How Creativity Can Help Your Business

If you embrace the idea of creativity then as an employer you can get something else entirely for free – increased intrinsic motivation. If you create the right conditions for yourself and others to be creative (at the appropriate time of course), and put in place the mechanisms to allow such behaviour, then employees and colleagues will automatically be given a greater degree of freedom and trust which in turn will be rewarded by increased effort or output. Now you have a better business and employees who will ‘go the extra mile’ for you without being coerced!

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Undercover Boss – would you try it?

undercover bossMany readers will have seen either Undercover Boss or Undercover Boss USA where the boss goes undercover, working with frontline staff to see how the business is really performing. I’m sure that these companies are selected for their entertainment value but they do throw up some real issues.

In many cases the businesses are not performing but the bosses seem not to be playing the blame game and realise that in many cases head office is a little out of touch. What they do seem to get though is that if they support their staff then they will get the best out of them and stand a fighting chance of beating the recession.

So, you’re the boss. Do you dare to go undercover and find out what is really happening? How will you react when employees do not worship your photograph or have less than ideal things to say about you, their pay or working conditions? What will you do when you find that front line staff are abused, spat at or are targeted by armed robbers?

You’re not the boss. Is your the sort of business where the boss would come and find out how you are doing? If so then great, if not then how can you attract his attention? If the boss (or bosses) is not interested then I recommend you look for a new and better job right away!

Finally, no bosses should be going undercover anyway. Employees should know who the boss is and how to contact them (about important issues) and be able to equate those at the top with company vision and values. Bosses should also have their finger on the pulse and have a much better idea of the workings of their business and the opinions of frontline staff. Sounds like a call for a cull of middle management – make up your own mind about that!

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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% 

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Six Steps To Turn Luck Into Profit

This article carries on from a previous post on Serendipity. Here I give you six steps to turn luck into profit. If you missed the post read it here.

Ensure that the goals of your business are aligned with the values, interests and actions of your employees. The Japan Railways worker was all for removing water, he just had a different solution for doing it and he knew that his idea would be taken seriously.

Encourage initiative. Allow employees to pick problems that they are interested in, which in turn increases intrinsic motivation. Employees will put in extra effort or time if they feel it is worth it.

Unofficial activity (or skunk works) occurs in the absence of direct official support. When an idea is new to a company there is often resistance. Unofficial activity gives ideas a safe breeding ground where they have the chance to develop. Official recognition can raise all kinds of barriers to creativity when managers plan and scrutinise every step. When employees are free to experiment beyond the boundaries of their job descriptions, this is often the time for unexpected connections.

A serendipitous discovery is one made by accident in the presence of insight. Creativity often involves making connections between things that may seem unconnected. The more obscure the connection, the greater the role for the unexpected. With insight we help bridge the gap, we do not need to leap quite so far. An excellent example of this was the discovery of penicillin.

Use diverse stimuli. A stimulus either provides fresh insight into something a person has already set out to do, or it provokes an entirely new course of action. We must remember that it is hard (even impossible) to predict how individuals react to new stimuli. So once again we must expect the unexpected but a word of caution, mass applications of stimuli have a limited effect. Bringing people together to share experiences of such stimuli is much more beneficial.

Develop a soft infrastructure. For corporate creativity official channels of communication are of limited use. We need networks where knowledge and intuition can slosh about, crossing departmental and functional boundaries. Good examples are those coffee machine or water cooler moments. Smaller companies seem to be able to create or foster such networks but larger companies have difficulty. The larger the company, the more likely that the components of creativity are present somewhere in it, but the less likely they will be brought together without some help.

Following these steps will help in your quest to turn luck into profit.

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How To Estimate Your Innovation Costs

There is no manual that says exactly how to estimate innovation costs but here is a common sense approach that seems to work well. Imagine that you are a company that needs to introduce 5 new products into the market place. First of all you need to spend some time generating ideas. Without knowing your actual method of idea generation and until you have had time to calibrate your own process then this is a bit of ‘wetted finger in the air’ calculation. We know that the ration of truly wacky ideas to those that might be worth looking at is one order of magnitude i.e. 10 to 1. Similarly, the ratio of ‘might be worth looking at’ to ‘definitely worth a look’ is once again an order of magnitude.

So if we want to have just one idea that is worth pursuing then we should expect to generate at least 100 crazy ideas, thus our small company wishing to create 5 new products will need at least 500 crazy ideas. So far so good, but how do we generate the ideas? You could collect them in a suggestion box but the quality would be variable and it may take a while although the cost would be low. An idea generation session with a group of people could generate your ideas in less than a day. This would be more expensive and would only use a ‘snapshot’ of the expertise and knowledge available to you.

By now you should get the idea that we can roughly work out how many ideas are required, and how long this would take and the resources that would be used. Not all ideas make it to products so some extra redundancy needs to be built in, and then there are overheads such as management and the costs of prototyping and manufacture, but these should be aspects with which you are already familiar.

So there you are, a simple way of working out your Innovation costs. But hang on a minute, life is not quite that simple. Below is a list of other things that you might wish to consider:

  • HR requirements (culture, motivation, working practices)
  • Idea capture systems (how do you record ideas and avoid forgetting them)
  • Knowledge transfer (what worked, what did not, avoiding reinventing the wheel)
  • Feedback for improving all aspects of your process (including estimating costs!)

This is a simple guide but good enough to allow you to get some sort of handle on the cost of Innovation if you have never done anything quite like this before. Reality is a little more complex – good luck.

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