The Power of Language in Innovation

innovation languageWe are all aware that innovation has its own language conventions rich in buzz words. At first glance this may seem like a harmless dialect that simply reflects the nature of the work we are undertaking.

Innovators, after all, are trying to communicate the promise of something that may not exist yet, and sometimes that requires some (over) optimistic decoration. Innovation is about extrapolation not interpolation and so we do have to rely on ambiguous statements.

The metaphors and other language used could signal something more important. Maybe the language is used because of a lack of hard data, or the fact an idea isn’t yet properly formed.  If we recognised this fact then perhaps we could use these communication tools only when they’re effective (or, more importantly, not when they are ineffective). A more effective use of language might allow us to gain get buy-in on important projects.

Research has shown that where people lack hard data/information, they tend to use three types of language to describe innovation concepts.

  • Metaphor is the substitution of figurative language for literal language.
  • Hyperbole is exaggerated language used for emphasis or effect.
  • Revisionist rhetoric is the simplistic, inaccurate, or self-serving characterisation of events to create or support an argument.

You can see in the wordle above some of the most common words or phrases that are used. Are you using these in your own communications? Below are some suggestions to anyone interested in communicating the potential of an idea:

Recognize how you are using metaphor. Metaphor can help focus attention or highlight key aspects of an idea in a universal way. Be careful though, a metaphor can also signal to others that you haven’t thought through your idea. Some people do find that businesses that consistently use descriptive approaches report a degree of frustration and lack of buy-in for their ideas. Metaphor should be used to supplement, not a substitute, for hard facts.

When you have a potentially good idea but lack evidence, begin with experimentation or prototyping. People are often likely to begin their pitches by putting their energy into speculative communications (using descriptive language rather than hard data), and fail to gain the personal or organisational support that they need to take their idea forwards. It is more likely that people gain support by investing in models or prototypes to demonstrate their ideas and then follow it up with descriptive communications.

Learn when to use metaphor effectively.  In many large organisations, people tend to bounce ideas off one another and gain feedback from colleagues. Where there is a lack of data, it is possible for ideas to travel far and wide as metaphor or stories.

Put hyperbole and revisionist rhetoric in their place. When communicating why an idea has potential, it might seem obvious why you should avoid hyperbole or rhetoric. Surprisingly, there are important situations where such language can be constructive. These are informal meetings or briefings where people understand that language is not intended to be taken literally. These are mostly high trust environments where language and ideas are used as springboards for creative thinking.

Language is an important of the management of innovation, but it must be used wisely.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin

Creativity – why we must break with tradition

unreason breaking with traditionIt’s time to deeply question the traditions of the past and focus on reinventing the future. It’s time to question, imagine and create

What are you having for your Sunday lunch this week? If you live in the UK I would lay odds on the reply being a Sunday Roast with all of the trimmings. And if I asked you the same question in a month or two the answer would more than likely be the same. If I asked the question a third time you would wonder what type of idiot I was. “Of course I am having a roast dinner” you would say.You are following a good old fashioned tradition and have become a creature of habit. There is no need to even think about what you eat every Sunday lunchtime.

While traditions might be nice in a family or community setting, they can be less than helpful in the business world. Tradition and habit can cause us to switch off our brains.This becomes the easy option, no need to think critically about what you are doing, no need at all. You will just do as you have always done, and will get the same results!!

If your business is more than 12 months old, it will have traditions or norms and you and your colleagues will have developed habits. These will may not be helping to move your business forward. Ideas, processes, techniques, and past habits will hold you back in today’s competitive (and dangerous) economic climate. Even Worse, your workers may be turning off their minds and failing to create new ideas at the time you need them the most.

Great leaders are advocates for change, they acknowledge the past but they win by adapting to the present and creating for the future. They are open minded and brimming with curiousity.They love to challenge the status quo whilst focusing on what is possible.

Charles Handy gives a good example of this in his book “The Age of Unreason”. Does our NHS have to keep paying consultants higher salaries? Habit says that we pay them more (if we have the money to do so) but critical thinking asks “what is it that consultants want?”. They may want more money but how can they get it? Handy’s suggestion is to let them work less for the NHS so that they can work in private practice (or even play more golf). We can then use the money that we save to employ more junior doctors, spend it on hospital equipment or perhaps training.

With fierce global competition, we must question past habits and focus on inventing and shaping the future. What do we want the future to look like, how can we make it so? The alternative is that the future is merely an extrapolation of the past. It’s time to question, imagine and create. Each one of us has an unbelievable creative capacity which can be used in our jobs on a daily basis if the leaders and managers in our organisations allow it.

So whether you’re passing the gravy at Sunday lunch or at the office, now is a perfect time to break with tradition.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin

Creativity – hiring the right people

hiring the right peopleIf you want to make you organisation more creative, you might be thinking of hiring some staff to help you with this. If these people are likely to be creative then you must keep a tight rein on them and make sure that their job descriptions are comprehensive, right? Wrong!

