Thursday, August 25

Supply-Side Creativity







My day job at the moment is in something very close to sales. As such, I spend a lot of time with (or preparing to be with) clients.

As you might expect, I've been applying creative thinking to this client work.  Usually that's been beneficial, but sometimes not.  And only today did it dawn on me why not ...

Supplying creative thinking really should be something that clients appreciate. It's a relatively scarce skill, at least in my industry, and that's what makes it valuable.   But too often it's rebuffed.  Here's what I think's going on:

1. Sometimes I've failed to present my 'Creativity Licence' in advance.  My interlocutor is receptive to new ideas, but is expecting something rather different from me, and can't adjust away from a preconceived agenda during our short time together.

2. Sometimes I choose an audience which has no licence to receive or process creativity.  Typically this means I've agreed to meet someone with rather a specific remit, whose only real focus is to shave costs and polish the quality of perfectly serviceable machinery. This is an audience for continuous improvement, not for disruption.

3. Sometimes I'm allowing a moderator to surpress creativity.  Three can be crowd sometimes, even in the collective, collaborative world of innovation.  Abdul's outlandish idea has huge potential, which strikes a chord with Belinda.  But Charlie's in the room too, and when he catches Belinda's eye momentarily she withdraws from the idea in her determination to appear grounded and rational.  The greenhouse has smashed, and the sapling withers.

I need to try harder to:
  • Wear my Creator's Licence on my sleeve
  • Carry some spare licences around with me to loan out to clients
  • Avoid meeting people who aren't interested in borrowing one!

(Either that, or revert to purely sequential, logical working again, and miss out on all the fun and fury!)

Friday, August 19

Innovation you could drive a bus through ...

You've heard about Open Innovation.  It's a very fashionable concept which is probably somewhere around the "peak of inflated expectations" on the Gartner Hype Cycle.  It's a concept with bags of potential, relying mainly on the premise that your business can get better ideas if it opens its doors to selected outside organisations, and GlaxoSmithKline's consumer healthcare division is one of its leading proponents.

My employer is pretty advanced in its Open Innovation thinking too, but I'll leave colleagues to spread that message.

So let's consider for a moment a form of innovation so wide-open that it's gaping, and probably couldn't close-up if its life depended on it?

That's the model for, the brainchild of a rather precocious US youngster who'll could probably have retired at 19!   Here's a brief video featuring Ben Kaufman where he explains the evolution of Quirky in his own words:

So in five years, Ben has changed his focus as follows:
1. Passion for product #1
2. Using collaborative invention for product #2
3. Using collaborative invention as product #3

i.e. Ben's product is the process of using the whole world to shrink the time to market down to 3 days.  And doing so repeatedly.

Unless there's a whole back-story we're missing, we could all take some inspiration from this story.  It appears to me that Ben hasn't resorted to over-sophisticated methods; he's just worked out what it takes to launch a product, then called on the forces of social media to inject some of the thinking.

What can each of our organisations learn from this?   All comments gratefully received!

Friday, August 12


As mentioned in an earlier posting, the qualities of the input we receive are critical to creativity.

Those of you in the creative sector might find you can survive predominantly on your imaginations.  (Or is my view of art, advertising and architecture far too romantic?)

But over here in industries which are traditionally more analytical, at least some of our input must be directly relevant to the situation where we seek inspiration.

So we have to listen.  This is a hugely underrated and largely neglected skill.

You may think you're a good listener, but do you exhibit any of these behaviours? 
  • You start talking before your interlocuter has finished what sounds like his last word?
  • You wish she would stop repeating herself in paraphrase, when the point is already made.
  • You're thinking about the next point you need to make, and how you're going to crowbar it in?
  • You're pattern matching:  You've heard this tale of woe before, and have already mapped it onto a story you heard three years ago.
  • You're nodding emphatically, but not bothering to understand what appears to be deep detail.

(Score minus one mark for each hit!   On a typical day my score is minus two.)

In each of these cases something has gone wrong.  I believe these problems can be overcome with four measures:
  1. Only enter those interviews and meetings which you expect will be valuable enough to justify the time taken.  Once you've made a rational decision to be in the room, you're likely to engage better.
  2. If there's a clear agenda for the meeting, then consciously choose to listen to everything that's said.  It's probably being said for a reason.
  3. Actually listen.  This is an act of will, not an unconscious behaviour.  Turning-off distracting phones and laptops helps, but there's more to it than that.  You need single input, but you also need to be single-minded.
  4. Show that you're listening.  Behaviours like nodding, maintaining eye contact, and saying "yeah ... uh-huh ... yep ..." are called Active Listening.  They tell the speaker that you're listening, and guard against very some very disciplined speakers repeating themselves time and again until they get a signal that they've been heard.

I actually think I'm rather good at active listening, but that alone doesn't make me a good listener.  People often tell me I am one, when in fact I know different.  Maintaining eye contact and nodding are no guarantee that I'm paying proper attention, they just strongly suggest it.   I'm trying my hardest to change this, and that became much easier in the last couple of years when my job became much more interesting.

Nancy Kline covers some of this in her book "Time to Think".  I've had other books recommended to me, which I'll cite once I've had "Time to Read"!  

Until then, please comment with any suggestions in this area.

Thursday, August 4

Too Busy to Think

You know perfectly well what I'm going to say, don't you?   You've clocked the title of this posting, and you've already worked out the next 600 words!  

I fear you'll be right in your guess, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth reinforcing.  So here goes ...

If you're reading this, then you're probably a "Knowledge Worker".   But wait ... does that epithet really cover it?   No, you're actually an "Intelligent Worker".  You shouldn't just be relying on knowledge (i.e. resting on your laurels) but also using your intelligence to develop new knowledge, and to overcome knowledge where it's simply insufficient to the cause.

Much of modern management is about learning what constitutes "best practice", or what is the approved process, and applying it doggedly to every situation, however dissimilar from the last.  If it doesn't work, you'll just conclude that there's an even better process out there somewhere, and you just need someone to show it to you.  People make very good careers in middle management this way.

But in 25 years, my brain's microscopic co-processor implant will be able to apply best practice to modern management dilemmas while I'm watching my favourite "Britain's Got Robot Talent" repeat on ITV17.  I won't even need to turn the volume down.

So shouldn't we use our uniquely human faculties (like creativity) to solve problems?   Even if we're no brighter than the next person, we can really differentiate ourselves this way precisely because there's such scarcity in the actual application of intelligence.

So ...
You ...
MUST ...
Make ...
Time ...
To ...

If you always feel too busy to think, you don't need me to tell you that this is because you're doing the wrong things (and possibly in the wrong order too).

Either that, or your busy diary is just your displacement activity, because you're afraid of the consequences of thinking.

Which is it?  

(Do I get my coaching certificate now?  Or just my bullying medal?)