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    Why Make Time Now for Strategy Exploration (Part 2)

    “The best way to predict the future is to create it,” said Abraham Lincoln. If you are a C-level executive, business unit leader, or an entrepreneur, the start of a new, disruptive decade is an ideal point in time to look at the big picture of your business and to explore the evolving strategic market environment. At Thinkergy, we guide management teams through such a Strategic Xploration-exercise with the help of the strategy toolkit in our X-IDEA toolbox.

    In part 1 of this two-article-series, I first shared with you what happens at the beginning of a Strategy Xploration Project. Then, we discussed at length what happens in the intensive Xploration phase. Here, we direct you to check out facts and assumptions, ask you lots of thought-provoking questions, help you to look at your business from many different perspectives, and map out trends and strategic risks, among others. In today’s final part 2 of this article, I’ll walk you through what happens in the subsequent immersion and extraction steps of a Strategy Xploration Project.

    3. Immerse yourself with fresh information to close your knowledge gaps

    “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge,” noted the American educator Daniel J. Boorstin. By the end of the Xploration step of Strategy Xploration, you have compiled a long Un-Knowledge List. These are things you don’t know yet about your business and the emerging market space but would want to know. After all, as Aldous Huxley said: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

    In the subsequent Xploration Immersion-step, you attempt to close these identified knowledge gaps. You aim to turn un-knowledge into knowledge and —in some cases— into novel insights into your business. How?

    • First, in an Infostorming-exercise, we discuss how to best source a particular piece of missing information and who in your team will be doing it.
    • Then, with Infosourcing, you begin to close all identified knowledge gaps.
      • Typically, you do this by engaging in secondary research (e.g., by mining statistical data on the Internet).
      • However, in important cases, and if time permits, you may even engage in primary research. For example, you may survey critical stakeholders to validate your points listed in an earlier Walk A Mile-exercise. Or you may interview “extreme customers” to learn more about your value offerings. These Friends And Foes either fervently love or hate your company and your products.

    For critical projects, we may suggest you analyze essential company- and customer-related big data. Big data analytics allows for checking out key assumptions that you listed earlier in the tool Assumptions Check. You can also use this to test business hypotheses related to identified points on our Unknowledge List. Often, big data analytics brings out surprising and, at times, even game-changing new insights that alter management’s views on the business.

    For example, such an analysis may reveal that the most profitable customer segment to target going forward is one that you’ve somewhat neglected so far. My company Thinkergy partners with a German data-science-based strategic consulting agency (ScienceWorcs) that, for a fee, can analyze your essential company- and customer-related data.

    4. Xtract your learnings and your outputs

    Xtraction is the final phase in a Strategy Xploration project. By now, you and your teammates have compiled a long list of novel insights into your evolving market environment. For example, you’re likely to have identified relevant emerging trends and shifting market boundaries. You may have spotted potential new market opportunities. And you’ve recognized strategic risks that might threaten or even sink your business.

    Visualize all insights in your Insights List in an Insights Map, which allows you to identify true “ahas” quickly. These are novel and important insights that really deepen and often fundamentally shift your understanding of your business and the evolving strategic market space.

    Then, step back and ask: Is your vision still in line with those novel and important “ahas” you discovered? In case you’ve uncovered some genuinely game-changing novel insights, you may need to revisit your corporate vision. An excellent way to do this is to create Vision Scenarios, where you develop a new preferred vision of your future as well as three alternative scenarios (including a “disowned” one).

    Alternatively, we may ask each team to come up with a BHAG. Thereby, you suggest a “big hairy audacious goal” for your company to pursue that can take the business to a higher level by the end of this decade. An effective BHAG may propose to strive for an ambitious target, to take on a common foe, to emulate an inspiring role model, or to achieve an internal transformation.

    By the end of a Strategy Xploration project, you have gained clarity on what trends and market drivers are likely to affect your business in the coming years, and how to take your business forward towards success in a disruptive new decade. In some cases, you may have already gained a clear understanding on the next steps and strategic actions you need to take in the coming years. In other cases, you may realize a need to disrupt your current business before the market does so. If you realize you need to shift your business to realize new market opportunities and to develop new value propositions, then follow Strategy Xploration with a follow-up project. 

    So you’ve completed Strategy Xploration, what’s next?

    In a Strategy Innovation project, we take the teams through the remaining four stages of X-IDEA (Ideation, Development, Evaluation, Action). How would we guide you through such a workshop?

    • In the Ideation stage, we help each team to come up with 700-1000 raw ideas catering to your strategic focus challenge.
    • In the second creative stage, Development, the teams then take time to design and develop 25-40 concepts of meaningful strategic action initiatives for your business.
    • During Evaluation, the teams evaluate all developed concepts. First, they separate the wheat from the chaff by identifying promising concepts, then enhance those, and finally elect their top five strategic action ideas.
    • In the final Action-stage of X-IDEA, the teams pitch their top ideas to a panel of jurors. We add all strategic action concepts that gain initial executive approval to a Strategic Road Map. This visual tool captures all strategic project initiatives that will be rolled out over the next 3-5 years and move you closer to your preferred vision.

    As such, the main output of a Strategy Innovation Workshop is a Strategic Road Map with meaningful strategic actions. For example, a strategic action concept on Thinkergy’s Strategy Road Map 2020-2023 is, “Set-up an Affiliate Program for our innovator profiling test TIPS.” 

    While a Strategy Road Map gives your efforts strategic focus and sets-out a clear pathway of strategic development and innovation projects, it is not cast in stone. The tool allows you to flexibly accommodate new initiatives that you may come up with later in response to discontinuities or disruptions in the market.

    • Would you like to learn more about X-IDEA? Our award-winning innovation method and toolbox that produces innovation results not only for strategy innovation projects but also for all other modern innovation types (such as product innovation or solution design).
    • Would you be interested to do a Strategy Xploration Project with us (either as ongoing consulting or in workshop formats)?
    • Contact us to tell us more about your innovation agenda 2020 and find out how we may help you deliver on it. 

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2020

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    How Can You Thrive in a Disruptive New Decade?

    The new decade promises to be driven by rapid change, rising complexity, mounting uncertainties, and lots of surprises. Most likely, disruption will rule in the coming decade. How can you transform yourself and your business to flourish in the 2020s? Allow me to ask you three simple questions to help you get ready for a game-changing new decade.

    Background

    Go back in time to December 2009. Ten years ago, did you imagine that ten years later, you have to pay interest rates to banks for keeping your saving accounts? That you can become a millionaire within a few years if you invested a hundred bucks at the right time in a cryptocurrency? That you would stay in a private home of a stranger and not in a hotel room (courtesy of Airbnb) or book a private car ride instead of a public taxi (thanks to Uber)? That a Reality TV Star would be president of the United States? That the United Kingdom would have decided to leave the European Union? 

    Clearly, the world has been changing very fast and in surprising ways in the past decade, and will continue to do so in likely even more disruptive ways in the coming decade. That’s why you may want to take some time off your hectic schedule in the coming weeks and ponder three questions that I am about to ask you now.

    Look back into the second half of the 2010s

    “The stupidity of people comes from having an answer for everything. The wisdom of the novel comes from having a question for everything,” noted the Czech writer Milan Kundera. At Thinkergy, we love to ask people questions when we guide them through innovation projects. That’s why in our X-IDEA Toolbox, we have included a powerful question bank with thought-provoking questions for each of the five stages of X-IDEA.

    In the initial Xploration stage, we ask would-be innovators questions that help them find out what they don’t know about their project, to gain novel insights related to their case, and to come up with initial ideas on how to possibly resolve their challenge.

    To help set yourself and your business up for a successful decade, find the right answers for three simple questions. Here is the first one:

    What has changed in the past five years in your industry and business?

    While pondering this question, also consider thinking about some related, subordinated questions: 

    What has become easier in your business? What has become more challenging? On balance, are things more comfortable or more difficult than five years ago? Why? And what does it mean for you?

    For example, recently, I also asked myself these questions to reflect on what changed in the industry of my company, Thinkergy. Some of the things that changed in the innovation services industry in Southeast Asia during the past five years include:

    • An emerging commoditization of innovation services (many new, inexperienced players offer training in Design Thinking or consulting in innovation at much lower fees and —arguably— much lower quality, and often without being properly trained or licensed to do so, yet find buyers for their services). 
    • Many Multinational Corporations have built up in-house innovation competence on a global and regional level, and now the first large Asian corporations have begun doing so. 
    • An increasing number of Multinational Corporations have centralized the selection process for Learning & Development programs to their regional head office. As a result, local Human Capital teams in these firms cannot decide anymore what innovation training programs they deem best suited for developing their talents and what training service providers they trust.

    Look ahead into the first half of the 2020s

    “When you are running a business, there is a constant need to reinvent oneself. One should have the foresight to stay ahead in times of rapid change and rid ourselves of stickiness in any form in the business,” recommends the Indian billionaire industrialist and philanthropist Shiv Nadar.

    With this in mind, here comes my second question to ask yourself:

    What do you foresee will likely change in your industry and business in the coming five years?

    Start reflecting on this second question by noting your learnings from what has changed in the past five years. Then, quickly jot down anything that comes to mind about changes you expect to happen in your business in the coming five years. Finally, research and contemplate more broadly on possible trends and discontinuities that may be relevant for your industry and business.

    While looking ahead, bear in mind the following factors and phenomena:

    • 2020 will see the advent of a new long wave of technological change. Also known as Kondratiev waves (after the Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev who discovered them), these waves describe which few technologies propel economic development forward for a certain number of decades. In the Sixth Wave, the lead technologies artificial Intelligence (AI) and digitalization, green & cleantech, and possibly also genomics are expected to drive economic growth and prosperity in the next 25 years. (Learn more about long waves in the article “How cyclicality drives business and innovation”)
    • Historically, periods of globalization and deglobalization have alternated every 3-5 decades. Following the 2008 financial crisis, the pendulum began swinging back towards more deglobalization, nationalism, protectionism, and authoritarian forms of government in many countries. (Check out the article “Does the pendulum swing back?” for more information on this meta-trend).
    • In the next five years, generational shifts in the workplace are also likely to impact your industry. (Learn more about these changes in the article “How generational shifts will impact business and innovation (Part 1 & Part 2)”).
    • When investigating relevant trends for your industry, distinguish between more short-lived phenomena (such as fads, hypes, and temporary fashions) and real trends or even mega-trends that will last for several years or maybe even a decade.
    • Moreover, note that every major trend tends to trigger a countertrend that you can also ride. 
    • A discontinuity is a distinct break from the normal state of affairs in an economy (such as a financial crisis, an armed conflict, or a major recession, among others).  

    For example, an emerging trend that I foresee affecting the innovation industry is the following: Initiatives such as the establishment of rigorous innovation certification standards will make corporate innovation more rigid, formal, and systemic, which will lead to a drop in corporate creativity due to the dilemma of innovation management). I also predict that soon, big data analysis and AI will give companies better insights at the front-end of an innovation project. Consequently, corporations will probably bring in an external innovation company like Thinkergy predominantly to guide them towards outstanding ideas in the creative process stages (Ideation and Development in X-IDEA), while conducting other innovation process steps in-house. 

    Harvest your learnings

    “The best way to predict the future is to create it,” recommended management guru Peter Drucker. The third and final question to ask yourself is as simple as powerful:

    So what?

    So what do the changes you witnessed in the past five years and those you foresee unfolding in the coming five years mean for yourself and your business? What novel insights pop up when looking at the grand picture of your industry and the big picture of your business? What initial ideas come to your mind on how to possibly ride an emerging trend, or realize the upside of a possible threat? 

    For example, as a result of a strategic foresight exercise, we now consider going back to our roots and frame Thinkergy’s services with a much stronger emphasis on creativity (and not on innovation as in the past five years).

    Conclusion: Foresight is better than hindsight

    “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable,” noted the US General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

    Over the past weeks, I have done a strategic exploration project for our innovation company Thinkergy to set ourselves up for success in the disruptive 2020s. Thereby, I walked through the Xploration-stage of our X-IDEA innovation method, and applied ca. 30 X Tools (such as Strategic Risk Map, Trend & Discontinuities Map, or Who The F@#$ Is…? ). In the process, we also asked a lot of X Questions, and I noticed that the three questions I shared with you in today’s article to help grasp rapid change.

    Now, we’re in the process of updating and fine-tuning our strategic company core to reflect our learnings, whereby we may entertain different “Visions scenarios” (see the article “Move from a vision statement to vision scenarios”) to be able to flexibly respond to market changes and possible discontinuities in the market. After the holidays, we will create a strategic road map for the next 3-5 years. We are also considering raising funds from a strategic investor or from venture capital firms to harness the immense upside for our business that we can foresee in the disruptive 2020s.

    • Would you like us to help update your organizational strategy for success in the disruptive 2020s with the help of our award-winning X-IDEA innovation method and X-IDEA Toolbox?
    • Contact us to tell us more about yourself and how we may creatively empower you. 

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2019

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    Who Likes Playing With What Kind of Thinking Tools?

    During the past one-and-a-half decades, I designed and facilitated more than 150 innovation project workshops. One thing I noticed in all these projects is the following reality: Depending on their personality and preferred cognitive styles, different people tend to enjoy working on different types of thinking tools used within the creative process. Thanks to TIPS, Thinkergy’s innovator profiling tool, I can now tell you in advance who’s going to shine working on what kind of thinking tool in an innovation project. Allow me to explain.

    How an innovation project unfolds in a nutshell

    When companies want to tackle a vital innovation challenge in a project, they first find a manager to lead the initiative. Then, this manager forms innovation teams that work on the case in one or more workshops. Next, she invites an external innovation facilitator to guide the teams through the process with the help of a systematic creative process (such as Design Thinking or X-IDEA). Prominent innovation methods consist of a series of process stages (e.g., X-IDEA has five stages called Xploration, Ideation, Development, Evaluation, and Action). As the teams move stage-by-stage through the process, the facilitator introduces specific thinking tools that the teams need to work on to produce the desired outputs and results.

    How cognitive profiling can enhance innovation project work

    Thinkergy’s Innovation Profiling System TIPS uses four socio-economic base orientations (theories, ideas, people, systems) and four cognitive styles (to think, work, interact, and live) to profile people into one of eleven TiPS innovator profiles. 

    Now suppose you’re in charge of an innovation project as a project manager or an innovation facilitator. Would you be keen to know more about the personalities and preferred cognitive styles of each team member participating in the innovation project? 

    Gaining such awareness would make your life much easier. Knowing the TIPS innovator profiles of everyone involved enables you to compose innovation teams that are cognitively diverse within but balanced across all groups. It also allows you to understand who is likely to shine at what stage of the creative process. Last but not least, it even allows you to accurately assign a specific thinking tool to those team members who have a natural affinity to apply it well. 

    Who enjoys working on what thinking tools?

    In the following, let’s go through the 11 TIPS innovator (clockwise on the TIPS Profiling Map starting on the top left) and understand what kind of thinking tools (taken from our X-IDEA toolbox) they delight in:

    • Theorists are logical, abstract thinkers who, above else, care about the truth. In an innovation project, let them work on critical thinking tools such as performing Fact Checks or Assumption Checks, checking for Rules For Fools, or probing for the Lowest Common Denominator related to the project challenge.
    • Conceptualizers are strategic big-picture thinkers who particularly shine in the first process stage of an innovation project. They enjoy creating Trends & Discontinuities Maps or Strategic Road Maps. They also perform well when engaging in Situational Reframing of key project parameters. Conceptualizers also enjoy working on a Challenge Map used to identify the right level of abstraction to frame the Final Challenge (a crucial “how to”-question used to generate ideas later in the project).
    • Ideators are progressive creators who enjoy pushing for bold, disruptive change. it’s little wonder they tend to come up with wild, provocative ideas (courtesy of Ideation tools such as What If, Reversal, or Born To Be Wild). During Evaluation, Ideators are also the most likely to throw in a Wild Card to move forward a disruptive idea concept that the majority of a more conservative team rejects.
    • Promoters are charismatic communicators who connect ideas to people. They enjoy imaginative creativity tools such as Imagination Trips, Star Advisor Board, or My Superstar during Ideation. And Me. In the final process stage, Action, they lead a team’s work efforts on thinking tools such as Storyboarding, Idea Pitch Designer, and Idea Pitch.
    • Partners always want to be around others and care for the needs and desires of people. Hence, chose a few Partners to take an Empathetic Point Of View on your case or to Walk A Mile in the shoes of key stakeholders involved in your challenge. And of course, they enjoy Brainstorming or Battle Of The Sexes (during Ideation) and Ideabook (a more social way to do Evaluation).
    • Organizers are the most operational and hands-on among all the profiles. They naturally focus on the small pictures related to your project case. Hence, they enjoy exploring all the details of your challenge with the help of a questioning tool such as 5W1H. They also like to compile a Project Plan and a 5W2H Action Plan for the actual implementation of a top idea.
    • Systematizers like to preserve the status quo and dislike taking risks. In the first process stage of an innovation project, assign them to work on creating a Strategic Risk Map or coming up with realistic Idea Evaluation Criteria. If involved in the creative stages, they prefer practical creativity tools such as Morphological Matrix and Get Real (used to tame a wild idea). During Evaluation, they prefer “objective” tools such as the Weighted Scoring Model (criteria-based rating and computation of a team’s top ideas).
    • Use Technocrats to play The Numbers Game and check on the plausibility of key quantitative data related to your case. Later on during Evaluation, they take pleasure in composing a Balance Sheet (i.e., listing all the assets & liabilities of an ideas, as well as “below the line” items as possible contingencies). Finally, they don’t mind if you assign them with keeping track of all top concepts that you enter into the Idea Pipeline.
    • Coaches are rare as a unicorn, so count yourself lucky if you have one in an innovation team. Ask a philosophical, humanistic Coach to compile a list of thought-provoking X Questions to both deeply and widely probe for the team’s understanding of the case—and its knowledge gaps. A Coach also enjoys asking Five Times Why to probe for the underlying motivations of doing the project. You may also assign a Coach to think about the Consequences of implementing a particularly disruptive top idea.
    • Experimenters systematically test ideas. As they like to take things apart and reconfigure them anew, they embrace more formal Ideation Tools such as Attribute Listing or Relational Words. And of course, they’re the first to roll up the sleeves when it’s time for Rapid Prototyping of promising concepts.
    • Finally, as an innovation manager or facilitator, be grateful for any All-Rounders taking part in the innovation project. Because All-Rounders have many interests and are the most balanced among all profiles, you can have them work on any thinking tool that is left to do. Alternatively, ask them to support any team member who needs help while working on a particular thinking tool assignment.

