Tag Archives: ideas

How do you get ideas?

 

ImageIn 1965 James Webb Young published a book called ‘A technique for producing ideas’. It is a small and simple book. This blog is about what it says.

It talks about whether it is possible to identify a standard format for having ideas, so that ideas become a definite process, like an idea assembly line – in the same way that Henry Ford produced his Ford Model T.

Young starts on the premise that an idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements. And that the key to an effective idea process is an individuals’ ability to search for relationships between elements that turn separate unconnected bits of knowledge into something greater.

Young identified a five-step process for having ideas.

1. Gather raw material; this is an on-going process and includes two types of material. Firstly specific material related to the problem you are trying to solve, for example getting under the skin of your supporter and really understanding where the opportunities are for you to add value. Secondly general material, which could relate to anything at all, for example the topics that interest you or you are passionate about. It is the combination of the specific and general material that you then have to opportunity to combine into something new. An example of this is when Steve Jobs dropped out of college. It gave him the opportunity to drop into classes that he was interested in. He attended calligraphy classes that had no practical application at the time, but years later he was able to combine this element when developing the fonts and design of the Apple Macintosh. He talks about this in his 2005 commencement speech.

2. Order and catalogue your thoughts; Young talks about Sherlock Holmes who spend hours indexing and cross-indexing his thoughts in scrapbooks (remember it was 1965). You too could keep a scrap book and there are now also many online tools to gather your raw material in one place, for example Pinterest, your own blog, Slideshare or even Twitter. Then seek relationships; deliberately look for relationships within your gathered raw material. Write your random thoughts down and build on those thoughts. Young describes it as ‘listening for meaning rather than looking’  

3. Incubation; if you are following the process, at this stage you are likely to have a hopeless jumble of random thoughts. This stage is about putting the whole thing out of your mind. Go and do something else, anything else. Something that stimulates your mind and emotions, have a nap, go for a walk, read a novel, go to the movies, go the gym or phone a friend. This is a definite and necessary stage that allows the unconsciousness mind to processes your thoughts.

4. Out of nowhere the idea will appear; according to Young this is the way ideas come, after you have stopped straining for them and have passed through a period of rest and relaxation from the search. The expression ‘sleep on it’ isn’t accidental. It is the process of your subconscious mind processing your thoughts.

5. Shaping and development of the idea; this is the really difficult bit. You have to be brave and put your idea out there.   You have to take your little new born idea out into the world of reality and develop it to fit external constraints. This is where good ideas can easily get lost. However, according to Young, a good idea has self expanding qualities, it stimulates those who see potential to add to it and possibilities in it that you have overlooked will come to light.

So if ideas are a new combination of old elements it is important to gather raw material by constantly expanding your experiences. So get out from behind your desk and experience more. It’s important. 

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.

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.

What is innovation anyway?

As mentioned in my blog last week ‘What innovation isn’t” I think innovation is an overused term.

According to Oxford Dictionaries online (does anyone own a dictionary anymore? – there’s innovation for you)

‘Innovation is ‘the action or process of innovating a new idea, method or product’

I don’t think that’s is particularly helpful in explaining innovation so I’ve attempted to put a list together to help make more sense of innovation.

Innovation is

1. A series of previously unconnected connections put together in new ways.

2. Survival. If organisations do not adapt to changing markets and customer needs they will die. Innovation is essential in order to survive.

3. Either incremental, so small changes or efficiencies to a current process or product, for example improving your data capture to ensure that you get donor details right, developing a really great newsletter… the list is endless

4. Or a radical or step change that alters things as they are, for example MP3 players changing the music market, Botton Village giving donors choices or the invention of the world wide web

5. Lead from the top. Leaders must walk the walk for innovation to succeed in a business. It needs to be part of the culture and part of everyone’s job.

6. All about you, your unique experiences and thoughts that create new ideas that are put into action. All humans have the capability to create and innovate. You just got to find your Element.

7. About gathering insight from everywhere you can in order to spot new opportunities to develop products and services. Look outside of what you know for fresh insights.

8. Working in collaboration, sharing, listening, building on each others ideas. (no group hugs)

9. Fun. Forget the pressures of everyday life and chill the hell out. That’s when you will have your best thoughts.

10. About having a go, taking action, driving change and convincing people to give the new idea a try.

11.  Failure. Innovation and failure are best mates. Fact. Their other friend is risk. If you take a risk to try something new, you may fail. The most important part is what you learn in order that you can return and succeed.

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” Sir Ken Robinson 

12. Having attitude and belief that you are going to find a way to succeed no matter what.

13. Focusing on where you will make the most difference. You can’t innovate about absolutely everything so focus on the areas that are going to make the most impact.

14. Being brave. Standing out from the crowd. To trailblaze. To lead the way.

15. About breaking patterns. Humans are creatures of habit, it’s much easier to sit it out in your comfort zone where there is little risk of failure (see point 11). To innovate you need to break your ‘normal’ patterns of thought to develop something new.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein

16. Being curious about the world. Asking why more.

17. A robust process combined with gut feel. Some famous innovations were designed for something entirely different. Viagra was originally developed for high blood pressure with interesting side effects….

18. Exciting. Coming up with new ideas is super exciting. Isn’t it?

19. Lasting success. An innovation strategy should balance incremental changes with longer-term objectives to survive in the long-term.

20. About making a difference. That’s why I do it.

What else is innovation? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What innovation isn’t

Innovation, in my opinion is an overused term. People often seem to bung innovation in a sentence if they want to make something sound good but are too lazy to think properly about what they actually mean. A bit of a catch-all term that is so overused it loses its’ meaning.

My best example of innovation overuse was on a cheese, ham and pickle sandwich – an innovation from National Rail catering. Apparently.

