Idea Stormers

I have recently come into contact with Bryan Mattimore, a fellow creativity and innovation author based in the US.  Bryan has just released a new book called Idea Stormers, How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs (wiley.com). I interviewed Bryan on some important questions facing business leaders.

Tell me about your work in corporate creativity and innovation?

My company, Growth Engine, works primarily on new product development assignments for package-goods companies; but we have worked in a wide variety of other industries and assignments as well. For instance, we recently helped a large U.S. bank generate and launch several services they feel have the potential to “re-invent banking.” We also helped Good Morning America create new programming ideas; and have just taken on a project for a Fortune 100 company to create and market new health care products in developing countries around the world.

Our two points of difference in our innovation work are that: 1) we use customized/state-of-the art ideation techniques – many of which we have invented ourselves –  to address specific creative challenges, and 2)  we use consumers and customers at every stage of the new product development process to help generate, develop and validate new ideas.

You mention disruptive innovation in the book.  Everyone is talking about that.  Give me some examples of how to be disruptive without being dysfunctional?

When Clayton Christensen coined the term “disruptive innovation” he was thinking, of course, about how companies can disrupt – or be disrupted by – new innovations in their industry. Many companies say they want to disrupt an industry or category – and create something entirely new because it’s sexy and the profit margins, at least initially, are so good. But when push comes to shove, most companies don’t really want to create disruptive innovations. Why? Because creating something disruptive to a category, can also disrupt their own organization. It’s hard work, fraught with difficult challenges and dead ends, and expensive. It often involves having to create new brands, new manufacturing processes, hiring differently-skilled workers, and/or pioneering new distribution systems. Ironically, the easiest part of creating a disruptive idea may be coming up with the idea itself.

Contrast this with creating a “less-than-disruptive” innovation… which will be easier to make and market, but which may be very difficult to conceive of the original, “Big Idea.”  Case in point was when Kraft asked us to help them invent a new OREO; and not just a flavor or seasonal variety… a truly new/original OREO idea. This is not an easy. For one, the OREO cookie has been around for 100 years, and so it’s hard to find a truly original idea. There are also some very important brand equities that act as “creative constraints.” Is an OREO an OREO if it doesn’t have some sort of cream filling? Probably not! So, it should be acknowledged that it often takes a great deal of imagination and creativity to generate a truly original idea, even if it’s “only” for a non-disruptive one!

What is your take on the relationship between techniques for ideation and just facilitating new conversations?

Ideating breakthrough new ideas, when done right, is a strategically-directed activity with well-defined parameters and success criteria. We call it “focused ideation.” If you think this is oxymoronic, you are of course, correct. I spend a great deal of time trying to resolve an essential paradox: inventing focused ideation techniques that will help inspire new ideas that are at once strategically aligned AND non-obvious.

What can and should leaders do to create the conditions for an innovative enterprise?

We created a phrase to capture how we think about this: “You don’t innovate by changing the culture you change the culture by innovating.” What this means is that, paradoxical as it might sound, if a leader really wants to create a creative culture, the last thing that leader should focus on is “creating that culture.” Rather, he or she should identify a few divisions, groups, and/or teams; devote the resources (talent, funding) and political protection/support to help them innovate; and get them to work innovating. An innovative enterprise (and a creative culture) should be thought of as an an effect, not a cause of well… actually being innovative.

I like the idea that you can create internal culture change by using the innovation imperative – much better than endless hand wring, HR surveys and focus groups by the way.   There are times when its necessary to focus internally, but an external need is often a much better ‘burning platform’.

What one thing in your experience should companies STOP doing in order to be more innovative?

Stop talking and start doing. Forget the slogans. Forget the mentions by the CEO in the annual report how important innovation will be to the company’s future. Forget “creativity rooms.” And forget suggestion boxes. (Sorry, that’s more than one!)

I’m OK with that.  My pet hate is creativity rooms, as if it can and should all be contained in there.

How can people find out more about what you can do for them?

Reading my new book: Idea Stormers, How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs (Wiley Jossey-Bass) will tell them a lot. They’ll see, from the range of creative challenges I include in the book, the creative techniques and innovation processes used to address these challenges, and the successes that resulted, how wide our creative/problem-solving range can be.

If someone has a specific question or creative challenge, they can e-mail me at: bmattimore@growth-engine.com, or call me in the US: 203-857-4494.

image credit: humdyn.co.uk

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Peter Cook is Rock’n'Roll Innovation Editor at Innovation Excellence. He leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock, and provides Keynote speaking, Organisation Development and Business Coaching. You can follow him on twitter @Academyofrock and contact him for a copy of his book Punk Rock Business.

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