Thursday, April 28

Creative Marketplaces

I'd like to use this week's blog post to hypothesise about the potential for "Marketplaces" in creativity.

Let me explain:  There's a huge buzz around the world about Open Innovation at the moment.  This is the rather loosely-defined practice of exposing parts of your organisation's innovation process to external influences which can (fingers crossed!) bring fresh ideas.  Everyone's experimenting with inviting selected partner organisations to contribute ideas, usually under a carefully constructed non-disclosure agreement.

I'm sure this sometimes works, but perhaps there are better models ...

Why not cast our nets wider, by adopting some of the practices from crowd-sourcing?

Why not define the necessary tasks more clearly?

If it's ideas were after, why not advertise the need for specialists to fulfill certain thinking tasks en route to innovation, notably:

1. Problem or opportunity definition and scoping
2. Idea generation
3. Translating business goals into idea assessment criteria
4. Performing assessments and iterating ideas
5. Modelling benefits and proposition development

Freelancers could apply, but so could organisations with complementary skills or capabilities.

Payment, where appropriate, might take the form of an exchange or job swap, instead of cash.

There are already "out-tasking" outfits operating in the internet, such as "" or, albeit for freelancers only.  Could that kind of model work for tasks in organisational creativity too?

So here's my public commitment:  Should my company bonus actually materialise next month, I'll out-task this blog for a week, and see what happens.  Watch this space.

As usual, I'd be delighted to enter into a debate, in the hope of improving my insight.

Tuesday, April 19

Cracks in the Crystal Ball

I’ve been musing on strategy this week, inspired by a couple of articles on IT strategy which I think have wider applicability, but which also have quite worrying implications for creativity:

David Chan wrote in the Spring 2011 edition of “CIO Connect” about the weakening position of strategic planning, as external influences continually shorten our effective planning horizons.

And this reminded me of a book I read a few months ago on the recommendation of a customer:  In “FruITion”, Chris Potts questions the need for IT strategy.  His point is that IT’s only destiny is to become an investment portfolio which returns to the business, so if anyone writes an “IT Strategy” then that’s the journey it should prescribe.  Having tripped around in the darkness for a few months beforehand wondering how traditional IT strategies could possibly deliver value, I became an instant convert to that point of view, and now consider any other subject matter masquerading as “IT Strategy” to be deeply sinister!

So why shouldn’t I tolerate strategists, if that’s the kind of work which makes them happy?  (After all, I used to do a bit of it myself.)

Usually I do, but there comes a limit.  Some organisations have yet to recognise their shortened planning horizons, and continue to strategise in a top-down fashion in support of inflexible long-term plans. For the majority of the time, exponents of this kind of rigid behaviour consider creativity to be some kind of intemperate animalistic force which pops up at all the wrong times armed with unpleasant and peculiarly-shaped weapons.  For as long as we to plan in five-to-ten year cycles, we’ll continue to mistrust creativity, fail to lure it from its hiding place when we do want it, try to hire it from outside organisations, and run out of money just before we see its results.

So should we abandon strategy activities in general?

Or should we abandon strategy only when we perceive that it restricts us?

Here’s my suggestion, to which I’d welcome robust comments …

Let’s continue strategising for a sense of common direction, but demote strategy so that it’s always subservient to the emerging reality.  (Indeed this may be the only way for strategy to maintain a modicum of self-respect.)

Let’s consider strategy to be a “living exercise”, so that it can always be influenced.   Let’s abandon our fixation on strategy baselines (we can always create a snapshot called “five year view” if someone wants yesterday’s agenda).

And most importantly … let’s be receptive to new ideas at any time.  No improving organisation can afford to lock itself into a plan which is suboptimal upon reflection.

Friday, April 15

Us, Ws, Ms and Overscores

In recent days I met up over coffee with Roland Hardwood, co-founder of 100% Open.  Amongst a hundred or so other interest thoughts we shared, one in particular stood out as blog-worthy:

We talked about the U-shaped curve of individual reward (Y-axis) against time (X-axis), as an innovation progresses from concept through to implementation.