    Conclusion: Know your people before assigning the work on innovation tools

    To sum-up, an innovation facilitator who is aware of the innovator profiles of all participants in an innovation project workshop can assign the work on a particular thinking tool to those participants who exhibit conducive cognitive styles. Why is this useful? Three reasons:

    1. Greater enjoyment: When a facilitator assigns thinking tools based on their cognitive fit, all team members work on those tools that they enjoy, thus increasing employee engagement and commitment to innovation.
    2. Higher productivity: Greater enjoyment and involvement increases the odds that everyone produces excellent outputs in a particular stage of the creative process, and that the teams end up with superior innovation results overall by the end of the innovation project
    3. Greater effectiveness: Finally, assigning tool work based on cognitive preference also allows teams to be more time-effective. The facilitator can split up a team into various subgroups where each member works on those tools that are in harmony with cognitive styles and interests. In result, an innovation team can produce more and better outputs in a given amount of time. 

    Of course, gaining such awareness in your people’s innovator profiles requires a small upfront investment of time and money. But aren’t the increases in enjoyment, productivity, and time-effectiveness worth it?

    • Would you like to learn more about how we run innovation projects using our award-winning X-IDEA innovation method?
    • Have you become curious to find out what’s your TIPS innovator profile and your related cognitive styles? Click here to register and buy a coupon for your TIPS online test now.
    • Would you be interested in doing an experiential, eye-opening TIPS training course with your team? Or learn how to use the tools in our X-IDEA toolbox in an X-IDEA training?
    • Contact us to tell us more about yourself and how we may help you. 

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2019


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    How to Compose Well-Balanced Innovation Teams

    Have you ever been part of an innovation project team? How well and effectively did you and your colleagues resolve the innovation challenge? And how enjoyable was your creative teamwork? 

    Working in an effective innovation team can be a highlight of your professional career. But the individual members of a team only click well into gear if the group is well-composed and comprises of different yet complementing personalities. Today, let’s discuss how you can compose well-balanced innovation teams as an important prerequisite that your project delivers novel, meaningful and original ideas and tangible innovation results.

    Background: Leading an innovation project

    Suppose your company wants to tackle a major innovation challenge, and you’ve been selected to resolve this by organizing and running an innovation project. As the project owner, you’re now responsible for specifying the key project parameters. You need to:

    • Frame the initial innovation challenge (e.g., “How to create new ice cream products for 6-10-year-old kids”) and specify the related innovation type (e.g., product innovation). 
    • Highlight why this project is essential for your organization, and make sure that the budget allocated to the project reflects its relative importance. 
    • Settle on an innovation process method (such as Design Thinking or our X-IDEA innovation method) that fits the challenge and innovation type. 
    • Select a professional innovation company or facilitator (in line with your budget) to competently guide you to the desired results within the available budget.

    Finally, you need to ask people-related questions: How many people can you involve overall (or in a particular process stage)? How many days can you reasonably expect them to dedicate to your project? And last but not least: Who are we going to invite to help us work on the project? And how are we going to split those workshop delegates up into effective innovation teams?

    Diversity: a key success factor in composing effective innovation teams

    What success factors make a team effective? You may think of factors such as trust, joint goals, and open communication here, and you’re right. But when it comes to composing effective innovation teams, another factor rules: diversity. 

    In innovation, diversity means that we want to field project teams that represent a rich mix of backgrounds related to professional knowledge and skills and a broad take on life and the human experience. Why do we favor using diverse project teams when working on an innovation challenge — and here, especially during Ideation? Diverse teams think broader about their project case and contribute more viewpoints and perspectives. Hence, they tend to produce better insights and a bigger, richer idea pool compared to monogamous teams.

    While building heterogeneous innovation project teams, we have to consider up to five aspects of diversity: business function, culture and nationality, gender, generation, and, most importantly, cognitive styles. Let’s discuss each of these aspects below. 

    1. Functional diversity: Ensure core functions and key business units are present

    When working on a vital innovation project, make sure that each innovation team represents a broad, diverse range of related business functions. Typically, this includes the core functions of the corporate value chain; depending on the project, you may also want to add selected members from supporting functions, too. 

    For example, a few years ago, we worked with a leading F&B company on a significant, 9-month long innovation project initiative that involved 11 category brands. The company nominated more than a hundred delegates from a wide range of business functions such as Marketing, Sales, Manufacturing, Procurement, Communications & Marketing Services, and Category & Channel Sales Development.

    Do you want to add even more functional diversity to your innovation project teams? Then also invite key customers or suppliers to broaden your thinking even further. 

    In the said project, the teams visited consumers and channel partners during the initial Xploration phase of our X-IDEA innovation process method. The project owners also invited the creative leads from their activation agencies to join a 3-day long IDEA workshop that concluded the major innovation project initiative. 

    2. Gender diversity: Balance the sexes in an innovation team

    For as much as possible, balance the number of male and female delegates in a project team. A good gender mix ensures that each project team can equally well contribute gender-specific perspectives to the case. Moreover, teams tend to be more motivated and energetic if they comprise of members of both sexes. Last but not least, fielding gender-mixed teams also helps to avoid gender stereotyping. 

    Having said this, for certain projects, we may even want to break up the mixed teams into gender-specific teams temporarily. For example, more than a decade ago, Thinkergy guided Beiersdorf’s Nivea brand through a project that aimed to create new lip care concepts for Asian consumers. For one Ideation exercise, we split the delegates into “all-male’ and “all-female” gender teams. Then they played “Battle of the Sexes” — a creativity technique that uses gender stereotypes to provoke more extraordinary ideas catering to gender-specific wants and needs.

    3. Intercultural diversity: Balance and mix nationalities and cultures

    Innovation projects with Multinational Corporations typically involve multicultural delegates. Here it is essential to aim for an equal number of local and international members in each team. If possible, avoid having international delegates from one country working in the same team, as otherwise, they may end up hanging out together all the time. Moreover, instead of focusing on nationalities, better group the delegates based on geographical regions before distributing them into well-mixed but balanced intercultural innovation teams.

    For example, in 2017-18, Thinkergy ran a 2-year X-IDEA Innovation Project with Covestro. The first project workshop took place in Leverkusen, and unsurprisingly, Germans made for the majority of participants. However, we also had delegates from other European countries (France, Italy, and the UK) plus a few oversea visitors (from China, Taiwan, Japan). The project owner and I made sure that we split those non-German participants well across each of the three Xploration teams. One year later, we hosted a second IDEA-workshop in Shanghai. This time the bulk of participants came from China, and we equally spread out the remaining delegates from other Asian countries and Europe across each of the two innovation teams.

    4. Generational diversity: Mix different generations

    An innovation project should also represent a fair cross-section of the various generations that we can find in the workplace at present. As an innovation project owner, you may lean towards predominantly inviting Gen Xers and Millennials to help you with your project. However, better also include a few motivated Baby Boomers to allow the teams to benefit from the deep work and life experience they can contribute to an innovation workshop. Depending on the project, also consider adding a few Post-Millennials to each team; these Gen Z-colleagues may have just joined your company as management trainees or may currently do an internship in it.

    The Swiss innovation company Brainstore takes generational diversity even one step further. They like to invite high school kids to join the Ideation stage of their innovation process called “The Idea Machine.” At Thinkergy, we once also invited undergraduate students to join an innovation project workshop in Thailand with mixed results. However, using external teens or young adults for Ideation is a worthwhile option to consider, particularly for innovation challenges focusing on consumer technology or lifestyle products and services.

    5. Cognitive diversity: Let people play on their preferred cognitive styles at the right time

    When it comes to composing well-balanced innovation teams, the icing on the cake is to consider the personalities or, even better, the preferred cognitive styles of all the delegates. If you know everyone well enough, you may be able to gauge the personalities of each participant. However, a more professional approach is to profile all innovation project participants with a sophisticated cognitive profiling method such as our TIPS innovator profiling test.

    For example, in the Master in Business Innovation (MBI) program at Bangkok University, we profile all graduate students of a new intake with TIPS. The test results give us detailed information on the preferred styles to think, work, interact, live, and innovate of each student. More importantly, we learn with which of 11 innovator profiles each student comes out of TIPS, and on what relative development level this profile is located. Later on, I use this information to develop 3-4 combinations of different innovation teams. Thereby, each team comprises cognitively diverse profile compositions that constitute the right mix of styles and TIPS base orientations (theories, ideas, people, systems). And of course, I also consider intercultural and gender aspects while composing these teams, too. Later on, we use these team lists to field different project teams to work on real-life innovation project cases that relate to each course in the program. 

    The Program Director of the MBI program of Bangkok University, Dr. Xavier Parisot summed up his experiences with using TIPS to compose effective innovation project teams as follows:

    As a Program Director, I must ensure that our MBI corporate participants will acquire actual knowledge, empower their soft skills, and improve their leadership capabilities. To achieve such a goal, the complementation of skills and competences in each work team is a key challenge. The application of the TIPS method helped us achieve that goal in a powerful way, but it also increases the satisfaction level and the perceived quality of the results.

    Using a cognitive test requires an additional investment for the test fees. On the other hand, it may save companies costs by allowing an innovation project owner to inviting people only to those stages that suit their cognitive preferences and talents (more on this in an earlier article titled “Who shines when in the creative process?”).

    Conclusion: Succeed in innovation with the right mix of talents

    Many years ago, I jobbed part-time as a D.J. for a few years. To draw people onto the dance floor, one song I played regularly was “Last night a D.J. saved my life” by Indeed. It contains the line: “There’s not a problem that I can’t fix, ‘Cause I can do it in the mix.” The same message holds true for an innovation project: There’s not an innovation challenge you can’t fix if you know how to compose the right mix of talents for your innovation teams.

    • Would you like to learn more how we run innovation projects using our award-winning X-IDEA innovation method?
    • Are you curious to learn more about TIPS and to find out what’s your TIPS profile? Buy your TIPS online profiling test coupon for USD 89 now.
    • Contact us to tell us more about yourself and how we may help you. 

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2019


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    Creating what you will begins with the vision. X-IDEA can help you discover the path to make that vision a reality.

  • How to Keep Calm During a Heart Attack

    Imagine waking up at five o clock in the morning with a numb feeling of discomfort in your upper body — your chest, shoulders, and arms. What do you do? Almost four weeks ago, I was in such a situation. Here is what I did.

    An early wake-up call

    My first thought upon noticing the strange sensations in my body was: “Probably I have sore muscles. After all, I have just completed an intense working week. I ran a 5-day Business Creativity workshop at Hong Kong Baptist University, followed by a 1-day TIPS innovation training with Thinkergy in Bangkok. Little wonder that I feel tired.”

    But then I listened to my inner self and thought: “My muscles shouldn’t feel sore. I didn’t do much sport in the previous days due to my events. Moreover, even if I did, why do I feel a numb, burning sensation in my armpits where I don’t think we even have muscles?” Intuitively, I felt that something else is going on and that it’s serious. 

    Usually, I try to avoid visiting a doctor for any minor health issue. I prefer to wait until things revert to normal. This morning, however, I felt a strong urge to go to an emergency room of the nearest hospital straightaway. Both my partner and our baby girl were still fast asleep. So, I dressed and left our apartment without waking them up. I felt I needed to act quickly, and filling them into the situation would have taken up precious time.

    At that early time, I couldn’t find a taxi. So, I hopped on a motorbike taxi that brought me straight to the nearby hospital. Five minutes after entering their emergency room (ER), an electrocardiogram (ECG) revealed what was going on with me. 

    A shocking diagnosis

    “You have a heart attack,” said the ER doctor. “You need to get a heart operation right away. If you’re okay with it, we call our heart specialist now, and he should arrive here in roughly 45 minutes.” 

    Upon hearing the diagnosis, I was totally gobsmacked: “A heart attack? How come? I am fit. I do sport almost every day. I eat a healthy diet. I even do regular intermittent fasting. Okay, once in a while, I have a few drinks, but I’ve never smoked in my life. So how can I get a heart attack?”

    Anyway, regardless of how much I complained about the absurdity of me having a heart attack, it was happening. I had to accept the severity of the situation and to deal with it effectively. Hospital staff put forms in front of me to sign. Fortunately, my credit card limits were good to cover the deposit required for the operation. After the paperwork, I had to wait for the heart doctor to arrive. While lying on an ER bed, waiting for my imminent heart operation, my mind was in a whirl. “So, is this it? Am I going to die here and now? What about my family? My baby girl?” 

    I realized that to avoid panicking while waiting for the heart specialist to arrive, I needed to control my fearful thoughts in this life-threatening state. But how?

    Enter Genius Journey

    To quieten and control my anxious mind, I applied a range of Genius Exercises from Genius Journey, my own creative leadership development method that I created for Thinkergy:

    • I courageously let go and detached of the outcome. I accepted that at this moment, everything was in the hands of God (and of course, a heart surgeon). All I could do was control my mind and keep calm. 
    • I repeated a mantra that connects to the first stop of Genius Journey (Stop your doubts, worries, and fears. Start to be a courageous, action-oriented believer):

    “Everything that happens to me is the best possible thing that happens to me.” 

    • I expressed gratitude for my life, even if I had died here and now. I am grateful for having lived a good, happy – if not especially long – life. I was born into a good family in a democratic, developed country at the right time at the right side of the iron curtain. I enjoyed an excellent education and even got the opportunity to earn a Ph.D. I was fortunate to land a scarce job at one of the world’s top banks that allowed me to fund my bachelor, master, and doctoral studies and to gain international experience. I lived in many countries I was lucky to experience two Eureka moments that changed my life to the better (one saved my doctoral studies, and the other gave me the idea and courage to start my own business). I have a lovely family. While feeling gratitude for an eventful life, I also expressed my wish to be able to spend more time with my family, friends, and my teammates. Still, I trusted that all would turn out right and good should God decide to call upon me soon.
    • As good as I could, I tried to entertain the prospects of having to move on to the next stage with curiosity and openness (Genius Journey Stop 3). I believe that while my body will one day die, my soul won’t, and it will move on to a new, better place. The ultimate journey. I don’t know if it will be heaven or an afterlife, and I want to approach this new stage with a curious, open beginner’s mind (albeit not too soon).
    • While waiting for the doctor, I also kept on looking at the bright side of life, and keep on thinking positive (Stop 4 of Genius Journey). One Genius Exercise that I applied is called “My Warm Fuzzies”. It’s a collection of things I can do or draw upon when the going gets tough, and that make me feel good and smile in an instant. So, I played Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”-song in my mind. I hummed the “Manamana” song from the Muppet show. And I imagined chasing my happily screaming one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, among other things.
    • As the pain in my chest started to intensify while waiting for the doctor, and later during the operational procedure on my heart, I focused on my breath and began a short meditation. I also did an imagination exercise (that relates to Stop 6 of Genius Journey): I imagined traveling to and spending time at my sanctuary, which is a sacred place that I’ve created in my imagination where I feel completely safe and at ease and where nothing can hurt or harm me. 

    Roughly an hour and a half after arriving at the hospital, a voice brought me back to the here and now. The heart specialist told me that he had already completed the procedure successfully, and all is well and good for now. He informed me that he had removed a clot that was blocking one artery in my heart, and had placed a stent to open the artery and support the blood flow. A few minutes later, I was in a room at the coronary care unit and  —after I was able to get my partner on the phone— waited for my family to arrive so that I could hug them and tell them what had happened to me.

    An unlucky event with a lucky ending

    Later that afternoon, my doctor told me that I was unlucky and lucky at the same time. I was unlucky because according to my health and fitness status, I shouldn’t have suffered a heart attack in the first place. At the same time, I was lucky that I spotted and interpreted the symptoms so early and acted right away.  So, why did I get lucky? 

