New & Improved Business Innovation
During a recent strategic planning session for a client, we began working on creating "Catalytic Mechanisms" for letting the organization know that we are serious about innovation starting NOW. A fascinating and very difficult idea generation session followed. What captivated us was how truly difficult it was to find non-bureaucratic ways to impact the organization. But wait, first let's define a key term.
Those of you that are familiar with the Jim Collins' (author of the fabulous book, "Good to Great") concept of the "catalytic mechanism" will know that it's a high-falootin' and appropriate term for a non-bureaucratic, toothy, game-changing solution that an organization implements that sends a powerful signal to the organization/clients that the organization is right now! changing the way we do business and are serious about it. Catalytic mechanisms are unusual, game-changing, sustaining, meaningful strategies that empower employees/customers to take the initiative, rather than employees waiting for management to act. They are something everyone (including clients when appropriate) does on their own, rather than waiting for it to be done to them. It's quite a powerful concept that truly gives power to people to DO something rather than wait around for policy or management to do it TO THEM.
Given that more than one of us around the virtual offices of New & Improved are captivated by this concept, we decided to do some idea generation on our own to create Catalytic Mechanisms for Innovation. Along the way, we also generated ideas for innovation tactics that do require bureaucracy to drive them forward, and decided rather than throw those away, we'd share them all.
Accordingly, following is a list of ideas for you to build on, tweak, implement, borrow, or just shamelessly steal and take credit for. These are sorted into two overlapping groups: 1) those that allow people to act more on their own, and 2) those requiring someone in the organization to make it happen.
Following are ideas that answer the question, "What might be all the possible ways to kick people in the butt (in any organization) and let them know we are dead serious about innovation?"
1. Enable people to move forward on their ideas without having to go through complex levels of a bureaucracy and mind-numbing approvals. Create available time, money, and/or resources so that people can "play" with new ideas.
2. Let people know that if they propose a great idea and it is rejected, they are expected to resubmit the idea as many times and in as many ways as necessary until people see the genius of it.
3. Have a place in the organization where people can get together for free lunches once a week and kick around ideas. Have a recorder there to capture output of the lunch.
4. Give people a budget (time and money) that they are to spend on their own training any subject they want (even unrelated topics) so that they can think about things differently and bring it back to the organization. Only obligation is to return with three business ideas from each training program.
5. Each meeting must have a mechanism for introverts to contribute. For example, during no discussion or interaction is verbal communication the ONLY method allowed. Use brainwriting, paired conversations, note cards to gather input.
6. Workers are allowed/expected to challenge all recommendations based on their intuition or feelings without giving any "research rationale" to support it. This automatically creates a situation where a group discussion regarding their intuitive sense of the project is launched.
7. No project or meeting is allowed to start without a detailed Agenda with each item being detailed for: purpose, process, outcome, and timing. Any meeting that starts without an agenda costs the meeting leader $20 from his/her own pocket to the first person who points it out even if it's someone from outside the team.
8. All ideas/suggestions must be proposed by first stating the problem to be solved or opportunity to be taken advantage of. Each time this happens, employees get a free toaster. Or if they don't mention the problem to be solved, they are put in a toaster. :-) (Okay, pick your favorite carrot or stick.)
9. Any idea must be submitted with three other ideas designed to address the same challenge. Each time this happens, employees get a credit for lunch in the cafeteria.
10. All clients must be brought into the project at the end of the ideation stage prior to the solution being written up/proposed. By bringing in clients way early in the development phase, rework is reduced and buy-in is created.
11. All ideas proposed to management will be responded to within 2 business days (when management is in the office) otherwise the idea is automatically accepted.
12. Employees get together monthly to generate a list of team/division wishes and goals. On a monthly basis, prior to pizza and beer, the team generates a list of 100 "It would be great if " Interested employees can then champion things they want to move forward, and they are given a budget on the spot to make it happen.
13. At the beginning of each project, employees are expected to take the client out for a very long lunch to truly understand their perspectives and needs. A budget is provided for this.
14. Any gator-brain reactions result in a $1 charge to go into a general fund that will pay for a Cajun Gator Feast Party at the end of the year featuring grilled alligator.
15. Any project that is inactive for 30 days or more is automatically cancelled.
16. Employees can suggest the elimination of any project at any time. The burden of convincing people to not cancel it falls upon the project sponsor (and time/money invested to date is not an acceptable rationale).
