Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in
Wednesday, 7 July 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.
Information on unsubscribing, archives, reprinting articles, etc can be found
at the end of this newsletter.
CREATIVE SELF HELP
There are a lot of self-help (also sometimes called “self-improvement”)
books on the market. Most of them give you a series of steps you can take in
order to lose weight, become more confident, earn more income, have a better
romantic life or otherwise become a better person.
Applying the creative problem solving (CPS: see http://www.jpb.com/creative/cps.php)
process to areas where you seek improvement can also help you to improve yourself
in your own unique way. Moreover, because such self improvement is personalised
the results are likely to suit your needs better than step-by-step instructions
designed for the masses.
With this in mind, we have decided to help you improve yourself through creativity!
We have just set up a “Creative Self -Help” section on the jpb web
site at http://www.jpb.com/selfimprovement/ . I will also run occasional articles
on the topic here in Report 103. The first is below.
GET CREATIVE WITH YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH
An “elevator pitch” is a short, self promotional statement which
you can deliver when time is limited. The term came to prominence during the
dot-com boom when every other person seemed to be starting up an Internet company
and looking for venture capital funding. It comes from the scenario of finding
yourself in a lift – or elevator, as Americans call it – with someone
who can help you out professionally, such as an investor, business partner or
potential employer. In a minute, the lift will reach its destination and the
other person will leave, so you only have a few seconds to say something to
capture that person's interest.
The aim of an elevator pitch should not be to make a sale, get a job or nab
a sack full of money from a venture capitalist. Rather, it is to start a conversation.
The ideal outcome of an elevator pitch is for the other person to look at her
watch and say, “I've got a free hour. Let's go have a coffee and talk
About a decade ago when I was hired by the European Commission's Information
Society Directorate General as an expert (which is Commission-Speak for a consultant
with expert knowledge), I had the memorable contract title of “expert
on the dissemination of information about electronic commerce to small and medium
sized enterprises in the European Community.” It was such a delightfully
convoluted title, that it functioned as a great elevator pitch. People simply
wanted to know what the heck it meant!
Most often, however, we are not so lucky and must craft our own lift pitches.
Moreover, with the exception of people with very specific expert knowledge (my
life partner, for instance, specialises in a very specific area of scientific
research. Either people understand what she does or they do not. If they do
not, she probably doesn't need to connect to them professionally), most of us
are competing with others for the attention of clients, business partners, investors
or employers. So we need elevator pitches that stand out, are unique and stimulate
a response. Clearly, some creativity is what is needed to design such a pitch.
What Do You Wish to Achieve?
As I have already stated, the aim of an elevator pitch is to start a conversation.
Nevertheless, you will want the conversation to be a significant step towards
achieving an aim, such as getting investment in your company, closing a sale
or winning a project contract. This means your pitch should stimulate the right
conversation. Think about what you wish to achieve.
Of course you might have multiple needs. For instance, an entrepreneur might
be looking to build a business relationship with a mobile marketing specialist,
negotiate a deal with the purchasing manager of a chain of clothing shops and
get some investment from a venture capitalist. If this is the case, you will
need either to come up with a single multifunctional pitch, which would be ideal,
or several pitches which you can select from depending on circumstances.
Once you are clear in your mind about your elevator pitch goal, write it down.
What Is So Special About You?
Now it is time to do some idea generation. Think about you, or your company
if it will be the focus of your pitch. Think about what is special about you.
In particular think about values or services you can provide to your customers
or employer or employer's customers as the case may be.
Spend some time on this and draw up a list of at least 50 ideas. Don't worry
about accuracy or whether a particular skill really is special. That comes later.
For the time being, just write down every thought that comes to mind. Indeed,
follow usual idea generation protocol: no squelching, no criticism and write
down everything. In particular, do not be afraid to note attributes which you
are striving to achieve even if you have not actually achieved them yet.
If possible, ask friends, family, colleagues and associates for their suggestions
and add them to the list.
Rate the Ideas
Now you should have at least 50 ideas and possibly many more. Feel free to
go through the list now and cross out any ideas that are unsuitable. But don't
cross out ridiculous ideas. Sometimes the ridiculous notions prove to be the
most creative and hence most effective!