    As an active sportsman, I know my body well. More importantly, however, as a creativity master who’s studied and internalized the creative mindsets of genius for more than one and a half decades, I possess a highly developed intuitive mind. My intuition alerted me that in my body, something’s fundamentally not right, and made me take action right away. 

    Living by the mindsets of genius, and practicing the related exercises regularly, helped me to get lucky in another way. It enabled me to stay relaxed, focused, and positive while coming within the Grim Reaper’s grasp.

    In short, I believe that my Genius Journey method helped me to avoid more serious damages from my heart attack and to stay alive.

    So what?

    Why do I share this story with you? One day, we all have an Appointment in Samarra, and probably when we least expect it. I don’t know if I can respond in a similarly cool way the next time around. But one thing I do know from my recent experience: Staying calm and positive, and keeping as much control over one’s thoughts as possible, is the most favorable response to a life-threatening situation. Worrying, lamenting, or even panicking will only worsen an already bad situation. 

    Knowing and applying the creative success mindsets of geniuses and creative leaders helped me survive my recent heart attack. And maybe, some of the creative mindsets and exercises that I described above may also help you one day to keep your calm when confronted with a possibly life-threatening situation.

    To find out more about our Genius Journey training courses, contact us to tell us more about how we may creatively inspire you and your colleagues. 

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2019

  • How to Find Your Perfect Innovation Training

    When Thinkergy started fourteen years ago, we had one training course named “Business Creativity and Innovation”. Over the years, as we’ve evolved into a full-fledged innovation company, our innovation know-how and scope of offerings have expanded. In the process, we have developed a greater variety of innovation training courses that go more in-depth concerning a specific aspect of innovation. 

    Unfortunately, greater variety also means greater choice, which makes it more difficult for prospective clients to select the most suitable innovation training for their people if they browse our website. So today, allow me to share with you what factors we consider while developing a new survey-tool for our website that we hope helps prospective clients find —and settle on— a training course that fits their innovation training needs and constraints. 

    Parameters to consider when planning an innovation training

    Say you’re a Learning & Development Manager in Human Resources or lead a business unit. You strongly believe in the value of continued education, and in the era of the innovation economy, you want to provide more creativity- and innovation-related training programs to your employees. But how to get started in finding suitable training courses.

    Of course, you need to identify suitable vendors from whom to source the training. How? Check the track record of possible innovation training providers. Separate the wheat from the chaff by rating potential training providers on both the methodological underpinning of their courses and their real-life innovation experience. Ask: What innovation methods do they use in training? How many years have they been running creativity and innovation training courses? Do they only talk the talk or also walk their innovation talk themselves?

    More importantly, however, you need to answer a few questions that help you clarify your wants and needs concerning a couple of critical training parameters: number and background of the delegates; innovation focus area; training duration; and budget. Below, let’s discuss each of these parameters (and the related questions to answer) in greater detail:

    (1) Overall number of training delegates: 

    How many people overall do you want to provide with a particular innovation training? Into how many training cohorts would you like to split this total number of delegates? 

    Here, note that if you put too many learners into one cohort, then the quality of learning tends to suffer. Why? Big training cohorts are more challenging to control, especially if you do a lot of practical exercises. To ensure proper learning and avoid the free-rider phenomenon that is common in large cohorts, be prepared to commit more time for the training,  to pay extra for more trainers or co-facilitators, or to reduce the number of practical exercises and case applications. 

    The optimal class size for most innovation training courses is 24 delegates, but for specific training programs, we recommend smaller cohorts of 16 and larger groups of 30 delegates. 

    (2) Background of training delegates: 

    To what organizational function or business unit, as well as what hierarchical level, do the delegates mostly belong? 

    For example, do you want to train more operational people working on a factory floor in creativity and innovation? Do you want to organize a training only for senior executives, or for up-and-coming young management talents? Do you intend to mix different hierarchy levels (e.g., staff and middle managers)? Your answers to these questions tend to inform how much time and budget you can commit for the respective training. 

    (3) Topic focus area of the innovation training: 

    On what major innovation challenge or challenges do you want the training to focus?

    Within the domains of creativity and innovation, most companies face challenges in four areas: 


      • Creative process: How to use an effective innovation process and related thinking tools in an innovation project as a member of an innovation team.
      • Creative people: How to find the agile, creative types that drive (digital) innovation initiatives? How to make everyone contribute to corporate innovation in harmony with their cognitive styles?
      • Creative culture: How to develop a more innovation-friendly culture in our corporation? What factors impair or enable organizational creativity?
      • Creative leaders: How to identify and develop more authentic creative leaders to drive innovation teams and lead business units in times of the innovation economy?

    At Thinkergy, we have developed specific innovation methods to address these challenges:  X-IDEA as a systematic yet fun-to-use creative process; TIPS to find creative people; CooL-Creativity UnLimited to build a creative culture; and Genius Journey for developing creative leaders. We offer a range of training courses for each of these key innovation topic areas based on our proprietary innovation methods.

    In addition, we’ve also developed a “land of the lair”-innovation training for busy executives who want to learn about the vital innovation frames to master to produce innovation results. Moreover, we play a creative entrepreneurial game (“in the Year 2100”) with delegates to make them experience how to succeed in a highly dynamic market environment. We also offer a range of innovation keynote talks. Finally, we have designed a range of Business Thinking Skills training courses to equip staff and lower management with critical functional skills (Creative Thinking, Analytical Thinking, Visual Thinking, Entrepreneurial Thinking, and Decision Making). 

    (4) Training duration: 

    How much time are you (and the delegates you target) able and willing to dedicate to an innovation training? 

    Based on our experience, typical time commitments range from short time intervals (1-2 hours, half a day) over medium-term (1-day or 2-days) to more long-term commitments (3 days or more). Know that the more time you make available, the more chances to give your innovation trainer to apply the contents in practical exercises or —even better— on simulated realistic innovation cases.

    Interestingly, within Asia, there are noticeable differences with regards to how much time training can last. While in Hong Kong, you can count yourself lucky if a company is willing to commit a full day for the training (as “everyone is so busy making money”), companies in Thailand or Indonesia typically book 2-day or even 3-day training courses.

    (5) Training budget: 

    What budget do you have available for training your delegates in creativity and innovation? 

    Your budget needs to relate to the overall number of delegates you want to train in innovation in a given period. Moreover, the higher your budget, the more training days overall can you buy, thus allowing you to book longer training courses with more practical exercises and real-life case scenarios. Finally, please bear in mind that high-quality innovation training courses typically charge a premium, which compensates the training providers for the higher cost related to licensing or developing premium contents.

     

    Apart from the aforementioned, other factors you may want to consider are the context of the training (e.g., standalone training; training course as part of a more comprehensive training program with other classes; training as part of a corporate offsite or a conference), the desired format of the training (e.g., keynote, lecture, workshop, learning game, case application, excursion) as well as the composition of the training cohort which takes account of the cultural and country background of the delegates.


    Introducing a new web-tool to help you find your ideal innovation training

    Back to the beginning: While we started with one training course in “Business Creativity” in 2005, Thinkergy currently offers 25 innovation training courses that differ in their topic focus and duration. When a prospective client is interested in learning more about our training courses, we typically meet with them to ask them a series of questions to help us recommend one or a few training courses that cater to the identified training needs.

    We noticed that in the last couple of years, it takes longer to find a time slot for a prospective client meeting as businesspeople and managers face evermore demands on their time and are busier and busier. Hence, we’ve been looking for a way to help a prospective client find a training program aligned to their innovation needs while they browse our website in a quiet minute. How? 

    1. On the training solutions page of our Thinkergy website, we have added a short survey tool that asks you similar questions that we would ask you in a face-to-face meeting. 
    2. Once you’ve answered all of the questions, we recommend you one training course that ideally fits the parameters that you specify. Save or print the description of the suggested training, 
    3. If you like, play the survey again by changing one or more answer options to see what alternative training course we’d recommend you now. 
    4. Finally, contact us to find out more about your preferred training course. Typically, we then call you or meet with you so that you can tell us more about your interests as well as other specific parameters. Then, we’ll compose a tailor-made training proposal for you that uniquely meets your training needs and constraints. 

    Conclusion: Master the paradox of choice with personal and technological support

    Many companies feel compelled to offer a variety of products to their clients to cater to specific wants, needs, and desires; on the other hand, more choice makes it more difficult for customers to settle for one offering, and may even make them walk away and look somewhere else for another offer. The American psychologist Barry Schwartz discusses this dilemma in his book The Paradox of Choice — Why More is Less.

    How to best resolve this dilemma? Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can significantly reduce anxiety for buyers, so offering fewer products and variations is one possible resolution. For example, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he decided to cut down the number of computers that Apple offers from roughly three dozen to just four. 

    An alternative way is to use either personal advice and technology as an aid to guide customers to the best choice for a specific need. And in the coming years, it’s likely that new AI-supported digital sales tools will make finding the ideal choice easier and more precise, customer-immersive and fun.

    Have you already played with our new survey tool? If so, did you find an enticing course within our range of innovation training courses? Then, contact us to so that we can jointly explore how we may best edutain you with our experiential Thinkergy innovation training courses. 

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2019


  • Inspiring Quote - Edison


    Because he successfully practiced a systematic innovation approach, the legendary inventor Thomas Edison was well aware that innovation is largely a numbers game. 

    In Thinkergy's X-IDEA innovation method, we also track the innovation outputs at each stage of the process, thus making sure that you first produce a lot of raw ideas (during Ideation) before you design the most intriguing ones into great ideas (in the Development-stage). 

    When can we guide you and your team through an innovation project with the help of X-IDEA?

  • Brainstorming: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

    Whenever a business or a work team needs some ideas, someone in the group invariably suggests: “Okay, let’s brainstorm for ideas then.”

    Brainstorming is arguably the most widely used creativity technique ever since Alex Osborn introduced the tool in his classic 1953 book Applied Imagination. Need some evidence? Brainstorming has played a central role in every book on creativity techniques. Some people even use the word brainstorming synonymously with creativity.

    A search on Google delivers about 11.8 million results for the word “brainstorming” as compared to only 1.5 million hits for the term “creativity technique” – although, from a set theory point of view, the subset brainstorming is only a part of the whole “creativity technique” set. Take the simple Google popularity test as a warning sign: It suggests that brainstorming is often used in a context different from its original scope of being an idea generation tool.

    Here we arrive at some of the problems with brainstorming. With reference to the title of the classic western movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, you need to understand the good, bad and ugly side of brainstorming to produce creative results for your company when using this tool.

    The ugly side of Brainstorming

    So let’s get started in gaining a greater understanding by looking at the ugly sides of brainstorming first: My experience as a creativity coach has taught me that in most companies, brainstorming is done incorrectly, thus delivering only comparatively few, rather unoriginal ideas. Most companies start on the correct path by assigning a facilitator to run the session and a recorder to jot down the ideas of the group in an appropriate size (eight plus minus two is a good rule of thumb here). However, they fail when it comes to following through on the all-important four Ground Rules of Brainstorming:

    • First, defer judgment until the end of the session – or in other words: no killing of ideas during the brainstorming. Judgment is like driving with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake. So, take the foot off the brake to accelerate the idea output in a brainstorming session.
    • Second, go for quantity – as quantity breeds quality. Here, remember that the chances that you find one great idea out of an idea generation session will be higher if you get four hundred as compared to only a hundred ideas. As Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling noted: “The best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of ideas.”
    • Third, the wilder the better. Shoot for crazy, wild, absurd ideas — in line with Albert Einstein’s advice: “If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”
    • Finally, combine ideas and improve on the ideas of others.

    The bad side of Brainstorming

    Moving on to the bad sides of brainstorming: Many research studies confirm that brainstorming is an inferior technique with regards to producing a high idea quantity. In a given time interval, a group of “brainwriters” that individually write down their ideas will generate roughly four-times more ideas then a same-size brainstorming group.

    Researchers attribute this result to three effects that explain the deficiencies of brainstorming:

    1. First, some members of the group don’t participate and let others do all the work (the “free-rider phenomenon”);
    2. Secondly, some group participants avoid expressing wild or original ideas out of fear how other group members might privately judge them (the problem of “evaluation apprehension”);
    3. and third and most important, the “blocking effect” that stems from the fact that only one person can speak at a time and then blocks the thinking of other members who listen to the suggested idea instead of thinking for themselves.

    The good side of Brainstorming

    Finally, let’s talk about the good side: Brainstorming has become such a popular technique because it is a highly enjoyable, energetic activity that people love to do – and having fun and being playful and childlike (as opposed to being childish) are all very beneficial for unleashing creativity.

    Brainstorming is a crucial ingredient in the creative culture of the industrial design powerhouse IDEO, and the innovation results delivered by this company speak for the benefits of this technique if used appropriately.

    So what?

    So how can we cure the bad and ugly sides of brainstorming while continuing to enjoy the benefits of its good side? Here are five recommendations on how you can develop a correct brainstorming culture in your company:

    1. Start the process by sending your employees to a quality creativity training workshop to learn the basics of idea generation.
    2. Have an individual Brainwriting exercise before every brainstorming session.
    3. Review the ground rules before the start of a session.
    4. Set an idea quota for each session — say, at least a hundred ideas in one hour that keeps the group focused on moving forward instead of falling into the judgment trap.
    5. Finally, have an experienced facilitator run the session, who introduces other creativity techniques (such as ‘Metaphors’ or ‘What if” (wishful thinking) into the session once the group starts running dry on ideas.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 


  • Creativity in the Year of the Dog

    Kung Hai Fat Choy, Happy Chinese New Year! Tomorrow marks the start of the Year of the Dog, or to be more precise, the Brown Earth Dog. The dog was the first species that humans domesticated, and thanks to this long bond with humans. dogs are uniquely accustomed to our behaviors. What creative inspirations can we obtain from “man’s best friend” to help us flourish in the coming 12 months?

    Being of value

    Compared to other animals, dogs have developed a strong influence on human society because of both their practical usefulness and the emotional companionship they offer. Dogs serve a wide range of practical roles: hunting, herding, guarding and protection, pulling loads, assisting the police and military, rescuing people in emergencies, aiding the disabled individuals and in other therapeutic roles.

    Moreover, dogs are loyal companions who can light up the day with their playful enthusiasm, sincere affection and emotional sensitivity towards their two-legged friends. As the humorist Josh Billings noted: “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”

    Creative inspirations

    Wouldn’t you enjoy doing business with someone who is helpful and at the same time fun to be with? So, ask yourself: How close are we with our customers? How intimately do we know their true wants and needs? How can we become more useful for our core customers? What other roles may we perform for them to make ourselves more useful? How can we design better emotional experiences for the users of our products and services? How can we better satisfy both the functional and emotional wants and needs of our customers?

    “Breeding out” meaningful new ideas

    Humans have selected certain dogs to breed with each other, due to particular physical and behavioral characteristics that support desired functional roles. This selective breeding has led to the hundreds of modern breeds that are classified into certain dog types (such as companion dogs, guard dogs, or herding dogs). These types vary greatly in size, character and behavior and functional roles — from the tiny Chihuahua to the tall Great Dane, or from the stubbornly-dopey Bulldog to the energetically intelligent Border Collie. By the way, did you know that most dog breeds are only a few hundred years old?

    Creative inspiration

    The breeding process is similar to the approach taken by a classic creativity technique, Morphological Matrix. So in the Year of the Dog, how can you engage in morphological thinking? First, create a matrix listing all the morphologies covered by your value offerings. Such categories might be: product features (functional and emotional benefits), service types, customers types, related promotional activities, etc.). Then, list elements under each category (B2B, B2C, NGOs in the customer category, for example), and add as many new elements as possible into each (don’t forget that we’re in the digital age). Finally, ask yourself: How to create meaningful new product and service “breeds” by connecting certain desired features and elements?

    Being a smart dog

    Are dogs intelligent creatures? If you’ve ever owned a dog, you’re likely to nod affirmatively. While breeds vary in intelligence, dogs can perceive information, retain this as knowledge, and later apply it to solve certain problems. They can also learn to respond to different body postures and voice commands. But how do dogs fare when compared to other canines?

    Although dogs and wolves share a lineage, there are noticeable differences between the two species. Free-roaming wolves have longer teeth, bigger skulls and also bigger brains than their domesticated fellow canines. Moreover, experiments have shown that Australian dingos outperform domestic modern dogs in non-social problem-solving.

    Likewise, researchers have found that when presented with an unsolvable variation of an original problem solving task, socialized wolves tried to find a solution themselves, while dogs looked to a human for help. Domestic dogs seem to have “outsourced” more advanced problem-solving to humans, which is convenient but makes them highly dependent.

    Creative inspiration

    Many multinational and large corporations today outsource internal competencies and certain functional roles to outside suppliers. While outsourcing has reduced headcount and —to some extent— overhead costs, it has also led to an organizational brain drain. The situation is comparable to a dog turning to humans to “do the thinking for us”, “solve our problems on our behalf” and “tell us what to do”. But just as a dog is dependent on the smarts of others, so do companies depend on the intelligence of their outsourcing partner. So, ask yourself: “What problem areas and functional roles are so important for our business that we should “insource” the ability again? What topics do we want to resolve by ourselves to control our fate?”

    Staying healthy

    Dogs are often plagued by parasites such as fleas, ticks, mites, and worms. Parasites live in or on another organism and obtain nutrients at the host’s expense. While they typically don’t cause severe harm, they steadily impair health, energy and performance levels.

