Tag Archives: creativity

Are you still useful?

This week I went to ‘Overturn’ the MA in Innovation Management Degree Show at Central Saint Martins. Who even knew you could do a MA in Innovation?

Innovation expert Max McKeown (taller than I expected) delighted the audience for over an hour with a great presentation and some rather interesting innovation discussion featuring;

  • If anyone wanted or expected future to be exactly the same as it is now
  • How washing machines have made women in America fat
  • Pondering over to what extent past experiences affect our behaviours

Pretty intense stuff for a school night, but the observation that really struck a chord with me was;

If you have been with your firm for less than 6 months then you are still useful.

You are still useful because new people have enthusiasm that something can change. New people bring diversity as they are external to established systems and can see where change could make improvements. New people ask questions. New people challenge ‘the way things are done around here’.  Six months were how long it took for a person to stop being new, to stop asking the challenging questions, to stop believing that something can change.

The next question was how long we thought it takes for a new person in an organisation to get listened to.

There was a range of answers. All over 6 months.

So there we go, organisations employ people for their skills and experience to get the job done as well as their potential to ask questions and drive change. For the first six months they tend to do that, question and challenge, as time goes by they challenge less until they are one of the team, conformed to the status quo. That is just when they start to get noticed and gain influence. But by that point it is too late.

Sound familiar? Or not? Love to know your views.

P.S. Central Saint Martins Kings Cross Campus in London opened last September.  It is an awesome building, part of the regeneration of the Kings Cross area. Find a reason to visit if you can.

Creativity, Innovation and Quality of Life

Innovation is a buzzword topic. You can even do a Masters Degree in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership at City University in London. It has its own acronym; it is fondly referred to as the MICL.

This is great because they have free public lectures. Last week I went to listen to Professor Patrick Jordan talk about Creativity, Innovation and Quality of Life.

Quality of life is defined as the wellbeing of individuals and societies. There is an increasing emphasis on the importance of quality of life and wellbeing. The Office for National Statistics is now attempting to measure national wellbeing in the UK.

Jordan suggests that there are nine major factors that need to be taken into consideration when measuring quality of life in his 2010 paper, ‘The Good Society Framework’.

The nine factors are explained below with examples highlighting how innovation and creative thinking are helping individuals and communities improve their quality of life.

1. Relationships; the quality of our social,family and interpersonal relationships is the single most important factor in measuring quality of life or wellbeing. Research has shown that there is a loneliness epidemic in older men.  Men communicate best when bought together round a task. Men in Sheds is an innovative project responding to this by establishing a task based shed network providing a community of support and social interaction for men.

2. Economy; this refers to people’s degree of economic spending power and the extent that jobs develop and reward individuals. In tough times, with public trust in large banking corporations at rock bottom, there has been an opportunity for the development of peer-to-peer economics. Zopa provides opportunities for people with savings to lend. The lenders earn interest and the borrowers receive better rates than banks can offer. Regulated by the FSA, Zopa has half a million members who have to date lent more than £190 million.

3. Environment and infrastructure; this is about how pleasant, effective and efficient our environments are. Transport for London invested in an initiative to ensure public transport in London was accessible to people with disabilities. Yet, despite the improved access, people with disabilities were not using London trains and buses. In particular wheelchair users didn’t use buses. Transport for London worked with Jordan to establish why. He discovered primary reason wasn’t the physical barrier; it was because of the uncomfortable interaction with the driver and the public. Bus drivers are measured on punctuality, the additional time to help a wheelchair user on and off the bus meant their bus would arrive back at the depot late. Because of this they often didn’t stop for wheelchairs – or were stressed and rushed when they did. Making using the bus a bad experience best avoided. Therefore changing the time measure for drivers, rather than the physical environment may improve the bus experience for wheelchair users.

4. Health; in particular access to good healthcare and food. Jordan spoke of a hospital project in Korea. They turned their radiography ward into an entertainment centre. Patients could upload photos and listen to their own music in an attempt to take some of the trauma of sitting in a stark and unwelcoming ward by making the experience as comfortable as possible.

