” Are Values of any Value?”

Our third provocative article from Ian Taylor who was our  spotlight for March.

In this article Ian once again challenges the status quo, and I for one can’t help agreeing with him! Please blog your comments to start discussions

Are Values of any Value ?

You often see them on the walls of offices. Motivational posters with words like “openness”, “ integrity”, and  “innovation” . Teamwork reads one “Whether we play a large or small role, by working together we achieve our objectives.”  They aim to  capture the essence of the organization, the way we do things around here,  what’s important and valued .

The trend was started in the 80’s with books like in Search of Excellence by Tom Peters . What was important suggested these researchers, the differentiator between the excellent and the mediocre, was the culture of the organisation and central to culture is the idea of values captured in along with heroes legends slogans stories and symbols .

Since then earnest HR professionals in search of the holy grail of the next big idea have enthusiastically embraced this idea ; getting the right values will set us on the road to inevitable success. The culture drives the performance .

In some organizations managers are now asked to assess staff against the core values rather than skills or competencies and  recruiters are enjoined to get hard evidence that applicants can “live our core values” . HR professionals struggle to explain to over worked managers what the values actually mean in everyday,  on the ground, terms  and how they might actually make their lives easier rather than more pressured. Unfortunately the values movement has some major flaws;

They all look the same so fail to become a differentiator . No one would dispute that organizations have values.  Ask  the average person in the average company, if such a thing exists, about what gets rewarded or encouraged where she or he works  and you’re more likely to  hear  “politics”, “back stabbing”, “self promotion” “aggression”  a lot more than the fluffy, politically correct, phrases on the posters and screen savers.  The idea that values can be transplanted into an organization in the same way as a logo or uniform can be changed is fairly ludicrous. Values are developed from early childhood through a variety of role models and other influences. Look at  how people or indeed organizations behave particularly in conflict  and you’ll soon get an idea of their values

Some values are very badly written and are more the product of the marketing and branding people than a reflection of what really goes on in many organizations. Are “attention to detail” or “customer focus” really be values or are they more accurately skills or abilities?

The culture research was fundamentally flawed in the first place. It was susceptible to the Halo Effect. Put simply  if the organization is profitable and successful we infer a positive open innovative culture. If it fails the same culture becomes described as static and slow. In other word the success or otherwise determines how the culture is described . It’s what psychologists call direction of causality . The fact that two concepts occur together doesn’t follow that one caused the other

So what’s the message here? Where’s the harm in trying to encourage honesty and openness ? Well at its worst it really treats  employees as gullible and naive, that they’ll buy any idea presented to them . People aren’t that dumb. Resistance comes in the form of cynicism and frustration with yet another HR initiative. Perhaps that’s why demotivational posters such as those at despair.com are more appreciated.  “Flattery; If you want to get to the top be prepared to kiss a lot of the bottom.”

Ian Taylor is a chartered occupational psychologist with 18 years experience of working in the UAE. He can be contacted on 00971(0) 505520837 or ian_taylor35@yahoo.com

or respond directly below this post to continue the discussion

” Are Values of any Value?”

Our third provocative article from Ian Taylor who was our  spotlight for March.

In this article Ian once again challenges the status quo, and I for one can’t help agreeing with him! Please blog your comments to start discussions

Are Values of any Value ?

You often see them on the walls of offices. Motivational posters with words like “openness”, “ integrity”, and  “innovation” . Teamwork reads one “Whether we play a large or small role, by working together we achieve our objectives.”  They aim to  capture the essence of the organization, the way we do things around here,  what’s important and valued .

The trend was started in the 80’s with books like in Search of Excellence by Tom Peters . What was important suggested these researchers, the differentiator between the excellent and the mediocre, was the culture of the organisation and central to culture is the idea of values captured in along with heroes legends slogans stories and symbols .

Since then earnest HR professionals in search of the holy grail of the next big idea have enthusiastically embraced this idea ; getting the right values will set us on the road to inevitable success. The culture drives the performance .

