Systematic Innovation – The Book

Book Cover

Systematic Innovation, my new book, is now published and will be available from next week.

The purpose of the book is to bring together in one step-by-step guide a powerful suite of systematic tools and processes that make innovation happen.

Based upon years of development and refinement, the systematic approaches have been successfully applied and have helped clients develop new products and services, solve tough and complex problems (often those of a highly technical nature) and innovate.

Innovation is a process.  It can be learnt and easily applied and this book will show you how.

The chapters include:

Behavioural Science – an exploration of the suppressants that restrict our ability to generate ideas and concepts, solve problems and innovate. These include individual and group thinking issues.

Leadership and management of innovation – explores the significance that effective leadership and management has on innovation. It will either encourage innovation and allow it to flourish or create an environment where it will wither on the vine.

Systematic innovation (the process) – a look at the innovation process from start to finish that if followed, guarantees success.

The innovation pipeline – this is a great framework for helping to manage your innovation flow. It is comprised of seven segments from IP-1 to IP-7, each representing a different set of core activities and can be populated by products and services at various stages of their development and lifecycle.

Problem or design definition – defining problems correctly is essential if we are to develop truly effective solutions. Similarly, if we are designing something, we need to be clear about what that something is before we make a start. In both scenarios it is also important to understand peripheral information such as context, constraints, barriers etc. The book explores all the above and more.

Systematic thinking tools and processes – this provides a wide and varied collection of systematic thinking tools and processes that when applied enable the generation of high volumes of ideas, concepts and solutions.

Selection and prioritisation – this includes my favoured and most commonly applied approaches to selection and prioritisation of ideas and solutions.

Implementation – approaches to ensure that we successfully implement our chosen ideas and solutions.

Measure, monitor, review and feedback – it is essential that we know how we are doing and this chapter is all about what and how to effectively measure, monitor, review and feedback (MMRF).

Systematic approaches (quick guides) – these are a handy reference to remind you of the key steps to the systematic approaches.

Innovation is not just about developing new products and technologies, we can benefit from innovation in just about everything we do and the systematic approaches described in the book have been applied to many different focusses.

These powerful approaches will enable you to:

  • Generate high volumes of ideas and concepts on demand
  • Solve the toughest of problems
  • Innovate
  • Manage individual and group thinking
  • Make meetings more productive
  • Lead and manage ‘innovation’
  • Develop new products and services
  • Improve processes
  • Engineer value
  • Select and prioritise your best ideas and concepts

Systematic Innovation will soon be available through Amazon but if you are interested in receiving a copy straight away, please do contact me and I’ll make the necessary arrangements.

Innovations weakest link?

Our experience has been that for many organisations the weakest part of their product/service development and/or problem solving processes is the ability to generate sufficient volumes of quality ideas and concepts. This is potentially the result of the many individual, group and leadership behaviours that suppress our ability to generate ideas (see previous blogs).

This is supported by some research ‘Trends in Concept Design’ conducted by PTC (a leading provider of technology solutions) in which respondents were asked to quote the average number of design alternatives explored during the concept design stage when developing new products. The most frequent response was 3.

When asked to respond to the statement “We would benefit immensely by exploring more design alternatives during concept design”, 92% agreed.

This clearly highlights the need for more emphasis to be placed on the development of ideas and concepts earlier in the innovation process.

We also know from experience that the application of systematic thinking tools and processes deliver instant results in terms of increasing the number of quality ideas and concepts produced. To highlight this, a client recently found four workable solutions within three hours to a difficult technical problem that a team of eight engineers had been focussed on (and perplexed by) for six months by simply applying two of the numerous tools and processes that exist.

If successful systematic thinking tools and processes are easy to learn and apply, why are not more organisations focussed on their use?

As part of my on-going research into the critical success factors of innovation I would very much welcome any thoughts you may have on this.

Transformational Leadership and Innovation

Transformational Leadership is widely considered as the most popular approach to leadership today. Not only popular but also widely regarded as the most effective.

There is an abundance of research evidence that clearly demonstrates that groups led by Transformational Leaders have higher levels of performance and satisfaction than other groups led by a different type of leader.