    Creative inspiration

    Just as you want to keep your dog parasite-free, you may use the Year of the Dog to rid your business of parasitic elements. Ask yourself: Who has benefited from us and derived monetary nutrients at our expense without returning an adequate benefit? Such freeloaders may be suppliers and service providers, advisors and lobbyists, and maybe even certain managers and staff. Investigate how much benefit each derived from you, and what you really got in return. If you notice a gross mismatch, clean out the parasite.

    Rewarding loyalty

    Chinese astrology tends to ascribe characteristics and behaviors observed in an animal of the Chinese Zodiac to sum-up personality traits of people born in the corresponding year. People born in the Year of the Dog are said to be loyal and honest, amiable and kind, responsible and prudent, lively and courageous. Due to having a strong sense of loyalty and sincerity, dogs will do everything for a person —or business— who cares for them.

    Creative inspiration

    Who are key members of your company or team who have loyally and responsibly worked for you for a long time, and contributed to the success of your business? Who are your long-term customers who loyally continue buying from you? Who are other loyalists who have served your cause as loyal suppliers, advisors, advocates, opportunists and cheerleaders? In the Year of the Dog, think about ways to say “Thank you” to these loyal, dependable and sensible companions.

    Learning from Abraham Lincoln’s dog

    Let’s end with a little riddle relating to dogs. Here’s a question of the famous US president Abraham Lincoln: “How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg?” Think about this question for a moment, then settle on a number.

    Got it? Say it out loud. Now here is “Honest” Abe’s answer: “Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

    Creative inspiration

    Nowadays, people are very quick at attaching labels to people or things (this even happened before Donald Trump popularized “fake news”). But notice that, for example, calling something going on that affects your business a problem doesn’t mean that it’s really a problem, or that it is the real problem your business faces. So in the Year of the Dog, ponder these questions: What things are we labeling or framing in ways that prevent us from noticing what’s really going on? What uncomfortable realities do we shy away from —or label as “fake news”— so that we can continue staying in our comfort zone? What are the real problems we’re facing and should tackle in the next 12 months? And aren’t these real problems rather opportunities to make a giant leap into a better future?

    Are you ready to get creative in the Year of the Dog? Why don’t you enroll your team in of our Thinkergy training courses?

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2018. 

  • Is your mind set on a genius mindset?

    In September 2018, Motivational Press will publish the first part of my book trilogy “Genius Journey. Developing Creative Leaders for the Innovation Economy.” At the moment, I update and refresh the copy that I originally drafted in 2013-14, and I see this also as an opportunity to simplify how I present key concepts of the Genius Journey method in my creativity and leadership book. So in simple terms, what is the Genius Journey Method? How does it work in general terms, and how can it help you to transform your mindset into the genius that you are?

    What is Genius Journey?

    Genius Journey is a highly effective, experiential and enjoyable creative leadership development method that I created for my innovation company Thinkergy. The method is based on three key insights that I uncovered by reading biographies of geniuses and creative leaders in business and other domains, by studying psychological accounts on traits of highly creative individuals, and by comparing these findings with my experiences during my own personal genius discovery journey. What are these three insights?

    • First insight: Geniuses produce extraordinary ideas and results because they think and work and behave differently than ordinary people. We can also say: They deliver abnormal results because they are not normal, they are abnormal.
    • Second insight: Most geniuses share a similar set of abnormal action routines and mindsets that vary noticeably from those of normal people.
    • Third insight: Normal people can reconnect to their genius if they adopt and practice these abnormal creative success mindsets of geniuses.

    In short, ordinary people share a set of common, normal, usual, expected and conventional attitudes and action routines that disconnect them from their creative source. In contrast, extraordinary creative leaders have acquired and automatically practice a set of uncommon, abnormal, unusual, unexpected and unconventional attitudes and routines that allow them to reconnect to their inner genius and to produce extraordinary ideas and results.

    So Genius Journey is all about transforming your mindset and routines to elevate you to higher levels of consciousness and reconnect you to your creative source, to your inner genius. This leads us to another important question that we discuss in the following.

    What are mindsets and routines?

    A mindset is made of “the established sets of attitudes held by someone”. So what then is an attitude? The word attitude can be defined as “a settled way of thinking or feeling about something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior”, or “a position of the body proper to or implying an action or mental state”. Interestingly, attitude is also an informal way to express “individuality and self-confidence as manifested by appearance or style”. Think of your favorite genius or creative leader — does this person have an individual, self-confident attitude? I bet.

    Likewise, the word routine can be defined as “a set of actions regularly followed; a fixed program”. We routinely undergo certain daily activities, and often routinely respond to a particular situation we experience.

    Note that the unified set of attitudes that forms a certain mindset relates to mental states (cognitive activities taking place in your mind, such as thoughts, beliefs, emotions), while routines are more linked to things we do with our bodies (physical actions or activities such as working, moving, exercising, etc.). Of course, body and mind are interconnected. Your body (posture, facial expressions, pitch of voice, etc.) reflects what’s going on in your mind, and vice versa: Your body can influence through certain actions what the mind thinks and feels.

    In her excellent book titled “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges”, Amy Cuddy explains how power posing can positively charge your mind: the simple action of assuming an outgoing, empowering pose with your body raises the levels of the dominance hormone testosterone in the body while at the same time lowering those of the stress hormone cortisol, which tends to make you think, act and perform in more empowered ways. (Amy Cuddy also shares key concepts of the book in a highly inspirational TED talk that I recommend you to watch.)

    To sum up, people’s set attitudes and action routines that are connecting mind and body characterize their settled way of thinking and feeling about particular people, things, situations and circumstances they encounter, what thoughts they repeatedly tend to entertain, and what actions they routinely practice while going through a typical day or responding to a particular stimulus.

    How about your mindset and routines?

    Are your attitudes and routines normal or abnormal? Common or uncommon? Do you follow the usual layperson’s way or the unusual genius way? To get your mind primed and curious to partake in this journey, allow me to ask you a few questions related to your mindset:

    How do you typically think and/or feel about:

    • having to encounter an unknown challenge, event, or situation?
    • yourself?
    • making a mistake? Or failing in a project you undertake?
    • life in general? And your life in particular?
    • your work?
    • your domain of expertise?
    • your levels of rationality and responsibility — and of creativity and empathy?
    • change?
    • events in your past?Or about the future?
    • how many hours you must work to be a successful person?

    If you were to travel the Genius Journey, you would encounter questions like these — and your answers determine your current level of genius and how common or uncommon you are. Fortunately, we’re not stuck on a certain level for good. We can always choose to upgrade our mindsets to genius level by working on transforming our minds.

    So how does Genius Journey work?

    The Genius Journey method takes you on an imaginary journey were you visit 10 destinations. At each of the ten destination stops, you learn about one mindset or routine that stops you, limits you, confines you, keeps you small, keeps you thinking inside this tiny little box, keeps you producing normal ideas and normal results. And at each stop of the journey, you will also discover the corresponding mindset that sets you free, unboxes your thinking, expands your consciousness, empowers you to become outstandingly creative and successful, and reconnects you with your inner genius. As such, traveling the Genius Journey gives you the chance to become aware of your typical attitudes and routines, and if they serve or limit you. As you progress in your Genius Journey, you gradually adopt the empowering abnormal attitudes and routines of genius that build upon each other and reinforce themselves in a virtuous cycle that expands your consciousness, thus opening your mind to reconnect to your inner genius.

    Are you ready to become and be abnormal? If yes, consider preordering a copy of Part 1 of the Genius Journey book trilogy, which is titled “The Journey to Your Self”. Or would you be more interested in booking one of our Genius Journey training courses to experience how to think like a genius and develop a creative genius mindset? Or do you rather prefer to stay a normal person, continue thinking and doing the same normal things that everyone else is thinking and doing? The choices are yours.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2018.


  • It’s not only what tools you use, but how you use them

    When you work with a team on an innovation project case, what matters is not only what kind of thinking tool you use when in the innovation process. To do sound thinking and produce adequate outputs, it also matters how exactly you use the tool — or in other words: how you communicate and interact with other team members while applying a particular tool, and how you capture outputs. Today, let’s learn more about the different communication styles that you can use while working on an innovation project.

    Background: The problem with “brainstorming”

    When hearing the words “creativity” and “innovation”, many businesspeople automatically think of another word: brainstorming. Unsurprisingly, they also indiscriminately use this word while working on an innovation case, such as: “We need to brainstorm for ideas”, or “Let’s brainstorm what we know about our case”.

    While applying a particular thinking tool, however, you may alternatively use a range of other —and often better— communication styles. Why shouldn’t you always simply “brainstorm” for outputs with your team?

    Using a variety of communication styles has the following benefits: For one, it often can help teams to noticeably enhance the quantity and quality of their outputs. For two, going beyond “brainstorming” for ideas or outputs is also an effective way to circumvent intercultural issues like ‘saving face’ or ‘respecting seniority or authority.’ For three, varying communication styles can also enhance the levels of fun and enjoyment of an innovation session for the various team members who often differ in their personality and preferred cognitive styles.

    For example, while the more social and extraverted types enjoy “brainstorming”, the more theoretical and private types tend to prefer —and contribute more and better outputs— less dynamic and more well-structured interaction styles. Apart from “brainstorming” for ideas or outputs in a group, you may also fall back on other innovation communication styles depending on the cognitive styles of the different team members and the nature of the thinking tools you intend to use. For example, we may do solo-brainwriting or pool-brainwriting, enjoy a round of buddystorming or brainstorming, among others.

    Variables to decide on while applying thinking tools:

    Say you’re an innovation facilitator who’s guiding an innovation team through the application of one particular thinking tool. Apart from setting the time available for the exercise and ideally a target output quota, you also have to decide on the following variables with regards to the precise application of the tool by a team:

    • Team member split: Do we apply this tool by working with the whole team, in pairs or individually?
    • Feedback: Do we apply a thinking tool so that the output of other team members may stimulate a delegate while producing more outputs (feedback), or do we use it without feedback? e.g., when you exchange idea worksheets, you may read one idea that inspires a new one.
    • Rotation: If various tools are used in parallel by a group of participants, do we rotate the participants working on a specific tools after some time to provide additional input to the work of other participants on another tool? Or do we keep the work groups static?
    • Output capturing: How do you capture outputs? For example, do you write ideas on a flip-chart, blank paper sheets, Post-it notes, worksheets? Do you have one person writing down the outputs for the group, or is everyone writing and producing outputs in parallel?
    • Repetition: Do we apply the tool in one go (which is the norm), or do we allow for multiple rounds?

    What innovation communication styles do we distinguish?

    When an innovation team works on an innovation case, they have the following options to apply a thinking tool within a certain stage of an innovation process method:

    • Brainstorming: This is the default way of how most teams typically apply a particular thinking tool, especially a creativity tool. The team works together as a whole group to produce the desired outputs (e.g., ideas). Thereby, each team member can freely —and without any formal order— suggest thoughts and ideas, which are recorded by at least one person on a paper sheet, a flip-chart or a whiteboard.

    • Round Robin Brainstorming: Sitting at a table or in a circle with your team, you go around and share a thought or idea one by one. Once a round is completed, you start again with the first person and continue going around; when it’s their turn, team members may say “I pass” if they need more time to think (or temporarily go blank). Just as with brainstorming, make sure to have one person to record the comments or ideas.
    • Bodystorming: As a group, enact a role play where you use your bodies to check out or act out a value offering or subject under investigation, such as boarding an airplane or queuing options for immigration checks at airports. As s bodystormer, loudly communicate your experiences and feelings, which are recorded by one team member.

    • Buddystorming: Pair up with your buddy (a newly befriended or already close team member), and work together on a tool to generate the desired outputs (which one of you may record on paper, worksheets or Post-it notes).

    • Think-Pair-Share: This communication style blends solo, pair and teamwork. First think: Work alone silently and note down your thoughts and ideas. Then, pair: Exchange your thoughts and ideas with a buddy. Finally, share: one by one, work through all the thoughts and ideas from each team member, which gives the team the chance to add more content. Make sure to consolidate the individual and pair outputs, or capture the outputs of the sharing session at the end.
    • Solo Brainwriting: Here, all team members silently work and think for themselves, and note down ideas and thoughts on paper sheets, worksheets or Post-it notes. As everyone works in parallel, the team typically produces a much higher output number in a given period of time compared to a team engaging in one of the “brainstorming” styles. Of course, Solo Brainwriting works also for a sole ideator, but it’s more communal doing it together with other ideators.

    • Team Brainwriting: In this communication style, all team members silently work alongside each other in the group and produce outputs (e.g. raw ideas) or throughputs (e.g., associate inputs such as a Morphological Matrix) on flip-chart paper or on paper sheets.

    • Pool Brainwriting: Once again, all team members silently work and think in parallel as a group, but now they exchange the written ideas and thoughts (on worksheets or paper sheets) with their team mates, who then can piggyback on certain ideas or build on other’s thoughts.

    Conclusion: Producing outstanding results in innovation projects is largely a numbers game. An innovation team needs to produce a certain number of outputs, say raw ideas or idea concepts, while working through the different stages of an innovation method to arrive at novel, original and meaningful innovation deliverables by the end of an innovation project. Even if you reach the target output quota, you don’t have a hundred percent certainty that you will always succeed in producing an innovation output that wows your target users.

    However, your odds of success dramatically increase if you use an effective innovation process, select the thinking tools that fit the innovation type that you target with your innovation project, and then also have mastered the art of how to effectively use each tool within the context of the process method with regards to the key parameters (heads: team, solo, pair, small team, large team, or mixed?; feedback: with or without?; team dynamism: static or rotating? output recording: one for group; several per group; or all individual?; interaction styles: brainstorming, round-robin brainstorming, buddystorming, bodystorming, think-pair-share, solo brainwriting, or pool brainwriting?).

    So, facilitating innovation projects is both a science and an art.

    This article is one of 64 sections of The Beginner’s Guide to Innovation, a new book that I am currently working on (targeted for publication in 2Q.2018 by Motivational Press). In our X-IDEAinnovation training courses, we also practice the different innovation communications styles with the training delegates. Innovation trainers can learn the art of comfortably switching between different communication styles in our X-IDEA innovation licensing programs. Contact us if you want to find out more.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017.

  • Innovative companies vs. in-NO-vative companies: Who’s who?

    Take a moment to think about the following questions: What innovative companies do you know? What companies do you consider to be highly creative and innovative? What factors have made these firms become innovation leaders? Would you want to work for one of those innovative companies? Why or why not?

    What innovative companies do you know?

    When we train or consult organizations at my innovation company Thinkergy on how to build more innovation-friendly companies, we ask these questions as a warm-up exercise. While the smaller creative ventures and local innovation heroes vary in different countries, some well-known firms appear on the delegates’ list of innovative companies, with Apple, Google, Amazon often featured first.

    Many businesspeople also intuitively have a good understanding of organizational and cultural factors that differentiate innovative companies from normal organizations. And while a few delegates dare to admit they rather would not want to work for an innovative company (either because their cognitive style favors efficiency and adaptation over creativity and innovation, or because they dislike working in a firm that constantly wants to push the boundaries forward), a vast majority of workshop delegates would sign on at an innovative firm if they got the chance.

    What in-NO-vative companies do you know?

    We also ask workshop delegates the exact opposite set of questions: “What companies do you consider NOT to be innovative? What factors prevent these firms from becoming innovation leaders? Would you want to work for such an in-NO-vative company? Why or why not?”

    Interestingly, the energy levels rise when the delegates list examples of in-NO-vative “Me Too” companies — and of the cultural factors that stand in their way. Laughter, cheers. and a bit of disgust mixed with “Schadenfreude” fills the room, indicating that the delegates had their fair share of negative customer experiences with the blacklisted firms and their poor products and services. Having worked in such an in-NO-vative copycat company before, some delegates are even intimately familiar with what’s wrong with these companies.

    What can we learn from the exercise?

    Most businesspeople and customers intuitively grasp what innovative companies do right — and what in-NO-vative companies do wrong. They are able to pinpoint many of the striking differences in “the ways we do things around here” in innovative versus in-NO-vative companies. So, if not only highly paid consultants but normal people can distinguish poor from best practice and identify what wrongs we need to right, why isn’t every company innovative?

    Changing an established organizational culture is a very hard thing to do. It typically takes at least 2-3 years of focused effort to make a successful transition towards a more creative culture, and those inside the organization who benefited from the old culture may resist change or even sabotage it. 

    What companies lead global innovation rankings?

    A few well-known business magazines and global consulting firms regularly release lists that rank the world’s most innovative companies. The different rankings vary in the methodology and metrics used to rank innovators, thus producing variations in the firms listed as innovation leaders, but also having some names appear in every ranking.

    Boston Consulting Group (BCG)’s annual list of the world’s top innovative companies is my favorite ranking. Because it has been done consistently every year since 2005, it allows us to see shifts and trends in the populace of innovation leaders over time. BCG has steadily evolved its ranking methodology, adding over time objective financial metrics (such as total shareholder premium, revenue and margin growth) and cross-industry ranking to its initial approach to having executives subjectively rank the most innovative companies inside their industry.

