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Completes assigned tasks. Meets deadlines…Daydreams effectively? Can companies really stimulate innovating thinking?
In the Cleveland Plain Dealer this Sunday, Mary Doria Russell writes about Imagine, a new book by Jonah Lehrer about how creativity really works.
Lehrer writes that creation isn’t a linear process. Innovators are ordinary people who encounter predictable walls. Rather than beating their heads against them, they quit. They find ways to go around them.
Everyone encounters barriers.
Successful innovators who’ve hit walls have something in common: They quit.
They didn’t quit their jobs. They gave up on unproductive lines of reasoning. “They really, truly gave up, often howling in frustration,” Lehrer says.
That’s when innovators “go forward by stepping sideways.” They quiet the linear, rule-constrained left side of the brain. Then, they unleash the conceptual, imaginative, right side. Your right brain soars with your best ideas when you’re just dozing or standing in the shower. The right brain makes unexpected connections. “Suddenly, you just know.”
Another Sunday paper described a painter who abandoned the conventional rules of the art game and built a $100 million a year business. His name is Thomas Kinkade, “painter of light.” Kinkade’s works hang in one out of 20 American homes.
The Sunday New York Times describes how Kinkade imagined a new path to success. He ignored the art critics, targeted consumers who rarely bought art and bypassed art gallery distribution channels. He chose instead to sell his sentimental, mass-produced paintings directly to consumers. He marketed his works through franchise galleries, cable television and online.
If you’re not advancing on the path you’re on, quit. Imagine another route to connecting with customers.
Successful innovation is about connecting with buyers. Kinkade’s lateral thinking coincided with reconnecting with his faith and others who shared it. He said, “People who put my paintings on their walls are putting their values on their walls: faith, family, home, a simpler way of living…they beckon you into this world that provides an alternative to your nightly news broadcast.”
Thomas Kinkade was one man who thought differently. What about when you’re one manager among a team of managers?
Getting managers to agree on a lateral route to innovation requires a special combination of skills.
After you have your eureka moment, how do you get others to follow along? Chances are that others have similar ideas. But, for reasons related to decision making processes or office politics, those ideas don’t get a fair hearing.
Others with different ideas probably feel similarly frustrated. This isn’t a deliberate or even conscious stifling of creative thought. It’s a natural outcome of diverse people working in one organization. There’s a lot of pressure on company leaders to keep everyone’s oars in the water, rowing in the same direction.
As a result, most leadership teams’ approaches to innovation could be described as “satisficing”. They suffice to satisfy key influencers within their organizations. Satisficing usually results in tweaks that customers don’t perceive or don’t care about.
Has satisficing happened in your organization?
Satisficing is a normally occurring barrier to company innovativeness. It has its own inertia. It usually needs to be acted upon by an outside force to change it.
In upcoming posts, I’ll talk about how leadership teams have acquired and applied three critical skills to overcome satisficing and get innovative in ways customers care about:
- inhabiting their customer’s frame of reference
- Identifying lateral innovation opportunities
- orchestrating the delivery of powerful customer experiences
What do you think? Could more companies stimulate innovative thinking? What’s holding some back?
Jason M. Sherman is president of Cleveland-based, Whyze Group. Whyze Group provides qualitative, customer- and user-experience research and innovation workshops to Global 2000 clients. The company has been recognized by the Baldrige National Quality Program, business associations and numerous business media as a leader in research and innovation.
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Jason direct: (440) 785-0547.
April 13th, 2012
Are best practices useful or merely pabulum? This question comes up frequently at Whyze Group. We’ve have never used “best practices” in our literature.
We’ve even advised our clients to exercise skepticism when presented with anything labeled as “best practices”. What works well at one company is often counterproductive at another.
Today, I received an email from a prominent market research company promoting its intellectual capital through an email with this document attached, “Developing the High Peformance Market Research Function: Study Excerpt”.
The document provides no criteria against which the best practices were evaluated. The report is a derivative of research performed by the sponsor on behalf of its clients.
This begs the following question. Why would client firms knowingly hand over proprietary secrets (their best practices) for publication to the world?
Casting my skepticism aside, I opened the attachment and began to smile as I read the best practices cited in this report. Here’s one. “Benchmark partners were aligned in their aspirations to turn market data into intelligence that can grow the business.”
As I read other best practices, I began imagining myself in a Dilbert cartoon. Here’s another, paraphrased…when companies invest tens of thousands of dollars in focus groups someone from the company should attend them.
There are no market research practices in this report that deviate from those uttered decades ago or common sense. If there were genuinely valuable secrets, the sources of those secrets risked being sued for disclosing trade secrets.
Hence, are best practices–meaning, “the practices that the best 1% are using to outperform you”–really available? Even if they were, would they apply to your organization? Of course, if your company’s capabilities and opportunities were identical to the company you’d be emulating, then they might.
As catalysts of strategic adaptation and innovation, we have a sacrosanct obligation to our colleagues, employees, our shareholders and our customers to get it right. This is our reason for being.
Getting it right starts with an honest heart, an open mind and critical thinking. If we’re really honest with ourselves, aren’t these the only starting points for figuring out what’s truly best?
