Tag: corporate innovation

Let’s Keep Doing What We’ve Always Done

A certain flock of geese lived together in a barnyard with high walls around it.  Because the corn was good and the barnyard was secure, these geese learned to always do the same things over and over and to live orderly and predictable lives with no surprises. This primarily meant never take a risk or do anything new. Over time the geese became so lazy they even forgot how to fly. They were safe and secure in their barnyard where everything is familiar and nothing ever changes. In short, they always did what they always did and always got what they always got.

One day a philosopher goose came among them. He was a very good philosopher and every week they listened quietly and attentively to his learned discourses. “My fellow geese,” he would say, “can you seriously imagine that this barnyard, with great high walls around it, is all there is to existence? Don’t you realize you can fly and change the way you live? You were all born as spontaneous and natural fliers. All you need do is live the way you were meant to live and fly.” “I tell you, there is another and a greater world outside, a world of which you are only dimly aware.

Our forefathers knew of this outside world. For did they not stretch their wings and fly across the trackless wastes of desert and ocean, of green valley and wooded hill? But alas, here you remain in this barnyard, your wings folded and tucked into your sides, as you are content to puddle around in the mud, never lifting your eyes to the heavens which should be your home.”

The geese thought this was very fine lecturing. “How poetical,” they thought. “How profoundly existential. What a flawless summary of the mystery of existence.” Often the philosopher spoke of the advantages of flight, calling on the geese to get off their butts and fly. After all, they had wings, he pointed out. What were wings for, but to fly with?

The philosopher urged the geese to experience the joys of doing different things and looking at the world in a different way. “Fly,” he would say. “Don’t wait for divine inspiration. Inspiration will never come. Just do it. Get up and fly.” Often he reflected on the joys on controlling your own destiny in the freedom of the skies while you enjoyed the beauty and the wonder of life as they were born to do.

And every week the geese were uplifted, inspired, moved by the philosopher’s message. They hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, and months to a thoroughgoing analysis and critical evaluation of his doctrines. They created computer models, charts and graphs displaying the physics and dynamics of flight. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. They held meetings and talked endlessly about the importance and need to fly. They all agreed that flying would make a much better life possible. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not fly! They were afraid of the uncertainty of living in a different way. For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure!

Are You Like the Geese?

At one time Eastman Kodak was one of the premier companies in the world. The people who worked there were prosperous, had wonderful salaries, bonuses, comprehensive health and medical benefits, and superior pensions. Everybody was happy. It seemed like there was no end to its prosperity. Kodak advertised itself internationally as being a very creative and innovative company. They hired the top creative thinkers in the fields of photography and film. They came up with scores of brilliant ideas such as digital photography, and were among the first to design a digital photography camera.

They had all these cutting edge ideas years before their competition, but they implemented not a single one because of the fear of new ideas. Kodak clung to its aging familiar technology. They wanted to hang on to their historical revenue streams. They thought, “We know we’re making a lot of money with film. We don’t know if we’re going to make money with these new ideas. Let’s keep doing what we’ve always done.” Consequently, not one of these innovative ideas–not one–was accepted or implemented. It was an organization which could not transform itself by accepting and implementing new ideas. So the reality of the business world transformed Kodak from being a major player into a bankrupt shell.

Kodak CEOs and top managers feared the new ideas. They wanted to be absolutely certain everything would work flawlessly and the money would continue to flow, which, of course, is impossible to predict with new ideas. In the end, Kodak management behaved like the flock of geese in the barnyard and never did fly.

Michael Michalko is the author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques:

Creative Thinking Technique: Combine Ideas from Different Domains

Many breakthroughs are based on combining information from different domains that are usually not thought of as related. Integration, synthesis both across and within domains, is the norm rather than the exception. Ravi Shankar found ways to integrate and harmonize the music of India and Europe; Paul Klee combined the influences of cubism, children’s drawings, and primitive art to fashion his own unique artistic style; Salvador Dali integrated Einstein’s theory of relativity into his masterpiece Nature Morte Vivante, which artistically depicts several different objects simultaneously in motion and rest. And almost all scientists cross and recross the boundaries of physics, chemistry, and biology in the work that turns out to be their most creative.