5. Peace and Security; this refers to levels of crime and if people feel safe in their homes and public spaces and whether or not society is affected by war or terrorism. Jordan spoke of initiatives to develop more effective ways to identify terrorist suspects. Currently terrorist suspects are single people in a public place, looking nervous, with a backpack, meeting another single nervous person. Anyone who has ever been on an internet date is a hot terrorism suspect based on current techniques.

6. Culture and leisure; this is about identifying if there is a rich and rewarding
culture and opportunities to participate in leisure activities.  GoodGym is an organisation that connects people who want to get fit, with physical tasks that need to be done and benefit the community. So rather than mindlessly pound a treadmill you can run to an elderly neighbours garden that needs digging. Great concept.

7. Spirituality; the choice to practice which religion you choose, access to spiritual and philosophical teachings. An example is the Meditator app for smart phone has been developed to enable more people to relax and experience the benefits of meditation.

8. Education; this places the importance on enriching educational opportunities the enable people to function effectively in society. An example of a project enabling better educational opportunities is the US Knowledge is Power Programme (KIPP). Based on the premise that levels of achievement are often inhibited by low expectations, KIPP uses the slogan ‘work hard be nice’ to build the confidence and expectations of students from undeserved communities that they will go to, and do well at college.

9. Governance; so whether there is democracy, fairness and freedom of expression. Social media has given the masses a voice and the ability to spread campaigning messages. There are many examples of groups coming together to have a voice or take action; from the organization of the riots in London last summer to the uprising in Egypt last January.

Jordan’s final point was that using innovation and creativity to create a better quality of life was for all. Not for the few that can afford it – but for everybody.

How can we better engage our creative and innovative skills to improve our individual and community wellbeing? What do you think?

PS. You can find out more about MICL at a free open day conference in London on 11 June.

Why we have our best ideas in the shower

This evening I watched the live stream of a RSA talk by Jonah Lehrer about new research that is deepening our understanding of the human imagination.

Not actually being at the RSA in real life was a strange experience, I felt like I was intruding as people arrived and I watched by myself. In silence until the speakers took the stage. It was also a modern-day miracle given my recent service from Virgin Broadband.

The talk was based on Lehrers new book Imagine: How Creativity Works, which explores where creative thoughts originate.

CRAP

No I’m not being rude. CRAP is apparently an acronym for Compound Remote Associates Programmes.

CRAP is like the word puzzles you get in the Sunday paper. Unrelated words are presented and the problem is to find a fourth word that relates to them all, e.g. for the words; pine, crab and sauce  – the solution word is apple.

The study showed that the creative insight that comes before a solution, can be detected in the brain 8 seconds before it arrives. It’s identified by functional resonance imaging and electroencephalography.

In plain English this means that the bit of the brain behind your ear that scientists don’t know huge amount about shows a sharp spike in alpha wave activity. This alpha wave pattern closely resembles that of someone who is in a relaxed state.

Therefore the conclusion is that if you are in a relaxed state (and a good mood too apparently) you are far more likely to develop creative thoughts.

So this is good news. If we can relax more, and spend more time on the activities that relax us; going for a walk, having a bath, taking a break from our desk or having a few beers with friends (A different study showed that undergrads who were too drunk to drive had a 30% higher success rate in solving these sorts of problems… make of that what you will) it will help us be more creative.

The bad news is that for many people it is hard to relax and switch off from the stresses of daily life. Also relaxation alone wont cut it. According to Lehrer to master the elusive skill of creativity we also need grit, serendipity and real life face-to-face interactions.

And to find out more you can see the RSA film of the event here.

Perhaps that explains why so many of us have our best creative ideas in the shower?

I love infographics

I love infographics. I love infographics so much that I’ve written a blog about them.

An infographic is short for ‘information graphic’ and is a visual representation of information data or knowledge. They are the perfect tool for presenting complex information quickly and clearly.

How much information do you receive on your average day? For most of us it’s more that our brains can process. As we become increasingly connected through use of mobile and online technology our attention spans are becoming shorter as we try to process increasing amounts of information. As we flit from task pretending ‘multi-task’, the ability to filter information is becoming more and more important.

