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I recently recorded a number of short videos that I have grouped together as a playlist entitled Rough Cut Creativity. They are short and recorded on an adhoc basis. They are not meant to be showreels or a tv production, just my thoughts and musings on using Creativity and Innovation in a business context. The playlist will very shortly feature on my speaker website www.derekcheshire.com but for now, you can view them by clicking on the image above. There are 4 titles currently with more to come shortly. If you have any ideas for future topics then please do let me know.

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Often used to hide embarrassment, many people will recognise the phrase ‘My other car is a Porsche’. It was mostly found scribbled on the back of a dirty old rust bucket or on a car sticker that had been given to a husband or boyfriend by a well-meaning partner.

Maybe some people really did have another car that was a Porsche but aside from the humour factor, many people were actually ashamed of the car they did have.

Some may think that this is peculiarly British but many of the examples (and variants) that I have seen come from the USA.

It does not matter what the origin is, we all do something similar, we apologise for something that we see as being inadequate rather than try to do something about it.

In business, we might say something like ‘this is just our first attempt, the next version will be better’. Your customer wants something better now and does not want to buy two. So what are you going to do about it?

For a start, try not to be a jack of all trades (and master of none). A Porsche might be good on a motorway or racing circuit but it is likely to be beaten on a country lane by a mini which is smaller, more nimble and holds the road brilliantly. Unless the Porsche you have is an off-roader then it will get stuck in mud easily and be beaten that rusty old Land Rover that you like to laugh at.

So the lesson here is to determine which market your products and services are targeted at and be clear about how they meet the needs of your customers. Secondly, don’t apologise for any failings or idiosyncracies of your offerings. If there are any, think about why they are there and get rid of them if they are unwanted. If you have to apologise for your products or services then why should your customers want them? Note that this is very different from handling a difficult customer service situation where you may very well need to apologise.

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I must admit that I do have an aversion to control and authority so when people ask ‘do we have to measure things?’ I like to say no without thinking. Common sense dictates the opposite. We are all familiar with the adage ‘you can only manage what you can measure’ so then one would think that we do need to measure things.

Is it that simple though? There has also been a huge outburst in the media about draconian monitoring of the productivity of warehouse workers.

We now have the ability (but more worryingly the desire) to see how fast our employees walk, how long their toilet breaks are and how many widgets they can carry per hour. This sort of measurement focuses only on actions that the employer has previously determined will help the business. It ignores actions that the employer has forgotten about (productivity failure there for the board) or on problem-solving and thinking.

Ought we to care about how far an employee walks as long as they fulfil their orders? What if they ran around the warehouse and so could take breaks that were double the norm? Are we actually measuring the wrong things? We tend to measure what we think that an employee should be doing in fulfilling a service or customer need. Why not just determine if the customer needs were met? Why go into that much detail.

What should happen if an employee takes the time to stop and think? What if they suggest moving racks of widgets so that employees do not have to walk so far? Potentially an employer is removing the likelihood of the business becoming more productive!

So productivity tools do not measure the usefulness of thinking!

There are many bad things about measuring productivity, enough perhaps to write a book about but here are a couple more to get you thinking.

In order to foster a culture of innovation we need to embrace ambiguity and we often have to perform non-standard activities – we need to take risks. Activities such as prototyping or research are often unplanned with uncertain outcomes. Our productivity measurement machine would not like this. Do you think this is helpful to our innovation efforts? Will most employees conform because it maximises their pay at the end of the month?

Core features of innovation are killed by productivity tools!

Innovation is a team or perhaps company-wide activity, but our monster measurement tools are usually looking at what individual employees are doing. This does not recognise the fact that individuals contribute in different ways or more importantly that when an employee has an off day his or her colleagues can rally round and help. No, we must let poorly performing individuals drown apparently.

Productivity tools are looking at the wrong things! 

These are just a few ideas on why such tools may not help. If you use any tools to help measure productivity or the performance of employees please take the time to think about what you want to achieve, and why. More importantly, think about what these tools could be stopping you from achieving (thinking, team working, less stress, innovation …).

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle also has a ring of truth about these cases. If we try and measure something then the act of measuring will affect the system we are measuring. There is no such thing as non-intrusive measurement. Oh, and I forgot to say that simply introducing such a system introduces an overhead anyway (not good for productivity is it?).

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What does being better actually mean? Is there a concept of betterness?

Many readers will be familiar with the BBC mockumentary series W1A that pokes (considerable) fun at the BBC itself. It is full of things that make you wince, mainly because they are so near the truth. Daily goings-on are punctuated by gobbledygook and job titles are impossibly vague. Below is the introduction used for the mock advertisement for the position of Director Of Better.

