Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Idea Generation

‘There is always a well-known solution to every problem – neat, plausible and wrong.’ H. L Mencken

It is worth remembering here that the rules for thinking are totally different from the rules for dong. You can set up a 100 million dollar factory in your mind, study the mathematical implications and destroy it without losing a single dollar. However, as soon as the first brick is physically laid, or the first employee hired, you start losing money.

Do not analyse your thoughts during idea generation. Remove all boundaries. Apply analysis only in the fourth stage of the creative thinking process. It is ideal to train trainers in the thinking tools and then encourage them to deliver training to the teams.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Product Development in the Marketplace

When you take the germinal product into a protected test market, observe the way it is used by customer. Try different version of it, if possible. For example, a manufacturer of metal furniture is carrying out hands-on experiments with customers in different retail formats whilst developing wooden furniture that customers can accept as easily as the furniture made by the local carpenter

Once a new product idea germinates, it needs time and space to grow and develop that idea. The immediate reaction is to remove all elements that make the product new and different. Most groups will rush to protect familiar aspects of the product. If it is wild idea, there will be a concerted rush to domesticate it and retain its age old and familiar attributes. Fiercely protect the wildness of the idea by enclosing it in a sanctuary. Allow it to roam free in the sanctuary for a few days. Don’t touch it. Remember if everyone loves an idea, it is probably 200 years old.

Insist that unfamiliar, strange, unusual elements are developed. Use tools like springboards, turn it upside down. Support the Champion, tone down the attackers. Work on taking it to market fast on a small investment with the possibility of a profit. Don’t try to create the perfect product in the lab.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Test Product Specifications in the Competitive Marketplace

Carefully calibrate the product, creating a balance between what the customer wants and what the competitive market will bear. On a new product, make small investments, change and react to what happens in the marketplace. Like a potter uses his hand to shape wet clay, refine your product as it makes its way tentatively through market place.

Remember, a kite can only be tested when it flies. Don’t keep your product too long in the laboratory – launch it, test it and improve it as you go along. Be hungry for early profits. Let the product evolve to achieve customer delight.

Work out a new source of revenue from an activity that has just been introduced. See how you can turn a cost centre into a profit centre.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Service Is the Differentiator

While products or services may be similar, it is possible to differentiate your product by offering a unique service. For instance, while all airlines are the same, Kingfisher Airlines distinguishes itself with the way helpers take care of luggage and especially in the way the passenger is treated as a ‘guest’. All hospitals aim to cure but the motto, ‘Our work is an offering to God’ at th Sathya Sai Hospital in Whitefield, Bangalore, differentiates it from more commercial institutions.

Use the plan as per the table given below to revisit existing product service packages and explore how products and services can be differentiated.

Product Differentiation Chart

Areas of Customer Supplier Manufacturing R&D Marketing


Product design



Place of sale


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Relationships – Revisit, Review, Relate

The web of relationships creates the networking required for success in problem solving. Great relationship with stake holders makes the process of achieving ‘stretch’ goals interesting and exciting.

So make this day for 3Rs – Revisit, Review and Relate.

Revisit the mission statement of your company and review the progress of the projects with special reference to building and enhancing relationships;

· Within the commando teams

· Between innovation spirals.

· Between the steering committee and the spirals

Make sure that there is no turf protection.

Know the Customer – Face to Face

Knowing the customer is a long-term process. Keeping your finger on the pulse of customer trends can ensure consistent profits. Here are some of the systems that can help build and understand lifetime relationships with the customer.

Interviews and focus groups can give a lot of information. They can help customers participate in reinventing processes and products. Management by walking around (MBWA) is the hands on way to find out what the customer feels day to day. Research and surveys give you information. But customer aspirations and fashions change. Those who are not in close touch with their customers may be too late to react to new trends. Barrack Obama became President of the United States by contacting 5 million people on the internet. He collected far more funding than powerful old timers like Mc Cain and Hillary Clinton.

Raw data needs to be interpreted in terms of customer needs. The way McDonald’s responded to change in attitude to health and concerns about obesity by providing low fat and salad meals shows a proactive attitude to change in customer need. This naturally leads to protecting profits.

The concern for environment is another issue where the auto industry has to take customer focussed decisions. During a economic down turn does a big gas guzzling car become almost vulgar? Are people ready for electric cars? Is the Rs. 1 lakh Tata Nano poised to grab world markets?