So the task for anyone getting their message to stand out amongst all the background noise is becoming harder than ever. I think infographics are a good way to grab attention and they tend to be shared widely via digital media. This blog by Mick Dee provides some good examples of how infographics work and some tips for developing your own.

So given what a great tool an infographic is for expressing complex issues in a compelling way and demonstrating impact, I am surprised that more charities are not using them. Infographics can showcase a charities expertise, demonstrate their view in a wider political and social environment or could be a way to thank donors or keep them up to date on progress. They provide visual clues on the cause and can bring a sense of fun where appropriate.

Howard Lake has been collating examples of fundraising infographics here. My favourites include;

Leeds University’s Alumni & Development Team have presented the results of their matched giving campaign in infographic form as a thank you to the donors who gave. It will appear on the back cover of the next donor newsletter. Brilliant.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have some interesting infographics, including an interactive one on it’s campaign to end malaria.

Charity water and eNonprofit Benchmarks Survey are both making good use of infographics to communicate their messages. Click on the links on the images to see in more detail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So next time you have a message to get across to donors, supporters, volunteers, staff or the general public, bin the lengthy word document or email, and think if using an infographic will work harder in cutting through the background noise to enable you to get the results that you want.

Having ideas isn’t the problem. The hard part is making them happen.

I’ve just finished reading Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky; an inspirational book full of practical advice based on real experiences of the challenges and joys of making ideas happen.

 

“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” Thomas Edison

As Scott rightly points out, having ideas isn’t the real problem; it’s making them happen. Ideas don’t happen because they are great or by accident. They happen because people make them happen. And there is a formula.

Making ideas happen = Ideas + organisation + communal forces + leadership capability

Organisation This is about managing your energy wisely and prioritising where you will make the most difference. Scott suggests that you approach everything (even personal life)  as a project.  All projects are broken down into;

  • Action steps; specific concrete tasks that move you forward; write blog, call important person, pay electricity bill
  • References; project related information; websites, email trails to refer back to
  • back-burner items; not for now, but someday; idea for a new training course or pitch for a client Organise everything in these three categories to move projects that matter forward.

Communal forces Ideas do not happen in isolation, (also see Stephen Johnson’s Where good ideas come from) you must build your networks, work with the people around you, tap into their energy, ask for their help in building, refining and broadcasting your idea, get their feedback and reciprocate.  This will help your idea gain traction.

“Diversity of opinions and circumstances increases the likelihood of happy accidents” John Maeda FISD President

Leadership This is the ability to inspire others. Your ideas will thrive with you as a creative leader. There are challenges to this; it requires a mindset and a personal resilience to help you overcome obstacles along the way to making your idea happen. Actually taking action or ‘shipping’ as Seth Godin names it in his excellent book Linchpin, is one of the biggest challenges. Having the ability to close down the ‘lizard brain’ that feeds on fear to stop you shipping things and causes you to sabotage your progress by having….. another……. meeting… (sound familiar?) is a skill that leaders must work hard at.

I love this book because there are many practical tips to help you make your ideas happen, my favourite tip is keeping an eye on the backward clock… and also the many stories including the Purple Santas.

Most ideas never happen. I challenge you to defy the odds and work hard to become a person whose ideas happen. If you can do this you will be at a huge advantage.

You can just tick along. That’s fine. Your choice.

I was recently talking to Jonathon Grapsas, Director of flat earth direct about innovation and some of the challenges for the charity sector. He asked me six key questions. And here is what I said.

1.  Let’s start with some of the basics. How do you define innovation and do you think most people really understand what it means?

I think it’s important to define both innovation and creativity as they are terms that are often used (and overused) together. Creativity is the art of coming up with a new idea – as humans we are all creative. Innovation is ‘taking action’ to make that new idea happen.

Innovation can be a radical change, for example the invention of the Internet or digital music or the Amazon model of shopping that changes the way we work.

Innovation can also be a small or incremental change that delivers results, for example challenging out of date processes, changing a mail pack or a thank you letter or really interrogating your database.

