Sunday, 29 November 2009

Professor Jerry Morris RIP

It has been assumed since Ancient Greek times that exercise is good for you. Yet until Professor Jerry Morris started to think about it in the late 1940s, there was no real scientific evidence.

Morris conceived the extraordinarily simple idea of studying the health of bus drivers and bus conductors on double-decker buses in London. After all, the drivers spent their day sitting behind the wheel, whereas the conductors were running up and down stairs all day – an average of 750 steps per day.

Lo and behold, he discovered that the drivers had twice as many heart attacks as the conductors.

Morris followed up this study with other grander designs. He discovered for example that postal workers who delivered their mail by foot were significantly healthier than those who drove their routes in vans. But it was the publication of his bus-workers research in the Lancet in 1953 which began the process of transforming attitudes and behaviours worldwide.

He himself was an early jogger, at a time when it was considered eccentric. And well into his 90s he was still swimming, pedalling his exercise bike and walking every day.

He died 28 October 2009 aged 99.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Huddles R Us

Whenever I run an innovation masterclass with a group of managers, I always kick off by asking them what are the things that really work well in their organisations and what problems they are encountering around innovation.

A constant refrain is that their company’s “culture” is not supportive of creativity, innovation and risk-taking, whatever the corporate mission statement (or the CEO) says.

This was a massive problem confronting Archie Norman and Allan Leighton when they took over the running of the major British supermarket chain, Asda. From the beginning they ran creative sessions with their leadership team aimed at finding ways to transform the culture. And among the ideas that they decided to implement was “team huddles”. Everyone. Every day.

These were (and are) opportunities to come together in functional teams for a few minutes at the start of the working day, to discuss what’s working and what’s not, to get fired up for the coming day, to connect personally with colleagues, to be briefed on anything new. Usually these are stand up, not sit down, occasions.

Of course, like so many innovations of this kind, the practice evolved in the USA, initially in sports teams, then in many American businesses. It’s also used a great deal in Japan. But it was (and is) quite unusual in major European organisations.

In the UK, huddles are fairly common nowadays in newer, smaller firms, in hi-tech and communications, but the idea that it should be applied in a vast business like Asda, with its 170,000 employees, was totally radical.

Together with a handful of other important organisational and cultural changes, Allan and Archie turned around a vast and previously sinking ship, so that it became (and remains) one of the great success stories of British business, and was voted “Best Employer” in the annual Sunday Times survey.

Do you have huddles? What’s your experience of them?

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Me and My Shadow

Even today, with the benefit of psychological profiling tools like Myers-Briggs, I notice that so often managers hire people in their own image. This can be comfortable, but it’s unlikely to be very potent in terms of innovation or leadership.

In my own case, I noticed quite early on that the partnership I had with Jennifer Laing at Saatchi and Saatchi was extraordinarily effective. Yet in personality type we were quite different. Somehow or other her strengths mirrored my weaknesses and vice-versa. Everything we touched turned to business.

And I’ve been lucky enough to have had a number of these symbiotic relationships later in my “career” – with Max Gosling at Lintas, with David Walker at Synectics, and now with Alison Duffy at Per Diem. In each case these partnerships have been associated with periods of major innovation and of sustained business success.

Of course, there is a great elephant trap involved in this. As polarised personalities it’s quite likely that you’ll not appreciate each other, maybe even disliking each other. So unless there is genuine mutual admiration, a real appreciation of the value of the other, and a shared sense of direction, success is unlikely to follow.

Knowing which is me and which is shadow in any given situation can be tricky. Flexibility as to who leads and who follows can be a moment by moment thing.

Do you have a terrific shadow?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Oprah, Queen of Facilitators

So Oprah Winfrey is to give up her TV show after a couple of decades.

When I started out on the journey of learning to become a facilitator of creativity and innovation, aside from the excellent training I was given by Jasmine Dale, I also sat in with any and all other facilitators who would have me, making notes - really detailed notes - on how they did it, what worked and what didn’t.

Doing this with my colleague, Bill Boggs, was extraordinarily important to my own development. At his best he was unbeatable. Irrespective of the numbers in the room he seemed continuously to know what everyone was thinking and feeling. And to know what needed to be done in order to get towards a result.

But, in parallel, I looked at all the TV “facilitators”. Many of them seemed to me to be almost completely incompetent – and by the way I learned much from this.

