Category Archives: Challenge-driven Innovation

Anger for Creativity? Not really.

A recent article by Jonah Lehrer, The Creativity of Anger, postulates that anger can spark creativity.   The author uses two end points to illustrate his point.  The first, is an example of the anger used by Steve Jobs to Spur his MobileMe team to create a better product.  In this case, Jobs, berates the entire MobileMe team when, after the service is first introduced, it receives a poor rating by an influential reviewer.  Since Jobs purportedly used this tactic often, and because Apple is a corporate powerhouse, it can be implied that this technique is successful.

On the other side of the coin, the author gives the example of brainstorming.   This technique was embraced wholeheartedly by Alex Osborn (founding partner of the BBDO advertising firm), to the extent that Osborn wrote a group of best-selling books on the topic of brainstorming.  The most important principle was the total absence of criticism–still a cornerstone of brainstorming today.

The article points out several research examples where anger is used to enhance creativity, however, the author also adds that constantly using anger eventually ends up severely limiting creativity–which seems to make complete sense.  I might perform well when my boss is angry, however, if I have to work day-after-day in this kind of environment, I’m likely to lose my creativity.

I’d like to suggest that the reason anger works in the creative process is that (when used in a very limited way), it promotes timed, focused thinking, a method that I’ve written about before.  When I’m angry, I usually have a reason, and if I can translate that into focused innovation, then I’ll get lots of good results.  For example, if I’m angry because my sales team lost a big order, I’m going to gather them in a room and ask them how we can prevent it from happening again.  My anger will communicate two things: 1) it will focus them on a single task: how to improve our sales process, and 2) let them know that I expect an answer sooner rather than later.

If I just scream at them, then I might get some short term answers, but in the long term, I’ll lose people and creativity.

Janusian Thinking and Creativity

Named after the Roman god Janus, Janusian Thinking involves holding two opposing ideas or images in your mind at the same time. Dr. Albert Rothenberg discovered this way of thinking in the early 1970s after concluding that most major scientific breakthroughs and artistic masterpieces occur through the process of formulating antithetical ideas and then trying to resolve them.

One of the most well-known discoveries that came out of the Janusian Thinking method was Physicist Niels Bohr’s complementarity in quantum theory (light can be either a wave of a particle). The creativity was creating seemingly impossible opposites and then finding the commonality between them. Another example provided by Rothenberg was related to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity where he considered both a person to both be falling (as off a building) and for no gravity to exist. An obvious contradiction since gravity causes the person to fall.

For example, imagine being forced to be both successful and a failure simultaneously. You might think of ways to continue to fail, yet still bring yourself success. Consider William Hung, the contestant on American Idol, who sang terribly, but achieved success by being so, so bad. I think he made an album? Here is a good article that describes the process in more detail.

Deliver Innovation Overnight

Learn how the Dutch company, PAT Learning Systems, uses short, timed events to achieve innovation, a concept completely embodied in our Flagpole software system. This methodology, illustrated in my book, helps eliminate some of the human aspects of innovation, namely procrastination, while enhancing competition and socialization.

Link: Click here for article

Customer-Centric Innovation: Challenge Yourself!

There’s no lack of opportunities for businesses to “create” – creating new products or service offerings, creating new markets to pursue, creating new advertising, and so on.  But “creation” doesn’t always mean you’re innovating.  The difference between creating and true business innovation is that the latter involves taking a serious, hard look at the needs of your customers and doing only that which you know will change the game for them and for your business. 

For this reason, you only want the innovations that are going to be meaningful to your customers and profitable to you - two things that are not typically mutually exclusive.  Creative endeavors are a crucial piece of this model, but if it doesn’t make a measurable impact on some aspect of your business and drive you to get more customers, then why do it? 

Customer-centric innovation begins with examining every point at which you interact with customers (current, repeat, and prospective) and asking yourself this set of questions:  What are the barriers that stand in the way of how this person or business becomes our customer, obtains our product, etc.?   What can I do to eliminate that barrier and make it easier for them?  How can I do this in such a way as to remain true to my business’ core values, and stay focused on our critical essentials?  How can I do this with the fewest complications (a.k.a. keep it simple)?  How can I do it better than any of my competitors?   When you can answer all of these questions, you’re firing on all 8 innovation cylinders. 

These things go MUCH deeper than “let’s create our next big product because our customer is asking for it.”  Take the time to look at things like: pricing, delivery methods, your suppliers, materials costs, systems in use, inventorization, materials, your investors, your accounting, your sales methods, your marketing team, and everything else you can possibly think of.   If it seems like too much work, just remember: this is what your competitors are already doing.   You’ll quickly find ways to improve quality in all of these areas, and these improvements will aggregate to impact how your customer becomes your customer, and how you keep them as your customer.

Assign people in all of these areas to create “challenges” for their teams on how to improve something in their department.  These can be as simple as “How can we improve our purchasing practices?”, “Has anyone seen a better system that we can use for billing?” or “How can we save money on shipping?”,  “How can we fill orders faster”, and so on.  

Allow their teams to answer the challenges with ideas and suggestions.  Take time to encourage these folks to vote and comment on ideas received.  Make sure to follow through implementing the best ones, and reward folks for sharing them.  After all, the best solutions and improvements will invariably come from the people who deal with the issues you’re trying to solve on a daily basis.

The key is asking the right group with the right expertise to answer your challenge.  The possibilities for “challenges” are limitless, just like the areas for improvement in a company.

Some of the innovations that you find and implement using challenges may impact your customers or improve their experience in ways they will never even know about, and that’s just fine!  Let them just be thrilled to be your customer and wonder how you do what you do so well!

Flagpole is an inexpensive, easy-to-deploy application built around the above-described challenge model.  You can use it to query your employees, partners, even customers out in the marketplace to find focused, impactful ideas and innovations to implement.