If we hire people against a strict job description then we run a risk of several things happening:

1. We hire people who only do what it says in their job description
2. We are unable to be flexible about how we make use of these people
3. We will hire people in our own image (since we have created the job specification) and will fail to inject the free thinking that we require

So what can we do? First of all think about what it is that you want these people to actually do or the areas in which you want them to work. If you were a bank and wanted new staff to help you work on making your branches a better place to be you might be thinking of reducing queues. Previously you might have looked at someone with project management or mathematical skills to work out how much time a cashier should spend with a customer. If you wanted your branch staff to allocate more time to satisfying customers then customers will get stuck in queues. So why not make queues a better place to be? Hire someone who has worked at a theme park such as Disney World or Alton Towers. They have huge queues but people do not mind being in them because when they get to the front they are not disappointed by their experience.

When asking for applications, try asking for something different. Ask a potential manager to draw a picture of the sort of workplace that they will create as a result of the changes they will implement or ask customer service staff what a satisfied customer looks like. Make interviews practical experiences if possible, potentially throwing people into completely unfamiliar situations.

By doing something different we can expose the hidden but creative qualities that we are actually looking for. If we always hire the same type of employee we will always be muttering “you can never get the staff these days”. By varying the staff we hire we can easily find out the type that best fit our business whilst bring fresh ideas and energy. If you are averse to the risk of hiring in this way you can always experiment a little by bringing in contract staff and then making them permanent or hiring staff similar to the ones that have helped drive your business forward.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin

Ban The Boss – update

BBC Ban the bossRecently we brought to you the story of Dr Paul Thomas’ work with Blaenau Gwent CBC Environmental Services. Here we give you another chance to watch the BBC programme ‘Ban The Boss’ and also a brief update on what happened afterwards.

In 2008, colleague Dr Paul Thomas started working within Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council and was filmed by the BBC. This resulted in the BBC programme ‘Ban The Boss’ which can be viewed by clicking here.

The programme follows Paul as he applies Complexity Theory whilst working  with the Environmental Services Department (Highways, Refuse and Recycling, Litter-picking, and Street Cleansing).

The bin-men viewed management, ‘innovations’, ‘new ideas’ and cost-cutting, job losses and more-work-for-less with great suspicion and didn’t trust anyone (even the BBC film crew). With change comes risk and uncertainty and the biggest challenge was the acceptance that uncertainty is a natural part of the process. For example, inspiring frontline staff to choose their staff uniforms, arrange shift-patterns, or order equipment, gradually increasing responsibility.

So what happened? The Bin-men were released from filling in a number of forms before they left each morning, this was replaced by a simple checklist. Environmental Services has no managers at all, just leaders. Apart from one manager who chose to leave, no staff were forced out of the organisation. They were moved to other areas where their talents were better utilised. Staff were encouraged to provide input into routing, rostering and how to increase the amount of recycling within the Borough.

The money saved by this intervention, estimated to be in excess of £1m is being re invested  in frontline services, decided by the staff themselves. They were also recognised as the best refuse collection service in the UK, not missing a single collection in the 3 months of the snow disruption. Anyone who knows the steep valley roads will realise that this was no mean feat. Oxford in comparison, a fairly flat region, lost 6 weeks in collections. Recycling rates are also soaring thanks to the hard work of the staff in educating residents and school children. The mechanics in the workshop are also happier and generating revenue for the council by working on, and MOTing vehicles from outside the Council.

As part of this project staff were asked a number of questions, the answers speak for themselves:

Do You Trust Management?                                                        Before  94% – No     After 91% – Yes
Do you feel empowered in work?                                                 Before  78% – No     After 94% – Yes
Are you in a Trusted Workplace                                                   Before  98% – No     After 83% – Yes
Are you able to make suggestions in to improve service/outputs?   Before  68% – No     After 87% – Yes
Do you feel BGCBC appreciates the work you do?                      Before  89% – No     After 96% – Yes
Do you feel you have the ‘tools’ to do the job?                              Before  63% – No     After 82% – Yes

Are you delivering a ‘Good Service’ to the Public of BGCBC?      Before  67% – No     After 89% – Yes


Staff Response Rate – 92% 

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin
My Innovation Handbook is FREE for you!
Simply enter your full name and email address in order to receive a copy of my Innovation Handbook. You will also be subscribed to my monthly newsletter. You can amend or cancel your subscription at any time by clicking on the links in the newsletter.
Thank you for subscribing
If you have signed up in order to get a FREE book or report then you will shortly receive an email giving you the URL of the page for downloading the PDF file. If you do not receive such an email within a few minutes then please get in touch and a copy will be emailed to you directly.
Need a simple guide to Innovation?
Enter your details below to grab a copy of my Innovation Handbook and receive regular news and tips on Business Creativity & Innovation.
Thank you, please check your Inbox
You will shortly receive an email giving you the URL of the page for downloading the PDF file. If you do not receive such an email within a few minutes then please get in touch and a copy will be emailed to you directly.