Monday, October 30, 2006

Memories of the future

In a recent white paper considering the future of work by the Orange Future Enterprise Coalition, I stumbled across what has to be an undiscovered Philip K Dick novel title - memories of the future. The white paper, entitled The Way to Work by the Orange Future Enterprise Coalition - uses future scenario planning to look at four different scenarios for the ways we are likely to work in the future.

On the whole, the work is well done and deserves a separate post, which I'll provide in a day or two. One of the ideas in the white paper was so compelling I thought I needed to highlight it first. That was the concept of a "memory of the future".

What the authors meant by this was that companies that take steps to understand change and embrace the future before it arrives through scenario planning and careful consideration of the various likely scenarios will "rehearse" the future many times before it actually happens. This rehearsal will improve the anticipation of the events and the speed of the response. A memory of the future occurs when you recognize something as it is about to happen as something you've seen or done before, because you've practiced it or rehearsed it previously.

What the authors mean by this is that firms that spend time thinking about the future and the firm's likely role in those possible futures will be able to adapt and innovate more naturally because they've already rehearsed the things that are going to happen. This is something similar to the old saw that practice makes perfect, only in this case we are practicing things that may (or may not) happen at some point in the future, to prepare for them in case they do happen. If you think about the things you do well at work, they are probably things you do repeatedly and frequently. How often do you innovate frequently and repeatedly? Would you be better at it if you practiced? Could you identify trends and react quickly to them if you had a chance to constantly evaluate the future and examine different scenarios? I have to believe the answer is yes.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:13 PM 49 comments

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Innovation is for everyone

I've heard the statement recently, repeated as if it's a mantra: Innovation is for everyone, but not everyone can innovate. Seems reasonable enough at first hearing, but a little insidious after further contemplation.

I first heard this in the context of corporate-wide idea generation. This approach to innovation encourages everyone in the business to submit their best ideas to some central repository where they are collected and evaluated. I guess if I were to follow the logic of Innovation is for everyone, but not everyone can innovate, we'd have to say thanks very much for your ideas, now we'll turn them over to the experts who will bring them to fruition. Is that really what we want? Seems to me that people who generate good ideas may have some insight into a problem and have taken the time to think through a possible solution. Taking their idea and implementing it without involving them will only lead to less idea generation, since people will feel left out of their own ideas and creations.

Later, I heard this statement as a defense for traditional "R&D" style innovation. Ideas should come from experts within our Research and Development labs, not from regular line workers or marketers or finance types. Well, there's usually some admission that some ideas are acceptable from outside R&D, if they are about small improvements to business processes. There's an unstated bigotry in many firms that seems to say that only "certain" people are capable of innovating. No, it's just that most people have never had the opportunity and means to work an idea through the maze of the organization. Since there's no clear definition for generating and managing an idea through most organizations, it is almost impossible for most people to innovate. But this is a comment on the organization and its processes and stumbling blocks to innovation, not on the quality or caliber of the people.

Think about this for a second. Would your organization argue that "Customer service is for everyone, but not everyone can provide service to customers?" I suspect the Ritz Carlton, Hilton and Marriott chains would argue that anyone who interacts with a customer - from the bell hop to the front desk clerk to the hotel manager to the cleaning crew - provide customer interaction and customer service, whether that's their primary job or not. The reason it's easier to provide customer service rather than innovation is that the customer and the hotel staff interact on a frequent basis - face to face. Innovation is more difficult because it is often impossible to understand for the average person in an organization 1) who to raise the idea to 2) how it will get evaluated and 3) what should happen next. Again, not a fault of the person who raised the idea - this is a lack of definition and process.

Here's a good example. In the most recent Fast Company (Nov 2006 issue), there's a brief article about a guy who created a "TV Taco". A project manager in Best Buy's service division noticed that many large screen TVs were being damaged during delivery and set out to create some reuseable packaging to protect the TV during delivery. His first ideas and concepts didn't succeed, but his management team encouraged him and he created the TV Taco, which is now being rolled out across the Best Buy organization. (Fast Company, November 2006, p. 66). The article is headlined "How do you get enough ideas into the pipeline? We're doing it by trying to get our 128,000 plus employees to give us their ideas". It seems at Best Buy, innovation is for everyone, and everyone can innovate.

