Archive for the ‘innovation’ Category

Over the last several years, I have been the designated grocery shopper in the family.  I go to Trader Joe's for much of my shopping, but I will go to Fry's or Safeway for items that I either don't want to pay  the Trader Joe's premium or for items that they just don't have.

Although Fry's has the cheaper products,  Safeway is a bit more convenient and Safeway is the only place that sells the Quesidillas that my son loves.  He's sort of a picky eater, so I'd go out of my way to get these Quesidillas if I had to. 

Everytime I go to Safeway at around 9:00, they shut down their checkout lanes for approximately 5 minutes to do some backend system magic.  I'm not sure exactly what they are doing, but I do know that I'm already frustrated that I'm at the store at 9:00 at night after working all day, battling the traffic to get home for dinner, inhaling a quick dinner, helping with homework, putting down the kids, and finally realizing that I need to go out and get those damn quesidillas.  The five minute wait is not appreciated.

This is why I ONLY go to Safeway in the evening if I absolutely need to go.  One would think that Safeway would be able to find a way to keep the checkout lanes operational no matter the time of day.  Did they ever think about:
  • Doing their backend system magic at midnight?
  • Developing a technology that would allow them do their backend system magic while they were checking out customers? 

I'm guessing that I'm not the only customer that is frustrated by this inconvenenience.  I wonder how many other customers decide that Fry's or Trader Joe's may be a better choice than Safeway around 9:00?


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Is Innovation an exercise in creativity or synthesis? A post by the Innovating to Win blog lays out a compelling argument that:

The vast majority of innovation is not driven by pure creation; it
is driven by synthesis, a particular form of creation that builds on
the existing to make something which is new.

I’d like to add that innovation is driven by synthesizing
interdisciplinary ideas as well as synthesizing the old and new.  So to
extend Todhunters point, innovation can be driven by the synthesis of seemingly unrelated ideas that builds on the existing to make something which is new.

Innovating To Win: Is Too Much Creativity Killing Innovation?

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From the Heart of Innovation Blog comes a great list of 100 ways to be more creative.  My personal favorites are:   

  • Present your biggest challenge to a child (I can’t wait to see what my 5 year old comes up with).
  • Schedule time with the smartest people at work.   
  • Ask five people how they would improve your idea.

The Heart of Innovation: 100 Simple Ways to Be More Creative on the Job

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The title and simple cover art of Dan Roam’s new book The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures drew me right in (pun intended).  My drawing skills are in a word–bad, and I thought, "If this book can help me to to draw like that, I want to read it."

Well, the  book didn’t transform me into an artist. In fact, it probably had no effect on my (in)ability to draw even the simplest of stick figures.  An abundance of drawing books exist to help the average person become a better drawer. Roam’s book, however, focused on using drawings (even the most rudimentary of drawings) to help solve problems.  So, even though I did not come away a better drawer, I did learn how to use drawing as a tool.

The Back of the Napkin combines three frameworks to create a powerful problem-solving and communication tool.  The three frameworks are:

  • SQUID (or SQVIΔ): A series of questions to help clarify and direct focus on an idea.   SQUID is a mnemonic for

Simple vs. Elaborate
Quality vs. Quantity
Vision vs. Execution
Individual Attributes vs. Comparison
Delta (Δ) or Change vs. Status Quo

Each of these continuums can be communicated using a set of pictures.  Roam spends some time explaining how best to communicate each of the dimensions above.

  • Visual Thinking Frameworks: A group of six drawing types and what they communicate.  They are tightly connected to the six types of questions:  Who/What, How Much, Where, When, How, and Why.  A Timeline, for example, best answers "when?"
  • "The Visual Thinking Codex": This framework puts everything together.  Roam describes it as "a master list of problem solving pictures."  It takes the SQUID Questioning and Overlays it with the Visual Thinking Framework.  An example: Answering the question of "What?" using a Simple (the ‘S’ from SQUID) focus would be different than answering the same question using a focus on change (the ‘D’ from SQUID).

This Codex is not complicated, yet it provides a usable framework for analyzing any problem.  Almost a third of the book is dedicated to running through a real-life example of how to use the Codex. Roam’s description of his approach combined with the case study provides a usable decision making tool that can easily be used after reading The Back of the Napkin.

Bottom Line: I closed the book with more courage to use drawings and a better understanding of how to use them to solve and communicate problems.

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The scene repeats itself everyday in the boardrooms and workgroups of the world.  People are given a vague goal to innovate a product, reengineer a process, or develop something “big.”  They may have been given some minimal instructions, but there main goal is to develop some novel approach by thinking outside the box.  The idea here is that the status quo is too constraining, so to arrive at a truly new idea, you need to break free from the constraints and start with a blank slate.  I know I always get a little nervous when I’ve been asked to do this. Apparently I’m not the only one.

In the last several weeks, I’ve run across two articles that espouse a different kind of innovative thinking.  Instead of breaking free from “the box” and jumping into an abyss of creativity, these two articles approach innovation by creating a new box that constrains in a way that actually sparks creativity.

The Fast Company article Get Back in the Box by Dan Heath and Chip Heath (Authors of Made to Stick) promote the idea of going shopping for a new box instead of dropping the box altogether.  A good way of box shopping is to combine two or more seemingly unrelated items.  Dan and Chip Heath give several examples including:

  • When redesigning the service areas of a bank, the marketing person framed the goal by saying they “want the space to be more like Starbucks and less like a post office.”
  • The HBO show Entourage could have been developed and pitched as “Sex and City” for men. 

Both of these examples provide fertile ground for creativity, but they have done so by creating a new box or set of constraints. 

The second article, Breakthrough Thinking from Inside the Box is in this month’s (December 2007) Harvard Business Review.  In this article, they describe how to construct a new box by asking the right questions.  They point out that asking the right questions helps to generate ideas.  Questions such as:

  • “What is the biggest hassle about using or buying our product or service that people unnecessarily tolerate without knowing it?”
  • “Who uses our product in ways we never expected or intended?”
  • “Which technologies underlying our production processes have changed the most since we last rebuilt our…systems.”

These questions can be used to trigger other questions until ultimately new ideas are generated. 

Although the HBR article is more prescriptive in identifying how to create new boxes, both take the approach that constraints can actually be effective ways to creating new ideas.  So, the next time you find yourself trying to think outside the box, create a new box and think inside it. 

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Processes are easy to change. 

Model the current process, Identify areas for improvement, align new process with the customer expectations, and implement changes.  Easy, right?  Right.

All we need now is a culture to promote this.

I’m working on process right now where there are some very simple changes that can be made to add significant value to the process.  They are not difficult changes.  So why hasn’t anyone else thought of these improvements.  I have some ideas and they all have something to with culture:

  1. Few people are thinking about how to change the process.  The organization has not instilled a culture of change into our employees.  Executive management does not turn down good ideas, but they also do not expect ideas from the rank and file.  The culture has deemed it acceptable to keep doing things as they have been done.
  2. Silos.  We all know what silos do: they compartmentalize all the tasks of our companies.  It’s safe to be in a silo.  I know what department X wants from me and they know what to deliver to me.  As long as they can deliver it to me (through interoffice mail or email or onto the FTP site) on time, we can all get along.  There is little innovation associated with silos, because everyone is comfortable.
  3. Those that do think about change do not break free from the current constraints.  System constraints, business rules, and departmental rules are rarely questioned by employees.   For example, If a department is responsible to get a document sent to another department in a certain format, no one questions the format.  The format may have been developed years ago, because of certain typesetting requirements.  Folks, MSWord eliminated that requirement 10 years ago.  Move on!

Toyota is company that long ago broke through the chains of a stagnant culture.  Each employee has the responsibility to make changes to processes.  Continuous process improvement is not just for the high achievers at Toyota.  In the ChangeThis Manifesto, Elegant Solutions: Breakthrough Thinking the Toyota Way, Matthew E. May describes this culture of change:

Like a number of other market leaders, Toyota recognizes that company wide innovation is a matter of assembling a group of talented people in an environment where innovation is required by everyone at every level. To create that environment, Toyota employs systems and structures that neutralize the typical barriers to ingenuity and release individuals to realize significance through their work.

So, the lesson is that Business Process Management should not only be about managing a process for today, it should also be about instilling a culture of change.  As you implement your BPM solutions understand that the process you are implementing is for yesterday’s requirements.  If you help to implement a culture of change as part of your project, the legacy will be even more significant.



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I took my daughter to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s that started at 11:00 this morning. Of course we had to drop off some dry cleaning, purchase the birthday gift, and find our way across town. We made it there with about one minute to spare. We were the first or second guests to arrive. (I should try being fashionably late every now and then).

I meant to stop at a coffee shop on my way there, but I ran out of time–and I was not too happy about it. As I was sulking about not getting my Cafe Americano (black), I thought to myself how much Chuck E. Cheese could benefit from selling good Coffee.

Think of what a little Starbucks could do to Chuck’s image. The average parent would probably guide their children to Chuck E. Cheese over its competitor if they served (non-alcoholic) trendy adult drinks. I also think that a different demographic would show up more often (more soccer moms) if they knew they could make their children happy AND get their Starbucks fix.

Of course, Starbucks or Chuck will have to come up with a spill-proof container, so coffee spillage can be kept to a minimum- or only offer iced coffee drinks. Any thoughts?

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