Can Business Analysis get Creative?

Have you ever met a creative Business Analyst? Is it even possible to think creatively in a left brain environment? Let me tell you a short story about embedding creative thinking into a bank’s IT department.

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Lateral Thinking meets Business Model Innovation

random wordsLateral thinking can be thought of as logical thinking but form a different starting point. If you are able to shift your starting point enough before your logical mind gets to work, you can find yourself with surprising results. Hopefully, novel ideas with some value that you just wouldn’t have thought of using regular logical thinking.

The use of random words is one of many techniques designed to disrupt your regular, left brain thinking and enable you to start thinking creatively. In this post, I’ll continue my theme of putting the innovation back into business model innovation by applying the random word technique to business model innovation.

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What to do with your lotto win

I should clarify that this post does not apply to tonight’s Australian lotto, which I am going to win. But for next week’s lotto and those played elsewhere there is quite a lot of advice on what to do with your winnings. If like me you intent to strike it big, you should check out what my fellow millionaires had to say. Here are some of the main points:

  • Manage your risk: your main goal should be to protect your capital, and figure out safe ways of living off the interest.
  • Diversify your holdings: don’t stick all your eggs in one basket, choose lots of safe baskets instead. And then buy the basket making factory
  • Tax Evasion: find as many legal ways as you can to ‘shelter’ from or otherwise avoid paying tax. This applies to your payout, and to any money you will make from now on. It seems to work a treat for Google, Amazon and Starbucks, check here for more

And here are two far more important points that I picked up somewhere else:

  • If you’re not happy now, being rich is not going to change that
  • People are going to start to expect much cooler christmas presents

What does this have to do with innovation?

Plenty. Let’s start with a look at a popular attribute based creative thinking technique called SCAMPER (see Michael Michalko‘s book Thinkertoys):

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The Power of Questions

In Questioning for Creativity, I introduced the story of the NASA space pen. The story goes like this. A group of smart NASA scientists decide they need to decide a pen that works in zero gravity (have you ever tried writing with the pen pointing up?). They design a gazillion dollar space pen that works just about anywhere, including outer space. Meanwhile, the Russians decide to use pencils. The story is engaging and funny, and it teaches us to make sure we are asking the right question before we jump in and start coming up with ideas. It is also an urban myth. NASA did use pencils, but found them to be flammable with heads that break off and float dangerously around the cabin. The lesson here, get your facts straight. Not only do you need to ask the right question, you also need to know your stuff.

The Five Whys

Five Whys Explained

The 5 Whys method was originally developed by Toyota Corporation as a core part of their Toyota Production System. The basic concept is that you ask why repeatedly until you get to the single root cause for a problem, typically a missing or broken process or some human behaviour that can be changed for the better. This example illustrates Jeff Bezos using 5 Whys to understand why an amazon worker had hurt themselves on the production line, reproduced below:

Why did the associate damage his thumb? Because his thumb got caught in the conveyor.

Why did his thumb get caught in the conveyor? Because he was chasing his bag, which was on a running conveyor.

Why did he chase his bag? Because he placed his bag on the conveyor, but it then turned-on by surprise

Why was his bag on the conveyor? Because he used the conveyor as a table

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Creative Thinkers Zoom Out

Imagine you have just been gathered together into a brainstorming workshop. Entering the room you notice all the usual props; blackboards, beanbag chat zones, sticky notes, executive toys, even craft boxes for constructing IDEO styled paper prototypes…the brief:

“How can we take a residential home off grid?”

Almost immediately your mind starts swirling with ideas; solar power, wind turbines, bio-lights…You’ve been thinking about these ideas for a while and finally you’ll get a chance to put them all together. Others in the room start writing on blackboards or constructing prototypes out of cardboard tubes whilst some are engrossed in discussion. But wait…what is the real problem here and why has everyone started solving it already?

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Questioning for Creativity

Have you ever tried writing with your pen pointing up? According to legend this was quite a problem for NASA astronauts wanting to write in space. Gazillions of dollars were spent developing a space pen with ink that would work in zero gravity, no matter which way it was pointing. The result was the fabulous space pen, a marvel of modern engineering and quite a cool gadget too. The Russians used pencils.

Within this amusing tale are some great lessons in creative problem solving. How often do we start generating solutions straight away, or gloss over the problem statement as a given? In most models of creative problem solving, ideation comes in the middle and not at the beginning. In this post I’m going to talk about the power of asking questions, and the importance of asking those questions in the right way.

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SCAMPER revisited

SCAMPER: noun, to run playfully about…as a child; acronym, Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, Rearrange

Bob Eberle was an educational administrator from Edwardsville, IL. In 1991 he developed SCAMPER, an educational tool designed to improve imagination and creativity in children. You can get the get the teachers resource kit here, it has some really cool stuff in it. Drawing on the work of Dr Frank E. Williams, Eberle set out to improve creative imagination in two ways:

  • Thinking – should be fluent (lots of ideas), flexible (ideas which can adapt), and elaborate (the ability to add detail to ideas)
  • Feelings – to develop curiosity, willingness to take calculated risks, preference for complexity, and intuition
Eberle noted that our schools seem to educate the creativity out of our children instead of into them. SCAMPER was designed to change that. Another great speaker on the problem of our schools educating the creativity out of our children is Sir Ken Robinson. His fantastic speech on the subject, ‘are our schools killing creativity?‘ can be found on TED here, and has been set to some quite exquisite animation here. I urge you to view these.
SCAMPER is still in use in a wide number of schools today, and has since been taken on by grown ups the world over as a generally useful creative thinking tool. This post will explain how it works, and how you can learn to use it better.

Hall of Fame: Shakespeare in your Kitchen

Imagine if Shakespeare was designing a new kitchen gadget. Can you picture him walking around your kitchen for inspiration, perhaps he is quoting from As You Like It, quietly muttering to himself “I will forget the condition of my estate, to rejoice in yours“. Would he be rejoicing in the amount of food you have in your cupboards…wondering why you have so much extra food in your cupboards when he has only enough for the next couple of meals? Perhaps his instinct is to start cramming his pockets with as much of your food as he can whilst nobody is looking? After all, what is Shakespeare doing in your kitchen anyway? If only he had some sort of pocket lunchbox gadget he might think to himself…a new device designed to be filled with random assortments of food, keeping somehow separate whilst still being small enough to fit into ones pocket…

Okay, so the example is clearly a bit silly. But that is the point. It is designed to give us an escape from our own perspective so we can approach creative thinking from someone else’s shoes. In this case Shakespeare’s. It is also fun to try, which is a great plus for a creative thinking tool in my opinion.

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Think by Analogy

What if we could figure out a way to copy the way water flows off a ducks back to build a roof which never leaks, or a way to copy shark skin to create car paint work with very low wind resistance? By looking to nature for inspiration, we can solve some of our greatest problems. Let me give you an example.

The Philip’s Bio-Light uses bioluminescence to light our homes in much the same way as fireflies are able to glow at night. Having figured out a way to concentrate the level of light generated by certain light emitting bacteria, the technology promises to be able to light our homes without the use of electricity. Other uses for the idea could include vehicle display dials, kitchen appliance displays, alarm clocks or garden path lighting.

In today’s post I’ll be continuing the series on Disrupted Thinking, looking specifically at the way analogies can be used to inspire creative thinking.

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