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Radical Innovation, Part I: Unleashing Creativity

Knowledge@Wharton

You can’t legislate creativity or innovation. “But you sure as heck can take whatever creativity exists in an organization and kill it very quickly,” says Kimberly A. Wagner, a partner and a managing director at the Boston Consulting Group. In this Knowledge@Wharton video, Wagner explains how managing breakthrough innovation in large organizations is very different from two people doing a start-up in a garage. At big companies, “senior managers oftentimes say, ‘We don’t have the creative ideas.’ But if you talk three or four layers into the organization, at the rock face, what you hear is, ‘We have a lot of creative ideas. We just can’t … get permission.’”

The Latest Innovation: Redesigning the Business Model

~ Knowledge@Wharton, Nov 18

Innovation has become a buzzword in business today, as new-product sales advantages so often flow from new designs or features. Think mobile phones, tablets, or even autos. But apart from product or service leaps, can innovation in the way a company conducts business give it a leg up? Research from Wharton management professor Raffi Amit and co-author Christoph Zott, a professor at IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain, suggests that it can. In this Knowledge@Wharton interview, Amit covers the highlights of a research paper titled, “Business Model Innovation: Creating Value in Times of Change.” The authors note: “Business model innovation … relies on recombining the existing resources of a firm and its partners, and it does not require significant investments in R&D.”

An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.

The importance of business-model design:

Raffi Amit: My colleague, Chris Zott, and I started a research program that addresses the broad question of how firms do business, which is the business model. A business model is a system of activities that are interdependent and that create value for the stakeholders of the firm. For example, in the old days, Apple designed the hardware, either produced or assembled some of the hardware, and then sold it. The value equation was to the sale of hardware.

Enter the iPod, which was a profound change in Apple’s business model, because the company realized it can create value for stakeholders not just by selling a gadget which is nicely designed, but also through the use of the gadget. So, Apple, in introducing the iPod, profoundly changed its business model by having a relationship with the music industry, the owners of the intellectual property to the various songs, and convincing those studios to sell by the song, not by the CD. Then through an electronic store, iTunes, [Apple] enabled people to download selected music. Each time a song was downloaded, Apple got a share of the proceeds, and therefore … it created value for the customer, for Apple’s shareholders and obviously for its employees.

“Innovation is not limited to the innovation of product [but also includes] innovation of the very way a company engages in business.”

The business model is a description of how the firm does business, and it is a system of activity. When Apple introduced the iPod, new activities were added, and the value that was created by this modified business model was enhanced because there were new stakeholders. Note that the stakeholders span both firm and industry boundaries. Who would think a computer company would be in the music business? And suddenly Apple was literally in the music business.

Over the years, Chris Zott, who is now at IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain, and I have addressed a number of issues that relate to the business model. For example, what are the elements of a business model? What are activities that decide the content? What is the structure? How are those activities combined to create the system and, as importantly, the governance of the business model?

Who carries out each activity? We ask the questions, “How does the business model create value? What are the fundamental value drivers in the business model?” That’s where we created the so-called NICE business model, which stands for: Novelty, Lock-in, Complementaries. These are the fundamental value drivers. We asked managers to ask themselves, “Is our business model NICE?”

There’s another aspect, and that’s the process by which companies go through the business model’s design. Much of the work that’s been done so far focused on the content of what a business model is, or how the business model creates value and so on. But very little work has been done on how organizations design the business model. How do they modify it? And this applies to early-stage organizations — new startups — and to established organizations.

Once you think about what do managers do — obviously they have to lead their organizations and develop the strategies — how are they going to compete? The business model answers a different question. How are we going to do business? So, that’s the essence of our research program.

Key conclusions:

Our research on the process of designing a business model established that, by building on the methodology that was adopted for the purpose of product design by IDEO — which is a leading design company in the Bay Area on the West Coast — and in applying it to the design of the business model, we developed a five-phase process that’s embedded in the understanding of the antecedent for the design of the business model.

Some of the work we’ve done has established that when a company designs its business model, it doesn’t do it in a vacuum. It has to do it by considering a number of antecedents. For example, what’s the goal of the business model? [The answer is] one antecedent. What are some of the templates that other companies have been using? And to some extent thoughtfully and mindfully adopting some of those templates is another antecedent.

[We also looked at] understanding who are the stakeholders of the organization that would benefit from that business model. [Further, we looked at] constraints — whether these are financial, human capital, regulatory or any other type of constraints that would affect what the firm can and cannot do for any one of the reasons I just mentioned.

Once these antecedents are acknowledged and communicated, then there’s a process that we suggest in the research paper that involves five steps. First, to observe … a little bit of an ethnographic study — how people use your product or your service. What do they like and not like? When and how do they use it? Who uses it? Who makes the buying decision, and how is that decision made? So, a lot of observation is involved.

Then there’s a phase of synthesis — taking all of the information you observed and pulling it together. Then there’s a point of generating some product-type business model. [You can] say, “This is one idea of how we do business. Here’s another idea of how we do business, and let’s compare them.” [The fourth step is to] refine the model as you think about it more vigorously and more definitively. The last phase is implementation.

That cycle — observation, synthesis, generation, refinement and implementation — should be an ongoing process. It’s not the starting point. It’s a dynamic process in which the firm never sits still and says, “This is how we do business, and we work in silos.” Our main observation here is the need for people in the organization to think in a holistic way — not to think in silos — to take a broader view of the organization, not just of the activities in which they are involved. And that, we believe based on the research we’ve done, will create value for all stakeholders.

