|Welcome to the Creative World of Jeffrey Paul Baumgartner!||
Your newsletter on applied creativity, imagination, ideas and innovation in business.
Wednesday 21 September 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.
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IMAGINATION IS THE ROOT OF INNOVATION
Imagination is the realm of the mind where you see things that do not yet exist in this world, but which one day might. It is an under-appreciated yet critical element of creativity and innovation. Imagination is defined as well as anywhere by Wikipedia “the ability of forming mental images, sensations and concepts, in a moment when they are not perceived through sight, hearing or other senses”1
Writers, artists and musicians are perceived as having the greatest imaginations. The novelist has to create in her mind characters, location, actions and plot. A great composer has to hear in her mind the interaction of many musical instruments in order to create a piece that stirs emotion.
Scientists too use imagination to see visions at the cosmological scale as well as the atomic scale. Chemists, for instance, often imagine molecules interacting in order to anticipate and understand how chemicals will interact when combined.
In business, imagination is much less used and possibly even looked down upon. Having a great imagination would probably not come across as a compliment to most businesspeople, which is ironic as strategic vision can only occur in the mind of someone with a tremendous imagination. But when executives have an imagination, it is called vision. Frankly, I prefer my imagination as an imagination. It has served me well throughout my life.
Breakthrough Innovation Requires Breakthrough Imagination
Most organisational innovation programmes focus on verbal ideation. Brainstorms are traditionally about verbalising or writing down ideas according to written challenges. For example, the challenge, “In what ways might we improve the quality of our customer service?” is met with typical verbal suggestions such as “faster response”, “more polite staff” and so on. Such ideas are good, but they offer little more than incremental improvement.
A far better approach would be to imagine the ideal customer service representative. Imagine how she might dress, how she looks and how she interacts with people. Now imagine a typical customer contacting the representative. How does the customer act? How does the representative act? How does the customer respond and so on. Imagine different scenarios: a friendly customer, an angry one, a shy one and an abusive one. How does the interaction pan out each time. How could you make it better?
The more clearly you can imagine this scenario, the more likely you are to come up with truly creative ideas that have the potential to become major innovations.
But if you really want to push things to the limit, let your imagination run wild. Imagine your customer service representative was a friendly, loving dog. How would she act then? Or changer her back into a human and imagine how she would act in the event a customer was in tears or became violent or threatened suicide. What if the customer was an alien from another planet? Think about others who serve people: priests, doctors, swimming instructors, teachers and so on. Imagine each as your customer service representative. Envision the scenarios that would occur. How would a customer service representative handle an angry terrorist with a bomb? How would she handle a depressed religious fanatic?
When you truly let your imagination run wild, there is a real opportunity to develop mind-blowing ideas that can become breakthrough innovations.
Firing People’s Imaginations
That’s all fine and good, of course. But how do get colleagues and others to use their imaginations in developing ideas? You need to stimulate them. Typical verbal challenge statements like, “What kind of snackfood products can we make in order to exploit current fashions for healthier eating?” or “how might we improve communications across divisions of our global company?” do not inspire the imagination.
The first thing you can do is to move from typical challenge statement phrases like “In what ways might we...?” or “How might we...?” to calls to action very likely starting with the command to “Imagine”. For example: “Imagine you are eating a natural tasting and healthy snack food in a bag. What does it taste like? What does it smell like? What does it look like? What is it made from?” or “Imagine we want to create the snack food equivalent of fresh fruit. How might we do that?” or “Imagine you need information from the product management team in Singapore in the middle of the night their time. Imagine there is an easy way to do it. Draw it.”
An even better approach can be to remove as much as possible the need for words in the ideation process. Instead, try to work with models, toys, pictures and anything else that allows individuals or groups to build ideas. The design company Ideo is famous for this kind of approach. I have also had success with what I call “visual brainstorming” or “non-verbal brainstorming”. See http://www.jpb.com/creative/visual_brainstorming.php
With non-verbal brainstorming, you can give a team a big bag of children’s building blocks and tell them to: “design our new research and development labs”. You can give a team lots of pieces of Styrofoam, paper, glue, bits of wire, pens and other tools and ask them to build ideas. You can even use tools like Lego building bricks to represent lines of communication across the company (this is something Lego Serious Play consultants do).
