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Nuts and Bolts of Solutioning

Each improvement project undergoes two general phases, As-Is and Should-Be. Whereas the first stage is about understanding the problem, identifying and confirming the root causes, the latter one requires to turn the newly gained knowledge into impactful solutions that have a good chance to get implemented. Here are some tips for the solutioning stage.

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Everyday Innovation

“iPhone, Google, Samsung Mobile Phones and other products” are usually mentioned when it comes to innovation. It seems that innovation is strongly connected to new products everyone can see and even experience. The talk about Process Innovation is rather limited or left to the “process specialists”.

Lean Six Sigma and Innovation

Over the last decade, companies and organisations in nearly every industry all over the world have introduced Lean Six Sigma to increase customer satisfaction and to deliver impressive results. An outstanding example is General Electric, the company who has made Six Sigma as popular as it is today.

Another term that has drawn tremendous attention in the business world is Innovation. On the one hand, Lean Six Sigma works towards very low variation in processes with high efficiency. Innovation, on the other hand, seeks to find undiscovered, uncertain territory. Such efforts are rather inefficient. Innovation requires risk-taking, making mistakes and learning from failures.

Can a corporate culture be developed on both key thinking patterns in order to get the best out of Lean Six Sigma Efficiency and Innovative Solutions? Does it make sense to think Innovation Six Sigma?

Seven Habits … – Habit 3: Drive Continuous Improvement

Working with management teams of our clients often takes them away from their business for a few days. They frequently get in touch with their teams at home. Sometimes I involuntarily eavesdrop their part of the conversation. “How is it going? Is everything ok?” is a very common question they ask their teams. When they get some kind of “yes” they feel much better.

Continuous Improvement Needs to be a HabitMy old professor at the university, we called him Ho, had the habit of having tea with the whole team of his assistants in the morning whenever he was around. I cannot say that these sessions were my favourite pastime. Yet, I have to say that these sessions had been a great learning experience. Ho would never ask a question like “Is everything ok?” Instead, his preferred question was “What are your issues? What is new?”

Not knowing the context of his enquiry, I once replied somehow like “No issues. Everything is ok.” For him this was a very cheap answer and Ho countered immediately “So, you don’t have issues. It either means you don’t work or you don’t change anything; you did not try anything new since we met last time. The day you stop improving what you do and how you do it is the day you start falling behind.”

The day you stop improving what you do and how you do it is the day you start falling behind.

Besides the request for continuous improvement and change his question implied that he did expect problems. Ho encouraged us and indirectly sanctioned issues and mistakes. He made the continuous search for better ways part of our business life. Ho never blamed someone if something went wrong. Instead, he expected us to name the issue, own it and suggest a solution. The worst crime one could commit in business life was the crime of not trying to get better every day.

Conclusion

Continuous improvement does not start with massive Lean Six Sigma or Innovation initiatives. To the contrary, continuous improvement needs to be part of the DNA of an organisation if you want to ensure that your aforementioned initiative is successful and lasting. Here are some simple tips that will help incorporating the habit of continuous improvement into the normal business life:

  • Ask for the change, not for the status quo. A question like “What have you improved since last month?” repeated during your business update will help sending the right signal. Over time you will get good answers.
  • Tolerate issues. Ask for solution ideas instead of searching for culprits. This will remove fear of failure that cannot be avoided in a dynamic environment. Discussing these with the whole team can be a great learning experience for everyone … after initial hesitation.
  • Enrich your set of KPI’s by upgrading the often under-represented Balanced Scorecard section Learning & Growth with some powerful short-term indicators. The KPI “one suggestion per year” does not help moulding an innovation culture. Encourage by incentives rather than procedures. You will get what you measure.

 

Contextual Thinking – The Key to Success in Communicating Innovative Proposals

You may have heard and read much in the last few years regarding creativity and innovation. Or you may even have attended a creativity workshop that you found interesting and fun that has helped you come up with some new ideas. Now your current employer may be requiring innovative input. However, you find that your suggestions are mostly ignored or frowned upon. This is mainly because nobody has told you the „The Secret of Contextual Thinking”.

Contextual Thinking - Improvement and Innovation Mindset

Improvement and Innovation Mindset

You may have heard and read much in the last few years regarding creativity and innovation. Or you may even have attended a creativity workshop that you found interesting, fun and helped you come up with some new ideas. Now your current employer may be requiring innovative input. However, you find that your suggestions are mostly ignored or frowned upon.

This is mainly because nobody has told you „The Secret of Contextual Thinking‟.

In the case of creativity and innovation, not only do managers have different ideas of what they mean, but they find it difficult to express them in a consistent manner. This results in resorting to clichés such as out-of-the-box thinking, or ideas producing bottom-line results. If there is such a variety in opinion, what can you do as a potential or current employee to provide the required creative and innovation input?

