logo-large-thinkergy

Blog

Everything listed under: innovative thinking

  • Post Featured Image

    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

  • What Words Reveal About A Leader's Creative Consciousness Level

    Creative leadership development is all about replacing a someone’s disempowering mindsets and action routines with empowering, creativity-inducing ones. While as a creative leadership coach, I can observe the actions of disciples, I cannot directly intercept their thoughts. Fortunately, however, I can get valuable hints about the thoughts of potential creative leaders by paying close attention to, and intently listening for, the words they regularly use. Why are certain keywords so revealing? 

    “Watch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny,” noted Lao Tzu. Words are verbalized thoughts that have positive or negative energy that sooner or later translate into life-enhancing or -diminishing actions. Today, let’s understand with the help of a little imaginary scenario what certain words can tell us about the creativity and consciousness levels of a leader and ourselves.

    Scenario: The introductory speech of two potential business leaders

    Suppose you work at the head office of a large corporation undergoing a leadership transition phase. Your supervisory board has asked the two shortlisted candidates to introduce themselves as potential new CEO to all head office staff at a town hall meeting. So, listen to each candidate’s introduction, and ask yourself: Who would you like to work for? Who do you think is more of a creative leader? Who’s operating on higher levels of consciousness?

    Candidate A

    I feel privileged of the chance to serve you as your new leader. I believe that we are eternal, egalitarian spiritual beings on a human journey. All of us are created equal, and all of us are significant to our future success. 

    While being patriotic to our home country from where we originate, we’re intentionally choosing to contend in a free, open, global market space full of abundant opportunities. We optimistically envision making meaning by inventing ingenious, beautiful new products that empower our customers and make the world a better place. Thereby, we want to be aware of, and responsible for, the long-term implications of all we’re doing. We optimistically believe that we can invent excellent new value offerings that are natural, essential and timeless.

    How will I strive to lead you? By being an ethical, principled, tolerant and consciously aware leader. By being self-confident and humble, unselfish and modest. By sharing my experience, educating you and being helpful to you. By being thoughtful and considerate. By treating you respectfully, fairly and truthfully. By confronting you kindly, honestly and candidly when your ego takes over, and by patiently and gently healing conflict with humor and harmony.

    By cherishing your work and appreciating and accepting your constructive opinions. By openly and impartially inviting your brilliant ideas, and then being agreeable to them and approving them as much as is possible and feasible. By encouraging you to courageously try something new, and when you fail, by not only forgiving but praising you for taking initiative. By valuing your virtuous efforts and trusting in your intuitive decisions.

    By being determined to our noble, holistic goals while staying flexible to our actions and spontaneous in our responses. By diplomatically defending our peaceful, democratic ideals and emphatically, generously and charitably caring for all of our stakeholders,

    I am grateful to leading our unified efforts.

    Candidate B

    I am proud to be your new superior. I am important and ambitious. After all, I am indebted to being part of a small, arrogant, dogmatic and luxurious elite who is entitled to call the shots and to enjoy the pleasures of life. 

    I forcefully insist on being the boss. I urge and coerce you to follow me. At times, I may be flattering to persuade you. But most of the time, I will be dictatorial, condescending, harassing and belligerent. Take note that I am rigid and hard, rough and punitive. Because I am impulsive and easily irritated, I can be critical, cynical and at times even cruel. Better beware. 

    Once I’ve made up my prejudiced and judgmental mind, I tend to be rigid, inflexible and stubborn. Expect me to reject and attack your ideas, and to resent you if you argue with me. It’s my way or the highway.

    What is my false, calculating scheme? Picture the company promoting the latest fads that persuade unaware consumers to feverishly buy our ordinary, artificial and cheap products. We immediately grab their money and use some of it to seduce nationalistic regulators to legally restrict better competitors. That way, we can recklessly exploit the local market, and I can get an excessive bonus. After all, I am a selfish, lustful and materialistic taker who hoards all I have.

    Fortunately, only a few people know why I am so serious, suspicious, secretive and controlling, and it’s none of your business. (It’s because deep down inside, I am pessimistic, confused, and preoccupied — always worrying that someone eventually sees that I am just pompously and glamorously playing a role.)

    I’m done. Now back to work. 

