logo-large-thinkergy

Blog

Everything listed under: ideas

  • 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. 

  • Why using one creative process stage leads to dull ideas

    When you “brainstorm” for ideas with a team, do you typically deliver conventional ideas that —if you’re honest— you could have got without dedicating extra time? Well, the reason you ended up with these ordinary low-hanging fruits doesn’t mean that you and your teammates are not creative. Rather, it means that you used an ineffective process — if you used a process at all.

    Most innovation process methods don’t allow you to move beyond the “obvious” ideas — the ones everyone else in your industry also thinks of first — because they use only one creative process stage. Today, let me explain how you can move from ordinary ideas to extraordinary ideas by adding a second creative stage to your innovation process.

    The unspoken problem of most innovation processes:

    Most innovation process methods have only one creative process stage. For example, the classic Creative Problem-solving (CPS) model labels this creative stage “idea finding”; the models of Bragg & Bragg, Clegg & Birch or VanGundy call it “idea generation”; and the popular design thinking method names it “ideation”. In all these process methods, this sole creative process stage is directly followed by a stage used to critically evaluate the ideas and select the best ones for further implementation.

    “That’s precisely how we always do it, too”, you may be saying. “So what’s wrong with that?” Well, you’re likely to end up with a low number of ideas that are all safe, sane and set.

    What causes the problem?

    When generating ideas, innovation project team members are supposed to follow four ground rules of ideation suggested by Alex Osborn, the famous advertiser and inventor of Brainstorming and other creativity techniques:

    • #1. No killing of any idea. Defer judgment.
    • #2. Go for idea quantity as it breeds quality.
    • #3. Shoot for wild, crazy, funny off the wall ideas.
    • #4. Combine and improve on ideas.

    Unfortunately, it’s difficult to comply to these four ground rules if your innovation method has only one creative process stage. Why?

    Why using one creative stage isn’t enough

    If idea generation is going to be followed directly by evaluation, how likely are you adhere to all ground rules of ideation? Quantity over quality, no idea too wild or crazy?

    Most probably not. It’s highly likely that your inner voice of judgment dismisses any wild idea the very moment you think it — and you won’t write it down. As such, you end up with fewer ideas overall — and most of them are ordinary or even boring.

    There is another problem related to using only one creative process stage: Suppose that against all odds, you had really mastered all your courage to adhere to the ground rules of ideation. If there were only one creative stage, would you be likely to select any wild idea for further in-depth evaluation?

    No way! You would kill all wild ideas right at the beginning of the critical evaluation phase, as you regarded them as useless to resolve your innovation challenge.

    Interestingly, a wild idea is often the seedling of a truly outstanding idea. That’s why we need to have two creative stages to make an innovation process really work and move beyond the same set of conventional ideas.

    The solution: Move from one to two creative stages

    Thinkergy’s X-IDEA innovation method is designed to move beyond conventional ideas by introducing a second, distinctively different creative stage, Development. In X-IDEA, the creative process flows as follows.

    • First we investigate the innovation project case in the Xploration stage to gain novel insights into what our real challenge is.
    • Then, the first creative process stage, Ideation, emphasizes idea quantity. Here we make an effort to produce hundreds of raw ideas (including many wild and uncommon ones) in a playful, fast and furious atmosphere.
    • In the second creative process stage, Development, we take our time to transform idea quantity into quality. Here it’s our job to design and develop a smaller portfolio of two to three dozens of novel, original and meaningful idea concepts.
    • Next, we evaluate the pros and cons of our idea concepts in a critical and realistic stage,Evaluation. Now we’re finally allowed to judge our ideas, but not before.
    • Finally, we take Action on those ideas that we selected for real-life activation

    How exactly to does the second creative stage work?

    In the Development-stage, we discover, design and develop to turn idea quantity into idea quality:

    • First, we discover intriguing ideas within the large portfolio of raw ideas generated during Ideation.
    • Then, we use these intriguing ideas to design realistic idea concepts through refinement, combination and transmutation.
    • Finally, we develop these designed concepts further by looking for ways to add even more value to them.

    Just like during Ideation, we also must follow four ground rules in the Development-stage. While ground rules #1 and #4 stay the same as before, two rules are changed compared to Ideation to reflect the altered objective of the Development stage:

    • Rule #2: Go for quality, and take your time.
    • Rule #3. The more meaningful, the better. Shoot for valuable, useful, realistic, meaningful idea concepts.

    Lesson: A creative process can unfold its magic only once it consists of two creative stages. Continue using a conventional, ordinary innovation process method with one creative process stage if you only want conventional ideas. Or switch to an unconventional innovation process method with two creative process stages (like X-IDEA) if you want to get unconventional, extraordinary ideas.

    Contact us if you want to learn more about how the two creative stages of X-IDEA may help your innovation teams to make the leap from ordinary to extraordinary ideas.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. This article is published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 26 May 2016.

