Faster horses?

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of not only attending the CIH conference in Manchester, but also speaking at one of the seminar sessions alongside Boris Worrall. The focus of the seminar was Transformational Change and Innovation Culture and in case you missed it, here’s a summary of what I said.

I started with my top tips for transformation and innovation, based on my experiences of being on the receiving end of transformation and also being right in the middle of innovation work

  1. Many organisations claim to put customers at the heart of everything they do, but I don’t see this reflected in many KPIs. If customers were truly at the heart, surely we’d be measuring if our customers have enough money to live on rather than arrears, we’d be measuring how long customers have to wait for a new home rather than re-let time and we’d be measuring if customers know their neighbours rather than ASB, you get the idea. (For more on this, see my previous post)
  2. How many of us can say hand on heart we make decisions based on evidence rather then gut feeling? Let’s be objective and consider the facts, not the anecdotal stories we hear when making a cup of tea.
  3. Digital is seen as the silver bullet to our need to do more with less, but digital isn’t really a solution at all, it’s just a method of delivery. Buying another piece of software isn’t going to transform your organisation, it’s people that do that, just look at Bromford’s neighbourhood coaches
  4. Before you transform something, please take lots of time to make sure you are fixing the right problem, it’s no good decreasing your re-let time if the problem is the demand for the property rather than how long the voids process is. To misquote Henry Ford, you’re trying to make a faster horse.
  5. Attempts at transformation will be short lived if there is an expectation that the finished product will be delivered first time. Expect to get it wrong and for solutions to develop over time through testing and experimentation, make sure everyone knows it’s ok to get it wrong and to not always know the answer and that giving it a go is sometimes the best and only way to move forward
  6. Encourage disruption, welcome those who challenge why we are still doing things the same way, sack anyone who says new things can’t be done!

Next, I shared some examples of how to think outside the box, i.e. to be creative. Creativity is crucial to innovation as innovation can be defined as the execution of creative ideas.

I have previously been involved in something called Creativity Club. This was a group of staff that had gone through some creative problem solving training provided by the Ideas Centre. The group then offered their creative problem solving skills to others in the organisations, who would approach the group with any problem they were facing and we would apply one of our techniques to it.

The first step is to agree what the problem is through a process of brainstorming each word in the defined problem and agreed a redefined problem. This helps with point 4 above to make sure you are fixing the right problem. The brainstorming process is more like a game of word association and anything goes, be as crazy as you like! Sometimes the brainstorm is all that needs to be done as the problem owner sees the problem from a different perspective and can then see the solution.

The next step is to use a creative technique to brainstorm some wacky ideas. Finally, the creative ideas are brought back down to earth and hopefully the beginnings of a solution are identified.

The techniques:

  1. Reverse brainstorming – how would you make the problem even worse? Once you’ve come up with an apocalyptic solution, reverse the ideas. If you did this for the repairs process, you might suggest: never do any repairs, don’t tell anyone you are going, take the wrong parts, make it worse, turn up whenever suits, wait for at least 3 repairs, etc. The opposite of these ideas then become your suggested solution.
  2. Use an object – take the properties of any object, such as a pair of glasses and apply them to your problem, e.g. A pair of glasses, provide vision, focus, come in different shapes, sizes, colours, bespoke to the individuals, cheap and expensive options We’ve also used the properties of a fan (needs power, different settings, sharp edges, protective cage) and crisp packet (well known brand, colourful, traffic light information, fresh) to do this.
  3. Use lego or draw your solutions – we did this with some primary school children as we are at our most creative at about the age of 5 as we are not constrained by adult ways of thinking. We asked the children to draw a house of the future for our development team and they came up with flying houses so you didn’t have to book a holiday cottage, a free pet with every home, school lessons via your TV so you don’t need to go to school and my personal favourite houses with no toilets as you don’t need them anymore!
  4. Finally, superheros – use the powers of a superhero or a villain to solve your problem, I was once asked to do this using E Man, who I’ve never heard of, one of his characteristics was that he lives in a toaster, so my solution was free toast for everyone!

We had a really interesting discussion following the presentations on what has and hasn’t worked well for people in creating a transformation and innovation culture, and what’s stopping them from doing more. What’s stopping you from innovating?