    So, how did the two candidates’ speeches make you feel? What candidate would you prefer as your new CEO? And who is more of a creative leader? A or B?

    What words reveal about creative consciousness

    Of course, the two speeches are fictional and intentionally exaggerated to make a point. I wrote them by using a list of word pairs from David R. Hawkins’ fascinating book Power vs. Force, which discusses the consequences of operating on different levels of creative consciousness. (I introduced you to the concept of consciousness levels in a previous blog article). 

    As you’ve realized, Candidate A uses largely life-enhancing, positive words that, according to Hawkins, calibrate on high levels of consciousness (which in Hawkins’ anatomy, includes the levels courage, neutrality, willingness, acceptance, reason, love, joy, peace, and enlightenment). These powerful words indicate that she qualifies as a genuine, creative leader to successfully spearhead a company in the innovation economy. 

    In contrast, Candidate B relies almost exclusively on forceful, life-diminishing and negative words located on the rudimentary lower consciousness levels, expressing negative emotions such as pride, anger, desire and fear. (And if you couldn’t help thinking of a prominent reality-TV showman turned politician who now sits in an Oval Office while listening to Candidate B’s pitch, take comfort that I too couldn’t help thinking of him while writing this article.)

    Conclusion: Replace negative, destructive thoughts and words with positive, creative ones

    So what can you learn from this? Lao Tzu is right: Watch your thoughts and your words, as your acts, habits and destiny flow from them. Become aware of negative words you regularly tend to use. Then, whenever you catch yourself thinking the negative thought preceding such a negative word, replace it in your mind and communicate the positive equivalent. 

    Becoming aware of the negative, destructive vs. the positive, creative power of words is subject of one of the 88 Genius Exercises that are part of Genius Journey, our creative leadership development program designed towards elevating competitive, scheming business leaders into contending, ingenious creative leaders. Named “The Well is in Your Words”, this Genius Exercise invites you to: 

    • replace disempowering, negative words with empowering, positives ones (in the spirit of Hawkins); 
    • avoid the “Fatal 6” (could, would, should, may, might, must); 
    • refrain from using the most dangerous word (but); and 
    • beware of the most life-suppressing word (no) and it’s variations (don’t, won’t, can’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t), among others. 

    (These linguistic communication tips were also featured in an early Thinkergy blog article published in January 2008). 

    When are you ready to develop into a creative leader? Contact us to find out more about Genius Journey and our related creative leadership development programs

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2019

  • Who Do You Consider To Be A Creative Leader?

    What creative leaders do you know and admire? What makes them special? Why do you admire them? Take a few minutes to think about these questions.

    At Thinkergy, we often set the scene for a session on creative leadership —or a full-fledged Genius Journey training course— with a little warm-up exercise. We break up the learning cohort into small groups and let them work on the above questions. The exercise and ensuing discussions create curiosity for delegates on how they may further their individual creativity and develop their creative leader potential.

    Would you rate these people as a creative leader?

    In a course in creative leadership, the delegates naturally think first of well-known creative business leaders,such as Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, David Ogilvy, Edwin Land, Charles Kettering, Nikola Tesla, Jeff Bezos, Masaru Ibuka, Akio Morita, Jack Ma, or James Dyson.

    But is the concept of creative leaders limited to business leaders only? How about leaders in other fields, such as science, the arts, in politics and in sports:

    • On almost every list of creative leaders, a few universal geniuses such as Albert Einstein or Leonardo da Vinci feature prominently somewhere close to the top.
    • Other universal and/or scientific geniuses such as Benjamin Franklin, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Aristotle, Isaac Newton, Richard Feynman, Charles Darwin, or Richard Buckminster Fuller are also widely considered to be creative leaders in their field.
    • How about creative leaders, top achievers and geniuses in the creative arts in the widest sense? Would you rate  the painters Pablo Picasso, Salvatore Dali, and Vincent van Gogh as creative leaders? How about the writers William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, and Ralph Waldo Emerson? Or the musical geniuses Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and John Lennon? How about the movie directors Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas and James Cameron?
    • How about if we consider spiritual or political leaders, too? Do Jesus of Nazareth, Gautama Buddha, or Lao Tze qualify as creative leaders for you? How about famous political leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela?
    • How would you rate outstanding top achievers and kinesthetic geniuses in sports? Would you consider Mohammad Ali or Bruce Lee to be a creative leader?

