Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in
Thursday 7 July 2011
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your twice-monthly (or thereabouts)
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.
JEFFREY IS ON TWITTER: @creativeJeffrey
I have been playing with Twitter the past few weeks and am still trying to
1) find my voice there and 2) ensure I add mostly meaningful noise to an already
very noisy place. My Twitter name is CreativeJeffrey and you can find me at
TOO MUCH CREATIVITY IN THE IDEAS
When organising a brainstorm session, ideas campaign or similar ideation exercise
based a round a creative challenge, the person in charge hopes for a high level
of creativity in the suggestions. However, such activities are often based on
a creative challenges that are so mediocre, it is not fair to expect participants
to be highly creative with their ideas. And indeed, this is why so many brainstorms
fail to result in inspiring ideas.
If you want truly creative ideas in your brainstorming (or other ideation)
event, you need a provocative challenge. This forces brainstormers to use different
areas of their minds in order to suggest ideas and so results in a higher level
of creativity. Indeed, this is one of the key tenets of Anticonventional
Thinking (ACT), my approach to creativity.
Creative Challenges Need to Be Creative
In order to be provocative in your creative challenges, you need to invest
creative thinking in the framing of your problem or goal into a provocative
challenge statement. In fact, the more creativity you invest, the more creativity
you can expect in the results.
Consider a typical brainstorm. It might start with a challenge such as: “How
might we improve the customer experience in our shops?” This challenge
would doubtless result in ideas such as: smiling more, faster service and so
on. Good ideas. Worthy ideas. But hardly creative ideas.
Compare this with a more provocative challenge such as, “How might we
make shopping with us the best experience in our customers’ lives?”
or “How might we make visiting our shops as pleasurable as eating Belgian
chocolate?” or “How might we bring tears of joy to our customers?”
or “How might we make shopping with us as addictive as heroin?”
or “What might our chief competitor do that would ensure we’d never
see another customer again?” Challenges like these ensure big, creative
ideas are suggested.
The original, uninspiring challenge makes brainstormers browse their minds
in the regions associated with shopping. As a result, all but the most naturally
creative people will come up with ideas based on those shopping experiences.
As such the udeas will be largely predictable and lack any real creativity.
The more provocative challenges, on the other hand, push people to think outside
the shopping districts of their minds, exploring notions of great life experiences,
the joys of chocolate, addiction and so on. These associations make it easy
even for averagely creative people to come up with new and unexpected ideas.
Moreover, extreme statements, such as “best experience in our customers’
lives” and “addictive as heroin” force people to think push
their thinking further, rejecting conventional ideas and seeking more extreme
and hence more creative ideas. In truth, it is highly unlikely that you will
come up with an idea that will make shopping at your business the best experience
in many people’s lives or so addictive that your shops are banned by the
health and safety authorities (although you never know). Nevertheless, if you
do not ask such extreme questions, you are far less likely to get extremely
How to Formulate Provocative Challenges
For highly creative people formulating provocative challenges comes naturally.
This is one reason why they are so creative. They do not settle for simple challenges,
they prefer provocative ones that give their brains a good work out. In fact,
even if you present a highly creative person with a typical, mediocre challenge,
the chances are that she will reword it in her mind to make it more provocative
in order to generate more interesting ideas. She probably does not even realise
that she does this. But she does.
Averagely creative people – the bulk of the world’s population
– have to work at making their challenges more provocative. The best approach
is to break the problem down into components and work on those. For instance,
the problem or goal in our example challenge is to improve the shopping experience.
So you can focus on key elements like “improvement”, “shopping”
and “experience”. In this case, the key word is probably “experience”.
Ask yourself what experiences are highly pleasurable and work on those. The
obvious one, sex, would be the most interesting in many respects, but it would
also invite suggestions that are highly inappropriate for the workplace and
could result in accusations of sexual harassment (sadly, this sentence alone
will doubtless result in 10% of today’s Report 103 being being blocked
by email filters!).
Chocolate, on the other hand, is a safe but pleasurable experience for many.
And it is particularly suitable if your shop does not sell chocolate. If it
does, you need a different challenge!
In addition to breaking down your problem, you should also look at absolutes:
best, most, only, never and so on. Rather than making your shopping experience
good, make it the greatest experience in the customer’s life!
