Year: 2005

Humour and Creativity

Consider the following (depending on which country you are from you may miss the point in one or two):

“If you see someone doing the impossible, don’t interrupt them”
Amar Bose (Bose Corporation

“Space is not remote, you can get there in an hour if you can make your car travel vertically”
Fred Hoyle (Astronomer)

“A sure cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree”
Spike Milligan (Comedian)

“I took a speed reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. Its about Russia”
Woody Allen (Comedian)

“Those who say it can’t be done are being passed by those who are doing it”
Anonymous

“I said ‘nearest the bull starts’. He said ‘baa’, I said ‘moo’. He said ‘you start'”
Peter Kaye (Comedian)

“‘Hallo Rabbit’, he said, ‘Is that you?’. ‘Lets pretend it isn’t’ said Rabbit, ‘and see what happens'”
Winnie-the-pooh (bear, philosopher and explorer)

Now you may chuckle at one or more of the above, but did you wonder why? It is the juxtaposition of (strange) ideas that does it. It is exactly this mode of thinking that we need in the business world to be able to see things from a new perspective, generate ideas and spot new opportunities.

For more ideas visit www.creative4business.co.uk and see what happens.

You can only manage what you can measure

There are many who say that you can only manage what you can measure. I tend to agree with that sentiment so how can I then suggest that Innovation can be managed successfully?

The answer is that Innovation can be measured. What’s new I hear you ask? We have always been able to measure this using Key Performance Indicators. KPIs do not measure Innovation directly, they measure the result of Innovation. This is nit picking a little but imagine setting up an Innovation project, and the finding out from your KPIs that the number of widgets falling off your production line has doubled.

At first this seems good but ask yourself how many widgets could you actually produce? How will you know when your Innovation project really is producing the goods? Would it be nice to actually look at that process itself?

The Innovation Toolkit from Creative Business Solutions does just that. At a top level it provides some graphical output that gives you a feel for how you are doing and then provides some more concrete results so that you can a) see what you are currently doing well b) create an action plan to fix the things that are not doing so well.

All of this looks at ‘soft factors’ such as culture, leadership and management, desire to win, grasp of external factors etc.

To find out more about managing Innovation visit http://www.creative4business.co.uk/innovation.html now.

So you think you’re not creative?

This article is about valuing the creative potential in all of us, and trying to create room for it to flourish. A reasonable degree of creativity is a natural output of mentally and socially healthy people. As in any other human activity, practice and training can develop it. It is, however, quite a fragile state, and many things can, and often do, disrupt it, so that in many cases we are not operating to our full potential.

This implies that if you want to produce a modest increase in creativity, it is usually much more cost-effective to develop people and to remove some of the obstacles, than to try to find Leonardos and Einsteins to build your team from! If you can discover how to release it, creativity will find its own ways to blossom.

One of the most basic requirements is that creativity needs ‘space’ (in a metaphorical rather than literal sense). New responses to a problem require more mental processing than standard ones. So if you are under severe time pressure and/ or you are endlessly being interrupted and/ or your brain is caught up with obsessive routines, or preoccupied with panic or rage (or even passion!), creativity is going to be difficult! Some of the ways of creating mental space when you are working on your own include the following.

  • Schedule real ‘quality time’ for imaginative thinking. If at all possible, give yourself regular ‘down-time’ from your main role to allow time for thinking. With good forward thinking and preparation, you can often make space, e.g. by scheduling thinking time in quiet periods before the storm. For millennia, most religious traditions have built into their lifestyles regular periods of receptive contemplation and reflection. There were, and are, good reasons for this! It does not have to be anything very elaborate – perhaps just a regular walk, a round of golf, or whatever.
  • Time-share your brain. Another alternative is to dedicate thinking capacity instead of time. Leave the problem ticking over at the back of your mind and carry a notebook everywhere to record ideas as they occur to you. This can merge into ‘guerilla’ creativity (see below).
  • Make psychological space. Use psychological development, assertiveness training, stress management and related approaches to develop the ability to remain calm, relaxed and fully attentive even under high pressure. In this way you can bring your whole mental resource to bear even under very difficult conditions. In effect you develop an ‘inner space’ on which you can draw when you need to.

Methods you can use when working with others include the following.

