Tag Archives: creative

Tips for creative or innovative thinking at work

This isn’t the ideal environment for creative or innovative thinking. Photo: Michael Loke on Flickr 

During some recent presentations on innovation and technology trends, I’ve been asked for day to day advice, techniques and tips for creative or innovative thinking at work.

In summary, creativity or freshness comes from breaking habits, which are often unconscious behaviours – those things we do without even thinking about it. So here are 10 ideas for breaking habits to foster more creative or innovative thinking at work:

1. Meet customer facing staff, e.g. sales, front line support. Carefully listen to their anecdotes. If you don’t usually speak directly to customers, you’ll probably find the stories revealing. I’ve seen CIOs’ jaws drop when listening to customer service staff.

2. Read different publications. Whether it’s news websites, social platforms, newspapers, even the trade press of a different skill (e.g. legal press if you work in IT). You’re seeking different opinions to your usual ones. Continue reading Tips for creative or innovative thinking at work

How to Produce New Ideas, or “Innovative and Creative Thinking 101”

Don't expect any creative thinking time from this environment. (Credit: John Seb Barber)
Don’t expect any creative thinking time from this environment. (Credit: John Seb Barber)

When we present our innovation process or new ideas for clients, one of the most common first questions is “How do you think like that?”

This applies to all companies, from small start-ups to very large financial services organisations.

When the question is asked, the rest of the audience often pick up their pens as though we’re going to answer with a poignant, silver bullet answer. But as soon as we do answer, you can see the disappointment in everyone’s eyes.

I’m sorry, but the answer is much simpler than they expected.

Here are the key methods that we use at Endava to broaden our horizons, to think of new stuff, to help our clients with their business challenges. Continue reading How to Produce New Ideas, or “Innovative and Creative Thinking 101”

Book Review: Drive by Daniel Pink

Drive - motivating your team the Pink way
Drive – motivating your team the Pink way

Drive is a good, practical book on how to motivate people around you, inside and outside of work. I’ve read a few books on the subject, but many focus too hard on organisational structure, or project management. Drive focuses much more on the psychology of motivation. What is it that really drives people to perform well?

Interestingly there is a quote from a review by Malcolm Gladwell on the front cover (of my paperback version), because the book is written in a Gladwell-esque way of theory first, practical second. Like Gladwell, there is a bucket full of examples in the book to help Pink illustrate his key theories. Continue reading Book Review: Drive by Daniel Pink

Mobile first? Don’t believe the hype

Designing websites has never been as difficult as it is at the moment, and it’s only going to get harder.

Think about this for a moment – people born since about the year 2000 are unlikely to have ever walked into a travel agent or mobile phone shop. They’re unlikely to have been inside a bank more than a couple of times in their lives. Couple this with more than 10% of the UK still haven’t used the Internet.

In Q2 2013, AOL earned a staggering $166m from dial up modems. It’s fair to take a decent chunk of that revenue and claim it’s from ‘forgotten direct debits’ (now here’s an irony: a quick search for forgotten direct debits produces some interesting reading from AOL which claims over 2.5m Britons are paying for services they no longer need!).

So we have this strange anomaly where the Internet is being used by teenagers who have grown up using web browsers before they could read and over 75 year olds who are just starting to use the Internet for the first time.

And then they’re the range of screens: from a small Blackberry screen to iOS and Android (my S4 feels closer in size to an iPad Mini than an iPhone) to tablets. These screens demand large contact areas for fingers to select rather than small target areas easy to access with a mouse. Then on to desktops, which have a wider array of sizes than ever before. At work I use a square monitor with a relatively small resolution but when I work from home I have a large widescreen monitor where some sites look really nice and some look like a size zero.

Responsive design isn’t always the answer. I spend time battling against the marketing wave which convinces clients into believing every website needs to be responsive, to fit large and small browsers, touchscreen and mouse driven.

But responsive isn’t the only option. Fire up the BBC website on a smartphone and you’ll see the mobile site which is a quicker and easier to use than a responsive design. And it really comes into its own when you have a weak signal and want the latest cricket or football scores. A responsive design would be slower to download and use than the excellent mobile site. For high traffic websites it also reduces the cost of bandwidth delivery.

As well as fighting the responsive design marketing wave, I’m also swimming against the tide with mobile first initiatives. Yes mobile is increasing, however there are still very significant numbers of users using desktops. And what happens when wearable technology takes off? Or if TV apps really become mainstream?

The answer to many of these questions is to make sure that any digital platform has a complete API to support all these output devices. This can help multiple teams develop user interfaces in parallel. It also helps store the ‘state’ where users switch devices.

The best in class example of this is Facebook. Open the Facebook app on your phone and you’ll see the number of notifications in your activity feed. Click on some of them. Then look at Facebook on a desktop and you’ll see the new number of notifications. It’s the way it should be, but still so many sites struggle with these concepts.

So while it’s currently the hardest it’s ever been to design user interfaces, there are some great examples out there of how to do this properly, just don’t get too sucked into all the marketing hype.