Two emerged as head and shoulders above the rest – Jerry Springer and Oprah. I studied both carefully, making sure that I focused on them, not on the topic at hand. My colleagues were uniformly dismayed that I should pay such attention to Jerry. After all, wasn’t he serving the forces of darkness? But with such skill and style.

On the other hand, Oprah in her early days was magical in her ability to draw out her guests, often working with a large studio audience as well as with the celebs. All were treated with dignity and empathy. Her connection-making skills were particularly evident. She always knew when to move in, when to back off, when to paraphrase to help clarity, when to confront…

Of course, I was studying these people twenty years ago. By now both Jerry and Oprah have become the true stars of their shows, irrespective of the exalted standing of guests, and that has made them, from my point of view, infinitely less interesting. But I owe them a lot.

Are you a facilitator? Do you have your own role models?

Friday, 20 November 2009

Too-tight innovation strategies

A fascinating article by Stefan Stern in the Financial Times reminds us how easy it is for organisations to fall into an elephant trap formed out of their own corporate missions and strategies and operational norms.

At the heart of the article are thirty five innovations that were rejected internally by Xerox management over the years, innovations that went on to create significant wealth for other companies. In fact, it’s been estimated that the cumulative market value of ten of these rejects became worth twice that of Xerox itself.

The principle is this: if your mission/strategies/processes/norms are too tight, too specific, you’ll end up with the panflute situation.

You don’t suppose the panflute flowchart was one of Xerox’s core processes, do you?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Why are senior managers the enemies of innovation?

Many years ago the founder of Synectics in Europe, Vincent Nolan, wrote an article entitled “Why is marketing the enemy of innovation?” It’s an apparently paradoxical but still very relevant question.

Building on Arun Prabhu’s comment on the “If at first the idea is not absurd…” post (October 28), I’d like to widen it to senior managers more generally. As Arun says, “In my experience, senior leaders who shout loudest about the need for breakthrough innovation are often the biggest barriers.”

There is the centre of the paradox. On the one hand, senior managers push hard for significant innovations, at the same time frequently putting the boot in when interesting, sometimes shocking, possibly breakthrough ideas are floated.

What’s more, the more a breakthrough the new concept seems, the less likely conventional market research is going to give a good reading on its performance in the marketplace.

Of course, there’s no evidence that seniority goes with judgement when it comes to new ideas – especially ones that break the mould in some way or other. In fact, there may well be an inverse correlation. They are exactly the folks who know lots about what has not worked in the past.

What’s needed? Often it’s for senior managers to invest in personally developing new skills in open-mindedness. Some chance?

So if that’s not going to happen, innovators need to develop new processes for getting senior managers into the boat.

What is your experience of all this?

Monday, 16 November 2009

Only connect

I received this from an actor-writer friend, Philip Bird. I think it’s very interesting, full of intriguing and important ideas. What do you make of it?

“I couldn't sleep and for some reason wrote this down.

“The human brain is a wonderful thing, predisposed to look for and find connections between things, often linking different areas of perception in unexpected ways - which is why, for a computer to do what a brain does, it would have to be the size of my house. How each of us makes those connections is an individual mystery, affected by our genes and our exposure to patterns of thought in others - parents, friends, people we admire, some of whom give us permission to think the unthinkable and open doors we didn't even know were there to open.

“To make these connections, to allow our brains to do what they want to do naturally, and in fact can't help doing if released to do it, is the essence of creativity. There is no one creativity, we each have our own. How can we be encouraged to make these connections? To be in an atmosphere of mutual trust and support where egos are left at the door.

“People think 'but if I don't display my ego I will be nothing, just some wishy-washy yes-person bowing to someone else's forceful personality'. But we ask everyone to lose that ego, so that no-one is forcing anyone else. The ego is, after all, only a part of one's personality, the assertive driving look-at-me part. We need to let the brain do its thing, unlimited, unconfined, unfettered, unashamed. People think that only certain people are creative, that some are and some aren't, and they can feel pressured when asked to 'be creative'. That very request may imply that there is a definite end in the view of the questioner, it may put pressure on just by being asked. Somehow the suggestion must be put without pressure; whatever happens must be allowed to happen, with no fixed end in view. Connections will be made, be they wild, funny, synaesthetic, intuitive, if unforced by any agenda, unlimited by preconception. We all have the potential to be creative in our own way, but many of us need the confidence to let it happen.

“There is no-one to please. No-one to impress. I find to be creative I need to carve out some still time first - to look out of the window, deliberately not take anything to do on the train journey, go for a walk, anything which lets the brain work its magic. And it does, in its own individual way, if you wait.”