    If you asked me, I’d loudly say “yes” to all the creative leaders listed above. You may disagree with me in some cases, and that’s fine. It’s all depends on how we define the concept, and we will come back to this point below. But first allow me to share with you what I take away from the little warm-up exercise.

    So what does this exercise teach us about creative leader?

    In the past years, I’ve asked the above questions to workshop participants from different parts of the world. The exercise has provided me with some interesting insights about the concept of a creative leader:

    1. Creative leaders abound in many fields. When working on this exercise, the groups suggest a similar selection of creative leaders from a wide variety of fields. The concept of a creative leader seems to be universally understood and interpreted in a multifaceted way. It is not limited to business leaders only, but also extends to geniuses, top achievers and extraordinary creative leaders in science, the arts, spirituality, politics and in sports.
    2. Creative leaders can be found on all levels all over the world. Most lists also include a few creative leaders that are known only locally, nationally or regionally — such as founders of innovative start-up ventures or creative agencies, renowned artists and entertainers, and the like. Do those people also qualify as creative leaders? Probably yes. Someone who creates extraordinary outputs or creatively influences others in a field at a local, national or regional level can qualify as a creative leader, too. The concept of a creative leader does not require a person to be world famous.
    3. Creative leaders stand out from the crowds through their deeds and their minds. How do people justify why they rate someone to be a creative leader? Typically, they make their case either by pointing to breakthrough ideas or the extraordinary outputs that the creative leader created, or by citing some unusual, “abnormal” creative mindsets that differ from those of normal people. Because they create standout outputs, and because they think and do things differently, creative leaders influence and inspire others to be more creative, too.
    4. Calling someone a creative leader doesn’t make them a creative leader. Do I agree to every person listed as a creative leader? Nope. In some cases, I have my reservations or even openly disagree. For example, while I admire Mark Zuckerberg’s achievements as leader of Facebook, I also take note that the original concept behind his social networking site is rooted in the ConnectU concept from the Winklevoss twins. Moreover, the assessment of why someone qualifies as an authentic creative leader may change over time. In the end, it all depends on how we argue our case, and how we define the concept of a creative leader.

    What is a creative leader?

    At Thinkergy, we define creativity as an idea, product or other concept that is at the same time novel and original and meaningful. This definition ensures that we exclude concepts that are secondhand, copied, and unethical or meaningless.

    A leader is often defined as “a person who leads or commands a group, organization or country”. However, expanding on this narrow view, some define a leader as a “person that holds a dominant or superior position within their field, and is able to exercise a high degree of control or influence over others.”

    Let’s combine both aspects into one definition and define a creative leader as:

    “a person who creates extraordinarily novel, original and meaningful outputs in a particular field, and/or creatively leads or influences others to create novel, original and meaningful outputs.”

    Conclusion

    In many creative leadership sessions that I ran in recent years, I noticed that there seems to be an universal, almost intuitive understanding of what the concept of an authentic creative leader encompasses. Take a look at the people who you listed as creative leaders. Are some of your favorite geniuses and creative leaders on my list? Chances are that we have a couple of exact matches.

    In any case, creative leaders think and act differently. They are courageous and curious, confident and positive, inspiring and passionate, creative and all-embracing, flexible and present, focused and balanced. And because they work and live their lives creatively, they are able to come up with breakthrough ideas and create extraordinary outputs that delight and influence others to follow them in their creative footsteps.

    Do you want to become an authentic creative leader yourself? Then, check out Genius Journey, our creative leadership development method. And consider booking a Genius Journey training for your organization? Contact us to tell us more about we can help you begin your creative leadership journey.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2018


  • Mastering Digital Transformation- Part 2

    Two weeks ago, we discussed how a range of newly emerging, interconnected digital technologies (such as artificial intelligence, big data and the Internet of Things, among others) are predicted to profoundly change business and society. We explored how new technologies pass through different phases of the hype cycle before eventually producing meaningful, marketable applications. In Part 2 of this three episode article, let’s next discuss what challenges digital transformation places on both established and new businesses, and then explore what strategies established firms may employ to successfully master digital transformation.

    What challenges does digital transformation pose on established businesses and start-ups?

