Innovating is difficult. Innovating in a controlled environment is more difficult. Dissatisfaction is perhaps the first requisite to develop innovation as a culture. The second is to consider innovation not as a management buzzword, but defined ideation process with important organizational characteristics that helps increase the number of choices for innovation management. Maintaining a culture of innovation in an ongoing and sustainable way requires….
Not just Creativity, Innovation too! Here are my top ten ways to 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.
Teresa Amabile compares much of work life to running on a treadmill. People constantly try to keep up with the demands of meetings, email, interruptions, deadlines, and the never-ending need to be more productive and creative. Yet on many days they seem to make no progress at all, especially in creative endeavours.
“Many companies are running much too lean right now in terms of the number of employees,” said Amabile, the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration and a director of research at Harvard Business School. So the treadmill speeds up, compelling time-strapped employees to do ever more with less.
Do any of these sound familiar to you?
- “Our business is more complicated than other businesses.”
- “Our products are regulated…must be in compliance…are more sophisticated…and so what you don’t understand is…”
- “That’s not how things are done around here. We can’t make money that way.”
- “Our technology won’t let us do that.”
- “That’s not what our customers want”
The so called experts in your organisation are likely to be the source of such comments. They are also likely to keep repeating these statements, not because they are true but because their minds are closed to other possibilities.
Your experts are unlikely to help you with innovating within your company or industry. Doctors are unlikely to revolutionise health care, teachers won’t change the way schools teach, and your financial advisor won’t be coming telling you about cheaper or simpler products in the near future.
Expert language is often a symptom of frightened leadership, usually within a mature industry or sector. The CEO who uses such language is firmly clutching onto ideas that ‘used to work’ not creating ideas that ‘will work’.
This is not all bad news because for every such CEO an opportunity is created. How many readers remember the well know Apple advertisement that boldly stated “because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do”? Such crazy people are considered idiots by the experts but they often turn out to be winners in the end. Many people in the UK will remember Amazon’s entry into the marketplace and the huge losses it sustained initially. Now who’s laughing?
Crazy people are now challenging how we think about health care, legal services, accountancy, education, insurance, banking, energy, publishing and more, yet the experts remain set in their ways. Our experts derive their power having shown that their way of solving a problem works well. I love a great solution but the issue is that nobody like to challenge these experts. Over time their solutions might still be good (or not). How will we know?
Things change, and fast. It is thus reasonable to assume that our solutions will not remain valid for all time. The greater the speed of change, the more we need to check that what we are doing is still ok. So what can we do? Here are 3 things that will help but you can always goa little crazy and think of more.
- Do not hire experts from within your industry. They are likely to see things as your people do. Instead, look for people with a specific problem-solving ability. For example, if you are having issues with queuing in a bank or supermarket why not look for experts who have similar experience at Disney World?
- Engage with your newest recruits who are not set in their ways. Ask them how they see your biggest challenges.
- Use negative or reverse brainstorming. Gather a team of smart people and give them the challenge of generating ideas and strategies that would drive your business into the ground or simply beat it. This exercise should highlight previously unforeseen threats and also unforeseen opportunities.
It is widely thought that intrinsic motivation has the greatest effect on creativity and that extrinsic motivation has a detrimental effect. One wonders, is this really true?
In the workplace we find that employees fully apply their skills and expertise and devote more time and energy when they are challenged or curious. This intrinsic motivation thus has a direct effect on the creative outcomes that we are looking for. So in order to get more and better ‘creative outcomes’ we should reward teh behaviour that helps create them. Right?
Many organisations do attempt to use rewards such as money or recognition to stimulate creativity in employees. Psychologists in particular, argue that this may actually have a detrimental effect. Put simply, motivation can be thought of having two components, extrinsic and extrinsic (instead of being two separate types of motivation). They can be of differing magnitudes so that one component can dominate. Creative behaviour is stimulated by intrinsic motivation but if a large monetary reward is offered this will ‘drown out’ the intrinsic component. The effect is twofold. Firstly the wrong sort of motivation is being applied and secondly employees will begin to associate creative outcomes with extrinsic and not intrinsic motivation. Employees get the wrong idea and management do not get the creative outcomes they desire.
Think about other outcomes that depend on intrinsic motivation such as volunteering for charitable organisations. Offering significant rewards does not significantly increase output but does link output to monetary gain in the eyes of staff.
Common sense tells us that it should be possible to get the right blend of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation but this will depend on the type of people that we are trying to motivate and the types of jobs that they do. Research suggests that monetary rewards do actually work for employees that have routine jobs. These are typically jobs where employees have little or no personal control. A reward system acts as a sort of feedback mechanism, telling such employees that their contributions are valued and enhancing their feelings of control.
If employees are already feeling motivated and with a degree of personal control then monetary rewards may act as a distraction and cause a loss of focus. It is therefore clear that monetary reward systems do not suit everybody. We could be wasting our money!