17. Any project that cannot be explained in 50 words or less and/or with a picture may not be moved forward until it is complete.
18. All projects must eliminate at least one other system/process before it can be implemented. The addition of complexity is to be punished and the elimination of it is to be rewarded.
19. Before any project is begun, it must be reviewed and compared to all other completed projects to see if it can be folded into that one, or if there is any easy build that is possible.
20. Any failed project or notable mistake is to be celebrated with an end of day party in which the mistake is discussed along with key learnings and an exploration of possible uses for the mistake.
21. Any new solution that doesn't have one passionate champion and one passionate opponent to is not a completed solution. Solutions must generate passionate debate and joyful acceptance.
22. All projects will have an additional budget of resources (time/money) that may ONLY be used towards creating surprise and delight among the customers (e.g. illustrations, animations, jokes, elegant designs, etc.).
23. Create a space somewhere in the organization where people can go and quietly think, plan, and dream about projects, where there are no interruptions and cell phones can't be used. This space must look different from the rest of the organization and may not use any of the following colors: grey, putty, ochre, beige, soothing lilac, mellow yellow, robins' egg blue, or dentist office green.
24. All project teams must represent diversity of gender, age, experience, level, and background.
25. Allow employees to select their preferred workspace from a selection of formats so that they have the workspace that most feels ideal to them.
26. Eliminate all offices and doors. Management workspace closest to the center of the building and low-level employees workspaces closest to the windows that way it encourages management to spend more time near where the lower level employees reside.
27. Create a great "break spot" where employees want to gather for Starbucks coffee or snacks. This facilitates the informal communication that results in improved work.
28. Eliminate all desks. All workspaces are to be created as collaborative work environments. Think round tables and no status barriers (e.g. big wooden desks as management shields).
29. Create a system where employees can easily get together for impromptu work meetings it should not require pre-planning to schedule a conference room eight days in advance when you need to solve a problem right now!
30. Have a paging system that can summon all employees together quickly for instant brainstorming sessions when there is a need for breakthrough solutions (like the bell that summoned all 75 employees to a central workspace when there was a problem while designing the first Dodge Viper sports car).
31. Every morning, work teams get together to generate suggestions from employees about how to improve projects, quality, work life, etc. The ideas would be recorded. The group leader would then take the ideas to a management council that also met every morning. All ideas from every group would be shared. A decision would be made on every single idea to implement it, study it further, or kill it. Immediate feedback is given to the teams so that individuals were informed about the decision about their ideas. Employees are informed about what happened to their idea. If an employee does not get feedback on their idea within two weeks, they get $1000.00. (used at Honeywell with great success. Lots of ideas got implemented.)
32. Employees who catch supervisors not providing PraiseFirst: PPCO-type feedback (i.e. Pluses, Potentials, Concerns, Overcome concerns) on projects and reviews earn $20 from the supervisor for each occurrence.
33. On a monthly basis, all employees are recognized for their contribution to the organization. Employees submit their accomplishments for the month. Rewards are given out randomly to all employees, ranging from dinner to pens to lottery tickets.
34. Employees are expected to work outside the office (e.g. home, Starbucks, diner, park, etc.) one day per month to explore new ideas and concepts.
35. At the development stage of all projects, the idea must be presented to the staff for an idea-building session to find ways to make the solution even more compelling, impactful, and delightful.
36. Once a month, employees get together to review all offerings to decide what is to be eliminated. This happens across departments to increase the likelihood that other departments can see the forest for the one that only sees the trees.
37. Employees are expected to reject any project that is not bold and audacious enough. Dull, simple, lowest-common denominator projects are to be farmed out to others who aren't responsible for the organization's big, hairy, audacious goal(s).
38. Employees are allowed to swap roles on projects if there is a better fit that they are more interested in. This fosters better ideas and more commitment to the project.
39. Employees may sit in any and all meetings of other project teams in order to suggest improvements or builds to the project.
40. All meetings must begin with a joke or fun story. (Dirty and/or offensive jokes are not permissible without express approval of everyone in the room determined by blind ballot). Starting the meeting by having fun creates better conditions for working together.