Billion Dollar-o-Gram Infographic

Billion Dollar o Gram 2013One of my favourite websites, Information is Beautiful, has released the 2013 version of their Billion Dollar-o-Gram infographic.

The information is fully backed up by sources.

Some key, staggering highlights:

  • The Worldwide TV industry is worth 3/5ths the value of Apple
  • Nice to see that humanity spends over 3 times as much on healthcare as military (I would have feared it would be the opposite way round)
  • The Illegal drugs market is worth 3/5ths of the cost of the war on drugs
  • OPEC revenue is ‘only’ twice as much as Apple’s capitalisation
  • Apple’s capitalisation ($500bn) is just short of Microsoft, Google and Amazon combined ($524bn)
  • The money spent on the Global Financial Crisis could have ended extreme poverty four times over (and still had money left over to triple the charitable donations by the US public)
  • The global gambling market is worth only slightly less than the worldwide global revenue from cannabis
  • Apple’s capitalisation is just short of the value of the worldwide global Beer market (in 2015)!

Rebranding Business Intelligence

I’ve spent the last couple of days at work in some Big Data and BI (Business Intelligence) workshops. One of my colleagues from Romania came over to run the workshops and we went through some case studies including technologies, architecture and internal organisation. Big Data/ BI is a natural progression from Digital Media and other parts of the Endava organisation, and I’m pleased to be a part of the proposition.

In my mind, the phrase ‘Business Intelligence’ conjures up a similar reaction to ‘Creative’. I have always disliked the term Creative for a given department or function, because any part of an organisation can be classed as ‘Creative’.

Just because someone deals with user interfaces or Photoshop on a daily basis, doesn’t make them more creative than the sales team next door who are coming up with new customer propositions. Or the guy working on the factory floor who realises that it’s more efficient to build a widget using a new method, could save an organisation more cash than the ‘Creative’ guy can generate upstairs.

Business Intelligence is similar… many organisations already have tools which provide some ‘business intelligence’. BI is such a poor name for a toolset, and one of the reasons I think we’re seeing so many vendors jump on the bandwagon recently, is because BI can mean virtually anything that exposes some data about an organisation.

If Microsoft had only produced their spreadsheet application in 2013, it would probably be called Business Intelligence Centre rather than Excel, although at least it will have been designed by their User Experience team.

How Kickstarter has raised more money than the lottery


A website concept that is gaining a lot of publicity recently is Kickstarter. Kickstarter has been around since 2009 and is a ‘crowdfunding’ platform. People put ideas on to Kickstarter of ‘projects’ that they need money for, a little like ‘Dragon’s Den’, and other users offer some funding for the project.

In return for the funding, depending on how much money they have handed over, the investors can receive exclusive memorabilia, their name mentioned in the credits, a walk on part in a film and so on.

Kickstarter tries to limit projects to creative pieces of work, although I would have thought most ideas requiring some funding need some level of creativity.

One of the nice features about the Kickstarter site is that to keep it from being full of long term fundraising projects, they all require a target amount and a deadline. If a project doesn’t reach its amount within the deadline, it’s classed as an unsuccessful project and removed. It’s an all-or-nothing model, so if a project receives anything less than the absolute target, all of the potential investors’ funds are returned to them.

Kickstarter’s model is a commission of 5% on funds collected (successful projects). Payment fees (between 3% and 5%) are taken separately from the funding total. A fundamental principle of Kickstarter is that it doesn’t enable any equity sharing – the project owners always retain Intellectual Property and 100% ownership of the project. The investors receive rewards not shares.

The figures for Kickstarter are astonishing. The site is less than four years old and out of 82,000 projects a total of $452 million (£278 million) has been raised. An amazing 44% of projects are successful, which means of that $452 million, $51 million (£31 million) was raised on unsuccessful projects.

To provide some comparison, the UK Film Council invested £41.1m of lottery money into 58 UK films between 2006 and 2011. On Kickstarter raised, $85.7 million (£52 million) between April 28, 2009 and January 1, 2013 across 8,567 successful projects. So Kickstarter, with Internet crowdfunding, has raised more money for film projects than lottery funding.

Whilst crowdfunding has been around for quite some while, Kickstarter is becoming one of the biggest brands on the Internet. It’s in the eBay or JustGiving category – in fact many of the principles seem similar to eBay such as time limits and ease of use.

Kickstarter is a philanthropic enabler for the masses – crowdfunding at its finest.


How to define the value of innovation

This week was really busy, spending half of it out of the office – including a day in Ireland with a potential client we have wanted to work with for a while now.

I went to a conference on Tuesday afternoon hosted by SDL. We have implemented SDL’s social media listening tool SM2 on a customer project, and I’ve stayed in touch with the team there ever since.

SDL’s event was a thoroughly useful afternoon out of the office, full of interesting client case studies, talking about their digital channel rather than social media.

One key message from Tim Wade’s Best Western hotels’ presentation was that their digital channel was about storytelling. Their customers stay at hotels and it forms part of their life – they can tell stories about staying at the particular location.

