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    Why Make Time Now for Strategy Exploration (Part 1)

    “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills,” goes a Chinese proverb. The new decade promises to bring us disruptive change. Digitalization will significantly alter how we do business. In 2020, we will also start a new long cycle, The Sixth Wave of lead-technological development. Moreover, In the coming years, Gen Z will enter the workplace while the last Boomers will retire by the end of the new decade.

    What does all of this mean for you if you’re a CEO, a business unit leader, or an entrepreneur? Gather your troops and take some time to explore the evolving strategic environment and the big picture of your business in the coming months. Today and in a follow-up episode published in four weeks, let me share how we may guide you and your management team through a Strategic Xploration Exercise with the help of the strategy toolkit in our X-IDEA toolbox.

    1. Xpress your understanding of your strategic business challenges

    A Strategy Xploration project begins with you and your senior managers sharing your views on key strategic challenges that you foresee will affect your business. We help you frame these challenges appropriately as how-to sentences. We may unify these in one Initial Challenge statement (expressing either a perceived problem to tackle, an opportunity to seize, or an important goal to pursue). For example, “How to strategically align our business to the digitalization of key value-adding activities in our industry?”

    Next, we propose exploring these perceived challenges in a Strategy Xploration Workshop. Ideally, your company fields two teams for the exercise so that these can challenge each other’s views (to counter Groupthink). The workshop kicks-off by you introducing the project objectives and initial challenge to the teams. After that, we prefer hosting a “Speaker’s Forum.” Thereby, 3-4 speakers brief the delegates on the case by sharing pertinent facts, trends, and needed process know-how in an edutaining way. Typically, the speakers are topic experts from inside the company (such as a market researcher or business development manager) and outside experts (such as a futurist or an innovation process expert from Thinkergy).

    Following that, we ask the teams to start keeping track of things they don’t know about their case (but would want to know) in an Un-Knowledge List. They also begin collecting insights (or sudden “ahas” about what’s really going on in their business) in an Insights List, and also jot down initial ideas during the subsequent Xploration-step.

    2. CALM-LY Xplore the evolving strategic environment of your business

    After setting the scene, it’s time for real work. We invite the teams to CALM-ly Xplore their case by “traveling down four Xploration paths” and exposing them to carefully picked thinking tools on their way. 

    a) CHECK out perceived facts:

    “Men that love wisdom must be inquirers into very many things indeed;” noted the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. The first Xploration path provides an opportunity to investigate facts, beliefs, assumptions, rules critically, as well as check on possible sacred cows related to your business. What are some of the tools that you and your teams may come into contact with here?

    • Before the workshop, we charge each team (and the project manager) to compile a “Fact Sheet” with the essential information and numbers related to their business. Then, we ask members of the other team to perform a critical Fact Check
    • Assumption Check is one of the exercises we like teams to do during Xploration. We ask the teams to list their top 10 assumptions related to their case or business (things that “everybody knows are true”). Then, they have to indicate their level of confidence (e.g., “Very sure”) before being asked to present evidence supporting their views.
    • In Sacred Cow Slaughterhouse, we charge the teams to identify “sacred cows” in their business (old ideas that have become so successful that these are now above criticism) and check if it’s now time for creative destruction.

    b) ASK and answer great questions:

    “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions,” said management guru Peter Drucker. One of the most fruitful Xploration paths is asking smart, provocative, and even “stupid” questions. 

    • In X-IDEA, we have particular questions for each of the five process stages. For example, here is an excellent X Question that I often ask in a strategy Xploration Project: “If you were not already in this business, would you enter it now?” If the team declines, I follow up: “What other business would you prefer to focus on instead?”
    • You would also have to answer Pareto Questions that cater to the law of the vital few (or Pareto principle). For example, “What are the vital few things you do that lead to most of your successes?”, or “Who are the vital few customers that contribute most of your revenues?”
    • Five Times Why (“Why are you in this business?” Why? Why? Why? Why?”) helps you to investigate your motivations and your raisons d’être as a business
    • In contrast, we ask specific SWOT Questions to probe for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to your business.  
    • Finally, Who The F@#$ Is…? is a “stupid” guiding question we ask teams in a Strategy Xploration Project. Then, we use a set of subordinated questions to help you gain clarity on your company’s essential strategic core (vision, mission, values, core competencies, and fundamental value propositions). 


    c) LOOK at the situation from different viewpoints:

    To help you look differently at your business, we use a range of Xploration tools that allow the teams to assume fresh perspectives and take note of different viewpoints related to their business. What tools might we bring into play here to shift your perspective?

