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Archive for the ‘Creative Problem Solving’ category

How Many Ways to Kill Innovation?

February 21st, 2012

One of my favorite posts on the topic of Innovation-Killers, comes from the innovative blogsite, ThinkJar, created by Ben Weinlick.  Ben attended The Intersection 2012 and has created a great site for convergent and divergent creativity.  Take a look at this post on 21 Ways to Kill Creativity, written by Michael Michalko (author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques).

I would like to add one or two of my own creativity-killers:

1) don’t ever, ever, listen to your children’s ideas

2) immerse yourself in lots of television (especially sitcoms, game-shows, and reality tv series) and mobile games.

What other innovation-killers are you experience at home or work?

Keeping Innovation Simple – social entrepreneurship

July 19th, 2010

I get little argument when I suggest to entrepreneurs that they keep their businesses simple, that they focus on getting the simple steps done first, or that they focus on products that meet simple consumer needs.

But TALKING ABOUT simplicity and actually enabling it are two different things. It’s amazing how complex things can get when you hire a team of bright minds, create partnerships or define the functions of your product!

I was on the website Echoing Green (a early-stage social venture firm) and came across the video for one of their “Green Fellows” – a woman named Jodie Wu.  I love the innovations that she is creating with a somewhat mundane (by US standards) technology and transforming it into something of value to the poor villagers in other countries around the world.  This is simplicity in action.

What I see here is an entrepreneur who is taking a basic/antiquated technology – the bicycle – and looking at the world through the eyes of the social entrepreneur in Africa, South America, India, or China – and coming up with an innovative way of approaching this technology for alternative uses.

Will the organization itself get funding, grow successfully and launch? Perhaps? But they certainly are off to an innovative approach to social entrepreneurship that may re-purpose an old technology for the benefit of the Third World.

Have examples of simplicity that you can share? I’d love to hear from you…

The U.S. Constitution – creativity & innovation in Action

July 9th, 2010

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, is a massive structure located near old-town Philadelphia (2 blocks from Independence Hall).  I visited the museum on July 4th – a fitting day to be prancing around Philadelphia – at 10:00 am that day, I was the only visitor walking around the 2nd floor  huge (circular) multimedia atrium and one of only 8 people to sit through the first showing in the theater-in-the-round presentation (“We the People”) on the Constitution.

This museum is a must-see if you want to understand how this country was founded on principles of freedom, democracy and innovation.  During the 17-minute “We the People” live show, it really started to sink in with me how special this country is that we live in…and how the combined creative genius of Jefferson, Franklin, Paine,  Adams, Hamilton and others living in America in the late 1770-1790 time-frame came together to form a government and nation never before attempted.

The Consitution was delivered on Sept 17, 1787, after months of debate and draft in what was to become know as the Philadelphia Convention.  So, not a bad place to be on July 4th, 2010.

Who Wrote the Constitution

Picture a team brainstorm meeting that you have attended in the past and the process and results it yielded.  Now picture a similar meeting – only the participants are Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and other luminaries.

Interesting “sketches” on many of the Constitution’s authors were written by William Pierce.

Madison is generally credited for drafting the Constitution. But the ideas contained in it were the result of 12 colonies/states (one state did not send a delegate) all contributing ideas and sending their most critical thinkers to the Philadelphia Convention.

Thus, the Convention had was incredible intellectual horse power behind it.  It also had ideas and ideals from men who had studied governments all over the world and throughout history.  The goals, in my opinion, for these men was to craft something that would suit the particular situation that America found itself in following the Revolution:

  • America was a relatively newly settled land, each State in the union had its own priorities and needs
  • The patriotism of the American people was at an all-time high
  • The States required coordination between them and a set of laws that would govern them
  • The entire operation could not be headed by a dictator, but required a unique set of democratic processes in order that all opinions/needs would be fairly heard

The Creative Process at Work

But Horse Power is not enough.  For amazing results to play out of this milieu, the leaders needed a process. I cannot claim to be an historical expert on the process that played out, but I plan to learn more about it.

By my estimation, the creative problem solving process they employed was astounding.  The process needed to identify the critical needs of the day, brainstorm creative ways that the States could COLLECTIVELY and separately, solve these issues – and come up with common vision from all this.  Finally, the group of delegates had to identify a future implementation process by which the newly formed solution could unfold over time as new ideas and needs were revealed.  At any one of these junctures, things could have fallen apart.

Failure to come up with a way to “unite” the states?  Things fall apart.

Can’t think of a way that we can ensure freedom ? Things fall apart

You fail to be able to get the delegates to “converge” on a set of solutions that benefits all? Things fall apart.

No options for growing the collective prosperity of a newly formed “united states”?  Things fall apart.

