At the end of last year I was interviewed by Dave Harries for GuruView.tv. You can see the result below. Visit GuruView.tv for other interesting and useful video interviews.
Yesterday a huge story hit the news stands here in the UK. Within the Foreign Office a brainstorming session was held to do some ‘blue sky thinking’ around things that should form part of the Pope’s forthcoming visit to the UK. As with all good idea generation sessions everything was recorded and the results marked not to be distributed externally. Of course, some of the ideas upset one or two people who took it upon themselves to make the document public. The BBC article can be read in its entirety by clicking here.
This whole sorry episode highlights some DOs and DONTs for generating ideas:
- DO make sure that your objectives are clear at the start, that way you will not be left defending your motives afterwards.
- DONT use any form of censorship, not even telling people to keep quiet. They won’t. Get people to buy in to secrecy if this is needed in a commercial environment. If they spill the beans they are breaking the confidence of their peers and colleagues.
- DO invite appropriate people.
- DO make sure that brainstorming is not the whole process, some filtering has to take place to weed out the wacky ideas.
- DO publish the results yourself, others may well try to take things out of context.
- DONT be naive. In any political (in the true sense, not just government) environment there will be points scoring. Some people will go to extreme efforts to sabotage yours!
… and finally please do persevere. I’m sure that the Junior Official within the Foreign Office who has now ‘been moved to other duties’ did a good job and once the wacky ideas had been thrown away the Pope may very well have had some great events organised to complement the obligatory masses and baby blessings. A great opportunity missed perhaps? In the future people will be afraid to try new things so it could be a case of ‘If you do what you have always done, the you will get what you have always got’.
So please try and be a little different, but be careful!
I have just finished creating this short (only 1 min 20 sec) video and will be uploading it to the website shortly. All my contacts who have seen it have said “get it into cyberspace now” so here it is. The music features the Kalimba and was heavily influenced by past visits to Latin America and Africa. It contains some nice notes but only if you listen with reasonable speakers! Higher quality versions are available offline.
My view of an organisation that exhibits creative or innovative behaviour is organic and focuses on people. It therefore seems a good idea to use metaphors that relate to the wellbeing and performance of people themselves. So what does make us feel good or energised and what is not so good?
How about a detox by way of a change in diet (as opposed to some of the unpleasant practices that exist at health spas)? As human beings we tend to feel sluggish when we have drunk too much alcohol or coffee or not enough water. We are told to eat foods high in fibre and cut out refined sugars and saturated fats. Lastly we can all eat less.
How does this relate to our organisations? Our organisations can feel sluggish and stodgy when:
- We all keep doing exactly the same day in and day out
- Bosses spend much of their time micromanaging and dictatorial
- Knowledge and opinions are not canvassed or allowed
- Lack of transparency cause workers to ask ‘why bother’
… and how about having too much of the things that are bad for us:
- Too many initiatives and change programmes
- Over reliance on outside consultants
- Analysis paralysis i.e. analysing rather than doing
- Fear of making mistakes so we ‘do not do’
- No strong vision or commitment (no diet plan)
- No shared responsibility (no commitment to our diet)
Readers can take this metaphor as far as they like, as with most things it is simply another way of looking at our organisations to find new and different solutions to our problems.
TV viewers here in Wales, UK may seen a documentary entitled ‘Ban The Boss’. It was made in conjunction with Dr Paul Thomas at the University of Glamorgan. The title was a little sensationalist to say the least, but the programme itself was very interesting. Following my article last month on what is wrong with public sector innovation I thought it right to shine some light on how things could be fixed.
Despite the fears of those involved the idea was not to cause anarchy or make large numbers of people redundant but simply to make the changes necessary to create an organisational form that is relevant for the future. The programme focused on two main areas of Blaenau Gwent Council, Environmental Services (refuse collection) and Transport Services. Those who are involved in change know that there are essentially two options, top down and bottom up. In large inflexible organisations change orchestrated from the top is slow that it is ineffective. In the public sector the changes often take longer than the time for which key people are in post, making the whole effort grind to a halt.