“Design doesn’t just apply to product design. It applies very much to the design of how firms do business.”

In fact this process paper is an attempt to journalize our past research that focused on emerging companies. This was our attempt to move from focusing and empirically examining young emerging-growth companies to focusing on … large, global, diversified companies.

What current business events are relevant in light of this research?

What are the implications of not adopting a process of continuously updating and revising your business model? I’d like to give two examples.

Look at a company like Blackberry, which dominated the smart phone industry in government, business and among consumers. Blackberry almost became a verb in American society. Even the President of the United States used a Blackberry. But Blackberry stuck to a particular way of doing business and ignored the changes that were happening in telecommunications, in the ability of wireless networks to transmit videos and other graphical information. Executives did not adapt the company’s business model. Today, Blackberry is in decline, and according to some, on the verge of bankruptcy.

Another example of a company that has not adapted its business model is Nokia. At one point it was by far the largest marketer of handsets for wireless communication. Nokia has since disposed of its handset business, and it declined to a very small percentage of the global number of handsets that have sold. It’s been taken over by the likes of Samsung, Apple, HTC and others.

A concrete example of a company that totally transformed itself by transforming its business model is IBM. Historically, IBM was a product-centered company. It sold computers, disk drives, tape drives, a number of boxes. Today, the vast majority of IBM revenue comes from services where the products are not a means to an end, but are a means to deliver the services.

That’s a profound transformation of how IBM does business. Today, the most profitable part of the company is not the boxes, but the services. The largest fraction of IBM’s revenue comes from services. So, IBM is a good example of a global, multi-national, large and diversified firm that has undertaken a profound updating or revision of its historical business model and, as such, enabled it to stay on top.

How does this research stand apart from other studies?

We believe we are the first to focus exclusively on the process of business model innovation. There has been a realization that business model innovation matters. But before we did this study, no one had really vigorously looked at the process of how you innovate a business model. And that’s where we believe our main contribution lies.

Two main takeaways for business:

First, the need to apply design thinking to the design of the business model. Traditionally, design thinking has been applied to the design of products. What we’ve established through this research project is that the process by which firms design the business model can, in and of itself, create enormous value Twitter .

The second takeaway is that firms need to develop a capability to continuously ask themselves how to tweak their business models, how to refine and revise them. This is an organizational capability that needs to become part of a firm’s DNA. The business model needs to change as the environment in which the firm competes changes. There [needs to be] a realization that each and every member of the organization needs to look at: “Are we still doing business in a way that maximizes the value creation potential?”

“The process by which firms design the business model can, in and of itself, create enormous value.”

The answer, therefore, is that designing the business model is no longer just a job that the CEO has to do. Each and every member has to ask: “In the activities that I’m involved in, is there another way to do this activity? How do the activities that I’m involved in relate to other activities that are going on in our firm that create value for our stakeholders?” And when I talk about stakeholders, there are obviously the customers of the firm, the partners, owners, employees and managers — to pick a few stakeholders. All of them need to be considered in thinking through the design of the business model.

So, these are the two main takeaways. Design doesn’t just apply to product design. It applies very much to the design of how firms do business. And secondly, this has to be a continuous activity that becomes part of a firm’s DNA.

Surprises that came out of the research:

On one hand, the impact of the business model’s design on the firm’s performance has been substantial, greater than what I would have anticipated. But what surprised me most is how rare it is in the organizations that we surveyed and talked to where the process of designing the business model is part of the firm’s DNA.

Very few organizations routinely think, “How can we tweak our business model? How can we find a better, more efficient, greater value-creating business model?” That surprised me, and I think that managers and organizations more generally would benefit by thinking deeper about the design and thinking about it not as a one-time or once in two years thinking, “Is there a better way?” — but as an ongoing, dynamic capability that the firm has.

And it’s up to the leadership of the company to instill that kind of design thinking into the DNA of the firm. And the fact that this is rare was a surprise to me.

Misperceptions dispelled:

The perception is that innovation is about product innovation. And what our study attempts to show is that innovation is not limited to the innovation of product [but also includes] innovation of the very way a company engages in business, how it interacts with its stakeholders, how the various activities are connected to each other. Who carries out each of the activities?

Because in business models in today’s environment — where there have been enormous advances in information and communication technologies — companies are involved in activities that are carried out by other companies. And that’s very much part of the business model of how a modern corporation operates today.

I can give you a lot of examples of how the business model of Amazon relies on UPS delivering the products that people buy from it. And Amazon doesn’t produce or stock most of the products it sells. They’re just drop-shipped from another company. So, the business model of Amazon involves companies and activities that are happening outside of the boundaries of Amazon — outside of the industries it’s in.

There are companies where the entire innovation is how they do business. Take Priceline, which has revolutionized travel. Rather than you going to the website of any airline and looking at the menu of what it has to offer, it’s just the opposite. You say, “I want to travel from A to B, and I’m willing to pay X dollars to travel, and, you airline, make me an offer.”

It’s kind of a reverse auction in some sense. But in many ways, it’s a way to create value — for the airline to dispose of seats it hasn’t sold, because if it flies an empty seat, it makes no money. So, everybody wins. This is a value-creating business model, and there’s no product there. With eBay, there are no products, right? The business model is where the value creation is.

What’s next?

We’re engaged in a fairly massive effort of collecting data to address a related question, and that is focusing on large companies and how the business models evolved side by side with the organizations — the people, the incentives. That’s because a business model focuses on what activities the firm is engaged in, in order to create value, and how that system of activities creates value, how it’s connected, who does it. But there are other elements of the organizations that need to be looked at. And that’s how we see ourselves in the next phase of this research program which, as I said, we started over 15 years ago.

