Learning from The Apprentice: Creativity and Innovation Counts

Episode two of The recently ended Apprentice was characterised by three skills and behaviour problems which we see a lot. I titled it creativity catfights and commercial suicide Today we’ll concentrate on creativity. Creativity is one of those skills and attributes which organisations need but which they frequently misidentify as being only in the province of so called "creative" people. So, an engineering firm trying to generate new ideas for its product line might in seeking to drive creativity, get someone in to get someone from outside to help spark ideas, which is great but won’t be sustained. It would be much better to have an exercise with the core team. Otherwise innovation is simply subcontracted Similarly people think it must be easy to be creative because it’s just think up ideas right. Well no it isn’t it requires structure, some process and some rules.

Rule number one is don’t ever allow anyone to say what Laura did. "Let’s not brainstorm we have no time". Result a rubbish rushed invention which most people hated. I’ll forgive Laura her gaucheness and of course the fact that she felt they did not have a lot of time. But time spent on creativity or ideas and innovation if you don’t like the C word, is time well spent. (See Jurgen Wolff below for a great little book). Brains like to make connections and work with other brains, they are pretty amazing devices, but if you stop then connecting they are as dull and lifeless as a bucket of old hair. How can you do that?

Be Curious

As questions; Not "what’s the average market turnover for these products and do we know the average marketing ratio to sales turnover index" . That just sounds like Paloma trying to impress. You will end up on the web trying to find out and bingo your time will be up.

Why not ask things like?

Why do people want something for the beach? (boredom, obsession with buying stuff for no reason, British fondness for tacky and cheesy gizmos’s?).

Who wants something for the beach? (oldies, surfers, sailors beachcombers, children, tan fakers?).

How many things are they likely to want etc? (how many "holiday days" are there, how many hours of sunshine for you sun block chair etc.

Where will we flog the stuff? Which shops and outlets etc. Will we wait till people come to the speech and sell hawker style for example?

PS; At this stage Getting creative with numbers is great fun so we might know Bournemouth has XX number of sunshine hours and Y population so how many of them are in the "must burn in the sun category", That sort of thing. Never mind accuracy round up to the nearest million like a bankers bonus or down to the nearest 10 if you are counting toffee apple sales. It really does help.

Don’t just Brainstorm: Trendstorm

Even if you are not cutting edge and don’t read Monocle magazine like me you can call trends and social changes which will define products. For example anyone identifying the trend towards Ipads and Kindles would have thrown out the Bookeze quicker than Fernando Torres threw out his Liverpool shirt when Chelsea came calling thought twitter wouldn’t catch on and that Paris Hilton is the one near the Champs Elysee, you would do well to know what’s going down etc. And of course what’s going up. So if you think there is a trend for fake lip balm or a small annoying dog blankets, you’ll have been aware of the trends and it can help you link products. Stuff like demographics is great for this.

Give me something to work with!

These sorts of questions and trends things will get you further than someone seeking to invent a product on a flipchart, or worse still in a rambling team session. That kind of thing puts me in mind of the brilliant Woody Allen film Sleeper when he pretends to be a brilliant surgeon to avoid being killed. Unfortunately he promises to bring back their dead emperor by attempting under the glare of a packed lecture theatre, to re-construct the leaders body form his nose. Sometimes if you have nothing to work with!!!

Mindmap a Brainstorm

It works. Just get a flip and stick a bubble or oval in the middle and start drawing some branches. This is the purest form of brainstorming and if you can draw a brain do that. Remember rules of brainstorming

Qauntity counts

No Judging

Write everything down

See this great book below for more ideas.



Here’s another one which I dreamt up you could use with the weirder sounding ideas.

Leverage the random

If someone says in creative frustration at a session designed to help garden birds.".Ohh I don’t know Sparrow washing machine". It sounds crazy. Well, write it down it could lead to the never yet imagined sparrow Jacuzzi OR get people to think small scale for something that would work (maybe that’s how mini shredders and cheddars came about). It could even save the bird population when the next oil spill happens by getting someone with technical knowledge to work on say an oily bird cleaning machine.

Getting Deeper

I have only scratched the surface here are a few websites to look at along with a link showing the importance of culture (not R&D spend, or stellar talent).

A landmark report from The Judge Institute at Cambridge University, published in the Journal of Marketing, has finally proved something of unprecedented importance to all innovation professionals. Innovation success is not driven by innovation process, star hires, R&D spend, budget or even the country in which the company is based. In the study of 800 firms across 17 countries, company culture was the single greatest determinant of profitable innovation. Yet developing a culture of innovation, especially of radical innovation, is extremely challenging - perhaps nothing could be more challenging for an organisation, particularly those entrenched in conventional, risk-averse and hierarchical management practices. What is more, the usual costs associated with such a wholesale change management process are prohibitively high in this economy and risk alienating staff. But there is another way... Read


TED is a great source of brilliant talks and insights around everything from solving technology problems to world hunger and bad manners.


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