The challenge for broad scale innovation across your business is not how smart or capable your people are, but how ready and able your organization is to accept, manage and test the ideas. This is a cultural and process problem, not a people problem.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:05 AM 33 comments

Monday, October 23, 2006

Innovation 101

It's conference season, and I've had the chance to attend innovation conferences at the Business Innovation Factory, the Innovation Immersion conference in San Diego, and I'm currently attending the PDMA's Innovation conference in Atlanta. That means I've heard a lot of opinion and fact about innovation over the last few weeks.

I've talked to a number of people at these conferences and I've come to a couple of conclusions about innovation, one of which I'll share here - many of the people who come to these conferences could really use an introductory program just to introduce the various concepts and approaches for innovation. I'd guess about 30% of the people at most of these events are literally drinking from the firehose and are overwhelmed by what they see and hear, and don't have a good sense of how to implement any of the stuff they hear at these events.

Last week we heard Carol Pletcher, the CIO at Cargill talk about the recent successes of the innovation initiatives at Cargill. What people may fail to realize is that Carol and her team have been working on those initiatives for over 5 years, and they have significant senior management commitment and have worked with a number of external consultants and advisors. All that stuff didn't fall out of the sky yesterday - and for all of the success they've had at Cargill, only about 20% of the business units have implemented the innovation approach. This innovation stuff - while it seems straightforward - takes time, focus and energy to implement successfully.

When you add to those facts the different approaches - open versus closed innovation, incremental versus disruptive, the cultural changes, processes and tools necessary to develop and support innovation initiatives, I think a good number of the people are simply overwhelmed at these events, and could stand a breakout session targeted to people and firms that are just getting started. I spoke to one of the corporate organizers about this idea, and he replied that they had offered programs like this previously but no one showed up. I suspect that some people may be unwilling to identify themselves as newbies, but you can tell when you meet them at the events, in the meeting halls and exhibit halls. They have been told that culture, sorry processes, sorry tools, sorry expert training, sorry ideation sessions are what will cure their problems. The question is - where do we begin?

I have some opinions about this. I think you need to first align your initiative with corporate strategies, define some basic workflow about your ideas, establish the type of ideas and their focus (incremental versus disruptive), who can submit and who can evaluate ideas, and define an idea database. However, I think many of these attendees would be well served with a basic introduction to innovation, the concepts and moving parts.

What do you think?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:34 PM 42 comments

Friday, October 20, 2006

Innovation Immersion Wrap up

Two days and one coast to coast red eye later, I've had a chance to reflect on the things to take away from the Innovation Immersion conference.

One of the speakers I enjoyed the most was Carol Pletcher from Cargill. What I liked about her presentation was the emphasis that a firm like Cargill, which is "just" an agricultural products processor, could become more innovative. Carol and her team defined innovation as converting knowledge and insights into solutions. Cargill recognized that it would not be creating the next iPod or other cool consumer device, but it can innovate its products, services and business model.

One way they did that was by questioning what and who they are. An example Carol gave was the "salt" business unit, which provided salt and chemicals to provide safer driving conditions in winter. By changing the way they thought about the business (and renaming the business to "De-Icing") they challenged themselves to think beyond their existing business and identified new technologies that make roads less slippery and that can absorb salts and chemicals long before the snow falls or the ice forms.

Genentech provided another interesting example of the different viewpoints on innovation. Genentech thinks of innovation as a result of the teams, processes and intent of the organization. You know a company is innovative when it sends people from its HR group to present the innovation initiatives and work they've done to impact the culture of the business!