Can’t think of a process by which all this can evolve (try thinking out 200 years into the future – it ain’t easy!).  Things fall apart.

This was Pretty Darn Innovative

What made the US Constitution so innovative when it was adopted in 1787?

  • The initial “brainstorming” process include separate plans for the Constitution from Virginia, South Carolina, New Jersey, Alexander Hamilton (a plan resembling the British government) and Connecticut
  • The document was crafted so it could be additive & flexible (it has been amended 27 times since, including the first 10 amendments in 1787-8)
  • It was the first document of its kind in modern times to include Freedom as a central theme, yet the heated topic of the day was slavery, yet the plan avoided this issue initially so as to be ratified – otherwise the debate might have lasted years or decades and nothing would have been accomplished
  • The document itself allowed for a complete process for democratic vote and amendment
  • The document included an elaborate plan for Balance - a judiciary system, a legislative branch and executive decision-making
  • Required was some fair way for States to vote on future issues – so a system for representation and voting needed to be put into effect

This is Hard Work!

I must say, that Washington,  as a leader of this highly innovative new “experiment” has also impressed me.  Our first president had to take on a role that no human being had ever experienced – “President” of a “united” group of men and women who were anything but united.The newly united states were a pot full of idealistic, commercial, political and social ideas  – all simmering to a boil.  Washington had to be SOME POLITICIAN to get many factions to work with one another (heck his two top men, Jefferson and Adams, could not even get along), interpret the newly formed constitution, continue to protect his country, battle the concept of slavery in a land that had just declared itself free.

There’s a Lot More to this Story

I’m only scratching the surface here, being neither a top historian, nor actually being there over 200 years ago – I can only guess at some of the processes and innovations that came up during the Philadelphia Convention and beyond it…I’d love to hear your thoughts on additional areas of Creativity and Innovation that I”ve undoubtedly missed.

Innovation and Creativity at the University

January 7th, 2010

In 2009, I was given the opportunity to create and teach a new course at UC Berkeley’s “Management of Technology” group, serving both master-degree candidates in Engineering as well as MBAs at the Haas School.  All in all we had 46 students in the class. The class is called ICE –“Innovation, Creativity & The Entrepreneur.”

I am personally very grateful for the opportunity to teach this particular course.  First of all, I am interested at this point in giving something back to others – and this class represented the ULTIMATE way to give something back to the younger generation – this is the future generation of innovative leaders.  And, Creativity is a life-long passion of mine.  Lastly, the results of the class were extremely rewarding (read on, below).

Why a Class on Creativity/Innovation AND Entrepreneurship?

While colleges & corporations all over the world are stressing Innovation, and even Berkeley itself has several leaders in the field of innovation, such as Professor Sara Beckman and Professor Henry Chesbrough, I researched ENTREPRENEURIAL Innovation in 2008.  We do have a very excellent Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation here at the Haas School – the emphasis is on hands-on student learning for future entrepreneurs.  I teach New Venture Finance each spring from within this Center.  Several classes within Lester Center integrate ideas on creativity and innovation into their curriculum.

Outside of Berkeley, I could find very little in this area – few cases,  very few articles, few courses taught on the subject (Harvard Business School had a course of this nature in the late 1980’s, taught by professor, John Kao), and the last book I could find on the topic of Innovation and Entrepreneurship was a book by that very name by Peter Drucker in 1985. (If I’ve missed something in my research, my apologies – I’d LOVE to learn about it).

Plenty out there on Innovation and Corporations, but little on entrepreneurship…maybe entrepreneurs are EXPECTED to be innovative…but of course they are not  necessarily, in reality.

Topics on Creativity

The class basically covered these topics on Creativity & Innovation:

  • Definitions of Creativity & Innovation in the working world
  • Company Environment – how physical space, values, beliefs & culture affect innovation
  • Leadership – how to enhance or kill Creativity in the entrepreneurial environment (see my previous post on this topic)
  • Measuring Group and Individual Creativity
  • The Creative Problem Solving Process
  • Management of Global Creativity
  • Creativity in Design
  • Innovations in Product Development
  • Innovations in Marketing (see my previous posts on this topic)
  • HR , Company Culture and Innovation (see my previous posts on this topic)
  • How business models affect innovation

Speakers really enhanced the class !

At UC Berkeley, we are very fortunate to be closeto  the Silicon Valley (and I’m fortunate to know a lot of people!)  During the 15 week class we had a variety of excellent speakers parade through the halls of the Haas School on their way to our classroom.  I am highly indebted and grateful to the following seasoned professionals for their time and great presentations:

New cases developed for this class

As luck would have it, I had superb support from Anne Marxer who is a MBA candidate at Haas and did a great job as my Teaching Assistant.  We also were very fortunate to get 4 special case studies done – Case studies were also superbly written by Jenny Herbert Creek (on Netflix’s Cultural innovations) and Rekha Ravindra (on Reply’s business model innovations) – thanks ladies!