  • Understanding the Cycles of Changes Using TIPS (part 1)

    Imagine a time machine brought you a few hundred years back in time to a feudal principality in the agricultural age. Upon your arrival, you’re randomly assigned to join one of three traditional social groups: farmers, clerics or warriors. You have to perform the duties associated with your newly assigned role. If you’re lucky, you feel a natural connection with your class, and perform well in your new role. But what if not? Today and in two weeks time, we’re going to explore the societal classes that preserve the traditional order and those that drive change — and how this struggle between stasis and progress perpetually drives the cycles of change in society and business.

    Introducing the traditional fabrics of society

    For centuries, the three social groups described in our imaginative scenario could be found in most countries:

    • The nobility was the first class. They owned and ruled the land. They paid for a standing force of loyal warriors who defended the lands against external enemies, kept the social order and collected taxes.
    • The noblemen also sponsored the second class: the clergy and scholars, who provided the nobles with knowledge and counsel, and also gave spiritual consolation to commoners to keep them docile.
    • Finally, commoners with many duties and hardly any rights formed the third class. These farmers and craftsmen did all of the menial work and paid taxes to the nobility in lieu of getting security.

    Together, these three groups formed a stable, traditional societal system. In every era, we can find similar social groups — for example, had you traveled back only a hundred years to the industrial age, you would see three similar groups: workers, academics, and policemen or soldiers.

    Fortunately, the feudal days are long gone, and the industrial age has ended, too. We have passed through the information age and are now entering the innovation economy. This raises an interesting question: What forces have led to the demise of each of the traditional societal models that dominated past centuries? Let’s answer that with the help of TIPS, Thinkergy’s innovation people profiling method.

    Introducing the four TIPS bases

    Most established personality profiling instruments exclusively use constructs to profile differences in people’s preferred cognitive styles. TIPS adds a new layer on top of these purely cognitive dimensions: the TIPS bases, which can capture both the dynamic, cyclical nature of business and social change, and people’s responses to these changes.

    TIPS distinguishes four bases: Theories, Ideas, People and Systems. We are all attracted to one or more of these fundamental base orientations. For example, the entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk plays exclusively on the ideas base with his bold new ventures, while investment legend Warren Buffet’s success rests equally on two bases: theories and systems.

    The three traditional social classes mentioned above relate to the three TIPS bases systems (the nobilities and their warrior class), theories (the clergy and scholars), and people (common farmers and workers). But what if you were forced to work in a role that does not align with your natural base?

    Introducing the driving force of change

    Let’s expand on our introductory scenario: Imagine you didn’t go back in time alone, but in a group that included Elon Musk and Warren Buffet, both of whom were randomly assigned to work as farmers. What a waste of talent, you may think. Now, while Warren Buffet may accept his fate, Elon Musk will be a troublemaker. Why is that?

    There is a fourth social group that complements the three traditional ones. Depending on the historical context, we may call this fourth group merchants, voyagers, capitalists, entrepreneurs, creators, inventors, or pioneers. Elon Musk is one of them. The rebellious people belonging to this fourth group love to shake up the traditional way of doing things. In TIPS, these progressives  associate with the fourth base, ideas.
    Ideas people have high energy levels, as if change and progress were programmed into their DNA:

    • They take up new research and technological progress created at the theories base, and use it to create bold ideas and progressive change in the form of new social ideas or new products and ventures.
    • They know how to convince some people from the traditional bases to provide funds for their new ventures, or even better, they have already succeeded before with an earlier venture so that they can fund themselves.
    • Finally, they know how to enchant the people base to join their work force and consume their buy their products, earning them with their labour.

    In short, people aligned to the ideas base recognize opportunities to transform emerging new technologies into innovative products that they then introduce to the markets. They drive the cycles of change.

    Interim conclusion and outlook: In our TIPS Innovation Profiling Workshop, we bring the introductory scenario to life by enacting a game that allows people to experience what it means being assigned one’s right social role — or being stuck in the wrong one.

    So how about you? Do you play on a base that feels home for you? Do you see yourself as more of a smart intellectual, progressive entrepreneur, collegial worker, or rule-enforcing cop? Are you someone who stimulates, creates, enjoys or resists change? Come back in two weeks time, when I give you more insights into how to ride the cycles of change in society and business by looking at the four TIPS bases through another lens: the evolutionary macroeconomic concepts of Joseph Schumpeter.

    And if you’re curious to learn more about our new innovation people profiling method TIPS, then check out this video — and contact us if you want to be informed of the launch of our new online profiling platform in a few weeks from now.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 29 September 2016.