    In 2006, BCG’s ten top innovators read (in rank order): Apple, Google, 3M, Toyota, Microsoft, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, Nokia, and. Starbucks. Ten years later, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Toyota have managed to stay in the top 10, but are now joined by new top innovators that have emerged in the past decade (such as Tesla Motors, Netflix, and Facebook) or have moved up in to the top 10 (Amazon, Samsung, and IBM).

       

    In recent years, other business magazines such as Forbes and Fast Company released their own innovation rankings:

    • href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/innovatorsdna/2017/08/08/how-we-rank-the-most-innovative-companies-2017/?ss=innovative-companies#76e7d5045c46">ranks a firm’s innovativeness based on sales growth and their “innovation premium” (defined as the difference between their market capitalization and the net present value of cash flows from existing businesses(based on a proprietary algorithm from Credit Suisse HOLT)) they achieved. Thereby, Forbes only considers firms with seven years of public financial data and USD 10 billion in market cap. Moreover, Forbes only focuses on industries investing in innovation, excluding non-R&D intensive industries such as banking and financial services or energy and mining.
    • In contrast, Fast Company ranks innovation leaders overall and in many different business segments based on the impacts of recent innovative contributions that they’ve made. Thereby, Fast Company blends subjective editorial judgment with objective artificial intelligence that mines and topographically maps out millions of innovation-related news articles, blog posts, company profiles, and patents across more than 40 sectors to identify trends and the companies that drive them. Due to the different ranking approach of Fast Company, many smaller creative agencies and tech firms (that don’t size up to the BCG or Forbes lists) achieve top ranks alongside the usual suspects.

    Lessons and trends from the global innovation rankings

    When we compare the movements within the BCG ranking over a decade, and also factor in innovators names of other global innovator lists using different ranking methodologies (Forbes, Fast Company), we can discern a few general rules of thumb as well as emerging trends related to the world’s top innovative companies:

    1. Sustainable innovation leaders seem to live by one of Steve Jobs’ mottos: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Ten companies have managed to stay on the BCG list for more than a decade, earning them the title of “steady innovators”: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Toyota, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, BMW General Electric and Nike. Consistent presence in the BCG list indicates that these companies have cultivated innovation-friendly cultures that are unswayed by top managers and management fads coming and going.
    2. In fast-moving industries such as technology, today’s Innovation leaders may lose their relevance and drop out of the rankings quickly if they miss out on emerging technologies (Blackberry, Motorola, Nokia).
    3. Innovation seems to increasingly be moving to Asia: In the past, innovation leaders mainly originated in the US, Europe or Japan, Recent rankings indicate that dynamic innovation increasingly takes place in Asian Emerging Markets (most importantly China and India, but also in smaller countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand).
    4. Innovation shifts from industrial to digital: Ten years ago, many innovation leaders were industrial companies (3M, Toyota, GE, BMW, Honda), while recent rankings are increasingly dominated by new the “digital innovators” that create, market and operate digital platforms (e.g., Amazon.com, Salesforce.com, Facebook, etc.).
    5. Innovation leadership doesn’t equate anymore with being big. In the same strand, while innovative Multinational Corporations (MNC), used to dominate rankings in the past, newer rankings are a blend of MNCs, new up-and-coming Emerging Market Corporation, as well as many smaller ventured in the tech or digital space that were or are about to get listed. This shift supports John Naisbitt’s view that “We’re shifting from a managerial to an entrepreneurial society.”

    Conclusion: “Continued innovation is the best means of defeating competition,” noted the famous innovator Thomas Edison. What was already true more than a hundred years ago is even more true today. Whatever company leads innovation in an industry today, it has to continue innovating with a focus on making meaning and on making the world a better place — or otherwise, it will rather sooner or later loose its relevance and will be replaced by a new class of innovative companies.

    This article is one of 64 sections of an upcoming book that I am presently writing, The Beginner’s Guide to Innovation (targeted for publication in 2Q.2018 by Motivational Press). Contact us if you’re interested to learn more about our innovation training courses or how we may help your company to do the cool change from in-NO-vation to innovation.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017

  • How Innovation Affects Financial Performance

    Does innovation really deliver tangible financial results a company? Do investments in innovation yield a positive return? Does innovation pay? And if yes, how much positive impact does it have on financial performance?

    Tracking the innovation premium

    In 2006, BusinessWeek magazine and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) jointly devised a ranking of the world’s 25 most innovative companies. The list was led by Apple, Google, and 3M, and also included Toyota, Microsoft, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, Nokia, Starbucks, IBM, Virgin and Samsung, among others. Then, they compared the profit margins and stock prices of these Top 25 innovators with the median for all companies in the Standard & Poor’s Global 1200 index over a 10-year time period.

    The Top 25 innovators delivered median profit margin growth of 3.4% a year from 1995-2005, compared with 0.4% for the S&P’s Global 1200. This striking difference, which BW attributed “in large parts to innovation”, also showed when comparing the median annual stock returns of both groups: The Top 25 innovators yielded 14.3% over the 10 years, a full three percentage points better than the S&P 1200 median. No wonder that BusinessWeek titled the article “Creativity Pays. Here’s How Much”.

    In a follow-up study in 2009, BCG found a similar result: Innovative companies achieved significantly higher total shareholder return premiums  — 4.3% higher over three years and 2.6% higher over 10 years — than their less innovative industry peers. Interestingly, the figures for Asia-Pacific were much higher, at 17.7% over three years and 5.5% over 10 years, suggesting that it pays even more to lead innovation in traditionally less innovative environments.

    One of the most dramatic examples of superior stock performance by an innovator is Apple. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple on July 9 1997, the firm was on the verge of bankruptcy and its stock closed at $0.49 (in today’s prices after various share splits in between). Ten years later, the share price had soared to $18.62, a multiple of 38 times. Twenty years later, the price had skyrocketed to $145.06, a multiple of nearly 300. Had you purchased two Apple shares for one dollar on the day of Steve Jobs’ return, they were now worth nearly $300.

    So, 20 years of fanatical focus on innovation at Apple led to tremendous value, not only for consumers who benefited from groundbreaking innovations such as the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, but also for Apple shareholders who reaped massive wealth gains. 

    Investing in design pays too, as several studies have confirmed:

    • A 2007 study by the British Design Council found that design-focused firms didn’t need to compete on price as much as their peers. Every £100 they invested in design increased turnover by £225, and their shares outperformed key stock market indices by 200%.
    • In a 2014 Harvard Business Review article, Jeneanne Rae introduced the Design Value Index, a new tool to track the financial performance of design-centric companies against those that are not. When comparing the stock performance of 15 design-focused companies it showed that over 10 years, shares of design-centric firms (such as Target, Walt Disney or Nike) beat the S&P index by 228%.

    To summarize, all the aforementioned study findings suggest that investing in innovation and design pays huge dividends for companies and their shareholders alike.

    Why do innovative firms perform better financially?

    BCG found that innovative companies tend to grow faster, have richer product mixes than their peers, expand into adjacent or new categories (especially if these promise higher margins), and produce more patents than less innovative companies.

    Innovative companies also enjoy higher profit margins because customers are willing to pay higher prices for more innovative products perceived to offer more value than ‘plain vanilla’ products.

    Innovative companies can charge even higher prices for their more innovative value offering (products, services, solutions and experiences) if they also invest in standout design, which further magnifies the perceived value in the eyes of their customers.

    Ergo, they enjoy considerably higher operating profit margins — and the best innovators even amplify those further through operational innovations (such as optimized processes and innovative structures) that allow them to produce superior value at a lower cost base than their peers.

    Moreover, innovative products sell faster and more frequently than normal ones, thus boosting revenues further, especially if the top innovators also multiply revenues through the leverage innovation types.

    Mapping out the financial dynamics and implications of innovation investments

    We can sum-up the financial performance implication of investing in innovations as follows:

    1. Innovative value offerings sell at higher prices and in higher volumes, both of which increase revenues. The higher the value differential, the higher the revenue growth driven by both price and volumes.
    2. Firms that magnify the perception of value of their products (and other value offerings) through design can achieve higher prices, which again boosts revenues and increases (operating) profit margins.
    3. Likewise, companies who make operational innovations typically can produce their value offerings at lower costs, which also increases profit margins (albeit to a much lower degree).
    4. Companies that market a value proposition through innovative channels, networks, platforms, partnerships and business models can multiply their revenues even further.
    5. Strong revenue and profit margin growth increase the demand for a company’s stock and its share price, and may trigger a positively reinforcing loop. If the innovative company shares part of its superior profits with its investors in the form of dividends, the share price and demand for the stock rise even further. A rising share price increases market capitalization, and over time the company shifts from being a potential acquisition target to being a dominant player with amble opportunities for strategic acquisitions.

    Conclusion: Embrace innovation and invest in innovative firms, as innovative firms deliver a noticeably better financial performance compared to the market average. It’s seems to be a safe bet to increase your wealth in the long run. As Warren Buffet put it: “Value is what you get.”

    Contact us to let us know how we can help you improve your financial performance with our innovation solutions.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. 

  • How Cyclicality Drives Business and Innovation

    What do the state of the economy, a product, a corporate venture, a leading technology, the four seasons, and living things such as human beings have in common? All evolve and revolve in cycles, in “waves of change”. And as innovation means meaningful change, it often kick-starts a new cycle. Today, let’s understand how cyclicality influences the flow of business and innovation.

    What is cyclicality?

    Cyclicality can be defined as the property or characteristic of being cyclical or revolving in cycles. Cycles are series of events that are regularly repeated in the same order. Many business and economic developments unfold in a cycle comprising several distinct stages over a certain period of time. Just like a wave flows up and down, a particular economic development moves upwards until it reaches a peak, then falls and ebbs out in a trough.

    When tracking a particular cyclical flow in business, we can distinguish between three factors — the type of cycle, its stages and its duration:

    • The cycle type captures what kind of business parameters a cycle describes and how it is measured. Think of a product or company life cycle, a business or economic cycle, and long cycles that capture pace-setting technologies.
    • A cycle typically unfolds in distinct stages. Many business cycles unfold in four stages that some economists likened these to the four seasons: spring (growth), summer (peak), autumn (decline), and winter (trough).
    • Finally, the cycle duration captures how long it takes to complete a full cycle. Some cycles in business are short-lived and complete after a couple of quarters, many take years, and some are long-term and unfold over decades.

    What are types of cycles in business?

    Let’s look at the four most important cycles in business that leaders and innovators should be aware of:

    • The product life cycle captures how a product evolves in the market by tracking its sales and profits over time. Typical stages that the product lifecycle concept distinguishes are development and introduction (spring), growth (summer), maturity (autumn), and decline (winter). The duration varies in different industries: fashion companies think in months, tech ventures in quarters, fast-moving consumer goods companies in years, and energy companies in decades.
    • The company life cycle often maps the stages of the product life cycle. A startup creates and launches an innovative product (spring). Then, it evolves into growth- and sales-focused small- and medium-sized enterprise (summer), which later matures into an established large corporation (autumn) that eventually begins its long, steady decline (winter) before it is closed down. A recent World Economic forum study put the average life span of today’s multinational, Fortune 500-size corporation is 40 to 50 years; interestingly, corporate life spans have shortened in recent years.
    • The business cycle (or economic cycle) captures upward and downward movements of a country’s economy as measured by the gross domestic product. These GDP fluctuations involve shifts between periods of dynamic economic growth (expansions and booms) and periods of decline and stagnation (recessions and depressions). For example, the US economy passed through 11 business cycles from 1945 to 2009, with the average cycle lasting about 69 months, or a little less than six years. Expansions tend to last longer than contractions (58 months vs. 11 months for the US).
    • Long cycles describe major technological shifts that happen in long waves of four to six decades, known as Kondratiev waves for the Russian economist who uncovered these tech-driven long cycles. In the last 235 years, we have passed through five such long cycles, each of which was driven by distinct lead technologies: Water power, textiles and iron led the first wave (1785-1845), followed by steam, railway and steel (1845-1900), electricity, chemicals and automobiles (1900-1950) and petrochemicals, aviation, and electronics (1950-1990). The current fifth wave is driven by digital networks, software, and new media (1990-2020). The  sixth wave (2020-2045) is expected to be driven by clean technologies that promote resource efficiency. Interestingly, the duration of the long waves shortens with each new one — and so does the average life span of corporations.

    These four major cycle types not only connect to each other, but also influence many other phenomena in business. For example, the stock market tends to move with the business cycle. Industries (and the technologies that get them started) move into a new season with each new long wave. Moreover, each long wave comprises five or more business cycles. Some analysts even suggest that peace and war cycles can be explained with the help of long waves.

    Why is it important to track cyclicality in business?

    Depending on the season (or cycle phase), a business needs to have a different focus, embrace a different leadership type, and shoot for a different type of creativity:

    • In spring, focus on creating new value (a product or technology) and of launching it in the market. This phase requires upfront investment and an agile creative leader who drives fast, meaningful change. Creativity is often technology-driven and pushes for bold, revolutionary ideas.
    • In summer, the focus shifts to customers and sales. Here, a people-oriented leader is the best choice to entice customers and motivate the team to reach ambitious growth targets. Creativity is marketing- and customer-driven and targets more evolutionary ideas.
    • In autumn, revenue growth flattens but profitability is still high. Now, a business needs to consolidate its growth with stable operations. The ideal leader here is a person focused on operational excellence and getting things done. Creativity focuses on practical improvements and customer service.
    • In winter, the emphasis shifts to setting up efficient, well-structured processes and systems that allow for scaling the business. As revenues and profits start to decline, the best leader is someone who enjoys tracking performance and enforcing organizational efficiency and financial discipline. Creativity targets incremental improvements of products and processes following an adaptive approach.

    Interested to learn more about this? Contact us to learn more about how to master cyclicality and successfully ride the waves of change in our innovation training courses.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. 


  • Understanding the Inner Workings of Innovation Methods

    Have you ever wondered what an innovation process method is? And what it’s good for? And how it works? Today, let’s answer these questions and find out what innovation methods are good for and all have in common.

    Setting the scene:

    What if you were assigned to lead a new innovation project to develop a new product? What concrete work activities do you need to do? Please take a moment to think about this scenario.

    So what innovation project-related activities have you come up with? When I give graduate students and delegates in innovation training courses a few minutes to think about this, typical  answers that emerge include:

    “Brainstorm for ideas” … “Implement the idea” … “Do market research” … “Create a prototype” … “Analyze our competitors and their products” … “Pitch our idea” … “Look at trends” … “Ship the product” … “Select the best ideas” … “Empathize with the users” … “Frame the innovation challenge” … “Calculate the expected return on investment from an idea” … “Check on project-related facts and evidence” … “Evaluate ideas” … and so on.

    Have thought of some of the above — or something similar? If so: congratulations. You’re on track to becoming an innovator if you do such things. But here is another important question:

    WHAT exactly do we need to DO and WHEN to get WHAT kind of RESULTS?

    Or put in other words: What activities do we need to perform when in an innovation project do produce what kind of outputs? To answer these questions, a few people who enjoy thinking about such things (including myself) have created different kinds of innovation methods.

    What are innovation methods?

    Innovation methods (sometimes called creative problem-solving methods or creative processes) are systematic process flows that outline the steps and cognitive activities that an individual or a team needs to follow while thinking their way through an innovation challenge, or while working on solving a problem creatively.

    What are prominent examples of innovation methods?

    Going back on the work of the creativity pioneers Alex Osborne and Sid Parnes, the classic Creative Problem-Solving Model (CPS) is probably the longest-serving and best-known process method. Others include Design Thinking (created by the Palo Alto-based innovation company IDEO and its academic offspring, the D-School at Stanford University); the “Idea Machine” of the Swiss innovation company Brainstorm; or Systematic Inventive Thinking created by the Israeli company of the same name, among others. Finally, X-IDEA is an up-and-coming new innovation method that I created for Thinkergy.

    Why are innovation methods useful?

    All innovation process methods are based on the belief that if you follow a systematic thinking process, you will get better ideas and results compared to when you think through an innovation project in a largely unstructured way. Why?

    Innovation projects are messy and lengthy affairs. They may last anything from a few days to weeks, months or even years. They often involve a smaller core team and dozens of supporters who join in for certain activities (such as idea generation). They also produce large amounts of interim outputs (for example, dozens of new insights or hundreds of raw ideas) needed to eventually arrive at a final innovation deliverable.

    An elegant, well-designed and effective innovation process method can cut through the messiness and safely guide an individual or team towards meaningful results. It provides focus to the innovation efforts by specifying what do to next to produce the outputs needed in the subsequent steps.

    How do innovation methods work in general?

    An innovation method provides you with a systematic order of work or thinking steps: First do this, then that, then do a third thing, followed by another task, until you eventually  conclude the process. Most innovation processes propose a linear sequence of steps and associated cognitive activities / work tasks that wanna-be-innovators need to perform while working on a case.

    Some innovation methods are more detailed and comprehensive than others and require more steps and related work activities. But while it allows innovators to work more thoroughly, more steps and details also make it harder for novices to learn the method  — and for facilitators to keep track of the correct order of doing things.