Study the needs hierarchy. Is it true that on the brink of the economic precipice people are more concerned about surviving than about impressing the neighbours? This is a whole new economics of recession.

Reflect on your findings. Study broad demographic changes where should a global major invest? In India with its largest number of young people or China with its aging population? How should Indian companies change their strategies to deal with the explosive youth power?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Explore the Customer’s Point of View Within the Teams

At regular intervals, it is important to revisit products and processes to course correct them to meet the changing needs of customers. The revolution of rising expectations among customers makes the introduction of new features essential to maintaining the competitive advantage.

Get the team to address the following questions and integrate the ideas into their problem analysis:

· Which requirements of the customer are not being met?

· The revolution of rising aspirations is constantly throwing up new customer needs. What are they?

· Which of those needs present the most valuable opportunities?

· Who are the customers in this category who are ignored by existing players?

· Why are they non-users today?

· How can we remove the barriers and make them users?

· How can we keep costs low?

· How can we create a more efficient system of distribution and delivery?

· How can we network to ensure efficient co-creation?

· How to make profits from the start?

Henry Ford famously said, ‘If I had listened to customers, I would have given them a faster horse’. The customer, by himself, may not know what is possible. It is only a partnership between manufacturing, marketing and customers that could help create the product for the unknown future.

Teams need to integrate what they hear with what their vision is. They need to listen to customers and to themselves synergizing the two. This is the day to discuss the customer needs with each other internally.

Keep in Touch with Customers

Customer creativity enables the company to 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.

Customer interaction can be induced by the following:

· Management by Walking About (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 to enable customers to explore ideas with skilled facilitators, trained to go below the surface of suggestions and complaints.

The customer is not a passive recipient of your product but a creative participant. Listen and invent with him.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Understand the Environment of Creativity

The value system of a company can provide the environment for creativity. People can do their best if their work is: ‘Good for the country, employees and customers. ‘Or as the Honda mission statement puts is ‘Joy to the employee, joy to the customer and joy to the country’.

The typical corporate atmosphere is competitive and ruthless. People rush to satisfy their selfish desires for glory and the limelight. Anyone standing in the way is viewed with anger and hatred. In such an environment, the individual uses fifty per cent of energy protecting his ego and his turf. So much energy is wasted on one-upmanship and putting others down. The ability of the group to function is therefore severely compromised.

It is important to understand that we can have a win-win environment. In such an environment everyone will be willing to take risks and go through the process of failures. He knows that in an experiment, there are no failures - only feedback.

Actions that make you creative.

Listen * Paraphrase * Stay loose until rigor counts * Protect vulnerable beginnings * Take on faith * Temporarily suspend disbelief * Assume it can be done * Share the burden of proof * Connect with accept * Be open to join * Build on * Speculate along with * Share the

risk * Set up win /wins * Make it “no lose” * Support confusion/uncertainty * Acknowledge Credit * Value learning from mistakes * Be attentive * Be interested * Show approval * Give early support * Eliminate status/rank * Be optimistic * See the value in * Assume valuable implications * Take responsibility for understanding * waste no energy evaluating early.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Empowerment Is the Result of whole hearted participation.

If the teams learn the secret of positive fields or mindspace, you can improve your Happiness Quotient. You can also get the best out of others. Making members of your team wholehearted participants rather than indifferent spectators is the key to organizational success.

Wholeheartedness is a state of full presence. This state involves complete enjoyment of a task. Participation, with full commitment of body and mind, is irresistible. I become wholehearted when I give all of myself to an interaction or task. These interactions create a field, which allows me to be present in the moment, without defensiveness. The most fundamental characteristics of a positive field are that it quells anxiety and produces feelings of acceptance and a feeling of being affirmed. It is like walking into a room full of people who love and accept you, unconditionally. It is a feeling of being meaningful and safe – this frees up energy for connecting

An important constituent of the positive field is affirmations. An affirmation is a verbal, tonal or non-verbal act of appreciation. A compliment can be a verbal hug. A verbal hug can replace a thousand words.

Think about the analogy of a TV monitor - depending on which button you press, you get a different image. So too, depending on the environment, a different person emerges from the self, where different personalities lie coiled like snakes waiting for the snake charmer’s call. Some places access the highest and noblest self while others access the beast, the meanest.

