Friday, July 30, 2010

Innovation Techniques: Successful and Unsuccessful

Respondents were asked an open ended question about which approaches to innovation had worked, as well as which were unsuccessful.

Techniques which had been successful were:
Cross functional task forces and commando teams
Use of innovation tools
Customer inputs and dealer inputs

Innovation techniques which have been particularly unsuccessful were:
Suggestion boxes
Outside Consultants
‘Instructions’ from top management
Training junior most employees with no buy in from top management
No long term focus

Innovative Companies: Innovation Stars

The Star is an extremely innovative company, which has succeeded in maximizing innovation in all areas of its operations. Creativity is held as a deeply embedded value in the organization. The climate of such a company is extremely nurturing and rewards creativity while being supportive for experimentation.

The following variables are where stars have high scores

* Doing things right
* Doing right things
* Improve exiting tasks
* Doing things not done by others
* Breakthroughs
* Providing challenging jobs
* Cross functional team working
* Reporting on what is happening
* Constructive performance feedback
* Appreciation of gender, race etc
* Investing in new technologies
* Talking directly with customers
* Organization’s response to successful risk taking
* Importance of creativity to high performance
* R&D experience Vs other experience growth over 5yrs
* Energy spent on creativity

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Effective Meetings

Effective meetings are conducive to innovation. Meetings can waste a lot of time or they can provide an effective way to harvest ideas and ensure buy in, thus empowering the group to achieve greater levels of productivity. Meetings can be an empowering experience if handled well. The effectiveness of a meeting can be enhanced by
Having a clear goal for the meeting
Circulating the agenda in advance to ensure preparation
Having a system to make sure everyone is heard
Recording and implementing decisions and using good ideas
Being open to feedback and fresh ideas.

Meetings where people feel free to express themselves openly without threat are successful in liberating the most creative ideas. Listening skills are crucial. Thinking tools can ensure that everyone is able to think differently and intensively on the subject. The rules for idea generation and the creation of a positive climate include: suspend judgment, postpone reaction and external effort.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Reward for Creativity

The climate in many Indian companies is one of maintaining status quo. Even in fast track companies, Indian managements are more likely to opt for minor charges rather than dramatic breakthroughs. Respect for authority is a key factor in Indian companies. Tradition and precedent are the sacred cows. An individual rarely crosses the invisible borderline of what is widely accepted practice. To break this self imposed barrier, it is essential for companies to publicly reward individual creativity. Innovation Role models should be placed before the groups. They should see that innovation is a key characteristic of senior officials as well as fast track younger executives. Even when an innovation actually fails, the innovation should be rewarded for taking the risk. It is a common perception, that in India, individuals who are creative often do not enhance groups creativity. Competitiveness, one-upmanship and turf protection are toxic to team creativity. Teaching tools to enhance team creativity through building on each other’s ideas, are key. As the old saying goes, “None of us is as smart are all of us”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Spectators and Participants

Innovation circles require the regular and total participation of people at all levels.

Without them 80% of the people are spectators with a ‘chaltha hai’ attitude. Only someone who loves their work can become a participant. A participant who dives deep into the subject and develops intimacy with his work innovates to make things better. As Khaleel Gibran writes “What is it to work with love? To work with love, is to weave the cloth with the strings of your heart as though your beloved were to wear it”.

It is the love of work, which awakes the need for innovation. Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam writes of how India developed a re-entry structure for the guided missile Agni. The material used was a new, very light material called carbon. “One day an Orthopedic surgeon from the Nizam Institute of Medical Science visited my laboratory. He lifted the material and found it so light. He took me to his hospital and showed me his patients. There were these little girls and boys with heavy metallic caliper weighing over three kilograms each, dragging their feet around. He said to me, ‘Please remove the pain of my patients.’ In three weeks, we made 300gm calipers and took them to the orthopeadic centre.

The children didn’t believe their eyes. From dragging around a three-kg load on their legs they could now move around! Their parents had tears in the eyes. Compassion and a creative idea changed the lives of these polio afflicted kids.

Organizational response towards risk taking

Organizations that institutionalize successful risk taking by teams and individuals by public rewards and affirmations are more likely to reinforce innovation through new and riskier paths.