Finally, Jeneanne Rae from Peer Insight spoke and provided their framework for thinking about the customer experience for service innovation firms. Peer Insight talks about a customer journey, which consists of all the touchpoints a customer has with a services firm. In many ways their concepts are analogous to the "whole product" definition from Geoffrey Moore. The customer journey concerns all the phases in learning about, experiencing and completing an interaction with a services firm - and why it's important that all the touchpoints are considered and addressed consistently.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 12:28 PM 34 comments

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Innovation Immersion Day Two

Just finished an early morning keynote with David Kuehler from the Clay Street Project, an organization aligned with Proctor & Gamble to help create innovative teams. One of the things that David said that really resonated with me was that a team needs to go through three stages of development to become truly innovative. Those phases are:

- Inclusion - organizing and getting ready to innovate
- Chaos - because without chaos the result will be predictable and safe
- Synergy - where the team is in such harmony that the individuals can finish each other's sentences


This reminded me a lot of the presentation Ivy Ross gave recently at the BIF in Rhode Island about the work that is necessary to help a team succeed before it meets. She called this "No output within input". She stressed the importance of getting the team to work together effectively as well.

David and the other morning keynote both stressed the importance of "story" and context for the innovation teams. Story is a recurring theme across many of the presenters.

Another concept that seems to be very important is "definition". The second keynote speaker was Carol Pletcher from Cargill. One of the things that Cargill did was to create a corporate definition of innovation, since it was felt that an agricultural processor might not be innovative. Their definition: "Converting knowledge and insights into solutions that create distinctive value". They felt innovation was NOT "cleverness" and did not have to be an iPod.

This definition is important because Cargill's business is in converting farm products into food products, so the innovation ties closely to Cargill's business model.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 10:08 AM 39 comments

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Innovation Immersion - Open Innovation Model

We've just finished lunch and I had the opportunity to sit in on a great presentation by Chris Ertel from Global Business Network and Matt Marcus from Gucci, looking at open innovation and its various forms. They've presented a very nice framework for thinking about the different forms or types of open innovation.

Their framework breaks out factors of innovation along two axes. The vertical axis is customer interaction - from completely internal innovation to completely customer driven innovation. The horizontal axis is expertise - from industry or specific experts to receiving ideas from "anyone". This creates, like all good MBA analysis should, a four quadrant matrix, which GBN labeled:

Star Chamber - which is in the internal, expert quadrant. Firms in this space (and most are) aren't doing much "open" innovation and rely on internal experts to create their innovations.

Networked Innovation - which is the external, expert quadrant. This is usually the first step most firms take toward co-development with professional partners, leveraging or partnering for technology or content.

Thousand Flowers - which is the "anyone", internal quadrant. This approach encourges idea generation from everyone in the firm.

DIY - which is the "anyone", external quadrant. This approach encourages development of ideas by external customers or groups. YouTube is a good example.

There is at least one significant challenge with each approach:

Star Chamber - market input and validation
Network - IP ownership
Thousand Flowers - Managing expectations
DIY - What's the business model?

The presenter went on to say that firms should have one primary open innovation approach and may want to experiment with other approaches. Google was used as an example of a firm trying all four approaches.

This is one of the first times I've seen a holistic approach to open innovation and definitions of the various approaches, along with some discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. I hope the folks at GBN will provide more details on their research and thinking, as they've got some good baseline material and a workable framework for open innovation.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 1:35 PM 28 comments

Immersion Conference - Dan Pink

Here at the Innovation Immersion conference we've just had our first few speakers. Jonathan Vehar, filling in for Joyce Wycoff, led off the morning with a short talk, focused primarily on the problem of innovation ghettos. What happens in many organizations, according to his argument, is that innovation happens "over there" in that group, that specialty, that office. His argument, which I agree with, is that we need innovation across the organization, not just in some silos.

Dan Pink, the author of A Whole New Mind, spoke next. Dan argues that our traditional focus on analytic skills is giving way to design and creative skills, due to the emergence of outsourcing, abundance and automation. Basically, anything that can be reduced to a routine - including many white collar jobs like law and accounting - will be automated (Turbotax) or outsourced to Asia or other low cost locations. Further, due to the abundance we have in the US and Western Europe, we seek products that are either very inexpensive or ones that have excellent design. So we have a $1 toilet brush available in any mass merchant, and Target offers a toilet brush for $15 designed by a world class architect. Does anyone really NEED a $15 toilet brush? No, but in an age of abundance we tend to look beyond price and function for design and beauty.