    To resolve this potential conflict between high accuracy and simplicity, some innovation methods aggregate three or more process steps on a higher level of abstraction in a process stage. For example, looking through the activities listed in our “warm-up exercise”, we may integrate “Evaluate ideas”, “Prototype ideas” and “Select the best ideas” in a stage that we call “Evaluation”.

    Consequently, more thorough innovation process methods such as Design Thinking or X-IDEA consist of typically 3-5 process stages, with each stage having subordinated work steps.

    Finally, many innovation process methods imply circularity on two levels:

    • On a micro-level, you may have to circle back to the previous step to repeat the related work activities whenever you notice that the inputs form the preceding step are insufficient in quality or quality to produce the desired outputs in the current step.
    • On a macro-level, circularity means that once you’ve successfully completed an innovation project, you start a new one. Enter a new project into your innovation process method, and take step one in stage one.

    Which innovation method should you adopt?

    Please don’t ask me. I have a clear recommendation for you, and I admit I am biased. But after putting on a neutral thinker cap, I advise would to proceed as follows:

    1. Select an innovation method that promises to fit your situation with regards to:
      (a) how often you do innovation projects,
      (b) how sophisticated or simple you want the method to be, and
      (c) what innovation types you typically pursue.
    2. Then, experiment with different creative processes and innovation methods.
    3. Continue trying out the different innovation methods until you find the one that best suits your innovation needs and fits your people.

    Would you love to learn more about the X-IDEA innovation method and our related trainingcourses and innovation project workshops? Contact us and tell us more about your company and innovation needs.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. 

  • Tracking the long-term impacts of innovation training

    What are the long-term impacts on learners who have taken training in structured innovation? What do they recall from the course? What is the long-term effectiveness of a systematic creativity training with regards to building-up creative confidence and creative confidence in learners? Did the learning journey to the creative side of life inspire some former learners to pursuit creative careers?

    My colleague Dr. Brian Hunt and I investigated these questions in a new research study that is part of my research program “Teaching and learning creativity and innovation”. We will publish our complete results in a conference paper titled “Training Businesspeople in Structured Innovation: Tracking down Long-Term Impacts” that I will present at the ISPIM (International Society for Professional Innovation Management) Innovation Conference in Vienna in two months. Today, allow me to share some of our interesting findings here.

    Background of the study

    Our new research builds on two earlier papers that introduced the course content and pedagogical design of a training program in structured innovation, and then mapped out the  learner’s emotional journey through an experiential training course in business creativity (these findings were published in this previous article on Uncovering the Innovation Learner's Experience.

    To investigate the long-term impacts of innovation training, we contacted 400 former learners via email and social media and collected 53 usable responses. The mean time that had passed since the respondents completed the course in structured innovation training course was 4 years, in spans varying from 1.5 to 11.5 years.

    The respondents were almost equally split between male and female, with ages ranging from 24 to 69 years with a mean of 33. 

    What are some of the findings that we uncovered on the long-term impacts of structured innovation training?

    Finding 1: Structured innovation training can anchor creative confidence and competence

    Taking a well-designed training program in structured innovation improved both learners’ creative confidence (self-belief in one’s creativity) and creative competence (knowledge and skills in the fields of creativity and innovation) in the long run. Almost 80% of the former learners confirmed that they consider themselves to be more creative than their colleagues at work (creative confidence) and to know more about creativity and innovation than their colleagues (creative competence).

    Many comments echoed the notion that “everyone can be creative” and that “you can systematically create creative results using methods and tools”, underlining the themes of creative confidence and competence. One former learner said: “I now truly believe everyone is creative, I look at people around and especially myself very differently. I have a lot more confidence in thinking out of the box and pitching ideas. And with the belief, ideas flow.” Another respondent voiced surprise on “how little other people know about business creativity”.

    Finding 2: Structured innovation training can inspire more creative career paths

    Our data confirmed that being exposed to experiential innovation training encourages roughly half of the learners to pursue careers in creative industries or more creative business functions, or even to start their own creative ventures.

    One former learner said: “I left the corporate world and joined startups in order to be able to create and try different approaches instead of being stuck with corporate compliance”. Others said the training “helped me to launch my startup instead of working in a big company. I work on innovation because of it”, or “inspired me to pursue a career in indie game development where creativity truly thrives”.

    Others said the training helped them to approach their existing job responsibilities more creatively and successfully. One former learner stated the training “has given me a wider perspective and know-how in how to approach creative team building and brainstorm or knowledge accumulation process”.

    Finding 3: An enjoyable learning experience can enhance the recall and application of innovation know-how

    Given that on average four years had passed since the learners took their innovation training, we were pleasantly surprised how well they recalled innovation methods and thinking tools as well as key creative principles taught:

    • Many explicitly remembered X-IDEA, Thinkergy’s innovation process method X-IDEA that formed the structural backbone of the innovation training program: “I remember all the stages of X-IDEA and their significance along with tools used in each stage like jotting down as many ideas as possible on post-its, merging them together to combine ideas, etc.” Others praised X-IDEA’s effectiveness as follows: “A systematic innovation process is always effective when going through an innovation project – hence, a systematic process with a focus on productivity is key”; and “we had our final idea and thought it would not have been even remotely possible to come up with such an idea with the convention thinking process”.
    • Other course graduates recalled and applied the TIPS (Theories, Ideas, People, Systems) profiling method. (“I understand myself more with TIPS and apply it to I work with people”; “My most memorable moment was when we leaned about our TIPS profile and how our type relates to and interacts with others”.)
    • A number of former learners recalled important creative principles, such as moving from idea quantity to idea quality, thereby transforming wild ideas into novel, original and meaningful concepts: “One main insight I gained was never to judge and kill any ideas at the beginning. They can lead to potentially become the big idea.” Others noted that in the context of a structured creative process, a “crazy idea can become a practical one” and that a “wild idea creates innovation”.

    Finding 4: Course application and appreciation is most intensive at the upper and top management levels

    Interestingly, those former learners who now play leading roles in their organizations voiced the highest long-term appreciation of the innovation training’s usefulness and creative effectiveness. While middle managers coordinate teams and work “in the business” with a focus on efficiency and “getting things done”, top-level leaders work more strategically and creatively “on the business”.

    Conclusion: Our findings suggest that an effective training in structured innovation with long-term impact on the learners should follow these course design tips:

    1. Make learning fun, enjoyable and creative (“The course was in a complete different style than any other lecture. The different approach led to a different way of learning and unfolding creative potential”.)
    2. Design “sticky” activities and memorable moments (“fun activities”, “laying flat on floor”, “balloons and paper airplanes”, “the alien game”) into the creative learning journey to aid long-term knowledge recall .
    3. Teach useful knowledge and skills with a focus on practical application. (“The way of X-IDEA was very practical and logical”.)
    4. Build-up and anchor the creative confidence and creative competence of learners through realistic innovation practice cases. (“I’m more creative and I always think out of the box”.)

    Do you want to build-up your creative competence and creative confidence with a structured innovation training?  Do you want to learn more about our systematic innovation method X-IDEA? Or find out what’s your preferred cognitive style and your TIPS innovator profile? Contact us to learn how our team of certified trainers can unbox the thinking of your people with a long-term impact.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. 


  • Play “The Dating Game” to Find New Growth

    Discovering new meaning for an established product with a stagnant or negative revenue outlook is like re-entering the dating game. This metaphor underlies a new thinking tool called “The Dating Game” that I’ve created as a new addition to our X-IDEA Thinking Toolbox. Today, allow me to share with you how you may the dating analogy to find new ways to reinvigorate sales of a flailing product.

    The background story

    A few weeks ago, I was in Germany to kick-off the first phase of a X-IDEA Innovation Project with a Multinational Corporation. The workshop focused on the initial stage of our X -IDEA innovation method, Xploration. We sent three project teams on an Xplorer’s Journey to get a new take on a high-performance product that until now has enjoyed profitable growth. However, almost all sales are concentrated in one application that is due to be replaced by a technical innovation that most clients are predicted to switch over to in the coming years.

    As such, the teams explored the wider emerging market field to understand what other applications, market fields and business models could be considered to extend the product’s lifecycle.

    We invited the teams to check their assumptions, asked lot’s of provocative questions, made them look at the challenge from different angles to identify new opportunities and unmet customer needs, and mapped out trends as well as potential market fields. All these activities helped the teams to gain novel insights into their real challenges related to this niche product.

    For this workshop, I also created a new thinking tool called “The Dating Game” — a popular US TV show ran from the 1990s to the 1990s — to help people look at their product with fresh eyes. In the end, I decided against using it because some delegates were too conservative. But as I trust the readers of this column to be creative at heart, I am sharing this new tool with you now.

    Step 1: Characterize your dating client

    Imagine a struggling product as a person who —after the break-up of a long relationship— re-enters the dating game to find new love. How would you describe your product’s attributes?

    • What’s it’s essential nature? How old is it? Young, middle-aged or old? Is it male, female or maybe transexual? Modern-progressive or conservative-traditional? Dynamic or static? Small or large? Heavy or light? Fashionable and stylish or old-fashioned and classic? Hip or time-honored?
    • How does it look? Clear, black-and-white, uni-color or very colorful? Light or dark? Sharp or blurry?
    • How does it sound? Soft or loud? Slow or fast? Low or High? Far or near?
    • How does it feel? Soft or hard? Hot or cool? Rough or smooth? Intermittent or constant?
    • How would it smell? Strong or faint?Pleasant or unpleasant? Natural or chemical? Floral? Musky? Sweet or sharp?
    • How would it taste? Mild or strong? Spicy-hot or bland? Salty? Sweet? Bitter? Sour?
    • What other attributes come to your mind?

    Once you have identified the fitting attributes, use them to write a compelling, attractive dating profile for your product.

    Step 2: Describe the attributes of your ideal date

    Imagine the new application, customer or business opportunity for your product were a person you’d love to date? What are the characteristics or your ideal date? List down all attributes of your ideal date. List them all.

    Of course, while we dream of finding the perfect partner, we rarely get everything we’re looking for. As such, go through your list of attributes and underline those that your date really must have to be the right fit. The fewer “must haves” you insist on, the broader your pool of possible candidates. Once you have narrowed down your list, create one or —even better— a few target profiles to use.

    Step 3: Do a make-over

    Now go back to your product’s dating profile and take a critical look at it: How attractive is your product to these target dates? Does it need a makeover? New profile photos? A physical tune-up to boost your product’s attractiveness? Write down any ideas you get here.

    Step 4: Specify appropriate dating channels

    Nowadays, people use both traditional and modern activities, venues, media and communication channels to find love, beyond just going to a pub or club. Ask friends for recommendations and introductions. Go to networking events. Enroll in clubs and classes. Use a matchmaking service. Use online dating platforms like Match.com. Use dating apps like Tinder. And use social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and maybe even LinkedIn, to befriend potential dating targets.

    How does this all relate to your product? What’s the equivalent of all the aforementioned activities, events, places, brokers and communication channels when it comes to your product? How can you discover and hook up with potential target dates for your product — and vice versa? Remember that dating is a numbers game: the more channels you use and the more dates you go on, the more potential opportunities you have.

    Step 5: How to wow your date and start a relationship?

    Now that you’ve identified fitting activities, events, channels and media, how do you wow dates at your first sight? How can you present your product’s attributes at their best? How can you make your dates reveal their secret wants and needs? Can your product satisfy them? If yes, in what ways? How can you explore a mutually satisfying future? How can you co-create a win-win partnership? And how will you know that you’ve really clicked?

    Once again, add fresh insights and initial ideas on how to transform a date into a lasting, mutually satisfying partnership. Finally, at the end of the Xploration, extract your final challenge that you want to work on in a subsequent IDEA workshop introducing the remaining four stages of X-IDEA.

    Do you have a good product with declining sales? Would you like to extend its lifecycle by playing the dating game? Are you interested in doing an innovation project by having us expose your team to our systematic innovation method X-IDEA? Contact us to tell us more about your innovation needs.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. 

  • Harnessing the Yin Yang flow of innovation

    Two weeks ago, we discussed how to embrace the Yin Yang concept of Chinese philosophy as a simple but effective way to talk about creativity and innovation. We learned that to build a creative company, we need to focus on boosting its creative Yin energy: hire and promote more creative Yin people; have a leader with a creative Yin mindset; and gradually build a creative Yin culture. Today, let’s talk about the fourth and final aspect: the creative process — and how you may use the Yin Yang flow of innovation to guide your thinking while working on a creative project.

    Master creative projects using a Yin Yang flow in the creative process

    When you want to pursue a creative project with an innovation project team, you can use the dynamic interplay of Yin Yang to guide you in a simple way through the various phases of the creative process. Why? Almost all creative processes unfold in a harmonious rhythm of divergent thinking alternating with convergent thinking:

    • Yang energy represents convergent thinking, meaning we “narrow down” our thinking by employing more left brain-directed cognitive processes like analysis, critical evaluation and rational decision-making.
    • In contrast, Yin energy aligns with divergent thinking, broadening our horizons by using more right brain-directed cognitive activities such as empathizing, ideating and imagining.

    How does the Yin Yang flow of innovation unfold?

    I designed a simple creative process flow that unfolds in seven Yin Yang-cycles. Each starts convergent thinking (Yang) that is followed by a phase of divergent thinking (Yin). An innovation project team can apply these seven cycles over seven time intervals (e.g., half-days, days or weeks). How exactly do these seven cycles of the Yin Yang flow work?

    Yang 1: State your case. Specify what the innovation project is all about: the creative challenge, and what you know about the case. We converge our thinking to what we initially perceive to be the essential facets of the case.

    Yin 1: Explore your challenge. Next, diverge the thinking by examining the case more broadly, based on the four cardinal points of the compass:

    • Check for “True North” by examining facts, assumptions, beliefs and rules.
    • Go West to curiously ask and answer many questions related to the case, especially those that make people feel uncomfortable.
    • Head South to look at your case from new viewpoints, especially those of your customers and other key stakeholders.
    • Look East to map and sketch what you know about your case.

    Yang 2: Frame your real challenge. Condense all your learnings from phase 1 by framing what you uncovered as your real innovation challenge, which typically differs from what you initially perceived.

    Yin 2: Generate hundreds of ideas. Have fun and enjoy brainstorming and ideating many, many ideas for your challenge with the help of creativity tools. Make an effort to generate at least 250 ideas with your innovation team. Follow the ground rules of brainstorming and ideation, especially Rule No. 1: “No killing of ideas.”

    Yang 3: Discover intriguing ideas. Review what you’ve generated to find roughly fifty ideas that are more interesting — or maybe even a bit wild. When you narrow down your idea pool, and throw away all conventional and obvious ideas, you engage in Yang-style convergent thinking.

    Yin 3: Design realistic, meaningful concepts. Use the three creative principles of elaboration, combination and transmutation:

    • Detail out and enlarge interesting ideas that already carry enough value potential by themselves (elaboration).
    • Find ideas that seem to connect, then combine those into more valuable concepts (combination).
    • Take a wild idea and creatively look for ways to tame its wild nature while preserving its intriguing aspects (transmutation).

    Shoot for at least a dozen idea concept with your innovation team in this phase.

    Yang 4: Evaluate your idea concepts. Now it’s time for some critical convergent thinking. Evaluate and critique each concept in your idea concept portfolio to better understand its pros and cons.

    Yin 4: Enhance and rapidly prototype promising concepts. Take a look at the cons of each concept and ask: “How can we creatively fix these bugs?” Then, do rapid prototyping on the most promising concepts to quickly learn more about their value potential and feasibility through iterative rounds of trial and error coupled with feedback.

    Yang 5: Select your top idea concept. Select at least one top idea for real life activation. Use simple voting techniques to reach a team consensus, or employ more advanced decision-making tools to settle diverging views.

    Yin 5: Design a winning pitch. Every top idea needs support from superiors, sponsors and suppliers to secure the resources to bring it to life. Create an impactful idea pitch that animates the benefits of your idea by addressing both the functional and emotional needs of those whose support is critical.

    Yang 6: Pitch your top idea. Use Yang energy to pitch and convincingly respond to any questions raised. If your pitch succeeds, move to the next Yin phase, otherwise lick your wounds and go back to the previous one.

    Yin 6: Party. You’ve succeeded and earned the funding and approval needed for activating your top idea. Celebrate the moment. You’ve thought and worked hard to create a winning idea, and you will have to put in lots more effort to bring it to life.

    Yang 7: Plan for idea activation, then activate your top idea. Specify key parameters, and begin with the activation of your funded idea, reviewing your progress at every critical milestone and adjusting your plan if needed.

    Yin 7: Release the idea into the market. Create a momentum-building launch event. Then, start shipping and continue creatively promoting your “wow” innovation. Finally, begin the Yin Yang flow anew by starting a new innovation project.

    Nota bene: The Yin Yang flow of innovation is a simplification of Thinkergy’s awards-winning innovation process method X-IDEA. If you like to learn more about the Yin-Yang nature of innovation, check out an earlier article that was published in this blog titled "The Yin of Creativity".

    Contact us if you want to learn more about our innovation trainings, or become a Thinkergy certified trainer.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. 

  • The Yin of Creativity

    “How can we make our organization more creative? And please, keep it simple,” a client interested in a creativity training for a group of senior executives asked me. Infusing more creativity into an organization comes down to four basic challenges. 