The Truth About Breakthrough Ideas

Here’s an interesting piece: Ken Favaro writes about something that Steven Johnson calls ‘the adjacent possible’ in his book “Where good ideas come from”. I don’t quite understand the point though that ideas come from individuals not companies or organisations. Of course everything starts with people but the key ingredient is not the brilliant isolated individual, instead it is the brilliantly networked individual who can grow his idea by synthesizing diverse inputs. The role of the organization is to facilitate this process. And yes agreed, classic brainstorming is definitely not the answer here, there are many much better planning tools, platforms and services.
Posted: December 15, 2014
Ken Favaro

Ken Favaro is a senior partner with Strategy& based in New York. He leads the firm’s work in enterprise strategy and finance.

Ford, Apple, Netflix, Starbucks, and Google struck gold with these breakthrough strategies, and changed the game in their respective industries:

• Offer a standard, mass-produced automobile

• Turn a personal computer into a “digital hub” for consumers

• Rent movies through a monthly, direct mail subscription service

• Create a “third place” between office and home to enjoy high-quality coffee drinks

• Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful

Although each strategy is distinctive, they share a few common characteristics that tell us how breakthrough strategies really come to be.

First, they start with flashes of insight prompted by working on big problems. For example, Henry Ford had the idea to move the cars, not workers, down an assembly line, while struggling with how to make the automobile more affordable. Netflix founder Reed Hastings asked himself, “Why can’t you sell movies like Amazon sells books?” while fuming over the fees he had incurred from his late return of Apollo 13 to Blockbuster.

But where do such novel ideas actually come from? Is it from the muses, as the ancient Greeks would have thought? Is it from genius? Is it from the creative side of one’s brain, as Roger Sperry, winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize for his left brain/right brain research, might have said? Or is it from a brainstorming session in a tricked-out conference room with creativity-enhancing furniture, colors, and lighting?

In fact, research tells us that innovative strategies are sparked by “precedents” from unexpected places that seem to offer at least a partial solution to the challenge you have in mind. For example, before they founded Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin were working on how to make the Web more useful for e-commerce. But Page was also working on the Stanford Digital Libraries Project, and realized that you could rank Web pages the way scholars are ranked by their annual number of citations. Howard Schultz was noodling on how to raise people’s demand for high-quality coffee when he was inspired by observing Italians from all walks of life enjoying espresso at their local watering holes. Ford’s idea for the moving assembly line originated in meatpacking plants, where butchers disassembled carcasses moving past them along an overhead trolley.

Then things get really fascinating, because breakthrough strategies always involve “creative combination.” For example, to help make the Macintosh a digital hub for consumers, Jobs created the iPod by combining visual cues from Braun’s T3 pocket radio; a 1.8-inch 5GB hard drive from Toshiba; the navigation features of the Bang & Olufsen BeoCom 6000 wireless telephone; capacitance technology invented in 1910 for the scroll wheel; the programming code from SoundJam MP (a popular MP3 player app), and his Pixar experience, where he learned about negotiating with the music industry for the right to sell songs individually. Ford added to his idea for a moving assembly line by adopting profit sharing for frontline workers—which John Stuart Mills had written about in his popular book published in 1848, Principles of Political Economy. Ford’s famous dictum, that you can have any color you want as long as it’s black, was the result of discovering that black paint dried faster than any other color—thus allowing the assembly line to move faster. And his network of dealer franchises emulated Singer Manufacturing’s move to cover the country with third-party resellers because it could not afford a national sales force to hawk its innovative sewing machines. Similarly, Page and Brin brought together data mining, page ranking, and search-linked ad selling technologies in creating Google, and Hastings combined Amazon’s book-selling approach with the gym membership fee model to build Netflix.

Finally, people—not companies—create breakthrough strategies. Breakthroughs go against the grain of accepted wisdom, and markets and organizations are powerful immune systems that throw up multiple barriers to turning new ideas into commercial reality. It takes a person who believes enough in the strategy to be willing to fight an organization or the broader market for however long it takes to make it happen. Remember that Howard Schultz was not the original founder of Starbucks. He was just an employee of the company, then a roasting and packing business, when he was sent to Italy to scout out the equipment used there for roasting and grinding coffee. Upon his return, he shared his idea—to create an Italian-style espresso bar that would drive demand for Starbucks’s high-quality coffee—with the founders, who promptly turned him down. So he quit to start his own business. Then, when the founders decided to sell, Schultz bought the company, and the rest is history.

So what does all this tell us about breakthrough strategies? They rarely come from the typical strategic planning effort. Nor do they typically result from the common practice of generating and evaluating strategic options. And they certainly aren’t inspired in a traditional board offsite, executive retreat, or brainstorming session. Instead, they start with individuals working on big, specific challenges who find novel ideas in unexpected places, creatively combine them into innovative strategies, and personally take those strategies to fruition—against all odds.

Three ways companies can make co-creation pay off

Involving outsiders in the creative process of developing products and services is harder than it sounds. Here’s how leading companies do it.

December 2014 | byJacques Bughin (McKinsey & Company)

Ever since companies began using the web to solicit ideas from outsiders for enhancing services and developing products, the promise of co-creation has overshadowed its measurable impact. Studies have shown that the impact of co-creation—the act of bringing external parties, usually customers or suppliers, into a company’s creative process—on new product innovation is neither statistically significant nor economically relevant, nudging the likelihood of success up by a scrawny 4 percent.1While attempts to create products or services jointly may produce desirable side effects—in the form of reduced market-research costs or increased customer loyalty—the ultimate goal of bringing outstanding products to the market remains elusive.