  • How do you prefer to think, work, interact and live? (Part 1)

    Wouldn’t it be great if you understood what made everyone on your team tick — including yourself? That's why we've created a people-oriented innovation profiling method that I call TIPS. It’s based on my observation that people orient themselves towards one or two of these four dimensions: Theories and knowledge (T); Ideas (I); People (P); and Systems and processes (S).

    The preferences you orient yourself toward determine which of 11 innovator types you match most closely. In addition to this, there are four other variables that describe your preferences, and which will help you understand thinking, working, interacting and lifestyles — both yours and those of your team and organization.

    Understanding what drives behaviors at work

    The four TIPS Preferences with their three different expressions represent fundamental differences in people’s thinking style, work style and lifestyle preferences based on their preferred TIPS preferences. The preferences are: Figure vs Fantasy; Brain vs Brawn; Fact vs Feeling; and last but not least, Form vs Flow.

    It is important to note that each preference comes in three expressions: e.g., the three expressions of the fourth preference “Figure vs Fantasy” are: (a) Figure, (b) Figure & Fantasy, (c) Fantasy. These different expressions signify the major differences of people’s preferred style of thinking, working, interacting and living.

    Moreover, the different preference expressions can also help to better understand and manage the conflict potential of people according to their TIPS Innovation Profile. We explain the essence of each preference in the following paragraphs.

    How do you prefer to think?

    The Nobel Prize-winning neuropsychologist Roger Sperry tested the functioning of each of the two hemispheres of the neo-cortex (the powerful “outer shell” of the human brain) independently of the other in split-brain patients.

    In his resulting split-brain theory, Sperry noted important differences between the two cognitive functioning of the two hemispheres: the left hemisphere is said to be more analytic, rational and logical in nature, while the right hemisphere is more creative, holistic and intuitive.

    According to their thinking preferences, people are categorized in one of three groups: those who prefer to engage in cognitive activities related to analytical thinking (such as rational reasoning, numerical calculations, analysis, among others); those who enjoy practicing creative thinking (such as using your imagination, creating ideas, or creating metaphors); and those who feel comfortable in both analytical and creative thinking (integrated whole-brain thinkers).

    In Thinkergy’s TIPS Innovation Profile, we capture this notion with a preference called Figure vs Fantasy, which tracks whether people are more left-brain or right-brain-directed thinkers. If you’re a leader or manager, this preference helps you to identify who in your team is an analytical “number cruncher” (Figure); who is a more creative “dreamer” (Fantasy); and who is an integrated whole-brain thinker (Figure & Fantasy).

    What is interesting to note that left brain-directed thinkers tend to follow a linear-sequential, step-by-step approach in their thinking and aim to produce a specific solution, while right brain-directed thinkers prefer following a heuristic, more radiant and holistic cognitive approach that is more vague and open-ended.

    Moreover, Figure persons tend to be more critical thinkers who look to find the underlying problem when confronted with a challenge, while Fantasy persons prefer to take a positive, optimistic look on everything and look for the hidden opportunity in every challenge.

    Questions: How about you? Do you prefer to predominantly engage in analytical thinking? Or do you enjoy creative thinking and know how to use your imagination? Or do you see yourself as an integrated whole-brain thinker who feels at home both approaches?

    How do you prefer to work?

    While working on his theory of psychological types, the famous Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung noticed that some people preferred to focus their attention on details, while others tended to have “their head in the clouds” and to focus on more abstract matters.

    The second TIPS preference, Brain vs Brawn, checks the see whether people prefer to work as abstract conceptual creators (Brain) or as practical doers (Brawn). Of course, as with our first preference, there are also people who don’t mind working both on the details and on more abstract concepts, and who excel at flexibly switching between the small and big pictures (Brain & Brawn).

    Brawniacs put their work focus more on operational matters and tend to focus on the small picture (or pictures), while brainiacs enjoy looking at the big picture and prefer to work more on strategic issues. The former get satisfaction from completing a task due to their pronounced orientation toward short-term results, while the latter get it from achieving a goal (typically more medium- to long-term in nature).

    What is interesting about this TIPS preference is that brawniacs like to manage and execute, while brainiacs prefer to make and create. This helps you to understand why in most mature organizations, the practical doers and not the abstract thinkers tend to rise to the top of the hierarchy. We discussed this phenomenon in two earlier articles (“The creator-manager dilemma” and “The brainiac-brawniac scheduling conflict“).

    A final point worth mentioning: most brawniacs pride themselves as being specialists and love to give lots of explanations about their work, while brainiacs tend to look at themselves as being generalists who prefer to ask many questions.

    Questions: Are you a person who stands firmly with both feet on the ground and likes to take care of the details? Do you prefer to work “up in the cloud” on more conceptual, abstract challenges? Or do you enjoy flexibly shifting between detail-orientation and conceptual work?

    In the next column, we will look at the other two TIPS preferences, which will help you to understand how you — and the people around you — prefer to interact with others and live in this world.

     

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 

  • 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