    They are:
    (1) Find out who your creative people are, and how many of them you have.
    (2) Ensure most of your leaders have a creative mindset, especially those at the top.
    (3) Use your creative leaders as change catalysts to build a creative culture.
    (4) Pursue meaningful creative projects with the help of a well-structured creative process.

    The client sighs: “Is there a way to explain this to them in an even easier way?”
    “Yes”, I said. “Think Yin and Yang — and simply use the Yin of creativity.”

    How the Yin Yang concept relates to business and creativity

    The ancient Chinese concept of Yin Yang highlights the interplay of polar opposites in nature. It postulates that dual opposites both dynamically challenge and harmoniously balance each other. Common examples of such interdependent and interconnected opposites (listed in the order Yang before Yin) are male and female, day and night, sun and moon, among others.

    How can you employ Yin Yang to make your organization more creative? How to use the Yin of creativity?

    • Think of creativity (and related concepts of customer care and change) as Yin, and opposite business concepts such as financial performance, facts and efficiency are Yang.
    • Next, look at the the organization from a Yin Yang perspective: the personality of people working in it; the prevailing mindset of executives leading it; the culture driving people’s behaviors; and the thinking tools and process used while working on projects.
    • Finally, if you notice Yang energy dominates the organization, address the four factors — employee personality, leader mindset, corporate culture and thinking process — and gradually shift them one by one from Yang to Yin.

    Creative people have a Yin personality

    How do you identify the creative people in your organization? Use an effective cognitive profiling method (personality test) that clearly identifies those people who prefer creative thinking.

    In Thinkergy’s innovation people profiling method TIPS, we mainly identify creative people by probing for a person’s preferred thinking style. Thereby, “fantasy thinkers” are Yin, while “figure thinkers” are Yang. TIPS also checks on two related styles preferred by creative people: creative Yin thinkers tend to interact with others using Yin-style empathy, emotion and feeling; and they tend to prefer a Yin-lifestyle (i.e. flexibly going with the flow of life).

    Question: Are the people in your team more Yin (creative, empathic, flexible) or Yang (analytical, factual, formal)? Do some express both elements?

    Creative leaders have a Yin mindset

    Mindset describes the way you routinely do things and think about things and people (including yourself). Typically, a creative mindset aligns with a creative personality.  People with a Yin personality have an easier path to develop into a creative leader. However, they still need to change a few limiting habitual thought patterns to a creative Yin mindset.

    A Yin mindset indicates that you enjoy creative thinking, and also have many interests apart from having expertise in a domain that excites you. You insist on your own personality and original creativity rather than copying the thoughts, ways and ideas of others. You dare to act and take initiative. As a positive, playful optimist, you’re open to other viewpoints and ideas. Yin leaders love what they do, so they passionately work hard in a focused way. But they also know when to let go of work and relax to invite fresh inspirations.

    How can you develop authentic creative leaders to creatively lead your organization in line with the Yin of creativity? Employ an effective creative leadership method (such as Genius Journey) that can show them how to adopt and adapt the Yin mindsets of a creative leader.

    Questions: Do you possess more of a Yin mindset or are you more Yang — a critical, analytical expert who stays in the safe confines of established doctrines and action routines, who mainly works for the pay, perks and prestige linked to your job, and who’s always busy keeping up with all the demands of the job without being overly productive? And how about your superiors — are they more of a Yin or Yang leader?

    Creative organizations have a Yin culture

    Culture is the way things are typically done in an organization. Many well-established corporations have a Yang culture embedded in the organizational DNA by generations of Yang leaders who succeeded the original Yin founder of the venture long ago. So, put a Yin leader in charge to switch the corporate culture back.

    A creative Yin culture encourages everyone to express individuality, and embraces diversity of thoughts, backgrounds and interests. Such openness fosters a playful, friendly climate that encourages people to share, nurture and act on ideas by rapidly prototyping them (in line with the maxim “Fail earlier to succeed sooner”).

    In a Yin culture, employees and teams largely manage themselves and work in a disciplined, focused way; high degrees of freedom blend with a pursuit of excellence. Employees enjoy coming to work because they are intrinsically motivated by interesting projects; they empathically care to resolve creative challenges that make meaning for customers.

    In contrast, a Yang culture prefers a uniform set of people conforming to expected norms and behaviors that are monitored and controlled by superiors, leading to a tense, serious work climate where everyone is  working busily (often on internal matters), ideas are quickly dismissed and people are reactive because they’re afraid of failure — and where mediocre, “it’s good enough” results are the norm because people essentially are in their job only for the money.

    Questions: Do you work in a Yin or Yang culture? And if you long for a cool change to the Yin of creativity, do you have an effective culture transformation method (such as CooL – Creativity UnLimited) to help you switch?

    Outlook: Today, you learned that if you want to make your organization more creative, you need to focus on strengthen its creative Yin energy: Hire and promote more creative Yin people; and put a leader with a creative Yin mindset in charge to gradually build a creative Yin culture. Finally, use the dynamic interplay between Yin and Yang to pursue a concrete creative project. Come back to this column in two weeks to find out how exactly this creative process unfolds.

    Want to learn more about how the Yin of creativity, or the Yin Yang of innovation? Or do you want to dig deeper and delve into one of our four proprietary innovation methods? Contact us to tell us more about your innovation needs.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. 

  • Why so afraid? Human up! (Part 2)


    In the first part of this article, I pointed out that we are all descendants of brave, action-oriented and creative primal humans who boldly acted, created and collaborated to make humanity rise to the pinnacle of the evolutionary pyramid. I was moved to explore this subject because I’d been encountering so many businesspeople who seem paralyzed by doubts, worries and fears. Why so scared, I wondered?

    In order to remain the dominant species (in light of the onset of robots and artificially intelligent machines), we had better learn how to rein in all those doubts, worries and fears, and reconnect to our essential core of being courageous, action-oriented and creative humans. But how exactly can we “human up”? Here are ten tips.

    1. Let go of the illusion of total control of your destiny. “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans,” said Woody Allen. We’re living in a highly dynamic world with too many variables beyond our control. So, while I endorse making plans, I recommend executing them in a flexible way to respond to changes and surprises.

    2. Believe all will work out well in the end. Have you ever experienced a negative incident that in hindsight turned out to be a blessing in disguise? Start seeing setbacks and temporary failures as what they really are: feedback to stir you forward towards personal happiness and success. Don’t be afraid. Honestly confront the facts of your present reality, do what’s needed to survive now and increase the odds of future success, and believe that in the end, everything will turn out well. Consider living by the following mantra: “Everything that happens to me is the best possible thing that can happen to me.”

    3. Realize most doubts, worries and fears aren’t real. They are just disempowering, limiting thoughts going on in your head. As Mark Twain put it, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

    So, instead of entertaining fearful thoughts about a distant future, focus on what you need to do now. Practice mindfulness to gain more awareness of your inner dialogue, let anxious thoughts pass without attaching energy to them, and to pay attention to the present moment.

    4. Just do it. “Always do what you fear”, recommends the American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. So, human up. Proactively facing a fear is the fastest way to overcome it, and to turn the unknown into a new experience. So, why not human up and finally ask your boss for the raise you both know you deserve?

    5. Be bold but don’t be stupid. The Greek philosopher Aristotle considered courage  “the mean between fear and recklessness.” For example, if you’re afraid of snakes, consider visiting a snake farm to encounter and learn about their ways, and maybe touch a non-poisonous one — but don’t be reckless and step in front of a cobra.
 In business, courageously take action on new projects, but don’t engage in activities that may bring you into serious trouble, such as: doing things that are illegal, highly speculative or unethical.

    6. Shape up. Getting and staying fit will not only make your body stronger, leaner and more flexible; thanks to the body-mind connection, it will have the same effects on your mind. Physical exercise positively changes the neurochemical balance in your brain to make you more confident, courageous and happy. As the ancient Romans already knew, “Mens sana in corpore sano” (A sound mind in a sound body).

    7. Open up. Anxiety is a sign of a closed, judgmental mind. It’s the opposite of the curious, open and flexible mindset of primal humans who explored the world and learned how to seize its opportunities. So, open your mind to new trends, ideas, viewpoints and ways of doing things to keep from falling behind in a fast-changing world. As the American social philosopher Eric Hoffer said: “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

    8. Relax, recharge and sleep. Sleep is crucially important to ensure optimum physical and cognitive performance. Consider taking a power nap once you notice your energy levels are down, and plan for enough downtime in your day to recharge and relax. But most importantly, ensure you get 7-8 hours of reenergizing sleep every night.

    9. Reconnect to the hunter in you. Nowadays, too many businesspeople have become “farmers”: they passively sit back, hoping to perpetually reap the rewards of the seeds sown long ago, and to squeeze the last drops of milk out of ragged cash cows. Recall that primal humans were hunters. It’s in our essential primal nature to move and actively hunt for —and bring down— prey that often is much bigger than us. Become a hunter again, too: life is full of new opportunities once you venture out.

    10. Move on when too much is wrong. When you work in an  environment that regularly fills your mind with doubtful, worrisome and fearful thoughts, it’s a sign that something is seriously wrong. Whether you feel afraid of a venomous colleague or drained by constant political manoeuvring, acknowledge persistent feelings of anxiety, stress and unhappiness for what they really are: a signal to make a change.

    Leave that poisonous, energy-sapping or stagnant environment behind for a new hunting ground. Join another firm, found or join a start-up, or dedicate your talents to a meaningful non-profit organization. Life is too short to waste on a cause that doesn’t feel right for you. So if its time for you to move on, human up!

    Want to learn more about how to human up? Enroll in one of our Genius Journey training courses.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. 

  • 10 Predictions on How Innovation Will Disrupt Business in 2017

    In his recent article outline the "10 Predictions on How Innovation Will Disrupt Business and Culture in 2017", author Alex Goryachev shared some alarming revelations for companies that don't have an innovation strategy in place. 

    According to Goryachev, the pace of change will force companies to look at new ways to adapt or create disruptive solutions - not only to the products and services they market, but in how they are developed internally. 

    His predictions are:

    1. Companies will disrupt themselves to survive the digital age
    2. The pace of change will force businesses to create game-changing solutions rather than incremental improvements
    3. Smart companies will recognize that innovation can come from anywhere
    4. Silicon Valley startup traits will be infused into corporate workforces
    5. Successful companies will adapt the best of both worlds by balancing the tension between startup and big-enterprise cultures
    6. Coaches and mentors will become more important than traditional managers
    7. Organizations will encourage cross-functional innovation teams
    8. Organizations will encourage cross-functional innovation teams
    9. The rise of innovation ecosystem and co-innovation
    10. Internal and external innovation will converge

    For companies that want to embrace these changes, Thinkergy's methods for ideation, talent development, leadership development and culture are a great solution. 

  • Uncovering the innovation learner’s experience

    What’s going on in the minds of businesspeople who undergo training in business creativity and the use of a structured innovation method? What is their creative learning experience like? How do learners feel as they get trained in innovation?

    Together with my colleague Dr. Brian Hunt, I investigated these questions in a comprehensive research project involving young business professionals learning creativity and applied innovation in a Business Creativity course taught as part of a master in management program at the College of Management, Mahidol University. The findings were presented in a conference paper at the ISPIM (International Society for Professional Innovation Management) Innovation Summit 2016 in Kuala Lumpur. Today, let’s take a peek at some of the interesting results of our research.

    How we researched the innovation learner’s experience

    In our empirical study, Brian and I employed a longitudinal research design to investigate the innovation learner’s experience. We collected data from learners at four points of time during the training program: Immediately before, half-way, three-quarters through, and at the end of the course. We gathered data from six courses with overall 158 learners using a combined quantitative and qualitative survey design, which we then analyzed using descriptive statistics, word cloud technology and qualitative data analysis.

    What’s going on in the learners’ minds as they get trained in innovation?

    Let me introduce the innovation learner’s experience in chronological order by sharing with you what happens in the training program, and what responses the course design elicits in the learners’ minds:

    • With the first survey, we tracked learners’ feelings and expectations right before the start of the first training session. Most learners had no prior exposure to creativity and innovation concepts and tools. How did most learners feel right before the start of their creative learning journey? Positively excited, curious and a bit nervous.
    • All activities in the first half of the training program are designed to build-up creative competence (know-how and creative thinking skills) and creative confidence (belief in one’s creativity). The learners acquire foundational know-how about the concepts of creativity and innovation, gain an understanding of mindsets and routines that limit or fuel their individual creativity, and learn about their preferred cognitive styles and their innovator profile. They also work on a potpourri of creative puzzles, exercises, tests, games and individual homework assignments.
    • From week 4 onwards, I introduce X-IDEA, the awards-winning systematic innovation process method and related toolbox that I’ve created for Thinkergy. In the first stage of X-IDEA, Xploration, participants learn how to thoroughly explore an innovation case in order to gain novel insights and frame their real innovation challenge. Next, in the energetic Ideation stage, they learn how to easily and playfully produce many raw ideas by using creativity tools and following the ground rules of ideation (especially no 1: No killing of ideas).
    • What are the effects of this empowering creative learning regime? Our second survey half-way through the course revealed that the learners felt delighted, happy and creative. They express recognizing and enjoying their creativity. Some said that for the first time in their education, they felt empowered to freely express even unconventional or really wild ideas and opinions without being criticised, which they regarded as liberating.
    • The third quarter of the innovation training program is designed to blend awakened creative energy with a more sober focus on realistic, meaningful outputs and results.
      At this point, the participants get introduced to the more pragmatic final three process stages of X-IDEA. They learn how to design realistic, relevant and meaningful concepts (Development); how to evaluate those concepts —and do rapid prototyping with the most promising ones— to find the top ideas (Evaluation); and how to pitch these top ideas for support and real-life activation (Action stage). In addition, they begin to individually and collectively work on simulated yet realistic innovation project cases (which get scored and graded).
    • How do learners feel at this point? Challenged but motivated by interesting project cases — and in some cases, confused and a bit overwhelmed. The innovation project cases are unlike the usual school assignments, which require learners to work through a clearly defined assignment to produce the one “right” solution on the answer sheet.
      In contrast, innovation cases are usually fuzzy, ill-defined and expansive, with many possible routes to travel and many possible solutions for each possible challenge. Here is a typical learner comment: “It’s very interesting. However, I have to spend a lot of time to think and understand the question. I have to think a lot.” Another related: “It’s quite tough but we’re having a lot of fun.”
    • In the final three weeks of the training program, the learners go through an intensive realistic Ideation & Development workshop with their innovation project case, learn how to evaluate their idea concepts, and finally have to pitch their top ideas in the final Action-stage.
    • How do participants feel at the end of the innovation training program? Creatively accomplished, happy and proud that they have risen to the occasion and successfully created novel, original and meaningful solutions. The overall satisfaction rating with the course is very high, and the learners agree that the training format has noticeably enhanced their creativity and structured thinking capabilities.

    Key take-aways from our research:

    The results of our empirical research led us to five main findings on how to design and improve the innovation learner’s experience:

    1. Creative thinking skills and structured innovation know-how can be effectively taught to and acquired by business professionals in a training program (of ca. 36 hours) that combines theoretical instructions with the practical application of the course contents and creative skills on real-life innovation cases.
    2. The learners confirmed that when working on an innovation case, the use of a structured innovation method and related thinking tools improves the quality of both thinking and outputs.
    3. Most learners appreciate it when they get challenged by ambitious, real-life innovation cases as project assignments; difficult but interesting innovation challenges increase motivation, effort and creativity.
    4. Rising up to and successfully mastering these challenges augments learners’ overall course satisfaction — and contributes to improving their confidence in their creative skills.
    5. A successful creative learning journey in structured innovation resembles an emotional roller-coaster that flows along the four emotional states: learners first feel “positively excited”, then “playfully creative”, then “interestingly challenged”, and finally “creatively accomplished”.

    Curious to live the innovation learner’s experience yourself? Contact us if you want to find out more about our innovation training courses related to X-IDEA and other structured innovation methods.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. 

  • How Muhammad Ali exemplified the genius mindsets of creative leaders (Part 1)


    I was half-way in an exercise set at the gym when my eye spotted the breaking news on CNN: “Boxing legend Muhammad Ali dead at 74″. I feel great sadness that one of my heroes has moved on to a higher place. Muhammad Ali was one of the creative role models I studied when I was devising Genius Journey, my creative leadership development method. “The Greatest” exemplified all genius mindsets that most great creative leaders share.

    The Genius Journey sends people in search of their creativity on a journey to visit 10 destination stops. At each stop, they learn about one mindset that stops them, limits them, keeps them small, keeps them thinking inside the box. And they learn about 10 corresponding mindsets that allow them to unbox their thinking, expand their consciousness, and rediscover their creative selfs.

    To honor the life of Muhammad Ali, and to inspire more businesspeople to build-up their genius mindsets and reconnect with their inner genius, let’s tour the 10 destinations stops of the Genius Journey together with Ali today and in two weeks from now.

    Journey Stop 1: Belief, courage, action-orientation and persistence

    Muhammad Ali is a role-model for the foundational first stop of the Genius Journey: Stop your doubts, worries and fears. Start to be a courageous, action-oriented and persistent believer.

    “I am an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given. I believed in myself, and I believe in the goodness of others,” he once said, and he also noted: “It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself.”