Philip Bird appears regularly on our stages and film and TV screens. At an “Ideas into Action” Masterclass that I ran at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, Philip was Thomas Edison, going on that same evening to be Dr Caius in The Merry Wives of Windsor on stage there.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Neophobic – what me?

“There is no standard development nowadays of elegant letter writing, as there used to be… It is a sort of go as you please development, and the result is atrocious.” Who wrote this and what is it attacking? Is it an attack on SMS text messaging? Or Twitter? Or emails?

No – in fact it’s in a letter from a woman at the end of the nineteenth century, complaining about the supposed “dumbing down” effect of the then newfangled medium of postcards.

Neophobic attacks of that sort are launched every day – against new forms of communication, new products, new ways of working, new technologies, even new words. I even find myself doing it, unable to cope (at least initially) with the pace of change. My business partner at Per Diem, Alison Duffy, is currently in thrall to her recently-acquired iPhone, and takes every opportunity to expound its virtues. Will I get one myself? Maybe…

Of course, word of mouth support for a new product is the most powerful form of marketing, one completely out of the control of the marketer. But ranting against an innovation makes zero difference to the outcome. In the end the market always decides.

What’s new that gets your goat? And will you be able to move on, maybe even embracing it?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

“Terminal 5 is working”

What a tragedy it was that London Heathrow’s new Terminal 5 should have started with those highly publicised baggage-handling issues. It’s a fine building – as big as the previous four terminals put together in terms of capacity. And, speaking as a frequent traveller, it works really well.

Together with a number of wonderful colleagues – Dave Smith, Marian Moriarty and Jonne Ceserani among them – we helped BAA to envision this massive undertaking. That was all of fifteen years before the eventual opening. It was one of the pioneering projects where we carefully mixed managers from many different functions within the company together with passenger-customers in order to dream, wish and create together.

The resulting brainstorming sessions produced ideas that were many and varied, but the Big Insight that emerged was the wish for the passage through the terminal to be totally free from queuing.

In so many ways T5 has met those needs. The orbital motorway, the M25, has been expanded to twelve lanes there and the access roads are so much better than for previous terminals. The passenger’s ability to check in electronically, both online and in the terminal, has been transformed. Fast-track has helped to ease congestion on arrival.

Of course, fifteen years ago we didn’t foresee the so-called War on Terror and the damaging effect it would have on time spent navigating through security. And I feel ashamed when I see the slowly crawling lines of “aliens” going through passport control on arrival.

Both issues need to be addressed creatively. My guess is that there is much to be learned from supermarket operators, who seem to manage fluctuations in traffic density so much faster and more flexibly.

What’s your experience of T5? And more generally of working creatively with consumers?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Educational standards “woeful”

Perhaps the most successful leader of a major British company, Tesco’s Sir Terry Leahy has criticised educational standards in the country. “Woefully low,” was how he summarised the situation, adding: “We depend on high standards in our schools as today’s schoolchildren are tomorrow’s team.”

Singled out as an underlying cause by Leahy was “reams of instructions to teachers, who then get distracted from the task at hand: teaching children.” Bureaucracy certainly seems to have increased exponentially over recent years.

His main area of concern is focused on basic numeracy and communication skills. I often hear similar comments from colleagues at City University – but with the rider that there are also serious issues with school-leavers in the areas of creativity and problem-solving skills.

I wonder what the answer is? And is this a worldwide phenomenon?

My own experience in Asia (India, Singapore etc) would indicate that they are the ones we might be learning from these days.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Work in secret – even risk your own life?

A comment from Vincent Nolan on the Mavericks post reminds me of the amazing case of the breakthrough immunity-suppressant drug, cyclosporine (brand name Sandimmune®). I first became aware of this story when I worked with the company, at that time Sandoz (now Novartis), on the relaunch of the brand.

This is what happened.

In 1970, a Sandoz R&D team led by JF Borel got interested in the properties of certain fungal spores contained in soil samples brought back by team members from trips to Wisconsin and Norway. Metabolites were isolated that had anti-fungal properties – this was cyclosporine. A whole range of tests with mice were conducted to explore cyclosporine’s efficacy, but only one test showed promise – suppression of the immune system.