Set and Share Your Goals

Work-life is so pervasive that often all other aspects of the individual wither away. A key challenge, when companies are tracking stretch goals, is maintaining work-life balance. Top management would also benefit from attending this presentation. Let each person set their personal goals for the year and share it with a friend, who will work with them for the next 90 days. Let them become familiar wi@ 8@\prants of their lives.

Family, Worklife

Personal, Social

Divide the group into four teams and ask them to make a presentation on each of the four areas. The suggestions can be circulated to everyone.

Here are some key suggestions:

· Can Saturday be a day when child-friendly facilities are provided? A facilitator creates a Kid Power day at ICICI.

· How can families be involved to support organizational goals?

· Can social life be improved by activities related to corporate social responsibility? Try getting everyone to participate in a tree planting day.

· Can the team be taught yoga and meditation?

· Is a corporate gymnasium or membership for one feasible? Are year-long matches (cricket or kho kho) a possibility?

· Can a counselor be on call or can volunteer staff members be trained as counselors?

· How can the company enable individual talents to flower? Will a monthly ‘Talent Evening’ work?

Transform Spectators Into Participants

Tata Steel in Jamshedpur, after economic liberalization, saved Rs. 700 Crores in a single year merely by turning its population into participants. Mr. Muthuraman, MD, speaks about their program 'Manthan Ab Shop Floor Se', which means churning up the energies of the shop floor.

"Every few weeks, workers from different departments get together for a three - hour meeting, with no one from the management except facilitators." These worker driven gatherings have spawned a hundred innovations which are rewarded at the 'Innovation Exhibition' where the workers get to talk about their work to Mr. Ratan Tata himself.

Every month in MD Online, a company - wide cable TV broadcast, Mr. Muthuraman, in a skillful blend of earthy Hindi and English ('Our workers need to learn English too', he says) speaks to over 2000 people where everyone is free to ask any question. Shop floor democracy at its best. 'I believe everyone can be innovative if we provide the ambiance and the structure for innovation', he says. Their program 'Aspire' creates an ambiance for stretching towards unreachable goals.

'Consider a fine athlete running the 100 meters, which was once run in twenty seconds and can now be run in better than 9.69 seconds. He reflects and consults sports medicine experts, dietitians and physical therapists. Then, he changes his diet, exercise patterns, turns to successful coaches and so on.... It is the impossible aspiration that drives innovation'. He echoes Jack Welch of GE, who set dream targets like, 'Let us reduce inventory by fifty per cent'.

The whole strategic planning process starts in November with an impossible starting point or wish. The Theory of Constraints identifies the bottlenecks in the value chain and solves them one by one. Dream targets are set and projects linked to strategic challenges are kick - started. The annual business plan is completed by march, with thirty per cent unsolved components. 'We have a whole year to solve the bottlenecks as we go along', Mr. Muthuraman concludes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Building cooperation within the company

Encourage top management to observe for signs of conflict and cooperation. You can understand whether a company is doing well by:

o The look in the people’s eyes.

o The way they walk

o The quality of the interaction.

You can see the effect of the positive field by how people help each other and share information

Constraint, Control and Compliance, reduces the positive field. Top down – constraints – cuts out the joy. Bosses should exist to help people win.

Today explore co-operation within the organisation. Identify conflicts and ask for suggestions to defuse them. Walk around the departments to identify potential problem areas. Encourage small group discussion and bonding.

Introduce laughter or Hasya into the workplace

The greatest of all miracles is health. Every day, our bodies are attacked by millions of microbes, viruses and bacteria. The body is able to repulse these invaders and protect itself through the immune response. The body’s immune response is enhanced by laughter.

Laughter is internal jogging. It fills your mind space with positive emotions. Emotionally, it is relaxing, reducing the harmful muscle tension. A good bout of laughter also reduces the levels of stress hormones, epinephrine and cortisol. Laughter strengthens the immune system keeping a way infections, allergies and diseases.

Action plan to Bring Hasya into your Company

  • Organize screenings of comedy films and shows.
  • Encourage cheerful people to spread good cheer.
  • Create a humour committee.
  • Smile. Do not smother laughter.
  • Organize a family day.
  • Exhibit humorous posters and cartoons on a Humour Board in the work area
  • Have a smile of the week contest

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Young Executives System

When Mr. Ramaswamy Seshasayee, CEO, Ashok Leyland, found that young executives in Ashok Leyland felt alienated at times by the legacy system and red tape, he came up with a comprehensive Young Executives system (YEs). They created an efficient youth organization with its own website to share ideas, sometimes directly with the CEO, and responsibility to come up with a budget. YEs was involved in creating a model truck which gave the company huge benefits.