  • Set up a formal creativity session. This, of course, is the classic solution. Notice that as well as providing a physical place where classic creativity methods can be used, it also provides a symbolic space (see the earlier discussion of play). One of the benefits of holding a problem-solving workshop or training course is that it ‘gives permission’ for participants to set aside their normal responsibilities for a while, to concentrate on a particular issue. This ‘permissiongiving’ aspect may not be so clear in techniques where the participants do not physically come together (e.g. postal methods such as Delphi, or where people collaborate over computer networks).
  • Develop skills in ‘guerilla’ creativity. As many organizations become leaner, the opportunity cost of a formal creativity session increases and such sessions become harder to set up. One solution is to interleave a kind of ‘distributed creativity’ into other activities. For instance, if you cannot manage a formal brainstorming afternoon with a few colleagues, perhaps you can incorporate an element of brainstorming into your next few corridor conversations, pub lunches or train journeys. You will not be able to use the more elaborate formal methods, so you will have to introduce creative practices discreetly into your conversation in ways that are almost invisible. By getting creativity to ride on the back of other activities, the additional time-cost attributable specifically to creativity can be minimal.
  • Delegate creativity. Even when you are at your wits’ end with pressure, anxiety, exhaustion, etc., there will be others who are not. If you have a good network of trustworthy friends, colleagues, family or even consultants (!) you may sometimes be able to ‘borrow’ some surrogate creative time from them by asking them to have a go at solving your problem for you.

Here is just one idea for finding something creative in what could otherwise be a very ordinary situation. Find some more in the YES you can ebook series here.

‘In-and-out’ listening – a basic method for guerilla creativity

When you next have a problem you want ideas for, practise listening in one-to-one settings, adopting ‘in-and-out’ thinking.

First of all, listen closely and attentively so your partner begins to open up, following their own train of thought. Then, as you listen, try also letting your imagination roam around what your partner says, both hearing them and letting yourself make connections between their words and your problem. If it works well, you may be able to get quite good ideas from very ordinary conversations.

This is a very good method when sitting in bars and pavement cafes where there are plenty of distractions. Happy experimenting!

Find out more about using creativity as a business tool here.

Leadership and Management Models

This article contains some suggestions on implementing a new model for leadership and management within an organisation currently undergoing change and which may continue to do so for a period of time. It does not constitute any form of plan or proposal.

Most models that are currently in use are clumsy, the most basic simply comprising of Role, Job Description and links to a structure chart. Such models:

  • Do not provide individuals with sensible objectives i.e. outcomes or behaviours
  • Do not provide links with the overall strategy of the organisation
  • Are not helpful in aligning individuals with organisations, particularly during reviews

Steps have been taken over many years to define competences either in terms of outcomes or behaviours or a mixture. Recently the Management Standards Centre has been engaged in producing a new set of national standards that are based on behaviours. This is broadly true, each unit being defined in terms of ‘outcomes of effective performance’ and ‘behaviours which underpin effective performance’. I believe that these offer a method of defining a sensible model for use within an organisation, particularly as they place significance on innovation and managing change. The draft standards are however, a little light on detail and may be seen at the very top of organisations as trivial. There may also be some stigma regarding language i.e. competences. For the same reason ‘standards’ may not be acceptable to all.

Within organisations there may often be an element of change fatigue where successive regimes have introduced and re-introduced procedures for such things as reward, appraisal and recruitment.

With this in mind I believe that the starting point should be a model of the organisation which is complex enough not to be dismissed and simple enough to be understood! (see the Innovation Equation and accompanying notes for an example of this type of model). With the correct analogy/metaphor and a link to organisational objectives it is easy for all to see where they fit into such a model. It is then relatively easy to make links to what each individual does and how they do it. More importantly everyone will know what they have done and how well they have done it. The keys here are transparency, links to objectives and simplicity.

Thinking about a model often leads to the word ‘framework’ which is a good word to use as it implies management but still allows room for manoeuvre (creativity and innovation). Being part of a model which is multi dimensional instead of 2D, means that the traditional structure chart can be replaced with a symbol of the future. This will also help in removing one source of tension that emerges when people appear above others on an organisational structure chart.

If a new model is created and a framework is set up then the remaining task is to create a description of how individuals people fit into the model. Imagine being a cog inside a machine – your day consists of rotating endlessly whilst engaging with other cogs and wheels. You stop for breaks whilst you are oiled and the machine is filled up. Creating such a description will cover the outcomes and behaviours as well as what is required or expected from others. A non linear storytelling approach is helpful here in allowing the creation of an organisational metaphor linking the individual components.

This somewhat abstract concept, when turned into reality, will encapsulate the characteristics of both the people and the culture of the organisation. What is more, during a period of change, the model can be used to create a vision of the future and to encourage buy-in. Note that organisational components need not necessarily be people, they can be functions, machines or interfaces to the outside world.