If Pink's arguments are true, we need to focus our skills and abilities on things that are 1) hard to outsource 2) hard to automate and 3) add design value. These things require creative, empathetic skills, not necessarily analytic skills.

I'd argue that we are moving into a new economy in the US and western europe. we've moved from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing economy to a (current) service economy, and we're going to open very soon a new economy - the innovation or creativity economy. We in the US and in parts of Western Europe will thrive and compete on our ability to generate new ideas.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 10:28 AM 32 comments

Innovation Immersion

Today and tomorrow (10-17 and 18) I'll be attending the Innovation Immersion conference in San Diego. This is an annual conference run by Joyce Wycoff and the IIR.

Joyce is not with us due to an illness in her family. Joyce if you are reading this everyone sends best wishes for a speedy recovery.

I'll be checking in periodically and giving updates on the speakers and the interesting topics being covered. What's interesting so far is that there's been a real emphasis on story telling as a means to communicate your mission, and some more work on ethnography and its impact on innovation. Ethnography is definitely getting a lot of airtime at innovation conferences, so its something I'll have to learn more about and provide an overview later.

We've got a packed day today with some great speakers from consulting and from industry, so I will try to check in and give some updates during the day.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:25 AM 25 comments

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Invention, innovation and entrepreneurs

It struck me recently that there's a lot of overlap between what I think of as "invention", "innovation" and entrepreneurship. I think many people confuse these terms, so I'd like to compare and contrast them, at least as I see them. This came about as a result of the Business Innovation Factory conversations - a great program run by the folks in Rhode Island.

I am interested in trying to replicate some of what they are doing in Rhode Island here in North Carolina, and want to bring together the state, local universities, large companies and an organization for entrepreneurs and startups called the "CED - Council for Enterpreneurial Development". Talking with some friends, it became clear that they thought the CED was completely responsible for innovation in the area, since many inventions are commercialized by entrepreneurs, which many people think of as "innovation".

Well, I'll stipulate that entrepreneurs are part of the innovation ecosphere, but just a part.

Let's get a definition of innovation out on the table. We like to say that innovation is PEOPLE PUTTING IDEAS INTO VALUABLE ACTION. This means, frankly, that any organization or person can be innovative. More to the point, it means that every organization, private or public, small or large, is capable of innovation.

Invention, on the other hand, is about creating something completely new. The US Patent office defines an invention as: "a new, useful process, machine, improvement, etc., that did not exist previously and that is recognized as the product of some unique intuition or genius". There are several differences in my mind between innovations and inventions. An invention can lead to an innovation, but many inventions are often created and then placed on a shelf. IBM is full of patents and inventions that never see the light of day. Something invented but not put into practical use is NOT an innovation. Most inventions are meant to create a dramatic change in the status quo. Innovations, on the other hand, can reflect small, incremental changes in a product or service, or disruptive changes in a market. Finally, most people think of inventions as created by scientists in lab coats who work independently. Few inventors are "serial" inventors. Innovation, on the other hand, is created by many people working together, and it seems possible to be sustainably innovative.

Where do entrepreneurs fit into the equation? Many entrepreneurs are attempting to commercialize one big idea. Entrepreneurs exist to dramatically change a market, so they are usually trying to introduce a disruptive innovation to the market. However, innovation does not belong just to the entrepreneur. Large firms, universities, and governments can be innovative; in fact, if these other organizations aren't innovative they'll become irrelevant. Entrepreneurs want to change the status quo, and are sometimes inventors or are capitalizing on someone else's invention, but they don't "own" innovation.

I guess I'd argue that innovation is relevant and important to firms of any size, governments, educational organizations and many other organizations. Some companies and people create inventions, but unless those inventions are brought to profitable use, they aren't valuable and they aren't innovative. Entrepreneurs create new, disruptive products and services and are therefore innovative, but are just part of the entire innovation ecosphere. In fact many entrepreneurs, in the pharma instance for example, are often co-opted and integrated into a larger organization which commercializes the invention.

I guess this is a rambling way of saying that entrepreneurs and inventors are important to innovation, but in no way define the entire scope or possibility of innovation.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 3:02 PM 30 comments

Monday, October 09, 2006

Can you train someone to be innovative?