The establishment of a Director of Better represents a turning point for the BBC by placing the idea of betterness at its core going forward and beyond.

Working with a range of internal placeholders at a senior level, this is an opportunity to re-set the dial for the Corporation either by shining a new light on that dial or by shining the old light but with a new bulb so that no-one can be in any doubt about where the dial is or can have any excuse for not being able to read what it says.

If you are not familiar with the series then you might get some idea of the humourous and tongue in cheek nature of it. There is a serious point to be made though. If you read the introduction to the job advertisement carefully it does contain some valid points (which are then tossed away on a torrent of stupidity).

If your business could appoint a Director of Better, what would this person do, what would be the result of employing such a person? You might say there is no point but just imagine that your business could actually afford to employ someone whose sole purpose was to make things better. This could be better for the customer, better for employees or better for shareholders (or all of these).

Would the Director of Better be spending money, would they be banging heads together, would they be looking at your business in a new way (a new light or new bulb perhaps) or opening your mind to new possibilities? What would they do to improve your business, to make it better?

I am not actually suggesting that you do employ such a person, or if you do, maybe do not use the job title. Maybe you could be your own Director of Better or (even better) take a couple of friends out for a pizza and ask them to play along with the idea. As a fully fledged promoter of betterness don’t forget to carry a method of recording these ideas as you come across them. A simple notebook or voice recorder will do, just don’t forget.

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There are many facts that were never taught to us at school about creative thinking and the list could continue to be extended for years (or maybe hundreds). However I have chosen here just 5 of the many that I could think of. Here they are in no particular order of importance.

Everyone is creative
Each of us is a creative individual. We can all tell stories and think in different ways its just that some of us find it easier than others. Also we are conditioned to pass exams at school and so some of us begin to believe that we are not creative. Train yourself to think that you are creative then you will be.

Creative thinking is actually work
Creative people spend a huge amount of time creating things in order to achieve the goals that they have set themselves. A person may create a huge body of work in order to create just one small thing that  is really good. For instance it is widely reported that Thomas Edison created many thousands of designs for his lighting system that we come to know as the electric light bulb. James Dyson created over 2000 prototypes of his original bagless cyclone vacuum cleaner.

There is no correct answer
When thinking creatively we must learn to live with ambiguity. Unlike Aristotle who believed things to be black or white but not both. In the real world we must be prepared for thinks to be both or neither. What this means for us in the world of work is that we can generate many different ideas or possibilities that might meet our requirements before choosing which one to go with. Even then there might be several possibilities that we could use.

There is no such thing as failure
This might not be true everywhere but it is certainly true in the field of creative thinking. If something does not work you should learn from it and when you think about it you have discovered one more way in which things should not be done. Also keep your eyes open! It was a particular failure to clean up before going away on holiday that led Fleming to discover penicillin. If he had not been observant on his return we might not have antibiotics today.

Patterns are good
Creative people do not think in ways that are logical or analytical. They often include things that seem unrelated. Einstein was quoted as saying that there is only a limited amount of knowledge but an infinite amount of imagination. He is not quite right in that thinking does create new knowledge but imagination is simply THERE. Creative people acquire lots of knowledge before using it wisely to create connections and spot patterns (or anomalies). These allows for more creative ideas and faster progress.

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Make The Best Use of Your Environment – Researchers at University of Minnesota proved that an untidy or messy environment can actually improve our creativity. So, start with your desk. Put on it some objects that  bring back good memories or that you really like. Now move away from your desk and think about your actual place of work (which could still be home). You need an area to chill out when you are taking a break from work. What would give you some stimulation if you were to say, grab a cup of coffee? Maybe step outside into the garden or stretch out on a comfy bean bag. You get the idea.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure that you do not follow routine all of the time. You can just move, use different coloured pens or simply talk to different people.

Get In The Right Mindset – What mental states do you associate with actually being creative. What time of day does this happen, where do you have to be physically? You should build up a sort of profile that allows you to determine when you are at your most creative and then make this happen rather than simply waiting for th eplanets to align in your favour.

As a creative person or as a less creative person trying to be more so, you may experience anxiety and tension. This is normal. It may be that previously you have been over complicating things or because you are experiencing chaos and for the time being you have no direction or feel that you are not achieving anything. With creativity, very little is aligned. Often there is a random soup of ideas out of which things leap out. This is when you have to be prepared to a) capture these somehow b) take action.

To this end, always carry a notebook or some other method of capturing ideas with you.

