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Raise Your IQ (Innovation Quotient) and Capture the Competitive Edge

by

Marilyn Schoeman Dow

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Fierce competition gives us three choices. We can innovate, imitate or vegetate. To greet the future with legitimate optimism expand your IQ - Innovation Quotient.

Here are some ideas on four key factors that will assist you - training, humor, incentives and a supportive work environment. The resulting synergy can take you to record-breaking profits.

1. Training. Training keeps you informed and ready to compete successfully. Nearly everyone can be an idea person and a problem solver. Developing problem solving and innovation skills forms the focus of much of my work. A major international defense contractor requested seminars to identify and solve problems as well as create opportunities.

At one plant, 400 employees had submitted only one new idea in a year. Then customized training equipped them with problem solving strategies and "The Idea Activator" system. Within three months 80 employees, custodians to executives, generated 194 ideas, one of which saved over $200,000!

Similarly, Tom Peters identifies firms that celebrated major production cost savings. "The stunning improvements were mainly achieved through worker ideas for reducing wasted time, not via automation."

2. Incentives. Incentives honor significant improvement or high performance. At Martin Lithographics, Carol Stephens set new sales records and delighted in a unique and personalized reward.

Her bosses saluted her accomplishment by cutting, delivering and stacking a cord of wood in her garage! Not only was that an unusual gift, but something she especially wanted. It also required a high level of management commitment. They didn't just phone for flowers or engrave another plaque - they applied thought, time and even muscle to a personalized, meaningful bonus.

3. Humor. Humor ranks high on the list of crucial components in a desirable work place. Fostering harmonious interaction, it serves as an invisible yet powerful partner in the creative process.

At Ogilvy and Mather, the innovative Account Manager, Kathleen Hosfeld, accepted an additional assignment as "Vice President of Spontaneous Fun." Her job description involved concocting prescriptions for regular doses of humor. Now welcome and frequent laughter minimizes the stress of duties and deadlines.

4. Supportive environment. Training, incentives and humor cannot compensate for the lack of a reinforcing environment. A former boss annually sent a "You're terrific" memo to everyone; the rest of the year he squelched people and ideas, yet saw himself as supportive. Even with the latest equipment, plushest surroundings and highest salaries people will not reach top productivity in a harsh work climate.

Innovation flourishes where people and ideas are nurtured. Make it safe for people to apply innovative attitudes - to observe, question, learn, risk, discover connections, solve problems, create opportunities, enhance life. You will convert the negatives of change to the positives of progress.

Fear. The previous four factors are positives that diminish the big negative - fear. Fear creates a monumental barrier to innovative action. Fear of ridicule, put-downs, failure and blame blocks individuals' ideas and willingness to take risks.

Fear-flingers, critics and fault-finders are productivity preventers. Critics don't have to be bright or even informed. Often self-disquised as the devil's advocate, they impede progress. Being destructive is easy; being constructive requires thought, action and a helpful attitude.

People who focus only on what's wrong with an idea and ignore what's right with it may provide a clue they are part of the problem, not part of the solution. A useful comment for them is, "Fault finding is just for geologists." (Then with a gentle laugh quickly return to the idea under discussion. Usually there will be less interference, sometimes even support from the critic.)

A button illustrates this point with the message: "I don't solve problems, I just question the data." Ideas are fragile, easily and quickly killed, usually with little or no thought prior to the execution. People whose ideas die a premature death rapidly learn it's safer and less painful not to share them. Innovation evaporates, motivation disappears - a lose/lose situation.

Idea Champions. Another way to lessen fear is to implement Peters' concept of Idea Champions. He points out the need for someone of status to serve as champion of the cause, to assure the idea a fair hearing. Respond to people's suggestions with receptiveness, promptness and dignity. Call upon their skills and expertise within and beyond their job title and department.

In The Renewal Factor, Bob Waterman states, "Companies must act like informed opportunists. The renewing companies treat flexibility as their main strategic weapon." Flexibility is a component of your Innovation Quotient.

"Give people fish and you feed them for a day. Teach them to fish and you feed them for a lifetime." Provide training. Activate it with incentives, good humor and a supportive environment. Then find Idea Champions and work to eliminate the barriers of fear.

You will create a win/win situation for the individuals and the corporation as well. Your high Innovation Quotient will propel you far into the future, eager and able to thrive on the competitive edge.

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Owner of ThinkLink and past-president of the American Creativity Association, Marilyn promotes innovative action, teambuilding and managing change in keynotes, coaching and seminars. Her products include BOFF-O! (Brain On Fast Forward) problem solving deck/system.

For information about presentations and strategizing sessions, contact Ms. Dow at ThinkLink in Seattle, WA by email or by calling 206-200-7212

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