In discussions with some new prospects and existing clients, it is becoming clear that larger firms are very interested in training their managers to become more innovative. Over the last few years, the idea of a learning organization has gained significant traction. Many firms we work with have internal training organizations, even "universities" that provide deep, detailed training to people within the company.

Much of that training has focused on the latest management trends like Six Sigma and Lean. Now, many of those universities and internal training programs are turning their attention to training individuals to become more innovative, through the way they think, the way they organize and the way they reward. My question is: can you train someone to be more innovative, or does the culture and his or her surroundings and reinforcements enable or inhibit innovation? Can a very restrictive culture force even a well-trained individual to struggle at innovation, while a very supportive culture helps an untrained person to succeed at innovation?

To become more innovative and to innovate repeatedly, sustainably, successfully, a firm needs three key ingredients: individuals who are willing to innovate, a culture that enables and rewards innovation and the tools and processes that support the efforts. Focusing attention on the individuals is great - that's part of becoming a learning organization. For too long we've reinforced behaviors that focused on the small items and may have left people afraid to take risks and see what's possible. Innovators ask questions, take risks, go where others don't, and that behavior has not been encouraged or taught.

However, let's make sure we set the right expectations and smooth the way for these innovators. People coming out of training want to implement what they've learned. If the culture, motivation and tools aren't supportive of innovation, most of these new innovators will end up frustrated and jaded. It's not merely a question of education of the people, but also how much the organization as a whole will change to support those willing to innovate.

Don't get me wrong - training people to become more aware of the possibilities of innovation is a good thing. What we don't want to do is motivate them and then set them loose in an atmosphere that will work against all the training they've received. And innovation training is not like other types of training. To train someone in Six Sigma or Lean usually reinforces the firm's goals to cut costs or reduce wastes. To train someone in innovation may mean to increase experimentation and increase failure - which could be at odds with prevailing culture.

So, can you train someone to become more innovative? I think the answer is yes. The real question is whether or not that person or team can use that new training in an organization that may not be ready to change to accomodate innovation.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 2:18 PM 29 comments

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Stretching your brain

Although you might not guess it by looking at me, I have been running most of my life. I started running track, especially distance, in high school and have continued to run off and on for most of my life. One thing I've learned as I've gotten older - the days I run and don't bother to stretch before (and after) the run, I'll pay for the next day in stiff joints and tight muscles. Warming up and stretching is critical to running and exercising.

So, if we need to stretch our muscles to help them do things we do on a regular basis, shouldn't we stretch our brains when we need to do ideation and brainstorming? Think about a typical brainstorming meeting - everyone arrives from doing their regular jobs, cramming in this meeting and already thinking about the next meeting on the schedule. They come from their respective jobs in finance or marketing or sales, very familiar with that day to day routine. The meeting starts and suddenly they are supposed to be nimble and flexible to create and generate ideas in an area or topic outside their traditional functional area, being creative and thinking outside the box.

Now, we know that people like consistency and patterns, and to geet someone out of their pattern may make them uncomfortable without making the change easy and low risk. In most brainstorming and ideation sessions, we've done none of those things - rather just thrown a bunch of people with different jobs and concerns together in a room and asked them to be creative NOW! What happened to warming up, to stretching and making room for some different approaches?

In some of our internal brainstorming sessions, one of our senior guys will often bring in a game - Charades or Pictionary or some other game to get the team thinking differently and to break down the initial barriers. When he opens up Pictionary you can see the collective eye rolls. No one wants to do this - they want to do "real work" and then get back to their "real jobs". However, after 30 minutes or an hour of Pictionary, the team seems much more cohesive and innovative.

I know it can be a hard sell to tell the boss you need a Twister game and Pictionary to be more productive, but I can assure you that exercising your brain without warming up is as risky as exercising your body without stretching. In your next brainstorming session, leave some time for the team to get ready to be creative, rather than thinking they can be creative out of the gate. For further research or other ideas, I'll also point you at Roger von Oech, he of the Ball of Whacks and A Whack on the Side of the Head. Roger has a new blog and is a good resource for ideas, exercises and tools to become more creative.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:44 PM 30 comments

Conversations about Innovation

I spent my day yesterday as part of the Business Innovation Factory's conversations about innovation - a slightly different approach to innovation summits or conferences. Most of the speakers told stories about how innovation happened in their companies, or what they were planning to do to become more innovative.