    • Walk A Mile asks the teams first to list key stakeholders of their business and then to empathetically “walk a mile in their shoes” to appreciate their wants and needs, fears and pains, dreams and desires.
    • Customer Portraits allows the teams to identify archetypical users or customers of their business and to empathize with them. (Note that depending on your strategic challenge, you may also identify archetypes for other stakeholders of your business. For example, in a Strategy Xploration Exercise I did for Thinkergy recently, I composed customer portraits of ten potential investor types who might be interested in investing in our business or in some of our innovation know-how). 
    • With Big Picture Vs. Small Picture, we make you look at your challenge on different scales and consider the parts, the whole, and the environment of your business.

    d) MAP out relevant information in visual ways:

    The fourth and final Xploration Path appeals more to visual thinkers who like to map out information visually. What are some of the tools you might encounter here?

    • A Market Fields Map allows teams to flesh out all adjacent market fields that in some ways overlap with their core business. This tool allows you to become aware of who else competes with you for the customer’s wallet in some way or other, foresee how the market space will evolve, and how we could react to this proactively. For example, we noticed that Thinkergy might partner with key players in some adjacent market fields, and we have converted others into our clients. 
    • Strategic Risk Map helps teams to recognize and proactively deal with significant strategic risks that may negatively affect their business, or even sink it.
    • In a Trends & Discontinuities Map, the teams identify and map out emerging trends and possible discontinuities. We discuss how these trends might affect business, and creatively explore opportunities to ride specific trends.
    • Challenge Sketch allows for an intuitive, “right-brain-directed” analysis of your situation and often brings out surprising novel insights that other tools failed to reveal. Here, we guide you on how to create a series of visual sketches showing people and things, places and spaces, dates and timelines, processes and workflows, quantities and numbers related to your business.

    Interim conclusion: Take time to work on your business, not in the business

    By the end of a Strategy Xploration Workshop, you and your teammates will have gained a lot of new insights into your business and the evolving market environment. Moreover, you will have compiled a long list of things you don’t know yet about your business and the emerging market space but would want to know. 

    What happens next? Come back in four weeks for part 2 of this two-article episode, when I’ll walk you through the subsequent immersion and extraction phases of a Strategy Xploration project.

    • Would you like to learn more about X-IDEA, our award-winning innovation method and toolbox that delivers insights, ideas and results not only for strategy innovation projects, but also for all other modern innovation types (such as product innovation or business model innovation)?
    • Are you interested to do a Strategy Xploration project with us (either as ongoing consulting or in workshop formats)?
    • Contact us to tell us more about your strategic innovation needs.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2020

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    How Can You Thrive in a Disruptive New Decade?

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

    Background

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

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

    Look back into the second half of the 2010s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Look ahead into the first half of the 2020s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Harvest your learnings

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

    So what?

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

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

    Conclusion: Foresight is better than hindsight

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

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

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

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

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2019

  • Inspiring Quote: Innovation Economy

    Emerging technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Big Data, Augmented Reality, Robotics, and Autonomous Vehicles, provide an enormous opportunity for companies to create wealth – only if they are innovative enough to embrace the opportunity. X-IDEA provides a systematic approach to discovering ways to leverage the tech in your industry.


  • Inspiring Quote: Leader and Follower

    If you focus is on creating value for your customer instead of just making money, innovation becomes a lot easier. X-IDEA allows you to be more innovative in less time with less risk.

  • Inspiring Quote: Ideanomics

    Ideas matter more now than ever! X-IDEA helps you develop a great quantity and quality of ideas in less time. 

  • Inspiring Quote: Two Functions

    Marketing and innovation both take great ideas and fresh approaches in order to be successful. X-IDEA makes it easy to create breakthrough ideas.

  • Inspiring Quote: Great Idea

    If you were to grow a prize flower you wouldn't just plan one seed, you'd plant a whole field full of seed and select the best one. The same is true for ideas. X-IDEA makes it easy!

  • Inspiring Quote - Edison


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

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

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

  • Who Shines in the Creative Process?

    Have you ever participated in an innovation project? Have you ever worked as a member of an innovation project team on an innovation case that your senior management deemed important? Did you enjoy the entire project experience? Or did your find parts of the innovation workshop boring, tiring or otherwise de-energizing?

    If you’re like most people, then probably you really enjoyed some parts of the innovation project, while other phases didn’t click with you — and you kept asking yourself ‘Why am I here?’

    Why was that? Because of your preferred cognitive styles and your innovator profile. Let me explain who tends to enjoy and perform well when (i.e., in what kind  of work phases or process stages) in an innovation project.

