Which way does your banana bend?

Which way does your banana bend? I often ask this question (even in polite conversation) and receive a blank stare from the recipient. The inference is, of course, that bananas do not bend in any particular direction. They are neither left nor right handed, erect or droopy, they just bend. Try grabbing a banana and placing it in front of you on table. Does it bend to the left or the right? Now turn it over, you should find that it now bends in the opposite direction.

Alas you do not have magic powers of banana bend reversal, but you have just demonstrated one of the most important characteristics of solving problems. You sometimes need the ability to look at a problem from a new perspective or just turn it on its head. I recently painted the outside walls of my house and was not looking forward to balancing precariously at the top of a ladder. It would have taken a long time to paint such a large area. But why not stay on the ground and take the paint roller up to the top of the walls? After a search in my local DIY store I found a suitable extending 5m pole and attachments that fitted to the top. I reckon that it took half the time it would have taken at the top of the ladder.

So next time you are faced with an issue, avoid rushing into the task (unless it really is that simple) and think about what you really want. In my case putting paint (relatively neatly) onto the walls of my house. I could stand anywhere as long as I could control paint delivery. Turn the problem on its head or try looking at it from a different (or different person’s) point of view.

A new building in France has a steep sloping roof covered in grass. The problem? How on earth to cut it. You could imagine all sorts of elegant engineering or bio engineering solutions but the solution used was to use hover mowers suspended on ropes from above.

Then of course, we also have that wonderful story of writing in space. The American solution? Develop a hugely expensive zero gravity biro. The Russian solution? Use a pencil!

So the next time you have a problem banana, try taking a look at it from all possible angles.


Creativity – Using Your Right Brain

Have you ever wondered why the answer to the problem that you have been trying to solve pops into your mind just as you are driving home, taking a shower or waiting in the queue at your local takeaway? The answer is that your Creative Right Brain has been thoughtfully working on the problem for you. So how does this happen when you have been wrestling with a particular conundrum all day?

Although not completely physiologically correct there is a useful Left Brain/Right Brain model that we can use. The left side of our brains is logical, linear and provides filtering of ideas, so although it will provide solutions it also has a nasty habit of saying ‘but it won’t work’, ‘that is not a good idea’ or ‘the boss will not be happy’.

The right hand side of our brains is linked to creative behaviour and does not have these filters thus increasing the range of possibilities. The problem is, how on earth do we hand our problem to one and not the other? Simple, we play tricks on it!

If you have something really tricky to work on then you should get stuck in at the start of the day (this trick works in a workshop environment too). Really get to grips with every facet of the problem, all of the bad bits, barriers or desirable outcomes. You are trying to mimic the situation where you work all day, drive home and experience the Eureka moment, except that we are trying to save you working all day and then going home late.

Back to the problem. Your logical Left Brain should really be getting stuck in so now is the time to hand over the problem. Go and get on with something else, distract the Left Brain and let the Right Brain do the work. This is what driving home or having a shower does when you have been working late. Distraction is important here, simply pretending to be busy or waiting will not work. The answer (or answers) to your problem will probably come to you at an unexpected or possibly inconvenient moment so remember to have a pen and paper handy at all times.

Good luck!


Innovation – Transferring Know How

Transferring know how has been a hot topic and there are many schemes and networks set up to facilitate this but not all of them work. This is intended to be an outline of a system that will allow Innovation know-how such as knowledge, behaviours and cultural attributes to be transferred from a standalone or bolt on Innovation project and disseminated throughout the host organisation. Knowledge can be thrown like a stone into a pond and the ripples will then spread at their own speed across the pond. Organisations are not as fluid as our metaphorical pond but it is possible for knowledge to spread through the creation of Innovation Action groups that are not dissimilar to quality circles and action learning groups. They do, however, have some fundamental differences. They are:

  • not unique, they have boundary spanners that overlap
  • they can multiply, rather like human cells
  • they are not confined to improving quality or modifying behaviours
  • they act as catalysts and are not just suggestion boxes or talking shops
  • they are bi directional, ‘ripples’ can travel both inwards and outwards
  • they do not rely on technology

So how is it done? Well the minute details are secret but the recipe is as follows. Select a number of Innovation Ambassadors and ensure that they have an appropriate balance of coaching, facilitation and action learning skills as well as the latest strategic objectives of the organisation. Next create a number of Innovation Action groups spread through tout the organisation, both geographically and functionally. Ensure that the composition is as varied as possible and give them one of your Ambassadors as a leader/facilitator. Each should also be ‘seeded’ with an initial idea/knowledge item to work on. These groups can then:

  • work out the best ways of spreading know how in their local context
  • create links with other groups to increase their reach
  • combine existing knowledge to create new knowledge
  • capture knowledge and ideas
  • use their problem exploration and solving skills
  • create new groups
  • act as libraries of knowledge and resources

The entire system can be independent (and devoid) of technology although technology can act as an enabler where appropriate. Technology on its own cannot act as a knowledge transfer mechanism so if anyone tries to sell you a computer system as a solution to your knowledge problems then please run in the opposite direction.

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