As mentioned in the upcoming book, Relationship Economics (Wiley, 2008), I heard Bob Danzig, former chairman of the Hearst Newspaper Group, once call an organization’s high performers and high potentials its destiny shapers. Similarly, creative ideas within any organization become company, if not industry shapers, pursued at multiple levels within an organization.
As part of my due diligence for a keynote address to the Association for Financial Technology (AFT) executives, I quickly confirmed a fundamental belief that small companies have significant advantages over large corporations when it comes to innovation. Often, industry giants acquire more nimble entrepreneurial firms and unintentionally drive them away, only to have to buy them again three years down the road.
The same small companies typically fail in developing discipline around the creation, capture, and execution of great ideas. A brilliant entrepreneur conceives an idea, which often becomes a product or service, and a few manage to become profitable companies. But entrepreneurs alone cannot remain the sole source of disciplined creativity. It simply must cascade throughout what we often refer to as a relationship-centric culture.
For many companies, disciplined creativity is 1% inspiration, 49% perspiration, and 50% disciplined, consistent creativity. Here are seven steps to inspire disciplined creativity in a relationship-centric culture:
1. Utilize underserved market strategy. Far too many companies attempt to expand into adjacent markets and invent whole new business categories. It is far more nimble and less expensive to look for ways to better understand existing customers and segment them more effectively.
2. Leverage social networks as idea funnels. When you apply adaptive innovation (see previous article in this blog) and engage a social network community of avid customers who also become producers, you develop a logical funnel that collects, filters, and ultimately success-proofs seedlings of great ideas. It also becomes a tremendously useful lens to identify patterns or anomalies in that paring down process. Why did users choose one product or one feature consistently over others? What does their tone or strong reaction to changing options mean? What could this community of users be thinking or feeling about our current direction?
3. Collaborate for unique perspectives around a central idea. It’s very difficult to be creative in isolation. Take, for example, my business partner, Jennifer Whitt, who leads our global project management consulting and training practice. We often devise similarly creative ideas in approaching a market challenge or opportunity. But many ideas may be half-baked before we engage the broader internal and external team to collaborate on the details. By discouraging negative comments, and even encouraging honest pushback, we openly embrace different segments of the broader value chain. In his book, The Breakthrough Company: How Everyday Companies Become Extraordinary Performers, Keith R. McFarland calls this “scaffolding.” In the process, you gain industry insights from a broad set of perspectives and when brainstorming sessions are done well, employees naturally begin to generate viable ideas. They begin to solidify their position with descriptors, storyboards, mind maps, process flows and “swim lanes” – all of which help flush-out much needed detail and identify a pre-mortem to potential objections and obstacles.
4. Elevate the game-shaping ideas. With a process in place to harvest the best ideas, now it’s time to prune. Without emotions overbearing the practical, functional and profitable, you can begin to amass a portfolio of the very best ideas. Great leaders reward desired behaviors in an incentive plan and consistent creativity is no exception. Take caution not to paralyze ideas by over-analysis.
5. Version one is better than version none. Become brilliant at quickly performing inexpensive experiments. Remember: 80% of an idea taken to market will always have far greater value than 100% of an idea still sitting on the shelf. Keep in mind that ours is very much a visual society. So, instead of telling me about it, show me how my situation will be considerably improved with your product or service than with any of my current alternative options.
6. Partner to scale. Most organizations can only reach a specific market segment, geography, or taste on their own. Partner to reach your non-core with others who can expand your brand and market reach at a fraction of the cost and expense. (Examples: Frappuccino, a Starbucks-PepsiCo joint venture, or the new line of coffee-inspired chocolates offered by Starbucks and The Hershey Company.)
7. Maintain an evolutionary process. A relationship-centric culture is naturally curious and open to a broad base of ideas. It has a high tolerance for risk and the courage to fail. By initiating weekly internal idea meetings, you will develop the tentacles to identify small, underdeveloped ideas more quickly. Learn to dispose of weak ones before they tap highly limited resources. Aim to create creative processes and people, which often lead to creative products. Provide the environment for creative employees to establish the mindset. Provide them with the toolset and help pave a roadmap to turn their often-brilliant ideas into accelerated profitable growth. Make disciplined creativity fundamental to the DNA of your organization.