Dr Thomas went into each department and effectively banned all middle and senior management from their posts for a week. The idea was that the front line workers could organise themselves. As you can imagine, there were many different types of reaction. The bosses felt aggrieved, workers were suspicious and in some cases workers were wondering who would make the decisions. After a week workers were asked to vote to find out if they wanted their bosses back. Some were invited back but not in their original capacity but nobody was made redundant although some workers chose to leave of their own accord.
It was clear to see that in the cases where workers had made the leap, their workplaces were happier and more efficient places to work with the flexibility to take on the challenges of the future. Rather like pouring concrete when building or filling a vessel with water, people and organisations find their own ‘levels’ and the previous structures were ineffective but were actually sapping the organisation of energy by just maintaining them.
The benefits were greater efficiency, less red tape and increased motivation and performance to name a few. But what were the main factors that caused this to succeed?
- Peer pressure and equity theory causing a waterfall effect
- Simple demonstration that front line workers can organise themselves
- Rapid introduction to the concept of shared ownership and responsibility
- Sharing in the gains made
- Commitment by those at the very top that jobs were safe
- Transparency at all stages of the process
- Constant availability of project personnel
Overall it was a tough process but one which appeared to be working and one which is highly recommended to the public sector both in the UK and elsewhere.
I recently had the good fortune to bump into Mark and Jon Owen at a business event in Cardiff and was immediately intrigued by both their product, and the way in which they had developed it and got it to the market. Those with design heads will of course marvel about ergonomics, design and manufacturing but what about the human side, what about (dare I say it) Innovation? I’m sure that Jon and Mark did not really see themselves as innovators but they are doing something different and making headway, so what happened?
Mark had been a wheelchair user for over a decade and had been going with the flow. Wheelchairs were an engineering solution to a medical condition. Did that have to be the case? Had being confined to a wheel chair caused a major personality shift, changed his interests or priorities in life? No, but it had placed him in an entirely new bracket within society. He was now classed as disabled. One thing that struck Mark and Jon was the ugliness of mobility products. Just as we feel close to our iPhone or other gadget, so Mark had a gadget that was with him all of the time which was transport, sofa and office chair – so why couldn’t it be cool too?
Nomad was born! Why hadn’t this been done before, why did nobody see this opportunity? Was it market, was it international conglomerates or blinkered stakeholders (you decide)? With an emphasis on design and with access to a unique perspective on the marketplace a unique wheelchair was born. Made of lightweight aluminium, engineered to provide day long comfort and requiring less effort it sure does look cool, even people who are not disabled will want to have a go! You can even propel yourself with one hand!
So how did they get here and more importantly how did Mark and Jon start out? A discussion whilst on holiday convinced them that this was possible. Time out to think is always important, without it the results could have been a badly engineered product in a garden shed!
Inspiration was drawn from a variety of sources, not just pinching ideas but values and lifestyle cues as well. So take a look at a Nomad chair and you may very well see hints from cars, bikes and fashion. All good stuff but knowing what you want is great, how do you actually get there? Usually this means engaging outside help to acquire the skills that you yourself do not possess. It also means that you also have more people to bounce ideas off and gain inspiration from. In this case, local designers were the key.
Was it all plain sailing? Jon says that prototyping was a little tricky as others do not always wish to push the boundaries, but they can be convinced if the vision is strong enough and the message is compelling. How many people say to you “that will never work”? Being brothers of a similar age, Mark and Jon often disagree but seem to have a fairly comprehensive support system that includes both each other and parents so (creative) tension is channelled into Nomad and is seen as a positive factor. Do readers of this article actually think about their own environment, support mechanisms and close advisors?
Mark and Jon seem to have created an effective ‘mash’ of traditional and innovative with their approaches to design, planning, risk assessment, company culture and having fun. They have balanced risk and planning, creativity and control but above all they have an in depth understanding of their environment (both internal and external) and are revelling in the challenges and opportunities that they are discovering. By coincidence, these are also the main drivers to ensure that a business has a (high) capacity to innovate. The future looks bright for Nomad.