Creating an Ideas Factory

February 13th, 2013 | Posted by John Kapeleris in Ideas | Innovation - (1 Comments)

Ideas FactoryMany people come up with ideas on a daily basis. However, they don’t capture the ideas in a written or electronic journal and the ideas soon dissipate.

The process of generating, capturing and implementing ideas is the basis of innovation. Ideas can solve problems within organisations but can also generate opportunities for new products and services, innovative business models and organisational systems, and novel marketing concepts. Ideas also help organisations keep an eye on the future by anticipating future trends and technologies and applying these ideas to deliver the needs and wants of the future.

The concept of an “ideas factory” can be implemented within an organisation to capture the wealth of ideas generated by individuals but also ideas that come from customers and other external sources. Some of these external sources could include the internet, publications, competitors and suppliers.

How do you create and implement an ideas factory within your organisation? Following are some of the key steps in creating and implementing an ideas factory within your organisation:

  1. Create a culture that supports and encourages the continuous generation and flow of ideas. The continuous flow and capture of new ideas provides organizations with a source of new products and services, product improvements, and novel processes that contribute to the organization’s survival and growth. Creativity is therefore an important key driver of innovation by providing new ideas and new ways to solve organizational problems.
  2. Develop a well defined ideas management process – Generating, Capturing, Processing, Evaluating, Implementing and Measuring Outcomes. Organizations need to adopt a formal ideas management process to capture, develop, evaluate, protect and implement ideas and suggestions, which form the foundation of new opportunities that satisfy needs and wants in the market.
  3. Provide the skills and tools for employees to develop competencies. Harnessing the creativity of the workforce forms a critical component of an innovative culture. Professional development of employees should include skills development in creativity tools and techniques. Furthermore,  creating an environment that encourages participation, learning and fun allows new ideas to be generated and improvements implemented.
  4. Evaluate the ideas using a set of pre-defined criteria – impact, strategic fit, value, cost, risk, timeframe etc. In evaluating ideas an initial feasibility should include a preliminary market, technical and risk assessment to determine the viability of the opportunity. It should also include an intellectual property search to determine whether someone else has already patented the idea, and to confirm that you have the freedom to operate.
  5. Implement the ideas to solve a problem, capitalise on an opportunity or transform your organisation. One of the most difficult steps is the implementation phase. Implementation requires the development of a project plan and then the execution of the plan through action. A typical implementation process may involve:
    • clarifying the objective,
    • developing the plan,
    • identifying key processes and tasks,
    • prioritizing activities,
    • resourcing and budgeting,
    • funding,
    • assigning responsibility, and then
    • doing it!

An ideas factory will require top-down management support, in addition to committed and disciplined champions who can drive the processes and methodology. Collaboration will also be an important element in the ideas factory. Champions can also make a significant contribution to the implementation stage.

Dr John Kapeleris

 

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We are faced with problems and challenges in our work and personal lives, daily. A problem occurs when a present state is unsatisfactory and we wish to change the present state to a more desirable state. The model of a problem is outlined below:


However, finding the appropriate solution path is not always easy and straight forward, requiring a number of different options and meandering pathways, as represented by the diagram below:

A number of different approaches and processes have been documented to solve problems. However, in addition to the process, the right mindset (attitude) is also required for successful problem solving. A simple problem solving process, involving a sequence of steps, was presented by Herbert Simon in 1978 and is outlined below:

The process begins with the realisation that an undesirable state (problem) exists which needs to be analyzed and defined. The next step, design, involves the development of potential solutions to solve the problem. This step is followed by selecting the most suitable solution to the problem and implementing the solution. Finally, a review activity is undertaken to ensure that the solution implemented was effective in solving the problem.

A more detailed Rational Problem Solving process was described by Kepner and Tregoe in 1981 and involved nine discrete steps, as outlined in the diagram below:

Although it became widely used as a rational and systematic approach to problem solving, it did not incorporate creative thinking tools or approaches to solve more complex problems. Having used a number of different problem solving processes, I developed a novel six step Creative Problem Solving process in 1996 that combines a number of creative and analytical tools with a rational approach to problem solving. The process is summarised in the table below:

I also developed a Problem Solving Worksheet that can be used with the above six step Creative Problem Solving process. By using the approach outlined above I have found that both simple and complex problems can be resolved with minimal effort, but at the same time achieve effective and long-term solutions.