Transformational Leaders have positive expectations and believe that their followers can do their best. They inspire, empower and stimulate followers to exceed ‘normal’ levels of performance.

The concept of Transformational Leadership was initially introduced by James MacGregor Burns (leadership expert and presidential biographer) and later built upon by researcher Bernard Bass. Bass proposes that Transformational Leadership can be defined according to the impact it has on the followers of a Transformational Leader. It engenders the trust, respect and admiration of followers. Bass also suggests that there are four key components to Transformational Leadership.

The Four Components of Transformational Leadership

Idealised Influence – Transformational Leaders are a role model, they ‘walk the talk’. Followers trust and respect the leader, they emulate this and internalise his or her values and ideals. This in turn helps develop the follower’s leadership characteristics.

Inspirational Motivation – Transformational Leaders inspire and motivate followers. They have a clear vision and are able to articulate it in an inspirational way. Their behaviour provides real meaning and challenge to the work of their followers.

Intellectual Stimulation – Transformational Leaders have and demonstrate a genuine concern for the needs and feelings of followers. Their lines of communication are open and followers feel free and at ease to share ideas that are recognised. Concern is given to the individual development needs of followers.

Individual Consideration – Transformational Leaders solicit new and innovative approaches towards the performance of work and challenge followers to be innovative and creative. They encourage solutions to problems from followers.

Whilst Transformational Leadership is not only the most popular approach to leadership today but also widely regarded as the most effective, it is easy to see the clear link between Transformational Leadership and the need to successfully foster innovation, problem solving and creativity.

Transformational Leadership is about transforming the performance and future success of a business and as such requires new approaches, new ideas, solutions to problems and innovation. It is no surprise therefore, that these qualities feature heavily in the four components of Transformational Leadership and are actively encouraged and supported in followers by Transformational Leaders.

What does it take to become a Transformational Leader?

To set yourself on a path to become a Transformational Leader, the following guidelines should prove valuable.

  • Create a clear, inspirational and highly appealing vision for followers
  • Make the link between the vision and the strategies to attain it clear
  • Articulate the vision in an inspirational and passionate way (use colourful and emotive language)
  • Consistently demonstrate confidence and belief in the vision
  • Demonstrate with conviction your confidence in your follower’s ability to contribute towards and fulfil the vision
  • Model exemplary behaviours that reflect your total commitment to the vision and organisational values
  • Recognise the success of followers
  • Demonstrate a genuine interest in the needs and feelings of individual followers
  • Challenge followers to be innovative, creative and to find solutions to problems

By embracing the above you will be making a significant contribution to creating an innovative culture where great ideas can flourish and solutions to problems will be found.

Time and discipline – innovations best friends

I remember running a workshop some years ago for a group of engineers. The aim was to develop their ability to generate innovative ideas and concepts when developing solutions for clients.

The workshop was a resounding success and by breaking psychological inertia and introducing a small number of systematic thinking tools and processes, there was a remarkable increase in the numbers of ideas and concepts that they were able to produce.

The participants were wonderfully enthusiastic and highly motivated and the feedback at the end of the workshop reflected the success of the day. I drove home that evening with a smile a smile of satisfaction on my face believing I had made a real difference. That is after all, the one thing above all others that drives me to do what I do.

I also recall the follow up workshop that took place some weeks later to explore how things were going.

The feedback from the initial workshop remained extremely positive and it was clear that the training had hit the mark.

I then asked the participants to share their experiences of using the tools and processes that they had been introduced to. They looked at one another expectantly and then turned to me as their expressions fell blank other than slight signs of awkwardness and embarrassment.

‘I’ve not really had the opportunity’ was one reason put forward for the lack of application of the tools and processes. ‘I’ve just been too busy’ was another.

This was followed by pretty much unanimous agreement that these were the main barriers they had met to successfully implementing the work we had done.

Upon further exploration the truth of the matter was, there had been an abundance of opportunities and lack of time and opportunity had simply been excuses.

It occurred to me then that simply giving people new skills or tools and processes that they wholeheartedly embrace and value is simply not enough (in hindsight this was obvious).