Once you have cleaned up your list, call on a couple of friends or family members
to help you with the next step. Ask them to go through the list once to ensure
they understand everything. If any ideas are not clear, they should ask you
for clarification. After this is done, ask your friends to rate each idea on
a scale of 0-5 points for each of these three criteria:
You should also do the same. Once you are all finished, select the one, two
or three top ideas based on the number of points received. These are your strongest
Putting It all Together
Using these top attributes, try and craft them into a short, sweet and intriguing
elevator pitch. If you can convince your friends to collaborate with you on
the process, all the better.
You may need to write down several variations until you get it right. If you
have chosen more than one attribute, but cannot fit all of them into a pitch,
don't worry. Remember, you don't need to provide a comprehensive self-promotional
speech. You just want to start a conversation! Also, bear in mind that your
pitch should indicate that you (or your firm) offers value to the listener and
does not merely glorify yourself.
Once you've got something, try it out first in front of a mirror and then with
friends. Then look for an opportunity to try it out in real life. Perhaps there
is a networking activity or similar event coming up in your area. If so, sign
up for it, attend and practice with your pitch. If you've never used an elevator
pitch before, you will be amazed at how it makes you more confident about presenting
yourself in a public environment like this.
Finally, bear in mind that an elevator pitch is not set in stone. You can change
it any time you want. You may find, after your first networking event, that
it didn't get the response you expected. If so, it may simply need a little
tweaking. Or it may need reformulating.
Moreover, you can and should repeat this exercise from time to time in order
to ensure your elevator pitch is fresh and reflects changes in your activities
and your market.
SECRET TO SUCCESSFUL NEW PRODUCT INNOVATION: KEEP THE BOSS OUT OF IT
Billions of dollars are spent on developing and launching new consumer packaged
goods (CPG) products each year, and some companies see tremendous success while
others – don’t. Why? One secret appears to lie in the degree of
senior management involvement in the creative process, according to a first-of-its-kind
study unveiled today by The Nielsen Company at its Consumer 360 Conference in
Las Vegas (Nevada, USA) last month
Nielsen’s research of the innovation processes at 30 large CPG companies
operating in the U.S. reveals that companies with less senior management involvement
in the new product development process generate 80 percent more new product
revenue than those with heavy senior management involvement. Companies that
employ this and other best innovation practices derive on average 650 percent
more revenue from new products compared to companies that do not.
“New product innovation is a top priority of every major company CEO,
yet success varies so widely that it’s absolutely critical to understand
what drives successful innovation and what undermines it,” said Tom Agan,
senior vice president and managing director, The Nielsen Company. “Once
you understand it, then you need to ask yourselves, are we living it?”
Nothing But Blue Skies?
Nielsen’s research shows that simply being physically near corporate
headquarters can stifle new idea generation. In fact, it turns out that having
no Blue Sky innovation team at all is better than having a team on-site at corporate
headquarters. The best place for your breakthrough innovators? Far, far away.
According to Nielsen, companies with an off-site Blue Sky innovation team report
5.7 percent of revenues coming from new products, compared to 4.8 percent from
companies with no Blue Sky team at all. Companies with Blue Sky teams on site
report just 2.7 percent of revenues coming from new products.
“One of the keys to successful new product innovation is to manage new
ideas lightly,” said Agan. “While we don’t dispute senior
management’s strengths and good intentions, they are often too quick to
get involved in the creative process, especially when things are not going well,
and their mere presence can stifle free-thinking and boundaryless ideas –
which can doom the new product development process to failure.”
New Product Development Mantra: Consistently and Precisely
Senior management needs to play a different, more important role in new product
development. Nielsen’s research shows that another important key to success
is for senior management to precisely manage the new product development process,
not the ideas themselves. According to Nielsen, CPG companies with rigid stage
gates - - decision points in the process where a new product idea must pass
certain criteria to proceed forward - - average 130 percent more new product
revenue than companies with loose processes.
“New product development success comes down to two important principles
- - managing ideas lightly while managing the process precisely,” said
Nielsen’s evaluation shows that CPG companies with the most successful
new product innovation
records tend to have:
Two to three stage gates that are strictly followed across the organization.