In some organizations managers are now asked to assess staff against the core values rather than skills or competencies and  recruiters are enjoined to get hard evidence that applicants can “live our core values” . HR professionals struggle to explain to over worked managers what the values actually mean in everyday,  on the ground, terms  and how they might actually make their lives easier rather than more pressured. Unfortunately the values movement has some major flaws;

They all look the same so fail to become a differentiator . No one would dispute that organizations have values.  Ask  the average person in the average company, if such a thing exists, about what gets rewarded or encouraged where she or he works  and you’re more likely to  hear  “politics”, “back stabbing”, “self promotion” “aggression”  a lot more than the fluffy, politically correct, phrases on the posters and screen savers.  The idea that values can be transplanted into an organization in the same way as a logo or uniform can be changed is fairly ludicrous. Values are developed from early childhood through a variety of role models and other influences. Look at  how people or indeed organizations behave particularly in conflict  and you’ll soon get an idea of their values

Some values are very badly written and are more the product of the marketing and branding people than a reflection of what really goes on in many organizations. Are “attention to detail” or “customer focus” really be values or are they more accurately skills or abilities?

The culture research was fundamentally flawed in the first place. It was susceptible to the Halo Effect. Put simply  if the organization is profitable and successful we infer a positive open innovative culture. If it fails the same culture becomes described as static and slow. In other word the success or otherwise determines how the culture is described . It’s what psychologists call direction of causality . The fact that two concepts occur together doesn’t follow that one caused the other

So what’s the message here? Where’s the harm in trying to encourage honesty and openness ? Well at its worst it really treats  employees as gullible and naive, that they’ll buy any idea presented to them . People aren’t that dumb. Resistance comes in the form of cynicism and frustration with yet another HR initiative. Perhaps that’s why demotivational posters such as those at despair.com are more appreciated.  “Flattery; If you want to get to the top be prepared to kiss a lot of the bottom.”

Ian Taylor is a chartered occupational psychologist with 18 years experience of working in the UAE. He can be contacted on 00971(0) 505520837 or ian_taylor35@yahoo.com

or respond directly below this post to continue the discussion

Customer Service affects the Profitability of the Business

 

One Question Can Predict the Future of Your Company
Are your customers likely to recommend your business to their friends? The answer can make or break your business.
By John Warrillow | @JohnWarrillow | Jun 24, 2011

Most start-ups know whether their customers are satisfied. But once you build your business to the point of having more than a handful of customers and just a couple of customer-facing employees, how do you monitor your customer satisfaction levels?

Many business owners solve the problem by launching some sort of customer satisfaction survey, but the problem with typical surveys is that, according to Fred Reichheld, author of The Ultimate Question, most customer satisfaction surveys do a poor job of predicting the likelihood of a customer either repurchasing from you or referring your company to a friend.

Determined to find a better way to quantify how well a company is serving its customers, Reichheld developed the Net Promoter Score methodology, which is based around asking customers a single question that is predictive of both repurchase and referral: “On a scale of zero to 10, how likely are you to refer to a friend or colleague?”

Reichheld discovered that when customers answered this question with a nine or 10, they were statistically more likely to repurchase from the company and/or refer it—so much so that Reichheld found that the companies that score well on this measure were more likely to grow than were lower-scoring companies.

Not surprisingly, the news that a researcher had actually discovered a way to predict growth triggered Fortune 500 companies around the globe to latch on to the methodology. Today, companies such as Intuit and Southwest Airlines use the Net Promoter Score methodology as a way to quantify their customer experience.

How does your company measure up?

To see how your company measures up, survey a group of your customers by asking the question above. Those who rate you a nine or a 10 are your “Promoters” in Reichheld’s lingo. Your “Passives” are the customers who give you a seven or eight—they are satisfied but not likely to repurchase from you or refer your company anytime soon. Your “Detractors” are the angry customers who score you between zero and six.

To calculate your Net Promoter Score, take the percentage of your customers who are “Promoters” and subtract the percentage of Detractors. For example, if 45 percent of your customers are Promoters, 20 percent are Passives and 35 percent are Detractors, then your Net Promoter Score would be 10 percent (45-35=10).