“When you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts” Larry Ellison

Last week I was explaining innovation to some friends. Turns out it was much easier to explain what innovation isn’t than what innovation is. Here is the list.

Innovation isn’t

1. A lone genius. Einstein practically had a fail factory, with teams testing different ideas. Innovation is about a series of previously unconnected connections and collaboration.

2. A cyber city of geeks ‘doing’ techy stuff we’ve never heard of.  Technology is an enabler of innovation, but not all innovation is about new technology.

3. About lime green bean bags or slides to the coffee machine. I say no more.

4. About being crazy or wearing wacky glasses.  All humans are creative. It makes us human. You don’t have to be wacky glasses to have breakthrough ideas.

5. Group hugs. If you just want a group hug, don’t disguise it as innovation. Just check out these guys.

6. Brand new stuff. Innovation can be a new approach, adaptions or a combination of existing stuff to produce something new. Think about the invention of the printing press, combining type setting and wine pressing.

7. All glamour. The world-wide web was invented to share scientific documents. Absolutely nothing glamorous about that.

8. Just for organisations with big budgets.  It costs nothing to take a creative approach to life. Yes you need to practice and there are lots of free resources to help you.

10. Power.  It’s not battle of the egos, it’s about leadership. It’s about encouraging individuals and organisations to think and work differently.

11.  Irrelevant.  If organisations do not adapt to changing markets and customers needs they will die. Innovation is essential.

12. About stupid silly names, iteration or misspelling to be ‘cool’.

13. Google. Lets get this clear, Google are a great example of an innovation culture, fuelled by great leadership and the opportunity to develop new products in an emerging market. Innovation is not just about Google per say.

14. Instant success.  Back to point one and Einstein in his failure factory.  You got to try and fail and learn and try and fail and learn. Pack for a long journey.

15. A blueprint in a box. You can’t just follow the instructions and it will work. You have to find the best way to innovate for you and your organisation.

What else isn’t innovation? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Tune in next time for more on what innovation is…

Change is the natural state for the earth – it will never be finished

On Friday I went to Down House, the former home of Charles Darwin. Down House is a stunning property with beautiful gardens and a museum of Darwin’s life.

Apparently Darwin wrote The Origin of the Species here; his controversial masterpiece introducing his theory of evolution rather than the perceived wisdom of the time of divine creation, i.e. that life is designed by some divine power.

“Change is the natural state for the earth – it will never be finished.” Darwin

Darwin did not conceive his theory of evolution by natural selection in a vacuum. He was a collector of ideas, things and theories. He considered and developed his thoughts over a period of time, many of which were inspired and consolidated by his findings on his epic voyage of discovery aboard The H.M.S Beagle’.

Some ideas that fed Darwin’s imagination included;

  • Economic theories of supply and demand
  • The theory that scarcity led to competition between individuals for survival and that war disease and famine prevent over population.
  • Calculations by a number of scholars that the earth was indeed very old. In the 1600s Bishop James Usser calculated from the Bible that the earth was created on 24 October 4004 BC. (Love the specific date of 24 October!)
  • Fossils being proof that other species formerly existed and that they must have either died out or changed significantly.

The Origin of the Species was published 1859, the result of two decades of careful and cautious thought. Darwin delayed making his theory public for nearly 20 years. He knew that his view that life was not designed by a divine power would be controversial. Darwin wanted to have clear thoughts on how to counter arguments and he spent time evidencing his theory in a number of ways.

For example he investigated how plants spread from place to place. He immersed seeds in salt water for long periods to see if they could last the time it took to travel across the ocean and still germinate. He also sought opinions from a range of academic and professional disciplines.

As Darwin predicted, many were passionately opposed to the concept of evolution of the species. Including Emma, his wife who was deeply concerned by Darwin’s lack of religious faith.

My particular favourite opposition to the theory of evolution is based on the watchmaker argument. The watchmaker argument is that if you found something as complex as a watch lying on a path you would assume that someone had designed it. Therefore complex living things must have been designed. Brilliant.

I would place Darwin in the innovators of all time category for several reasons.

1. He had a sense of natural curiosity and bravely asked “why?”  – to challenge fundamental beliefs on creation itself.

2. He was a collector of things, theories and ideas. He wasn’t a lone genius, it was the combination of these ideas that inspired his first thoughts of the theory of evolution.

3. He was brave, even though it took him 20 years to share his thoughts and findings.

4. He was inspired by Rev John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861) who was a professor of Botany at Cambridge. Henslow advised his students to go out and ‘observe for themselves’.

5. He found a subject for which he had a passion and natural aptitude.

6. He remained focussed and continued to experiment to prove his theories after Origin of the Species was published.

Darwin described life as a constant struggle for survival. More creatures are born than the worlds resources can sustain. Any individual with an advantage over its fellows would be more likely to endure long enough to reproduce and pass on advantages to the next generation. Brutally described; those who did not adapt to circumstance will perish. Life is survival of the fittest.

So if we apply Darwin’s theory to business evolution.  Business is then also survival of the fittest. Those companies that cannot adapt to circumstance will perish. That’s why if companies are going to be successful, and survive they have to be innovative. They must be able to change to be better than their competitors and adapt to the needs of the customer and the marketplace environment in which they live.

Ask yourself – Are you adapting to survive in your environment?

If you are interested in this you may also like

Origin of the Species – Charles Darwin

The Element – Sir Ken Robinson

Where Do Good Ideas Come From – Steven Johnson 

Stop caring what the other kids think

Last week I happened upon the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. To be honest it’s more like a museum of nostalgia as the core audience seems to be thirtysomethings peering at their old toys in glass cases.

There were some children there too, playing at being giant vegetables in the Food Glorious Food exhibition and acting out their own Punch and Judy stories with the help of Mr and Mrs Punch puppets.

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