Another great approach is to turn the goal of the challenge into a negative
and put it into the context of your competitors or another evil person or group.
Ask what your competitors could do that would be disastrous to your business;
or ask what your worst enemy could do that would wreck your goals. The added
advantage to this approach is that by distancing the challenge from the solvers,
you increase creativity. (See article “Distance
Creativity” in the 15 September 2009 issue of Report 103).
Of course you can also use classical creative thinking tricks to make your
challenges more provocative. Look up a random word in the dictionary and try
to apply it in your challenge. Or take that word, put it into your favourite
search engine along with a key word describing your problem and see what comes
up. Then go to the seventh page of results and select the third item and ask
yourself how you might apply that information to your challenge.
Key Point: Be Creative with Your Challenges
The key here is not to invest all of your creative thinking in the generation
of ideas to solve a mediocre or predictable challenge. Rather, invest as much
creativity as possible in formulating the challenge. By doing so, you reduce
the effort brainstormers need to invest in order to generate truly creative
ideas. Moreover, you make it easier for averagely creative people to surprise
themselves with creative ideas.
And if you find it difficult to formulate creative challenges, call in the
most creative person you know for help. Or call me. But I’m expensive!
THAT IDEA WILL COST YOU
I was reading an interesting paper on innovation competitions through history
(see footnote below for reference) and came across an interesting titbit of
information. The Royal Agricultural Society of England ran annual innovation
contests from 1839. For at least part of the time, if people submitting ideas
were not members of the society, they had to pay to submit ideas. However, if
the idea was found to be novel, they would receive their money back. And, if
it was found to be sufficiently innovative, it would be win the submitters a
substantial cash prize and medal.
Unfortunately, the paper looked at the association between prize size and competitiveness
– so this bit of information was not explored further. But it inspired
One often unspoken problem with idea management and open crowdsourced idea
web sites is that they collect a lot of ideas that are significantly less than
novel! Many ideas are irrelevant to needs or describe infinitesimally incremental
improvements with little or no added value. Since the managers of such systems
measure success by the quantity of suggestions rather than the quality of the
ideas, the result is often an ocean of trivial ideas. (See my
article on The Cult of Ideas for more about this problem).
Assuming you are a manager who is keener to capture quality creative ideas
than lots of ideas of indeterminate quality, this could be an interesting approach:
charge participants a small fee for each idea they submit. However, if the idea
meets your criteria for novelty (which should be published on the idea management
web site), give the idea submitter a refund. And if the idea passes your evaluations
and is determined to be worthy of implementation, give a reward.
How to Do It
The first challenge with this concept is how to implement it! If you applied
it to an idea management initiative inside your company and asked employees
to pay to submit ideas, I expect your employees will not be happy. A better
approach, then, would be to give each department or team or employee an ideas
budget. They can use this budget to submit ideas. Let’s charge $12.50
per idea (see
the first article here to understand why I chose that amount). If the idea
meets novelty requirements, that $12.50 is refunded to the budget. If the idea
is implemented, the department (or team or individual) gets a cash injection
into their idea fund, allowing them to submit more ideas.
It is harder to predict the result of applying a pay-per-idea approach to a
crowdsourcing initiative. Surely, you will want to ensure that the initiative
is based on creative challenges rather than an open idea-submission web. This
will ensure that ideas focus on actual needs, making disputes and repeated ideas
less likely. It will also make reviewing ideas for novelty and implementation
– according to a consistent criteria set – easier. And, let us be
clear, if you are charging people to submit ideas, you owe it to them to actually
review their ideas (it is an open secret that with many of the large, open idea
submission tools, most ideas go unread by the companies who run them).
Nevertheless, charging customers to submit ideas may not go down well unless
there are substantial rewards for an idea that is implemented. For example,
people might be happy to pay $5 or $10 to submit an idea if they know that that
money will be refunded if the idea is novel and that they will win a reward
in excess of $10,000 if the idea is implemented.
Nevertheless, there will surely be disputes if people have to pay for ideas,
but get refunded if their ideas are novel. So there needs to be a clear mechanism
for reviewing ideas as well as a legal disclaimer preventing disputes from escalating.