Reichheld found the average Net Promoter Score among the companies he surveyed was 10 to 15 percent, so by definition, if your score is north of 15 percent, you’re above average, and you can expect your company to grow at a rate faster than the economy. A small handful of companies have achieved a Net Promoter Score of at least 50 percent, which Reichheld defines as “World Class.” Not surprisingly, companies with a World Class Net Promoter Score are the growth stories of the economy: Apple, Google and Harley-Davidson.

As popular as the Net Promoter Score methodology is among the Fortune 500, I think it is even better suited for use among smaller companies for a number of reasons:

1. It’s easy. You can deploy the questionnaire in five minutes using a survey tool like Survey Monkey and enjoy a very high response rate because answering it is not a burden on respondents.

2. It gives you a common language with investors. If you’re planning to sell all or part of your company in the future, tracking your customer satisfaction using a well-established, recognized tool allows potential acquirers and investors to quickly gauge how satisfied your customers are relative to those of other companies they have invested in. Many private equity firms and venture capitalists will insist on performing a Net Promoter Score survey with your customers before they invest in your business.

3. It’s cheap. The survey can be deployed and the data analyzed easily in house.

4. It’s predictive. Unlike most surveys, which ask respondents a litany of time-consuming questions that render interesting but often irrelevant data, the Net Promoter Score methodology asks the only question that has been proven to predict the likelihood a customer will repurchase or refer you—the two things that fuel growth of any business.

If you’re starting to lose the pulse of how satisfied your customers are, consider asking the one question you really need the answer to.
John Warrillow is the author of Built To Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You, which was released by Portfolio/Penguin on April 28, 2011

The Loyalty Effect laid out economics of loyalty, while Loyalty Rules! uncovered the importance of employee loyalty to win customer loyalty. Now, loyalty expert Fred Reichheld’s most recent book, The Ultimate Question, offers the missing link of the metrics that hold employees accountable to generate loyal customers.
The key: elevating customer metrics to the same level of rigor and importance as financial metrics like revenue growth or return on equity. The best way to accomplish that? Using one simple question – How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?
This single question allows companies to track promoters and detractors, producing a clear measure of an organization’s performance through its customers’ eyes-its Net Promoter® Score. Bain & Company analysis shows that sustained value creators-companies that achieve long-term profitable growth-have Net Promoter Scores two times higher than the average company. And NPSSM leaders outgrow their competitors in most industries-by an average of 2.5 times.

One Question Can Predict the Future of Your Company
Are your customers likely to recommend your business to their friends? The answer can make or break your business.
By John Warrillow | @JohnWarrillow | Jun 24, 2011

Most start-ups know whether their customers are satisfied. But once you build your business to the point of having more than a handful of customers and just a couple of customer-facing employees, how do you monitor your customer satisfaction levels?

Many business owners solve the problem by launching some sort of customer satisfaction survey, but the problem with typical surveys is that, according to Fred Reichheld, author of The Ultimate Question, most customer satisfaction surveys do a poor job of predicting the likelihood of a customer either repurchasing from you or referring your company to a friend.

Determined to find a better way to quantify how well a company is serving its customers, Reichheld developed the Net Promoter Score methodology, which is based around asking customers a single question that is predictive of both repurchase and referral: “On a scale of zero to 10, how likely are you to refer to a friend or colleague?”

Reichheld discovered that when customers answered this question with a nine or 10, they were statistically more likely to repurchase from the company and/or refer it—so much so that Reichheld found that the companies that score well on this measure were more likely to grow than were lower-scoring companies.

Not surprisingly, the news that a researcher had actually discovered a way to predict growth triggered Fortune 500 companies around the globe to latch on to the methodology. Today, companies such as Intuit and Southwest Airlines use the Net Promoter Score methodology as a way to quantify their customer experience.

How does your company measure up?

To see how your company measures up, survey a group of your customers by asking the question above. Those who rate you a nine or a 10 are your “Promoters” in Reichheld’s lingo. Your “Passives” are the customers who give you a seven or eight—they are satisfied but not likely to repurchase from you or refer your company anytime soon. Your “Detractors” are the angry customers who score you between zero and six.