October 16th, 2008
Background for this post consists of 18 years working with tens of clients and doing hundreds of qualitative interviews. There are links below that will deepen readers’ understanding of qualitative research. Additionally, many pages in this site place qualitative research in its proper context within the innovation process.
Anyone can moderate a qualitative research discussion.
When I sense that someone is entertaining this notion, a scene from “A Fish Called Wanda” flashes on the anterior wall of my cranium…
Kevin Kline: “Apes don’t read philosophy.”
Jamie Lee Curtis: “Yes, they do Otto, they just don’t understand it.”
An ape can lead a focus group. It’s just a conversation. An ape can ask questions and get answers. And, that’s how high the bar is for some people who have seen focus groups and, thus, think they can lead them.
Each year, hundreds of focus groups and in-depth interviews are moderated by…we’ll call them dilettantes to be more polite.
But, they don’t know they’re dilettantes. After all, they didn’t have to avoid losing a legal arguments or a patient. They only thing they had to avoid was inducing stoney silence among their research subjects.
A focus group costs $55 per minute. That includes facility rental, recruiting participants, moderation, analysis, report writing and M&Ms for everyone in the observation room. But, the cost of poorly conducted interviews pale in comparison to opportunity costs of lost wisdom and business opportunities, which typically amount to millions over several years.
Yes, dilettantes will continue to ask, “What would make you buy?”, of their research subjects and they’ll continue to get answers. But, for so many reasons that we don’t have time to address here, they’ll be useless and misleading answers.
So, the next time you hear someone suggest that they’ll do qualitative research interviews themselves, suggest that they take this not-so-tongue-in-cheek, “Qualitative Research Dilettante Self-Test”:
If they flunk the test and still insist on moderating, you’ve done all you can. They’re headed recklessly toward the fruit aisle…to the bananas I think.
Whyze Group moderates qualitative research interviews that derive strategic, business-building wisdom from participants and imparts it to managers.
October 13th, 2008
We are pulled toward shiny, new technology baubles, especially ones that promise greater customer intimacy and profits. Crowdsourcing is gaining traction after a couple of years of finding successful case studies (e.g., Threadless) that prove the concept…at least for specific applications.
Historically, other shiny baubles, like early dotcoms and CRM, lost their luster when they failed to live up to expectations. In hindsight, we learned, “This could be a great addition to our tool chest. We should learn how to use it next time.” History will repeat itself.
Crowdsourcing is so new that there are few real experts in it. But, a critical look at the social and business challenges and Web 2.0 technology platforms that support crowdsourcing reveals important clues about how to manage crowdsourcing effectively.
As Donald Trump once said, “If you manage the downside, the upside takes care of itself”. In her post about the challenges of crowdsourcing, Monica Hamburg does us all a great service by stripping the silvery patina off crowdsourcing and looking carefully at the cold gray steel underneath.
Among Monica’s observations, which I’m paraphrasing, are the following:
- Questionable wisdom. Not all crowd members act in the spirit of crowdsourcing or are well-intended. Just look at the stream of comments following a Youtube video.
- Limited demographics. The typical web user is white, middle- or upper-class, English speaking, higher educated and with high-speed connections.
- Myopic understanding. Crowds may not have enough understanding of your industry to make educated decisions.
- Limited control. Loss of control can result in crowdslapping, where the crowd turns on you and your brand. This may not be avoidable, especially if you want to encourage open dialog, which is the whole point of crowdsourcing.
- Lower quality. Quality expectations for some tasks should be lower, not higher, depending on the task that you’re asking the crowd to do.
- Insufficient programming. This is the digital analog to coffee, donuts and engaging events, which, if missing, will result in the crowd moving on.
- Leadership. Lest your crowd detect they’ve entered a space where anarchy reigns, you’ve got to have a socially astute host who introduces topics, moderates discussions with a light and easy hand and celebrates victory when the crowd takes ground.
- Exploitation fears. Key contributors expect and deserve rewards for their participation. These need to be spelled out in advance and followed through religiously.
Each of these challenges are overcome with a little forethought and deliberate action. Effective crowdsourcing starts with defining the problem that you’re going to ask the crowd to solve. The assignment needs to be specific, measurable, easily understood, and framed in a way that engages the right crowd.
Threadless is a great example of engaging a crowd to solve attractive new product development problems. The crowd designs t-shirts and votes on the winners. Threadless draws the right crowd, designers who can really design creative, off the wall t-shirts. Their reward system is transparent and straight forward: winning designers get $2,500 in cash and gifts. Their website is fun, engaging and serves as a catalyst for a creative community of talented artists.
Underlying their website is a savvy set of facilitators who change the website each day, posting recently submitted designs for sale and votes. This draws in a global talent pool that the company taps successfully and whom extend Threadless’s idea-generating capacity far beyond the walls of the company.
If your company is considering crowdsourcing, your approach should be equally clear and compelling.
This post only covers the basics of effective crowdsourcing. There will be more to come.
July 8th, 2008
Perhaps a “legal innovation” in favor of protecting those who actually produce the news, newspapers, is appropriate if not long overdue.
Continue Reading July 23rd, 2007