If it matters what types of job people undertake, does it matter what sort of behaviour we are trying to stimulate? In short the answer is yes. If original, high quality ideas are rewarded, employees are more likely to come up with high quality ideas in subsequent tasks. On the other hand, if any kind of ideas is rewarded, employees tend not to engage themselves fully in the generation of further creative ideas, lowering the ‘quality’ of their creativity.
In conclusion, it seems that the effect of rewarding creativity with money or recognition is more complicated than we think. In the right conditions, creativity can be stimulated using extrinsic rewards. Yet extrinsic rewards can lower the creativity of highly motivated employees working on challenging and complex tasks e.g. employees working in research or innovation programmes.
We must be cautious when designing systems targeted at increasing organisational creativity. The reward system must be matched to the job at hand (especially the degree of complexity) and the types of people who work on those jobs, as well as the type of creativity that the organisation so desperately needs.
The Cynefin Framework is a useful model for describing complex systems and is particularly helpful when grappling with the complexity and ambiguity that often surrounds innovation. To do it justice requires many thousands of words but I have tried to provide a flavour so that readers can investigate further for themselves.
First of all it is a sense-making not a categorisation model i.e. our data already exists and our model is applied to make sense of the patterns that occur within it.
The model describes 3 types of systems – ordered (subdivided into simple and complicated), complex and chaotic. For simple systems the relationship between cause and effect exists and is predictable. The decision making model is thus Sense, Categorize, Respond and we tend to apply best practice.
In complicated systems the relationship between cause and effect exists but is not self evident. Our decision making model is thus Sense, Analyze, Respond and we apply Good Practice. This is because we might need to employ expert advice and there may be several possibilities open to us not a single correct course of action. The big danger is to blindly employ Best Practice here.
In complex systems the relationship between cause and effect is only obvious with hindsight. The way forward is to conduct a series of experiments, to probe our system. Depending on their success or failure we will probe further and we will then develop emergent practice. We are effectively learning!
Chaotic systems are usually where we wish to be when we are innovating. There is no relationship between cause and effect. We are normally in control of these systems but such a system can be entered accidentally and we need to know how to tackle such an issue. Because we must act quickly in this unstable state our decision making model is Act, Sense, Respond.
So how do we use this? Well depending on which type of system we are in we should think and make decisions in different ways. One size does not fit all and it should be obvious that such an approach is disastrous. Often we start off in the central ‘disorder’ region i.e. not actually knowing which state we are in. This often means we do not conduct any form of analysis and will act according to personal experience and preference.
The framework also suggests that we can move around between states. This is true as boundaries are mostly smooth transitions except for the Simple/Chaos boundary. People working in simple (often bureaucratic) systems can become complacent and when their world becomes chaotic they suffer a rough ride as they change states. This transition has been likened to falling off a cliff!
Further reading is suggested for those serious about complexity and change, however it is a very useful tool for working out how you should be behaving as an organisation, and when it is safe to adopt best practice.
Read my exclusive interview with Peter Cook by clicking on the link.
Peter asks questions such as ‘what innovation demons do you want to purge?’ and ‘what is the future of creative thinking?’. Peter’s love of rock n roll also mean that there is a musical reference. In this case you can listen to Something In The Air by ThunderClap Newman.
What normally happens when people come up with bright ideas at work? A manager will typically calculate the cost of implementing it. This cost will then be balanced against the value potential of the idea – usually additional income from increased sales or reduced operational costs. The more creative an idea is, the harder it can be to determine the value in monetary terms. Many potentially very exciting ideas are not implemented simply because a manager has decided that to do so would be too costly.
While such managers are excellent at working out the cost of implementing an idea, they often fail to calculate the cost of NOT implementing an idea which can often be far more than the cost of implementing.
How much does it cost not to implement an idea? Here is a simple example where an idea might lead to cost savings on a production line. The cost of the idea in terms of equipment and labour is USD500,000 and is a one off cost. As a result of this, the cost of manufacturing each widget that comes off your production line is reduced by USD5.00. Your Sales department tells you that you are currently making 100,000 widgets each year and that sales are expected to rise 10% per year over the 5 year life of the equipment.
Simple maths tells us that the cost of not implementing the idea is zero in year 1 and then USD500,000 in year 2. Over 5 years the cost would be over USD2,300,000 which is significantly larger than the initial investment needed.
Things are not always this easy though. Imagine that one of your R&D staff has come up with a pen sized device that can see through solid objects with potential applications in medicine, construction and intelligence gathering to name a few. To get such a device into production might cost say USD50,000,000 but how can you predict the sales potential of such new technology and also keep it secret from your competitors until launch? The potential seems huge but you cannot put your finger on it.
We know that ideas do not spring from single sources and it is likely that a competitor will come up with a similar idea at some point. What will they do? Will they develop the idea and create a new product? What will happen, will it be a success? If it is then you lose out big time in terms of cash. But what about your reputation?
The cost of not implementing an idea might be both financial and long lasting damage to your reputation and brand.
Does anyone remember Polaroid? Polaroid was the word that described instant images. The company failed to keep pace with digital technology and almost went bankrupt.
Next time an idea is put to you, think very carefully about the cost of not implementing it as well as the actual cost of implementing it.