    Ali knew: “It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.” Hence, he used affirmations as a tactic to convince himself and others that he is the greatest indeed: “I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest.” And the greatest he became, true to his belief that, “What you are thinking about, you are becoming.”

    Ali was also aware that belief powers courage: “It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges.” His faith gave Ali the courage to go into the ring against towering champions like Sonny Liston and George Foreman, and to win fights most experts considered impossible for him. But Ali looked at an impossible as a motivating challenge: “Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

    His faith also gave Ali the courage to refuse to be drafted to fight in what he saw as  an unjust war in Vietnam. That conviction would cost him his title, his money and his freedom: “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? … I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But … I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”

    “He who is not courageous enough to take risks, will accomplish nothing in life,” noted Ali. His courage gave him the willpower to act and persist in the face of hardship and pain that every champion and genius leader needs to master: “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them-a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” He admitted he hated every minute of training, but told himself: “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”

    Journey Stop 2: Self-confidence and individuality

    Stop 2 of the Genius Journey is where you learn to stop your ego — your false self, the role you’re playing to please others — and start being yourself.

    “I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want,” said Ali. Instead of copying the thoughts, values and opinions of others, he insisted upon himself: “My principles are more important than the money or my title.” His insistence on his individuality even made him change his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali (which means ‘beloved of God’). When people continued calling him with his old name, he responded confidently: “I’m not your slave. I’m Muhammad Ali.”

    While extremely self-confident, Ali was also humble and respectful to ordinary fellow humans. He admitted once: “At home I am a nice guy: but I don’t want the world to know. Humble people, I’ve found, don’t get very far.”

    Stop 3: Curiosity and open-mindedness


    Stop 4: Playfulness, positivity & optimism

    The genius mindsets at the stops 3 and 4 of the Genius Journey are located at the same consciousness level. Here you’re asked to stop being judgmental and closed, a negative, serious pessimist. Instead, start being open and curious, a positive playful optimist.

    Muhammad Ali was open and curious to meet people and learn: “I sought the advice and cooperation from all of those around me – but not permission.” He became popular because he loved people and entertained them with funny rants against  opponents (“I’ve seen George Foreman shadow boxing, and the shadow won”) and witty poems (“I’ve wrestled with alligators, I’ve tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning, And throw thunder in jail.”).

    Clearly, throughout his life, Ali maintained a curious, open, positive and playful beginner’s mind of a child, which explains while disease ravaged his body in his last decades, it “couldn’t take the spark from his eyes”, as US President Obama said it his tribute.

    In two weeks, we will continue the remaining stops of the Genius Journey to see how “The Greatest of all times”also epitomized the other genius mindsets. Contact us if you want to learn more about how you can become a genius and discover your genius mindsets with our creative leadership method Genius Journey.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. 

  • Escaping the GIGO principle of innovation

    Last week, I began planning a comprehensive innovation project with a client. This project is of a high importance for this Multinational Corporation, which is seeking for new applications in new industries for a highly profitable product that is now locked into one industry and one application niche. The first challenge in this complex innovation project, I told the client, would be to understand —and escape— the GIGO principle of innovation.

    What is the GIGO principle?

    GIGO stands for “Garbage in, garbage out”. Originating from the domain of computer science and information technology, the GIGO principle describes the following fact:

    If you input unintended, even nonsensical, data (“garbage in”) to a computer (operated by logical processes), then it will unquestioningly produce undesired, often nonsensical, output (“garbage out”).

    In more than a decade of working on over 150 innovation projects, I’ve seen how GIGO also applies to the field of innovation in five dimensions: project, process, money, time, and people.

    The project dimension

    The project dimension of the GIGO principle of innovation goes as follows:

    If you input an unintended, even nonsensical, innovation case at the start of an innovation project (garbage in), then it will produce undesired, often nonsensical, ideas and innovation outputs (garbage out).

    How to escape “garbage in” on the project side?

    • When you plan a new innovation project, ensure that it is relevant, realistic and meaningful for both your organization and key project stakeholders. Ask yourself: How to make key stakeholders rally behind this project? How to make participants feel eager to take part, and look forward to starting?
    • Identify the main innovation type you intend to pursue (e.g., process innovation, product innovation, service innovation, customer experience design, campaign design, business model innovation, or strategy innovation, among others).

    The process dimension

    On a meta-level, we can formulate the process dimension of the GIGO principle of innovation as follows:

    If you use an incomplete or dysfunctional innovation process for an innovation project (garbage in), then it will result in incomplete or substandard ideas and innovation results (garbage out).

    Moreover, every innovation process consists of different process stages, and employs thinking tools that innovation teams apply while working in a stage. As such, the process-related GIGO principle of innovation has a corollary on a stage-level:

    If you enter an insufficient quantity and/or poor quality of inputs into a process stage of a well-structured innovation method (garbage in), then it will produce too few, substandard outputs and results at the end of this stage (garbage out).

    The same holds true on the tool-level: Even the best, most carefully selected thinking tools will produce undesired, or even nonsensical, outputs (“garbage out”) if you input low-quality information (“garbage in”).

    How to escape “garbage in” on the process side?

    • Select and use an innovation process that is well-structured and complete, and that measures inputs and outputs on different levels (such as Thinkergy’s awards-winning X-IDEA method).
    • At the end of a process stage (or a thinking tool-exercise within a stage), make sure that you have outputs in a sufficient quantity and an adequate quality before you move on to the next stage (tool).

    The monetary dimension

    Going through an innovation project requires an adequate budget investment, which leads us to the monetary dimension of the GIGO principle of innovation:

    If you run an innovation project on a shoestring (garbage in), then your pennies will buy you only third-rate delivery partners with faulty innovation processes and limited experience, leading to suboptimal innovation results (garbage out).

    How to escape “garbage in” on the monetary side?

    • Relate the budget to the relative importance of the innovation project (high, medium, low).
    • Hire external innovation professionals with effective process methods to facilitate projects of medium and especially high importance. Recall David Ogilvy’s advice: “Pay peanuts, get monkeys”.
    • Ensure you budget can also pay for a functional event space and for the logistics and travel costs related to the innovation events.
    • Quantify the potential financial benefits of the project, such as estimated revenue and/or profit margin growth. View your project budget in relation to these desired benefits to arrive at an adequate level. For example, a project budget of USD 100,000 seems like a lot, but when viewed in relative terms against expected project benefits (say, USD 50 mio), it translates into a tiny fraction (here 0.2%).

    The time dimension

    Good thinking leading to great innovations takes time. All too often, businesspeople underestimate the time needed to do an innovation project adequately (a phenomenon related to a cognitive bias known as planning fallacy). This leads us to the time dimension of the GIGO principle of innovation:

    If you provide inadequate time commitments to an innovation project and each of its stages; garbage in), then it will produce half-baked outputs and results (garbage out).

    How to escape “garbage in” on the time side?

    • Relate the time commitment to the relative importance of the project (high, medium, low). Consider the following minimum number of innovation workshop days for each importance level: one event day (low), two to three days (medium), and four to five days (high).
    • For high importance cases, spread the innovation project out over a couple of months. Invest time upfront for a thorough immersion during an initial Xploration phase. It will pay dividends later on, ensuring that your innovation teams can address your real innovation challenge, which typically differs from the one you initially perceive to be your challenge.

    The people dimension

    The right number of the right people create great innovation to improve people’s lives. Last but not least, this notion is reflected in the people dimension of the GIGO principle of innovation:

    If an insufficient number of, or the wrong type of people work on an innovation project (or a particular process stage; garbage in), then they will produce too few or suboptimal ideas and innovation outputs (garbage out).

    How to escape “garbage in” on the people side?

    • For innovation projects of medium or high importance, have more than one innovation team (comprising eight to 10 members) working on the project case in parallel.
    • Optimize the people side of innovation: Use cognitive profiling tools (such as Thinkergy’s people innovation profiling method TIPS) to invite people to each innovation process stage who have a natural talent for the type of thinking required in that stage. For example, when applying X-IDEA, I noted that conceptual thinkers do well in the initial Xploration stage; creative thinkers shine in the two creative stages Ideation and Development; critical thinkers help a team to get real in the Evaluation stage; and operational doers get things done in the Action-stage.
    • For highly important innovation projects, broaden viewpoints and the pool of ideas by inviting topic experts (e.g., scientists, futurists, trend scouts) and external collaborators (e.g., clients, suppliers, creative agency partners).

    Do you plan working on an important innovation project in 2017, too? Do you want to escape the GIGO principle of innovation? Contact us if you want to find out how we can guide you towards meaningful innovation results with our systematic innovation method X-IDEA.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. 

  • Taking Creativity Tools Apart

    As a kid, did you ever take apart a toy to see what’s inside? Or as an adult, have you ever taken apart an electronic gadget –or maybe even your car- to understand the inner workings of its different parts? In today’s article, we’ll take a look below the surface of creativity tools – why we need them, what they are, how they work and even how you can create your own ones. Ready? Then let’s go.

    Why do we need creativity tools?
    In our Thinkergy innovation training, we typically ask participants at the beginning of the ideation stage to do a brainstorming exercise for a given challenge. When we review the ideas afterwards, the same interesting pattern always emerges: many ideas appear in each of the different brainstorming groups. This is a clear indication that such an idea is not highly original, but rather common and obvious. Why is that happening? When people are just doing a simple brainstorming, they are likely to produce rather obvious ideas that are all within a very narrow range of thinking. The ideators are stuck in what I call the “tunnel of expertise and conventional thoughts”. So how can you get out of the tunnel? Here is where creativity tools come in.

    What are creativity tools?
    Creativity tools are mechanistic processes that can reliably push your individual thinking into a new direction with the help of one or more triggers in order to generate ideas for your creative challenges (i.e., for the problems that you face or for the opportunities that you want to realize). A creativity tool works in a similar way to a revolver. When you pull the trigger, you reliably set in motion a mechanistic process that propels a bullet out of the gun towards a target. Similarly, creativity tools reliably push your thinking to a new starting point that is outside of your “tunnel of expertise and conventional thoughts”. From this fresh starting point, you are able to come up with new ideas that are very less common — and in some cases highly original.

    How do creativity tools work?
    So far, so good. Like a good car mechanic strips an engine to understand how it works, let’s similarly dissect creativity tools even further by trying to understand the underlying principles of their working. Here we come to the trigger that propel us to a new starting point. These “motors of a creativity tool” can be constituted using one or more of the following schemes:

    • First, a trigger can be a fresh perspective or novel point of view to look at the underlying problem in a completely different way, thus allowing coming up with ideas that are really different. For example, in a strategy innovation case, imagine how a visiting Alien without any “emotional baggage” and historical attachment would reposition your company for the future.
    • Secondly, a trigger may enable you to come up with many new associations — these are the mental images that pop-up in your mind when you hear a certain word or concept. For example, when we you hear the word New York, you may think of 9/11, the Empire State Building, Central Park, Wall Street, and other concepts that you’ve associated with the concept ‘New York’.
    • Thirdly, a trigger may be a formal framework or a sequence of thinking steps that you need to follow in a systematic order. For example, in the creativity tool Morphological Matrix, you first construct a table of input that then you use as stimulus for generating fresh ideas.
    • Fourthly and lastly, a trigger can be a question that fires up your imagination, or that takes your thinking to unusual heights. This last type of trigger is exemplified by What If-questions like “What if you were granted 3 wishes by a good fairy?”

    Once you have understood the inner workings of the “motor” of creativity tools, and how to combine and pull the different triggers, then you can easily compose your own creativity tools.

    How do creativity tools work in practice?
    Let’s end this article by sharing with you one creativity tool (or I-Tools as we call them at Thinkergy) from our X-IDEA Innovation Toolbox. Word Association Chain is a beautiful and easy-to-learn creativity tool. It allows you to individually generate ideas that are inspired by a chain of words that you build as a stimulating trigger. All you need to use this tool is a blank piece of paper, a pen and your brain. Here is how you apply this tool:

    1. Review your challenge—say: “How to create a novel lip care product?”
    2. Get yourself any word. For example, you look into a news magazine and pick the first word you see: RED.
    3. Start a word association chain by completing the sentence: “When I think of RED, I think of the MAASAI”. Then repeat this procedure for each new word in a fast pace: “When I think of MAASAI, I think of AFRICA”. “When I think of AFRICA, I think of KILIMANJARO”. “When I think of KILIMANJARO, I think of SNOW”. And so on. Continue until your paper is full of associations.
    4. Review your word association chain, and use it as stimulus to create ideas for your lip care innovation challenge. For example, the word MAASAI might trigger the idea “Print ethnic tribal motives on a lip care stick”, while the word SNOW might inspire the idea “Create a cooling lip care product made from snow”.

    Conclusion: Creativity tools help you to fight two enemies of creativity: They remove your tunnel vision caused by the “expert syndrome” and your habitual conventional ways of thinking. Moreover, they also overcome a lack of inspiration or complacency, as using creativity tools is usually great fun. When are you ready to play for ideas?

     
    © Dr. Detlef Reis 

  • Turning Critics into Allies with Rapid Prototyping

    Want to know one of the success secrets of global innovation leaders such as Google or Apple? They all heavily use a technique known as rapid prototyping. “We make a lot of models and prototypes, and we go back and iterate. We strongly believe in prototyping and making things so that you can pick them up and touch them,” says Jonathan Ive, Apple’s chief designer. “We make lots and lots of prototypes: the number of solutions we make to get one solution is quite embarassing, but it’s a healthy part of what we do.”

    What is rapid prototyping?
    Rapid prototyping is a powerful idea evaluation and activation technique that every wanna-be-innovator should want to have in his toolkit. Prototyping can be used for real-life testing of products, services, processes, and experiences and works at all stages along the value chain (e.g., development, marketing, distribution, sales).

    What are the main benefits of rapid prototyping?
    In rapid prototyping, you aim to evaluate the potential of an idea and enhance its disadvantages by using one of several methods to make the idea more visual and tangible. The objective of rapid prototyping is to detect the flaws of an idea early and then to quickly find solutions to “fix the bugs”. Thus, you plan to fail earlier in order to succeed sooner.

    Probably the most important thing to understand about this method is that rapid prototyping follows an iterative approach that is based on trial and error and the principle of negative feedback. Thereby, you first develop a prototype using the one of the seven methods that we discuss below. Then, show your early prototype to other people and ask them to tell you what’s wrong with it and how they would improve it. Thereafter, quickly build a better prototype by using all the sensible tips for improvement, and once again expose it to the critical scrutiny of other people. Continue this process until you arrive at a prototype that can represent a meaningful value proposition and can be turned into a tangible innovation deliverable. As such, prototyping allows you to unknowingly make those eternal critics to become your allies in creation.

    How exactly can you do rapid prototyping?
    At Thinkergy, we distinguish eight ways to bring rapid prototyping into play. Here are the four most popular methods:

    1. Sketch out your idea. The starting point of prototyping is to draw a simple sketch that communicates the essence of your idea. Alternatively, make a collage by combining photos, drawn elements and written text that you cut out of a newspaper or magazine into a picture that gives meaning to your idea.
    2. Build a simple model or mock-up. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a prototype is worth a million words”, believes IDEO founder David Kelley. The second option for prototyping (that often expands on the first one) is to build a simple model of your idea that is made of paper or carton-paper, paper-mâché, modeling clay, or any other materials that you glue or tape together in a quick and dirty way. After gaining some initial feedback, go through several iterations of more and more sophisticated and realistic models and mock-ups using more realistic materials before arriving at a final prototype mock-up version.
    3. Act out your idea as a role-play. An excellent method to rapidly prototype an idea for a process improvement or service innovation is to create a short role-play to bring out the benefits of your idea.
      Devise a storyline that clearly explains how your idea adds value and caters to a resolution of your challenge. For example, in a process innovation project, stage a role-play showing first the old process with its major shortfalls and then how you correct those with your redesigned new process idea. Or act out your idea for a new service —say, a temporary office rental service that offers high-end offices by the hour— and show how it creates meaning for small business owners or entrepreneurs. Or in a customer experience design project, role-play an idea for a memorable WOW-experience.
    4. Build a test-website. Build a simple website to test your idea by seeking online feedback from users on your value-proposition. Then, rapidly prototype your website using the user feedback to improve its value from iteration to iteration until you arrive at a version that you can take. For example, Google rapidly prototypes new solutions as beta-website before officially integrating it into its alpha-website; many novel value propositions that created in the past years (such as Google Insights or Google Trends) have been enhanced along this path.

    Aside from the aforementioned four methods, you could also do rapid prototyping by developing visual test designs of your product ideas with the help of CAD-software tools, creating a photo story (for example, of your idea for a new nightclub-service that specializes in matching singles), shooting a video clip (e.g., on how to improve the chaotic passenger flow at peak times in some BTS stations), or by testing different tag-line in online ads In brand and corporate image design projects to learn through the clicks on the online which slogan resonates most with your audience.

    Conclusion: Rapid prototyping is a powerful, highly effective technique to quickly turn a great idea into a tangible innovation. But be warned – rapid prototyping is hard work, as emphasized in the famous quote by the first master of prototyping, Thomas Edison: “Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. Accordingly, a ‘genius’ is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.”

     
    © Dr. Detlef Reis