41. Employees start an anonymous list of things that get in the way of them doing their jobs effectively, efficiently. Suggestions are posted for how to eliminate these impediments on a message board that is reviewed each week by management. If ideas are not reviewed and feedback is not given for each suggestion, each employee receives $50.
42. All ideas/suggestions/solutions that are proposed and rejected by management have a second chance in a peer review committee. This committee can bring the idea to the management member's supervisor with a very strong recommendation.
43. All teams that meet target timelines/budgets receive a 50% salary bonus. All salaries begin the year reduced by 25%.
44. All solutions that are universally agreed upon by everyone without a vigorous prior debate are to be rejected out-of-hand.
45. Any conversations about other people in the organization without them present cost all people who engage in the conversation 10 demerits.
46. During each project meeting, one idea that can be branded "heresy" must be proposed with a rationale for why it makes sense. The group must consider the merits of all heretical notions.
47. Have "Meeting-free Fridays" to allow employees time to work and think and clear off their desks.
48. Allow flexible hours for people who (like Bob) work and think better in the Morning they can start their day at 6:30 am and then leave work earlier. For people (like Jonathan) who think best in the evening, let them start their day later at 9:30 am and then leave work after they've had a chance to work when everyone else is gone for the day and it's quiet.
49. Empower people to take "Idea Sabbaticals" where they leave work once a week 2 hours early and bring a note-pad with them to anywhere!
50. Kraft's "Core Hours" idea, where meetings can only happen during certain parts of the day (e.g. 10am – 3pm) so that people have time to work and create when they're not in meetings.
51. embers of an Organizational Development group work two days a week in the offices of their client in order to better learn the client's challenges and to become a better integrated part of the team while facilitating informal learning.
52. Change the incentive system so that people are rewarded for team and company wide innovation instead of just on personal goals.
53. Pool of money for ideas: people suggest ideas and it's very easy to get funds to pursue it a one-page request form. If no answer is provided within 72 hours, an automatic reward of $500 is made. If the idea is readily endorsed by the administration, more money is available.
54. Institute a(n) (creative-problem solving) internal consulting group and have them prove their value at the end of the year to keep their jobs (based on ROI, contribution to bottom line, quality improvements, new products, etc).
55. Employees are redefined based on the value their product gives pharmaceutical salespeople become "healers" Auto salesforce become "Transportation Enablers," consultants become "success creators," kitchen appliance assembly line workers become "nutrition assistors." Each group is told that 1 year from this date, the group will be evaluated on a project implemented that delights customers because you gave them (health) (6sigma transportation) (significant success) (nutrition).
56. Start an innovation group that is chartered by the organization to fund innovative project ideas with a small budget and resources to pilot ideas this group would be free of the bureaucratic corporate structure (in that it wasn't counted against someone's head count) and would have access to all the business talent incentives would be created to encourage employees to participate on these teams.
57. Allow employees to use company supplies to create something new (e.g. If you need a few test-tubes and beakers just take them. If you need to use the machine shop, go ahead after hours. If you'd like to test a new idea, have consumer research do a quick web-based test).
58. Everyone can review / critique / build off of ideas captured in the company.
59. Share success stories of innovation in writing and receive an incentive (e.g. free lunch).
60. Any employee can ask any senior person in the organization to address a weekly/monthly "lunch and learn" program about the mistakes they learned from.
61. Any employee can jump into any conversation / solution / problem solving session anywhere in the organization uninvited.
62. The team is allowed to override the decision of the boss if the boss can't convince them it's the right solution.
63. Once a month go and check out another organization for a day, then share via memo three key learnings or applications.
64. Employees can walk in to manager's offices without an appointment if the manager is not meeting with someone or on the phone.
65. Free lunches for employees who sit with strangers in an "idea-mingler" section of the cafeteria.
66. Once a month TGIF type meetings with Sr. Managers present for informal relationship building. Opening for all to ask questions, pose ideas.
67. Involve employees in rapid prototyping of own work areas and fund ideas/designs they come up with (a la Conifer/Ideo/Steelcase).
68. If your invention/idea/product is successful you get a percentage. If your invention is not successful you get 100 dollars for trying.
69. If you need materials to develop or test an idea, just take them up to a certain limit.
70. People get a reward for the number of new ideas generated and implemented by their team each year.
71. Create "Steal an Idea Day" when you take an idea from another part of the company and improve upon it. Again, you get a piece of the action on the idea if it is implemented. Or you or your team gets a piece of the action on cost savings.