The list of speakers was quite impressive: Keely from Doblin, Suri from Ideo, Rae from PeerInsight. What I also liked about the conference was that the organizers (Business Innovation Factory) encouraged a lot of interaction between the speakers and the attendees. I had the chance to meet Dr. Alice Wilder, one of the folks responsible for Blue's Clues, and Jim LaVoie, now semi-famous for his idea stock market concept at Rite Solutions. There were a number of interesting and innovative people in the audience.

I think I should also commend the work that BIF is doing. In a public/private partnership, they are trying to become an innovation labratory and encourage Rhode Island to become a lab for innovative thinking and ideas. I'm going to try to implement some of their approach back home in Research Triangle Park. Saul Kaplan and his team are to be commended for the event and for their vision.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next BIF conversations conference. If anything like the one going on right now, it will be well worth your time to participate.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 4:37 AM 27 comments

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Conversations at the Business Innovation Factory

I'm blogging today at the Business Innovation Factory's conference on innovation. It's focused on a lot of conversations, bringing in a bunch of leaders in innovation to tell their stories. So far today we've heard from a leading designer of software for anatomical studies, from Ivy Ross who has led product development for Hasbro and Gap, from an inventor who is making Neuromancer-like technology come alive for people with disabilities and Tim Westergren, who created the music service Pandora.

I'll check in later on Innovate on Purpose - but you can read my ongoing blogs here.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:46 AM 38 comments

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Becoming more creative - the Ball of Whacks

For those of you who like to read and learn what others are doing in terms of innovation and creativity, the name Roger von Oech should be a well-known name. Roger got me interested in creativity over 20 years ago with his book "A Whack on the Side of the Head", which was about stimulating creativity and new ways of thinking. I've used his "Whack Pack" - a set of cards designed to promote creativity in brainstorming meetings and ideation sessions. Certainly Roger has a unique place in creativity and ideation.

I was pleased recently when Roger contacted me through another innovator - Joyce Wycoff - and told me that he had a new creativity tool - the Ball of Whacks. He asked if I'd be interested to try one out. Well, when you get that type of opportunity you say yes as quickly as possible.

I received the Ball of Whacks - not really sure what to expect. The Ball of Whacks is a geometric thing of beauty - a 30 sided object made up of rhombic pyramids. There's a lot more about the Ball of Whacks that might interest you if you are a geometry and shape person, because Roger created the pyramids as "golden" pyramids, following the golden ratio.

But most of that really doesn't matter, because the Ball of Whacks is really a manipulative tool. Studies show that when we are thinking, our brains light up in different ways when we are still and when we are working with our hands. In our work in ideation and brainstorming, we almost always provide some type of manipulative - playdough, Slinky's, intricate folding objects - because people want to "fiddle" with something. In a creativity or ideation setting, working with your hands seems to make people think differently. Roger's taken that concept to a new level with the Ball of Whacks.

Since it is magnetic, you can take the Ball of Whacks apart into its component pyramids and reorganize the pyramids into a lot of different shapes. These new shapes can be representational or just something to work on to reorder and rethink. The ball is compact enough and rigid enough to toss like a ball, which is another type of manipulative we often use.

Also included with the Ball of Whacks is a booklet with suggestions on how to use the ball as an enhancer to your creative thinking, and a set of creative exercises that are worth the cost of the Ball of Whacks by itself for a firm trying to think creatively.

I can barely keep the Ball of Whacks on my desk. Everyone who sees it picks it up and wants to interact with it - that in itself tells you it is a compelling object and will be a great asset to brainstorming, ideation and creativity.

Check out the Ball of Whacks, and if you aren't familiar with Roger's other books and materials, run, don't walk, to the bookstore or his website to learn more about one of the real godfathers of creative thinking.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:35 AM 39 comments