The first stage gate is typically designed to identify ideas that will then
be developed into a concept and prototype, while the last stage gate is
usually designed to determine whether a product should be committed to production
A focus on growing brands, not ones acquired or designated by senior management
A development focus two to three years out
A formal scorecard to provide structure to organizational learning
A standardized and required post-mortem on all new product development
A knowledge management system to retain learnings from previous product
In total the study identifies about two dozen best practices that drive
better-than-average incremental revenue from new products.
“From the outside, it can often feel like innovation simply ‘happens,’
arriving like a bolt of lightning out of the sky,” said Agan. “The
truth is that companies with successful innovation track records go to great
lengths to create an ideal creative environment and the right behaviours, supporting
policies and procedures. When they execute well, the best ideas rise to the
surface and into consumers’ homes.”
About Nielsen’s Study
Nielsen’s research is the most comprehensive and objective new product
documenting more than 50 dimensions of new product development. Objective survey
compared to actual in-market success and the percent of revenue from new UPCs
in Q4 2009.
About The Nielsen Company
The Nielsen Company is a global information and measurement company with leading
market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other
media measurement, online intelligence, mobile measurement, trade shows and
related assets. The privately held company is active in approximately 100 countries,
with headquarters in New York, USA. For more information, please visit, www.nielsen.com.
YOUR ARTICLE IN REPORT 103
If you would like to write an article for Report 103, or wish to reprint an
existing article, let me know. Many of the best pieces in this journal have
come from contributors and at least one article eventually became the basis
of a book.
Report 103 has over 6000 subscribers, many of whom share the ejournal with
colleagues. Moreover, the archives receive 1000s of hits every month. So if
you wish to share your knowledge of creativity and innovation with a global
audience of innovation professionals, business leaders, scientists, researchers,
academics and others,
get in touch with me.
This is the second in an occasional series of articles on misconceptions in
the field of organisational innovation. In spite of the proliferation of research
on, and related to, creativity and innovation in groups, an amazing amount of
misinformation is circulated in the field of business innovation.
That's bad enough. To make matters worse, many of the misconceptions that exist
in the field are so completely the opposite of empirical research findings that
companies following these faulty notions are actually damaging their innovation
processes with consequences that range from loss of potentially innovative ideas
to demotivation of employees and even income loss.
And that's not good for your firm, is it?
Today, we will look at voting in suggestion schemes, a pet peeve of mine.
VOTING IN SUGGESTION SCHEMES
With the growth of interest in innovation, a number of firms have recently
launched suggestion scheme software products. These products make it easy for
employees (in closed systems) or even the public (in open systems) to submit
ideas about anything. The great thing about such suggestion scheme software
is that, properly promoted, they can generate 1000s of varied ideas. The bad
thing about such suggestion schemes is that, properly promoted, they can generate
1000s of varied ideas! After all, if you actually want to innovate, you have
to devote resources to reviewing those 1000s of ideas in order to identify which
ideas might become innovations. And without a structured innovation process
behind the suggestion scheme, each idea needs to be individually reviewed.
Not long ago, in an unknown software company somewhere in the world, some bright
spark had the idea to add a voting system to their suggestion scheme software
product. On the surface, the logic seems good: with so many ideas coming into
the suggestion scheme, why not let users of the system vote on ideas in order
to identify the best ideas? Clearly the ideas with the most votes will be the
best, after all they will have been elected following proper democratic due
process. Then the owners of the system need only implement the ideas with the
most votes and innovate like crazy.
There are two flaws with this seemingly lovely theory. Firstly, research in
social psychological behaviour, group motivation and incentives demonstrate
that the theory is completely wrong. Secondly, no one seems to have actually
read up on the research and, as a result, nearly every suggestion scheme software
company uses the same highly flawed voting system.
Let's look at the flaws.
People Do Not Vote on Best Ideas. They Follow Trends
Research has shown that in transparent systems where people can vote on submissions,
their voting is based more on trends than on the quality of the actual submissions.