While co-creation with customers has produced widely publicized successes at some brand-name companies, the challenges that practitioners must overcome to build and sustain a productive model of online collaboration have been minimized, if not ignored. That oversight should be corrected. Co-creation skills are an important capability for companies, requiring agile processes, quick test-and-learn cycles, and a deep understanding of customers. In fact, in contrast to the average practice, the masters of co-creation not only unlock value rapidly by delivering high-quality products and service innovation but also sustain that impact over time—all with little additional R&D overhead.

Last year, we studied more than 300 companies in three European countries and found that the best at co-creation excelled in three areas:

1. Target your co-creators

Our research found that while 90 percent of executives were eager to get consumers involved in co-creation, only 12 percent of Internet users had actually done so. In fact, only a quarter of consumers were even aware of the concept, while an additional 5 percent knew about co-creation but not how it actually worked. To overcome this issue, the best companies parse customer data to actively target co-creators and actively explain how to use their co-creation platform. They segment their audience and tailor marketing promotions to what appeals to users: for example, games, money, education, or pure peer recognition.

Since 2001, for example, P&G has successfully been bringing outsiders into its R&D process. As well as targeting them by motivation, the company has also targeted retirees with specific skill sets, including P&G’s own alumnae, as well as retired technical specialists at airline companies.2 P&G’s co-creation platform, Connect + Develop, has spawned dozens of products, boosted product development, and effectively doubled the number of employees engaged in R&D—without adding to payroll costs.

Implicit in this effort is getting to critical mass: without enough people, the chances of co-creation success drop. When Starbucks launched its My Starbucks Idea co-creation platform for customers, it understood from the start that it was critical to lure big numbers of participants—between 1,000 and 7,000 is an ideal number for one product.

An important element of successful recruiting is finding people who actually like your brand. Finding people on social media who not only “like” your brand but are also active promoters is a good place to start. In addition, the value benefit can increase. Our research shows that a brand’s market share is more than twice as correlated with those who are inclined to co-create with a brand than with those who only make positive comments on social media.

2. Find the motivation

Getting a critical mass of users to do more than drop by and glimpse an online co-creation platform can be daunting. Having clear navigation and communications is critical so that potential co-creators know what kind of help you’re looking for. Co-creation-savvy companies list their needs and organize them by category, mimicking online co-creation platforms such as O’Desk or Mechanical Turk.

Understanding and tapping into what motivates co-creators is critical for getting them to submit good ideas. Not surprisingly, one motivation is compensation. Heineken launched its co-creation platform in 2012, asking game lovers, beer drinkers, and environmentally conscious consumers for ideas that would make its packaging more sustainable.3 The winner, a German citizen, suggested a device (the Heineken-o-Mat) intended to turn recycling into a game and walked away with a $10,000 prize.

Yet interestingly, many people aren’t motivated to co-create purely by compensation. Our research on ten co-creation projects found that the largest percentage of participants (28 percent) was driven by curiosity and a desire to learn, followed closely by entertainment and social play (26 percent), and an interest in building skills (26 percent). Some 20 percent were driven by recognition and rewards.

Starbucks, for example, fostered an atmosphere that welcomed the opinions and reviews of customers, and provided a platform for them to connect with each other. By talking to each other and to the company, customers shared views on store design, in-store music, and corporate social responsibility initiatives. The most active of the 250,000 participants in the first two years4 received recognition on the site; some also got the ultimate reward of their idea being among the 300 that the company has implemented.

It’s important to bear in mind the segments of co-creators—such as gamers and social butterflies—and then design applications with them in mind. For example, creating a fun contest will draw game lovers. Building in a social component, such as a leader board for winning games, is also likely to entice people who want social recognition. But what really generates mass participation is when companies attract audiences to co-creation with multiple appeals. A contest to draw game lovers is also likely to entice people who want social recognition (by winning games), for example.

3. Focus on a sustainable payoff

For co-creation to pay off handsomely over time, companies must focus it on activities that deliver a sustainable competitive advantage.

That may be about being a price leader, a product innovator, or superior service provider. P&G has used co-creation to remain an innovator in household cleaning products. Ideas from its product-co-creation program have helped it turn its Febreze air-freshener brand into a fragrant frontrunner, with $1 billion in annual sales. Threadless, a company that manages and sells crowd-sourced tee shirt designs, built a sustainable model by producing high-quality shirts in limited quantities to create the sense of a premium brand.

Other companies have rightly rooted co-creation on creating a cost advantage. Take Chinese motorcycle maker Loncin. In the late 1990s, the firm needed to become more price competitive with Honda, Yamaha, and Suzuki in the Vietnamese market. Loncin brought suppliers rather than customers into its co-creation initiative and asked for ways to reduce the cost of manufacturing. The resulting ideas helped Loncin cut costs by more than 70 percent and gain 60 percent of the Vietnamese motorcycle market within four years. With strong capabilities in co-creation, Loncin since has branched out into engines and cars.

Similarly, Missha, a 14-year-old cosmetics retailer based in South Korea, turned to co-creation in the early 2000s to create a lower-priced yet attractive alternative in a market dominated by high-priced brands. Missha appealed to its suppliers to help reduce costs without stripping away valued capabilities. The feedback helped Missha more than double its market share in South Korea.

