Posts Tagged ‘Business’

Mistakes are GOOD! Well, sometimes . . . . . .

Friday,25 July, 2008

These days we’re always being encouraged to innovate – to do things differently and improve.

Sometimes when we try to do things differently, we make mistakes. It seems that making mistakes is an essential part of innovation.

Sometimes the mistakes can be better than our first intentions! In 1928 Alexander Fleming was working with a bacterial culture which became contaminated and died. This ‘mistake’ led to the discovery of penicillin, which has saved countless lives ever since.

But unfortunately, sometimes the mistakes just make things worse, and then we have to learn from our mistakes and try again – what used to be called ‘learning by trial and error’.

In these days of extended accountabilities and media spotlights, risk is invariably seen as bad.

But if we can’t make mistakes, won’t we expose ourselves to the biggest risk of all – the risk of reducing our capacity to innovate and improve?

If we can’t learn from making mistakes, are we making a rod for our own backs?

So why don’t companies come right out and say “It’s ok to make mistakes”?

Of course there would have to be safeguards, but how would you feel if your employer said it’s ok to make mistakes:

  • Provided they are honest mistakes, made with the best of intentions and not because you were just being sloppy or negligent;
  • Provided you take responsibility for your mistakes;
  • Provided you learn from your mistakes, taking steps to make sure you don’t make the same mistake again; and
  • Provided you help your colleagues learn from your mistakes, sharing your experience with them in order to reduce the risk of them ever making the same mistake that you made.

If your company had a ‘Mistakes Policy’ like that, would you feel supported, more able to innovate and improve?

If this wouldn’t work for you, what would you need?

Creativity CAN help business!

Friday,13 June, 2008

Window displays have been the traditional way in which retailers use creativity to attract customers, especially at Christmas.


This is a Parisian window display in a large department store, attracting families at Christmas time. And we can still be surprised at the use of creative thinking at other times of the year.

This is not a shoe shop, but a Chocolatier demonstrating skill.

And how might a plumber use a shop front to attract business?

You wouldn’t want to wear the boots and jacket in this shop window – they are made from lead, skilfully beaten to shape!

Creativity can also be applied to what is done, (not just what is on display).

When travelling in Scotland, we saw a variety of clothing stores selling items made locally and using local materials. Of these stores, one stood out from the rest. As well as having an excellent range, the staff circulated easily through the shop, offering browsers a cup of coffee or tea, with upbeat music (not ‘muzak’) in the background. The atmosphere was informal and friendly, and the spirit was generous – avoiding any hint of commercial desperation. The customers were having a good time because the staff were, and vice versa. Not an easy trick to pull off, but applying creative thinking was clearly making a difference to their business.

Did you hear the one about the hairdressing salon who had been encouraged to do something really different, just for the sake of it? At noon the next Friday, all the cutters put their scissors down, took one step back, and sang together “Bring Me Sunshine” (of Morecombe & Wise fame)! The following week their phone didn’t stop ringing, with people asking “Is that where you sang ‘Bring Me Sunshine’? Can I book an appointment please?” Not a bad return on ‘advertising’ that had cost nothing.

The key principle is that there’s nothing in any Job Description to say work can’t be fun – and fun unlocks creativity!

Creative thinking really can help business, in more ways than one.

Moving Targets – Planning for the Future!

Thursday,29 May, 2008

If someone is out shooting at a moving target, they would never think of trying to hit the target where it is now. They would try to hit the target where it’s going to be by the time the bullet or arrow gets there! (Apologies to the seagull – it’s not intended to be the target, just an example of something moving freely and unpredictably . . . . . . . .)

And yet, so often, we can be so impressed by information – especially if it’s technical and in the form of statistics, or called “evidence” – that we base our plans for the future on such information, which may already be out of date.

What we should be doing is looking at trends, and thinking about what changes might be happening to our world in the future, so as to help us guess where our plans need to take us by the time they are delivered.

As an example, if we are planning to remove a percentage of the population out of fuel poverty by a given date, it’s no use basing this on current energy prices. We should assume that energy costs will be running ahead of general inflation, and therefore countering fuel poverty will need a higher level of investment than might otherwise be assumed.

It’s true that the past cannot automatically predict the future. But thinking creatively about how things have changed in the past, can help us develop ideas about how the future might be. And no matter how imperfect our efforts to predict the future, we’re likely to get much closer to the target by thinking differently about the future, than if we point all our efforts at how things are now!

Fortunately there’s help available for thinking differently about the future: see “The Tomorrow Project” in “Interesting Links”.

Managing all this information requires us to make the best possible use of our sub-conscious, as referred to in previous blogs, particularly the one headed “Problem Solving, Creativity, Brains, and Co-Coaching”.

Living Derby

Sunday,18 May, 2008

Derby is a friendly place.

Apparently, most places like Derby lose about 7% of their population every year because some people choose to move on. But the actual figure for Derby is only half that amount.

In spite of Derby’s friendliness, Derby still has communities and businesses who know little of each other. This is not unusual. Analysis of trends suggests that this will become a bigger issue as time goes by.

Social geographers have reported that, when people choose where to live, they find themselves increasingly living with others who are just like them. Radio 4’s Talking Allowed gave the example of someone who moved into Crouch End, London, only to discover a number of mums at the school gate who were in marketing and PR, just like her!

