Stars make extensive use of brainstorming to generate ideas. Idea generation is most productive when it is used to tackle a specific business problem. The rules for a successful idea generation are: suspend judgment, postpone reaction and extend effort.
In addition to brainstorming, Stars make use of many other tools for the generation of ideas.
Stars were very positive about their company and its future. They believed that the quality of their products was higher, and that their market share was increasing. Employee satisfaction levels were high because people were committed and engaged. Some of the other factors that differentiated Stars from Aspirants and Non-Starters were:
• Stars had a greater belief in the need for creativity in the organization.
• Innovation was clearly mentioned in their mission statement.
• They systematically measured customer satisfaction, and used this information to make course corrections.
• They spoke directly to their customers.
• New ideas were often obtained through market research.
• They made use of outside consultants.
• They used cutting-edge technologies to impact bottom lines.
• They were able to ensure that different departments worked together.
• They excelled in environmental scouting for ideas.
• They had a shared process of idea generation.
Employees at a number of India’s top companies responded to a survey that gauged the innovativeness of their organizations. Based upon the responses to the survey, companies were classified as Innovation Stars, Aspirants and Non-starters. Innovation Stars were found to be more profitable, to have more satisfied employees and to have much lower employee turnover.
Innovation Stars: These companies excel in all areas, tangible and intangible. Such companies are characterized by high profits, superior quality of products and services, high levels of creativity, brilliant marketing practices, strong brand equity and image, wide market presence and low employee turnover. The Star is an extremely innovative company, which has succeeded in maximizing innovation in all areas of its operations. The climate of such a company is extremely nurturing and rewards creativity while being supportive of experimentation. People working there are excited about going to work; they are thrilled about their company’s future.
• Doing things right
• Doing the right things
• Do away with unnecessary tasks
• Improve existing tasks
• Replicating best practices
• Doing things not done by others
• Breakthrough ideas must be welcomed
• Appropriately disseminating knowledge and information
• Encouraging cross-functional team work
• Rewarding and recognizing efficiency
• Providing constructive performance feedback
• Appreciating gender, race and diversity
• Investing in new technologies
• Communicating directly and consistently with customers
• Rewarding risk taking
• Investing a lot of energy on creativity
Study all the problems identified in the problem bank together. And then ensure that each one is turned into a problem statement in the form of a question.
Identifying and formulating the problem is the most difficult part of creative problem solving. Very often we state symptoms of the problems and end up wasting scarce resources chasing the illusionary ‘golden deer of the epics’. Management then becomes so emotionally committed to the wrong path that we can end up moving faster and faster along the wrong road. It is like a man who drills an oil well, in a bad spot. More and more money is spent with no resulting strike. But those involved, refuse to fill up the unproductive well and move on to a new location. They continue throwing good money after bad, because they do not want to admit that a mistake had been made initially.
Problem as first stated: How to improve the brakes supplied to the car maker?
Creative analysis: Why do we want to improve the brakes?
Answer: To stop cars at a shorter distance
Creative Analysis: How else can we stop a car at a shorter distance?
Why do we want to stop the car at a shorter distance?
Answer: To increase safety of occupants of the car.
Restatement of problem: How might we improve safety in a car’s stopping system?
Result: This is much broader than the original challenge and opens a wider door to novel ideas.
At one of my early creativity laboratories for mothers, twenty-two years ago, one of the participants said, ‘My problem is how I get my son to eat eggs for breakfast.’ A rigorous analysis of the problem uncovered the real quandary, ’How do I get my son to eat a nutritious breakfast?’ The restatement of the problem enabled the mother to give the child a variety of foods ranging from cheese and idlis, to cutlets and samosas, instead of forcing the child to eat the hated eggs. Redefining the problem statement is the challenging part of the process, as all of us who have struggled with the task of arriving at a hypothesis know.
Stating and understanding the problem correctly is the key to the Innovation Initiative.
During implementation review the outcome. Be aware of the end before you take the first step. Unify your teams by hitching them to the ultimate goal.
