Much has been made of the latest terrible development in suicide bombings were bombers now carry explosives inside themselves. This development could be called ‘innovative’ but what is more important are the thought processes involved. Consider the following two scenarios.
Scenario one – a terrorist thinks to himself “I will try experimenting with putting explosives in different places and see what happens”. This is experimentation or play. The output is almost entirely random but in amongst those random thoughts are some ideas worth pursuing. The problem is undefined and the solutions will therefore be extremely random. The results may or may not work.
Scenario two – a terrorist thinks to himself “What sort of checks do the army and police have and where could I hide explosives to avoid these checks?”. This is innovation in action. The problem is reasonably well defined thus leaving the terrorist with the simple task of generating and evaluating ideas. The results are possibly devastating.
Now consider the other side of the equation. Lets try and outfox the terrorist. If we assume the terrorist is not very clever (a big mistake) then we think of a possible large number of methods of attack which we cannot possibly deal with (as in scenario one). If we assume that the terrorist is clever then he will try and find weak points, no matter how unlikely they are.
So which ‘route to market’ is the best for terrorist and which is best for the anti terrorist? For both, a degree of focus (scenario two) is important. The terrorist analogy does, however, go much deeper than this.
Let us consider high level enablers/barriers to Innovation such as vision, attitude to risk, empowerment of staff, knowing how to win, team working, culture, light touch management etc. Taking all of these into account, we can take a strategic snapshot of an innovative organisation such as 3M or Google and also of a known terrorist organisation. Comparing the two, we find that the ‘make up’ of a successful innovative organisation is very similar to that of a terrorist organisation. The major difference is of course ideology or vision.
So if you like your job, there is a strong vision, the culture suits you, you are stretched to your full potential, your organisation is fully aware of its competitive environment and is willing to take on a reasonable amount of risk – just exactly who are you working for?
Using such an analogy takes a bit of getting used to but try it, you might be amazed.
First of all what is a metaphor? Here I use the term metaphor and simile interchangeably but technically a simile is simply saying that one thing is like something else and a metaphor is saying that one thing is something else. A simile is thus a metaphor but a metaphor is not necessarily a simile. Enough of the terminology! Roll your mouse over the picture to the right to find a metaphor.
Sometimes exaggeration or humour might be involved to help make the point. Many men might use the metaphor of their mother-in-law being a dragon. They are not saying that she literally breathes fire and flies but that she might be a little fierce and protective of her daughter (or dominating her husband!!). You get the point.
I often use a particular type of metaphor when explaining the usefulness of using creative or alternative techniques to examine a problem situation. I'm sure that many readers will have experienced the horrors of hunting for a house or flat. You have a look at the particulars and one person focuses on the kitchen, another on the garden and another on the bedrooms or garage. All of these individuals are seeing the same situation but from different viewpoints. So just like viewing a property we can examine other scenarios (physical or otherwise) from different perspectives. One or more of these might even provide a solution (in the case of a problem) or suggest a course of action.
- Giving explanations to those unfamiliar with a concept
- Examining problem situations from an alternative perspective
- Reframing situations
- Communicating concepts to a wider audience
- Learning or making sense of a concept that we are not currently familiar with
Another interesting use for metaphor is within stories and for use as a more sophisticated business tool but that is an article all of its own. But how about the application of metaphor, will it work for everyone and will it work everywhere?
We can use metaphor directly in:
- Creative Industries and the media
- Any other areas that rely on human interaction
Metaphor works best when individuals can 'connect' easily with metaphors i.e. they are used to metaphor or storytelling and their lives are not littered with distractions. In developed countries we are buried underneath mountains of gadgets which we either rely on to automate our lives or which we take great delight in exploring in detail – we either want it to work or we want to read the instructions in detail. We do not wish to know that our new MP3 player is like a pepperoni pizza (or perhaps a more appropriate metaphor). I am speaking generally here, those who are emotionally intelligent will be using metaphor regularly.
In developing countries there is less technology and less complexity in life generally (but life is often very hard) and so people are often closer to their emotions. Storytelling and metaphors will work well here and have a very powerful effect. Rather like the argument that I put forward in a previous article regarding creativity in developed and developing countries, education also plays a part. So once again, who is best placed to take advantage of techniques such as this? Developed countries have a head start in the race to develop and are thus nearer the finishing line, but developing countries have the potential to be the faster runners!!!
History has defined a series of generations such as the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and now Generation Z. Generation Y are the children of Generation X and are now in their late teens to early twenties, the University and College students of today. As far as technology was concerned they went from geek to chic. Generation X grew up as technology and the internet was mushrooming and Generation Y simply went gadget mad. They grew up in times of economic prosperity and so created a different outlook on life. Don’t like your job, then go and get another? Want to work from home, no problem?
Generation Y is more brand and image conscious, they are more likely to have addictions and undesirable habits, they exhibit less loyalty to employers and their family units are prone to breaking down.
Next comes Generation Z, or ‘Generation Why?’ as I like to call it. The world has changed very rapidly of late. We have seen the power of developing countries such as India, China and Brazil as well as global warming, famine, the collapse of financial systems and now the election of a black American president. We are entering an age where things are less certain (and hence anything is possible) and which will breed a new classification of human being. They will be innovators in the true sense of the word, choosing to be adaptable and flexible in their home lives as well as at work.
Unlike their predecessors, Generation Why? Will be asking tough questions such as ‘Why must we do things in this way?’, ‘Why do we have to make a mess of the planet?’, ‘Why won’t you listen to me?’. They will be like constantly inquisitive teenagers and using their skills and imagination to get what they want. Being slightly less materialistic than Generation X they will be willing to put in more effort at work, but only if it matches their own goals and aspirations.