Reasons for the lack of implementation can be attributed to a number of things. Insufficient management support, psychological inertia, lack of motivation being amongst them.

In my mind, these are more often than not also excuses. Contributing factors perhaps but still excuses. After all ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. You can give people opportunities but you can’t make them think’.

If you want to be more innovative, find great solutions and generate great ideas and concepts there are two essential ingredients. Finding or creating time to do it and having the discipline to apply effective thinking tools and processes.

It really is as simple as that.

The Wisdom of Crowds

I was fascinated to recently learn of Francis Galton’s ‘Vox Populi’, an article he wrote in 1907 based upon his observations of a competition at a farmers fair in Plymouth the previous year.

The competition involved participants guessing the weight of a particular ox by entering the weight on a purchased ticket for the chance to win a prize. Some 787 people entered and Galton was sufficiently intrigued by the variety of guesses that he collected up all the tickets after the competition and analysed the results. His statistical analysis makes fascinating reading but in my mind one fact stands out in particular.

The average of all the guesses was not only closer than any single guess but was remarkably only 1lb short of the 1198 lbs that the ox weighed. Given the breadth of the distribution of guesses this really is quite fascinating.

The exercise was recently replicated, albeit with fewer entrants and the same results were observed. The average guess being closer than any single guess and on this occasion the average being 7 kilos way from the actual weight of 584 kilos. The range of guesses in this second exercise was between 200 and 1400 kilos and yet collectively the group’s average was still more accurate than any other guess (including those of expert farmers).

For me, this begs the question as to whether we sufficiently capitalise upon the wisdom of crowds in the workplace. Whilst I am acutely aware of the beneficial effect of group synergy when generating ideas and concepts, I am convinced the effects can harnessed in other ways.

I would love to hear your comments on the above and if you would be interested in taking part in some form of research to determine the potential benefits of the wisdom of crowds, do please get in touch.

Thinking Suppressants

In relation to our ability to generate ideas, be creative and solve problems there are a number of suppressants that exist that can stifle this. Some of these are internal, in other words what goes on in our own mind and some are external, those factors that we are exposed to or applied to us that limit or suppress our ability. The purpose of this short article is to explore some of the more common internal suppressants.

Knowledge

Whilst knowledge is essential it can also become a major factor in limiting our ability to create ‘new’ ideas. We can easily become bound by our own pool of knowledge, restricting us to what we know and often the more ‘expert’ we become the greater the significance of this. Without meaning to single out a particular group or stereotype a profession, engineers can present a somewhat classic manifestation of this particular issue. After all, when faced with difficult technical problems they are paid to apply their knowledge of engineering principals and rules to solve them. However of course, the solutions they present are more often than not limited to their own knowledge and experience and there could easily be a multitude of other improved solutions that exist outside their current knowledge base.

Lack of time

A lack of time to generate ideas and be creative can be real but in my experience more often than not it is a perceived excuse rather than a reality (although it can be made worse by management pressures). Of course we are expected to be productive and to have our sleeves rolled up and often this encourages the need to be seen to be busy, this is often compounded when economic pressures are high and the need for job security is raised.

This is somewhat paradoxical. Whilst we indeed may be busy or are keen to be seen to be busy, taking the time out to think could easily lead to better ways of working, improved solutions to problems, higher quality work and faster ways to work, freeing up time and improving performance!

Hindsight

One of the issues regarding idea generation is that when we strike upon a really good idea it often appears ‘obvious’ and in hindsight we devalue it. This tendency to view good ideas as obvious leads us to convince ourselves that it has probably already been done before and I wonder just how many really good ideas have been generated but have fallen foul of this and therefore never made it to fruition.

Fear of ridicule

Ridicule can be a major problem and can significantly contribute towards the cessation of people putting forward their ideas. If in the past when we have put forward an idea it is ridiculed, we clearly become les and less inclined to put future ideas on the table in the future. This often manifests itself in meetings and group thinking sessions and clearly needs to be stamped out.

We often hear the phrase ‘there is no such thing as a bad idea’ and this notion should be actively encouraged. An idea may on the face of it appear ‘stupid’ but within it could be the seed of something great.