72. Set aside one afternoon each week/month and let each department post their one big hairy problem on the wall all other employees walk through, post their suggestions, then move on to the next dept.
73. Random calls from the CEO on the telephone to any employee, who will be asked what they've done to innovate that week. Everyone knows the CEO will make 5 calls every week.
74. Field trips to companies that are just "like you'd like to be when yours grows up".
75. Have employees submit 3 ideas before doing any work each day. As soon as they sit down to their computers in the morning as they're entering their password they fire off three ideas which falls into a public viewing room they're ranked by all employees and the ones that float to the top are rewarded.
76. Start an idea bank $1 gets credited to your account for every single idea you submit no matter how silly.
1. Quarterly meetings in "Conference Room M" (this is Apple-speak for going to see a movie on company time. Then send a memo with three applications).
2. Hire an innovation manager whose job it is to get new ideas and champion them to the organization.
3. Once a week, someone will randomly have lunch with the most senior person on the site. The discussion agenda is always "What can we do to improve the business" no-one knows who will be chosen until the morning of the lunch, and then so long as calendar matches up, the luncheon is held. If no calendar match, draw another name or names until lunch date is made.
4. Organization is told that there is a secret group of auditors around the company who are looking to give an award for the individual and team that evidences the greatest degree of innovation behavior. It's a serious financial award.
5. A section of the company's annual report to investors includes data based on the assessment of the climate for innovation, and is tracked quarterly year after year.
6. Modify the reward design to reward innovative behavior; this will require making adjustments such as rewarding behavior in addition to results, not punishing poor results, rewarding intelligent risk-taking, rewarding initiation, etc.
7. Institute an employee idea/suggestion-box program.
8. Provide a problem-solving framework (and, potentially train employees to use it) and encourage "grass roots" projects.
9. Establish a library for employees that contains books about creativity, innovation, leadership, etc.
10. Establish a creativity and innovation club that meets regularly.
11. Email regularly (weekly, monthly, etc) anecdotes of what other companies are doing that's creative and innovative.
12. If your organization has a newsletter, ask the publisher to include a column (or offer to write it yourself) that highlights your organization or other organizations' innovative ways of working.
13. Upon the completion of each project, complete a template (containing, for example, objective, process/approach, decision, outcome, etc). For process/approach and decision, identify 1 other process and 5 other alternatives (of course, assuming it's not a "go/no go" decision) that the team could have selected.
14. After each meeting (or project, for that matter), complete a form containing sections for "what went well" and "what can be improved".
15. Have an issues bucket (as people have issues, they write them on a post-it and stick the post-it in the bucket), and mandate that each meeting concludes by having open discussions or brainstorming sessions for 1 – 3 issues or however many this fosters open communication and problem solving.
16. Build a knowledge management database, which contains both internal and external anecdotes of ideas and project information; it should be categorized and searchable.
17. Remove the doors to managers' offices.
18. Like 3M, mandate that 15% of time must be spent working on something new.
19. Put messages and questions in the hallways and bathrooms, like at Clorox R&D.
20. Install mess-hall style tables and chairs so that everyone has to mingle with everyone else.
21. Provide CPS training for all employees to establish a common language, tools, and practices.
22. Hang flip chart pages in the hallways for people to post ideas. As folks go through the halls they can add to the ideas, build on them, etc.
23. Create a library of books, tapes, etc. on creativity and innovation for people to borrow.
24. Create an environment in the lunch area that reeks of creativity, with innovation posters, pictures, music, and stuff to get the brain thinking differently from the usual corporate environment.
25. Create sitting areas in open spaces that promote community, idea sharing, cross-functional relationships and building ideas. Have a spot to record ideas.
26. Have wacky idea meetings where the wackiest are turned into something useful. Perhaps include lunch.
27. Kick off every Monday morning with a speaker, movie, or vignette, something to strike the imagination of employees to keep their focus on creativity.
28. Story telling from most senior people about success etc.
29. Points for idea submissions. X number of points for y number of submissions. Points go towards time off/vacation days etc.