Seven Steps to Develop Contextual Thinking Skills

1 Do not get excited about it (or at least control your excitement)

Your innovative idea has flaws that your managers and colleagues see a mile away. However, they seem to be blinded to the financially rewarding innovative insights that you find obvious.

2 Do not get frustrated by rejection (or at least control your emotions)

This comes with the territory. Instead you can deflect negative criticism by asking for constructive input: How would you improve this idea? How can we overcome this hurdle? (people usually do not give much feedback, but if they do, it can help you improve your idea and keep them quiet for a while).

3 Start asking some appropriate questions

Your aim is to know what your managers understand by creativity and innovation. What is their “box” when they use the “out-of-the-box” expression? How do they see the development of the products and processes and the technologies supporting them? This step is essential in discovering “the secret”.

4 Continue to collect relevant information

What is the market or technological trend that you can use to back your future innovation? Which innovations from other players in the industry or similar industries in your country or abroad come to mind? What are your customers looking for? How can you meet their current challenges?

5 Generate many ideas

Stretch your mind to go beyond the 2nd best to the best option. Once you have generated many options you will get a better understanding on the different innovative possibilities facing you. Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling said “The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away”.

6 Be selective on your ideas

How does your perfect solution look like? You will start building a series of criteria that will guide your selection and future building up of a valuable solution. (This is crucial to find “the secret”).

7 Start building up ideas into solutions

You can proceed by identifying potential flaws (your colleagues will volunteer to help you do this) and refining your idea to remove those flaws or turn them into leverage points. The weakness of an idea can become its strength in a different context. For instance, the product Post-It™ was the result of a failed attempt to create stronger glue for paper.

Six Guidelines for Making People Accept Your Creative Input

Some basic guidelines to adopt when giving creative and innovative input are as follows:

  • Start small. By providing small feasible improvement suggestions you can start providing quick benefit to the company.
  • Consider the resources you need in terms of knowledge (what do you need to know) and manpower (who can help you). For instance, following up on competitor’ product history, usability reports or global technological trends in similar or different industries can help you gather insights for your innovative input.
  • Persevere and persuade. The innovation process may not be easy. You need to become a diplomat, be careful communicating calculated risk, testing periods, and never oversell your proposal on excitement.
  • Don’t listen to your VOJ. This is the small Voice of Judgment critical to all novelty in ideas even before they have been deliberately analysed and selected. As Einstein once said “If the idea is not absurd at first, there is no hope for it”. The process of making sense or connecting the idea to reality is a separate one.
  • Remember that suggestions need time and have their time. Some of them may flourish at a later date.
  • Learn from every mistake as much as you can. The more you learn, the more your managers will appreciate your work (these lessons will be applicable in future innovation initiatives).

Conclusion

Finally, use “the secret of contextual thinking” from the first to the last moment of the process. This is simply stated “the ability to perceive, understand and value creative and innovative input from the other’s (your manager) perspective”. You may even get to the point where the ideas that you produce resonate so much on your managers that they will themselves carry them out. This ability builds up through insightful questioning and deep listening but it all starts with the intention (desire) to discover and understand deeply the cultivated (reasoned) viewpoints of others (try practicing with friends or relatives).

The leverage to “the secret of contextual thinking” is that the more you build trust in the existing managerial paradigm on creativity and innovation, the more you will be able to stretch that paradigm to enable the company to see beyond to the possibilities of new business models, markets or even redefining one’s industry. Are we not after all in a “City of Possibilities”?

"Innovation

Can Our Staff Innovate?

Innovation has drawn tremendous attention in the business world over the last decades and seems to be up on the radar screens again. The character of Innovation has changed over time from the traditional research-based theory towards the knowledge-driven approach that is based heavily on our social networks. Innovation has made its way from the laboratory into all parts of business life.

Increase Productivity – The Leadership Challenge

“We need to increase productivity!” What sounds very reasonable on a country scale could be damaging on a company level.

Now, after nearly two years of recession the economy is back on track, i.e. companies of all sectors sell more. This is good news, isn’t it? It brings our productivity to new heights, meeting and even surpassing the levels we had seen before the recession. Stop! This is not really good news. This is expected news. Every company – well managed or not – will be able to show these figures. The question is: have companies used the time of low productivity to expand the productivity potential in preparation for the future?

Innovatively Leveraging on Six Sigma Framework

Some time ago, I was facilitating a Six Sigma project group involved in solving a process challenge. This group had been working on defining the parameters regarding recruitment policies. This included the allocation of cubicle, phone number, password, printing of name cards, email, pass card, etc for the new hires. The process involved seven people, taking about five months to complete. The team had dutifully performed all the analysis required, used the necessary tools and come up with detailed process delays corresponding to different positions to be delivered to the new hires. It all pointed out to be a ‘people problem’. “If Mr X and Mrs Y did their job properly we would not have any delays” was the assumed concluded answer to all the problems.

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