To calculate your Net Promoter Score, take the percentage of your customers who are “Promoters” and subtract the percentage of Detractors. For example, if 45 percent of your customers are Promoters, 20 percent are Passives and 35 percent are Detractors, then your Net Promoter Score would be 10 percent (45-35=10).

Reichheld found the average Net Promoter Score among the companies he surveyed was 10 to 15 percent, so by definition, if your score is north of 15 percent, you’re above average, and you can expect your company to grow at a rate faster than the economy. A small handful of companies have achieved a Net Promoter Score of at least 50 percent, which Reichheld defines as “World Class.” Not surprisingly, companies with a World Class Net Promoter Score are the growth stories of the economy: Apple, Google and Harley-Davidson.

As popular as the Net Promoter Score methodology is among the Fortune 500, I think it is even better suited for use among smaller companies for a number of reasons:

1. It’s easy. You can deploy the questionnaire in five minutes using a survey tool like Survey Monkey and enjoy a very high response rate because answering it is not a burden on respondents.

2. It gives you a common language with investors. If you’re planning to sell all or part of your company in the future, tracking your customer satisfaction using a well-established, recognized tool allows potential acquirers and investors to quickly gauge how satisfied your customers are relative to those of other companies they have invested in. Many private equity firms and venture capitalists will insist on performing a Net Promoter Score survey with your customers before they invest in your business.

3. It’s cheap. The survey can be deployed and the data analyzed easily in house.

4. It’s predictive. Unlike most surveys, which ask respondents a litany of time-consuming questions that render interesting but often irrelevant data, the Net Promoter Score methodology asks the only question that has been proven to predict the likelihood a customer will repurchase or refer you—the two things that fuel growth of any business.

If you’re starting to lose the pulse of how satisfied your customers are, consider asking the one question you really need the answer to.
John Warrillow is the author of Built To Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You, which was released by Portfolio/Penguin on April 28, 2011

The Loyalty Effect laid out economics of loyalty, while Loyalty Rules! uncovered the importance of employee loyalty to win customer loyalty. Now, loyalty expert Fred Reichheld’s most recent book, The Ultimate Question, offers the missing link of the metrics that hold employees accountable to generate loyal customers.
The key: elevating customer metrics to the same level of rigor and importance as financial metrics like revenue growth or return on equity. The best way to accomplish that? Using one simple question – How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?
This single question allows companies to track promoters and detractors, producing a clear measure of an organization’s performance through its customers’ eyes-its Net Promoter® Score. Bain & Company analysis shows that sustained value creators-companies that achieve long-term profitable growth-have Net Promoter Scores two times higher than the average company. And NPSSM leaders outgrow their competitors in most industries-by an average of 2.5 times.

One Question Can Predict the Future of Your Company
Are your customers likely to recommend your business to their friends? The answer can make or break your business.
By John Warrillow | @JohnWarrillow | Jun 24, 2011

Most start-ups know whether their customers are satisfied. But once you build your business to the point of having more than a handful of customers and just a couple of customer-facing employees, how do you monitor your customer satisfaction levels?

Many business owners solve the problem by launching some sort of customer satisfaction survey, but the problem with typical surveys is that, according to Fred Reichheld, author of The Ultimate Question, most customer satisfaction surveys do a poor job of predicting the likelihood of a customer either repurchasing from you or referring your company to a friend.

Determined to find a better way to quantify how well a company is serving its customers, Reichheld developed the Net Promoter Score methodology, which is based around asking customers a single question that is predictive of both repurchase and referral: “On a scale of zero to 10, how likely are you to refer to a friend or colleague?”

Reichheld discovered that when customers answered this question with a nine or 10, they were statistically more likely to repurchase from the company and/or refer it—so much so that Reichheld found that the companies that score well on this measure were more likely to grow than were lower-scoring companies.