Particularly interesting and relevant is a recent study by Matthew Salganik,
Peter Dodds, and Duncan Watts, entitled “Experimental Study of Inequality
and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market.”(1)
The researchers had 14,000 volunteers participate in a web based music download
system. Participants were able to listen to songs from obscure bands, vote on
how much they liked the songs and then download those songs.
Users were divided into groups. In the control group, users could not observe
the actions of other users. They simply listened, voted and downloaded. The
remaining users were divided into eight parallel worlds, each using an interface
available only to other members in the same parallel world. In each of these
worlds, participants could see which songs other members of their world had
downloaded and watch the voting in real time.
In each group, a strikingly different collection of musical tracks was voted
in as best. In the control group, the top choices were spread widely, with no
one track getting a huge number of votes. And this was assumed to represent
participants' actual liking of individual musical tracks.
In each of the worlds in which users could watch the voting results, something
interesting happened. Users first listened to the tracks which had the most
votes. In many instances, they also voted for these tracks and downloaded them.
Moreover, they often did not even bother to listen to the tracks with no votes.
This created a snowball effect, with a small number of tracks getting a high
number of votes and many other tracks ignored.
Most interestingly, the top voted songs in each of the worlds were very different
from one world to the next. Indeed, economists have long noted that this “network
effect” occurs within populations.
Think About It
If you stop and think about your own behaviour, you will see that this makes
sense. Imagine you visit a suggestion scheme for the first time. You see that
there are 100s or 1000s or more ideas in the system. Although the ideas are
categorised, there is no logical order to them. Most likely you will initially
look at the ideas with the most votes, assuming that these are the better ideas.
And, if you like the ideas, you will vote in their favour. You probably will
not want to admit it, but you will also very likely assume that highly voted
ideas must be a good in order to have achieved their high scores. As a result,
you will push up the popularity of the popular ideas but are unlikely to even
have the time to look at the unpopular ideas.
If 100s of people behave similarly, it is no surprise that those ideas, which
are submitted early and receive a few positive votes, quickly become the most
popular. However, the most popular ideas are not necessarily those that have
the greatest innovation potential. Indeed, if you look at typical behaviour
in a brainstorming or other ideation event, you will realise that they are unlikely
to be the most creative ideas. And remember, it is the highly creative ideas
that are most likely to become breakthrough innovations.
Creative Ideas Come Last
If you have ever participated in a brainstorming exercise, you will know that
the first ideas tend to be the obvious ones. By definition, then, they are not
particularly creative and are unlikely to become breakthrough innovations. It
is only after the obvious ideas have been exhausted that people start pushing
their minds and being creative.
However, as we have seen, in an on-line system with popular voting, the first
ideas are likely to capture the votes. As a result, more visitors will look
at them and fewer will look at the latter, ideas which will not receive many
votes. However, it is among those unpopular ideas that the most creative are
likely to sit!
So, it is clear that voting in suggestion schemes does not identify the most
creative ideas and may even act to hide those ideas. But it gets worse!
Topic fixation is a danger in any kind of brainstorming activity. In traditional
brainstorming, it occurs when an individual suggests an idea that other brainstormers
like. As a result, they suggest similar ideas and, as a result, you see a large
number of very similar ideas being submitted with the further consequence that
participants are not exploring other themes for ideas. This has been demonstrated
empirically since the 1950s.
However, more recent research has shown that this happens in on-line systems
too. Nicholas Kohn and Steven Smith of The University of Texas at Arlington,
USA recently published a paper on "Collaborative Fixation: Effects of Others’
Ideas on Brainstorming”(2). Rather than looking at traditional brainstorming
in a conference room, the researchers put volunteers in front of computers and
had them suggest ideas using AOL instant messaging software. In other words,
they submitted ideas on line. Mr. Kohn found that “Fixation to other people's
ideas can occur unconsciously and lead to you suggesting ideas that mimic your
brainstorming partners'. Thus, you potentially become less creative.”
While this research used small groups and did not include voting, it would
seem likely that voting for or against ideas would encourage topic fixation.