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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Team Innovation

November 24th, 2010 | Posted by John Kapeleris in Innovation - (2 Comments)

“Nobody is perfect put a team can be”

An effective team will make the difference in achieving your goals and objectives, whether you have your own business or you work for an organisation. Relying entirely on yourself to complete all work tasks required of your job or work will not be an effective and sustainable solution.

Every individual has a behavioural tendency that favours a specific type of work role or trait. For example, some people prefer to come up with ideas, while others prefer to implement the ideas. Other traits may include: specialists in a given profession or task; people who enjoy sourcing resources or information; others who like to monitor progress and evaluate the situation;  individuals who get satisfaction from completing tasks; people who enjoy a leadership role; and others who prefer coordinating tasks and resources. Many individuals also exhibit behavioural tendencies towards multiple traits or roles.

John Adair in his book Effective Teambuilding, defines a work group or team as having the following characteristics:

  1. A specific membership
  2. Group consciousness
  3. A shared sense of purpose
  4. Interdependence
  5. Interaction
  6. Ability to act as a unit

A dynamic team must ascend beyond the baseline characteristics described above and aspire to becoming an innovative team, where new opportunities are generated and problems are resolved using novel and creative techniques.

Team innovation requires the following elements that build an effective team able to solve complex problems or identify new breakthrough opportunities:

  • Clarity of vision – having a clear vision that is shared by all members of the team and a commitment to a specific purpose
  • A winning mindset – a positive mental attitude that inspires perseverance, determination and proactivity
  • Support for innovation – every member of the team is trained in different creative thinking techniques and each person understands the importance of innovation
  • Team roles – individuals are selected on the basis of the collective skills required by the team and the specific behavioural traits needed by each team member to achieve the specified team objectives (i.e. Belbin Team Inventory – Plant, Resource Investigator, Coordinator, Shaper, Monitor Evaluator, Teamworker, Implementer, Completer Finisher and Specialist)
  • Team participation – each team member will be required to participate and provide input based on their knowledge and expertise in order to maximise the outcomes
  • Task focus – a strong commitment to achieving the desired tasks and outcomes within budget and allocated timelines.

Dynamic and effective teams must be innovative and incorporate team members who have the desired skill-sets and behavioural traits to ensure successful results and outcomes are achieved.

Dr John Kapeleris

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Having a well articulated and proven implementation process will ensure that any system, plan or method is implemented appropriately.  Implementation (or deployment) of a system, plan or method is commonly viewed as the execution of a series of related activities, each activity termed an implementation stage. Implementation is the action that follows any preliminary thinking in order for something to actually be achieved. The implementation approach will be dependent on the particular system, plan or method being deployed, however, a number of broad steps can be used to guide an implementation process, including:

  1. Initiation – Determine the key strategic objectives of the implementation plan.
  2. Key Processes or Activities – Identify the key processes or activities required. You may need to investigate the “as is” processes (current situation) and then design the “to be” processes (desired situation) that may be required; particularly when new processes are being considered through a change management or process improvement initiative.
  3. Identify Tasks – Under each process identify the tasks that need to be completed in order to achieve the strategic objectives. Undertaking a Risk Analysis at this stage will ensure that any risks are identified and a risk management plan, with contingencies, is developed.
  4. Action Steps – Each task may be subdivided into further individual sub-tasks or action steps. Breaking down the tasks into smaller sub-tasks allows focus and therefore easier implementation.
  5. Assign Responsibility – The next step is to assign responsibility for each sub-task to a specific human resource. The human resources may be internal or external. The assignment of the task should reflect the best person able to complete or deliver the task. The composition of the team is important for successful implementation.
  6. Prioritize – Activities or tasks need to be prioritised to reflect the most important tasks that need to be completed, or specific tasks that need to be actioned before other tasks can begin. Some tasks can be scheduled in parallel to reduce the overall time.
  7. Timeline – The time required to complete each task must be estimated in advance. The forecast will need to be as realistic as possible, but allow some flexibility should any issues arise. The addition of the time required to complete all tasks will translate to the total project time.
  8. Cost & Budget – The costs to complete each task must be calculated in advance and an overall budget should be assigned for the implementation plan. Costs should not only include time, but also additional resources or tools required during the implementation stages.
  9. Do It! – The key to successful implementation is taking action and executing the assigned tasks as outlined in the implementation plan. This step is always crucial for successful implementation.
  10. Review and evaluate – Finally, the implementation plan will require continuous monitoring and review to evaluate progress. Any issues or delays encountered will require modification of the original implementation plan.