A risk, infact anything new, involves the possibility of failure. The path to successful innovation may pass through a period when nothing seems to work. The organizational response to an unsuccessful innovation, holds the key to whether the company will develop into an innovative company or not.
The way a company treats its top performers provides role models for all others. If such fast track performers are innovative, then others will see creativity and innovation as the path to success. If most star performers are cautions and rule bound the clear message would be “Be careful and just follow rules if you want to more up. Creativity does not pay”.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Talking Directly with Customers

Management by walking around (MBWA) is the most appropriate way to ensure that the customer’s voice is built into products and processes. Advisory committees of opinion leaders can be an effective method of keeping one’s finger on the pulse of public opinion. Focus group interviews enable customers to explore ideas with skilled facilitators, trained to go below the surface of suggestions and complaints. Tapping Customer Creativity, is a tool to help negotiate new products with customers. It is the kind of process that reinvents the future. For instance, customers were not even aware of the possibility of a Walkman. Only an intense negotiation between top management, manufacturing and customers could have created it. Asea Brown Boveri (ABB) regularly involves shop floor workers, marketing executives and customers in an annual process of negotiating the future.

Internally, productivity depends on performance feedback, as does innovation. There is no incentive to think outside the box when no one listens or cares. Positive affirmation is the key to ensuring that people stretch to think creatively: 360 degree feedback provides young innovators opportunity to give their bosses feedback on a less than conducive environment. A system to clearly map individual competencies and provide consistent timely feedback can result in providing appropriate training when required.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Making sure people are heard

If there one thing the quality movement has taught us, it is that it makes sense to listen to everyone, particularly the working man who does the work. People who feel that they are heard, are likely to solve problems online. Participation is the reward we give to those who respect us. The Industrial Revolution made a thinking, feeling, human being a cog in the wheel. Competition has forced us to bring back humanness into the workplace because it could increase profits. Instituting co-operation and commitment are key to better performance and perhaps innovation.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Creative Problem Solving

Creative problem solving in an art and a science and can be learnt like swimming or singing. Genius is a fact, but everyone can learn to be much more creative than they are by learning problem solving methods. Another area that is rich in possibilities is the possibility of overcoming, self restricting obstacles that are cultural in nature. Women, for instance, are taught to strictly follow rules. Those at the bottom of corporate hierarchies, are told to just follow instructions. Stereotypes have destroyed many budding innovators. The environment itself can be so hostile that only the most obvious and time tested ideas are verbalized. The culturally enforced need to be sensible and practical can prevent many conformists from presenting anything truly creative. These self imposed barriers to creativity can be removed by awareness and organizational interventions.

Principles of Everyday Innovation

If you want to be more creative and Innovative

* Constantly Focus on MTB
That’s Making things Better in every quadrant of your life – family, work, social and personal.

* Develop A New Skill
People who solve crossword puzzles every day have greater ability to think on their feet.

* Debug Problem Areas
Stuck with a problem? Take stock of the six ‘M’s – Men, Materials, Methods, Markets and Money and identify the bug. Then work towards removing it, negotiating it or dealing with it.

* Start Using Thinking Tools
It’s tent thinking versus marble palace thinking. Take everything that is permanent and try making it temporary.

* Develop Networks
Have a list of people who will help you when you need it. In their hurry to prove themselves, professionsals, often try to take on things that are beyond their capacity.

* Make Personal Time
You might be the last word in professionalism, but you won’t be able to be very creative and innovative unless you have a life.

* Turn Problems upside Down
Separate thinking from the action. Don’t limit your thinking while conceiving an idea or bringing out a solution.