After all, if an idea gets a lot of votes in a suggestion scheme, users are
likely to assume that such ideas are best and will want to submit similar ideas
– not realising that the best ideas received their votes as a result of
the network effect rather than because they are actually the best. (Actually,
rewarding the “best ideas” is also a flawed concept that leads to
reduced levels of creativity in ideation activities. See The 2 June 2009 issue
of Report 103: http://www.jpb.com/report103/archive.php?issue_no=20090602)
I have not yet come across research on this precise scenario. But, if you look
at popular public suggestion schemes, you can certainly see not just similar
ideas, but nearly identical ideas being submitted again and again and again.
And this only adds to the workload of the administrators!
So, we can see that voting for ideas in suggestion scheme software encourages
people to vote for ideas that achieve early popularity, usually for no better
reason than that they were the first submitted ideas. Moreover, new visitors
are likely to view only those ideas with the most votes, thereby being less
likely to see, let alone vote on, more recently submitted ideas that are actually
more creative (as a side note, most suggestion scheme software products do not
identify how you should vote and those that do suggest you vote for the best
ideas – see note above – rather than the most creative or the most
unique). Finally, voting is likely, but admittedly unproven, to encourage topic
fixation and result in a lot of duplicate and very similar ideas.
For administrators of suggestion scheme software, it is clear that voting will
not make their jobs any easier. For submitters who know their ideas are more
creative, but find their ideas are ignored, the result is likely to be frustration
with the software and the suggestion scheme itself. Finally, users who see no
correlation between votes and implementation; or who wonder why their popular
ideas are ignored by administrators, there is also likely to be frustration
In summary, voting is actually highly detrimental to suggestion schemes. If
you wish to have some kind of user interaction on quality, however, there are
two approaches you can take. Firstly, rather than popular voting, use a sliding
scale such as Amazon uses with book reviews. Users on Amazon can give between
one and five stars depending on how good a book is. Moreover, ratings are based
on the number of stars and not the number of votes. Secondly clarify that stars
should be awarded for creativity, uniqueness, added value or a similar attribute
that is relevant to innovation potential. While these simple actions cannot
replace a structured evaluation of ideas, they at least make the user interaction
more relevant to the aims of the suggestion scheme.
1) “Experimental Study of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial
Cultural Market”; by
Matthew J. Salganik,1,2* Peter Sheridan Dodds,2* Duncan J. Watts; Science 311,
854 (2006); DOI: 10.1126/science.1121066 (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/reprint/311/5762/854.pdf
-- PDF document)
2) “Collaborative Fixation: Effects of Others’ Ideas on Brainstorming”
by Nicholas W. Kohn1* and Steven M. Smith; Applied Cognitive Psychology; 29
March 2010 (http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/123329584/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0)
LEARN WITH IDEA MANAGEMENT
We have recently added to Jenni, our innovation process management software,
a new Learning Centre. The Learning Centre includes a growing library of over
50 papers and articles about creativity and innovation. The focus of all the
articles is on practical advice for improving creativity and innovation within
organisations, something we here at jpb.com specialise in.
Moreover, the learning library is the perfect complement to Jenni, the only
idea management software product scientifically designed to support and follow
a structured innovation process that enables you to align idea generation to
strategy and then provides tools (and not popular voting!) that enable your
managers to make intelligent business decisions about which ideas to implement.
The market is currently being flooded with me-too products that make it easy
to capture ideas. But without the process or back-end evaluation, these tools
do little more than collect ideas. Jenni, on the other hand, delivers innovation.
For more information or to arrange a discussion, please visit the Jenni pages
JEFFREY'S PERSONAL AND UNGODLY CREATIVE ACTIVITY SPACE
If you have been reading Report 103 for a while and have begun to wonder what
sort of chap I am in real life, you can visit my newly created personal web
site at http://www.ungodly.com. It contains
some artwork I have created recently (I am hoping to digitise older work soon)
and a rather unusual blog.
You can find this and every issue of Report 103 ever written at our archives
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company: http://www.jpb.com). Archives and subscription information can be found
Report 103 is edited by Jeffrey Baumgartner and is published on a monthly basis.
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Note: unless indicated otherwise in the bi-line above,
this is an original article by Jeffrey Baumgartner which was first published