The action plan template can be used as a tool to assist with recording actions and tasks, assigning responsibility, confirming the due date and setting priorities.

“Success comes from transforming thoughts and ideas into action”.

Dr John Kapeleris

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Innovation has been identified as the last competitive advantage available to organizations in a turbulent and hyper-competitive global market. Therefore, a number of key drivers are needed to encourage and foster innovation in organizations, including:

1. Strategy for Innovation

A clear and articulated strategy for innovation must be developed and accepted to encourage innovation across the organization. Strategy development first requires an understanding of the business and its environment, and should involve stakeholder input to ensure buy-in across the organization. Innovative companies have a clear vision and core values that encourage the pursuit of organizational objectives, including innovation initiatives.

2. Innovation Leadership throughout the Organization

Commitment and support from top management is the cornerstone of successful innovation. Management influence is necessary to overcome the barriers to successful change, which innovators often encounter. Identifying “champions” in the organization to drive the innovation agenda can make a significant difference to innovation diffusion and adoption. Innovation champions can also provide the leadership required to stimulate innovation throughout the organization. Effective change management will ensure that improvements will be easily implemented. When top management is pro-active and becomes a catalyst for change, the organization has a better opportunity to adopt an innovative culture.

3. Culture and People

Establishing a culture that is conducive to innovation requires building a work environment where trust, open communication and teamwork are the norm. A team is capable of significant achievements because individual abilities can be pooled towards achieving a common objective. The use of cross-functional teams helps break down the barriers by transcending the existing organizational structure. An environment that encourages participation, learning and fun allows new ideas to be generated and improvements implemented. Harnessing the creativity of the workforce forms a critical component of an innovative culture. Therefore, professional development of employees should include skills development in creativity tools and techniques. Other characteristics of an innovative culture include, tolerance of ambiguity, challenging the status quo, asking “Why?” and not being afraid to speak your mind.

4. Tolerance of Risk

The innovation process generally has an element of risk since any change involves uncertainty. Some organizations are risk averse and usually struggle to become innovative. Organizations that incorporate a higher level of risk tolerance in their business processes are more successful in adopting an innovative climate. The downside of risk is failure. However, “failure is not built on success: success is built on failure”. Sagacious or calculated risk taking is therefore the preferred option, because this implies that outcomes, consequences and contingencies have been considered in advance.

5. Open Communication

The existence of free and open communication channels is favourable to innovation because it provides the opportunity for ideas and information to be relayed throughout the organization. It is also important that, in addition to vertical communication, an organization maintains lateral relationships between functional areas to break down any silos. Collaborative information technology solutions, such as Microsoft Sharepoint or Lotus Notes, encourage information sharing throughout the organization and provide a repository for knowledge and ideas.

6. Flexible Operating Structures

Establishing adaptive organizational structures, which are characterized as flat, organic and cross-functional, is a key characteristic of innovative organizations. For example, 3M is a large global company that operates small autonomous cross-functional business units to encourage innovation and participation. In an organic structure job definitions are flexible, and both vertical and lateral communication flows exist. Power and authority are generally shared across team members.

7. New Ideas and Opportunities

The continuous flow and capture of new ideas provides organizations with a source of new products and services, product improvements, and novel processes that contribute to the organization’s survival and growth. Creativity is therefore an important key driver of innovation by providing new ideas and new ways to solve organizational problems. Organizations also need to adopt a formal ideas management process to capture, develop, evaluate, protect and implement ideas and suggestions, which form the foundation of new opportunities that satisfy needs and wants in the market.

If  organizations and their leaders readily embrace the concepts of innovation and successfully implement innovation strategies and processes, they would have made the first steps towards achieving growth and sustainability in the hyper-competitive global arena. Creativity is a skillset that, despite popular belief, can actually be learnt and nurtured within an organization. Senior managers and leaders need to take responsibility to foster an internal culture that recognizes and supports creativity and innovation to ensure they sustain their competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Dr John Kapeleris

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