ASK PEOPLE IN DIFFERENT DOMAINS FOR IDEAS. Another way to combine talent is to elicit advice and information about your subject from people who work in different domains. Interestingly, Leonardo da Vinci met and worked with Niccolô Machiavelli, the Italian political theorist, in Florence in 1503. The two men worked on several projects together, including a novel weapon of war: the diversion of a river. Professor Roger Masters of Dartmouth College speculates that Leonardo introduced Machiavelli to the concept of applied science. Years later, Machiavelli combined what he learned from Leonardo with his own insights about politics into a new political and social order that some believe ultimately sparked the development of modern industrial society.

Jonas Salk, developer of the vaccine that eradicated polio, made it a standard practice to interact with men and women from very different domains. He felt this practice helped to bring out ideas that could not arise in his own mind or in the minds of people in his own restricted domain. Look for ways to elicit ideas from people in other fields. Ask three to five people who work in other departments or professions for their ideas about your problem. Ask your dentist, your accountant, your mechanic, etc. Describe the problem and ask how they would solve it.

Listen intently and write down the ideas before you forget them. Then, at a later time, try integrating all or parts of their ideas into your idea. This is what Robert Bunsen, the chemist who invented the familiar Bunsen burner, did with his problem. He used the color of a chemical sample in a gas flame for a rough determination of the elements it contained. He was puzzled by the many shortcomings of the technique that he and his colleagues were unable to overcome, despite their vast knowledge of chemistry. Finally, he casually described the problem to a friend, Kirchhoff, a physicist, who immediately suggested using a prism to display the entire spectrum and thus get detailed information. This suggestion was the breakthrough that led to the science of spectrography and later to the modern science of cosmology.

EXAMPLES. Physicists in a university assembled a huge magnet for a research project. The magnet was highly polished because of the required accuracy of the experiment. Accidentally, the magnet attracted some iron powder that the physicists were unable to remove without damaging the magnet in some way. They asked other teachers in an interdepartmental meeting for their ideas and suggestions. An art instructor came up with the solution immediately, which was to use modeling clay to remove the powder.

The CEO of a software company looked for ways to motivate employees to participate more actively in the creative side of the business. They wanted employee ideas for new processes, new products, improvements, new technologies and so on. He tried many things but nothing seemed to excite and energize employees to become more creative.

One evening at a dinner with some of his friends he mentioned his problem and asked them for ideas. After a brief discussion, a friend who was a stockbroker suggested thinking ways to parallel ideas with stocks. Look for ways for people to buy and sell ideas the same way his customers study, buy and sell stocks on the stock exchange.

The CEO was intrigued with the novelty of the idea and he and his stockbroker friend looked for patterns between the stock exchange and an internal employee program. They blended the architecture of the stock exchange with the internal architecture of their company’s internal market to create the company’s own stock exchange for ideas. Their exchange is called Mutual Fun. Any employee can propose that the company acquire a new technology, enter a new business, make a new product or make an efficiency improvement. These proposals become stocks, complete with ticker symbols, discussion lists and e-mail alerts.

 Fifty-five stocks are listed on the company’s internal stock exchange. Each stock comes with a detailed description — called an expectus, as opposed to a prospectus — and begins trading at a price of $10. Every employee gets $10,000 in “opinion money” to allocate among the offerings, and employees signal their enthusiasm by investing in a stock and, better yet, volunteering to work on the project. Employees buy or sell the stocks, and prices change to reflect the sentiments of the company’s executives, engineers, computer scientists, project managers, marketing, sales, accountants and even the receptionist.

The result has been a resounding success. Among the company’s ‘ core technologies are pattern-recognition algorithms used in military applications, as well as for electronic gambling systems at casinos. A member of the administrative staff, with no technical expertise, thought that this technology might also be used in educational settings, to create an entertaining way for students to learn history or math. She started a stock called Play and Learn (symbol: PL), which attracted a rush of investment from engineers eager to turn her idea into a product. Lots of employees got passionate about the idea and it led to a new line of business.

INVITE OTHER DEPARTMENTS TO JOIN YOUR BRAINSTORMING SESSION. If you’re brainstorming a business problem in a group, try asking another department to join yours. For example, if you are in advertising and want to create a new product advertising campaign, ask people from manufacturing to join your session. Separate the advertising and manufacturing people into two groups. Each group brainstorms for ideas separately. Then combine the groups and integrate the ideas.

 

For more ideas on how to combine dissimilar subjects to create new ideas read Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius by Michael Michalko