Co-creation is here to stay. For companies that figure out how to do it well, the rewards can be far greater than a more effective and efficient R&D organization. More important, it is a core capability for unleashing the vast ingenuity of outsiders on an organization’s biggest challenges.

About the author

Jacques Bughin is a director in McKinsey’s Brussels

30 Tips to Rejuvenate Your Creativity

chalk.jpg

~Joel Falconer on Lifehack.org

Recently, we asked the readers what their tips for staying creative were. Sometimes creativity flows from the heavens, but other times, as we all know, it’s like drawing water from a stone. The following are the best tips you gave us.

1. Surround yourself with creative people. Hang out with writers, musicians, poets and artists. Often, just being in a creative environment will inspire you and refresh your creative mind.

2. Start somewhere. If you create a load of crap for a few pages, whether it’s creative writing in Word or sheet music, the brain loosens up and it’s easier to break through the barrier and come up with ideas.

3. Expose yourself. Not after too much vodka. Expose yourself to new art – books, music, paintings – all the time. If you’re a rocker, listen to funk. If you’re a crime writer, read fantasy. If you’re a productivity writer, read something about slacking off.

4. Develop a “morning ritual” that puts you in the zone – whether it’s stream-of-consciousness such as in tip 2, or a series of non-spectacular everyday actions in sequence that tell your brain it’s time to get in the zone. Perhaps you drink a coffee while watching the news before going for a morning walk – if you repeat the same actions before doing creative work for long enough, it eventually creates an association that tells the mind to get in a particular zone.

5. Use GTD techniques – free up your mind from the hassles of life by doing an info-dump so your head is clear enough to create instead of worry.

6. Never stop learning.

7. Imitate the real world – find beauty (or the ugly, depending on what inspires you) and try to extract the essence of it into your work. This may lead you to what you need to create, or it may just warm up the muse.

8. Drink too much coffee sometimes (one of my favorite submissions).

9. Do something new. Play chess. Read a book if you watch television and watch television if you read. Go outside. Sing in the shower.

10. Don’t be too precious about your work. Being inspired by ‘the muse’ is important, but if the doctor and the garbage man can do their jobs every day, then those in a creative line of work can too. Change your attitude towards your work.

11. Based on the theory that everything that can be created has been and creation is simply a process of combining existing ideas, consume information by the bucket load. The more you know, the more you can create from that knowledge.

12. Meet new people from different walks of life. Gain insight into their perspectives on life. Strike up a conversation on the bus.

13. Shut out the world. Instead of sucking in new information, sit quietly, go to sleep, or meditate. Stop thinking and clear your mind so that the clutter doesn’t get in the way of your thoughts.

14. Carry a camera with you and look for interesting things in your every day scenery. Hadn’t noticed that crack in the path before? Then it’ll do. Set a quota and force yourself to make it. Don’t go to new places to do this – force yourself to find new perspectives on old knowledge.

15. Creativity is a muscle. Exercise it daily – if you only need to create once a week, your muscles may have atrophied if you don’t do it just because you don’t have to.

16. Carry a notebook everywhere. Or a PDA.

17. Write down a list of ideas and draw random arrows between them. For instance, if you’re a blogger, write down everything in your Categories list and draw lines to connect unusual ideas. If you had the categories “Relationships” and “Management” and randomly connected them you’d have an interesting article idea to work with.

18. If you’re not on a tight deadline, walk away and do something completely unrelated. Don’t let yourself spend that time stressing about what you need to do.

19. Create a framework. As many writers have said, the blank page can be the biggest show-stopper. Instead of trying to rely on pure inspiration, set your topic or theme and start creating within confines. Think within the box you create for yourself.

20. Remove obstacles to creativity. That friend who calls to complain about their life can wait until you can afford to get stressed about their problems.

21. Don’t judge your ideas until you have plenty to judge. Don’t be embarrassed by yourself – just write them all down! Even if you start with “pink polka-dotted lizard.”

22. Keep a journal. It can get your mind working, and in a month, or a year, when you’ve gained some distance from what you’ve written it can give you new ideas.

23. Stop telling yourself you’re not creative. If you tell yourself not to come up with ideas, then you probably won’t – no matter how hard you try.

24. Don’t be a workaholic – take breaks. Your mind needs a chance to wind down so it doesn’t overheat and crash.

25. Experiment randomly. What does a flanger sound like on a vocal track? Like Lenny Kravitz, of course.

26. Treat creativity like an enemy in a strategy game; if one thing isn’t working, don’t keep trying until you give up. Try a new strategy. Run through the whole list, not just the first tip.

27. Choose a topic and write about it as wonderfully or badly as you possibly can. Then edit it as ruthlessly as a newspaper editor who has thousands of words to edit in the next hour and doesn’t care what gets lost in the process. At the end you might have something decent to use as a starting point.

28. Trash what you’re working on. Start again.

29. Exercise every day, before you sit down to be creative. If you exercise afterwards you’ll get the creative burst – just too late.

30. Spend time with your children. Or someone else’s.

Joel Falconer

  • Joel Falconer is the editor of gaming publication StartFrag and co-founder of Methodic Studios.

    How to Set Productive Collaboration into Action

    Lisa Bodell in strategy & business, Oct 6, 2014

    Collaboration is essential for long-term innovation. Working together and sharing information enables employees to draw on expertise from the entire organization, avoid costly mistakes, and ultimately achieve a collective goal.

    Yet many of today’s large companies still operate as siloed structures. While cubicle farms give a sense of efficiency and hierarchy, they prevent cross-pollination and dialogue across the enterprise. By design, silos prevent information from flowing outward; they discourage people from seeking out new ways to collaborate and build better ideas.