Change Your Viewpoint – In order to be creative it can helpful to change the way you look at the world and everything in it. This doe snot mean you have to agree with all of the things you have hated until now but just trying seeing the world from a different place. For instance, imagine you are the new US president Donald Trump. You may not agree with his viewpoint but it will give you a new slant on things. Try this with a variety of people and see what happens.

There is yet another way you can do this which is to pretend you are outside of everything like a fly on the wall just observing the world as it happens. Maybe you could pretend that you are an alien landing on earth for the first time. What on earth are all of these people doing?

Taking a different position allows you to see different things that you might have been blind to or gather information or data that you previously thought was unimportant.

In fact those who specialise in customer service or marketing might be doing this already to some extent but the further you step outside of you normal viewpoint and look at things, the more useful it can be.

It can also be interesting to combine some of these methods. For instance why not sit at a pavement cafe and people watch. Try and work out why they are doing what they are doing and how they might see you!!

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This is not a trick question. Many of us have undergone change programmes over the years and many have not worked or had no effect. Why is this? The answer is quite simple, the initiatives have not been Change programmes, they have mostly been renaming exercises. The phrase ‘rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic’ springs to mind here and it is most unfortunate that such exercises have largely been carried out in the public sector in the UK since the economic downturn began to bite.

So what has actually been happening, particularly in our councils and Civil Service? Luckily for employees, the public sector currently has a policy of no compulsory redundancies, which means that only costs other than labour can be cut which in turn leads to the desire for greater efficiency. The desire for greater efficiency then leads to the reorganisation of people. Structures, responsibilities and titles change but job descriptions, behaviours and attitudes do not.

Why does this matter if the organisation has not had to shed employees other than through voluntary schemes, after all efficiency has been addressed and costs cut! Let us go back to the reasons for change, to alter the way in which the organisation works (effectively and efficiency) and ensure that it is fit to face the future. To do this we have:

  • Shed staff, often indiscriminately
  • Adopted best practice from external sources
  • Changed the organisational structure chart
  • Amended job titles

What we have also done is:

  • Lost valuable knowledge and experience
  • Failed to communicate the reasons for change and expectations
  • Addressed any necessary changes in behavior
  • Failed to address insecurities regarding the future

We are likely to end up with an organisation that wants to work as it has always done (but when it has let valuable employees go) but which its masters want to go in a different direction. Think of a train running on tracks with the Chief Executive running alongside shouting ‘no, over here. Go this way’. Many will say that this is all that can be achieved in the current climate in a short space of time. My point is that the work should have been carried out properly over a longer period of time if those in power had the skill and foresight to begin the changes a couple of years ago.

This all sound very negative but is easily sorted by:

  • Ensuring a transfer of knowledge when staff leave
  • Employing change agents within the organisation to help with real change
  • Engage the employees at the ‘coalface’ – in a hierarchical organisation you could be ignoring 80% of the workforce
  • Focus on required behaviours rather than simply changing job titles
  • Encourage transparency wherever possible
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We now have the ability (but more worryingly the desire) to see how fast our employees walk, how long their toilet breaks are and how many widgets they can carry per hour. This sort of measurement focuses only on actions that the employer has previously determined will help the business, not on actions that the employer has forgotten about (productivity failure there for the board) or on problem-solving and thinking.

What should happen if an employee takes the time to stop and think (and possibly find an improved way of doing things) in a warehouse? What if he or she could suggest moving the racks  of widgets so that they and their colleagues do not have to walk so far in a day? Potentially an employer is removing the likelihood of the business becoming more productive!

So productivity tools do not measure the usefulness of thinking!

There are many bad things about measuring productivity, enough perhaps to write a book about but here are a couple more to get you thinking.

In order to foster a culture of innovation we need to embrace ambiguity and we often have to perform non-standard activities – we need to take risks. Activities such as prototyping or research are often unplanned with uncertain outcomes. Our productivity measurement machine would not like this. Do you think this is helpful to our innovation efforts or will most employees conform because it maximises their pay at the end of the month?

Core features of innovation are killed by productivity tools!

Innovation is a team or perhaps company-wide activity but our monster measurement tools are usually looking at what individual employees are doing. This does not recognise the fact that individuals contribute in different ways or more importantly that when an employee has an off day his or her colleagues can rally round and help. No, we must let poorly performing individuals drown apparently.

Productivity tools are looking at the wrong things! 

These are just a few ideas on why such tools may not help. If you use any tools to help measure productivity or the performance of employees please take the time to think about what you want to achieve, and why. More importantly think about what these tools could be stopping you from achieving (thinking, team working, less stress, innovation …).

Oh, and I forgot to say that simply introducing such a system introduces an overhead anyway (not good for productivity is it?).

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