    Interestingly: the challenges that digital transformation poses for established firms are the flip-side of those that start-up ventures face. In his classic book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, Clayton Christensen provides some insights and conceptual model that may help me drive home this point:

    • Christensen distinguishes innovations into two types — sustainable and disruptive ones. Sustainable innovations focus on new ways to grow existing technologies by enhancing their performance, typically through extended functionality or increased capacity. On the other hand, disruptive innovations solve a challenge in an entirely new way or for an entirely new group of people, thus changing the landscape of a whole industry or even sparking a new one altogether.
    • Christensen also introduces a new theoretical framework, the Resources, Processes, Values Model.The RPV model captures how established organizations differ from start-ups in the ways they utilize resources (things and assets which firms can buy, sell, create or destroy), processes (established ways to transform resources into products or services) and values (prioritization criteria for making decisions). Established firms have plentiful resources and well-honed processes, but tend to be too internally-focused, bureaucratic and set in their values. In contrast, start-up ventures are strongly market- and customer-focused, thus allowing them to recognize new business opportunities early while —at least initially— having to deal with scarce resources and less efficient processes. 
    • Christensen highlights that established firms excel at creating sustainable innovations that build on or extend established product and services categories. However, they tend to fall short on coming up with disruptive innovations for three reasons: (1) They heavily invested into the development of resources (their legacy products, services, technologies and systems), and tend to escalate their earlier financial commitments. Moreover, developing new “risky” products and service areas (question mark) may also cannibalize sales of their current stars and cash cows. (2) They are loyal to their established ways of doing things and highly efficient processes. (3) They tend to undervalue the impact and future revenue potential of emerging new technologies and business opportunities at the fringes of their industry.
    • Christensen highlights that established firms excel at creating sustainable innovations that build on or extend established product and services categories. However, they tend to fall short on coming up with disruptive innovations for three reasons: (1) They heavily invested into the development of resources (their legacy products, services, technologies and systems), and tend to escalate their earlier financial commitments. Moreover, developing new “risky” products and service areas (question mark) may also cannibalize sales of their current stars and cash cows. (2) They are loyal to their established ways of doing things and highly efficient processes. (3) They tend to undervalue the impact and future revenue potential of emerging new technologies and business opportunities at the fringes of their industry. On the other side, most start-up ventures focus on —and excel at— producing disruptive innovations. This is because they not only recognize emerging new technologies and business opportunities (which some incumbents do, too), but also use a trial and error approach to uncover promising niches (with regards to customers and/or product applications) and then offer an adequate or even better product at a lower price.
    • The “innovator’s dilemma” describes the situation when an incumbent that originally pioneered or dominated the market would have to cannibalize its own business to successfully compete with a new, disruptive competitor.

    What has all of this to do with digital transformation? Most digital technologies are disruptive in nature, meaning they are simpler, more convenient, more reliable and cheaper than  established technologies. In established firms, commitment to their legacy resources, processes and values makes it unlikely that they can internally rise to the challenges (threats and opportunities) posed by digital transformation and its disruptive innovations. In contrast, start-up ventures have the right values to drive digital transformation and, provided they smartly use and gradually grow their limited resources base and creatively approach the process side of their business.

    What are strategies for established firms to master digital transformation?

    Among others, incumbents may embrace one or more of the following five strategies to build up digital initiatives and know-how that they can fund with their established business operations:

    1. Acquire external digital know-how (fully or partially).  An established corporation can easily add digital products and expertise to its business by acquiring a successful venture with a digital technology or application in a niche that is relevant to its industry. For example, in 2016,  the multinational toymaker Mattel acquired the  San Francisco-based baby health wearable maker Sproutling. Alternatively to a full takeover, an established firm may also acquire stakes in promising digital start-up ventures to participate in their developments. For example, in March 2018, Allianz and Tencent announced investing $160 million for an undisclosed stake in the German mobile phone banking start-up N26.
    2. Spin-out digital initiatives into a new venture. Suppose you’re an established firm pursuing internal R&D initiatives and come up with a worthwhile development project that doesn’t fit to your processes. In this case,  Clayton  Christensen recommends  to spinout the initiative into a separate venture; and to commit some of your most qualified managers and developers to lead it. The spin-out can be run like a lean start-up and may even seek additional external funding from other investors. Spin-out strategies have been not uncommon in certain industries (such as pharmaceuticals or biotechnology) as well as at tech-driven universities. Moreover, digital tech ventures also use it to better market promising new applications that they added later to their initial core offering. For example, in 2014, Fog Creek Software spun out its web-based project management application Trello into a separate company. Going forward, such spin-outs promise to also become a feasible strategy to commercialize new digital projects emerging in mature established corporations. 
    3. Run focused innovation projects, then use “scrum” teams for implementation. Another strategy to gradually add more digital products and services to your established firm is to run a series of focused innovation projects targeting digital value creation. Thereby, one or more project teams go through an innovation project (ideally facilitated by a professional innovation firm such as Thinkergy using a sophisticated and effective innovation process method like X-IDEA) to come up with a series of meaningful digital concepts. Then, build scrum teams to quickly implement the top concepts. Each scrum team consists of a number of skilled developers coordinated by a scrum master (with extensive technical expertise) and is led by a project owner (with business expertise), both of who coordinate with the internal project sponsor and other stakeholders inside and outside the organization.
    4. Transform into a creative company. The most challenging —but in the long run also most promising— strategy is to transform the culture of an established corporation into a creative organization. Gradually building up an innovation-friendly firm requires takes at least three years of gradual change steps and requires the dedicated commitment of the top executive team (see how we suggest executing such a CooL change). For example, in 2005, Jeffrey Immelt successfully launched a creative change initiative based on an “Ecoimagination” theme to transform General Electrics from a sales-driven to an innovation-focused organization.
    5. Identify the right people for your digital transformation. Making your business more digital requires you to take action on the people side, too. On the one hand, companies should heavily involve their “digital natives” (i.e., younger staff belonging to Gen Y and Gen Z) in digital project initiatives. On the other hand, innovation-centered cognitive profiling tools such as Thinkergy’s TIPS can help companies to identify those profiles who have a natural talent and passion for driving digital change into the organization. 

    Interim summary and outlook: Established corporations and start-ups face opposite challenges from digitalization: The former have ample resources and sound processes while lacking entrepreneurial values that allow them to recognize digital opportunities, while  the opposite is true for start-up ventures. Established firms may use at least five strategies to better master digital transformation. But what are game plans for start-ups to seize their ability to recognize worthy digital opportunities in spite of scarcer resources and less refined processes? Find out in two weeks in the third and final episode of this article on digital transformation.

    © 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.

  • 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. 


  • 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. 

  • Creative cultural change is like striving to live a healthier life

    This week, I attended the ISPIM (International Society of Professional Innovation Management) 2016 Innovation Summit in Kuala Lumpur. Apart from presenting an academic conference paper on the innovation learner’s experience and running a workshop on our innovation people profiling method TIPS, I also was asked to moderate a panel discussion on “Creating a Culture for Innovation”. While preparing for the session, I noticed an interesting similarity: Creating an innovation-friendly, creative culture in an organization is like striving to live a healthier life.

    All change starts with a major impetus

    When do people begin to long for a healthier lifestyle? Only when they realize that something is seriously wrong. It might be burnout, weight gain, a performance drop at work, or even a heart attack that sends an unmistakable signal: you must change your lifestyle NOW.

    Likewise, every established corporation occasionally receives an urgent wake-up call that now is the time for building a creative culture: a sharp drop in sales or profits; a fast-growing, agile new player that is eating up your market share; or a new technology that threatens to make your business obsolete.

    Get a check-up

    What do you do when you notice something’s wrong with your health? You see a doctor, who will examine you and perform tests to identify the causes for your declining well-being, and then recommends effective treatments.

    When a corporation expresses a desire to evolve into a more creative culture, an innovation consultant prescribes a comprehensive innovation capacity audit. This “health check” identifies the presence or, more typically, absence of certain organizational factors that support creativity and innovation.

    For example, in the innovation audit that is a key feature of Thinkergy’s innovation transformation method CooL – Creativity UnLimited, we check for 64 bipolar factors that relate to five bases: leadership, commitment, collaboration, culture and structure. A good “innovation health check” creates a clear profiles of the organizational innovation capacity, and identifies problem areas that need fixing to perform a “cool change” towards a more creative culture.

