Yesterday a huge story hit the news stands here in the UK. Within the Foreign Office a brainstorming session was held to do some ‘blue sky thinking’ around things that should form part of the Pope’s forthcoming visit to the UK. As with all good idea generation sessions everything was recorded and the results marked not to be distributed externally. Of course, some of the ideas upset one or two people who took it upon themselves to make the document public. The BBC article can be read in its entirety by clicking here.
This whole sorry episode highlights some DOs and DONTs for generating ideas:
- DO make sure that your objectives are clear at the start, that way you will not be left defending your motives afterwards.
- DONT use any form of censorship, not even telling people to keep quiet. They won’t. Get people to buy in to secrecy if this is needed in a commercial environment. If they spill the beans they are breaking the confidence of their peers and colleagues.
- DO invite appropriate people.
- DO make sure that brainstorming is not the whole process, some filtering has to take place to weed out the wacky ideas.
- DO publish the results yourself, others may well try to take things out of context.
- DONT be naive. In any political (in the true sense, not just government) environment there will be points scoring. Some people will go to extreme efforts to sabotage yours!
… and finally please do persevere. I’m sure that the Junior Official within the Foreign Office who has now ‘been moved to other duties’ did a good job and once the wacky ideas had been thrown away the Pope may very well have had some great events organised to complement the obligatory masses and baby blessings. A great opportunity missed perhaps? In the future people will be afraid to try new things so it could be a case of ‘If you do what you have always done, the you will get what you have always got’.
So please try and be a little different, but be careful!
Only we can … I notice that a number of people play this game in their workshops but here is my version. It can be used in a number of different ways and can also be used solo or in groups.
If you are having issues with a current product or service then you might try to produce statements such as:
- Only we can deliver product xx within 24 hours
- Only we can produce xx at a cost of less than £5
- Only we have the technology ….
This should not be too difficult, especially if you are already having some success but if you cannot find statements of the above type that describe why your products and/or services are unique then you are probably flogging a dead horse and should consider cutting your losses.
It is then time to use this technique in a different way. You might have already created some new ideas which are still in your head or are just scribbles on a piece of paper. Try the same exercise but using knowledge of your capabilities and resources create statements of the form ‘Only we could …’. This might require some knowledge of your competitors as well so some digging will be required. Once again, if your product or service ideas fail this simple test then perhaps they are not worth pursuing.
All is not lost though. One final exercise is ‘If only …. then we could …’ so you might generate statements of the form:
- If only we had a new machine we could produce xx at a cost of less than £5
- If only we had a new van then we could deliver within 24 hours
So you can work out your unique advantage assuming that you can meet the conditions of your ‘If only …’ statement. This is a little easier and can usually be carried out with the aid of a calculator. If you are a larger business then you might wish to involve employees from all areas and at all levels in this exercise. Be realistic though, ‘If only we had infinite resources, we could do anything’ is not an option if you are trying to make a decision although it might be good for generating some wacky ideas.
Many fledgling businesses do actually start out from a shed at the bottom of the garden. Hewlett Packard started this way and many other technological breakthroughs too (remember Marconi?). The shed is, however, just a metaphor for that inappropriate and often cluttered place that we find ourselves in with our good ideas. We are simply a head in a shed!
It does not matter whether you are a lone inventor who really does have a shed at the bottom of their garden or you work for a large organisation and your ‘shed’ is your office or laboratory. You have the same problems either way.
Take a look at this news article. The student in question is obviously talented but so what? She has very neatly illustrated our problem but in reverse. We are so familiar with the appearance of our shed, its contents and immediate surroundings that we see nothing else. We need a fresh perspective, new glasses (ditch the rose tinted ones) and a new mode of thinking. To go back to the first article in this newsletter and the concept of putting animals in places where they are not supposed to go – we have an elephant in our shed with us. It is an idea that has barged in and seems too big and well formed to be moved. We must replace it with a giraffe, something more suited to the marketplace, but how? And why a giraffe?