Top management should inspire and empower the teams to action. A team bonding exercise getting everyone to see a bird’s eye view of the exercise is critical.
Review the Resource for every team. Consolidate the reviews if the resources being used are adequate.
Study the impact on the expected outcome. Ensure that the process is moving towards the final outcome: reducing costs, increasing revenues, improving customer satisfaction and ensuring greater employee participation.
The problem owners should review activities of the action team members and plan how to gradually involve all members of the unit in the plan.
Each of the team members now have a chance to understand what the endeavour will involve. Informal sessions to discuss the plan and to become comfortable with it must be planned including a grand launch to win buy-in from stakeholders.
Help each team member to be comfortable with their activities. Hand hold and enhance links between different departments. Studies show that turf protection prevents efficient implementation. Team members become too involved in playing politics instead of playing to win for the company. Organizational energy should be carefully focused on the task
Deccan Airlines created a disruption in the Airlines market. They created flights to smaller destinations not previously served like Vijayawada. The customer received low fares and at the same time lost:
Free food and drinks
Tolerance for more baggage
Convenient timing of flights
The Winning Model was a result of: Fewer aircrafts, faster turnaround times, arriving early mornings and late nights when airports were less utilized by the premium airlines. It became profitable for the airlines and cheaper for the customers
* Look at several alternatives, a hundred futures, before deciding on the best one for the moment. Remember the market place will be the best place for complete refinement of your product.
* Start small. Keep over heads low. Be lean and learn. Don’t spend money on swanky offices, first- class travel, hotels and the Mercedes Benz.
* Pursue areas with high entry level barriers, which competitors avoid like the plague. Test market in a small way. Experience the results; look into the customer’s eyes. Don’t just keep talking and making presentations. Review, tweak and go back to the market. Course correct, move. Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis. There is no guarantee of success.
* Nothing is an instant success. Every successful product is the result of a hundred corrections in response to customer reactions, changing aspirations. There is no time, when you can rest on your laurels because you are so perfect.
* Let your solutions be bold, what no one has done before. Don’t take shelter in incrementalism.
Companywide innovation is not about nurturing solitary genius in sterile laboratories but requires the bubbling enthusiasm of innovation spirals. The Innovation champion and all problem owners must consistently ensure the use of the tools and track the Innovation spiral meetings.
To internalize innovation tools, use them. Teach them to others. The new IT is Innovation Tools. Install them in every members mind’s computer. Present the tools with examples. Encourage questions. Teach the tools to your friends and your family. This is the best way to make it a part of your everyday life.
While the process is now in place, providing daily stimulus is the problem owner’s job. This can be done by asking the team a provocative question everyday. The questions could be
• What are the non-value adding activities in your daily work?
• How can we help to eliminate this?
• How can we do this faster?
• How to improve the productivity of this team?
‘It cannot be done!’ said the Swiss watch makers. In the watch industry, the Swiss are the ultimate court of appeal. The way the Titan Edge, the world’s slimmest water resistant watch was produced, is a lesson in persistent and patient problem solving and innovation. It was an example of an Indian company’s refusal to give up.
It all began in 1994. Mr. Xerxes Desai, then Managing director of Titan said, ‘Create a 3.5mm, water resistant watch – a watch as slim as a credit card. It took the Titan team four years and when they started in 1994 they were just a decade old…
What were the challenges?
To instill self confidence in the team.
Ensure buy-in from key people.
The engineering challenge. When everyone heard that the Swiss could not-do it, the virus of self doubt was rampant. This was overcome by the infectious confidence of top management.
Watch manufacturers in the past had been copy-cats. Since the 1950’s Indian companies had never manufactured a watch all by themselves. Titan attempted this from 1992. The Edge was an answer to the reigning lifestyle mantra, verbalized by a famous Hollywood queen who said ‘You cannot be too rich or too thin!’ It was a close collaboration between manufacturing, technology and research. Marketing took three years to embrace it. Between movements, cases and assembly, the challenge was to create a delicate watch, which was tough enough for the challenges of daily wear. They needed a slimmer battery with a longer battery life and less power consumption. The war had to be carried to the supplier’s tables and this meant a global search. The solution was a silicon chip which was developed to extend the battery life. Part of the manufacturing was out-sourced to Switzerland. All the tools required for the assembly were supplied by Titan! Even the glass had to be of .03mm thickness or as thick as three sheets of paper – a 75% reduction in thickness. It is one of India’s major product innovation, putting us on the world map!