Helping People Imagine
Unfortunately, the office desk with a computer on top of it is, for most people, the worst place in the world for imagination, and doubly so if the people in question do analytical jobs. So, you need to get colleagues out of their desks and into new spaces. Special creativity and innovation rooms, that are becoming ever more common in many companies, are a good solution. Leaving the company space all together and doing ideation sessions in the countryside is good. Even better, sometimes, is to take people to a relevant place. For instance, if you are trying to come up with new product ideas, do the ideation in a supermarket and ask people to “Imagine an incredible new shampoo bottle that is so stunning it will grab your attention above all these other products on the shelf!”
For people who find it hard to enter an imaginative state, consider meditation. An expert can help people clear their minds of distractions and then plant an image to help spark the imagination. This is something that we have done at the Brussels Imagination Club and the results have been impressive.
Imagination Is Not Just for Ideas
Imagination, like creativity, is not for exclusive use during the visionary idea generation phase. It is useful throughout the innovation process. For instance, in order to turn a new product idea into a manufacturable product, someone needs to visualise and design a production process. Someone else needs to design the components and someone needs to design packaging that not only protects the product but, in many cases, motivates people to pick up your boxed product, look at it and buy it. In other words, for a truly innovative product, you want great imaginations at every step of the innovation ladder.
Imagine an Imaginative Company
It is clear that organisations which strive to be innovative need to ensure that they employ imaginative people and exploit those imaginations. A good start might simply be to use the word “imagine” more and more often until people actually do start imagine. Indeed, just imagine how that would be in your company!
1. Wikipedia article on Innovation at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imagination
THE ADMINISTRATION OF INNOVATION
As anyone who has ever established one knows, organisational innovation initiatives require a great deal of administration. Unfortunately, many people designing these initiatives, and even innovation consultants hired to assist in their design, fail to realise and account for the administrative side of the initiative. And this is one reason why many corporate innovation initiatives fail.
What Are We Going to Do with These Ideas?
Unfortunately, as I have written in the past, one of the first things many companies do when they want to “do innovation” is to launch an internal suggestion scheme in order to encourage and collect employee ideas. What they fail to realise is that a suggestion scheme requires a huge amount of administration and most suggestion scheme software – particularly that built in-house but also poorly designed commercial products – actually increase the administrative overload. This is why it is critical to build or buy a tool that streamlines the administrative process and not the reverse.
Why are suggestion schemes so administration hungry? Let us take a look.
Idea Processing and Review
The first problem is that every idea submitted needs to be reviewed. If ideas coming in are not related to a specific problem, issue or challenge, someone needs to review and categorise each idea in order to identify who should review it. This job is often the responsibility of the person put in charge of the suggestion scheme and can be a very time consuming task. Since the person in charge usually has other responsibilities, this initial idea processing is usually very slow.
Once ideas are categorised (if needed), the next step is a quick, but structured evaluation to determine which ideas have potential. Each idea typically requires five to ten minutes of an expert’s time. If you have a dozen ideas, this is no big deal. If you have 1000s of ideas, it suddenly becomes very expensive. Moreover, your expert employees are probably already overworked. Where will they find the time to review ideas? The alternative will be to hire consultants. But at €100/hour for a cheap consultant, 1000 ideas will cost €8,000 to €16,000 to review.
Once ideas are reviewed and the first set of promising ideas is identified, you then need a procedure for a more thorough review, particularly in the case of ideas that may require significant investment. This again demands time of your subject experts. As a result of this, ideas often are not reviewed for weeks or months or more. Worse, even when they are reviewed, idea submitters may not be notified of what is happening. After all, notification is another administrative task. If people are not told their ideas are progressing through an evaluation process, they will assume that no one cares about their ideas and so become demotivated about future participation in any suggestion scheme.