Hard to Predict
In the end, it is hard to predict how people would react to an idea management
system where they had to pay to submit ideas – even if they are paid back
for novel ideas. Moreover, assuming the cost of submitting ideas was low, the
cost of administering the compensation process could be relatively high.
Perhaps an alternative approach would be to make it very inexpensive to submit
an idea, but not offer a refund. Let people submit ideas for no more than US$5
and provide a series of cash rewards for implemented ideas. In effect, you would
be establishing a lottery in which creativity rather than luck decides the winner.
On the plus side, I believe that having to pay to submit ideas will make idea
submitters more aware of the value of their ideas and more likely to pre-filter
their own ideas for quality. For this to work, it needs to be clear that ideas
are being rewarded for the qualities of novelty, creativity and value potential.
If you simply offer a reward for the “best ideas”, you are likely
to get incremental improvements. (See
article “When the Best Is Not the Best”).
Nevertheless, aside from the Royal Agricultural Society of England, I know
of no more recent idea management initiatives that required users to pay to
submit ideas, so I cannot report on the results. Nevertheless, I believe it
could be a fascinating experiment and could very likely lead to a higher level
of creativity in idea management.
Brunt, L., Lerner, J. and Nicholas, T. 2008. 'Inducement Prizes and Innovation'.
CEPR Discussion Paper no. 6917. London, Centre for Economic Policy Research.
HOW TO LAUNCH AND IMPLEMENT AN INNOVATION PLAN FOR LESS THAN $20
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You don’t need me to tell you that diverse groups are more creative;
that a diversity of backgrounds, educations, knowledge and thinking styles leads
to a wider range of ideas and hence greater creativity. Moreover, creativity
can easily be translated into innovative results over the medium and long term
as creative ideas are developed and implemented.
Moreover, the key principal of anticonventional
thinking (ACT) is purposefully rejecting conventional ideas for unconventional
ideas. This is could also be described as taking a purposefully divergent approach
to idea generation. Presumably, diverse groups of people will generate diverse
Most importantly, an open minded creative thinker like yourself doubtless embraces
diversity, recognising the value it brings not only to the creative process,
but life itself.
So why is it that in so many offices, diversity is not only in short supply,
but often shunned?
Most companies today hire according to carefully defined job profiles, describing
the education and work experience expected of each new employee. Those who diverge
much from the job descriptions seldom make it to the first interview. Moreover,
all but the most astute managers tend to hire people that they like. And those
people will tend to be similar to the person doing the hiring. That’s
human nature. It takes a perceptive manager to realise that hiring someone she
does not like might actually be a wise move in terms of improving creative and
Fortunately, companies are showing more diversity in terms of hiring by sex,
racial minorities and even disabilities. To some extent this is legally required.
Nevertheless, for all the racial diversity, there is often little intellectual
diversity. White male managers may be hiring more women and people of other
ethnic groups. But those people are often very similar in background to the
white manager – having gone to similar universities, worked in similar
companies and so on. Nevertheless, racial and sex diversity is an element of
diversity and it is important.
Diverse Opinions Not Welcome
Sadly, even when people have diverse backgrounds, they often find it better
to hide that diversity and behave more like their colleagues.
For example, I know a couple of Americans who are intelligent and highly placed
in their Fortune respective 500 companies. But they also share an opinion that
they dare not even hint at for fear of serious professional repercussions. That
opinion? That there is no God. They are atheists and scared that this might
become known. I don’t blame them.
Many gay people likewise find it incumbent to keep this element of their personality
a secret at the office, even when they are married (where legal) or have been
living with their partners for years. They fear that knowledge of this could
result in unpleasant consequences.
Even on a less deep level, employees are often understandably reluctant to
disagree with superiors even on matters of opinion. If the boss is a staunch
political conservative, politically liberal subordinates are likely to grin
and bear the boss’s opinions rather than challenge them.
Moreover, in many companies, questioning the boss’s plans is a sure route
to long-term non-promotion.
Non-Diversity Leads to Non-Creativity Leads to Non-Innovation
When you have a group of people who are all of a common background, share similar
beliefs and think in the same way, it can be a friendly, non-confrontational
environment. But when the diversity is lacking, creativity also tends to be
missing. People who all think the same and have similar knowledge bases cannot
add to each other’s ideas in the same way that people of different backgrounds
Disagreement, which is more common among a diverse group of people, can actually
be very good for creativity. Debate sparks fresh thinking. Having to defend
ideas forces people to think through those ideas in greater depth and either
strengthen them or accept that they are not good solutions. The result is rejection
of weak ideas and enhancement of strong ones.