Not surprisingly, the news that a researcher had actually discovered a way to predict growth triggered Fortune 500 companies around the globe to latch on to the methodology. Today, companies such as Intuit and Southwest Airlines use the Net Promoter Score methodology as a way to quantify their customer experience.

How does your company measure up?

To see how your company measures up, survey a group of your customers by asking the question above. Those who rate you a nine or a 10 are your “Promoters” in Reichheld’s lingo. Your “Passives” are the customers who give you a seven or eight—they are satisfied but not likely to repurchase from you or refer your company anytime soon. Your “Detractors” are the angry customers who score you between zero and six.

To calculate your Net Promoter Score, take the percentage of your customers who are “Promoters” and subtract the percentage of Detractors. For example, if 45 percent of your customers are Promoters, 20 percent are Passives and 35 percent are Detractors, then your Net Promoter Score would be 10 percent (45-35=10).

Reichheld found the average Net Promoter Score among the companies he surveyed was 10 to 15 percent, so by definition, if your score is north of 15 percent, you’re above average, and you can expect your company to grow at a rate faster than the economy. A small handful of companies have achieved a Net Promoter Score of at least 50 percent, which Reichheld defines as “World Class.” Not surprisingly, companies with a World Class Net Promoter Score are the growth stories of the economy: Apple, Google and Harley-Davidson.

As popular as the Net Promoter Score methodology is among the Fortune 500, I think it is even better suited for use among smaller companies for a number of reasons:

1. It’s easy. You can deploy the questionnaire in five minutes using a survey tool like Survey Monkey and enjoy a very high response rate because answering it is not a burden on respondents.

2. It gives you a common language with investors. If you’re planning to sell all or part of your company in the future, tracking your customer satisfaction using a well-established, recognized tool allows potential acquirers and investors to quickly gauge how satisfied your customers are relative to those of other companies they have invested in. Many private equity firms and venture capitalists will insist on performing a Net Promoter Score survey with your customers before they invest in your business.

3. It’s cheap. The survey can be deployed and the data analyzed easily in house.

4. It’s predictive. Unlike most surveys, which ask respondents a litany of time-consuming questions that render interesting but often irrelevant data, the Net Promoter Score methodology asks the only question that has been proven to predict the likelihood a customer will repurchase or refer you—the two things that fuel growth of any business.

If you’re starting to lose the pulse of how satisfied your customers are, consider asking the one question you really need the answer to.
John Warrillow is the author of Built To Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You, which was released by Portfolio/Penguin on April 28, 2011

Sparking Creativity in your Teams – send this to your Senior Managers. I did!

 

Sparking creativity in teams: An executive’s guide

Senior managers can apply practical insights from neuroscience to make themselves—and their teams—more creative.

APRIL 2011 • Marla M. Capozzi, Renée Dye, and Amy Howe

Source: Strategy Practice

In This Article

Although creativity is often considered a trait of the privileged few, any individual or team can become more creative—better able to generate the breakthroughs that stimulate growth and performance. In fact, our experience with hundreds of corporate teams, ranging from experienced C-level executives to entry-level customer service reps, suggests that companies can use relatively simple techniques to boost the creative output of employees at any level.

The key is to focus on perception, which leading neuroscientists, such as Emory University’s Gregory Berns, find is intrinsically linked to creativity in the human brain. To perceive things differently, Berns maintains, we must bombard our brains with things it has never encountered. This kind of novelty is vital because the brain has evolved for efficiency and routinely takes perceptual shortcuts to save energy; perceiving information in the usual way requires little of it. Only by forcing our brains to recategorize information and move beyond our habitual thinking patterns can we begin to imagine truly novel alternatives.1

In this article, we’ll explore four practical ways for executives to apply this thinking to shake up ingrained perceptions and enhance creativity—both personally and with their direct reports and broader work teams. While we don’t claim to have invented the individual techniques, we have seen their collective power to help companies generate new ways of tackling perennial problems—a useful capability for any business on the prowl for potential game-changing growth opportunities.

