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May 2010

Welcome to the 2010 edition of the Practical Innovator Newsletter! This issue is late, but I hope it finds you feeling more positive about the economic situation in the US and elsewhere around the globe -- despite the many new challenges that continue to pop up every day!

I also hope that you will continue to enjoy this newsletter which is designed to provide practical ideas, techniques, and experiences for leaders to build more innovation and creativity into their organizations.

Have a wonderful spring! And please pass this newsletter on to anyone else who might be interested in its messages!

Lynne

in this issue
  • What's Not So New About Creativity?
  • Imitation over Innovation?
  • Breakthrough Creativity Profile -- NEW Developments
  • Using the Breakthrough Creativity Profile with Your Team?
  • Can Creativity Suffer from Too Much Communication?
  • Measuring Innovation: The 2009 Innovation Summit
  • Eight Creative Talents and Entrepreneurship
  • Latest news from Australia
  • Congratulations to Gentle Giant Moving Company

  • Imitation over Innovation?

    A recent article in the Boston Globe (April 18, 2010) titled "Is Innovation Over-rated?" caught my eye. According to the author, it may be time to appreciate the "power of the copycat."

    It is of course very true that innovators have made modern life what it is today, with dramatic changes in disease control, transportation, technology, and other fields. And is it also true that politicians and business gurus continue to sing the praises of innovation as the lifeblood of the economy.

    Yet, the author suggests that our relentless focus on innovation may obscure "the value of its much maligned relative, imitation." According to Professor Oded Shenkar at Ohio State's Fisher College of Business, imitation -- if done right -- can be just as important as innovation for companies that "really want to grow efficiently."

    For those leaders who prefer to build on what has been done before (using their Navigator talents), rather than striving to come up with the breakthrough idea, this is a refreshing perspective. The world's bias toward innovation too often obscures the contribution that comes from improving on the work of others.

    Of course, it's important to recognize that imitation, like innovation, needs to be done right. The advice from experts includes: Be sure to keep an open mind while at the same time paying close attention to the details of execution. Look closely, says Shenkar, to make sure you "understand why something was successful, and whether its success applies" to your situation. If it does, he argues, "rip it off as quickly as you can!"


    Breakthrough Creativity Profile -- NEW Developments

    How would you like to take the Breakthrough Creativity Profile online? Think about the time that would save! For those of you who are using the BCP in your work, you know that it takes roughly 20-30 minutes to answer and score the Profile, time that cuts into any learning session.

    The great news is that I have recently embarked on a new project with publisher HRDQ that will update the current hard copy BCP in two ways. First, we will be putting the BCP online to make it easier to administer and get results. Secondly, we are adding new creative problem solving material that will facilitate the application of the BCP's results in an organization.

    The "bad" news is that the new online facility will not be available until early next year. However, stay tuned for announcements about how you might be able to help in this exciting project!


    Using the Breakthrough Creativity Profile with Your Team?

    Have you ever thought of using the Breakthrough Creativity Profile on your team? To see if there are any dominant talents that might impact the performance of the team and its abilities to creatively solve problems? My preliminary research has found, for example, that if a majority of team members prefer the Harmonizer or Poet talent as one of their two favorite talents, the team tends to be less comfortable with the conflict that is inevitable in the development of creative ideas.

    Or when the majority of team members have dominant talents that are extraverted (Explorer, Adventurer, Pilot or Harmonizer), the team tends to be less adept at listening to each other, and not a lot of reflection happens. And teams with predominately Navigator talents tend to be overly focused on details and may fail to take a whole systems view of the problem.

    Would you like to find out what the dominant talents of your team are and how they impact the ability to creatively solve problems? And just as importantly, what you can do to optimize the team's creative performance!

    Another exciting project I am working on with HRDQ for delivery early next year is to develop an online team report which will aggregate the individual profiles of team members and describe the strengths and challenges of particular patterns of the team's profile as they relate to creativity and creative problem solving.


    Can Creativity Suffer from Too Much Communication?

    Studies of innovation teams in several Dutch companies revealed that "frequency of communication was found to be a significant factor in creative output." This is probably no real surprise. However, what was quite interesting was the finding that when communication exceeds a certain threshold, it can actually become a negative and cause the teams to perform less well.

    Why? Because too much communication "can lead to a group-think mentality that stifles originality." As team members build stronger relationships through communications, they may start to evaluate assumptions less rigorously. Others may coast on the group's ideas and expend less of their own effort on the project.

    Of course, too little communication can be just as harmful. Finding the right balance, as with so much else around creativity and innovation, is very critical!

    From "Intelligence," MIT Sloan Management Review (Summer 2005)


    Measuring Innovation: The 2009 Innovation Summit

    For those readers interested in innovation, here's a brief summary of the 2009 Innovation Summit in Cologne Germany, where the focus was on measuring innovation.

    The discussion at the Summit revolved around our conviction that measurement is the missing link in getting innovation right. Why is that? Our research finds that there are at least four reasons why metrics help leaders get results from their innovation efforts.

