Derek Cheshire is a specialist creativity and innovation facilitator and consultant. This puts him in front of senior people from many different cultures and climates and therefore gives him an immensely wide palette of experience and skills to work from in helping companies and organisations to innovate. Derek kindly agreed to do an exclusive interview.
Give me the essence of what you do.
I am a promoter of ‘holistic innovation’ i.e., I do not believe that innovation is a methodology or a process. It is a set of attitudes and behaviours that pervades an entire organisation but which has objectives such as capturing, storing and replaying knowledge as well as generating ideas and building upon them. Ultimately it is about making money (or else we would simply be playing) and ensuring that the organisation is greater than the sum of the parts. Think of it as culture + value.
The idea of holistic innovation means that we are looking at ‘soft’ things such as behaviours and environmental or hygiene factors such as comfort, noise, space, furniture etc. This all supports the innovation process by helping knowledge transfer and the generation of ideas. It also has a direct effect on intrinsic motivation. We try and influence these to make innovation and creative processes more effective but the end result is what others might call a change in culture, which is a nice by product of a good innovation programme. However, if we just change things for the sake of it or because we prefer red cushions then we are not adding value at all. We are probably just playing. We do need to show that what we have done benefits the organisation and stakeholders, we must generate measurable value whether it is monetary or there is some social benefit.
Author’s note – this reminds me of the classic song ‘Something in the air’ by Thunderclap Newman – lest we forget what a great song this is:
What ‘business innovation demons’ do you want to purge?
The demon that I would like to bury is the idea of the innovation department. The more entrenched it becomes, the more difficult it seems to be to promote innovative behaviour throughout the rest of the organisation. If I had enough explosives I would also ban trainers who claim to be able to inject creativity into an organisation by virtue of a simple workshop. Also on my hit list are brainstorming and crowdsourcing as buzz words.
Buzzwords are dangerous because they lull people into a false sense of security. People talk about brainstorming or crowdsourcing without experiencing them or understanding how they can use them. They then make sweeping statements like ‘brainstorming does not work’ when they dismiss creative techniques or more dangerously they hear/read success stories about a particular tool and then enrol their staff on courses. Afterwards they wonder why their new initiatives are not working. When buzzword usage becomes common, staff often convince themselves (or at least managers do) that they are actually doing what they are talking about.
What can managers do that is genuinely innovative? Examples?
Unless something really extraordinary comes along then innovation is probably only relative. What is every day for Google would be rocket science for the UK Revenue and Customs agency. What managers should do is watch and listen. Just as an innovative organisation is chameleon like, so they must adapt too. The list is huge but promoting innovative behaviour in others, ensuring that the workplace permits creative behaviour and banning any structures/meetings/reports which are just there for the benefit of those that cannot tolerate ambiguity.
A very good example from a colleague of mine. Dr Paul Thomas worked with the Environmental Services Dept at Blaenau Gwent Borough Council in Wales. As you can imagine they were a tough bunch, resistant to change and the performance indicators were not looking too good. They were deeply suspicious of management and new initiatives. The most significant structure that was removed was management! They were not made redundant, just moved. It is a long story but the results have been amazing with the refuse collection and recycling staff working with supervisory staff. Recycling rates are now among the best in Wales and a couple of years ago when we had severe snow disruption in the UK around Christmas time they did not lose a single day of collections. In Oxfordshire (a very flat region by comparison) there wassevere disruption for around 6 weeks. Staff now manage their own rotas, cover sickness etc. as well as contribute to new initiatives. In addition, the vehicle workshop that maintains council vehicles is now more efficient and actually makes money for the council. This is a good example of what can happen when hierarchies are removed in Local Government.
What do you consider to be the future in creative thinking? What should go into room 101?
There are 2 answers to this: ( 1) what I would like to see (2) what will actually happen. I would like to see more importance attached to intuition (simply decisions based on knowledge that is not tacit) and also the importance of serendipity. I have a natural aversion to planning everything to the nth degree, just get stuck in and learn from your mistakes. What I fear will happen is that the ‘creative movement’ will at last register with the business community in a big way and they will take creativity on board but only in a structured way. People will be sent on brainstorming or facilitation workshops and creativity will be treated like a repeatable process with little thought to the environment or how to deal with ambiguity etc.
I see that is already happening and confess that on occasion I have signed up to the idea of having ‘rules for creativity’ if that is the only way it can be made to work in a particular setting. Is structure totally the enemy of creativity for you?
I believe that rigid structure is the enemy of creativity and imposing such structure is often an attempt by those who cannot live with ambiguity to rationalise things and ‘manage’ it in the same way as they might manage more tangible aspects of their organisation. We do however require some guidelines for setting up an appropriate environment, setting objectives and managing expectations, giving staff the right creative tools for the job. Most importantly whatever system we create must permit learning in an organic fashion. What we cannot have is a scenario where people have to put in change requests to change their creative processes.
The thing that I would most like to see in room 101 is ‘the box’ as in thinking outside of ‘the box’. Just like when someone says forget about the blue elephant you simply cannot shift the vision of the blue elephant, when someone talks about thinking outside of the box (that is not actually there) then peoples’ attention is immediately drawn to the boundaries and limitations that exist.
What part do techniques for creativity and innovation play in your repertoire? What else matters to generate an innovative enterprise?
Creativity and innovation are tightly linked. I have my own model, the ‘Innovation Equation’ that links such factors as need, desire, resistance, creativity (coming up with ideas) and know how (the stuff we already know).
I = α F (C, K)n
It simply states that Innovation is a function of Creativity and Know-how which is multiplied by a constant alpha and raised to a power n where:
‧ Creativity is simply the methods and frameworks that we use to create new ideas and knowledge.
‧ Know-how is the things that we already know e.g. company history, libraries, employees
‧ Alpha is composed of two components, a desire or need to innovate and resistance. This can make the results negative!
‧ The power n is a representation of the maturity level of the frameworks that have been put in place to exploit innovation. This includes culture, leadership & management behaviours. The more we practice, the higher this value can be and hence the more effective our innovation programmes.
Adopting this pseudo equation/model has far reaching consequences, it allows us to home in on the individual components of Innovation and measure them, telling you where money and resources are best targeted for maximum impact.
Innovation output depends heavily on these things. Without creativity and creative techniques we will simply rehash old ideas and without know how we have no context and are replicating a play group rather than a business enterprise. An appropriate mix is good. What is missing though is the framework within which all this exists. Just as a greenhouse, water and nutrients are needed to grow plants so we need some extra magic for our truly innovative businesses. This is the vision and the space to let ideas grow and is well illustrated by Ricardo Semler in his book Maverick
How can people find out more you?
Come talk to me! If that makes people nervous they can follow me on twitter @derekcheshire, get in touch via Facebook or LinkedIn or have a good browse around my website at www.creative4business.co.uk
image credit: tower.com
Peter Cook is Rock’n'Roll Innovation Editor at Innovation Excellence. He leads Human Dynamics and The Academy or Rock, and provides Keynote speaking, Organisation Development and Business Coaching. www.humdyn.co.uk and www.academy-of-rock.co.uk. You can follow him on twitter @Academyofrock