Monthly Archives: February 2013

How Might We? Asking the Questions that Change Everything…

Robert F. Kennedy popularized the notion that dreaming of things that never were and asking “Why not?” could change the future. In the decades since his death, the business world has focused more on efficiency than on imagining a different world. But with innovation now recognized as a key corporate capability, the value of questioning has roared back to the forefront.

Well-known American business journalist Warren Berger is exploring the impact of questioning in a book and
multimedia project he describes as “an inquiry into the value of inquiry.” He’s interviewed
business and community leaders about the impact of asking questions, and spoken to me about our “How Might We…?” approach to helping organizations imagine new possibilities, products and services.

The topic has also received attention from Canada’s business press. Last fall, television business journalist Amanda Lang published The Power of Why, in which she explores how asking questions and encouraging curiosity makes people and companies more innovative and productive.

The return of enthusiasm for questioning can only be a good thing for a business world that typically relies too heavily on following the formula, reading the rule book and finding the one right answer. Well-formulated questions that encourage collaboration, dig out insight, and allow us to imagine what has never been, have the possibility of changing everything.


Filed under innovation

Supplying Demand: Discovering What Your Customers Really Want

We live in a world grown skeptical of ‘new and improved’ products and services. Too often, the change is a marketing gimmick – the same old product in a new color, size or package. Sometimes a flashy new gadget or feature is sold as innovation. Invariably, these products fail to improve a company’s market share because they simply don’t offer customers anything they need.

Finding real market opportunities begins with discovering what your clients really need and understanding their challenges and problems. Starting with them, and adopting a ‘customer-centric focus’ will ensure that your innovation process really results in a useful new product or service, not just a gimmick or gadget added to an already existing product.

Customer service reps, salespeople, product developers and many others within your company likely already know an incredible amount about what your customers need and want, and why they turn to you for solutions. What most organizations need is a collaborative process that quickly taps that wealth of customer data to gather keen insights into potential new product and service concepts.

Bringing together your front line staff and asking the key questions that dig out the facts, issues and ideas that are important to your customers will allow you to discover the new idea that could be tomorrow’s game changer. Real innovation begins with a customer-centric approach that  ensures your new products and services actually meet the needs of clients and build corporate market share in a world cynical about the real value of ‘new and improved.’


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Filed under Business, innovation

Looking for Problems in all the Right Places

“Experienced problem solver” is a term a human resources person might expect to see on an incoming resume. “Successful problem generator” isn’t nearly as likely. But maybe it should be.

Organizational creativity is a process with four separate and sequential stages – generation, conceptualization, optimization and implementation.  stylesThe generation stage, which launches the creative process, is where new ideas are developed – often by discovering problems that need to be solved. Not surprisingly, generation is usually chaotic, spontaneous and disordered.

The business world has increasingly come to value the results of creativity and innovation, but is often still uncomfortable with people who are considered creative. They may be stereotyped as oddballs in many organizations, which don’t perceive a positive relationship between creativity and wisdom, and may not believe individuals can possess both attributes.

Organizations that undervalue the creative contribution to be made by skilled problem generators are neglecting an essential human resource in the new economy.  In my experience, most people understand the stages of problem solving and implementation, but fewer are skilled at problem conceptualization, and even fewer, at problem generation.

Generators aren’t always comfortable employees. They may seem to be continuously dissatisfied. They can quickly become bored with work that requires applying routine procedures to increase efficiency, or executing already defined assignments.  They may be perceived to be somewhat unfocussed or even disruptive as their behavior reflects more of an orientation to introducing (generating) a new problem and less of an orientation to defining, understanding, constructing or formulating (conceptualizing) an existing problem or developing (optimizing) or implementing solutions to an existing defined problem.  But organizations that are trying to become more proactively adaptable must learn to integrate problem generators into the workplace.

Innovative grows out of knowing customers’ problems, needs and wants before they do, and offering new solutions in advance of the competition – leading the pack rather than following it.   Organizations wishing to successfully compete on today’s global business stage would be advised to embrace the discomfort of disruptive creativity that generators bring to the workplace.

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Wise HR Professionals Recognize the Value of Creativity Training

When I talk about creativity, it isn’t uncommon for people to tell me that they aren’t the ‘creative type,’ as if creativity were an unchangeable trait akin to eye color or height. While it is often viewed as an innate skill that people are born with, the truth, however, is that creative thinking is actually a readily-taught set of skills, attitudes and behaviors.

Without training and conscious practice, those skills, attitudes and behaviors are typically underdeveloped in most people. In other words, when faced with a challenge, most people don’t resort to their creative skills to find a solution. More commonly, they turn to rule books, past experience and analytical skills. This is particularly true in professions which emphasize the importance of following rules, rather than thinking outside of the box.

But in an increasingly complex business world, there is much demand for professionals who can see innovative ways of tackling challenges, and can recognize that there may not only be one right answer to a problem.

Our traditional formal education system typically teaches us to solve problems by learning formulas, rules and procedures. In the more stable world of the past, this was tolerable.  But today’s problem solvers need to be able to creatively discover good questions and challenges, work through ill-structured situations and see the opportunity buried in a crisis. Success requires the use of imagination, non-linear thinking and some risk-taking.

Without creativity training, many people are prematurely critical of new ideas and creative solutions. Rather than build upon promising but imperfect ideas, they too quickly reject possibilities for innovative action. Attempting to equate new and old experiences, people search for what is similar rather than what is unique in a new problem, and use available solutions rather than consider new or innovative ones.

In today’s business environment, creativity is not a frill or luxury, but an essential skill for success that is important to learn as standard business practices.

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Filed under Business, human resources, innovation, Problem Solving