    Productive collaboration isn’t about exchanging cubicle farms or offices for an open-plan setting. Nor is it about adding another layer of tasks or meetings. It’s about pooling resources, forming alliances, and achieving common objectives together. It should fit naturally into employees’ workflow and streamline the process of getting projects to the finish line. If you’re striving to create a more collaborative workplace, follow these 11 guidelines.

    1. Identify and include dissenters. Find employees with new perspectives and get them involved in creating better solutions. To achieve this, Southwest Airlines gathered workers from its in-flight, ground, maintenance, and dispatch operations for a cross-discipline brainstorm. Over a six-month period, teams met for 10 hours each week to figure out the highest-impact changes that could be made to its aircraft operations. Of the 100 ideas generated and ultimately sent to senior management for review, three resulted in sweeping operational changes. One solution dramatically reduces the number of aircraft “swaps,” which are disruptive events that occur when one aircraft has to be substituted for another during mechanical problems. Results like this are possible when employees who aren’t the usual suspects are included in the problem-solving process.

    2. Staff projects with unlikely suspects. Teaming up people from unrelated departments and having them work in the same space increases opportunities for fresh ideas and connections. When BMW begins developing a new car, project team members in engineering, marketing, and sales, for example, are brought together from disparate locations to the company’s central research and innovation center. Close proximity hastens communications, prompts face-to-face meetings, and stimulates impromptu brainstorms.

    3. Designate a “connector.” Break down silos between divisions by designating someone in your organization to act as the official connector. This individual will actively track innovation activities across departments and connect people whose experience or capability matches a project need.

    4. Dedicate budgets to collaborative projects. Assigning funds for innovative and cooperative work is the ultimate indicator to employees that senior management is serious about prioritizing collaboration.

    5. Implement a user-friendly collaboration platform. Enable secure communication, file sharing, and progress tracking across departments and geographies.

    6. Create a peer-to-peer mentorship program. Pair individuals from different parts of the organization to serve as each other’s go-to person for idea generation, advice, and resources. At Intel, people are matched by their specific skills instead of their job title or years of service. It’s not uncommon to find a veteran executive assistant mentoring a newly promoted manager. Matchmaking and relationship building takes place through the company’s intranet and emails, enabling employees to share best practices quickly throughout the global organization. Written contracts and solid deadlines ensure that the program delivers tangible results.

    7. Reward people for not doing things. Encourage teams to work smarter—not harder—by rewarding them for reducing unnecessary processes, reports, or paperwork . Originally started at Commerce Bank, which was then acquired by TD Bank in 2007, was an organization-wide “Kill a Stupid Rule” policy, designed to eradicate inefficiencies. This rule rewarded employees with a US$50 gift card for addressing a superfluous or problematic banking rule and coming up with a more customer-friendly solution. The bank actively encourages managers and tellers to submit their ideas through its intranet system.

    “Encourage teams to work smarter—not harder—by rewarding them for not doing things.”

    8. Compile quarterly “learning lists.” After every project, make a list of evident mistakes and lessons. Share the list across the organization every quarter to ensure the errors aren’t repeated.

    9. Communicate breakthroughs. Showcase collaborative projects through your intranet, newsletter, and other internal channels to motivate and inspire employees.

    10. Create a physical area for people to gather. Walls between cubicles hinder conversation, but a common space in the office encourages employees across roles and functions to interact.

    11. Hire proven collaborators. Which qualities are lacking in your organization? Do you need more staff with interpersonal skills? More negotiators? Enthusiastic cooperators? Make a list of your needs and hire people who demonstrate these skills.

    Knowing what you want to achieve through collaboration—whether it’s cost savings or faster prototyping, for example—will help you take a focused approach as you implement these guidelines. And as with any new initiative, measuring results requires benchmarks to compare against. Before beginning, you should be aware of hard metrics such as how long it currently takes to bring a product from concept to market, the present number of feedback loops, how much time is spent on customer support, and how much is lost through duplication of work.

    Productive collaboration brings together knowledgeable individuals who can add value to other employees and the company as a whole. As collaboration gets underway, note softer metrics like the level of cross-functional participation on projects, and communication between departments and regions. As organizational silos open up, the opportunities for ideas to become actual solutions will increase.

    For more information about increasing productivity and innovation in your own business, email us at innovate@futurethink.com and ask for our full “Collaboration Checklist,” which includes 23 tips on how to achieve successful collaboration.

    Lisa Bodell

    Lisa Bodell is the founder and CEO of futurethink and author of Kill the Company.

    Can Creativity Be Taught?

    creativity-music

    The usual image of how creativity happens: A composer inadvertently hears a melody rising from a babbling brook, or an ad agency creative director crumples page after page of aborted ideas ripped from the typewriter until the right one lands. But creativity, some claim, can come from a far less elusive muse — from a structured process, one that opens up the ranks of the creative to a wider swath than the Steve Jobs, Jonas Salks and Franz Schuberts of the universe.

    “I think there are individual differences in our propensity to be creative,”  says Wharton marketing professor Rom Schrift, “but having said that, it’s like a muscle. If you train yourself, and there are different methods for doing this, you can become more creative. There are individual differences in people, but I would argue that it is also something that can be developed, and therefore, taught.”

    Wharton marketing professor Jerry (Yoram) Wind has in fact taught a course in creativity at Wharton for years, and says that “in any population, basically the distribution of creativity follows the normal curve. At the absolute extreme you have Einstein and Picasso, and you don’t have to teach them — they are the geniuses. Nearly everyone else in the distribution, and the type of people you would deal with at leading universities and companies, can learn creativity.”

