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Archive for the ‘Creative Problem Solving’ category

10 Ways Leaders Create Innovation

October 19th, 2009

Successful entrepreneurs are not only able to create a product or service that fits an unmet market need – but they also seem to have a knack for unleashing the creativity of their team. In my work with some 60+ companies as an angel, board member, venture capitalist or “mentor”, I’ve seen some very innovative companies – and most of them were innovative because the leader(s) or Founders put in some brain-power time to determine early-on what they could do to nurture creativity within the company.

Here are 10 ways that the most successful entrepreneurs created a truly innovative environment:

1) Foster an environment of experimentation and risk-taking – the great ones ensure that employees feel that they can experiment with risk – particularly in marketing, product development, and relationship management areas. I recall one company I was on the Board of that took the risk of trying out a new form of banner advertisement that incorporated e-commerce transactions right into the banner ad. Twenty-four months after launching, the company was purchased for $100M + and the entrepreneur who came up with the idea of e-com banner was handsomely rewarded.

2) Condition the team to a “Freedom to Fail” attitude – a cousin to the idea of risk taking is “freedom to fail” . Leaders who allow their team to sometimes try things, knowing that they might fail but also knowing that the team will learn something from attempting a new idea. This creates an environment where the team “fearlessly” approaches new markets and relationships without “sweating the small stuff.” (see Innovation Sparks, 9/24 and 10/2/09 entries for several great company examples)

3) Give control and responsibility to your “Creatives” – by creatives I include engineers, artists, editors – depends on the type of business. A great creative leader allows his creative team to have some control over the quality of their work and the output – rather than have to cater to the bureaucracy of an organization. One of the most famous examples of this was Steve Job’s Macintosh team. A more modern example are the scientific teams at Genentech.

4) Build a great physical environment –setting up an environment properly can ensure that employees have amenities to assist in their creative mindset. For example , IDEO’s campus includes a wide variety of playful rooms for client work, several well-stocked cafeterias (stocked with free food) and outdoor meetings spaces.  Google’s office complex (the “GooglePlex”) is run like a university campus and is so nurturing that an unconfirmed rumor has it that a recent summer intern spent the entire summer eat, slept, worked and recreated at Google ….and no one at the company realized that he used the GooglePlex as his home for 10 weeks.

5) Set up both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards for your employees – physical environment and other “perks” are extrinsic rewards (along with base pay and bonus/commission) that can, of course be an effective way of motivating creativity within the company. But truly innovative leaders also look for a variety of intrinsic rewards to give employees – such as public recognition, control over . At Netflix, for example, workers compete in an annual Waffle breakfast event – and take great pride in creating the winning recipe and eat-in each year…over 30 teams competed this past year.

6) Introduce stress into the team and key individuals – Impose deadlines, challenges and “stretch” opportunities for your creative teams. If the competition in the market doesn’t do it, it’s up to you to insert some stress into the system. Philosopher and entrepreneur, Renn Zaphiropoulos, believes that creativy cannot exist without some personal stress. See his video clip for more clarity on this concept…

7) Building a culture of communication, collaboration and “smart peers” – in my class at UC Berkeley, students love the Harvard Business Review article on “How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity” by Pixar CEO, Ed Catmut. In the article,  Catmut describes the process by which teams at Pixar handle peer-driven problem-solving and creation of the next big hit movie.  The company creates internal and cross-company networks of peers who communicate directly over problems, work in a learning environment and and collaborate on solving complex production and creative issues.  I noticed a similar culture at The Active Network (San Diego), Facebook, Google, and many other young companies.

8) Set up internal processes for problem resolution and opportunity generation: although it may seem counter-intuitive that a “process” is needed to encourage the freedom to create – but in start-up companies the key to moving the business forward is being able to solve problems. Teams that have a process in working together to solve problems, can carry forward the momentum of the company. The best ideas come from intersections among departments, cultures, customer/business and more. “Intersectional innovation” borrows from one field and applies it in a new field (a great book on this is Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect). One of the best-known processes for problem solving was developed by Sid Parnes at State University of Buffalo, NY – where the “Creative Problem Solving Institute” is located.

9) Envision yourself as a metaphor --– great leaders envision their role metaphorically as “shepherd”, “gardener”, or “producer”. S/he may not realize the metaphor until much later (although more experienced serial entrepreneurs may realize faster than others). The role they’ve playing in the success of the company was one of “herding” the sheep toward the right goals and projects, and “enabling/nurturing” the creative skills of the engineering/artistic team to create great products.

10) Learn to Balance and Embrace Opposites – Great managers are able to harness the power of opposites, such as success/failure, autonomy/control, or stress/fun. More on this in my next blog entry!

Jack's Notebook – excellent book on creative problem solving

September 6th, 2009

jacksnotebook Just finished reading Jack’s Notebook by Gregg Fraley.

Fraley is a Creativity and Innovation expert currently residing in the UK and he’s worked with companies and insitutions globally on creative problem solving over the past 20+ years. His blog is a regular read among the creative community.

“Novel” approach to teaching

Fraley’s really done something innovative with this book, that is remiscent of Who Moved My Cheese or The One Minute Manager, told in story format – but with a twist in this case.  The book takes the form of a novel, which makes it fun to follow along, using a combination of a hidden “love story” and story about how a start-up concept is born.  While it’s not exactly a high-tech startup, the creation of a graphic design shop is likely to hit a chord with many readers:  we’ve all dreamed at some point in our life about how nice it would be to own the home-town restaurant, boutique or graphic studio.  Maybe that’s small potatoes for some conquer-the-world types, but in this case it nicely illustrates the subject matter.

The true subject matter of the book is the Creative Problem Solving (CPS) process, which was designed at SUNY Buffalo over 50 years ago, and has survived the test of time with many creative professional world-wide.  The book walks the reader through CPS by using the main characters and their problems/challenges to demostrate the process.  And, it does this several times by wrapping around various problem/solution themes throughout the book.  I like the positive spin that Fraley put on main characters too – they seem to lift from a “fog” in the early chapters (“what is my life really about”) to much greater clarity and purpose.

Is this stuff usable?

My own experience with CPS process goes back over 20 years – I was first introduced to it by my Dad – who was a highly-creative type that thought exposing his son to the annual “Creative Problem Solving Institute” (held by Creative Education Foundation) might be a good idea…so in 1976 I attended my first CPSI event and took the “SpringBoard” entry which coupled me with other newbies and walked us through the CPS process over 3 1/2 days in a group setting.  Since that time, I’ve used that process over and over in my life – like the time I had to launch a series of CD-ROM/software products for Apple, the brainstorming I led with the Yahoo original team, the approach re-branding our venture capital firm in 2002 and even last month the brainstorming I led at a senior team offsite with one of my clients, Les Concierges.  I’ve used the process on problems I encountered at Harvard Business School. And,  I’ve even used this stuff at home to figure out better ways of relating to my children.

Creative Problem Solving – step by step guide

Jack’s Notebook allows someone unfamiliar with the process of CPS to see it in practice, while enjoying some fun reading. Each chapters prologue highlights the key principles that will be included in that chapter, and the back of the book contains a layout of the entire CPS process, step-by-step…a great tool.jacksnotebook2

We’ll be reading, discussing Jack’s Notebook within my course at UC Berkeley (in fact, Gregg Fraley will be joining us via Skype from his home in UK on September 16), and students will be placed in teams and asked to use the CPS process on a specific life/business problem.  With a combination of Engineering and MBA students in the class, the outcome of this process should be VERY INTERESTING.  More on that in a future blog…