Introduce the Nine Emotions of the Nava Rasas

Introduce the team to the motivating force of positive emotions. The mind is filled with emotions, both positive and negative, and the way you deal with them can create a positive field. The nava rasas, a 2000 – year old Indian concept of emotions, can be your guide to understanding the impact of the nine emotions,

The nine rasas are:

  • Love
  • Humour
  • Compassion
  • Peace
  • Chivalry
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Abhorrence
  • Wonder

Positive emotions or states like love, humour, compassion, chivalry and wonder can create a positive field and put you in a happy and enthusiastic state of mind. This state fills your blood with the chemicals of happiness and well-being and is conducive to the building or rebuilding of a healthy body and mind.

The negative rasas like anger, fear and abhorrence, create a state of mind which create a negative field through filling your blood with the chemicals of unrest and unhappiness.

During meditation, serotonins and endorphins, chemicals that induce peace and tranquility, flow into the blood. Breathing, heart rate and pulse rate stabilize. The mind is able to function calmly and freely. An alert and relaxed attitude is required for the teamwork involved in building ideas and analyzing them.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Design Communications

Ensure that all stakeholders start with the same, clear concepts about what is required. Often each member of the team has limited knowledge about the product, thus the chances of success are reduced. The situation is like the six blind men of legend who were asked to describe an elephant – no one had a complete picture of the animal. Some thinking tools like 6M help all stakeholders to have a unified vision of the product.

The communication needs to be clear and should encourage response. Communication about problems can be through Idea Corners, where participants are encouraged to write their solutions. Usable solutions should be shared and rolled out across the organization.

The Innovation Centre

A place may be set apart as the Innovation Centre. Those interested in e-learning should be encouraged to use computer programmes developed for this purpose. The thinking tools could be used to develop exercises. Those using the programme can then be tested on what they have learnt. Weekly training sessions must be held to improve learning and practice of tools. Monthly quizzes on innovation keep the initiative moving smoothly.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tapping Stakeholder Creativity

Tapping Stakeholder Creativity (TSC) involves facilitating intense discussion and problem solving between stakeholders to reinvent future products and processes. It is a radical new approach which enables companies to include the customers’ or vendors’ voice in developing a product, activity or service and encourages the inventing or shaping the future together.

This is a unique innovation tool that helps synthesize the ideas of two or more groups with different view points. It enables different teams of the company to participate with internal or external customers in creatively developing the future. Training all participants in creative problem solving will help achieve continuous improvement as well as a quantum change on occasions.

Customers are often ignored as a source of innovative ideas. Small improvements happen faster when the customer is involved.

Apollo Hospital has an advisory committee of customers and opinion leaders. These committees have led to major improvements in processes and quality. Imagine a senior banker studying front office procedures in the hospital. Other examples include advisory committees in ICICI bank which provides valuable feedback on customer aspirations and Asea Brown Boveri who invite customers to interact with manufacturing and marketing officials to reinvent its products.

“The future will be different from what exists now and from what we expect. To make the future happen one has to be willing to do something now” – Peter Drucker

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Communication – Speaking for Easy Listening

In a supportive climate no one has to defend themselves when they present a wild idea. You can present it with all the flaws, quite confident that everyone is out to help you built it. You feel no need to trick them in to accepting it or bulldozing them into ‘buying’ it. Both methods will result in:

  • Your audience ‘turning out’.
  • Your losing their potential to give valuable inputs.

A better alternative is to start by giving the headline as a newspaper would. Follow this by a brief description of the idea with no conclusions. Be truly open to inputs. Leave it loose and welcome suggestions. Participants then feel welcomed into problem solving. They respond to the regard and respect being shown for their ideas. The first method presents a heavily defended fait accomplishment. The second involves listeners in a mutually satisfying exchange of ideas. The first feels uncomfortable and controlling for participants. The second allows the bliss of participation and the joy of mutual regard, while resulting in the building of really new viable ideas.