Sounds like a nightmare? Not at all. There is a generation who are able and willing to look at things differently and get off their backsides. Great things can be achieved but only if these people are ‘managed’ in the right way i.e. given the right resources, intrinsically motivated and contained within ‘light touch’ management systems. This will be a challenge for Managers and Human Resources specialists but the results will be worth waiting for and help is already at hand to start the process.
Below are four simple questions. Try to answer them all before looking at the answers.
- Q1 How do you put a giraffe into a fridge?
- Q2 How do you put and elephant into a fridge?
- Q3 The King of the Jungle is holding a meeting for all of the animals. One of them is not there. Which one?
- Q4 You are standing on the bank of an Alligator infested river and have to get to the other side. What do you do?
A survey by Accenture found that around 90% of Managers are likely to answer all of the questions incorrectly. Many school children under the age of six will actually get these questions right. What does this say about Management thinking? And now for the answers:
- A1 Open the fridge, put the giraffe inside, close the fridge.
- A2 Open the fridge, remove the giraffe, put the elephant inside, close the fridge.
- A3 The elephant. The elephant is in the fridge.
- A4 You swim across the river because all the alligators are attending the gathering.
I can already hear you say “Its not fair” and “they are for kids”. This is what the questions are trying to find out:
- Q1 checks to see if you try to make simple things complicated and make assumptions about problem boundaries. Nobody actually said that the fridge was not big enough to put a giraffe inside!
- Q2 tests your ability to consider previous actions. Who says that they are four separate questions?
- Q3 simply tests your memory.
- Q4 checks to see how quickly you learn. After all you must have got question 4 correct if you were a successful Senior Manager.
Try these on your colleagues and see what happens.
Frequently we think of Innovation as being the latest, modern and often high tech gadget. Given that Innovation can be about combining old knowledge in new ways it often pays to reflect on what we already know. Years ago Russian troops were issued with patches that contained maggots that were used to combat infection in open wounds. Now that many viruses have become resistant to drugs, the same techniques are being used to combat MRSA in hospitals.
There was recently an articles published on the BBC news website about 'Bibliomulas' in Venezuela. In many countries we have mobile libraries, trucks or buses that travel around taking books to remote villages. In mountainous terrain, how do you do this? The answer is simple, take the concept of a mobile library but substitute the vehicle. In this case use a mule.
But why stop there? In the mountains the farmers have no telephones or computers but they could do with the ability to send messages and order food and goods from the valleys. So now these trusty libraries are equipped with mobile phones and laptops.
I'm sure that readers can think of many other such tales of ingenuity. High tech is fun and bewildering but often the combination with low tech is what gets the Innovation into everyday use.
Many people believe that lean ‘everything’ is good without knowing what it really means. Even the term ‘Lean Innovation’ has been used. How can a process that can potentially generate hundreds or thousands of new ideas by described as, or made lean? Could it be that we do not know what lean actually is?
I started thinking about ‘lean’ whilst on holiday. I booked a last minute break to Greece and was expecting the worst, only the sun could make up for the horrendous time I was expecting to have. Nothing could have been further from the truth. We did not have to pick up our tickets at the airport, we had brilliant transfers, we picked up our hire car in the middle of nowhere without signing any paperwork …. Hang on, you said ….Yes I know it sounds odd but it was just symptomatic of the way in which the holiday company, car hire company and all of the rest of the components were plugged together.
On our Greek island it would be impossible for a coach to visit all of the accommodation but we all had hire cars. The solution was to leave a line of hire cars by the side of the road, drop people off and let them drive to their villa and fill in the paperwork later and let the car hire company collect it in the evening. This was heaven compared to waiting for 2 hours in blazing sun in Majorca before picking up a car. Their answer was cold drinks but it still took 2 hours.
We still do not know how the excellent welcome hampers got from the local town to the holiday properties, everything seemed invisible and it worked like a dream. Creative it certainly was, lean it almost certainly was not. Other tour operators are lean – I know which I would prefer.
I also read a good book whilst in Greece, ‘Stuart a life backwards’ by Alistair Masters. The subject is fascinating but I was intrigued by the style. The book started in the present and then went backwards in time. This gave me an interesting thought. Many things work well forwards and in reverse, a bit like the Greek holiday machine but some things do not (remember your worn bicycle sprocket and chain from childhood). Even if your business process is not meant to work in reverse, try thinking about it in that way and any deficiencies will leap out at you. Fixing this will leave your process well oiled and maybe leaner.
When people say they are creative or that they believe in creative thinking, what exactly are they talking about? Where is this creativity supposed to be?
There are many artists, sculptors, poets etc who produce material that is claimed to be creative. The reality is that they are not creative at all. Consider the artist who throws paint at a canvas to produce an abstract picture. The artist is more often than not trying to confuse or shock the public and in some cases use a form of intellectual snobbery. The next time they paint they may very well use the same technique – where is the creativity in that? This is even more relevant to the topic of design.
Today I read a very interesting article on the BBC website about the building of new fleet of nuclear submarines for the British Navy. My curiosity was aroused when there was a mention of Psychologists attending board meetings and so I read on.
A submarine is a large horizontal metal tube so think how hard it must be to install all of the heavy equipment and machinery. Not so here. The solution? Build the hull in sections but upright and then lower in the equipment with a simple crane. Next rotate the sections so that they are horizontal and then join them. It saves a huge amount of money and time and reduces risk.
Now who is the creative, the artist or designer who uses the same techniques, or the submarine builder who is constantly looking for new ways of seeing problems and then solving them? You decide!