Maybe I’m A Maze(d)

Maybe I'm A Maze(d)

Maybe I’m A Maze(d)

We’ve just completed the work surrounding the design and delivery of a Sales Conference for a major company in Ireland.  We had a wonderful time designing and delivering the conference and hope to return later in the year for another piece of work.

Our theme at the conference was navigating constraints to sales in a highly constrained business environment.  We have written on the subject of constraints and creativity before. We had been hired to work through an ambitious sales plan for 2014 – 2015 and, after some initial diagnostic work, we came up with the idea of mazes, puzzles and games as a design principle for the event, since the client’s sales environment is itself complex, full of quicker or slower routes to sales and there are some ‘dead ends’, which are like a maze:

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Navigating the sales maze

Design Thinking

In the event, we devised a number of ‘kinaesthetic puzzles’ to get people engaged and prepared for the business challenges.  The main experiences consisted of the design and testing of some puzzles / games / mazes made by participants, intended to teach other teams about particular constraints in a very powerful way and offer a forum for collective creative thinking and learning. I’m pleased to say that our unique brand of ‘serious fun’ was well received:

The feedback from all of our team has been fantastic with many quotes of ‘the best conference ever’ ringing down the phone lines for  the days following

Intelligent fun - using serious games to unlock complex business issues

Intelligent fun – using serious games to unlock complex business issues – This particular design was based on Snakes and Ladders

We also provided a toolkit of creativity strategies to supplement the team’s natural capabilities in this area.  One such skill is the concept of ‘combination’ as a spur to creating products and services that offer sustainable and hard to copy advantages.  This was introduced via a live seminar on the subject using rock music.  Here’s a short extract from the “Riffs and Myths of Creativity” seminar:

Business lessons

  • As Einstein said “You can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it”. Serious problems can sometimes be made worse by applying serious thinking to them.
  • By changing the frame of reference, sometimes you change the ease in which a problem can be tackled. This can be done in a variety of ways.
  • Good design thinking takes the client’s issue / problem / opportunity and then designs an intervention which models the topic, allowing space for new thinking, rather than ‘starting with the intervention and fitting the client’s topic to it. It’s a best-fit rather than a template approach to dealing with complex topics.
  • Even the most reserved people can be encouraged to play if it is serious play rather than just playfulness for it’s own sake. That said, this often works best if assisted by skilled and experienced facilitators.

Finally, here’s the song which inspired the title of this blog and a piece from the Irish legendary blues master Rory Gallagher for no particular reason other than it’s great:

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

Box Set 7

New York, New York

We’re off to New York in a few days time to deliver an innovation summit for a major pharmaceutical company.  I’ve brought together an international team for this event and it’s going to be extremely hard work but a great deal of fun.  Here is the rogue’s gallery, expertly illustrated by Simon Heath, social media’s “Quick Draw McGraw”:

The international team's diverse passions and drives

The international team’s diverse passions and drives

Our work in the build up to the event has involved extracting a number of topics that keep the company’s leaders awake at night, but which are amenable to radical or incremental creative options.  We need to develop a micro climate where creativity can flourish and convert that creativity into sustainable and profitable innovations to succeed.  We’ve produced a pack of cards to assist people in learning from the event AS WELL as reaching the deliverables.  Here’s one of the card deck which summarises our thinking on the principles for innovative thinking:

Human Dynamic's principles for innovative thinking summarised

Human Dynamic’s principles for innovative thinking summarised

Oh, and the client found out about our ‘evening work’ and has asked us to perform “Fiscal Cliff” on one of the evenings after the work is done.  No pressure then!

Obviously the nature of our work there is company confidential so I can say no more on this.  Other than to illustrate the principles of a successful innovation event via the medium of music:

I feel fine – to succeed at such an event requires the tolerance of the unknown.  Much of our preparation will focus on building this ‘corporate muscle’:

Walk on the wild side – We will take a number of excursions into the world of radical and incremental creativity at the event using a set of strategies and a suite of tools taken from our repertoire of over 100 approaches to divergent and convergent thinking.  This was one of the main reasons we won the business, based on a ‘best fit’ approach rather than a ‘plug and play’ approach.  We have built an approach to innovation based on Andy Warhol’s approach to making new things happen at “The Factory” – his ‘innovation hothouse’, which fits in nicely with our location.