Practice speaking using the headline/background approach. Share the ideas flowing out of listening for value. Let each commando member practice and then discuss the resulting ideas.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Communication – Listening for Ideas

The person who listens has to listen to the words. He also has to listen for the meaning of silences. He has to understand motives and intentions. He not only tries to understand what is being said, he also has to be sensitive to what is not being said.

The speaker needs to be aware that less than twenty per cent of his meaning is expressed in words. The rest pours out of him through his tone and body language. He who speaks has to be willing to repeat what he says in subtle ways till it sinks deep into the heart of the listener.

Listening and speaking is like playing a game of ping pong. Building ideas involves both participants in an intimate interweaving of ideas, snow-balling them into bigger ideas, supporting speculatively risky ideas. The positive field and the supportive climate full of respect for each other leads to collaboratively building new ideas.

Meetings and Their Effectiveness

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. The effectiveness of the 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 seen and heard using thinking tools like 6M.
  • Recording and implementing decisions and using good ideas.
  • Being open to feedback and fresh insights.

Thinking tools can ensure that everyone is able to think differently and intensively on the subjet. The rules for idea generation and the creation of a positive climate are threefold: to suspend judgment, postpone reaction and extended effort.

Plan all meetings. Let all participants send their ideas using the 6M framework, so that all individuals are well informed about what others think, before the meeting starts.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Create Incubators for Innovation

Mr. Harsh Mariwala, Chairman, Marico Industries, believes his corporate social responsibility is spreading the message of innovation, as the practice of innovation can build the nation. He believes that innovation flourishes in an open, empowering culture, a prototyping culture. 'We give a new business idea to a team and empower them to implement it. We then remove the escape button.'

'The idea is first incubated in an incubation cell. They report directly to me for two years. It is dismantled once their role is completed. Each of my product teams identifies their innovation agenda as part of strategic planning.'

'We are driven by our concern for the environment, preventive health care and natural good health. To us a customer is a person with constantly rising aspirations. Our suppliers are our partners in business.'

'We believe in orbit shifting innovation. To be acceptable, innovation should translate into cash flow. We have experienced that in our company.'

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Seek Top Management Support

It is critical that the innovation initiative is completely supported at the top step by step. One of the reasons why innovation initiatives fail is because of the start-stop effect when there is no long-term commitment from the top. Innovation initiatives often become the target of budget cuts at the first sign of trouble. Focus on making the process smooth, consistent and credible.

  • Scoreboards should measure progress and celebrate winners.
  • Involve top management through regular presentations.
  • They should be part of the steering committee and monthly reviews.
  • The innovation melas should showcase innovation and innovators.
  • The cost benefit resulting from innovations should be regularly highlighted.
  • Thinking tools should be used at the highest levels.

It is important to initially choose actions that lead to fast, obvious results. Keep the investments low, use existing resources. Highlight and celebrate small successes. This creates excitement around the initiative. Encourage the workforce through motivating posters. Post results on the score boards so that the whole organization can track progress.

The Ice-breaker

It is important to bring all the teams together and unite them to achieve a single goal. The goal should be noble; it should be inspiring and should fill the teams with energy and commitment. The leader could kick start things off with an inspiring presentation and ask everyone to give their ideas on how to make this happen.

For Example:

Mr. Narasimhan, an innovative leader of Brakes India, Foundry Division, says, ‘I don’t think top management should have all the fun while others just have to do what they are told’. He holds monthly meetings in the lovely tree-shaded campus at Sholingur and speaks to all 700 people in the factory. They are allowed to ask questions and make suggestions. Over sixty innovation spirals are operating here, which include many of the machine operators in the factory.

At the end of the ice-breaker, all participants should know the goal, be inspired by it, and take responsibility for specific parts of the plan.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Innovation Blow Back

"I consider constraints a source of innovation. I believe in the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid", says Ravi Venkatesan, CEO of Microsoft India. Innovation Blow Back is happening as innovation developed for the poor is now being bought by rich nations, like Tata's Nano, which is also being introduced to European markets.

"Our products at Microsoft never wear out. They never need replacement, so innovation is essential for our survival. Our biggest competitors are our own products. We look for people with high energy and passion, curiosity and persistence, who love taking on a challenge. We try to spot tenacity and capacity for experimentation. We choose the right 1000 seeds to harvest ten flowers. We give budgets and freedom, empowering employees to pursue their dreams. Let's dream big dreams. Let's go out and change the world. We have a high tolerance for failure. Fear of failure discourages people from trying."