Category Archives: Team Innovation

Beer and Coffee for Innovation

I read an article by Mikael Cho at Lifehacker about the effects of beer and coffee on innovation. There are lots of studies on the effect of caffeine on productivity, with the overwhelming consensus that it can increase quality and performance on tasks that don’t require too much abstract thinking.  So once you have a good idea, coffee will help you implement it faster/better.

For the beer side, he cites an interesting, but not particularly scientific study of alcohol and its effect on creativity.  He explains, “author Dave Birss brought together a group of about 20 advertising creative directors and split them into two teams based on their amount of career experience. One team was allowed to drink as much alcohol as they wanted while the other team had to stay sober. The groups were given a brief and had to come up with as many ideas as they could in three hours. These ideas were then graded by a collection of top creative directors.”

The result was that the team of drinkers not only had the most ideas, but also came up with the 80% of the best ideas.  No information was provided on their productivity the next morning!

Signature Strengths

signature strengthsSignature strengths” are things/skills you are uniquely talented at that bring you joy/satisfaction when you use them. People who deliberately exercise their signature strengths daily are significantly happier both presently and for as much as a month into the future.

The more signature strengths were applied at the workplace, the higher the positive experiences at work, such as job satisfaction and engagement.

These signature strengths are grouped into six general categories as shown below:

  • Wisdom and Knowledge(strengths that involve the acquisition and use of knowledge)
    • creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective and wisdom
  • Courage(strengths that allow one to accomplish goals in the face of opposition)
    • bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality
  • Humanity(strengths of tending and befriending others)
    • love, kindness, social intelligence
  • Justice(strengths that build healthy community)
    • active citizenship / social responsibility / loyalty / teamwork, fairness, leadership
  • Temperance(strengths that protect against excess)
    • forgiveness and mercy, humility and modesty, prudence, self-regulation and self control
  • Transcendence(strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning)
    • appreciation of beauty and appreciation of excellence, gratitude, hope, humor and playfulness, spirituality

If you want to find out what your own signature strengths are, you can take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths here, by the University of Pennsylvania. (Look under the “Questionnaires” pull-down menu; you’ll need to register.)  If you don’t want to take the full University of Pennsylvania test, you can click here to rank yourself. (Click on the “Signature Strengths Self-Rating Scale” link.)

Idea Review Teams, Part 2

During my time with clients, I work with a lot of idea review teams. I thought I’d list a few of the principles and helpful hints that should be used when you create these teams.
idea review teams

  1. Mix of people/skills. If you’re reviewing technical ideas, should the entire idea review team be engineers? Likewise, if you’re reviewing financial processes, should everyone be an accountant? My answer is no. Your team should contain a mix of people/skills that are germane to the types of ideas that you are reviewing. If you’re reviewing lots of technical ideas, then it makes sense to have a larger number of technical people, however, a healthy balance of other skills, such as legal, financial, and marketing will provide better results and align with the personality of the organization more clearly. Besides, many people who are accountants today may have been engineers yesterday, in a previous job and/or organization. It’s not unusual at all to find people with very diverse backgrounds and experience and in fact you should seek them out. These types can add depth to your team and will often see ideas from a completely different (and better) perspective. You may also want to consider rotating people on/off the team frequently. While you may give up some of the productivity you’ll gain by having a consistent group, by rotating more people, you’ll keep the program fresh, and you’ll involve more of the organization. For many, this visibility is both an experience and an opportunity to be seen as a contributor, and can provide future benefits for the organization. Additionally, it opens your idea review process up for more people to see how the process works someone who might feel the process is unfair, would gain an appreciation for the intricacies and difficulties in making decisions.
  2. Reward. For many organizations, reviewing ideas is just another to-do among an already long list. While many will feel the intrinsic need to be fair and committed, others will lose this feeling quickly. Some rewards can be easy, like recognizing the team periodically, giving them additional titles, and (as mentioned earlier) giving them some accountability and control. However, you may want to consider other rewards, such as team lunches, apparel, or other small tokens.

Idea Review Teams, Part 1

During my time with clients, I work with a lot of idea review teams. I thought I’d list a few of the principles and helpful hints that should be usedidea review teams when you create these teams.

  1. Commitment. Obvious, but easily faked or eroded. Make certain that each member not only has the mentality for the commitment, but also put in place safeguards to ensure it. For example, get the idea review team out of the office to a neutral location. I can’t tell you how many times that someone will pop their head into an idea review meeting, and ask one of the members, I’m sorry, but can I talk to John for just a minute? Inevitably, the interruption is longer, as John usually must attend to something urgent. It’s really hard for me to believe that anyone in the company can’t have a few hours without interruption, even the CEO. Make sure that they have some interest in pushing some of the ideas to completion the idea that is first submitted rarely is in the final form and usually requires a bit of help to move it forward. Oh, I forgot my laptop, or I didn’t have time to… This goes hand in hand with commitment. If they can’t remember the tools that they need, or don’t have the time to prepare for the meeting, they’re doing not only the review team, but all of the idea submitters an injustice. Make it clear what needs to be done beforehand.
  2. Authority. While it may seem obvious that the idea review team is supposed to review ideas, the end result may not be so obvious. Will they have the final say or will they have to get their recommendations approved by some other group? If they must get their approved ideas approved again, you’re taking away some of the respect (and prestige) out of the process. There’s no question that some ideas require further deliberation before they can be implemented, but if every one of the ideas must go through an additional step, then you really don’t have a review team. Instead, allow the review team to approve ideas within certain parameters, such as money, time, or cultural impact. That way, you’ll keep the review process intact as well as reducing the need for two teams to review every idea.

