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Adapted from Creativity, Innovation, and Quality
by Paul E. Plsek (1997: Quality Press).
© 1997 Paul E. Plsek. All rights reserved. Click here for information on this book.
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"To put your ideas into action is the
most difficult thing in the world"
To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily.
To not dare is to lose oneself."
"Make it so"
Jean-Luc Picard, Captian, Starship Enterprise
Creative ideas have no value until they are put into action. While the Preparation and Imagination phases of the DirecetedCreativity Cycle are the heart and mind of innovation, the Development and Action phases are the hands and feet.
Information on this page...
|| The Development
and Action Phases of the DirectedCreativity Cycle ||
|| Development and Action and the Three Principles ||
|| Methods for Harvesting, Enhancing, and Documenting Ideas ||
|| Key Points from the Study of Change Management Literature ||
|| Summary and Reflection ||
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Seeking the balance between satisficing and premature judgement, we harvest and further enhance our imaginative ideas before we subject them to a final, practical evaluation. But, it is not enough just to have creative thoughts; ideas have no value until we put in the work to implement them.
In the Imagination phase of the DirectedCreativity Cycle we stressed escape and mental movement. We also emphasized the importance of suspending judgment. Here, in the Development and Action phases, we will focus on attention and a slightly different type of movement-we will want to pay attention to details and move on to action. Further, while we do not want to rush to judgment, it is now time to begin progressively applying critical thinking. Imaginative ideas sometimes turn out to be novel, but not very practical. We need to focus attention on the weaknesses of our ideas, and either revise or reject them.
We may well have over 100 ideas coming out of the Imagination phase of the DirectedCreativity Cycle. Harvest about twice as many ideas as you think you can reasonably expect to implement over the next 12 months. You might decide on the number by asking several people what they think. "Could we implement 5 ideas in the next year? 10? 15? 20? 25?" and so on until you identify a consensus comfort level.
We suggest this liberal harvesting policy because several of the ideas initially selected in the harvest will not make the grade on the final evaluation. Other ideas will end up being combined or streamlined. Most important, going into the Development phase knowing that you will want to eliminate several ideas helps avoid satisficing.
Simon Majaro has developed a nine-cell screening matrix that can be helpful
at a final harvesting meeting. Ideas are placed on the grid based on subjective
ratings for "attractiveness" and "compatibility." Ideas
that fall in the shaded cells are the best ideas to move forward to the
next stage of development.
The leader of the harvesting session could use any comfortable group process to get consensus on which ideas fall into the desirable cells. But make sure to allow plenty of time for discussion of minority opinions. Remember, you have invited people to the session because you believe that they will play some key role in implementing the ideas. If anyone feels strongly that an idea does not belong in the desirable cell, you must think carefully before proceeding with it.
The idea champion's main task is to further develop the idea and get it ready for implementation. Notice how the questions below guide thoughtful analysis aimed at increasing the chances of success. They guide us to consider emotional and people-related issues, the strengths and weaknesses of the idea, systems effects and consequences, and the need for trials and prototypes.
Though the list appears in one-question-at-a-time order, the questions
are really meant to be taken together. Start anywhere on the list, consider
multiple questions at the same time, and be prepared to re-evaluate your
work on earlier questions as you go along. When you think you are done,
go through the list one final time to make sure you have not missed anything.
An Idea Enhancement Checklist
Shaping. How can we modify the idea to address objections that would otherwise cause rejection?
Tailoring. Can we modify the idea to even better fit our needs?
Strengthening. How can we increase the power or value of the idea?
Reinforcing. What can we do about weak points?
Looking towards implementation. What can we do to the idea to enhance the probability of implementation? Who must be involved?
Comparison to current. How does the idea compare to what it is replacing? Should we do further enhancement, expand or scale back the idea?
Potential faults or defects. What could possibly go wrong with this idea? What can we do?
Consequences. What are the immediate and long-term consequences of putting the idea into action?
Testability and prototyping. How can we try the idea on a small scale?
Pre-evaluation. How can we further modify the idea to meet the needs of those who will evaluate it next?
de Bono's Six Thinking Hats are a useful tool in conjunction with this list. Remind yourself to work from good data (White hat), be attentive to intuition and feelings (Red), emphasize positives (Yellow), consider negatives and be critical (Purple), and take creative approaches (Green) with each of the enhancement questions. While the enhancement questions guide us to critical thinking (Purple hat), we should maintain an overall positive attitude (Yellow hat) throughout this activity. We want to do everything we can to see the idea accepted by all stakeholders and successfully implemented.
We now need to document and communicate our enhanced ideas. Various authors in the creativity and innovation literature have proposed formats for doing this. These range from relatively informal, one-page summaries, to full scale business plans. You will need to apply some judgment in choosing what is right for you.
The notes on the next page describe a simple framework that we have used with clients to get 1-3 page write-ups of ideas to circulate to the decision makers for evaluation.. Note that it presents, in sequence, Green, Yellow, Purple, White, and Red hat thinking.
In the end, keep in mind the immediate next step in the DirectedCreativity Cycle: evaluation.
While we want to be clear and comprehensive in communicating our ideas, avoid burdensome documentation requirements. You need enough documentation to enable organizational leaders to decide whether the idea should proceed to Action. It is OK if there are still many implementation details left to be worked out. The decision makers may not need to know every technical detail in order to be convinced of the value of the idea.
You can also supplement your documentation with discussion, role plays,
simulations, models, and prototypes
A Format and Set of Instructions for Documenting an Idea After Enhancement
The Idea. Explain the idea in 2-3 clear, informative, compelling paragraphs. (If you cannot do this, you must question whether your idea is ready to move on to action.) Use complete sentences and paragraph structure, not bullet lists. It is too easy to cop out, oversummarize, and over-assume in preparing a bullet list. If appropriate, you could present the idea as a scenario; describing how a person would experience the idea. Attach flowcharts and other supporting details, but write the description here in such a way that the reader can understand it fully without referring to the supporting details.