To continue using metaphors for a moment, the elephant is the easy option. Our minds often conjure up ideas that our egos build up into great and unbeatable business opportunities. These then take over our lives and we try to turn them into reality at all costs. These have barged into our lives like a stampeding elephant into our shed. In the world of inventors, elephants are ten a penny and we find them difficult to shake off. The giraffe is altogether more elegant and not so common, but how do we replace one by the other?
Here is a list of questions that we might ask ourselves:
- Do I really want to do this or am I just running away from something else?
- Is my idea well formed?
- Is this really different, does it solve a problem, has it been done before?
- Do I know what I am talking about, do others get it when I tell them about my idea(s)?
- Do I really understand the target environment/marketplace?
- Do I wish to retain ownership, am I willing to share?
- Have I sought views/opinions from others?
- How will I put this into practice/production?
- Have I got the right skills?
- Have I/we got the right environment?
Unlike the case of the disappearing car in the news article, you should now be more aware of what you are trying to do. Your grey elephant should have turned into something more elegant and more well formed. Why not take a look at some past newsletters and use some creative techniques to help investigate your new ideas in case you have missed something?
Good luck with your transformation!
The Morphological matrix is a form of random stimulation that can be used solo or in groups. It is ideal for generating ideas when you have an idea about WHAT you wish to do but not HOW you might go about doing it.
If you were a TV producer you might ask the question “How might we go about creating a new soap opera?” To use this technique in such a case first create a table with ten rows labelled 0 – 9 and 4 columns initially numbered 1 to 4.
Next perform the following steps:
- Label each column with a different parameter or characteristic of the problem or task e.g. for our example column 1 could be target audience, column 2 – setting, column 3 – theme, column 4 – suggested title.
- For column 1 generate varied and/or unusual ideas and fill the column (you now have ten wacky suggestions for target audience).
- Repeat for column 2, column 3 and column 4. Try not to refer to adjacent columns when filling a column.
- Randomly select four numbers in the range 0 – 9. To do this you could
- Turn over 2 dominoes, 2 numbers on each end gives four numbers
- Use the last four digits of your telephone number
- Use the last four digits of your National Insurance number
- Use the day and month of your birthday
- Use the four numbers to generate combinations by using each number in turn as in index into one of the columns. Each set of four random numbers thus selects a target audience, setting, theme and title. Record your combination.
- Repeat the previous step as many times as you wish (and keep recording the results). Note that this simple table can create 10,000 different combinations!
- When you have sufficient combinations, choose one (or more if you have time) to examine in greater detail. You might use them as generated or they might suggest something else to you.
When is Creativity not creative? There have been (and there will continue to be) debates about what exactly is creativity and what it means to be creative. I remember having a discussion with some artists about being creative. Being artistic, they naturally thought of themselves as creative and were seen in a similar way by the general public. To be fair, their methods and output was, to say the least, alternative but I posed them the question “If you use the same method for each piece of art work you produce, are you being creative even if the output changes?”
There is no real answer to that question, or rather there are billions of answers depending on who you ask. The reason is frame of reference. Creativity depends on who and where you are and possibly what has gone before, it is relative. One man’s creativity is another’s drudgery. What might be seen as creative in one business will be viewed as ‘old hat’ in another
So I might see someone else’s ideas and methods as mundane because I have seen it, done it and bought the T shirt. Does this mean that I have to keep pushing the boundaries? Again there are many possible answers. If you simply require new product ideas and have a perfectly good ‘creative’ technique to use which does create new product ideas then keep using it. Pushing the boundaries would simply waste time and could be considered frivolous. If, however it was your job to create new idea generation methods for your business then you would almost be duty bound to experiment wouldn’t you?
Then we also have the issue of whether it is the method or result that is classed as creative. In this case I suggest that it is terminology that is the issue. In business, it is an alternate way of thinking that matters, to be used to gain a different perspective or insight or to generate new ideas.
So to answer the original question, creativity may not be creative if you are observing someone else or if you are using the same method and not generating different results. Other than that, creativity is generally creative, but I’m sure readers will have a different opinion!