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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Dec 22, 2021

Doing more, faster, better with less is inescapable in modern commerce.  The demands just keep going up and the resources available always seem to be tightening.  We find ourselves in a vicious vice of contradictions without end.  And then we have this global pandemic, to just make it all that much more character building.  Have I depressed you enough?  How do we get out of this mess?  What can we do to improve on the situation? 


Getting innovative ideas is critical for our businesses to survive, but how do we generate creative ideas?  No matter how genius the boss, there are limits to how many worthwhile ideas can be generated by one individual.  Also, the further you climb up the greasy pole within organisations, the further you get away from the coal face of what is really going on.  The most recent, most junior hire may have the best ideas. The organisation’s employee generation which best reflects the profile of the buyer or the buyer’s customers, may have the best insights.  The problem is we rarely ask either group.


My various bosses holding the whiteboard markers and standing there demanding ideas which were filleted upon arrival, is still burnt into my mind as the worst way to generate creative ideas.  There are better ways to get ideas and we have a Nine Step Innovation Process tool to do just that.


Step One: Visualisation

What is our goal or objective? What does success look like?  What is our “Should Be” case?  We have to be clear what we are striving to achieve, because if that target isn’t clear, we have little chance of achieving it.


Step Two: Fact Finding

We need to get the facts.  We look at the “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, “why” and “how” of situations.  We defer judgement about facts and concentrate on collecting them. Sometimes we realise we have faulty or poor data collection systems or worse we discover errors.  We need to work hard to establish the measurement systems needed to generate valuable data and to start looking for creative solutions to problems.


Step Three: Problem Or Opportunity Finding

The way we state a problem influences whether we get useful or creative input.  Our objective is to defer judgment and become crystal clear about what the real problem is. This sounds easy, but ask five people what is the main problem and you may get eight opinions.  We need to do some preliminary investigation to understand what is holding us back or where we are wasting valuable resources.  Sprinting hard and fast in the wrong direction is not helpful.


Step Four: Idea Finding

No judgmental thinking is permitted at this stage.  We are trying to collect as many ideas as possible and are after volume of ideas not quality of ideas at this point.  This is not how things are normally done, so we need to police this stage very carefully.  Often participants in the idea generation process will want to start evaluating ideas as they arrive.  We have to set some very clear rules.  One which is extremely important is to insist all the idea generation is done in silence.  This sounds easy, but I have always been surprised how fast the quick thinkers get bored with the process and want to talk with their colleagues.  We need to shut them down and let the deeper thinkers do their thing.


Step Five: Solution Finding

This is where we use judicial thinking.  We are trying to identify the best ideas.  Up until this point, we may have been able to restrain the bolshie, super confident, assertive few, but now they can easily come into their own and dominate which ideas are taken up.  This can also be tricky, as juniors will defer to seniors and everyone will defer to rank.  We need to make sure that we have a system to choose the best ideas.  In Japan, this process usually means arriving at a consensus.  We have to make sure that isn’t just a easy consensus to reflect seniority and superior status.


Step Six: Acceptance Finding

We will need to convince decision-makers for support for the ideas and that will mean time, money and personnel.  This is where we need to sell our ideas because if we want money or resources for the project, then we will be competing with other options.  Our communication and persuasion skills are critical in this step.


Step Seven: Implementation

This is where we execute on the ideas.  We need to set the plan, considering who does what, by when, how much budget, which resources will we need etc.  Clarity around responsibilities is very important and everyone has to know what they are accountable for and by when.


Step Eight: Follow Up

We don’t want to micro manage the execution of the plan but we also don’t want to neglect to check everything is on track.  You think the project team are zigging but you realise they are zagging instead – best to know that earlier rather than later.


Step Nine: Evaluation

Did we get the results we planned for?  Was all of the effort worth it? What did we learn which we can apply to other projects?  The whole team should be involved in this stage to make sure the learnings are reinforced.


It is surprising how many companies have no common process for generating ideas and creativity.  One process, constantly repeated becomes very efficient and effective.  These nine steps are the structure needed to start to build your own internal system for idea creation.  Make this law and good habits will become solidified and consecrated into the organisation’s DNA.