Year: 2013

Solving Multi Layered Problems

Multi level issuesI can hear some readers saying to themselves ‘but I have not got any multi layered problems’. Well have I got news for you (sorry for the plagiarism there). Most problems bar the very simplest are multi level. Asking ‘Why’ over and over again is considered to be an alternative or creative technique for investigating issues. Let us consider the following scenario from a medium sized business.

Initially there are reports that sales are not as good as forecast and so the spotlight falls on the sales force. There are cries to sack and replace salesmen but one thoughtful soul begins to ask why? The following scenario unfolds:

  • Our salesmen are rubbish. Why?
  • Sales are falling. Why?
  • Our product range is out of date. Why?
  • There is no commitment from the boss. Why?
  • The boss has no time. Why?
  • The boss has time management issues.

So a while ago we were ready to sack our sales force but what is really needed is to send the boss on a time management course or perhaps get him a secretary to help with his workload.

Not only have we discovered that the initial problem and possible solution are quite a way apart, we have also revealed a multi layer problem. Just like the zipper in the picture above or a deep wound, the multi layer problem must be solved a layer at a time and from the bottom up. Solving the boss’s time management issues will not suddenly make sales leap up but it will allow he/she to devote more time to new products which will in turn lead to increased sales (if these issues are properly addressed).

And the moral of the story? Solving complex problems requires a little more effort and the problem you initially sees is not necessarily the one that needs solving!

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How Creative Is your Creativity Consultant?

Snake OilThe same question can be posed of your Innovation consultant. Many consultants peddle solutions or best practice which is fine, except for the two cases highlighted here. If you are truly delivering value then surely you must be creative or innovative yourself. How can you add insights if you have never been through the process yourself (and failed)?

To see if you are getting (or going to get) value, you must decide what exactly it is that you want. Do you want someone who is going to challenge the status quo, depart from best practice and explore new areas or perhaps change the way you think about your business and marketplace, or, do you simply want someone to train you in creative thinking techniques and describe processes from (someone else’s) text books?

If you want to be 100% safe then you might be tempted by the seller of best practice. They, however, will be selling the same to all of your competitors so you will not be gaining competitive advantage. In fact when these consultants leave they will have simply given you yet another process to follow.

The consultant that adds real value will have worked with you to identify Innovation champions, spread innovative behaviour and embark upon many cultural changes. A bit like teaching a child to ride a bike, they will show you how, be with you as you wobble and then let go at the right moment! Do you want real Creativity and Innovation or some new processes to follow? The choice is yours.

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Innovation or Innovations, that is the question!

InnovationThis article was prompted whilst reading a very long winded debate about the differences between Innovation and continuous improvement. The contributions were many, and  most were completely valid statements, however not all were directed at the question that was posed.

Sifting through the answers I sorted them into two streams. There were points about Innovation being a continuum with incremental at one end and radical  at the other, building upon existing bases versus new ones and many more. The main issue, I concluded, was one of language or more importantly, grammar.

Some contributors were referring to Innovation and some to Innovations. What is the difference? Well Innovation is the ‘system’ that produces Innovations e.g. the processes that exist to generate ideas, manage know how, prototype etc as well as the necessary behaviours. Innovations are the outputs of the process e.g shiny new gadgets, remote controlled teabags.

Some of the participants seemed to get very irate, they were convinced that they were right. They were right of course, but only within their own frames of reference. When communicating with those who had other frames of reference things went awry. It might be a pain but this highlighted one very important point. Create and use a common language for your wider frame of reference (your organisation or your close collaborators). Simple! And to avoid doubt do not use buzz words such as Innovation.

Talk about the things you are going to do and how you might accomplish them. In the wider world the term Innovation can mean everything, or nothing.

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The Fiscal Cliff – the soundtrack

Fiscal CliffNot so long ago ‘Fiscal Cliff’ was a phrase that featured prominently on many news bulletins. Now you can listen to The Fiscal Cliff.

Creativity colleague Peter Cook, creator of Rock ‘n’ Roll Management and founder of the Academy of Rock has penned a little ditty entitled The Fiscal Cliff. Peter says ” ”Fiscal Cliff is a rock anthem about economics, banking, fake suicide, false Gods, false hopes, repentance, renewal, environmentalism, sustainability sex, drugs and rock’n’roll”. He claims it to be the first song ever to feature the words Quantitative Easing, John Maynard Keynes, Northern Rock etc. in the lyrics.

Click on the image to find out more about the making of the song and buy it from iTunes.

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Engineering Innovation

Gripple LimitedThe above is a deliberately ambiguous title. Does it mean that Innovation can be engineered or is it highlighting Innovation for Engineers? The answer is actually yes to both.

For a long time I have been promoting a system that can measure Innovation potential and help develop an Innovation blueprint for organisation in any sector. Now it is time to focus on engineering and manufacturing. In the current economic climate there are organisations that will sadly fail and there are organisations that are doing well both in terms of Innovation and long term sustainability. For a good example based here in the UK take a look at Gripple Limited, a Sheffield based company that is both innovative in its leadership, products, structure and the adoption of shared ownership.

Many businesses would like to copy Gripple but cannot, why? The reason is simple. We can copy buildings, products and manuals but we cannot copy what is inside the heads of employees. Truly innovative companies share certain traits but the sharing of knowledge, the creation of ideas and the frameworks that help to make up company culture are different.

For this very reason I have created Engineering Innovation in order to help businesses in the Engineering and Manufacturing sectors to work in ways similar to Gripple. The aim is to create businesses that are truly innovative and sustainable using concepts that are reasonably familiar to to those who work in these sectors. The programme is based on three principles – UnderstandModel and Build. The first principle provides a framework for understanding the innovation process, what is possible, becoming used to living with ambiguity and defining the scope and resources for the journey. The second builds a model that shows where a business is in terms of its ability to innovate, identifying what it is good at, the quick wins needed to help generate buy in, and where scarce resources are best targeted. Finally we build the organisation that will create new products, services and processes based upon the work done so far. Note we do not destroy, merely transform and enhance to produce ‘total innovation’ that pervades every part of the organisation.

Why is this approach unique? For an in depth answer please get in touch. But in a nutshell, Innovation is a strategy based on humans, their behaviour and the way they communicate and interact and is very little to do with shiny gizmos and gadgets. It can be defined in terms of outputs with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) but is much better modelled using drivers for human behaviour such as those that promote, creativity, good leadership etc. This is what I have done and this soft engineering approach appears to be unique. Does it work? Yes!

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