaced out, grandiose ideas, and business realities brought them back
Sources for New Ideas. Many people spotlighted outside stimulation.
They mentioned colleagues, other people, books, travel, competitors, trade
fairs, magazines, customer suggestions, other stores, and team meetings
as sources for their ideas. Ideas are not creative in a vacuum. Creativity
depends on past experiences and knowledge, so the more you know and interact
with others, the more creative you can be.
Sharing Knowledge, Ideas and Values. Some businesses train and publish
newsletters to keep their people informed. They share new ideas to foster
creativity and effectiveness.
I am impressed by what these creative companies do to foster creativity. Many
of these strategies can work in your company. Make an action plan to introduce
those that you think would increase creativity in your company.
About the Author
This article is taken from his book: “Team Creativity At Work I &
II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best,” available from Amazon.com.
Ed Glassman lives in Moore County, North Carolina (NC), where he wrote a column
on “Creativity At Work’’ two times a week for the Citizen’s
News-Record and a column on “Business Creativity” for the Triangle
Business Journal in Raleigh. A Professor Emeritus of the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill, he has lived in Chapel Hill, NC for 34 years and has
written several books on creativity at work. He founded the Program For Team
Excellence and Creativity at the university. He has led problem-solving creativity
meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies.
He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University and
a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’
in Greensboro, NC. He can be contacted at his website: http://www.offbeatbooks.net/team-creativity-at-work-books.html
PASSING CONTROL DOWN THE HIERARCHY
In researching a paper, I came across an interesting blog post in the Wall
Street Journal. It is about how the Bank of New Zealand allowed one of their
branches to choose its own hours. Other branches learned about this and soon
all were demanding the same rights. Some wanted to open late, some on weekends
and so on. This initially caused chaos in the main office and many senior manages
criticised the decision for political reasons. Others, had legitimate concerns.
Nevertheless, these were overcome.
With their new found freedom, branches soon started making other decisions
that generated new business and increased profitability. In short, they took
control of their local innovation process and succeeded. This seems to have
been largely owing to being given freedom to make some basic choices and, importantly,
being given useful information from the main office that allowed the branches
to make intelligent decisions.
I recommend reading the article: http://blogs.wsj.com/management/2009/08/07/unshackling-employees/
INNOVATION IN EMERGING ECONOMIES
The Economist last week published a special report on innovation in emerging
economies. It is extremely interesting reading. The report notes that emerging
countries are not simply regions of cheap labour and call centres. Rather they
are centres of innovation which are innovating in innovative ways! This spells
both threats and opportunities for organisations in developed countries. You
can download the PDF of this special report at http://www.economist.com/members/survey_paybarrier.cfm?issue=20100501
Incidentally, we have also noticed from emerging economies an increased interest
in our innovation process management software. Indeed, just last month, a leading
agricultural firm in Namibia began using Jenni. And we are in talks with firms
in South Africa, Turkey and Dubai. You can read more here: http://www.skynewswire.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=16119
QUALITY NOT QUANTITY IN IDEA MANAGEMENT (OUR ADV)
A number of businesses selling idea management software and services boast
the high participation levels and astounding number of ideas generated by their
software and services. This, of course, is fantastic if your firm is seeking
ideas. If, on the other hand, your firm is actually hoping to innovate, then
the number of ideas or levels of participation are largely irrelevant. What
is important is the quality of ideas generated, their value potential and their
relevance to your innovation goals. Generating 5,000 ideas where 50 are viable
is clearly less economically efficient than generating 500 ideas in which 100
are viable. Not only does the latter scenario provide more viable ideas, but
because you start from a smaller set of raw ideas, fewer resources need be invested
in evaluating ideas in order to identify the winners.
We recognise this. Indeed, that's why our software: Jenni innovation process
management (IPM) gives you complete control over your innovation process.
Jenni starts by using ideas campaigns to focus idea generation on strategic
business problems defined by your management. Thus, ideas generated respond
to actual business needs and not the whims of employees.
Moreover, Jenni's structured index of users that defines location, department
and membership of teams, allow you to control who participates in any ideas
campaign. You can open a campaign to the entire company, or limit it to one
or more locations, business units or teams. In many cases, allowing a diverse
team of 50 people around the world to focus on an innovation challenge is far
more efficient and productive than opening up the challenge to all 10,000 employees
in a firm.
Finally, Jenni's unparalleled evaluation tools make the process of identifying
winning ideas efficient and effective.
Jenni makes no claims about the number of ideas generated. But we do guarantee
that with our support, you can generate a high percentage of innovative ideas
that keep your firm well ahead of the competition. More importantly, by aligning
idea generation in Jenni with strategy, you can expect to improve your bottom
line significantly – 1-2% annual improvement is not unrealistic.
Tell us your innovation goals and we'll tell you how Jenni can help you achieve
them. For more information, visit http://www.jpb.com/jenni/index.php
or contact us to discuss your needs at http://www.jpb.com/jenni/contact.php
NEW: JENNI ON-LINE VIDEO DEMONSTRATION (OUR ADV)
In order to make it easier for you to see how Jenni works – and to show
your colleagues how Jenni works, we have created a series of on-line videos
demonstrating Jenni's key features. You can watch these videos by going to http://www.jpb.com/jenni/demo.php
and filling in the form. Within a minute or so, you will receive by e-mail log-in
information that allows you to watch the video clips as many times as you wish
– and even to share them with your colleagues.
Incidentally, the on-line videos were prepared by our very own, ace-creativity
consultant Andrew Greaves. Greavsie, as he is known to friends and colleagues,
is based in London and has helped leading companies, particularly in the media
business, tap into the creative talent of their employees. If you would like
to boost the creative thinking skills of your people, contact
Greavsie to discuss your particular needs.
You can find this and every issue of Report 103 ever written at our archives
Report 103 is a complimentary eJournal from Bwiti bvba of Belgium (a jpb.com
company: http://www.jpb.com). Archives and
subscription information can be found at http://www.jpb.com/report103/
Report 103 is edited by Jeffrey Baumgartner and is published on a monthly basis.
You may forward this copy of Report 103 to anyone, provided you forward it
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Contributions and press releases are welcome. Please
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