How To Successfully Join The Dots

join the dotsThink back to your childhood. Did you ever use those Dot To Dot drawing books, those ones with hundreds of numbered black dots? Did you manage to join the dots?

The idea was that you started at number 1 and then joined them in sequence. If you completed the job correctly then you would see a picture of a unicorn, bear, or maybe a childrens’ toy.

Depending on your age, grasp of numbers or many other factors you might not have joined all of the dots in the correct sequence, and the finished drawing looked a little wonky. For some, it did not matter but others might have been scolded by their parent for ‘getting it wrong’.

Older readers might remember the classic Morecambe and Wise comedy sketch where Eric Morecambe is playing the piano. He is scolded by the famous conductor Andre Previn for playing ‘all the wrong notes’. Eric replies ‘look sunshine, I am playing all of the right notes but not necessarily in the right order’.

Situations similar to this happen in our businesses all of the time. The dots or notes are thrown at us and we are expected to rearrange or connect them in a particular order. But if this ‘order’ is expected, why bother?

Great discoveries (penicillin) and Innovations (the Post It) come about when there is no preconception about what individual components mean or how/if they should be connected at all.

This sounds a little like play and in a way it is. Is prototyping simply not play by another name?

Sticking with the dot joining metaphor, we should allow employees to play with the dots and add new ones as necessary. The trick is to know how to keep people working with a relevant set of dots and have a healthy dose of serendipity present to detect those truly ‘aha’ moments and know what action to take.

This sounds like hard work but really it is not. The key is to just be a little organised and realise that Innovation is a Strategy and as such will touch every part of your business. This helps in a way because it means that you do not have to worry about interfacing a separate Innovation department with your mainstream business. If you would like to see an example of how this can be done please download this case study Selther Case Story and feel free to ask questions.

If you would like to know more about joining dots or you are wondering how to embed serendipity into your organisation then please get in touch.

The Innovation Whisperer

Innovation whisperer, innovation whispering

Who or what is The Innovation Whisperer and what exactly is Innovation Whispering? Put simply it is a more gentle, yet more effective way of making Innovation work for your organisation.

So the Innovation Whisperer is me, Derek Cheshire and I deliver a particular type of intervention that is less costly, less brutal yet more effective and quicker than the programmes and projects that some larger consultancy companies will sell to you.

There are some previous posts that describe some of what I try to do such as Soup, Jugaad and ChaiOrganic Innovation, The Best Way Forward, and Soft Infrastructure Post Coronavirus.

But what is the aim of all this, why not simply follow the instructions contained in the ‘One minute guide to Innovation’ and all the other books that exist?

Let me go back to the term Horse Whisperer. Here is a definition that I found via Google:

Noun. horse whisperer (plural horse whisperers) A horse trainer who adopts a sympathetic view of the motives, needs, and desires of the horse, based on modern equine psychology.

So in a similar way, an Innovation Whisperer will adopt a sympathetic view of your organisation and the people within it. There will be no brutal change programme and people will want to participate. Your organisation will be transformed in an organic rather than a mechanistic way into the type of organisation that is fit for the future and able to transform itself without a heavy dependency on external (and expensive) agencies.

Some will argue that Lean is efficient but Lean systems are not easily changeable, or rather self-modifying like an organic organisation. The big disadvantage of a Lean system is that it requires an external change agent in order to adapt to changing circumstances.

Using change agents is possible but it is both slower and more costly in the long run.

But why the need for speed? Recent events should serve to remind us why speed is essential but for now, let us use this example.

Imagine that you have taken a vacation to the Mediterranean and at this moment you are swimming in the nice warm water with the sun overhead. Everything is idyllic, for now. Someone is standing at the water’s edge and in his hand, he has a 1 litre container of seawater which contains 1 billion genetically modified and rather odd bacteria.

These bacteria will not kill humans but produce a waste product that is effectively a red dye. The volume of the body of water in which you are swimming is approximately 4,390,000,000,000,000,000 litres. If the man standing with the bacteria pours the contents of his container into the water, how long would it be before you must jump out to avoid becoming dyed red? Assume that the bacteria double in number every minute.

So how long then? In our amazingly simple example, the answer is just under 62 minutes (61 minutes and 56 sec to be precise). Many people guess that it would be hours or days when asked this. Our concept of time is often flawed.

This is obviously an exponential phenomenon. So is COVID-19 when the R number is greater than 1. Other types of change can be and have been exponential such as advancing technologies or in some cases, social change.

This shows that changes tend to happen rapidly in the current world climate and often we must be avoiding trouble before we even know that it is there. This is exactly why we need a rapidly changing, self-modifying organic organisation that simply cannot be brought into existence by current mechanistic interventions. Enter The Innovation Whisperer.

The benefits of working this way are many.

  • The change begins from day one, no ‘getting to know you time’ required.
  • The relationship is close, no long lines of communication or remote project teams
  • This is fast
  • Knowledge is transferred to you so you do not have to pay for it twice
  • You have a flexible organisation
  • Intrinsic motivation is built in (check out the neuroscience) so you get a hard working yet happy, curious, and creative workforce
  • There is someone there ‘hands ready’ (not ‘hands on’ or ‘hands off’) just in case you need a little help
  • Any changes are simply measured using a simple measurement tool
  • Interventions are carried out only where needed

You may be asking how much will this cost me. Well in the past surveys of R&D spending have shown that many businesses spend at least 1% of their turnover on this item. It is possible to spend more and also a lot less, even as little as 0.1%. Many try to work it out themselves but get stuck. Instead of obtaining a return on investment for your Innovation effort, you can simply end up pouring money into a black hole. You need to avoid these Innovation Not Spots.

So if you are stuck with your Innovation project or programme or you have significant blocks to creativity (either personal or organisational) then an Innovation Whisperer may be exactly what you need.

Please get in touch either via my Contact page OR via the handy red button at the bottom of my ReThinking The Future page.




A Christmas Gift For 2020

christmas 2020 boundary relaxation

At this time of year, I like to ponder the things that happen at Christmas and then find humorous ways of saying why they could not possibly happen.

For example:

Jingle Bells (and other assorted tunes) – too loud, causing environmental noise pollution and hearing damage

Christmas dinner – responsible for the obesity epidemic, only healthy eating lunches allowed

Christmas presents – in order to hit recycling targets no wrapping paper is to be used

Three wise men – how wise are they, set up league tables for comparison

Santa’s Outfit – not suitable for visually impaired/colour blind people

Gifts for baby Jesus – select alternative gifts as current ones are choking hazards

Sleigh delivery – restrictions placed by RSPCA on reindeer speed due to potholes caused by government cutbacks

Dining table – workstation assessments required due to incompatible dining chairs/table combinations

But this year we have COVID so add the following also:

Sleigh delivery – no signing for presents. An Elf will leave it on the doorstep (not down the chimney) and take a photo

Christmas Dinner – keeping the required distance away from relatives means that the more resilient members of your family will need to sit in the garden

Drinking – this will be severely curtailed as a great deal of alcohol from distilleries has been converted into hand sanitiser (please do not drink this)

Christmas Crackers – please do not laugh at the jokes. This can cause the dispersal of water droplets into the air

The point is that it is possible to raise objections, cancel events or avoid taking actions altogether by hiding behind ‘the givens’. Normally these are rules and regulations but sometimes these are just personal or organisational barriers that can be demolished if we have the will to.

So let’s turn this on its head. If we can find lots of reasons not to do something as big and fun as Christmas, just think what we could all do next year if we demolished all of the silly barriers or objections that stand in the way (or which we put in the way). I like to call this Boundary Relaxation and it can be a very useful technique indeed.

If you would like to know more about how you can use alternative thinking techniques in your organisation please visit my ReThinking page.

For a no obligation chat please book a Zoom call (in your own timezone).

Soup, Jugaad and Chai

Soup, Jugaad and Chai
This topic was inspired by a recent keynote that I gave at a virtual conference in Chennai on the topic of  ‘Innovation for sustainable development’. The title was deliberately ambiguous leading people to wonder what is sustainable, innovation, or development of new technologies? The answer is both!

The key here is the definition of Innovation as a set of behaviours and attitudes, not the shiny new (or green) products that are produced as a result.

The aim of the keynote was to bring together some thoughts on the management of Innovation so that both of these things can be sustained.

Further thoughts on the types of Innovation can be found in my paper Innovation, The Way Forward.

But sustainable Innovation? Surely Innovation is a series of changes so we get on and run change programmes, right?

Definitely not. This causes a series of never ending disruptive effects. It often means that our businesses are at the mercy of expensive consultants who create lasting dependencies on them.

Continuing traditional behaviours also tend to ignore the well being and happiness of workers, and reward systems generally do not address key factors such as expertise, connections, empathy and curiosity which we need going forwards into the future.

So how do we get there? The tools are already here and there is a pathway to follow.

In my talk, I outlined types of Innovation including Structural Innovation which is way beyond disruption but is where we need to be heading.

Next, I outlined the strategic approaches that we use, going beyond Backcasting (Storyboarding to you and I) to Storycasting, a term that I have now used and defined.

Finally, there are the processes and behaviours that we need to adopt. We must go beyond sustaining and disrupting to another newly defined term, Frontiering.

There are good examples and metaphors that we can draw from.

Soup with croutons is a great metaphor for organisational form. It is flat, with an ideal organisational culture and supports the skills and values needed.

Jugaad (frugal Innovation or ‘hacking’) provides examples of resilience and problem solving (but lacks quality).

Finally, Chai provides a useful metaphor for using intuition and providing quality without endless manuals and red tape.

Now you know the reason for the slightly strange title of this article! If your curiosity has been aroused, please do get in touch.

Please visit my ReThinking webpage and download any resources that you want. You can listen to my podcasts and watch my Rough Cut Creativity videos and also ReThinking Live replays by clicking on the links.

If you know of someone who is looking for a Speaker or expertise in the areas of Innovation and Business Creativity then please put me in touch.

I would also be grateful if you could head over to my YouTube channel and subscribe (you can do this without notifications if you like). There are many (hopefully) useful videos with more being added regularly.

What Is The Cost Of Innovation?

cost of innovationThere is no manual that says exactly how to estimate innovation costs but here is a common sense approach that seems to work well.

Imagine that you are a company that needs to introduce 5 new products into the market place. First of all you need to spend some time generating ideas. Without knowing your actual method of idea generation and until you have had time to calibrate your own process then this is a bit of ‘wetted finger in the air’ calculation.

We know that the ration of truly wacky ideas to those that might be worth looking at is one order of magnitude i.e. 10 to 1. Similarly, the ratio of ‘might be worth looking at’ to ‘definitely worth a look’ is once again an order of magnitude.

So if we want to have just one idea that is worth pursuing then we should expect to generate at least 100 crazy ideas, thus our small company wishing to create 5 new products will need at least 500 crazy ideas.

So far so good, but how do we generate the ideas? You could collect them in a suggestion box but the quality would be variable and it may take a while although the cost would be low.

An idea generation session with a group of people could generate your ideas in less than a day. This would be more expensive and would only use a ‘snapshot’ of the expertise and knowledge available to you.

By now you should get the idea that we can roughly work out how many ideas are required, and how long this would take, and the resources that would be used.

Not all ideas make it to products so some extra redundancy needs to be built in, and then there are overheads such as management and the costs of prototyping and manufacture, but these should be aspects with which you are already familiar.

So there you are, a simple way of working out your Innovation costs. But hang on a minute, life is not quite that simple. Below is a list of other things that you might wish to consider:

  • HR requirements (culture, motivation, working practices)
  • Idea capture systems (how do you record ideas and avoid forgetting them)
  • Knowledge transfer (what worked, what did not, avoiding reinventing the wheel)
  • Feedback for improving all aspects of your process (including estimating costs!)

This is a simple guide but good enough to allow you to get some sort of handle on the cost of Innovation if you have never done anything quite like this before. Reality can be a little more complex.

There are often reports published of how much some larger companies spend on Research and Development (R & D). This is not strictly the same as Innovation but allows us to get a handle on it. The figures vary a little but figures of around 1% of turnover are not uncommon.

So a company turning over say $100 million would expect to budget around $1 million then?

Maybe but not necessarily. I once helped a company with such a turnover and the budget per annum was probably closer to 0.1% of turnover.

How come, you might wonder? Well for a start I used some tools to measure the capacity of the business to innovate which meant that when we identified areas for improvement we did not have to spend money across the whole of the company. Investment in training and development activities was targeted.

Because we rotated staff through the Innovation ‘centre of excellence’ we had the opportunity to work with all staff eventually and the postings were seen as beneficial, something everyone looked forward to. Not only that but it was an ideal way to spread know how gained back into the business as a whole.

This is a complicated topic but you can find further reading on Innovation Not Spots and Innovation Measurement by clicking on the links. Please get in touch if you would like to know more.