30. All development activities focused on innovation or strongly tied to it.
31. Regular communication from president/CEO story telling about innovation successes, efforts, or exhortations.
32. KEYS (Climate for creativity and productivity) survey fed back to Sr. Team, plans developed and implemented at team level.
33. Group of change leaders spread appropriately throughout organization to support the change process: coaching, facilitate meetings, design sessions, etc.
34. Create idea rooms with top-notch materials. Lots of stimulants.
35. Coach and develop managers about innovation leadership.
36. Innovation quotes beamed on emails, projected on walls of entrances.
37. Regular recognition meetings for ideas implemented and developed.
38. Everyone has a quota of 6 ideas to improve their job per year. If they don't get them they are fired. (Some climate for innovation, huh?!).
39. Like 3M give everyone a percentage of time to work on ideas that are important to them.
40. Every year you must do three things different in your job than you did the year before it is part of your performance plan.
41. Get rewards, like mentioned in Roger Firestien's book, "Leading On The Creative Edge" for ideas generated, (e.g. Free ride in the company's hot air balloon, boss office for a day, featured parking space, etc.).
42. You get your or your team's name on the product/procedure that is implemented. Or you or you team get to name it.
43. Find the one person who works in the organization with whom everyone is comfortable talking (s/he's sure to exist) and make her the chair of the dept for Creativity her only job is to listen to people's ideas.
44. Bring your kids to work and let them solve the problems.
45. Pay people for good and bad ideas.
46. Make "Praise First/PPCO" part of the company culture. Teach it, practice it, and reward its use.
47. Don't give people their paychecks until they give you one idea (don't tell HR it's illegal).
48. Reward the very best idea with a paid month-long sabbatical or vacation.
49. Give people stickers to wear that say "kiss me, I had a great idea!"
50. Pretend it's a reality TV show and the person with no new ideas gets bumped each week.
51. Put protein snacks in the candy machines.
52. Entire organization is contract only hired by a team of contractors with rolling admission to the group, to give a specific value to the team.
53. Everyone fired every 3 years, must re-apply for position, proving value to entire work unit, which makes consensus based hiring decision including firing the manager/leader/CEO every three years with potential to re-hire (known as the "light a fire under their butt program... LAFUTBP").
54. Every biz unit is audited every two or three years for creative climate and innovative output.
55. CEO puts a stake in the ground in terms of new product pipeline, and develops metrics to assess.
56. CEO makes statements to financial analysts that (the company) will become a global benchmark for sustainable innovation in its category within 5 years.
57. An annual business unit bonus (distributed equally to all members of the unit) for innovation in a number of categories, such as: most profitable new product, most profitable line extension, greatest efficiency gain, most innovative people-development initiative, best intentioned mistake, most effective project sun-setting, best job of attracting high talent, best job of building company brand equity, best job of building business unit equity, highest leverage of workforce diversity, etc.
58. An annual all-hands meeting, where each person must come with a CD-ROM based presentation of no more than 10 minutes describing how they were innovative in their approach to work in the last year. (can spend no more than one work-day of company time preparing this) people are called on randomly or, each meets with 8 others and presents, all 8 are voted on for best example of innovation for the company (cannot vote for self), each winner meets in another group of 8 for same reason, and voted for again, until group size is reduced to an acceptable amount, big awards are given and presentations shown to entire company.
59. Give rewards for the "fastest, most effective training of a replacement".
60. Use the academic "sabbatical" concept for developing people.
61. Use same sabbatical concept for working in unrelated industry for example, a pharmaceutical industry exec works in the hotel industry for 6 months, with the intention of finding innovations for the pharmaceutical company. Win/win is report to the hotel about ideas for strengthening its business.
62. Form a multi-industry "innovation coalition" which shares "high potential employees" on a sabbatical rotation to pick up innovative ideas to cross-fertilize i.e. Multi-industry innovation pollinators.
63. CEO puts stake in the ground around percentage of revenue from new products each year.
64. CEO puts stake in the group around each business unit being held as a profit center with innovative service delivery.
65. CEO establishes an innovation council that oversees governance of all innovation aspects.
66. CEO calls for a top-down analysis of the company's innovation practice (snapshot review).
67. CEO starts rotation program of all top management making all positions temporary assignments of no more than 2 years.
68. Innovation council establishes multi-disciplinary market sensing teams which are responsible for gathering the data necessary to shift the embedded thinking.