Opposites don’t Attract

There is some convincing research that demonstrates that opposites don’t attract. Is this a problem? From a relationship perspective, this might be alright, but from an innovation perspective it isn’t.

Scientists studied a couple of different groups, but the main one was college students. They compared student relationships in a large college (25,000 students) and several smaller colleges (about 500 students) and determined whether “friends” were more or less similar. The researchers employed a variety of personality tests and questions to come to conclusions. The research showed that the friends at the larger college were very similar in ideas, tastes, beliefs, etc., whereas the smaller college had significantly less similarity. The researchers believe that a large reason for this is that at the larger college, you’re more likely to find someone who matches you more perfectly than at a smaller school.

In another study, researchers examined the question of whether people actually “mix” at mixers. Their model was a networking party for approximately 100 people associated with a school’s business program. In similar results, the researchers found that people where more likely to associate with people who they already were familiar with or where there was a third-party connection (two strangers have a mutual friend). One interesting conclusion was that people who came to the mixer with few friends were more likely to meet new people.

From an innovation perspective, you need to be careful that you don’t create a grouping of similar people when trying to solve complex, creative problems, or else you’ll lose the dynamic range of experience and opinions. While no ones to go on a long car ride with people we don’t get along with, from an innovation perspective, it might make more sense.

Research Towards Innovation

Using research to breed innovation can be essential for your business. It is said that the more that you know, the more that you can do with what you know.

Research, unlike R&D (research and development) is more like a long term commitment whereas with R&D it focuses on the short term. Looking beyond your business current practices, research can produce slow and steady growth for your business.

Unfortunately, research comes with costs involved. Many companies in this economy have cut spending in all departments of their business and this may have affected or axed their budget on research. This can be a very shortsighted decision as this may save money right now but has the potential for your business to come out the loser in the long run.

Research does not have to been a huge expense. If you use customer feedback to your advantage, it is a form of research. By tapping into a consumers wants and needs, you can find out a great deal of knowledge that can be practically applied to your business. Acquiring feedback can be as simple as a meeting with your customer, picking up the phone to call them or by sending them an email. What you learn from these interactions can help grow your business.

Changing with the Times

Recently there have been signs of an improving economy. While this is good news for us all, it can especially be good for U.S. companies. In these times it is important for a business to have the ability to be innovative by focusing on their future rather than focusing on what is going on at this very moment.

Global growth in the future will be found in emerging markets of the developing world. Businesses who do not recognize this could find that their success may be limited by their shortsightedness. Rather than focusing on where they are right now, businesses need to change with the times by focusing on where they are going.

Since the emerging markets will have a lower GDP (Gross Domestic Product) than westernized countries, it you may need to tailor your products or services to their needs. In doing so, you may find that this tailoring may offer new ideas and help in the creation of new products or services that can be applied here in the U.S.

An important thing to consider is that developing countries cannot be simply considered for the marketing of your current business products or services. They can be the springboard that launches your business into the future.

Innovation through Customization

The word custom when used as an adjective gives the connotation of exclusivity and that it is special. If you have something customized for you, it has a stamp on it that says that it is you. This is why customization can be very appealing as a business innovation.

What if you started with a very good, basic product and asked your clients what they would like to add to it or how they would like to change it? This would open a dialog between you and your consumer that can help develop your products and services to fit their needs exactly and therefore ensuring future business.

A past slogan of Chryslers was If you can dream it, we can build it.” Given the state of the car manufacturers right now, that slogan might not have really worked for them, however the sentiment is viable.

If you present consumers with a can do attitude and can offer them the ability to tell you what they would really want, it can increase your products or services desirability. Additionally, by making your customers feel like their needs are met and that what they have purchased from you is customized to their needs, you can get more business from their referrals.

Incremental Innovation

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time is the reply. How can your business succeed in the long run? This can be done via incremental innovation. Sometimes small changes designed from research and the use of creativity can make a big difference in your business.

While a fantastic product innovation can immediately boost the bottom line, innovating incrementally can build to success over time and can be more dependable than relying on the next big idea.

You can accomplish a lot with sure and steady developments that bring consistent growth for your business bottom line. By communicating your vision to consumers and employees that can implement that vision, success is more likely. Additionally, looking outside for ideas is not a bad idea. You can learn a lot from competitors and other industries that can be modified and applied to your business.

The important thing is to consider even the smallest changes you make to any product or service you provide seriously. Whether they work or not, you can learn from every situation. Keep in mind that the worst thing that a business can do is to do nothing. If your business does nothing and your competitor does something, you lose.

Employee Involvement

Due to the financial set backs our world has been facing, many businesses have had to do more with fewer employees. The remaining employees may feel like they have to do more work after others were laid off and see no reward in doing so. Morale can be at an all time low. This can negatively affect your companys bottom line and it also can increase turnover rates. Innovation is at a stand still.

In order to turn this around, it is important to encourage your employees to work together in a team environment to get the job done thus spreading the work out over everyone, making it easier for them to do their jobs.

For example, if in the past only a few people were responsible for closing the shop each night, have everyone work together to close each night. With this method, by including everyone, the responsibility is shared and no one is stuck doing an undesirable task. No one is left out of the process. It helps your employees feel included and that they are just as important as every other employee.

By focusing on increasing involvement and encouraging their commitment to your business, the relationship between employer and employee will improve thus helping your business succeed.