Craziness and Creativity

This is an old Apple promo video that has reappeared with the release of the iPad. It features many characters that at the time were regarded as crazy in some way. Yet their craziness, curiosity, creativity and desire to disrupt the status quo had a lasting effect on all of us. So can we learn from this? Is crazy good and just how much of it do we need, after all it is a powerful phenomenon. So just how far should we be prepared to go to try and change things? How far would YOU be prepared to go?


Working With Generation Why?

History has defined a series of generations such as the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and now Generation Z (or Generation Why?). Generation Y are the children of Generation X and are now in their late teens to early twenties, the University and College students of today. As far as technology was concerned they went from geek to chic. Generation X grew up as technology and the internet was mushrooming and Generation Y simply went gadget mad. They grew up in times of economic prosperity and so created a different outlook on life. Don’t like your job, then go and get another? Want to work from home, no problem?

Generation Y is more brand and image conscious, they are more likely to have addictions and undesirable habits, they exhibit less loyalty to employers and their family units are prone to breaking down.

Next comes Generation Z, or ‘Generation Why?’ as I like to call it. The world has changed very rapidly of late. We have seen the power of developing countries such as India, China and Brazil as well as global warming, famine, the collapse of financial systems and now the election of a black American president. We are entering an age where things are less certain (and hence anything is possible) and which will breed a new classification of human being. They will be innovators in the true sense of the word, choosing to be adaptable and flexible in their home lives as well as at work.

Unlike their predecessors, Generation Why? Will be asking tough questions such as ‘Why must we do things in this way?’, ‘Why do we have to make a mess of the planet?’, ‘Why won’t you listen to me?’. They will be like constantly inquisitive teenagers and using their skills and imagination to get what they want. Being slightly less materialistic than Generation X they will be willing to put in more effort at work, but only if it matches their own goals and aspirations.

Sounds like a nightmare? Not at all. There is a generation who are able and willing to look at things differently and get off their backsides. Great things can be achieved but only if these people are ‘managed’ in the right way i.e. given the right resources, intrinsically motivated and contained within ‘light touch’ management systems. This will be a challenge for Managers and Human Resources specialists but the results will be worth waiting for and help is already at hand to start the process.


Don’t forget the low tech

Frequently we think of Innovation as being the latest, modern and often high tech gadget. Given that Innovation can be about combining old knowledge in new ways it often pays to reflect on what we already know and find new uses for the low tech. Years ago Russian troops were issued with patches that contained maggots that were used to combat infection in open wounds. Now that many viruses have become resistant to drugs, the same techniques are being used to combat MRSA in hospitals.

There was recently an articles published on the BBC news website about ‘Bibliomulas’ in Venezuela. In many countries we have mobile libraries, trucks or buses that travel around taking books to remote villages. In mountainous terrain, how do you do this? The answer is simple, take the concept of a mobile library but substitute the vehicle. In this case use a mule.

But why stop there? In the mountains the farmers have no telephones or computers but they could do with the ability to send messages and order food and goods from the valleys. So now these trusty libraries are equipped with mobile phones and laptops.

I’m sure that readers can think of many other such tales of ingenuity. High tech is fun and bewildering but often the combination with low tech is what gets the Innovation into everyday use.


Creativity – What can I do on Monday?

You’ve heard the talk, read the book, bought the T-shirt but what practical steps can you take on Monday morning to help creativity to flourish?

To start off, here are a few ideas. However with your new found idea generation skills, you should be able to think of lots more.

  • Create space (physical and time) for idea generation
  • By cutting down on non essential meetings
  • Avoiding micro managing staff
  • Allowing time for ‘play’ or to make mistakes (within reason)
  • Allowing interaction between individuals (at the coffee machine or water cooler).
  • Adopt simple techniques for modifying existing products or services
  • Think about having after action reviews to ensure that you avoid re-inventing the wheel.
  • Look at reward systems to encourage know-how to be shared and for salaries and bonuses to promote team working.
  • Hold curiosity meetings where people are allowed to ask ‘What if?’

Small organisations without boards could consider having an informal board of trusted acquaintances who will give advice in return for a meal, say.

Start looking at methods of gathering ideas that will encourage new ideas not just complaints (avoid the baggage of the traditional suggestion box). Ensure that contributions are recognised and that the process is transparent.

So what? You may say, these are not very creative. Well they are if you have been doing something else. Creative or alternative thinking does not mean playing with brightly coloured balls all day long. It means selecting appropriate techniques and methods from as wide a variety as possible and matching them to the task in hand to get the best results possible. Another reason to expand your management toolbox is to engage the widest audience possible. That person who yawns at meetings where documents are discussed might participate where a storyboard is used. Someone whose help you seek may apparently talk in riddles but they may in fact be using metaphor, try using their language.

One other thing to remember, just because the words ‘problem solving’ are used it does not mean that you have to have a problem to be solved. You may need to reframe a situation i.e. get another perspective, either to be able to change it or make sure that you have left nothing out.

Let’s look at the categories that techniques fall into:

Exploring/defining – such techniques can be used to try and find solutions to problems but they can also be used to find out more about an individual or group of people or try to create a shared understanding of a situation with abstract boundaries such as a vision or mission statement.

Idea generation – these techniques do exactly what it says on the tin. Brainstorming type techniques can be used to generate a large number of possibilities whilst nominal group techniques or modelling can create a shared idea amongst a group of people.

Screening – instead of just sitting around trying to vote for a preferred solution or rely on gut feel, there are a number of techniques that can help you such as bullet proofing.

Planning and prioritising – not quite planning in the true sense of the word but some of the screening techniques can help you prioritise and something like a storyboard is actually a plan (but without the small print) which can be turned into a readable document or used as a storyboard for PR or communications purposes.

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