    A creative process gives structure to an innovation project

    In the era of the innovation economy, many companies set up dedicated innovation projects to tackle innovation challenges. Thereby, one or more project teams work on a case by going step-by-step through the stages of a creative process method, such as the classic Creative Problem-Solving Model (CPS, and its modern variations), the popular Design Thinking approach, or Thinkergy’s X-IDEA method. 

    Typically, such creative processes have from 3-6 distinct process stages that for a certain period of time invite would-be innovators to engage in specific styles of thinking, working, interacting, and “living”: 

    • Thinking: What style of thinking dominates in a particular stage? Some process stages require the team members to think more analytically and critically, other stages clearly invite them to think creatively, while many stages call for both styles of thinking. 
    • Working: Some process stages require the teams to work on assignments that are more abstract, conceptual and “big picture” in nature, while other stages are more practical, hands-on and detailed, and some have a mix of both.
    • Interacting: The interactions and conversations between delegates are more fact-based in some stages, and more intuitive or empathetic in others, or may draw upon both.
    • Living: The final aspect captures the levels of formality and energy of how the activities in any one stage are executed and approached. Some process stages unfold in a very formal, controlled and serious way, others are more free-flowing, playful and even apparently chaotic, while many have a healthy mix of formal order and flexible freedom. 

    By the way, unlike the default four stage-model of most creative processes, Thinkergy’s awards-winning innovation method X-IDEA unfolds in five stages: Xploration, Ideation, Development, Evaluation, and Action, Why? We passionately believe that in order to move beyond conventional ideas, a creative process method needs to have two distinct creative process stages (Ideation and Development) that differ in speed, energy and output focus (idea quality vs. concept quality). And we argued our case in an academic paper that we also summed up as a blog article.

    Why do different people shine in different creative process stages?

    Because in the creative process, the required styles of thinking, working, interacting and “living” change from stage to stage, it’s not surprising that different people tend to enjoy different process stages. Or more precisely: different innovator profiles with their preferred styles to think, work, interact and live.

    Sadly, most companies have little to no idea of the preferred cognitive styles of each of their employees — and related, what kind of stages and activities in a creative process a particular employee tends to enjoy. Hence, they ask their employees to attend and work through all process stages of an innovation project, although most people only enjoy —and do well in— 2-3 out of 4-5 process stages (depending on the chosen innovation method or creative process model). In other words: Most people asked to join an innovation project feel like that they are wasting between 25-50% of their work time for something they don’t feel contributes much value — and don’t enjoy. Little wonder that organizations have begun experiencing the phenomenon of innovation fatigue. 

    How to understand the preferred cognitive styles of your people

    Cognitive profiling tools aim to capture differences in the way people prefer to think and work with the help of a questionnaire that is linked to established theories on cognition. 

    Well-known cognitive profiling methods include Herrmann’s Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) or Alan Black’s MIND Design Concept — and for the past few years, there is also TIPS, Thinkergy’s Innovator Profiling System created to help individuals and organizations optimize the people side of business and innovation. TIPS introduces 11 distinct innovator profiles, each of which has a unique position on the TIPS Profiling Map that is spanned by the four TIPS bases (Theories, Ideas, People, Systems) and marked by the four TIPS styles (to think, work, interact, and live).


    So who shines when in an innovation project?

    Suppose you are a manager in charge of organizing and running an innovation project. You need to convince your busy colleagues to commit time for your project. Suppose further you know all the TIPS profiles of your colleagues (as your company has invested in TIPS as a personal assessment tool for talent acquisition, alignment & management — and for righting the people-side of innovation). Suppose finally you opt to run your innovation project by employing X-IDEA as your creative process method. So, what TIPS profiles tend to shine in what stages of X-IDEA? Or in other words: Who do you invite to participate in your innovation project? And when?