    Adopt an open, curious mindset

    After a health checkup, you know in theory what things you need to do to start living better. Does this awareness alone help you succeed? Nope. First take a look at your existing mindset: What habitual thoughts and action routines led to your decline in the first place? Become aware of your unhealthy ways and the disempowering thoughts and situations that trigger them. Then you can replace them with new, empowering healthy action strategies, and reframe your health challenge as an opportunity to discover a new, exciting side of life.

    Similarly, an innovation consultant needs to determine if the “brains” of the organization are willing —and able— to change. Leading change towards a more creative culture requires top executives to stop talking the innovation talk, and start walking it. Ask: Are they willing to revisit the strategic core of the organization (vision, mission, values, core value propositions)? Are they eager to conduct a strategy innovation project to discover new fields of sustained, profitable future growth? And on a personal level, are they open to undergo a creative leadership development program such as Thinkergy’s Genius Journey method?

    Commit to the achieve the desired changes

    Once you’ve begun cultivating an open, curious mindset for healthy change, you need commit the necessary resources: enough time to exercise, meditate and sleep; additional money to purchase healthier meals, and so on.

    Likewise, corporate leaders need to make serious commitments of resources for the creative culture change initiative: committing their own time to create momentum; setting budgets for new projects and innovation initiatives; and forming an innovation team to support the creative change effort. Commitment is the acid test to find out how serious the leadership really is towards creating a creative culture.

    Collaborate to jointly change

    Now you have a motivated mindset to pursue a healthy lifestyle and have earmarked sufficient time and money to achieve success. But how can you be sure you won’t fall back to your old, unhealthy habits? You could team-up with “buddies” who have similar health goals, or hire a coach. Your collaborators will check on your progress and hold you accountable if you stray from the path.

    In an organization, you can introduce collaborative creative projects and innovation initiatives that break down boundaries and silos, unite like-minded, progressive creative minds, and build momentum and enthusiasm for creativity and innovation.

    Work on the cultural factors

    Finally, everything is in place to create a healthier you. Now you just need to do it, which is easier said then done. So, develop new routines and actions that make health and wellness a core part of the way you live: mediate first thing in the morning; eat a healthy breakfast; take supplements; go running, or do a gym or Yoga session on your lunch break; replace unhealthy snacks and drinks with healthy alternatives; go to bed in time to for allow for sufficient sleep.

    Likewise, organizations need to get busy changing their routines and cultural habits to foster a more innovation-friendly climate: practice rapid prototyping; praise people who take initiative even if they sometimes fail; be more flexible about how, when and where people work — while at the same time raising standards and output expectations from “good enough” to the pursuit of excellence.

    Measure your progress

    Shifting to a healthier lifestyle isn’t easy and takes time — and the same holds true for organisations craving a creative culture. Avoid sliding back to your old ways by measuring your progress. The data tell you which strategies and regimens work and which you need adjusting. And seeing progress creates momentum to intensify and sustain the change.

    On a personal level, you regularly track vital signs (resting pulse rate, blood pressure, weight) and annually check how your lifestyle changes are reflected in key health indicators on a cellular level.

    In just the same way, organizations should work together with innovation experts to develop their individualized set of innovation-related key performance indicators on three levels (inputs, throughputs, outputs) that get tracked on a quarterly and annual basis.

    Contact us if you want to find out how we can jointly co-create a innovative change in your organization and help you cultivate a creative culture.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 8 December 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 

  • How to become a more fluent creative thinker (Part 1)

    How much of a fluent creative thinker are you? What is standing in your way to becoming a more fluent creative thinker? How can you boost your creative fluency? Let’s seek answers to these questions in today’s column as well as the next.

    Setting the scene:

    At Thinkergy, we draw upon four psychological parameters (that E. Paul Torrence and other cognitive psychologists formulated to measure individual creativeness) to objectively assess the quality of the work and the outputs in an Ideation session: the qualitative criteria offlexibility, originality and elaboration of ideas, and the quantitative criterion of fluency of creative thinking. While all four parameters affect the performance of individuals and groups during Ideation, the latter is the most important one. In order to explain these four parameters, let’s do a little creative exercise as follows:

    As I type these lines, I’m looking at an empty plastic water bottle. Let’s frame a simple creative challenge: “How to make good use of an empty plastic bottle?” Now, get a piece of paper and a pen and take two minutes to come up with ideas for this creative challenge.