* Focus on Implementation
Innovation is about turning wild ideas into action. Sift through your ideas and decide on implementation.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Risk taking in work related context

Taking risk is key to innovation. The more formal a company is, the less likely are people likely to do anything to rock the boat. Doing new things does involve some professional risk to the person leading the initiative. A lot of hand holding by top management can encourage people to take risks.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Creativity And Creation

Creation is defined in the dictionary as 'to bring into being or form out of nothing'.
Plato focused on the mystery of creativity when he said "A poet is holy and never able to compose, until he has become inspired and is beside himself, and reason is no longer in him....for not by art does he alter these but by power divine".
Arthen Koestler goes into the realm of logic when he speaks of the 'bisociation of matrices'.
"We cannot wait for great visions from great people, for they are in short supply...It is up to us to light our own small fires in the darkness".
Each person in an organization has ideas. Depending on the nature of the climate or field in the company, the ideas flourish and bloom or fade and die. Without the oxygen of support and applause, ideas frequently die early. Creativity is a context specific subjective judgement of the novelty and value of an outcome of individuals or collective behaviour.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Continuous innovation in a large successful company is uniquely difficult because at the heart of innovation lies the paradox of destruction. Leaders who foster a culture of innovation have 3 key attributes :-

1) The first attribute is the willingness to destroy what exists. It is important to show some insensitivity to your past in order to show proper respect for the future.

2) The second attribute of great leaders of innovation is a powerful sense of purpose. Corporate renewal through innovation is a long cycle process. It cannot flourish in a 'Flavour of the Month' environment. Consistency of direction and purpose is important.

3) The third attribute of great leaders of innovation is personal involvement in sustaining a stretching but supportive innovation culture.

High performance innovation companies continuously enhance their gene pool. They suck in ideas and reach out for help wherever they can. 'Not invented here' is the enemy of innovation. Only the ignorant believe they have the right answer.

The best companies look outside for help - at customers, suppliers and specialist 'Hot Shop' start ups.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Outstanding Leadership

I believe that while creativity is something that is intrinsic to all humans and can be triggered off in a variety of ways, innovation requires that companies consciously create conditions where strategic and organisational issues are creatively resolved through the involvement of people. In my opinion, there are three essential conditions that can stimulate innovation in organisations. They are:
a) A culture that empowers people.
b) Recognition for innovative thinking.
c) Prevalence of outstanding leadership.
Too often, however, companies are unable to elicit the involvement of their people because there has been no conscious effort to share the 'larger picture' with everybody. Commitment, which most industrial leaders claim is lacking amongst today's employees, is directly related to the extent of sharing information and to the extent of trust that is created thereby.
A formal system of recognition and public encouragement for innovative thinking, goes a long way in communicating what the company expects from its members.
Organisations that demonstrate high levels of innovation are those that share belief that things can always be made better than they are today.
Normally in organisations, services and in production, the person who is not that creative but is a team man is a better person than the other. Of course if you have a very creative person who is also a team man, you get the best of both the worlds!
To us, innovation is at the heart of what it takes corporations to create and sustain leadership. It has far more to do with continually challenging the status - quo and pushing for corporate self renewal, than it has to do with creativity and ingenuity.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Negative Field

If some people in the group feel excluded they cannot contribute good ideas. They may even change the nature of a positive field by their unhappiness. Just as a drop of cyanide can poison a clear pool of water, so too the unhappiness of a single person can poison the field in a home or a company. They give off toxic waves of hostility, and they can turn a flourishing field into a desert.

A negative field is toxic with distrust. In the negative field, individuals are afraid to think differently; new ideas wither before they are formulated. In such a field, only the most obvious ideas, which appear practical and sensible alone, will be shared. All, but the oldest ideas will be rejected. They are probably centuries old. All, but the most obvious ideas will be rejected.

A child who is never praised or complimented turns into an insecure adult with little self esteem and he does not want to say or do anything that others will laugh at. So afraid does he become of hostility that continued exposure to this type of negative field can cause many health problems .

It is necessary at all times to make sure that the creation of a negative field is carefully avoided.

Dealing with anger


1. Stop, calm down and think before you act.


2. State the problem and how you feel.

3. Set a positive goal.

4. Think of lots of solutions

5. Think ahead to consequences


6. Go ahead and try the best plan.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Idea Generation - Extended effort

Very often we tend to use the first idea that emerges particularly if it is a good idea. That is why the enemy of a better idea is often a good idea. Very often, you develop a single minded infatuation with your idea, thus shutting the door to other ideas. Extended effort involves spending a lot of time or simply generating a number of options. You could give your group a target - go on generating multiple options till you reach 100. Focus should be on idea fluency. The internal 'Censor Board' takes a vacation. All ideas are simply recorded in an atmosphere of nurturing and appreciation.