Perspire – Creativity may be about inspiration, but innovation is all about perspiration, so our event will emphasise execution and implementation over pure divergence.  Check Prince’s song Black Sweat for some inspiration on perspiration!

Finally, and in synch with the title of this blog, here’s a remix of New York – Empire State of Mind by Alicia Keys.

Empire State of Mind - Click on the image to hear a remix of the Alicia Keys song

Empire State of Mind – Click on the image to hear a remix of the Alicia Keys song

Orchestrating Creativity and Innovation

I’m presently involved in a project to deliver an innovation summit event for a major company in New York to come up with some big scale ideas to take the business forward.  Obviously I am unable to discuss the company specific details of this, but it is useful to reflect on the design process that will effectively ‘orchestrate’ creativity and innovation across 48 hours.  At the same time, I have been a long term admirer of Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies”, recently featured on BBC Radio 4, as they align very much with the suite of creativity strategies and methodologies that I have employed with companies such as Pfizer, Unilever, BT, Electronic Arts, The United Nations et al over 18 years.  Oblique Strategies started life as a series of cards, providing a series of ‘diversions’ to linear thinking, much in the same way that Edward De Bono’s Lateral Thinking operates.  They are in effect ‘structures for cognitive escapology’ or a set of recipes to help you throw away the ‘recipes’.  Contrary to popular thinking on the topic, creativity and discipline are bedfellows, if you want your ideas to reach the market as innovations.

oblique-strategies-iphone

Oblique Strategies – a set of recipes to help you throw away the ‘recipes’

We won the bid against stiff competition from the brand leader in this field, mainly due to a difference in approach that may be summed up as “best fit” versus “best practice”.  The competition has a superb toolkit of techniques which is superbly branded.  In comparison, our approach is somewhat more eclectic, picking the “best fit” approach from a pandora’s box of approaches, gained through studying and teaching at MBA level for 18 years plus 18 years in the pharma industry formulating life saving drugs, which involves navigating difficult physical chemistry constraints.  In essence, creativity has been part of my DNA since I first decided I wanted to be a scientist at around the age of 9.   The ‘burden’ of this experience is that I’m all too aware that formulaic approaches to creativity rarely work.  As a consequence, our approach to the topic is a harder purchase as it does not promise the allure of  “instant solutions”.  Instead it considers the needs of the topic under scrutiny and the people attending before leaping to the approach to be adopted.  Anyway, enough self-preening!  I’m delighted to have won this bid, which will bring together members of our network from Yorkshire, Canada and my associate corporate artist, who will capture insights live at the summit, using cartoons and rich pictures.

Oblique Strategies are effectively a way of ‘orchestrating creativity and innovation’, by systematically diverging and converging a problem.  Eno used the Oblique Strategy cards extensively with David Bowie in his trilogy of experimental albums, Low, Heroes and Lodger.  In a similar way I tend to design creativity and innovation sessions to systematically move the client through the different phases required to formulate an idea, develop it, challenge it with real life constraints and devise a robust execution plan.  This is quite different than turning up with a flip chart, the ‘rules’ for brainstorming and a bucket full of hope – one of the fatally flawed beliefs of the ‘let it all hang out’ creativity pundits imho.

So, what have oblique strategies got to do with corporate creativity?  Here’s some of the statements from the Oblique Strategy cards with parallel lessons for creativity and innovation facilitators:

1. State the problem in words as clearly as possible

The key move when facilitating a summit of this nature is to get a clear definition of the topic under investigation.  Contrary to what most people think, unfocused brainstorming produces unfocused ideas, most of which are unlikely to convert to innovations.  That said, a suitable problem must have sufficient ‘space’ within it to allow for divergent thinking.  It’s what I call ‘specifically vague’.  For more on this check out Human Dynamics and ‘wicked problems’.  Time spent defining and redefining the problem is time well spent and can on occasions lead to answers.  You will also enjoy the post on The Centre for Management Creativity re complexity and creativity.

