I recently recorded a number of short videos that I have grouped together as a playlist entitled Rough Cut Creativity. They are short and recorded on an adhoc basis. They are not meant to be showreels or a tv production, just my thoughts and musings on using Creativity and Innovation in a business context. The playlist will very shortly feature on my speaker website www.derekcheshire.com but for now, you can view them by clicking on the image above. There are 4 titles currently with more to come shortly. If you have any ideas for future topics then please do let me know.
Often used to hide embarrassment, many people will recognise the phrase ‘My other car is a Porsche’. It was mostly found scribbled on the back of a dirty old rust bucket or on a car sticker that had been given to a husband or boyfriend by a well-meaning partner.
Maybe some people really did have another car that was a Porsche but aside from the humour factor, many people were actually ashamed of the car they did have.
Some may think that this is peculiarly British but many of the examples (and variants) that I have seen come from the USA.
It does not matter what the origin is, we all do something similar, we apologise for something that we see as being inadequate rather than try to do something about it.
In business, we might say something like ‘this is just our first attempt, the next version will be better’. Your customer wants something better now and does not want to buy two. So what are you going to do about it?
For a start, try not to be a jack of all trades (and master of none). A Porsche might be good on a motorway or racing circuit but it is likely to be beaten on a country lane by a mini which is smaller, more nimble and holds the road brilliantly. Unless the Porsche you have is an off-roader then it will get stuck in mud easily and be beaten that rusty old Land Rover that you like to laugh at.
So the lesson here is to determine which market your products and services are targeted at and be clear about how they meet the needs of your customers. Secondly, don’t apologise for any failings or idiosyncracies of your offerings. If there are any, think about why they are there and get rid of them if they are unwanted. If you have to apologise for your products or services then why should your customers want them? Note that this is very different from handling a difficult customer service situation where you may very well need to apologise.
I must admit that I do have an aversion to control and authority so when people ask ‘do we have to measure things?’ I like to say no without thinking. Common sense dictates the opposite. We are all familiar with the adage ‘you can only manage what you can measure’ so then one would think that we do need to measure things.
Is it that simple though? There has also been a huge outburst in the media about draconian monitoring of the productivity of warehouse workers.
We now have the ability (but more worryingly the desire) to see how fast our employees walk, how long their toilet breaks are and how many widgets they can carry per hour. This sort of measurement focuses only on actions that the employer has previously determined will help the business. It ignores actions that the employer has forgotten about (productivity failure there for the board) or on problem-solving and thinking.
Ought we to care about how far an employee walks as long as they fulfil their orders? What if they ran around the warehouse and so could take breaks that were double the norm? Are we actually measuring the wrong things? We tend to measure what we think that an employee should be doing in fulfilling a service or customer need. Why not just determine if the customer needs were met? Why go into that much detail.
What should happen if an employee takes the time to stop and think? What if they suggest moving racks of widgets so that employees do not have to walk so far? Potentially an employer is removing the likelihood of the business becoming more productive!
So productivity tools do not measure the usefulness of thinking!
There are many bad things about measuring productivity, enough perhaps to write a book about but here are a couple more to get you thinking.
In order to foster a culture of innovation we need to embrace ambiguity and we often have to perform non-standard activities – we need to take risks. Activities such as prototyping or research are often unplanned with uncertain outcomes. Our productivity measurement machine would not like this. Do you think this is helpful to our innovation efforts? Will most employees conform because it maximises their pay at the end of the month?
Core features of innovation are killed by productivity tools!
Innovation is a team or perhaps company-wide activity, but our monster measurement tools are usually looking at what individual employees are doing. This does not recognise the fact that individuals contribute in different ways or more importantly that when an employee has an off day his or her colleagues can rally round and help. No, we must let poorly performing individuals drown apparently.
Productivity tools are looking at the wrong things!
These are just a few ideas on why such tools may not help. If you use any tools to help measure productivity or the performance of employees please take the time to think about what you want to achieve, and why. More importantly, think about what these tools could be stopping you from achieving (thinking, team working, less stress, innovation …).
Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle also has a ring of truth about these cases. If we try and measure something then the act of measuring will affect the system we are measuring. There is no such thing as non-intrusive measurement. Oh, and I forgot to say that simply introducing such a system introduces an overhead anyway (not good for productivity is it?).
What does being better actually mean? Is there a concept of betterness?
Many readers will be familiar with the BBC mockumentary series W1A that pokes (considerable) fun at the BBC itself. It is full of things that make you wince, mainly because they are so near the truth. Daily goings-on are punctuated by gobbledygook and job titles are impossibly vague. Below is the introduction used for the mock advertisement for the position of Director Of Better.
The establishment of a Director of Better represents a turning point for the BBC by placing the idea of betterness at its core going forward and beyond.
Working with a range of internal placeholders at a senior level, this is an opportunity to re-set the dial for the Corporation either by shining a new light on that dial or by shining the old light but with a new bulb so that no-one can be in any doubt about where the dial is or can have any excuse for not being able to read what it says.
If you are not familiar with the series then you might get some idea of the humourous and tongue in cheek nature of it. There is a serious point to be made though. If you read the introduction to the job advertisement carefully it does contain some valid points (which are then tossed away on a torrent of stupidity).
If your business could appoint a Director of Better, what would this person do, what would be the result of employing such a person? You might say there is no point but just imagine that your business could actually afford to employ someone whose sole purpose was to make things better. This could be better for the customer, better for employees or better for shareholders (or all of these).
Would the Director of Better be spending money, would they be banging heads together, would they be looking at your business in a new way (a new light or new bulb perhaps) or opening your mind to new possibilities? What would they do to improve your business, to make it better?
I am not actually suggesting that you do employ such a person, or if you do, maybe do not use the job title. Maybe you could be your own Director of Better or (even better) take a couple of friends out for a pizza and ask them to play along with the idea. As a fully fledged promoter of betterness don’t forget to carry a method of recording these ideas as you come across them. A simple notebook or voice recorder will do, just don’t forget.