However, in 1973 immunosuppression ceased to be a strategic priority for Sandoz. It was a small market with apparently limited growth potential, and it was estimated that it would cost in the region of $250 million to gain FDA approval in the USA. Initially the team was allowed to carry on with its work, and in 1975 it was ready to start human testing. A separate team in Cambridge, England, successfully did heart transplants involving pigs, using cyclosporine to suppress the immune system and radically reduce rejection of the implanted organs.

Because the company no longer supported the project – actively opposing its development – further development work was conducted in secret and three of the R&D team’s members (including Borel) courageously took the new drug themselves, risking their own lives, in order to test the suppression in their own immune systems. In 1978, the first human transplants were undertaken – of kidneys. Throughout this period there are disputes as to exactly who did what.

In 1983 FDA approval was obtained and the following year synthetic cyclosporine was developed.

Meanwhile, since1967 Christiaan Barnard and others had been successfully transplanting organs. He in particular became world famous as a great pioneer in cardiac surgery. However the fact remained that the patients all died over relatively short time-spans, their new organs rejected by their own immune systems. The arrival of cyclosporine changed all that.

Of course the resulting dramatic market growth of organ transplants of all kinds (heart, kidney, liver, skin etc) led to rapid growth in sales for Sandimmune®, so that it became by far the company’s most profitable brand.

I believe there are powerful lessons for all organisations and innovators in this extraordinary case story. How does it strike you?

Friday, 6 November 2009

Building Star Teams

Are innovation teams different from other teams? I’m not sure.

But experience has shown that many innovation teams are assembled on a cross-functional basis – someone from marketing and someone from R&D. Oh and from supply chain and sales and finance…

This is OK, so far as it goes, but how much more powerful it is to think about the team in terms of complementary psychological profiles.

So you’ll need a Warrior – someone you will make things happen, kick down doors if necessary, push the project forward to fruition with determination.

And you’ll need a Bard – a teller of tales and singer of songs, who will make sure that everyone knows what’s going on.

You’ll need a Craftsman – who has a passion for producing the best possible product, a passion for detail.

There are several more archetypes you may need, not forgetting that, if you want breakthrough ideas, you may need a Maverick.

Who’s useful to have on the innovation team in your experience?

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Seeing with new eyes

The problem with so much market research, or rather with our response to it, is that it often seems as though we have heard it all before.

I was working with a mixed group of managers from Nestlé, together with a gang of young consumers, endeavouring to find a new way forward for one of their pan-European chocolate brands. The problem seemed to be focused on the brand positioning and the advertising.

Early in the workshop, we sent them out in pairs (manager and consumer) to do some shopping together and to make notes of what they heard from each other. In the debrief, one of the managers said: “I knew that we had a problem with the communication strategy, but what my guy said just now was that he doesn’t really like the taste of our product.”

It turned out that this was a common piece of feedback from most other pairs.

“Why hasn’t market research been telling us this?” asked the international marketing director. “It has – in every study we’ve done,” responded the research manager. “We just decided it wasn’t that important.”

So every time they had heard it subsequently, they knew it could be ignored.

Hearing it with new ears, seeing it with new eyes, we were able to go with this “new” insight immediately to develop an improved, preferred recipe, which, together with a new communication strategy and new advertising, propelled the brand to double its sales across Europe within twelve months.

What the great French writer, Marcel Proust, said on this subject was: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Do you have special ways of doing this?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Branson’s Black Book for Ideas Management

I once asked Richard Branson what made him different. Was he more intelligent, more aggressive, more energetic, more insightful?

“I think that I pay more attention to my own ideas,” he responded, flourishing a little black book. “I have it with me always, noting new things down as they occur, day or night.”

“And what do you do with them?” I asked. “I review them twice a day to pick out the ones that seem most interesting,” he responded, “so that I can start to get something done about them.”

Ah, so that’s it!

What’s your method? Do you have one?

Sunday, 1 November 2009

“What is now proved was once only imagin’d”

Where is the heartbeat of our universities? I recently did a trawl of their websites to check out what lies at the centre of their vision and mission statements.

Most are focused on knowledge transfer and learning, which I guess is not so surprising.

For me, it’s something of a shock to discover how few of them recognise the central importance of creativity, of discovery, of imagination. The artist-poet William Blake’s line, “What is now proved was once only imagin’d,” really nails the issue.

Without the idea in the first place, there would be no “knowledge” to transfer. As Rosamund Stone and Benjamin Zander put it in The Art of Possibility: “It’s all invented.” Everything.

Behind every research “question”, there is always an idea – though in many cases it’s not articulated.

What can be done to redress the balance?