Ever since that presentation, I keep hearing that marketing is all about storytelling. Last week I hadn’t really heard the concept. I just checked Wikipedia and just a few weeks ago someone added a subsection “In marketing” to StoryTelling!

There were other good presentations and the one that I enjoyed the most was from Greg Oxton. Greg is from the Consortium for Service Innovation. While the CSI sounds like the blandest of bland industry associations, Greg focussed on his presentation on “Observations on Innovation”. His audience participation with 150 people was admirable (How do Americans do it so well – are they taught presentation skills at pre-school?)

At the end of this recession, we’re seeing many companies in the IT sector falling away, and others grow rapidly. Innovation is absolutely vital to growth, mainly because it demonstrates differentiation, yet most companies aren’t very good at it. Greg’s raised a number of key points

Most companies want to eliminate risk and uncertainty, yet innovation is naturally risky and uncertain.

If we are really confident in an idea, then it’s probably not innovative.

Greg worked with the audience to demonstrate why innovation is usually a group exercise and even more productive with people if different backgrounds and agendas. If you take an existing team from an organisation and ask them to come up with new ideas, you probably won’t get nearly as good ideas as people from across the company – and this includes customers as well.

Greg drew a value model for innovation (shown below). The chart demonstrates that the value of your work is at it’s highest when you’re doing something for a customer (and the customer can be internal) and applying new thinking. Anything less than this, and your value is a commodity.

Our current work model is based on 50 year old manufacturing companies who required staff to go to work for 40 hours to produce an expected number of widgets for the week.

In the services industry where value is far more important, the amount of hours worked is largely irrelevant. Imagine walking into work and after a short time, producing a great idea. Logic would suggest that you’ve either done your day’s work (after communicating your idea!) or you should set to work on implementing it. So why do people leave work at 5/5.30/6/etc.? – It’s merely a hangover from the manufacturing industry.

One last point about what Greg said.

Most companies are not worthy of the people they employ.

What this means is that companies often find excellent people, but culturally need to pigeonhole them into a specific job role. And worse, the job role has a generic job description that applies to the lowest common denominator. So that excellent new employee is now restricted to the specific task in hand utilising a tiny percentage of that person’s capability.

Greg listed a few companies solving these problems where staff come and go as they need to, are hired and fired by peers rather than managers, write their own customised job descriptions and other new concepts that most of us struggle to imagine.

If you can watch Greg give this presentation again, I recommend you try to watch him at work. I’ve searched for him on YouTube and the video of his previous presentations seem to be very poor quality. If you can’t get to see him live, contact Nick at SDL a call and ask for the presentation handouts and when they’ll be releasing the videos of this week’s event.


Perfect partners

During the last three weeks we have had a number of partner sessions with our customers where we can share the advantage of working with multiple customers, as well as customers in other industries. We have been presenting and discussing trends across the industry and what we think will be key in the next six to twelve months.

I enjoy these sessions mainly because I’ve always enjoyed professional collaborative relationships and also because the questions we are asked by one customer about what we’re doing with another make us think harder about both of them – i.e. it gives us a fresh perspective. These sessions are the key difference between being a supplier and a partner.

A supplier provides a commodity and that’s the end of the relationship. A partner provides advice beyond their core product and helps the customer in their journey.

This collaboration shows how outsourcing, and indeed offshoring, has matured. Offshoring began purely as a cost benefit – paying people in distant lands a cheaper salary. CFOs made the decision to outsource and/or offshore without consulting IT departments. 

This has moved on to providing R&D or innovation centres, and now it’s about collaboration and industry trends. CTOs are now willingly making the decision.

We have been working with a creative agency recently offshores their graphic design work. They seem to be ahead of the industry and only time will tell if this works with more subjective and culturally sensitive deliverables.

I remember our design team at IMG were once maxed out and we asked our New York office to help with a creative pitch for a football club. The designs came back with words such as ‘soccer’, ‘jersey’ and full of stats that, even as a Premiership club season ticket holder, I didn’t have a clue what they meant. Cultural changes apply to design more than technical development.

Four reasons for being so busy


At the end of 2011 I gave a presentation to some of our customers and on the last slide I pointed out four key Digital Media trends for 2012 that my team could foresee. They are:

  • Mobile – even the most traditional of corporates will recognise the impact of mobile technologies in 2012 and need to update their systems and interfaces
  • Creative agencies – we are seeing a trend for organisations to use multiple front end agencies to create some ‘healthy tension’
  • Closer collaboration between non-competing brands – sharing data, joint projects and so forth
  • The wider economy would see two halves to 2012 – the months leading up to the Olympics will be upbeat (“What recession?”), and the months afterwards will depend on the prior investment

It’s only the end of March (where did the first three months of the year go?????) and little did I realise how correct our predictions would be. Our customers have been pushing for both tactical (short term) and strategic (long term) solutions to all of the points above, and this has led to a very busy time at work.

Hence this site hasn’t seen a lot of new content recently – I’ve either lost my weekends recently, or wanted to stay as far away from a computer as possible!

I write these blog posts in batches and use a timing function to release the articles, so I can guarantee the next couple of weeks you will see a lot of new articles.