69. Innovation council establishes tiger teams to work outside normal practices and modes as a means to rapidly learn about future environments.
70. Board of directors decides against M&A and declares that organic growth initiatives will receive an infusion of $xx million.
71. Have everyone change place with someone else once a month for a day, meaning sitting at their desk, answering their phone as if the other person, eating the other person's lunch, and doing their job.
72. Introduce a most creative employee of the month.
73. Have people match the way they dress to the nature of the work they do (boring job boring clothes, dirty job dirty clothes, and so on).
74. Have a draw for the corner office once a week.
75. Introduce the British approach to boxing day once a week (officers changing place with enlisted personnel for the day).
76. Remove all closed offices.
77. Bring in the kids to work once a month and ask them for their input on any project with the twist that you have to use at least one of their ideas per project.
78. Run an electronic brainwriting session on each project once a month or week.
79. Have a New & Improved office with a permanent representative or direct line to any of us for creative chats whenever someone needs one.
80. Allow only for the exchange of creative toys at Holiday parties.
81. Create a "Dear Abby" like column on the intranet that is creativity/change specific.
82. Create creativity mentor relationships where once a month an internal innovation rep coaches a small group of new employees around the value of creative process. Highlight successes that it may have generated.
83. Provide individual "creativity grants" that are awarded once every quarter for promising ideas/solutions. Grants might even be positioned as fellowships or even sabbaticals.
84. Track employees' time and demand that 20 minutes per day be utilized for thinking and progressing the company and their own career forward set some criteria and manage the initiative accordingly based on culture.
85. Create innovation agent badges that identify those who have self-identified themselves as willing to create and sustain change within the organization.
86. Lunch, learn and bragging sessions where individuals can highlight successes.
87. Yearly innovation celebrations marking advances in the organization and the individuals behind the change (set up innovation recognition awards).
88. Promise to fire people for doing such a great job and locate them somewhere else where they can make positive change stick.
89. Create an oral board that reviews the behavior and language of top management to ensure internalization of creativity concepts make sure they're walking the talk board to be made up of different levels of organization.
90. Job rotation every year you must rotate into a different part of the company.
91. 20% of time dedicated to pursuing areas of interest related to company products (i.e. Conferences toying with ideas).
92. An aggressive quota for new products/projects for every year that is endorsed and encouraged by CEO (because the number is so aggressive mistakes are tolerated and encouraged).
93. Work side by side with your customer for 1 day a month gain insights.
94. Create an innovation scout team core group of cross-functional employees who spend 2 weeks a month scouting other industries, (both locally and internationally). This team would be responsible for tracking trends across the world and reporting back to the CEO on implications.
95. Company size limited to a max of 150 people a new company is spun off with its own resources etc.
96. Company rewards individuals who are willing to go out on a limb whether they fail or succeed innovative risk prizes that are widely publicized throughout the organization!
97. Spend 1 day a week with a children's group.
98. Bring innovative high school students onto corporate site for their information.
99. Seek ideas or inspiration from seniors nursing homes etc.
100. Publicize the success of someone who DID go out on a limb within the org.
101. Publicize the failure of someone who DID go out on a limb within the org and was rewarded for it.
102. Write a company play to perform.
103. Make a music CD.
104. Nominate each other for a getaway vacation.
105. Start a 'getaway' vacation fund for the winner of the competition.
106. Nominate a customer for a getaway vacation.
107. Start monthly dinner/lunch gatherings with customers (like a retiree club).
108. Pair up with a customer.
109. Attend workshops on innovation with customer/partner pair.
110. Generate a fun "make a wish" foundation for the most innovative collaboration winner gets to pick from a couple of options meet Brad Pitt or attend a Hollywood gala event, etc.
111. Employees donate ½% of their salary to the most innovative individual.
So pick one that you like you only need one and make it happen. Take the risk, the initiative, to make it happen. See if it can drive innovation in your organization. It may not be the right solution, but one thing's clear: if you don't do something different, nothing will change! •
©2004 Jonathan Vehar. All rights reserved.
Jonathan Vehar is a Senior Partner at New & Improved, an organizational development firm focused on the people skills for innovation. More
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How to Be Creative
The Value of Making Mistakes
Avoid Prematurely Killing the Next Big Idea
To Solve the Problem Ask the Right Question
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