The main difference between this and other models is that an employee now has a clearer idea of why he/she is doing what they are doing.

The key steps should be to:

  • Create an organisational model
  • Map the model onto reality
  • Create a leadership and management framework
    – Describe place/functionality within the model
    – Describe interfaces to people and things
    – Describe abstract concepts such as use of time, capturing ideas, knowledge
    – How is effectiveness measured?
    – Effect on reward and appraisal scheme?
  • Ensure transparency
  • Create links to objectives
  • Ensure simplicity
  • Promote the concept effectively
  • Monitor the benefits against cost!!

A major benefit of this approach is the ability to consider scenarios ie. What if? If the organisation was to become a learning organisation how would the model need to change, what effect might it have on the management framework, how easy is it to downsize or expand?

Conclusion

There are no new ‘off the shelf models’, however there are many different ways of customising and delivering the models that currently exist. The new MSC standards may provide a useful starting point although they contain much redundant material and can be sketchy in places. As with other models they can only describe the characteristics of an effective manager in a general way, not the characteristics of an effective manager in your organisation.

Any model must clearly define the concepts of leadership and management within your model. A good starting point for this is the work of Tony Cockerill and Harry Schroeder (High Performance Managerial Competences).

Care must be taken to ensure that the approach taken maps onto the way in which your organisation carries out its business, bearing in mind any changes that are likely to occur in the future. The keys are stakeholder buy-in and delivery (including format, language and support materials). See here for ideas on training Leaders and Managers or for helping them to think strategically.

Innovating well – what to look for

The areas that should be looked at are outlined below. Some of the conditions for innovation may seem ‘idealistic’ and it is extremely unlikely that the perfect organisation exists. All of the key areas are important and it is useful to identify how effective organisations are and whether any aspects of the organisation are being neglected. This only gives a broad overview. To get a detailed picture it is necessry to look at how creativity and knowledge are used and manged.

Team Work

Within this area of focus we are interested in whether people work as individuals or in teams, how effective they are, and whether or not they are multi/single function. Another important factor is the degree of autonomy and whether bottom up communication is effective.

Hands-on Management

Here we look at how much interference there is by managers in every-day working and how prescriptive managers are. Also we are looking for what actions are taken when problems occur. Do managers take immediate control or do they trust the people working for them to resolve problems?

Desire To Win

Within this are of focus we look for evidence of a desire to win, to beat the competition. Even though there may be insufficient resources to carry out a project or implement a plan there should be a ‘yes and ..’ culture rather than ‘yes but…’. Good ideas can be kept for future use, not dismissed out of hand for lack of finances, time etc. There should also be evidence of doing everything that can be done to secure even the smallest advantage such as protecting Intellectual Property and seeking external help. Ideas should be welcomed from all sources and winning organisations are likely to be less risk averse.

Knowing How To Win

Organisations that know how to win will have a thorough understanding of their marketplace and all of the factors that affect it such as the economy and relevant legislation. They are willing to exploit these factors and be first movers or early adopters.

Environmental Scanning

To be successful, organisations must be able to scan their environments and be aware of new competition, changes and spot trends and patterns. This information will then be used to determine key success factors within the marketplace and drive the building of strategic capabilities.

External Relationships

In order to maximise potential, it is necessary to nurture external relationships with both customers and suppliers. Is this being carried out regularly and effectively? Do organisations rely on single points of contact or do they interact at multiple levels, cementing ties? How well is information disseminated and vision, branding etc communicated to stakeholders?

Growing The Right Culture

A truly innovative culture relies heavily on intrinsic motivation. Employees must have a clear idea of what they are expected to achieve and of the amount of support that they have. Transparency on the part of senior management and ‘leading by example’ will build trust and encourage buy-in to strategic objectives. Motivation and morale should generally be high with little or no evidence of stress present.

Stretching To Achieve

When maximising potential it is often necessary to take employees out of their ‘comfort zone’. To do this successfully there must be an effective framework for delivering the necessary training and development. Individuals should be encouraged to use their own initiative (subject to any safety or legal constraints), be responsible for their actions and learn from their mistakes.

Getting The Best From People

In order to get the best from employees it is necessary to involve everybody. Not only does this improve the culture but it maximises the resources that are available for generating ideas, capturing and storing knowledge. The greater the variety of sources, the greater the potential for innovation. It is also helpful if there is mutual support between employees, managers, colleagues and peers, especially where risk taking is encouraged. Another important factor is the reward systems that are in place. These need not necessarily be monetary rewards but should recognise team rather than individual contributions.

See how the above can be measured using the Innovation Toolkit.

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