Professor Linda Hill, a long-time mentor and well-know professor/administrator at Harvard Business School, co-collaborated with me on a case on Digital Chocolate, which was nicely written by HBS West Executive Director Alison Wagonfeld.  The case is available world-wide now through the HBS Publishing – see: http://hbr.org/product/digital-chocolate/an/410049-PDF-ENG?N=4294958507%2520516161

Getting Innovative

Of course, no classroom on innovation or creativity would make sense unless we tried to be a little innovative ourselves. I surprised myself by managing to come up with at least 4 innovation in this classroom, that the students seem to enjoy.  Some of the  approaches were bit out of the ordinary and took advantage of existing technologies:

  • Classroom Innovation #1: the Virtual case – With expert videographer and Cal grad Suzanne Lamar, I created four unique cases and tested them out on the class – each case was filmed at the company and then presented on the web in snippets (each no more than 2 minutes long, a total of 6-8 per company).  Students were asked to write down answers to questions on each clip, in addition to reading a short case study on the company.  The result: students seem to retain more of the learning, and internalized the material, plus had more fun.  For great examples of this, see:  http://www.haykin.net/learning/index.html
  • Classroom Innovation #2: unique use of Wiki – I asked all 50 students in the class to each come up with 2 examples of Marketing Innovation (from anywhere in world) off the ‘Net and enter their findings in a wiki which was organized by marketing topic. The result was so rich and useful for a 2 hour class – but in reality we created enough material for the basis of an ENTIRE COURSE on Marketing Innovation.  During my lecture, I shared a framework on marketing with the class, then stitched together examples they had all posted – in real time and using video, audio, etc.  We had an amazing time.
  • Classroom Innovation #3: unique use of Online forums - we used this as a classroom tool to allow better participation by students.  Some students were shy by nature and said less in class.  I created a discussion forum online that only the class could see and comment on.  Those students who were quiet in class had a chance to “speak up” and many of them left comments all semester long.  Plus the students interacted (debated, complimented, compared) with each other in these forums.  The forums also provided great feedback for me from the students on class tools, speakers, etc.
  • Classroom Innovation #4:  the Personal Innovation Plan – one final brainchild I had for this class was called the “PIP” (personal innovation plan). During the 15 weeks of class, I asked each student to keep a Personal Journal of what they were learning, their thoughts and ideas.  Then,  I asked each student to  come up with a full person plan of how they would put the class into action in their own lives – using what they had learned all semester.   About half the class presented their PIPs to me, and the other half delivered physical PIPs.

Here are some examples of the amazing plans that the students presented, some of them were WORKS OF ART:

  • A colorful desk calendar that provides photos, quotes, memorable learnings from class for each month of 2010
  • A live multi-media website the integrates all the course material, assignments, personal journals
  • A desktop full-scale model of House in the movie “Up!” from  Pixar containing a hidden journal and go-forward plan
  • A magazine interview revealing personal findings and learnings
  • An amazing short story about a Bunny (who was in fact the student in disguise)
  • Interpretation of a few weeks of dreams and how they fit into the creative process
  • A Powerpoint slide show of images/photos along with orginal music
  • A comic-strip representing all that was learned in class
  • Original Music demonstrating several aspects of the class

Through this approach, and innovations during the semester, I felt that I got the privilege of getting to know the 46 students in my class more intimately than most other professors at US institutions.

If you have any questions about this class, I’d love to hear from you at Haykin@haas.berkeley.edu, or leave your comment at bottom of this blog!

Online tools and sites for creative problem solving

November 22nd, 2009

There are a variety of great tools available on the web today to use in the Creative Problem Solving Process. Below are a few of the tools that my class at UC Berkeley identified this past semester and used in creative problem solving.

Sites that provide numerous tools and techniques

Some sites are just great resources for a variety of problem-solving topics and techniques, such as:

Tools for the Problem Solving Process

Here are some online tools that can be used during the collaborative process itself to enable groups to track their ideas, solutions and options:

  • MindMeister – great online tool for mind-mapping
  • Linoit- online sticky notes that you can use to group ideas in brainstorming
  • Digital Dreamboard- lets you visualize an outcome or set up a dream or desired goal
  • Group Systems- team collaboration tools for individual, small group or larger company innovation
  • Evernote – allows you to track and organize group notes
  • Wet Paint – easily create wiki that group can share  to track the entire creative process
  • Tag Crowd – use this tool to “converge” on a wide range of ideas that you have as a group – it organizes and allows you to group your responses
  • Google docs – if all else fails, your team can always collaborate through the use of shared documents on Google !

I would be curious to hear about other tools not mentioned above!