It will become increasingly difficult for towns and cities to work well and be good places to live, if their populations know less and less about each other, as ignorance usually breeds suspicion and ultimately fear. So what can we do about it?

Enter Living Derby – a group of successful individuals and companies, mostly from the creative industries in Derby (graphic design, literature, fine art etc) – who have experience of creative projects, from local to nationwide in scale, that have achieved a great deal in building communities. Living Derby wants to use that experience for the long-term benefit of Derby, by delivering creative and social programmes, keeping records of all of this in a growing online archive which the people of Derby can access – so that none of the work is lost. (For more information about Living Derby, click on “Living Derby” in “Interesting Links”.)

In his book Affluenza, Oliver James cites four fundamental human needs: feeling secure, being part of a community, feeling competent, and being autonomous and authentic.

Wouldn’t it be great if Living Derby can help individuals to feel secure, be part of a community, feel competent, and be autonomous and authentic? And by helping individuals, also help communities organisations and businesses as well – and ultimately our city of Derby?

Wouldn’t it be great if Living Derby helped our city to flower?

The Gift of Irritation

Friday,16 May, 2008

How on earth can irritation be a gift?

Frequently, when dog walking, I get irritated by a stone in the bottom of my shoe. I know that, left unattended, the stone will create a painful blister, and ultimately stop me walking. So I take time to remove the stone from my shoe.

But we don’t always take action to remove irritations in other parts of our lives – usually because the irritation is experienced by our minds, rather than by our bodies.

Perhaps the irritation might be our subconscious telling us something important? Why wait until the irritating problem grows, and has an even greater impact on our health or our lives with colleagues, family or friends?

GoreTex water proof liners in walking boots and Post-It Notes help reduce different sorts of irritation. So we could say that some people have made a very good living from the gift of irritation.

I recently received an automatic reply to an e-mail I’d sent. The reply explained that the recipient only looked at his e-mails once a day, at 1pm, so as to make best use of his time. I was told the number I should ring if the matter was urgent. That’s a great way to reduce the irritation of being distracted by incoming e-mails. What should we do though, if we find ourselves bombarded with more and more automatic replies from those to whom we send e-mails? Perhaps someone might design some clever software to manage that for us, and make even more use of the gift of irritation?

Problem Solving, Creativity, Brains, & Co-coaching

Thursday,8 May, 2008

For some time it has been recognised that problem solving tends to work through four stages:

  • Play – when a problem and all its parts are analysed, stirred up, and understood, whether systematically or by a process akin to a child playing with food on a plate;
  • Incubation – when the problem solver’s attention is turned away from the problem in hand, whether by getting up from the desk in search of a drink, or by having a good night’s sleep;
  • Illumination – when the solution suddenly presents itself, often with a sense of certainty as to its rightness; and
  • Verification – when the solution is tested against the problem and, more often than not, found to be the right answer.

What is going on here?

How can it be that ‘doing nothing’ (during “incubation”) can be so effective?

Our brains are made of two halves:

  • The left side, which controls the right side of our bodies and is generally responsible for rational thought; and
  • The right side, which controls the left side of our bodies and is generally responsible for creative and artistic activity.

So when we are ‘incubating’ a problem, it’s not that we are doing nothing, but rather we are giving the right side of our brains a chance to chip in and help out. Thus it can be very helpful to create distance between us and a problem, and this is well articulated in Prof’ Richard Wiseman’s book “Did You Spot the Gorilla?” The book makes clear that this can have major business benefits, as well as personal ones: consequently it’s not about Rational VERSUS Creativity but, by using both sides of our brains, its about harnessing Rationality AND Creativity.

Of course creating this distance can be difficult for those not used to it – but help could be at hand through co-coaching. Co-coaching is the process where people, working in pairs, support each other to improve their performance. From my experience as a participant in trials, co-coaching does help create distance between self and a problem. It also helps build urgency to get on and just do it!

For more information on co-coaching, see “cococo” in ‘Interesting Links”.

Accessing the benefits of both sides of our brains, can be a bit like using a campervan. The left (rational) side of our brains looks after maintenance, and keeps us within the law and the Highway Code. But that’s all a bit boring, and not why we buy a van.

The right (creative/artistic) side of our brains can help us decide where to go with the van, so we can wake up somewhere spectacular, and then fully appreciate the beauty of the moment.

As the advert’ puts it: “priceless”.

Spaces between . . . . . . .

Tuesday,29 April, 2008

Places are made as much by spaces between buildings, as they are made by the buildings themselves.

And the world of buildings has a parallel with the world of organisations and work disciplines.

The focus used to be on organisations, or work disciplines.

But over time, and with the benefit of new technology, most advances possible within organisations or within disciplines have already been achieved.

The future now lies in the spaces between organisations or disciplines. For example:

  • nano-technology is where physics, biology and chemistry meet;
  • sustainable regeneration is only possible if social, economic, environmental, and cultural issues are all advanced.

No one organisation can achieve the complexity required to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

And therefore we must all become more adept at managing the spaces between, if we are to succeed.

This means, in practice:

  • enhanced partnership working within organisations, working between disciplines;

so as to build the skills and culture that will be needed:

  • to create the strong, lasting partnerships between organisations and ever more work disciplines, and across private, public and voluntary sectors.

[The photograph above is the space between two buildings in Nara, Japan. While only a few feet wide, the space is interesting and inviting in its own right – even though its ‘function’ is just to provide somewhere to wait while a table comes free in the adjacent Tea Room.]