    • Stage X—Xploration:
      You kick-off your X-IDEA-powered innovation project with an initial Xploration Workshop of at least 2 days. What TIPS profiles should you invite to explore your case? Mostly the conceptual, brainy profiles revolving around the Theories- and Ideas-bases who enjoy doing Xploration: Theorists, Ideators and —in particular— Conceptualizers. Moreover, if your project has a strong customer focus, then also add a few Promoters and Partners; they infuse empathetic People-energy and ensure that your customers’ wants, needs and pains are considered, too. Mixed well together, these profiles take care that the innovation teams first Xpress what they do and don’t know about the case, then Xplore it from various perspectives, and finally Xtract novel insights before framing the final challenge. 
    • Stages I—Ideation and D—Development:
      Next, you invite all the creative types to a 1-2 day-long Ideation & Development Workshop. You find these profiles with fantasy and creative energy located near the Ideas- and People-bases: Ideators, Imaginative Conceptualizers and Experimenters, Promoters and Partners enjoy both the frenzy of a wild Ideation-session and the design of novel, original and meaningful idea concepts in the Development-stage. Here, fill-up any gaps in the teams with All-Rounders and maybe also a few Theorists.
    • Stage E—Evaluation:
      Set aside half to —if you also do rapid prototyping— one day for an Evaluation-session, for which you need profiles representing the energies of all four TIPS bases (Theories, Ideas, People, Systems). In particular, now is the time to bring in those critical, pragmatic profiles surrounding the Systems-base: Systematizers, Technocrats, Organizers, and Systematic Experimenters help the innovation teams to get real and down to business, thus making sure that those top ideas selected for implementation both make great meaning and are feasible to implement. 
    • Stage A—Action:
      In the final stage of X-IDEA, Action, you compose an implementation project team involving profiles from all TIPS bases but the Theories-base to transform one top idea into a tangible innovation. While the team mostly consists of more operative, action-oriented profiles at the People- and Systems-base (Partners, Organizers, Systematizers, plus All-Rounders) to enjoy doing operative project work, you should also have at least one clear-cut Promoter and one well-developed Ideator on the team. Why? Your Promoter is the best person to pitch the idea to senior management and other key stakeholders, thus ensuring you secure the necessary budgets and other resources needed for implementation. And your Ideator can add drive and lots of ideas to the team, thus helping them to overcome operational issues, organizational obstacles and plain corporate inertia.

    Conclusion: Boost innovation results by connecting the process-side to the people-side of innovation

    Knowing the preferred cognitive styles of all their employees allows companies to staff innovation project teams in a more flexible, effective and productive way:

    1. More flexible: Invite different innovator profiles for different creative process stages held on different workshop days.
    2. More effective: By adhering to point 1, you demonstrate that you respect the time constraints and preferred cognitive styles of your employees.
    3. More productive: Because of points 1 and 2, all workshop delegates in the innovation teams play on their preferred cognitive styles all of the time. Because the team members feel more engaged and involved, you’re highly likely to have better results in the innovation project — and more commitment to innovation in general.

    But do all of these benefits justify the investment in a cognitive profiling test for all people involved in innovation in your company? Modern knowledge workers often cost a company at least $150-200 per workday. Every day wasted in an innovation project team that is in a process stage that doesn’t suit the preferred cognitive style of your employee means burning that amount of money. Compare that with a small one-time investment of just $89 for a TIPS online profiling test (which also offers many other applications in innovation and beyond for business in general), and you have your ROI justification. 

    So, what’s your TIPS innovator profile? And related to that, what are your preferred cognitive styles? When will you get yourself and your colleagues TIPS-ed?

    • Click here to register and buy a coupon ($89) for your TIPS online personality test now.
    • Contact us to learn more about our experiential, eye-opening TIPS training courses. 


  • 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.


  • Understanding the Inner Workings of Innovation Methods

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

    Setting the scene:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What are innovation methods?

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

    What are prominent examples of innovation methods?

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

    Why are innovation methods useful?

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

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

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

    How do innovation methods work in general?

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Which innovation method should you adopt?

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

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

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

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. 

  • The ten rules of the innovation types game (Part 2)

    A couple weeks ago, I introduced to you a systematic scheme to organize modern innovation types on three levels: operational, value and leverage innovations. We discussed some of the main innovation types and their position in those three hierarchical levels. Then, we looked at the first four rules of using innovation types: #1. Play to stay in the game. #2. You won’t win with a strong defense only. #3. Create meaningful new value first. #4. Shift the value differential in your favor. Today, let’s learn more about the remaining six rules of the innovation types game.

    Rule #5: Leverage meaningful value only.

    Once you have created a meaningful new value proposition (a new product, service, solution, or experience), you can move to the top level of innovation types and leverage it. Why do you need to wait until you know your value differential is good? Leverage is a neutral agent. It boosts your reputation and profits if your value wows your customers, and it can sink your firm if your value proposition sucks.

    In order to leverage a value offering, you can use two different strategies (and related innovation types):

    • Leverage through multiplication helps you sell your creation dozens, hundreds, thousands, and even millions of times. Innovation types that leverage through multiplication are channel innovation (physical and virtual distribution), network innovation (strategic partnerships, physical and virtual networks, and digital platforms), and business model innovation (multiplying revenues through new ways to get paid for your value).
    • Leverage through magnification: Make your product appear more valuable in the eyes of your customers through a strong brand, cool campaigns or sensual packaging. If you successfully magnify the value perception, you entice customers to pay more and thus increase your margin.

