Implementing Ideas the 3M Way

May 30th, 2011 | Posted by John Kapeleris in Ideas - (2 Comments)

New ideas, the basis of innovation, depend upon tapping the tacit knowledge of employees and making this knowledge available to others within the organisation. Once the knowledge is shared and recorded within the organization (codified knowledge) it becomes a component of the corporate memory of the organization. What the organisation then does with the new ideas presented by employees will have the potential to add value to the organization. Although many organisations capture and record ideas they fail to develop these ideas further or fall short of converting these ideas into new products or services, new processes or new organisational systems.

The global company 3M, known for its unique innovative practices, encourages employees to spend 15% of their time to work on their own ‘pet’ projects. These pet projects allow employees to investigate and test their ideas, and subsequently develop these ideas into concepts or applications. Known as the ’15 percent rule’, 3M use this approach to stimulate unplanned experimentation that may turn into successful, but unexpected innovations and new opportunities for the compsny. Had it not been for the existence of the 15 percent rule Art Fry and Spence Silver may have not had the opportunity and encouragement to develop the 3M Post-it® notes.

In the spirit of 3M, organisations that generate and capture a large number of ideas through their employees could hold internal ‘idea auctions’. Idea auctions are essentially forums where employees present and showcase their own ideas to an audience of interested parties who might be keen on taking on the idea and working with it, either individually or in groups. The process allows employees who come up with the ideas to ‘sell’ their ideas to anyone within the company, especially when their immediate supervisor or team members refuse to back the employee. Furthermore, some people are good at generating ideas while others prefer the implementation phase.  Using a group approach to reviewing ideas will also quickly provide important feedback from an ‘internal customer’ perspective.

A key success factor to successful implementation and exploitation of ideas within an organization is the availability of funding to support projects based on new ideas. Establishing a central organizational fund would relieve departments and business units from the responsibility to risk their existing operational budgets on new ideas. Such a fund would remove any financial obstacle to pursue ideas as the funding comes from a non-departmental budget. Subsequently the investment criteria for this fund would be different to the normal investment or product development criteria as the risk threshold associated with the investigation and development of new ideas would be elevated. 3M for example have provided up to US$50,000 in the form of ‘Genesis Grants’ which are internal venture capital funding for developing prototypes and market testing of new ideas and opportunities.

Generally, financial managers in many organizations would find it difficult to fathom the establishment of an internal investment fund to be used solely for the investigation and evaluation of new ideas.  Their first request would be for someone to justify the return on investment for such a fund, however, it is generally accepted that playing with the notion of exploiting new ideas is a risky business. The core management philosophy of 3M established in the company’s infancy by its then General Manager William McKnight has overcome any challenge to justify a return on investment. William McKnight developed the following founding principles at 3M back in 1914 which continue to influence the culture of 3M today: 

  1. Listen to anyone with an original idea, no matter how absurd it might sound at first.
  2. Encourage; don’t nitpick. Let people run with an idea.
  3. Hire good people and leave them alone.
  4. If you put fences around people you get sheep. Give people the room they need.
  5. Encourage experimental doodling.
  6. Give it a try – and quick!

McKnight’s approach was to encourage individual initiative that would produce the ‘raw material’ for new innovations. He also understood that along the way mistakes would be made, especially when giving employees the freedom and encouragement to act on their own initiative, however the organization as a whole would be continually learning.

A culture conducive to the generation, evaluation and exploitation of ideas is therefore a key success factor to driving innovation. Take a look at 3M today with over US$27 billion in revenue and a large number of innovative products servicing a wide range of industry sectors. For further information refer to the 3M website.

Dr John Kapeleris

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In my previous company Panbio Ltd, one of the key success factors of the company was embedding innovation across the whole organisation and not limited to the R&D Department alone. One of the initiatives that I implemented to drive innovation in the organisation was the establishment of a Creativity Club. The main objective of the creativity club was to stimulate creative thinking in individuals and encourage the use of creative thinking tools to come up with new ideas, and to solve problems in the organisation and for our customers.

The original objectives that we brainstormed at our first creativity club at Panbio are outlined below:

The format and structure of the creativity club included the following:

  1. The creativity club was open to all employees of the organisation. Everyone was invited to deliver presentations, and to share their knowledge and experiences.
  2. The creativity club was held either at lunchtime or before work (lunch and breakfast were provided which was a great attraction for employees).
  3. The agenda of each meeting consisted of the following:
    1. Ice-breaker – each participant would be asked to describe a creative experience or reading since the last meeting (those participants that could not describe a creative experience would be asked to tell a joke – right brain thinking)
    2. Formal presentation – a theme was chosen as a focus of each creativity club including: Introduction to Creative Thinking, Serendipity vs Synchronicity, Idea Management, Creativity Tools, Imagination, Innovation case studies (3M, Dupont, Lotus Corporation, Ideo etc), Creative Problem Solving, Intuition, Chaos Theory, etc
    3. Informal discussion – this session included open discussion about the specific topic presented and the practical application of the learnings from the presentation
    4. Action planning – the creativity club concluded with the recording of action plans that each participant could take back to their department or functional area and implement
  4. The creativity club was modelled on the Dupont OZ Creative Thinking Network and the Parisian Salons (creative communities) of the 1920’s. The creativity club included a number of games and puzzles to stimulate the creative juices of participants. It also provided a fun environment conducive to the sharing of knowledge and ideas that could be further developed or implemented. A database was set up within the Knowledge Management system of the organisation to capture and record the presentations, knowledge, ideas, learnings, discussions and action plans arising from the creativity club.