An ounce of action is worth tonnes of e-mail, paper and speeches. Implementation is the key to innovation.The ‘reality test’ should now be ruthlessly applied. Once implementation starts, every move costs money. This is the last step in the innovation process and all ideas should be carefully studied. Implementing creative ideas and turning them into innovations is a special challenge. It is a process that requires a clear road map and the organizational will to stick to the path. This is where many organizations fail. Every team should have its own time bound plan, which is understood by the whole group.
The team can spend adequate time choosing the correct solution. Here, all ideas are ruthlessly critiqued. Logic is mercilessly applied. After this process, the idea is going to leave the safe, sterile laboratory of the mind and start acting in the company. Every action will need an investment of resources of all kinds. This is the time to go into detail. Weed out unworkable ideas; make sure what the company can do. Now the dream castles need to have strong foundations under them.
Outcomes should be carefully studied. This is the time for a clear understanding of the cost benefit analysis by all. There is still time to course correct. Make sure that top management publicly lends support to every aspect of resource allocation and rewards participants on achieving innovation targets.
Product innovation is not the most important type of innovation, though it is considered the most common type of innovation in Indian companies. Marketing innovation can affect the brand image of the whole product category. Coffee Day and Barista cafés have redefined the coffee break. ‘So much can happen over coffee’ says one of the advertisements. The success of these cafés has been good for coffee distributors all over India and has given coffee a new brand image. Time-sharing of holiday cottages created a whole new market for affordable holidays. Tractor companies are trying the same concept, where a group of farmers own a tractor together.
Different parameters find different levels of priority depending on the situation at hand. Let us consider the example of the budget as a parameter and its priority level in different cases. For a company where liquidity is low, cash flow would be the most important concern. For a company facing a crisis, time may be of the essence and big budgets would be tolerated in view of the emergency situation.
• While identifying solutions, ensure that there are a wide variety of options to choose from. There is then a greater possibility that the final option chosen ensures optimal results. This systematic process ensures that the option chosen produces the best results.
• Analysis is the stage just prior to implementation. Therefore, detailed analysis forms the root to strong implementation.
Revisit your goals and reconsider the impact of each solution the goals on the company. In view of the thinking process and ideas generated, it may be necessary to reconsider and restate the goals.
Impact of the ideas can be measured against the 6M framework. Or it could be measured merely against the bottom line. Critical to the goals are the 6M resources required to implement the idea. Identify the key parameters by which the outcomes will be measured. These parameters may be then prioritized. Ensure that all the ideas generated are displayed, presented and reflected upon. Put posters with all ideas around your Innovation Centre. Members of all teams can be invited to study them and add their suggestions. This is the time for debate and discussions.
Dr. Rekha Shetty is Managing Director of Farstar Distribution Network, a unique consultancy company devoted exclusively to innovation and creativity under the brand name Mindspower.She is an author, an entrepreneur and an original thinker. Her long term Innovation Initiative, using 47 thinking tools helps in a steep increase in profits, reduction in costs, while improving customer satisfaction levels and employee participation levels. She is a consultant to ICICI Bank, Ashok Leyland Ltd., Hyundai Motors Ltd., TVS Group, TI Group, Durgapur Steel Plant, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. and other blue chip companies.
In her very first assignment in United India Insurance, she developed a nationally acclaimed advertising campaign. During the last seventeen years, she has specialized in the field of Creativity in Management and developed her own management brand, Mindspower. She was one of Asia’s first women District Governors for Rotary International and was awarded Rotary’s highest Award – Service above Self.
Her fourth book “Innovate! 90 Days to Transform your Business” is under print and will be released by Penguin during May 2010.