    1. First, metrics help leaders maintain focus and attention, a central problem in managing innovation. By sending the right signals, providing discipline, and assigning specific accountability, metrics keep the organization headed in the right direction.

    2. Metrics provide concrete targets that employees can readily understand. For example, with an innovation strategy that revolved around patient care, leaders turned a vague concept into something employees could impact by measuring customer satisfaction, cycle times of clinical and administrative processes, and numbers of referrals.

    3. Besides making a concept real, metrics also provide feedback and learning. They allow leaders to see if a strategy is working or whether a mid-course correction is needed.

    4. Finally, since innovation projects are usually long-term projects, shorter-term milestones and measurable deliverables provide the small wins so necessary to keep teams motivated.

    At the Summit, we also discussed the ten best practices for measuring innovation.


    Eight Creative Talents and Entrepreneurship

    Have you ever thought of using the Eight Creative Talents to promote entrepreneurship in your organization?


    Latest news from Australia

    While I was in Australia last year, I worked with members of the Malleefowl Preservation Group's (MPG) Management Committee to develop a SWOT analysis. I recently received an email from Susanne Dennings, project coordinator for the group, who writes that the MPG appears to be on a turnaround.

    To encourage broader participation, the MPG is moving its headquarters from the small farming community of Ongerup to Albany, a much larger town southwest of Ongerup. According to Susanne, "The re-energized group of volunteers has recognised MPG's current strengths and is now working on addressing the gaps. The SWOT analysis you did with us is so valuable there. Thank you again for that support!"

    Susanne goes on to say that the Malleefowl has received "heaps of recent publicity" on Australian national television and that the Malleefowl Centre in Ongerup has just hatched 4 malleefowl chicks. Finally, she adds that the economic downturn has actually provided new opportunities for the MPG. Because of Australian government guidelines, groups requesting federal grants must demonstrate links with local community based organizations, like the MPG. Thus many new possibilities of collaboration are appearing on the horizon!


    Congratulations to Gentle Giant Moving Company

    Congratulations to long-time client Gentle Giant Moving Company, who received another award this year. In 2007, Gentle Giant was listed by the Wall Street Journal as one of the 25 best managed small companies in the United States, because of its strong work environment and company culture. This year, Gentle Giant was recognized as Independent Mover of the Year by the American Moving and Storage Association, a national trade organization that each year recognizes one moving company for its outstanding performance and significant contributions to the moving industry.


    What's Not So New About Creativity?

    While advice on building more creativity and innovation into organizations continues to abound, it is not necessarily all that new! Many of us have been sharing similar advice for years!

    Take for example, a not-so-recent article in Fast Company (December, 2004), where Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile described "The 6 Myths of Creativity," based on her research in organizations. At the top of her list, was the myth that "Creativity Comes from Creative Types."

    According to Amabile, "almost all of the research in this field shows that anyone with normal intelligence is capable of doing some degree of creative work. Creativity depends on a number of things: experience, including knowledge and technical skills; talent; an ability to think in new ways; and the capacity to push through uncreative dry spells. Because people who are turned on by their work often work more creatively, supporting this intrinsic motivation in organizations is especially important."

    She goes on to say that over the past several years, organizations have paid more attention to creativity and innovation than at any other time in her career. But she believes most people aren't anywhere near to realizing their creative potential, in part because they're laboring in environments that impede the personal motivation to be more creative. "The anecdotal evidence suggests many companies still have a long way to go to remove the barriers to creativity."

    What can be done to improve the environment for more creativity? Interestingly, the barriers that have existed over the past several decades continue to stymie leaders today. What are those barriers?

    One of the biggest and most stubborn obstacles in my opinion turns out to be a leader's style. According to an article in this month's Harvard Business Review, in order to bring more creativity to their organizations, leaders need to:

    1. Create an intense environment that requires people's best thinking and work
    2. Define an opportunity that causes people to stretch their thinking and behaviors
    3. Drive sound decisions by cultivating rigorous debate among team members
    4. Give other people ownership of results and invest in their success

    What seems like clear, simple advice, however, proves difficult in practice. My research indicates that too often leaders are afraid to let go of control and instead stick to the outworn belief that only senior leaders have all the answers.

    Do you agree? I would welcome your thoughts as to why these barriers to more creativity in organizations persist and what can be done to break them down!















    "When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this - you haven't."
    -- Thomas A. Edison








    "Supposing you have tried and failed again and again. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call 'failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down."
    -- Mary Pickford, American actress








    "Most people have some degree of talent for something.... talent lies around in us like kindling waiting for a match, but some people, just as gifted as others, are less lucky. Fate never drops a match on them."
    -- Wallace Stegner, American author









    Lynne Levesque Consulting

    A global consultancy dedicated to accelerating the strategic and creative performance of leaders and their organizations -- in ways you've never seen before!

    And now joining with international colleagues to form DAGAZ Global, focusing on the challenges of implementing and measuring innovation.


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