2. Try faking it!  

Many good creativity strategies have as their subtext the use of fantasy and projection as their modus operandi, for example Superheroes, Synectics, Dialectical approaches.

3. Honour thy error as a hidden intention

Some creativity methodologies have as their subtext, the introduction of random ‘errors’ as a means of distorting frames of thinking.  For example, a range of approaches based on force fitting unrelated stimuli into the problem operate on this basis.  As well as deliberate errors introduced by such approaches, it is important to celebrate accidental errors as new ways of finding an answer to a complex problem.

4. Work at a different speed

Eno’s curious advice has some rigour in terms of the background thinking behind it.  When we change speed, we think differently.  Sometimes slow reflection is more productive than quickfire creativity and pace is one of my key  principles when designing creativity and innovation events.

Oblique Strategies

For me, Eno’s principles have direct analogues in the professional problem solver’s toolkit.  Let’s finish by hearing a couple of the products of the Oblique Strategies toolkit:

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About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk

Design innovation – The Guitar

Christophe with one of his more memorable Vigier guitars

I attended a guitar masterclass with Christophe Godin the other day at Mid Air Music and was struck by the quality of the Vigier Guitars he used in the masterclass.  Since I spend a lot of my time consulting with companies looking to innovate and the world of guitars is confounded by ‘dominant designs’ from the usual suspects, I decided to interview Christophe to find out what is unique and different about Vigier Guitars.  Let’s see some of Christophe’s work before we begin:

Given that the guitar has not managed to ‘escape’ from dominant designs popularised by Fender et al, what innovations have Vigier been able to bring, both in form and function?

In terms of playability, Vigier guitars are lighter due to the fact that there is no truss rod but 10% of graphite in the neck to keep it away from twisting. It’s a HUGE improvement because you never struggle to keep it in the right position. Even after hours of playing it standing, you feel no pain or stress holding it.

The tremolo system is also very innovative as it is attached via needle bearings. Which means no friction and a very smooth action.

I would add the shape of Vigier necks is, to me, close to perfection. The shape, the dimensions and the perfect factory settings make it easy to play as you’d have in hand for centuries even at first touch.

What do these features mean to you as a practising musician?

When I started playing Vigier guitars, the fact I was not struggling with the instrument helped me develop my playing a lot. Plus, all my Vigier are VERY versatile and allow me to play stuff, which would sometimes require playing three different guitars in one song. I can skip from a style to the other effortlessly…

What do you look for in a great guitar?

Versatility, ease of use, big sounds with a light body. Actually, the main thing is to play without any concern in the back of your mind !!! That’s the case when I play one of my Supras…

Editor’s note:  This is a great point, great design should be invisible to the user, so they can get on and use it.

According to George Bush, there is no French word for entrepreneur!  Consequentially, France would not be at the top of my list of guitar manufacturers in the world 🙂  Can you tell me something of the history of Vigier and how they have innovated from a fairly stagnant marketplace for guitars?

🙂 I’d say Patrice Vigier had a very clear vision about what he wanted to achieve from the very first day he started to build up his very first guitar. The search of perfection has always been his gasoline, and he has always been very interested in innovation. When he started to incorporate carbon into his guitars (way before most of the manufacturers who do it now), everyone was calling him crazy because guitars manufacturers are all pretty conservative : Patrice is NOT and he kept on sticking up to his idea. The result just proved him right ….

There do seem to be quite a groundswell of people choosing Vigier guitars.  I know Dave Sturt who plays for Steve Hillage and Bill Nelson.  Also Scott Mc Gill who I interviewed recently.  Who else is playing Vigier instruments?

Ooooh the list goes on forever. Actually, Ron Thal (Guns and Roses), Shawn Lane, Roger Glover, Geezer Butler, etc… You’d better visit vigierguitars.com for an exhaustive list 🙂

Christophe demonstrating at Mid Air Music – there were no protests at his demonstration!

How can we get hold of your music?

www.christophegodin.com is probably the best place to start.

For a masterclass in design innovation in business, featuring guitars through the ages, get in touch with us via peter@humdyn.co.uk.  We are happy to bring a few guitar gods along to our events.

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