    Rule #6: Strategy innovation to redraw the business on all levels.

    Proactive corporations —or those with their backs against the wall— may pursue a strategy innovation project at least once every decade. Strategy innovation aims to create and leverage meaningful new value propositions produced in more cost-effective ways. Ideally done in an uncontested and/or newly emerging market, strategy innovation can lead to sustainable revenue and profit margin growth at a lower cost base by using all three innovation type levels (operations, value creation and leverage).

    For example, Cirque du Soleil reinvented the circus by dropping all the elements perceived as antiquated (animals, clowns, etc.), and keeping and amplifying the artistic and aesthetic elements to deliver artistic, sensational show experiences under a circus tent. Cirque du Soleil enjoys higher profit margins because it created a memorable customer experience magnified through a global acknowledged brand and delivered at reduced cost.

    Rule #7: Innovation leaders play on the full spectrum of innovation types.

    Many companies that lead innovation in their industry have gradually built their dominance by starting with one innovation type, and then adding more and more.

    For example, after Steve Jobs returned as CEO in 1997, Apple created not only super-strong products including game-changing devices (iPhone, iPad) that launched new categories (smartphones and tablets), but also expande repair and training services, opened experiential stores and hosted cult-like product launch events and developer conferences. Apple also created new channels and platforms (iTunes, App Store) to multiply revenues, and is a design-driven company with eclectic brands, sleek packaging and trendy campaigns.

    Rule #8: Focus on “orphan” innovation types.

    Most players in an industry focus their innovation efforts on the same “traditional” innovation types. You can stand out by identifying what your industry is ignoring.

    For example, Nestle started to sell its Nespresso coffee machines and capsules in luxury shopping malls, which was a channel innovation in an industry used to selling coffee in supermarkets or coffee shops.

    Likewise, Tesla Motors and SpaceX achieved prominent positions in electric cars and space transport because Elon Musk’s insistence on developing all required components in-house (a structure innovation that allows them to be faster and cheaper than their industry peers who have outsourced the production of major components to external suppliers).

    Rule #9: Connect the dots on different levels.

    Newcomers to an industry can create new value for customers —and shock incumbents— by combining a focused selection of innovation types on all three levels (operations, value creation and leverage).

    For example, AirBnB has created a digital solution to connect people in need of affordable lodging with people who can supply it. Some guests also get to experience a city like a local and connect with the hosts on a personal level. Likewise, Uber created a meaningful new solution to connect consumers who need car transportation with drivers eager to earn income with their personal vehicles. Uber drivers also provide  transportation services to users living in remote areas where most taxis don’t want to go.

    Both AirBnB and Uber facilitate the match between the demand and supply via mobile apps and websites. These are network innovations that  easily leverage matching solutions and can quickly multiply to different cities and countries. Best of all, unlike their competitors, neither needs to commit any physical assets. AirBnB is now considered the largest accommodation company in the world without owning any hotel room, while Uber is the biggest taxi company without owning any cars. Both have integrated this structure innovation into their business set-up.

    Rule #10: Innovate for the less fortunate through social innovation.

    Social innovation aims to empower the less fortunate and make the world a better place. But how can you actually innovate here? Look at a particular social issue, then pick the innovation type that best suits your challenge.

    For example, micro-finance is a social service innovation of Grameen Bank to reduce poverty in Bangladesh by providing micro-loans to poor women only. In contrast, Greenpeace rights environmental wrongs by creating whopping action campaigns with local, regional or even global impact (social campaign design).

    Would you love to learn how to play with modern innovation types in one of our Thinkergy training courses? Contact us or one of our certified trainers and tell us more about your needs.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. 

  • Tracking the long-term impacts of innovation training

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

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

    Background of the study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. 


  • Play “The Dating Game” to Find New Growth

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

    The background story

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

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

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

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

    Step 1: Characterize your dating client

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

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

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

    Step 2: Describe the attributes of your ideal date

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

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

    Step 3: Do a make-over

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

    Step 4: Specify appropriate dating channels

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

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

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

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

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

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

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. 

  • Harnessing the Yin Yang flow of innovation

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

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

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

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

    How does the Yin Yang flow of innovation unfold?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. 

  • Uncovering the innovation learner’s experience

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

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

    How we researched the innovation learner’s experience

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

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

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

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

    Key take-aways from our research:

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

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

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

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. 

  • 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.

  • 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 

  • 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