Not my job

Sometimes we simply do not see it as part of our role to generate ideas, be creative or solve problems we see our function as simply getting on and achieving our objectives which more often than not do not include generating ideas. It’s more about getting the job done, delivering objectives in line with managerial expectations, rather than being paid to think.

Don’t know how

The sad fact is that very few people have been taught or ‘trained’ to think in a way that will enable the generation of high volumes of new ideas on demand or in the art of innovation. Going back as far as my school days I struggle to recall being taught ‘how to think’ and being creative was pretty much left to the domain of the creative arts but even then I can’t remember being taught how to generate ideas or think creatively (maybe I wasn’t listening)!

Therefore, perhaps traditional education is in part to blame for our lack of knowledge regarding how to generate ideas, be creative and solve problems.

In addition to this, I have encountered very few clients that have invested in the training and development of thinking skills, although there are early signs that this may be changing as more organisations are waking up to the significant benefits that this has to offer.

Why bother (apathy)

Even when we put ideas forward, it can feel like they disappear into a black hole or worse still we see them being implemented and someone else taking the credit for them (often management). A lack of feedback, recognition and/or reward is a certain way to kill off idea generation.

If we go to the trouble to share an idea and hear nothing thereafter we are certainly less inclined to bother again in the future.

Appropriate feedback (even if the idea is not going to be implemented), recognition and perhaps reward are essential if we are to be encouraged to make a constant effort to generate useful ideas and be creative.

Premature critical thinking

There is a tendency for us to be prematurely critical of both our own ideas and the ideas of others. When we have an idea the risk is that we immediately search for the reasons why it won’t work or can’t be done, thus prematurely killing off what might be the seed of an excellent idea.

In a group thinking scenario someone might table an idea in a meeting and the first reaction is for people to similarly comment on why it won’t work or can’t be done. This can often be construed as negativity and faced with it on a frequent basis can feel like we are swimming against an insurmountable tide. This is another external suppressant.

A proportion of internal suppressants or the manifestation of them can be put down to poor management. Not exclusively perhaps but management certainly have a major part to play in ensuring that they are addressed.

The value of rephrasing problems

Often when dealing with problems and attempting to identify potential solutions we are either trying to solve the wrong problem (or symptoms of the problem rather than the cause) or are viewing the problem as one dimensional.

The purpose of this brief article is to help us understand the value of rephrasing problems in order to develop a deeper, wider and better quality pool of potential solutions.

By rephrasing problems we are able to shift our view of the problem and change perspective which enables us to find solutions beyond a one dimensional view.

I was recently told a story which illustrates this rather well. It involved the presence of a substantial amount of asbestos in a nuclear power station and its necessary removal to safeguard the health and safety of the engineers working there.

The problem was how to remove the asbestos safely and without releasing any harmful particles into the atmosphere. The location of the asbestos and other environmental and physical factors made this a challenge for which a team of experts were assembled to find a solution.

Weeks went by, and then months as they continued to struggle, until a visitor was invited to take part in one of the sessions aimed at finding a solution.

It wasn’t too long before the visitor interrupted the meeting by asking “are you sure that you’re solving the right problem?” Quizzical eyes peered back and one individual asked what he meant by that.

“Surely, the problem is not about removing the asbestos but how to protect people from its harmful effect” he replied.

This rephrasing of the problem very quickly led to a solution. The asbestos was clad in protective sheeting and remains in that location to this day with the harm eliminated.

Here are another couple of examples of rephrasing a problem:

Problem 1:          I need a hammer to drive this nail in (solution = find a hammer)

Rephrased:         I need to drive this nail in (solutions = find anything that will drive the nail in)

Rephrased:         I need to join these two pieces of wood together (solutions = all the above and more!)

Problem 2:          We need a new tunnel to get cars across the river (solution = dig a tunnel)

Rephrased:         We need to get cars across the river (solutions = any method to get cars  across a river)

Rephrased:         We need to move the river (whoa!)

The rephrasing of the problem in the above examples, would potentially lead to very different solutions.

Do get in touch if you would like to know more.