Although suggestion schemes generally result in a lot of incremental improvements, a well designed idea management tool combined with provocative challenge statements (see anticonventional thinking at http://www.jpb.com/act/) can generate very creative ideas that have the potential to become major innovations. However, many companies simply do not have a process in place for reviewing and realising potential innovations which by their nature tend to be riskier than incremental innovations and which may need special processes for approval, testing and implemention. These processes, of course, are administrative in nature and often neglected when innovation initiatives are planned. As a result, even if a lot of promising ideas are identified, they may not be implemented and will simply languish on a computer database.
I believe a key reason why administration is weak in many innovation initiatives is that they are designed by people who are enthusiastic about ideas, creativity and innovation. But what the initiative designers often fail to realise is that when you scale up an initiative, the administration tends to increase even faster. In a small team or organisation, a handful of people can brainstorm a problem, come up with ideas, review them and the leader can make a decision. Everyone knows what is happening and the decision maker is involved from the beginning. However, when you scale this process up to organisations with 100s or 1000s of employees, decision making is often far removed from the idea generators, there are levels of bureaucracy to deal with and communication networks across business units are weak. Hence, layers of administration must be included in order to make the process work.
Fortunately, most companies are full of administrative types and collaboration is the key to successful innovation. If you are in charge of establishing an innovation initiative, be sure to include an administrative person or two on the design team. You will be glad you did in the long term.
ANTICONVENTIONAL THINKING DÉBUTED IN FARO!
Last week I presented two workshops on anticonventional thinking at the European Conference on Creativity and Innovation (ECCI) in Faro, Portugal. It was my first public workshops on this new approach to creativity. The event was particularly interesting to me because most of the attendees are professionals in the world of creativity and innovation, so I expected a very high level of critical feedback on my approach – and I am delighted to say I received it. As a result, the anticonventional thinking approach is improved in methodology. This will be reflected in the white papers on the web site in the near future.
The only downside to the conference was that I was only able to stay in Faro for a short time owing to other obligations, so I was not able to enjoy more than a couple of the many other knowledgeable speakers at ECCI, nor was I able to spend any time sight-seeing in the beautiful Algarve city.
I would like to thank my friend Fernando Cardoso De Sousa, the organiser of this year’s conference, for inviting me to deliver the workshops as well as for his magnificent management of the event. Everyone I spoke with was happy with the results.
AND WHAT ABOUT YOUR CITY/COUNTRY?
In addition to having spoken at conferences in Brussels, Johannesburg and Faro, over the next few months I am scheduled to be doing private talks and interactive workshops in Germany, Italy, Mexico and Belgium where I will help individuals, teams and organisations learn how to think more like creative geniuses. How about you? Would your team benefit from learning how to think more like creative geniuses? If so, email email@example.com and tell me about your organisation and your needs.
HAPPY WORKERS ARE MORE PRODUCTIVE AND MORE CREATIVE
A recent survey by polling organisation Gallup has found that happier people are more productive and more creative. Moreover, as we know, creativity + productivity = innovation. Unfortunately, the trend in America is that people are becoming increasingly unhappy at work and this is true across all income levels.
It seems the key to happiness at work is employee engagement. One would not thing engagement would be a difficult thing to manage and surely would provide additional benefits beyond happy, productive workers. Nevertheless, the Gallup research reports that companies in America are not making this effort, thereby losing out on productivity and innovation.
This survey only looks at the situation in the USA. But I would guess that it reflects a global trend. Fortunately, if you are running a company, the solution is simple: engage your employees!
For more about the survey, read this article in the New York Times:
For a full paper on the research:
JENNI IDEA MANAGEMENT
If you need to capture, evaluate and implement creative ideas from your workforce, your business partners and/or your customers, take a look at Jenni innovation process management software. It’s easy to use, fun and a bargain compared to competing products which lack the functionality and expertise in organisational innovation.
Report 103 is edited by Jeffrey Baumgartner and is published on a monthly basis.
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