Immerse yourself

Would-be innovators need to break free of preexisting views. Unfortunately, the human mind is surprisingly adroit at supporting its deep-seated ways of viewing the world while sifting out evidence to the contrary. Indeed, academic research suggests that even when presented with overwhelming facts, many people (including well-educated ones) simply won’t abandon their deeply held opinions.2

The antidote is personal experience: seeing and experiencing something firsthand can shake people up in ways that abstract discussions around conference room tables can’t. It’s therefore extremely valuable to start creativity-building exercises or idea generation efforts outside the office, by engineering personal experiences that directly confront the participants’ implicit or explicit assumptions.

Consider the experience of a North American specialty retailer that sought to reinvent its store format while improving the experience of its customers. To jump-start creativity in its people, the company sent out several groups of three to four employees to experience retail concepts very different from its own. Some went to Sephora, a beauty product retailer that features more than 200 brands and a sales model that encourages associates to offer honest product advice, without a particular allegiance to any of them. Others went to the Blues Jean Bar, an intimate boutique retailer that aspires to turn the impersonal experience of digging through piles of jeans into a cozy occasion reminiscent of a night at a neighborhood pub. Still others visited a gourmet chocolate shop.

These experiences were transformative for the employees, who watched, shopped, chatted with sales associates, took pictures, and later shared observations with teammates in a more formal idea generation session. By visiting the other retailers and seeing firsthand how they operated, the retailer’s employees were able to relax their strongly held views about their own company’s operations. This transformation, in turn, led them to identify new retail concepts they hadn’t thought of before, including organizing a key product by color (instead of by manufacturer) and changing the design of stores to center the shopping experience around advice from expert stylists.

Likewise, a team of senior executives from a global retail bank visited branches of two competitors and a local Apple retail store to kick off an innovation effort. After recording first impressions and paying particular attention to how consumers were behaving, the bankers soon found themselves challenging long-held views about their own business. “As a consumer, I saw bank branches, including our own, differently,” said one of the executives. “Many of us in the industry are trying to put lipstick on a pig—making old banking look new and innovative with decorations but not really changing what’s underneath it all, the things that matter most to consumers.”

We’ve seen that by orchestrating personal encounters such as these, companies predispose their employees to greater creativity. For executives who want to start bolstering their own creative-thinking abilities—or those of a group—we suggest activities such as:

  • Go through the process of purchasing your own product or service—as a real consumer would—and record the experience. Include photos if you can.
  • Visit the stores or operations of other companies (including competitors) as a customer would and compare them with the same experiences at your own company.
  • Conduct online research and gather information about one of your products or services (or those of a competitor) as any ordinary customer would. Try reaching out to your company with a specific product- or service-related question.
  • Observe and talk to real consumers in the places where they purchase and use your products to see what offerings accompany yours, what alternatives consumers consider, and how long they take to decide.

 

Overcome orthodoxies

Exploring deep-rooted company (or even industry) orthodoxies is another way to jolt your brain out of the familiar in an idea generation session, a team meeting, or simply a contemplative moment alone at your desk. All organizations have conventional wisdom about “the way we do things,” unchallenged assumptions about what customers want, or supposedly essential elements of strategy that are rarely if ever questioned.

By identifying and then systematically challenging such core beliefs, companies can not only improve their ability to embrace new ideas but also get a jump on the competition. (For more, see sidebar, “Challenging orthodoxies: Don’t forget technology.”) The rewards for success are big: Best Buy’s $3 million acquisition of Geek Squad in 2002, for example, went against the conventional wisdom that consumers wouldn’t pay extra to have products installed in their homes. Today, Geek Squad generates more than $1 billion in annual revenues.

A global credit card retailer looking for new-product ideas during the 2008 economic downturn turned to an orthodoxy-breaking exercise to stir up its thinking. Company leaders knew that consumer attitudes and behavior had changed—“credit” was now a dirty word—and that they needed to try something different. To see which deeply held beliefs might be holding the company back, a team of senior executives looked for orthodoxies in the traditional segmentation used across financial services: mass-market, mass-affluent, and affluent customers. Several long-held assumptions quickly emerged. The team came to realize, for example, that the company had always behaved as if only its affluent customers cared deeply about travel-related card programs, that only mass-market customers ever lived paycheck to paycheck (and that these customers didn’t have enough money to be interested in financial-planning products), and that the more wealthy the customers were, the more likely they would be to understand complex financial offerings.

