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.


Why Best Practice might be bad for you

best practice is badIf someone knocks at your door and offers you ‘best practice’ you should say no. Best practice is at best a distillation of ‘what has been’ and has worked. It is based in the past and unless the system you are operating in is purely mechanical (e.g. you make nuts and bolts in bulk) then it is not guaranteed to work.

Apart from being fixed on the past, best practice usually consists of ready made methods or processes for you to copy. A consultant or well meaning colleague may thump a large book in front of you and say ‘just follow this and you will be alright’ but the chances are you will not.

Firstly the method or process has been lifted out of one context and dropped into another (probably different) context. The contextual information makes a huge difference. It could contain information on economic factors, industry sector, seasonal factors and many more. Secondly there is one huge factor that can never be identical, people. People are the biggest asset an organisation can have but they also provide the most variables. If you have been given advice like this, please do not blindly follow it, treat it as a reference work.

So what can we do? Sharing is not the problem, you just have to know what to share! Instead of throwing processes and methods at each other we should be sharing experiences (telling stories) and learning from them as well as sharing the tools for the trade (hammers, paint brushes, facilitation techniques, communications tools etc). Find like minded colleagues or business partners, share tools and experiences and use the knowledge gleaned to learn and create pathways into the future. We should be more interested in the journey than the destination.


Something in the Air – Holistic Innovation and Creativity

Holistic innovation and creativity – read my exclusive interview with Peter Cook of Human Dynamic which was originally posted on the Innovation Excellence forum. You can now read it by clicking on this link.

Peter asks questions such as ‘what innovation demons do you want to purge?’ and ‘what is the future of creative thinking?’. Peter’s love of rock n roll also mean that there is a musical reference. In this case you can listen to Something In The Air by ThunderClap Newman.


Innovation, Creativity, Brainstorming, Outcome, Open – STOP

I normally carefully plan the articles that I post to my blog and to various websites that I subscribe to but in this case I am driven by Innovation Rage!

Each day I see posts telling me exactly how to be creative, how to manage my innovation projects and who I should collaborate with. Each time the articles seem to become more prescriptive and hence more constraining. Taken too much further this would mean that all of those gurus out there are actually stifling Creativity and Innovation. Remember, Charles Handy once said that guru is just a word that Americans use instead of charlatan!!

As a recent post suggested, Innovation is about tomorrow and not yesterday or even today, so how can we predict in such detail? Surely Innovation is about attitude, behaviours, skills and know how? We take a look at where we might like to go and then apply ourselves to getting there? Maybe we take a circuitous route, maybe we never get there at all but we usually go somewhere.

Is SatNav innovation applied to transport or is it restricting our enjoyment of travel? Would it be more innovative to ban SatNav or maps? Perhaps we should ban private vehicles so that travel becomes a social experience as we are compelled to interact with each other?

I’m sure that the companies that we most think of as innovative such as Google, 3M etc don’t have a complete documented system (if there is a manual they won’t follow it) they just get on with it. The ‘system’ such as it is, is embedded in company culture. Those wanting to adopt someone else’s Innovation best practice should be careful. Best practice is yesterday’s implementation and taken out of context can be dangerous.

So throw away the labels and your best practice manuals and start experimenting (and throw away your SatNav if you dare).


Innovation best practice – is there such a thing?

On many blogs and websites there is evidence of people asking for examples of Innovation  best practice and many (often poor) responses. The question is are those seeking an answer asking for the impossible and are those providing answers actually talking gibberish?

I have no doubt that the pleas for help are genuine but do those behind them know what they are asking for (and even why)? Those seeking knowledge about Innovation often do so for four main reasons:

  • They are stuck and want some (free) help to extract themselves from the mire
  • They are thinking about Innovation and believe that if they obtain the correct formula they can ‘wing it’ without really understanding the process
  • They are thinking about Innovation and want to have everything planned before they start
  • They are trying to set themselves up as gurus and want to attain ‘guru ship’ the easy way

Each of these reasons stems from a belief that there is one true way, which is not the case. There are many examples of ‘best practice’ being borrowed or transferred and working less effectively, or even not all, in its new environment. Environment and context are key here.

Consider the simple example of constructing a model aircraft from a kit made of plastic components, paint and glue. Such a kit made in Europe might be assembled with no problem in Europe or the USA but for reasons of heat or humidity there might be issues in India, that is unless someone with knowledge of the components of the kit and local environmental issues assists.

So when a kindly soul provides you with a copy of the One Minute Innovator or Innovation for Dummies and states ‘it worked for me’ you need to make sure you pay attention to the following:

  • Go elsewhere and obtain information about as many information projects as you can and learn from both successes and failures
  • Try and map the information you have onto your copy of Innovation for Dummies to get some sort of plan together
  • Thoroughly understand the differences between the examples given and your own environment paying particular attention to both corporate and organisational culture
  • Be prepared to learn as you go along and change your plans on the fly

Remember, ‘best practice’ transferred and applied without contextual knowledge is as much use as a chocolate teapot

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