Benefits and Positive Aspects. Describe 3-10 key benefits of the idea. Here, it is OK to use a bullet list. Consider benefits to multiple "customers" both internal and external. Remember, everyone that is impacted by the idea will be asking: "what's in it for me?" All key stakeholders need to find something that appeals to them listed in this section.
Remaining Negatives and Potential Downsides. If you have done a good job of enhancement, there should be few things to report here. But no idea is perfect and there are always things that cannot be fully known until we implement. Demonstrate your objectivity by identifying potential objections, negative points, and consequences here. While you may be reluctant to do this, these points will surface eventually and could completely undermine all your hard work. Better to be up-front and show that you are thinking about them proactively, than to be put in a reactive or defensive position later.
Supporting Information. Use this section to report facts and "the numbers." How much will it cost in staff time and money? How much tangible benefits can we expect to get in terms of increased customer satisfaction, revenues, cost savings, reduced cycle time, etc.? What data exists to further support the notion that this is a good idea? Just summarize here; use attachments to provide the details of any analysis. Be conservative. Do not be afraid to point out that "the most important numbers are unknown and unknowable," but also do not use this as an excuse for being lazy.
Intuitive Conclusion. You have expended a great deal of effort on this idea. In 1-2 sentences or phrases, tell us how you really feel about it. Use emotive, descriptive, metaphorical language. Communicate how excited or unexcited your are. Use the following examples as guides for communicating various shades of feelings that you might have. "This idea is a home-run!" "Wow! What are we waiting for?" "We really think customers will like it." "A solid idea, we should do it; but we won't win any prizes for it." "It's better than doing nothing." "Perhaps this idea's day will come later." "All things considered, not worth the effort."
©1995 Paul E. Plsek & Assoc. Inc.
The activities of the Development phase culminate in evaluation. We been purposefully avoiding final judgment, but the time has now come.
Evaluation is done by the group of organizational leaders who collectively possess the power to allocate resources and ask for constructive participation by others. Many of these people will have been involved in the earlier final harvesting activity that led to the identification of idea champions and the initiation of enhancement. This group's role now is to:
The creativity literature provides many suggestions for evaluation criteria
and processes. Majaro's criteria of attractiveness and compatibility, and
his nine-cell screening matrix, is one approach that we have already examined
(see page 6-10). Others suggest additional, multi-dimensional evaluation
criteria such as:
Effectiveness in achieving objective
Cost to implement
Revenue or cost avoidance potential
Uniqueness of the idea
Potential for enabling other innovations
Moral or legal implications
Degree of positive feeling evoked by idea
Likelihood of success
Freedom from adverse consequence/risk
Ease of implementation
Timeliness of the idea
Availability of technology
Match with organizational strengths
Simplicity of the idea
Degree of internal support
Sense of urgency of need
Ask leaders to select 3-7 criteria from the list above (or develop additional criteria) that seem to be a good fit for your specific situation. It is best to do this prior to seeing the ideas to avoid biasing the process, but do not be dogmatic about it. Then either rank order the ideas with the selected criteria implicitly in mind, or score each idea on each criteria using a high-medium-low, or 1-10 scale.
There are many models for the process of organizational change. Understanding their key points can help us be more effective in implementing innovative ideas.
Even with a great idea, the implementation of change is hard, emotional work.
Effective change is born of a felt sense of urgency. You must create urgency.
Amid the excitement you feel for your creative ideas, do not forget to answer the "how come?" question for those who must participate in implementing the change.
While creative thinking often requires that we escape the organization's structure and rules, implementing innovation requires that we engage the organization's structure and rules; at least enough to gain permission to do something radically new.
Every idea needs a guiding coalition whose members are wide ranging and powerful enough to allocate the necessary resources and ask for constructive participation by others.
Be prepared for defensive routines and fancy footwork in response to innovative ideas. Be patient with others, but insist on getting on with implementation. (Prototypes may help.)
If you cannot state the innovative idea clearly and compellingly in 5 minutes or less, you are not ready to proceed into implementation.
Overcommunicate. You are ready to implement only when people start saying to you "Enough already, when are we going to do it?!"
Implementation of innovative ideas is scary. Leaders have the responsibility for leading the way by their own actions to put themselves on the line with a bold, untried innovation.
References on change management include:
Creative ideas have no value until they are put into action. Therefore, be deliberate and thorough in enhancing your ideas. Be tough and intuitive in evaluating your ideas. Be committed and courageous in implementing your ideas.
The Development and Action phases are hard work, but without them the Preparation and Imagination phases are meaningless.
You do not have to implement all of your creative ideas. Be selective. It is better to successfully implement a few ideas than to attempt many changes and fail.
Do not scrimp in the enhancement activity. But keep your ideas free from "excess baggage" and clever features that only distract from the main concept.
While it is possible to be creative outside the organization's structure, you must work effectively within an organization's structure in order to implement your ideas and be innovative.
A sense of urgency and active leadership are necessary conditions for the implementation of innovations and change.
Do not forget to answer the "how come?" question for those who must participate in the implementation of the innovation.
Overcommunicate. Be clear, concise, compelling, and continuous.
The traditional tools of quality management and general project management are very useful in Development and Action.
In the excitement of completing a trip through the DirectedCreativity cycle, do not forget to prepare for the next cycle. Customers are increasingly demanding innovation. Competitors are increasingly supplying innovation. Today and in the future, it is the rate of innovation that is decisive.
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© 1997 Paul E. Plsek & Associates, Inc.
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