The process of challenging these beliefs helped the credit card retailer’s executives identify intriguing opportunities to explore further. These included simplifying products, creating new reward programs, and working out novel attitudinal and behavioral segmentations to support new-product development (more about these later).

Executives looking to liberate their creative instincts by exploring company orthodoxies can begin by asking questions about customers, industry norms, and even business models—and then systematically challenging the answers. For example:

  • What business are we in?
  • What level of customer service do people expect?
  • What would customers never be willing to pay for?
  • What channel strategy is essential to us?

Use analogies

In testing and observing 3,000 executives over a six-year period, professors Clayton Christensen, Jeffrey Dyer, and Hal Gregersen, in a Harvard Business Review article,3 noted five important “discovery” skills for innovators: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking. The most powerful overall driver of innovation was associating—making connections across “seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas.”

Our own experience confirms the power of associations. We’ve found a straightforward, accessible way to begin harnessing it: using analogies. As we’ve seen, by forcing comparisons between one company and a second, seemingly unrelated one, teams make considerable creative progress, particularly in situations requiring greenfield ideas. We’re not suggesting that you emulate other organizations—a recipe for disappointment. Rather, this approach is about using other companies to stir your imagination.

We recently used this technique in a brainstorming session involving the chief strategy officers (CSOs) of several North American companies, including a sporting-goods retailer. The rules were simple: we provided each executive, in turn, with a straightforward analogy the whole group would use to brainstorm new business model possibilities. When it was the turn of this retailer’s CSO, we asked the group to consider how Apple would design the company’s retail formats. The resulting conversation sparked some intriguing ideas, including one the retailer is considering for its stores: creating technology-assisted spaces, within its retail outlets, where customers can use Nintendo Wii–like technology to “try out” products.

Of course, most companies will use this tactic internally—say, in idea generation sessions or problem-solving meetings. Executives at the credit card retailer, for example, created analogies between their company and other leading brands to make further headway in the areas the team wanted to explore. By comparing the organization to Starwood Hotels, the executives imagined a new program that rewarded customers for paying early or on time (good behavior) instead of merely offering them bonus points for spending more (bad behavior). Similarly, by comparing the company’s back-office systems to those of Amazon.com and Google, the credit card retailer learned to think differently about how to manage its data and information in ways that would benefit consumers as they made product-related decisions and would also give the company valuable proprietary data about their behavior. Together, these insights led to several ideas that the company implemented within two months while also giving it a portfolio of longer-term, higher-stakes ideas to develop.

Analogies such as those the credit card retailer used are quite straightforward—just draft a list of questions such as the ones below and use them as a starting point for discussion.

  • How would Google manage our data?
  • How might Disney engage with our consumers?
  • How could Southwest Airlines cut our costs?
  • How would Zara redesign our supply chain?
  • How would Starwood Hotels design our customer loyalty program?

Create constraints

Another simple tactic you can use to encourage creativity is to impose artificial constraints on your business model. This move injects some much-needed “stark necessity” into an otherwise low-risk exercise.

Imposing constraints to spark innovation may seem counterintuitive—isn’t the idea to explore “white spaces” and “blue oceans”? Yet without some old-fashioned forcing mechanisms, many would-be creative thinkers spin their wheels aimlessly or never leave their intellectual comfort zones.

The examples below highlight constraints we’ve used successfully in idea generation sessions. Most managers can easily imagine other, more tailored ones for their own circumstances. Start by asking participants to imagine a world where they must function with severe limits—for instance, these:

  • You can interact with your customers only online.
  • You can serve only one consumer segment.
  • You have to move from B2C to B2B or vice versa.
  • The price of your product is cut in half.
  • Your largest channel disappears overnight.
  • You must charge a fivefold price premium for your product.
  • You have to offer your value proposition with a partner company.