    Does creativity need the right conditions to flourish? Jennifer Mueller, a management professor at the University of San Diego and former Wharton professor who has researched creativity, sees evidence that it does. “Every theorist that exists today on the planet will tell you creativity is an ability that ranges in the population, and I think in a given context, creativity can be shut off — or turned on, if the environment supports creativity.”

    John Maeda, former president of Rhode Island School of Design, believes creativity can be taught — though he qualifies that belief. “I wouldn’t say it can be taught in the normal sense of adding knowledge and wisdom to someone. I would say instead it can be re-kindled in people — all children are creative. They just lose their capability to be creative by growing up,” notes Maeda, now a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and chair of eBay’s design advisory board. Creativity in a child, he adds, “is the ability to diverge. In a productive adult, it’s the ability to diverge and converge, with emphasis on the converging.”

    Anyone called upon to tap creativity has his or her own method, but photorealist painter and photographer Chuck Close suggests the matter is actually less mysterious than the muse-chasers might believe. “Inspiration,” he has said, “is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

    Working with Boxes, Inside and Out

    In whatever the sector or discipline — product development, exploitation of networks, music or education — creativity shares certain traits, experts say. Jacob Goldenberg, professor of marketing at the Arison School of Business at the IDC Herzliya in Israel, says creativity has more than 200 definitions in the literature. “However, if you ask people to grade ideas, the agreement is very high,” he notes. “This means that even if it is difficult to define creativity, it is easy to identify it. One of the reasons why it is difficult to define is the fact that creativity exists in many different domains.” Still, he says: “Most creative ideas share a common structure of being highly original and at the same time highly useful.”

    “If you train yourself, and there are different methods for doing this, you can become more creative.”– Rom Schrift

    In Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results, Goldenberg and co-author Drew Boyd make the case that all inventive solutions share certain common patterns. Working within parameters, rather than through free-associative brainstorming, leads to greater creativity, the book says. This method, called Systematic Inventive Thinking, has found application at Procter & Gamble and SAP, among others. “We shouldn’t confuse innovation and creativity,” Goldenberg says. “Creativity refers to the idea, not to the system [product, service, process, etc.] that was built around it. For example, online banking is a great innovation, but the idea [of using the Internet to replace the branch] was not creative. It was expected years before it was implemented.”

    Similarly, he adds, “cell phone technology is one of the most innovative developments, but the need was defined years before, and we just waited for the technology. In my view, a creative idea that is still changing our lives is the concept of letting users develop the software they need on a platform [that a particular] firm sells: the apps concept. This means that consumers develop and determine the value of the smartphone and tablets.”

    This example, Goldenberg says, fits one of the templates for creativity described in Inside the Box: “Where you subtract one of the resources” — such as engineers and marketers — “and replace them with a resource that exists inside a closure (box), in this case your consumers.”

    Schrift has used a different template from Inside the Box in his classes: The idea of building a matrix of characteristics of two unrelated products, and creating new dependencies. Such examples, he says, include an air freshener that changes scent every 10 minutes (remixing the concepts of time and fragrance), or a gym with a fee that is structured to increase if you don’t work out enough (fitness and incentive). “A lot of the time, looking for a new dependency gives you a creative idea,” Schrift notes.

    Wind says that in whatever discipline, creativity is primarily “an ability to challenge the status quo and come up with new and better solutions. In art, the most creative figures are those who came up with new perspectives — Brancusi, who broke away from Rodin; Picasso, who broke away from the Impressionists; Duchamp, who took readymades [ordinary manufactured objects, a porcelain urinal being the most infamous] and said, ‘this is art.’ Anyone who primarily breaks the current status quo and creates a new dimension — the first person to think about understanding medicine in terms of a person’s DNA; in advertising it is [William] Bernbach, who came up with the slogan for Volkswagen, [or] Frank Gehry, who basically broke the tradition of the four-wall museum and came up with a dramatically different structure in Bilbao.”

    Making Space for the Troublemakers

    Corporate culture is no less hungry for creative leaders. Or is it? Any company would eagerly embrace the next iPhone, but it is far from clear that companies tolerate the cost of doing business when it comes to generating creativity. In an IBM survey of 1,500 CEOs from 60 countries in 33 industries released in 2010, creativity was cited as the most important organization-wide trait required for navigating the business environment. And yet, as Mueller found in a 2010 study published in Psychological Science, people often espouse creativity as an abstract goal, but then, when presented with it, spurn it. In The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas, co-authored by Mueller with Shimul Melwani and Jack A. Goncalo, experiments suggest that the desire for creativity is often overshadowed by a need to reduce uncertainty — even as subjects rate their attitudes toward creativity as positive. Moreover, this bias contributes toward people being less able to even recognize creativity.

    Additional research underway by Mueller suggests that creative personalities are often dismissed as trouble. “They are seen as difficult, not as efficient or able to present their ideas with focus, and are also seen as naïve,” she says. “People, either rightly or wrongly, have this stereotype that creative people are high maintenance and emotionally volatile. And where it gets problematic, the moment the organization suffers, is when creative people are discounted for not being seen as team players. And that is the dark side of being tagged as a creative type.” And yet: “Why would you want somebody who doesn’t produce creative work [just because] they are less trouble to manage?”