Most importantly, as we stated at the beginning of this article, diverse teams
are the best for creativity and innovation. This has been my experience. I expect
it has been yours as well. But, in order to have diverse teams, you need to
have diverse employees and business partners. Likewise, you need to have a business
culture that embraces diversity. A place where an atheist is not afraid to admit
her lack of belief but rather looks forward to debating it with Christians,
Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists in the staff canteen (ok, I accept that
the last sentence reflects a highly idealised scenario – but it’s
one we can shoot for, is it not?).
Assuming you want to ensure diversity in your company, there are a couple of
things you need to do. Firstly, you need to ensure there is a culture that embraces
diversity and invites people to share divergent views without fear of reprimand
Secondly, you need to aim for diversity when hiring new people. Ask yourself,
does every marketing hire need to meet the job description of an MBA from prestigious
institution and 2-5 years’ experience in an FMCG business? Encourage people
with other backgrounds to apply for such positions and focus not on the MBA
and marketing work, but on creativity, willingness to work hard and willingness
Finally, you need a mechanism to create diverse teams. Left to themselves,
most people will opt to work with people they know and others of similar backgrounds.
Middle managers, particularly those lacking in confidence, will prefer to put
together teams of people similar to them. Mechanisms that encourage, if not
force, diversity in teams are often necessary to ensure that diversity.
THE PERILS OF BAD STRATEGY
As I have written in the past, the best innovation plans align with strategy
and enable companies to achieve their strategic goals. This is fine if you have
a good strategy. But if your strategy is useless, then aligning innovation with
it can only end in tragedy.
Richard Rumelt has written an excellent short paper on The
Perils of Bad Strategy in McKinsey Quarterly. You can read it here (registration
DÉBUT OF ANTICONVENTIONAL THINKING AT ECCI XII
Over the past few months, I have been developing an approach to
anticonventional thinking (ACT) which I first wrote about in Report 103
in April. ACT is an approach to creativity that exploits how the mind solves
problems, mimics the approach artists take and addresses some of the short comings
of brainstorming and similar creative approaches.
I will give my first public workshop of ACT at the European
Conference of Creativity and Innovation in Portugal this September –
and looking forward to it. It would be even better if you could join me there!
In addition to my workshop, many of the leading thinkers in creativity and
innovation will be speaking and giving workshops. So it is an event well worth
More information at http://www.eaci.net/eccixii/index.php
Book your ticket this month to take advantage of special rates!
TALKING OPEN INNOVATION IN J-BURG
I will also be delivering a talk on open innovation at the South Africa Innovation
Summit in Johannesburg in August of this year. And don’t worry, this will
not be your usual “Open Innovation is Great” talk. Rather, I will
look at the concept, what people are doing, threats (and there are some big
ones!) and sensible approaches to open innovation. I may also have a surprise
The South Africa Open Innovation
Summit will be an exciting event with presentations and workshops delivered
by the cream of South Africa’s innovation crop as well as a number of
leading international experts.
And, I understand that only 100 tickets are left! So, if you are interested
in innovation in South Africa, book your place now. I look forward to seeing
More information at http://www.innovationsummit.co.za/
JENNI IDEA MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE
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With Jenni, your managers can run brainstorms to generate creative ideas for
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At the end of the brainstorm, your managers can use Jenni's evaluation suite
to assign evaluations, SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats)
analyses, income projection and idea development projects to subject experts.
Jenni compiles all the information into easy-to-read scorecards and detailed
These enable your managers to make intelligent decisions about which ideas
to implement. This results in increased income and reduced operational costs
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If developing and implementing better products, packaging and processes than
the competition is critical to you, then contact us today and find out why Jenni
is the only innovation platform that can do that for you.
Other innovation management software delivers random ideas. Jenni delivers
solutions to your business problems. Which do you need?
Learn more here (http://www.jpb.com/jenni/)
or at http://www.jenniusa.net if you are
based in the Americas.
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