The credit card retailer tried this approach, tailoring its constraints to include “We can’t talk to customers on the phone,” “We can’t make money on interchange fees,” and “We can’t raise interest rates.” In addition to helping company managers sharpen their thinking about possible new products and services, the exercise had an unexpected benefit—it better prepared them for subsequent regulatory legislation that, among other provisions, constrained the ability of industry players to raise interest rates on existing card members.

Creativity is not a trait reserved for the lucky few. By immersing your people in unexpected environments, confronting ingrained orthodoxies, using analogies, and challenging your organization to overcome difficult constraints, you can dramatically boost their creative output—and your own.

About the Authors

Marla Capozzi is a senior expert in McKinsey’s Boston office, Renée Dye is a senior expert in the Atlanta office, and Amy Howe is a principal in the Los Angeles office.

Do you need a holiday?

I always enjoy reading the messages on the newsletter of Zaufyshan Haseeb Intekworld and as Summer approaches this seems quite approriate. This is what he has written. Do you need a holiday?

“Summer is in full swing and I see the colleagues around me planning their vacations. I can sense their excitement at the prospect while I sit pouring over my papers, thinking, how am I ever going to finish all these pending projects. In this scenario, vacations is the last thing on my mind. I go home feeling like a zombie. I sit through the evening meal on an auto-pilot; not hearing what my spouse and kids are discussing. The day ends with me heading to bed with a cloud over my head. With the alarm ringing in the morning – the process starts all over again. Does this sound familiar?

We get so caught up in the rut that we forget that our first responsibility is towards ourselves. If we burn out completely, our efficiency drops, our creativity comes to a standstill and we become a nightmare not only for our colleagues, but also our family members. A break from our work is imperative to put things in perspective. Let us look at the reasons why people do not want to take vacations.

1. We are workaholics – addicted to work
2. Is it practical to take a vacation during recession
3. Too much planning involved
4. Wait till the last minute to book vacations and then they are disastrous
5. Job Insecurity – What if they hire someone else in my place while I’m gone?
6. My weekends are a vacation
7. I don’t have enough money to take a holiday
8. Vacations are for the weak – I can take excessive amounts of stress
9. Time is money specially for the self-employed and I cant afford to take time off
10. False sense of Importance – everything will fall apart if I leave

If you are still not convinced that the reasons stated above are your reasons, let us look at a few signs that you in dire need of a vacation:

1. Irritability – frequently losing cool
2. Memory loss
3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
4. Indifference towards work whether at work or at home
5. Anehodonia – inability to feel happiness
6. Tunnel vision – Inability to think of creative solutions
7. Performance curve goes downhill

A Vacation does not mean that you have to go to an exotic place far away which matches the brochures at your travel agent’s desk. It can be going on a road trip a few hours away from home for a change of scenery and a break in the usual routine. A holiday time can be as lengthy as three to four weeks or a few days break every quarter – the choice is yours.

The point is that everyone needs to pause their lives for a few days. Think of it like a hard disk of a computer, if it is on 24/7 it will heat up and get clogged with the open active softwares, reducing the quick decision making support needed by the user. Every now and then it needs to shutdown, refresh, reboot and be ready for action again.

When you take a vacation it is not a time off, but a conscious effort to switch off so that you can be efficient for the next eleven months. Vacations are not a luxury but a necessity. The benefits are immeasurable but a few are listed below:

1. You come back refreshed
2. You live longer by giving the everyday stress a break
3. Your mental health improves
4. Your personal relationships improve which have a direct impact on your professional life
5. You recapture your childhood by cutting free from all your responsibilities and just having fun
6. Your creativity comes back
7. Your productivity improves
8. Your emotional life becomes less volatile – you become a better team player
9. You become a better problem solver as the clutter has been cleared
10. You look amazing with a glow on your face, a glint in your eyes and and a healthy tan to prove outdoor activity

Do not underestimate the impact a little time-off can give you. Go ahead and call your travel agent now and book a vacation suiting your budget. Leave your laptop and your Blackberry home.