    “The stereotype is that creativity just has to be unleashed, and it’s not true. It has to be tightly managed. You have to know how to foster it.”–Jennifer Mueller

    The bias against creativity even extends to the classroom, Mueller says. “There is the reality that any teacher needs a rubric in order to give a good grade, and creativity in being new or different creates uncertainty in the mind of the students about whether it fits the answer the teacher is looking for,” she notes. “Teachers think of creative students as disobedient. There is lots of focus on reducing ambiguity, especially in college where the student is your customer. You now have to answer to what the customer wants, and what the customer wants is to get a good grade — and the best way to get a good grade is to reduce ambiguity.”

    Americans are not showing the kind of creative expression that might otherwise be bubbling away — in college, but also grade school. Scores from the widely administered Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking have been declining since 1990 among the nation’s youngest students, according to a study by College of William & Mary assistant professor Kyung-Hee Kim of nearly 300,000 test scores between 1968 and 2008. “The decline is steady and persistent, from 1990 to present, and ranges across the various components tested by the TTCT,” the study finds. “The decline begins in young children, which is especially concerning as it stunts abilities which are supposed to mature over a lifetime.”

    “There is an understanding that this is happening in China and India as well,” Mueller adds, “and the fact that it is happening in the U.S. is troubling people, but I don’t think they know what to do about it. I, myself, have tried to do stuff students don’t like, and they will hate you. If student ratings aren’t high, then you’re not going to get tenure.”

    One environment Mueller admires for its healthy creative process is IDEO, the multinational design consulting firm. Creativity is begun in brainstorming sessions — which is certainly not novel — but it is then shepherded through a more structured route. “They have their initial session, called ‘deep dive,’ and that session is very short. Then they break the problem apart by assigning people specific pieces. Then there is a focus session, so there is chaos and focus, and interplay between these two things is always going on. There is a person whose full responsibility is to structure it, and I think in that process you learn, you ask the customer certain things, you tweak it some more,” Mueller notes. “The stereotype is that creativity just has to be unleashed, and it’s not true. It has to be tightly managed. You have to know how to foster it.”

    Creative Safe Haven

    The willingness to “foster it” is a challenge in many corporate environments. According to Schrift, one way to manage creative forces is to manage talent wisely. “Maybe we don’t want creative people in certain positions,” he says. “One of the obstacles for innovation is not necessarily the process of coming up with the idea, but is more cultural — a lot of companies do not incentivize employees to do things differently.” Sometimes, workers are evaluated on a relatively short cycle, and “when you are innovating, that involves a lot of failure.”

    “Mind-wandering seems to be essential to the creative process, and I don’t think a lot of businesses are aware of that fact.”– Scott Barry Kaufman

    Changes in corporate culture, such as giving workers permission to question authority, can be efficacious, says Scott Barry Kaufman, scientific director of the Imagination Institute at Penn’s Positive Psychology Center. The salient question isn’t whether creativity can be taught, notes Kaufman, since everyone is creative, but rather demonstrating faith in the creativity of workers. “I am not talking about rebelliousness, but giving people time for constructive internal reflection and even daydreaming. A lot of research is suggesting that the more that you demand people’s external attention, the less chance you are allowing them to dip into the default mode where daydreams and reflection happen — and lot of great ideas are not going to come from the brute force of work but from personal life experience. Mind-wandering seems to be essential to the creative process, and I don’t think a lot of businesses are aware of that fact.”

    Neither are most multitaskers — which means, these days, most people. In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, neuroscientist and musician Daniel J. Levitin made the case that tweeting, Facebooking and emailing your way through the day saps creativity. “Daydreaming leads to creativity, and creative activities teach us agency, the ability to change the world, to mold it to our liking, to have a positive effect on our environment,” wrote Levitin, author of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. In other words, we need time to hear the music in a babbling brook.

    Measuring Creative Success

    Is commercial viability the only gauge of creativity’s success? Wind points out that there are innovations in the arts whose value is best judged by other artists, and Goldenberg says peer expertise is sometimes required. “The only way to measure creativity is to use judges who grade many cases including the idea you want to grade,” notes Goldenberg. “This is a complex process and usually done in a research setup and not in practice. This means that a creative person repeats his or her success, and this is not an after-the-fact judgment of one random event.”

    But Wind points out that in general, newness and usefulness are the main indicators of acts of great creativity. “I would take the extreme position that creativity has to have value to be successful,” he says. “You can come up with a lot of ideas, but if you are not adding value to the stakeholders, then they are not creative ideas.” 

    Airbnb certainly meets the criterion of adding value to stakeholders, and, according to Maeda of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the self-listing lodging clearinghouse stands an example of spectacularly creative thinking. “There are more people staying in Airbnb lodgings on any given night than all Hilton hotels combined,” Maeda notes of the company founded by the young and now-wealthy trio of Brian Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk and Joe Gebbia. “It showed plasticity in their creativity that went beyond their design training in making physical goods. They recognized the excess capacity available in everyone’s home, and they designed a scalable service to enable anyone to access that capacity. Their successful design for a service solved the trust barriers inherent to a peer-to-peer economy.”

    Wind cites Uber as his example. “Uber is a truly creative approach as opposed to the traditional taxi,” he says. “How wonderful it is that you could leverage the network idea and create a new business.” The Uber model is now being emulated and adapted to other sectors — Ubers for laundry, snowplows and even wine delivery. But while imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, Uber’s success is actually a cue for the genuinely creative types to move on to other ideas. Says Wind: “The first one [to establish the model] is the example of creativity. The secondary companies following Uber — they are not.”

    Knowledge @ Wharton, August 27, 2014