    Here are the ones I came up with in 120 seconds:

    1. Recycle it. 2. Use to water flowers. 3. Use it to water the lawn. 4. Use to store tab water for a water shortage. 5. Refill it with water. 6. Refill it with lemonade. 7. Refill it with iced tea. 8. Refill it with wine. 9. Refill it with beer. 10. Use it to throw at someone who annoys you. 11. Use it to hit someone who attacks you. 12. Fill it with sand. 13. Fill it with stones. 14. Use as a dumbbell, filled with water, sand or stones). 15. Use it as a piggy bank to store coins. 16. Use it to capture rain water. 17. Use as a flower pot. 18. Use to fill a bath tab. 19. Use to flush the toilet. 20. Use it to splash water at other people celebrating Songkran (the Thai water festival). 21. Use it to cleanse Buddha statues in a temple at Songkran.

    How flexible is your creative thinking?

    Flexibility is the first parameter we use to check on the quality of idea outputs. It is based on the variety of different categories of suggested ideas. For example, the ideas 4-9 all belong to the same category (refilling with a liquid). Overall, the more categories you have, the more flexible a creative thinker you are. Depending on how strictly you categorize, we can distinguish 10-15 different categories in the example above. How flexible a creative thinker are you?

    How original are your ideas?

    The second parameter used to assess the quality of our idea generation efforts is originality. Here we measure the relative degree of “uncommonness” of raw ideas (how rare is an idea compared with all responses in the overall population). For example, if you have three groups brainstorming and an idea pops up in each group, it is not original.

    While we have no comparison here, I guess “throw it at someone annoying you” or “use it as a dumbbell” are more original than, say, “recycle it”. Probably about five of the ideas above are more uncommon and thus more original.

    How elaborated are your ideas?

    The third and arguably most important assessment criteria of idea quality is elaboration. Here, we look at how developed or embellished an idea is — meaning how many words it has. For example, in the example above, ideas #14 and #20 are much more elaborated than idea #1. Here note as a rule of thumb that the more elaborated an idea is, the more interesting it becomes.

    How fluent a creative thinker are you?

    Fluency is the sole measure used to assess the quantitative performance of an ideation effort. Thereby, we simply count the number of ideas in absolute and (if the numbers of members differs between teams in an innovation project) relative terms. The more ideas you can come up with in a given time, the more of a fluent creative thinker you are. How many ideas did you create in two minutes on how to use of an empty water bottle? Did you beat my 21?

    If you’re like most people, you probably have created about 10-12 ideas in the given time interval, which is a sound performance. In all likelihood, you could have easily had a higher score, but you secretly judged some ideas you thought instead of letting those ideas simply flow onto the paper. Am I right?

    What stops you from being a more fluent creative thinker?

    Why do so many people struggle to come up with a high number of ideas during an Ideation effort? What prevents fluency of creative thinking? It all comes back to judgment.

    Most people don’t produce a lot of ideas because they secretly judge an unusual or even wild idea as soon as they think it. Their inner critic (or “inner voice of judgment”) instantly reacts to an unusual or even wild idea with silent comments such as, “This is impractical”, “This is crazy”, “People will laugh at you”, and so on. This violates the ground rules 1 to 3 of Ideation formulated by Alex Osborn, the inventor of Brainstorming: #1. No killing of ideas. Defer judgment. #2. Go for quantity, because quantity breeds quality. #3. The wilder the better. Shoot for wild, crazy, silly, zany, off-the-walls ideas.

    Interim lesson: Judgment slows you down during Ideation, leading you to produce only a few ordinary ideas instead of a large pool of normal, interesting and wild ideas. What can we do to silence the inner critic who impairs creative fluency? What cognitive strategies and creative exercises can help us transform ourselves into more fluent creative thinkers?

    Come back in two weeks from today, when we will discuss these questions with the help of another creative thinking exercise. And contact us if you want to learn more about how using creativity tools and a systematic innovation process such as Thinkergy’s X-IDEA method may help you to become a more fluent creative thinker.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 18 August 2016.

