Many business owners think of their business in terms of what they do on a daily basis e.g. farmers milk cows, printers print brochures and jewellers make jewellery. A better way of thinking about your business is to ask the question ‘what is it (of value) that I create and who helps me to do this?’ We should be examining business boundaries. Any other person or business that helps you in terms of creating value, and hence money for your pocket, is in fact an extension of your business.
Not just Creativity, Innovation too! Here are my top ten strategies for boosting creativity. This will help your business get along in challenging times.
- Knowledge is a key Innovation component. Use what you already have and try to learn from as many different sources as you can. Read things you might not normally read or do things that you might not normally do.
- Many of the rules of creativity touch on judging. Build up rather than say ‘yes but’ and try to see things through the eyes of others.
- Many business people only ‘see’ things that are written in documents. To get different views why not model in some way (play doh, Lego, rich pictures) or perform some sort of visualisation for which many scripts are available.
- Allow time for things to grow. When experimenting, keep going around the loop if no final decisions need to be made. Try also to take some time out to reflect on what you are doing or to let your creative ‘right brain’ continue to work.
- Use all of the methods at your disposal to see what is going on around you. This means your physical senses as well as any ‘information gatherers’ that you employ.
- Doing is better than thinking so do lots! If you are managing an innovation project get your hands dirty. Don’t be afraid to go off a a tangent if you feel like it. Innovation only fails if you do nothing.
- Save yourself time. Don’t wander all over your marketplace looking for niches, simply look at your competitors and look in the places that they are not.
- If you work in a company that deals with one or more strands of continuous innovation then ignore this suggestion! If you are involved in an innovation programme then beware of creating too many ideas! Once you have got as many as you need, stop generating ideas and get on with evaluating them and put them into action.
- Be careful of ‘givens’, the rules that everyone accepts as true for no good reason. Patterns are good though as they help us deal with lots of thoughts at once, stopping our heads from exploding.
- If you are stuck, try redefining or reframing your issue in some way. You might like to just look from a different perspective or maybe use metaphor
What do we mean?
Engineering Innovation is a deliberately ambiguous title. Does it mean that Innovation can be engineered or is it highlighting Innovation for Engineers? The answer is actually yes to both.
For a long time I have been promoting a system that can measure Innovation potential. The aim is to help develop an Innovation blueprint for organisations in any sector. Now it is time to focus on engineering and manufacturing. In the current economic climate there are organisations that will sadly fail. There are organisations that are doing well both in terms of Innovation and long term sustainability. For a good example based here in the UK take a look at Gripple Limited, a Sheffield based company. It is both innovative in its leadership, products, structure and the adoption of shared ownership.
Many businesses would like to copy Gripple but cannot, why? The reason is simple. We can copy buildings, products and manuals but we cannot copy what is inside the heads of employees. Truly innovative companies share certain traits but the sharing of knowledge, the creation of ideas and the frameworks that help to make up company culture are different.
Can Innovation be engineered?
For this very reason I have created Engineering Innovation in order to help businesses in the Engineering and Manufacturing sectors to work in ways similar to Gripple. The aim is to create businesses that are truly innovative and sustainable using concepts that are reasonably familiar to to those who work in these sectors. The programme is based on three principles – Understand, Model and Build. The first principle provides a framework for understanding the innovation process, what is possible, becoming used to living with ambiguity and defining the scope and resources for the journey. The second builds a model that shows where a business is in terms of its ability to innovate, identifying what it is good at, the quick wins needed to help generate buy in, and where scarce resources are best targeted. Finally we build the organisation that will create new products, services and processes based upon the work done so far. Note we do not destroy, merely transform and enhance to produce ‘total innovation’ that pervades every part of the organisation.
Why is this approach unique? For an in depth answer please get in touch. But in a nutshell, Innovation is a strategy based on humans, their behaviour and the way they communicate and interact and is very little to do with shiny gizmos and gadgets. It can be defined in terms of outputs with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) but is much better modelled using drivers for human behaviour such as those that promote, creativity, good leadership etc. This is what I have done and this soft engineering approach appears to be unique. Does it work? Yes!
I must admit to having a large bee in my bonnet about this topic. If you think of Innovation as a purely human activity then it is possible to innovate successfully amongst any groups of people, in any country in the world – in fact anywhere.
Before you run away to base your latest innovative enterprise in Tibet there are one or two issues to consider. First of all there is the subject of resourcefulness. People the world over are creative. They solve everyday problems in unique ways. I have trouble changing a bicycle tyre with tools from a cycle shop, can you imagine changing a car or even a truck tyre with just basic tyre levers and some soapy water? Who can accomplish this? Teenage boys in Malawi. Trade embargoes have brought countries such as Iran and Cuba to their knees but cars, trucks and factory machinery soldier on. This is old stuff right?
Not so! Motor manufacturers have left the production of prestigious prototypes to Indian design studios and Mexican factories produce high spec components for the US aircraft industry.
This is a long winded way of saying to the so called developed world ‘watch out’. Resourcefulness abounds. Innovation is like a race run by humans. Some of us have a head start, some have good running shoes and some do not. Those still at the starting line are simply strapped for resources. When they finally get them, they are more than capable of running faster than everyone else. Why is that? The people that are left behind have had years (centuries) of having to think creatively. As they have developed, they have not overburdened themselves with education systems that strangle creativity. Cultural systems have allowed knowledge to be collected and passed down through generations. Creativity and Knowledge is a very powerful combination indeed.
Anything is possible given the resources! Who are you backing to win the Innovation race?
Some recent bad experiences
My area of experience is creativity and alternative thinking, not customer service. However, I was inspired (or perhaps driven) to put pen to paper after recent experiences with several large organisations here in the UK. I will not name them directly but the two worst offenders provide my telephone and banking services.
Large organisations just want to give us what they think we want. They might be so arrogant as to be saying “this is what you are going to get”. Recently I wanted answers to some questions regarding banking. I checked the company’s website for possible answers. After determining that the answers were not there I used the secure messaging system to ask my questions. I did this 4 times and each time the reply was a section of the help text from their website that had been cut and pasted into the response that had been sent to me.
When trying to contact my telephone company I tried 5 times via telephone and their chat service to resolve an issue. Each time I was told what they thought I wanted to hear i.e. you will get xxx within 14 days. They seemed to see themselves as an information service. I was being told how the system should behave. Exceptions were things that they seemed unable to deal with.
What can be done?
In most cases it is not actually the fault of the individuals providing the service. It is the actual system that needs revamping. Use a little creative thinking guys. Ask why I might be emailing or calling you. It is usually because my query is technical or non standard. I want some real help. So why employ knowledgeable people as supervisors rather than let them answer the phone. Just think, if you answered your queries the first time, you would ultimately cut down the number of calls to your call centres.