Most people think innovation is a lone genius having a light bulb moment. This is not the case. Innovation is more likely to be a series of connections or ideas put together in new ways, and is often a slow hunch, or a series of slow hunches over a period of time.

The invention of the Internet is a great example – Tim Berners Lee was tinkering away for 20 years fascinated about making sense of data before he stumbled across a technology that has changed the world. People also think innovation is just for the ‘innovators’ – that’s also not true. Every single one of us has the ability to be innovative, we just have to work out what areas our creative strengths are in and play to them.

2.  As you know everyone talks about the desire to be innovative and agents of change. But very few charities truly are pushing the envelope. What are the biggest things holding us back? Can we rightly point the finger at boards or is this a cop-out of sorts?

Charities are great at talking about how they should be innovative but I can’t see many being strategic about developing innovation. We are all held back by fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure and fear of putting our heads above the parapet, both personally and professionally. In a difficult economic climate people fear losing their job. Being seen as different is perceived as risky.

I think the economic climate is used as an excuse to ‘play it safe’. Some of history’s great innovations were developed in bad economic times including some big names like Motorola, Hewlett-Packard and Xerox. Right now we have a real opportunity to be more innovative to increase efficiencies and income and give our organisations an essential competitive advantage during tough times.

Innovation has to be led from the top, look at any company delivering success through innovation. Their leadership deliberately drives a culture of innovation in a range of ways; for example Google 20% time, 3Ms’ strategy to deliver 20% of income through new products and of course Apple who have four times as many apps developers than employees who all work for free and Apple takes 30% of everything they earn.

The point is that it’s not good enough to tell your staff to be more innovative, leaders need to walk the walk and insist on time and space for innovation put realistic success measures in place, which are not necessarily income driven and accept that innovation is a mid to long-term game. The responsibility for driving innovation sits at the top.

3.  Are there any individuals or organisations we should be looking to that are doing some really interesting, leading edge stuff that’s pushing the fundraising boundaries? What about the corporate world, who’s rocking?

In the UK, Cancer Research UK are the only charity I can think of that is strategically developing radical innovation and are developing some great products – My Projects is one that has been showcased recently.

That said you don’t have to be a big charity to do innovation, you just need some passion and determination to make the world a better place for your cause. Check out AJ Leon’s Lac project which is an inspiration and watch out for the small guys who have great ideas, and are more agile at trying things out, they just don’t always make the press so are harder to spot.

Some great examples from the corporate world include:

  • LEGO Cuusoo who are crowdsourcing, pre-market making designs and sharing 1% of revenue with the idea originator and their helpers.
  • McLaren Applied Technologies are commercializing their technology and applying it to other industries. This is now the 2nd most profitable part of McLaren after F1.
  • Orange ‘Do Some Good’. Mobile phone app that helps people do good in 5 minutes or less

4.  Do you think we learn enough from our failures within the charity sector? What can we be doing moving forward to better learn from things gone awry?   

No we don’t learn enough from failure.  AND I think it is the single biggest thing that stops innovation. It all comes back to fear. We like to celebrate success and push failures under the carpet. That’s what human behavior dictates and is reinforced in us by society and education systems from an early age. We need to go against the grain and shout about, celebrate and learn from failure.

A High Value Donor team that I trained in creativity and innovation took away a new “fail yea” agenda onto every team meeting. Having permission to celebrate failure, made it OK to admit mistakes and shared failures ensured the same mistakes were not repeated. This approach made a big difference to the success of future high value events that had previously failed in some way. Failure has to be encouraged as part of an organisations culture and again, has to be driven from the top.

5.  You might have seen I recently blogged about everyone wanting to be second. Why do you think that is? Are we paralyzed by fear? Is this a sector specific thing?

Great blog. I think you sum it up. Second is safe. Second is less risky. That’s why organisations like the comfort zone of being second.

However in an increasingly competitive marketplace I would agree with Seth Godin’s point in Purple Cow that second is more risky than first.

Second is more risky because second is the same as everyone else. Second is boring. If we are going to raise more money we need to be remarkable. First is remarkable. Being second, third, fourth etc. means we are the same as everyone else and that in a competitive world is very risky.

