Coffee and Creativity on the Radio

Coffee and Creativity on Iman FMSome readers of my blog posts or my newsletter will know that I have been talking abut a radio show for a while. Well, now it is here. Coffee With Derek is an hour long programme that is broadcast every Thursday from 1:30pm until 2:30pm BST. Soak up some creativity whilst drinking a cup of coffee. If you are in the Sheffield area you can listen to Iman FM on 103.1FM. If you are out of range just go to and click on the listen live link.

The aim of the programme is to demonstrate how creative or alternative thinking can be used in both a personal and work context to get better solutions to problems and generate better ideas as well as making life generally easier. I also take a look at some news and local issues and give them the alternative treatment too.


The Electrification Of Fruit (or Breaking Down Boundaries)

Banish boundariesWhilst standing in the shower I let my mind wander a little (well quite a bit actually) and it settled upon the electrification of fruit as a topic. I began to wonder what electrified fruit might look, smell and feel like. What functionality would it have, what consumer needs would it fulfill? My sensible, logical side then said ‘don’t be silly you can’t electrify fruit’. And it might be right but flip this on it’s head, what if fruit could supply electricity?

Many of us have at some time created a ‘potato clock’, a device powered by a potato. That will not save the energy problems that we have because it produces very little current but the subject of fruit & veg together with electricity is a very interesting space for ideas (bio mass etc).

This led me to thinking a little more seriously about assumptions and boundaries. Many people might assume that fruit and vegetables have no place mixing with electricity. Someone has created an arbitrary boundary there, a fence that says ‘do not enter’ to your brain. This might be a good idea but what if …?

Another interesting subject is that of stereotypes or categories. Do you remember when the EU first started meddling in food products? In Portugal they produced Carrot Marmalade. I’m sure that it is a fine product and the EU obviously thought so too. They had previously decreed that marmalade must be made from fruit and so redefined carrots as fruit rather than vegetables.

This arbitrary and silly categorisation has far reaching consequences but it is entirely un necessary. It now forces EU bureaucrats to think of the category of fruit as containing carrots whilst the category vegetables does not contain carrots. This might mean that carrot growers are treated as exactly as fruit growers or excluded from obtaining grants or subsidies aimed at farmers or vegetable growers.

How often does our categorisation of objects or behaviours prevent us from solving problems or taking a potentially advantageous course of action? Instead of being controlled by labels, we should focus on what works and what does not. Maybe one day we will electrify fruit, who knows? Until then, let us trample over the arbitrary boundaries that are created.



Creative Conversations

Creative ConversationsThe organisation of the future will not have a hierarchical structure chart like most of today’s organisations. It is most likely to resemble a Twitter or social media connection map where people and functions are connected by many lines and importance (if it is measured at all) is determined by the number of connections or conversations that take place.

These connections are not simply routes for passing data such as telephone lines, these are routes where data, information and knowledge flow backwards and forwards. These are multi level conversations and they are key to Innovation.

Currently such conversations do exist but not throughout organisations. They are often identified as ‘water cooler’ or ‘coffee machine’ conversations and many backward thinking managers brand them as gossip or a waste of time. In some cases they do have a point!

Why do we want such conversations in the first place? Ideas tend to come into being when problems are aired amongst groups of people. They then get refined as part of conversations and solutions created or retrieved from the rich banks of knowledge that exist in our heads, libraries and computer systems. Conversations are something that we are used to having, after all we are social creatures.

So how do we make these conversations mainstream and encourage them? First of all the attitude of management must change to allow a whole range of things to happen. We could encourage conversations around the water coolers but Health and Safety issues might prevent too many gatherings. We should identify a) where people converse b) for how long c) for what purpose d) how we capture results. If conversations are short then having white boards or flip charts near to our coffee machines might help but for long exchanges then we might need more seats around our desks or a number of small ‘islands’ in our buildings where impromptu conversations might take place.

Employees also need to know that it is ok to have these conversation and that they can be continued using other modes of communication if need be. They should also be encouraged to eavesdrop on conversations that might be of interest to them.


10 People Who Can Help With Your Innovation Project

Here Ten is often seen as a magic number when providing solutions to problems. In this case it is a convenient way to provide a shortlist as there are a potentially huge number of people who can help with your innovation project. Read on to find out who can help and why.

1. You
You have the vision and have seen a way forward. A project needs to be started, the only way it can fail is through inaction so it is down to you to set the ball rolling.

2. Boss
A potential ally and gatekeeper. Get your bosses blessing (how is another matter) and those who waiver will follow.

3. Spouse
You will need an understanding spouse as there could be long days and filled weekends in store. You also need someone who knows you best to appraise your strengths and weaknesses and who will ‘tell you like it is’.

4. Children
Children are very good at asking awkward questions and making suggestions as they have not been conditioned by life. Particularly useful for products and services aimed at consumers.

5. Pub Landlord
Often ridiculed, but they are in a position where they can solicit opinion from a huge number of people. Good for testing ideas and taking soundings of a market. If you want to go up market, go to a golf club or wine bar!

6. Secretary
Another potential ally or gatekeeper. Secretaries or Pas often have access to a huge number of people and are well informed regarding office politics. Use as a sounding board and a source of knowledge.

7. Receptionist
Yet another person who interacts frequently with a huge number of people. They know who visits, leaves parcels, makes phone calls etc and are well placed to advise on networks and the interface with the outside world. Use your delivery drivers in this way too!

8. Finance Director
Finance is often seen as very logical but it can be used creatively as the fuel for innovation projects. Convince this person of the benefits of your project before the naysayers get to them and resources will be easier to come by.

9. Customers
I’m sure you do canvass the opinions of customers but how do you treat them? As responders to questions or as a huge body of knowledge to tap into. If you deal with them regularly and have a relationship with them then can you also tap into the bodies of knowledge that they have? Talk to suppliers also.

10. Standards Bodies
Often seen as gatekeepers, standards bodies and even your own Quality department can help you identify issues before they arise as well as spot barriers that might keep your competitors at bay but allow you access to a market niche.


Working With Aliens, a useful creative technique

Working with Aliens is just one of a series of techniques in which random stimuli are used and alternative viewpoints are adopted. It works best with well defined problems or where new products or services are being considered.

To start, define the problem or situation as best you can and brief those who are taking part. A group of half a dozen or so is ideal.

Imagine that an alien spaceship has landed on earth and the aliens are looking at your problem or the object that you have described. Next try to imagine what sort of questions the aliens would be asking, what would they be curious about? Many of the checklist techniques can provide some guidance here. A possible list could be:

  • What is the purpose of this?
  • How does it work?
  • Why does it have to be this way?
  • Why do these earthlings use these materials?
  • Is it useful to me?
  • Can I eat it?
  • Why does this matter, and to whom?
  • Is it worth any money?
  • Is there any other value?
  • Could it be used for …..?

These (and other questions) should be asked with childlike innocence i.e. assume no familiarity with earthly concepts.

The questions may throw up some ideas which indicate that the original starting point was flawed. If this is the case then revisit the problem definition stage of the creative problem solving process. If some common themes emerge then record these and use them as random stimuli for further excursions or use a form of association to group some of themes to see if they suggest further options, choices or ideas.

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