For many so-called creative types this is certainly a good representation, with the real enjoyment occurring firstly in the initial formation of the embryonic idea, and then later in the form of pride when the idea has gone public in a usable form.  (A strong bias in the right-hand side of the “U” might reveal a tendency for celebrity!)   For “U-shaped” people, the period between these two peaks is dull or unrewarding by comparison.

I’d also like to cover three more profiles which have occurred to me since that conversation:

Firstly there’s the “W”—someone who gets most reward the same way as the “U”, but who can also contribute energetically to ensuring that the idea passes one or more hurdles en route to implementation.  A “W”-shaped sponsor can provide invaluable, and it’s sometimes easier than you might imagine to find and cultivate one.

Then there’s the “M”—someone who is visibly blasé about an supposedly exciting concept or about its ultimate adoption by its consumers, but is passionate about the main body of process in between.  Often the “M” is a project manager who takes immense pride in efficient implementation, almost irrespective of the content being delivered.

I’ve met several “Ws”, and it might surprise readers of this blog that I’ve also met many “Ms”.   Perhaps the “Ms” are a quirk peculiar to my native industry.

I’ve heard the legends of “Overscores”, but I don’t think I’ve met one in the flesh.  If you’re luckily enough to find any “Overscores” on your payroll, I’d suggest doing whatever you can to keep them entertained.   If they’re discerning in selecting the right ideas at the concept stage, they could well prove to be important engines of improvement for your organisation.

Thursday, April 7

School Belle

A few weeks ago I saw signs that formal (and potentially creative) thinking methods seemed to be gaining a foothold in our schools.  At the time I promised a follow-up if I found out more ...

Having blogged, I then blagged a free copy of "Creative Teaching and Learning" magazine (thanks Sandie!) and started reading.  The most interesting article I found was about a framework called "TASC", which was introduced by Belle Wallace some years ago.   I'd recommend glancing at the 8 stages of the TASC framework at

I was immediately struck by the partial similarity of TASC to another framework--"TO-LO-PO-SO-GO", by Edward de Bono.   His method is described best in the "Thinking Course” book, but here's the gist:

  • TO - What's our goal?
  • LO - What do we know, and what can we find out?
  • PO - Can we provoke ourselves to think more unusual thoughts?
  • SO - Which of our options is the best?
  • GO - What are the next steps?

I've revealed my hand on this subject before, most notably by contributing a variant of "TO-LO-PO-SO-GO" as a customisation script for the "Southbeach Modeler" tool.

The similarities with TASC are comforting, and should further encourage both authors that they're on to something.

But I spotted two differences:

  1. Whilst de Bono tries to identify the problem before gathering information about it, Belle Wallace seems to tackle these steps the other way around.
  2. The three reflective steps and the end of the TASC wheel have no parallel in "TO-LO-PO-SO-GO".

So I got in touch with Belle, who was very helpful ...

She explained that the order of the first two phases can indeed be reversed, but she also gave me a great reason for their given order:  "If the pupils are likely to know something about the general topic then they gather and organise what they already know first - then the identify [phase] becomes 'What would we like to find out?' " 

Having a hand in exploring what they don't know, and what they'd like to find out, encourages children to do far more than just copy and paste answers from the internet.

As I suspected, the last three phases are most applicable in a learning environment, to help us conclude effectively and do everything better next time.   They're "major stages in becoming an expert, reflective thinker."

Belle also told me that TASC is now widely used across the UK and some Local Education Authorities are encouraging all their schools to engage with the Framework.   Apparently the TASC website has an evaluation of its use across 10,000 classrooms, and OfSTED have praised it for developing pupils' thinking.

Perhaps Generation Z will be able to teach de Bono and Wallace a thing or two about thinking?  Ever the optimist, I'm certainly hoping so!