We are paralyzed by fear and we need to get over ourselves. Look at any successful entrepreneur; they accept that failing is inevitable. They fail fast and learn. This is a key to their success.

Fear of failure is not sector specific, although I think the fear of being seen to ‘waste’ donations is another barrier that further prevents charities innovating.

We shouldn’t aim to fail, and it’s important to minimize risk of failure. Do your research, pilot on a small-scale, test and refine. But do something. Your idea might not work and that’s ok because you tried something new. However, it’s not ok for your idea not to work because you cut corners or were lazy. There is a big difference.

6.  As someone who spends such a big chunk of time talking about what it means to be innovative, why do you actually think it’s so important? Can’t we just tick along doing what we’ve always been doing?

Sure thing, you can just tick along. That’s fine. Your choice.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten” Anthony Robbins

As a fundraiser, your job is not to ‘just tick along’. Your job is to make a difference. Your job is to do the very best job you can for your donors and beneficiaries and anything less than that isn’t good enough. It might take some more thought, more time, more risk but if your organisation is going to raise more funds, engage more donors, work with more volunteers, create more awareness and achieve its mission then it has to be innovative to survive. Innovate or die. Simple as that. Your choice.

This interview featured in the first flat earther newsletter last month. I thought I would also share it here just in case you missed out.

As always, love to know your thoughts.

Better to aim too high and miss

For me customer service is really important. Often I’m criticised for having too high expectations of people. I don’t think I do. I just think most people have very low expectations because they are so used to getting crap service.

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”  Michelangelo

Last week my brilliant friend Sue booked a meal for four of us through Groupon (and you know how I feel about Groupon) at a London restaurant called The English Pig.  Great concept, unless you are a vegetarian as it only serves pork. Delicious pork.

We got off to a great start, the manager was brilliant, friendly, chatty, told us about how business was tough but the Groupon deal was really working. He recommended several top dishes and we were all suitably impressed.

He took our order, the food arrived, which I have to say was delicious, but sadly, after that the service nose-dived. We had to practically do a Mexican wave to get anyone’s attention to order more drinks, we quite fancied dessert but by the time anyone noticed our frantic waving the moment had passed. So we tried to get the bill, but ended up going to the bar to ask for it as all the staff had disappeared.

Now is it just me, or is this a common occurrence? You arrive at a restaurant and staff are falling over themselves to take your order, often more than one person is prowling round the table interrupting your conversation in their eagerness to serve. As the meal progresses the staff become sparser until you are left stranded, desperately vying for someone’s attention to process the bill.

So we know that the world is a tough place for any business right now. We also know that it’s way harder to and more expensive to get new customers than to keep and develop your old ones.

So why invest in a Groupon deal to get people through the door and then do such a rubbish job that they won’t come back? Or worse still they tell their friends/the whole world about their below par experience?

Now let me make an analogy to fundraising; Groupon is the equivalent of a mass participation event. It’s about getting lots of people through the door. If you do not have a strategy to get those people more engaged, to make them want to come back then you are not making the most of your investment.

So ask yourself; Are you really looking after your donors, or are they going thirsty? Does their experience with your mass participation event leave them full and satisfied, eager to return, or are some leaving feeling short-changed?

How can you use the restaurant analogy to think of ways to engage supporters?

A well used creative thinking technique is to view a challenge from a different perspective, so for example you could use the restaurant analogy in a fundraising context as an example of how not to treat donors, and then do the opposite. You may come up with a fresh perspective on how to engage supporters.  Go on, have a go. I’ve given you some examples below to start you off.

  • Prowl around at the start and lose interest towards the end could translate into – celebrate at the end, make the end of the event really special, make the process of giving money a pleasure
  • Allow them to leave feeling uncared for, like you don’t value their custom could translate into – giving them a reason to come back; a post event party, an opportunity to volunteer/make more of a difference
  • Don’t make any attempt to build a relationship apart from the initial greeting could translate into building great rapport; have dedicated volunteers whose role is just to build rapport with participants

What other ways of developing supporter relationships can you come up with using the restaurant analogy?