  • Mastering the Art of Ideation

    “How can I get better ideas for a problem that I face?” is a question I am often asked these days. First of all, remember that generating ideas with the help of creativity tools is just one part of the creative process. In order to do proper thinking, you first need to understand and define your challenge. Then generate ideas. Next, develop these into meaningful solutions or value propositions, which you then evaluate in order to find those vital few solutions that really deserve being brought to life. At Thinkergy, our proprietary systematic innovation method X-IDEA captures all these essential steps in the five stages Xploration, Ideation, Development, Evaluation and Action.

    Back to our initial question: Idea generation is an art. And effective ideation depends on the situation you are in. How important is the problem or challenge that you face? Do you have to solve a problem alone, or can you tackle it in a team? And how much time do you have at hand?

    Let’s capture these different contexts in a four-field matrix. On the vertical axis, we distinguish two basic scenarios related to the number of people involved – you’re alone, or you work in a team on the case. On the horizontal axis, we cover the other two aspects. First, decide if whether or not a resolution of your challenge is very important for you or your organization. In the former case, commit sufficient time for the ideation. If the importance is low to medium, than you can cut down your time investment. In result, we end up with four quadrants that suggest you different ideation approaches based on the respective situation.

    Scenario 1: The Notebook.
    Here you work alone and you need some ideas for a challenge that is not highly important – for example, “How to provide meaningful rewards for highly active participants in a training session?” Start to ideate by listing down at least 25 ideas to your challenge in your idea notebook (buy one if you don’t have one yet – and make sure that it is unlined, blank paper). In addition, use some simple creativity tools (such as Free Association, Word Association Chains or Concept Mapping) to generate some associations that may trigger further ideas. Go on until you reach a number of 50 ideas.

    Scenario 2: The Eureka Seeker.
    You have already worked for some time on an important individual challenge that you face – say, you are a scientist or a Ph.D. student and need a great idea to solve a tough conceptual problem. As you continue to explore your challenge, collect ideas that come along in your idea notebook. You also may apply some creativity tools such as Metaphors here. In addition, take some time out to engage in imagination exercises (like envisioning yourself in a perfect world where your challenge is resolved), and take notes of any new ideas and insights that may occur to you in result. For example, Albert Einstein used this technique extensively to collect “jigsaw puzzle pieces” that became part of his theory of relativity, thereby imagining himself surfing on a ray of light through time and space.

    Finally, if by now you still feel that none of the ideas that you have noted down is the right solution, then you might activate the process of incubation (which was subject of the last article in this column two weeks ago). Let go of your challenge, work on something else, take amble time for relaxing activities and incubate on the solution – and with luck, you will experience your personal Eureka-Moment and get the breakthrough solution to your challenge. Sure, all of this takes time — but aren’t you happy to invest time in an important personal endeavor?

    Scenario 3: The Brainstorming Session.
    In the third scenario, you work in a team on a challenge of medium importance, like saving costs in face of a temporary economic downturn. Send out an invitation for a 2-3 hours brainstorming meeting to your team member, wherein you brief them about the challenge and ask each member to bring in at least 10 ideas. At the beginning of the session, remind everybody of the four ground rules of ideation, then Brainstorm and do Pool Brainwriting to add to your initial ideas. Thereby, ideally integrate some other creativity tools (like Metaphors or Random Word) to broaden the scope of your ideas. After you have created a sufficient ground stock of ideas – say at least 300 raw ideas – start to turn them into meaningful idea concepts by combining and improving on your most promising raw ideas.

    Scenario 4: The Idea Circuit.
    In the last scenario, you look for meaningful ideas for a really important challenge that your company faces – like a new product development, customer experience design or strategy innovation project — that is of critical importance for the medium- to long-term success of your firm. Here, your best bet to get some really good ideas is to send your team into a full-fledged idea circuit over the course of one day. Thereby, you expose the ideators to 8-10 creativity tools to great a large pool of raw ideas (here were talking about four digit numbers) that you later develop further into meaningful value propositions. If you have no in-house ideation expert, it really pays to hire an experienced ideation and innovation company such as Thinkergy to facilitate the session and to take care for the process and the selection of effective creativity tools that light up the imaginations of the ideators and stimulate out-of-the-box ideas. It’s like when you have to undergo an important surgical operation — you just want to make sure that the doctor selects the right tools and knows how to handle them to get the job right.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis