Sunday, December 14, 2008

New York Times Year in Ideas 2008

The New York Times just released its Year in Ideas 2008. There's some very interesting stuff here, such as DNA testing on dog poop (to identify owners who fail to clean up after their pets), fast food zoning laws, kangaroos as a weapon against climate change, and plenty more. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

MediaGuardian Innovation Awards

A public service announcement: the entry deadline for the MediaGuardian Innovation Awards is next week. The awards are "open to innovative work carried out across any media or a number of media." The list of last year's winners is available here.

The awards ceremony will be in March. We'll discuss the winning innovations then.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Innovation During Recessions

The New York Times has a piece on innovation during recessions. The gist of the article is that business leaders are often tempted to cut innovation, particularly in bad economic climates. Managers see the short-term costs of innovation, while the long-term benefits (in terms of new revenue streams, new products, new practices, new customers, etc.) are uncertain. As a result, when managers tighten their belts, innovation is often the first thing to go.

But cutting back doesn’t have to mean a wholesale rejection of innovation. Rather, by embedding innovation throughout the organization, short-term necessities can be balanced against long-term goals. Call it the
Goldilocks Principle applied to innovation. And in some cases, tough times can actually spur innovation by forcing managers to re-examine their own assumptions. The companies that get it right will be well-positioned for success and growth once the economy recovers.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Creative Class

John Solow, an economist at the University of Iowa, recently published the Iowa Creativity Index, which studies the correlation between creativity and economic growth in Iowa’s 99 counties. Solow’s work is actually based on that of another economist, Richard Florida, who has spent a lot of time thinking about what he calls the “creative class.” I wasn’t familiar with the term, so I dug up Florida’s 2002 essay, “The Rise of the Creative Class.”

Florida never quite defines his “creative class,” but he describes it as “a fast-growing, highly educated, and well-paid segment of the workforce on whose efforts corporate profits and economic growth increasingly depend.” As examples, he points to scientists, engineers, university professors, poets, novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, designers, architects, nonfiction writers, editors, cultural figures, think-tank researchers, and analysts.

The central thesis consists of two points:
(1) The creative class is good for economic growth.
(2) Economic growth is concentrated in hip, urban places that attract the creative class, like San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle.

I don’t disagree with any particular point, but I can’t help but feel that “creative class” is something of a misnomer. In my mind, creative means innovative, but Florida means something altogether different. He uses creative in the sense of creating something.

Etymologically speaking, he’s certainly not wrong. But steelworkers create steel, and baristas create tasty coffee beverages. Are they any less creative (in Florida’s sense of the word) than professors and engineers?

Had Florida used the phrase “knowledge workers” or “college graduates,” I wouldn’t have blinked. But this research has more to do with economics, education, human capital, and social mobility than with creativity.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Is Creative Culture Linked to Play?

Babis Mainemelis, a professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, has been researching the connection between office playtime and creativity. In his view, play is not a specific set of activities, but rather a mindset of flexibility, curiosity, and exploration. Furthermore, Prof. Mainemelis identifies two different types of play: play as engagement and play as diversion.

Diversion play means playing while at work, but not with work. Examples might include office ping-pong matches or lunchtime soccer games. This type of play allows workers to take a mental break, which helps foster the incubation of new ideas. It also breaks down hierarchical barriers by throwing together colleagues from different departments and different rungs on the corporate ladder.

Engagement play means playing with the work itself. He describes it as a true transformation of the work. It boosts the creative process and allows employees to reframe activities, explore different ideas, and experiment with variables or processes that typically go unnoticed. For example, he cites professional animators who, in searching for new ideas, fantasize about things like “What if zebras were green?” and “What if sharks flew through space?” This is, incidentally, strikingly similar to one of the
Lateral Thinking techniques.

Prof. Mainemelis goes on to discuss ways in which managers can foment play, as well as the risks of not letting workers play.

The podcast lasts about nine minutes; you can listen to it here:
Is Creative Culture Linked to Play?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Stimulate Innovation and Creativity

People Vision's blog has several suggestions for stimulating innovation and creativity during the current economic downturn.

My favorite? Tip #3: "train your employees on mind mapping and creative thinking methods."

The Six Thinking Hats and Lateral Thinking techniques are, of course, a good place to start.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Innovative lawyers (!)

Last week, the Financial Times released its Innovative Lawyers report. I know, I know… I had the same reaction. Innovation in the legal industry? C’mon. As it turns out, however, law firms are doing some pretty cool – and yes, innovative – things.

For example, in the “billing and fees” category, the FT gave top marks to a firm that (at least in one case), has tied its fees to client satisfaction. Moreover, “bonuses are payable if the firm proactively reduces litigation.” In other words, this firm is compensated for helping its client avoid legal woes, rather than racking up billable hours by bogging the client down in endless litigation. Another major law firm now pays its lawyers a percentage of the fees they generate, rather than simply divvying up profits. While pay for performance has become common in many industries, it's rare in the legal world.

And in the “finance” category, the FT points to a law firm that has worked on microfinance securitization. Admittedly, this innovation is perhaps more financial than legal, but it’s nonetheless an important step in reducing global poverty. Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in microfinance, and asset securitization could spread its impact even further. Other innovations include branding and advertising campaigns, technologies for monitoring client relationships, outsourcing of back-office processes to countries like the Philippines, and more.

In short, it’s a good report, and all the more enjoyable because it examines a stereotypically dreary industry.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Edward de Bono on Innovation

Edward de Bono discusses the importance of training employees in lateral thinking to give them a systematic approach to innovative thinking.

Check out the article on the de Bono Consulting website:

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Lesson in Lateral Thinking

Edward de Bono provides wonderful examples throughout his presentations that demonstrate the power of lateral thinking.

Today we posted one of Dr. de Bono's "Lessons in Lateral Thinking" on the de Bono Consulting website.

Read the Lesson in Lateral Thinking and then come back to our blog to share your own stories of lateral thinking.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Edward de Bono Innovation Training in Chicago

Have you always wanted to attend a Six Thinking Hats or other Edward de Bono training seminar?

Spots are filling quickly for the events in Chicago next month.

If you'd like to register for one or more of these innovative thinking skills seminars, the de Bono Consulting website,, offers online registration. Or call 800.278.1292.

No matter which course you choose, you’ll learn new skills you can apply immediately to help drive innovation, improve communication, and increase efficiency and problem solving at your organization.

Six Thinking Hats
Maximize Your Thinking
September 8
September 8-11 (train-the-trainer certification)

Lateral Thinking
Produce Innovation on Demand
September 9-10
September 9-12 (train-the-trainer certification)

Course in Creativity
Essential Skills to Drive Innovation: Six Thinking Hats AND Lateral Thinking
September 8-10

Focus on Facilitation
Organize, Manage, & Lead Group Innovation
September 8-11

I hope to see you in Chicago!

Barbara Stennes
Lifetime Certified de Bono Master Trainer

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

iinnovate Podcast With IDEO Founder

We're always looking for great websites on creativity & innovation, and the iinnovate blog is no exception. The blog is run by students at Stanford University's Business and Design Schools, and offers podcast interviews with leaders of some of the world's most innovative companies.

We found the interview with IDEO Founder, David Kelley particularly relevant.

Kelley highlighted the importance of empowering your people to think that they are creative. Companies should tap into the creativity of everyone in the organization, not just the boss. Kelley stressed that we need to give all employees opportunities to generate and share their ideas no matter their position in the organization.

We couldn't agree more. But how do you provide such opportunities for generating new ideas?

People who are trained in Six Thinking Hats love the fact that in Six Hat Thinking there is a time and a place for creative thinking (called green hat thinking) where they don't have to worry about their ideas being criticized or "shot down."

Analysis of ideas, both the positive aspects and potential weaknesses, takes place at a later stage in the thinking process. During green hat thinking, you're strictly capturing new ideas.

The Six Thinking Hats process encourages creative thinking from each individual, not just those who are the most vocal.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Six Thinking Hats For Problem-Solving

Six Thinking Hats provides a wonderful framework for problem solving. It helps teams identify the differences between problems and opportunities and allows them to look at each in a systematic manner.

Participants will learn a process that simplifies thinking by allowing them to deal with one aspect of a problem at a time. With Six Thinking Hats you’ll separate out the different aspects of thinking and focus as a team in parallel on the information known or needed (white hat), the benefits (yellow hat), then the risks (black hat), then feelings (red hat) about an issue, and so on. This process helps lay out all views of a problem side by side in parallel and then design a way forward. Six Thinking Hats also stimulates innovation using specific techniques to generate solutions to problems. We call this green hat thinking.

Six Thinking Hats is a powerful problem solving tool because it puts everyone in meetings on an equal playing field, keeps egos in check, depersonalizes criticism, and creates an open environment that encourages the unique contributions of each individual, even those who are typically more reserved.

Want to learn Six Thinking Hats?
Call 800.278.1292 or email