The creativity club at Panbio also spawned the development of Creative Problem Solving Hit Teams. These teams consisted of cross-functional team members that would work on solving problems both inside and outside the organisation. When an internal functional area or an external customer could not solve a particular problem then a Creative Problem Solving Hit Team was deployed. The cross-functional nature of the team allowed a wider range of skill-sets to be incorporated in the team, providing a diverse perspective when investigating each problem. The team included people directly involved with the problem but also people who had never been exposed to the problem. Team members were also equipped with a variety of creative problem solving tools and resources. These teams became so effective that we started to provide this service beyond our existing clients and domain areas of expertise.

Enjoy!

Dr John Kapeleris

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Six Thinking Hats

October 26th, 2010 | Posted by John Kapeleris in Creativity | Ideas | Innovation | Mind - (8 Comments)

“If you wait for opportunities to occur, you will be one of the crowd”. Edward de Bono

Dr Edward de Bono introduced a simple, but powerful technique called the Six Thinking Hats[1]. The technique outlines different thinking styles that are associated with a different coloured hat. This parallel thinking approach forces each of the participants in a team meeting or focus group to adopt the particular thinking style represented by each coloured hat. By conceptualizing each type of hat, the person focuses on the style of thinking associated with each colour. For example, when wearing the RED hat a person will state what he or she feels about a particular situation. Wearing the YELLOW hat compels people to think about the positive aspects of a topic or situation, while the GREEN hat encourages people to adopt a creative thinking focus. The Six Thinking Hats encourage even the most pessimistic or negative people to think of the positive outcomes of a given situation.  By adopting the Six Thinking Hats technique in meetings or problem solving sessions, participants have found that they achieve a number of outcomes, including:

  1. Efficient meetings where meeting time is cut by one to two thirds of traditional meetings
  2. Productive meetings with solid outcomes generated from different thinking styles that can be explored further
  3. Quickly identifying alternative solutions to problems
  4. Effective thinking techniques where participants experience different perspectives using parallel thinking

A summary of each hat is outlined in the Figure below:

The key factor in successfully using the Six Thinking Hats and applying them in a practical situation is to better understand the sequence that the hats are used. The following diagram shows a typical sequence when using the Six Thinking Hats and applying them in a practical setting or meeting.

When considering a specific problem or topic it is best to start with the WHITE hat as this allows all the background information to be presented and documented. Once the problem or topic is fully defined then the RED hat is used to ask participants how they feel about the problem or situation. Participants’ feelings are documented. The general tendency for a proportion of people in a meeting, at this stage, is to present the negative aspects of the problem or situation, however in this process the next step is to use the YELLOW hat to capture the positive aspects of the problem or situation from all participants. This step is then followed with the BLACK hat when everyone considers the negative aspects of the problem or situation. The BLACK hat is then followed by the GREEN hat where everyone is encouraged to use creative thinking to overcome the negative issues but also develop new alternatives to solving the problems or resolving the situation. The RED hat is used again at this stage to gauge the feelings of participants. Generally, most participants who were previously concerned about the problem or situation would now be feeling more positive after having gone through the process of using the different hats. Finally, it is always appropriate to use the BLUE hat as this allows participants to evaluate whether the process has offered solutions or conclusions. The BLUE hat also provides process control to ensure the right technique or approach was used by participants. If a solution or resolution was not identified then another approach or process would be suggested as more appropriate in solving the problem.

Add your comments on whether you have found the Six Thinking Hats effective in your business and personal life.

Dr John Kapeleris


[1] De Bono, E. (1999) Six Thinking Hats, Back Bay Books, New York

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Intuition

May 26th, 2010 | Posted by John Kapeleris in Creativity | Mind - (0 Comments)

Intuition is the ability to know or understand without conscious thought, observation or reason. It is associated with the right-brain functions of the mind, although it is commonly referred to as gut feeling. Intuition provides us with the ability to develop valid solutions to problems or make appropriate decisions beyond conscious understanding.

Intuition is a sensing function where we experience a flash of sudden insight. For example:

  • The hunch that you should investigate a new idea or opportunity
  • The feeling that you need to look over previous work or information
  • The sensing that you will meet someone you know at an upcoming function

The intuitive process can unexpectedly lead you to the right solution, a valid decision, a new discovery, a creative experience, or a new opportunity. Studies have shown that many senior executives have relied on intuition or “gut feeling” to make the right decision when their businesses have come to a defining moment in time. However, we generally do not want to admit that we use intuition to make some of our decisions and choices in life.

Philip Goldberg in his book “The Intuitive Edge” describes six types of intuition:

  1. Discovery
  2. Creativity
  3. Evaluation
  4. Operation
  5. Prediction
  6. Illumination

Intuition is central to many scientific discoveries and creative inspirations. Intuition can also be a spontaneous experience where a solution to a problem emerges in our minds without prior analysis or incubation.

It is difficult to develop our intuitive abilities, however, we can learn to become more aware of our intuition. For example, we can become more receptive to our feelings and thoughts, believe in our own abilities, and internally ” listen”  to subconscious messages.

To strengthen our intuition we can implement the following simple steps:

  1. Prepare by sourcing as much information as possible around the issue or problem you are trying to address.
  2. Incubate the information in your mind to allow your thoughts to create new connections – allow the creative process to occur.
  3. Trust your mind that it will come up with a solution or new discovery.
  4. Pursue unrelated activities or try to relax your mind, avoiding tension.
  5. Recognize intuition and the internal messages created.
  6. Act on the intuitive ideas immediately when you feel complete certainty.

Make it a great life!

Dr John Kapeleris

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