Creative Problem Solving (CPS)

    Baby Steps To Breakthrough In Regional Economic Development

    What_About_Bob__001Creativity, Innovation, and Economic Development — Embracing the Challenge

    Better Questions Means Better Answers for Regional Economic Development

    It’s about Attitudes, Projects, and Baby Steps

    Economic Development is important and challenging work. Having just interviewed players in this field and surveyed some regional initiatives — it’s clear that innovative work is being done in regional economic development — by some.

    I suspect that many in the field find the economic development challenge overwhelming. A bit like the Bob character in What about Bob, it’s tough to be creative when you are afraid to take a simple step. Thank you Bill Murray for a memorable character.

    Let’s face it, some regions always seem to lose out on the new plant. Some cities struggle along and never seem to get over that post-manufacturing-exodus hump. On the flip side, you look at a city like South Bend and you see how things can be turned around with positive creative action. Ten years ago South Bend was on the brink of collapse. They still have a ways to go, but they’ve made some amazing progress.

    If you’re trying to grow a rural region, or a town off the beaten track, or an area saddled with mediocre infrastructure, you’re behind the eight ball before you even start. Big city economic developers have a different set of issues — negative perceptions of the cities brand, lack of cooperation from key players, blighted areas, talent draining to sexier places to live, unions, etc.

    Everyone wants  a breakthrough idea, be it a clear point-of-difference, a “nowhere but here” claim, a rich talent pool, and an authentic and attractive brand. Breakthrough ideas are slippery and elusive in every domain — and economic development just might be the slipperiest of all.

    Applying creativity to the economic development is where it starts — and that’s a tough place to begin. If you don’t think you’re creative (and half of all people don’t) the elusive idea becomes the impossible idea. Doing better with economic development might just start with personal attitude about creativity.

    But it’s much more than an econ developer’s creativity. It’s about the collective creativity of the whole community.

    Richard Florida states that creative people (the definition is far broader than artists, he calls creative workers “High Bohemians”) are the foundation for economic growth. How do you attract those classically creative types? Those young entrepreneurs, designers, engineers? How do you get them to bet their lives and careers on your region? What’s the compelling idea that has them putting down stakes? I’ll suggest that it’s not usually about money, it’s more about life style. What kind of life style does your region support? Is it open, tolerant, accepting, and fun? Does your region invite makers and entrepreneurs? Does your region support the arts and cultural events? Notice that all those touchy-feely things are essentially choices. The ideas flowing from these questions might require funding, but the choice and the attitude cost nothing.

    Beyond attitudes, better economic development really gets going with better questions. Generating ideas on the platform of the same old questions is likely to get you the same old ideas that don’t quite work, or are not truly exciting and breakthrough. Better questions means better answers.

    I have empathy for those folks trying to make something happen. It’s a given that creativity is hard to get your arms around. It’s a mushy concept filled with myth, mystery, and mayhem. It shouldn’t be such a mystery but for many it remains one. Here’s a starting point to rethink your view of creativity: Creativity is less about the arts and self expression and more about something Economic Development types do everyday — complex problem solving.

    The good news is creativity is not that hard to understand with the new and more accurate lens of complex problem solving. The bad news is creativity alone gets you nothing. It’s innovation that turns a mountain spring into bottled water — a product on the shelf ready for purchase.

    Make no mistake: innovation is complex and difficult. My colleague in innovation consulting crime Bob Eckert identifies twelve factors, somewhat akin to the Boy Scout oath (leadership, resources, experimentation, talent, technology, focus, etc.) any one of which can hose your innovation effort. We need look no further than Kodak to understand that money, resources, and talent do not necessarily win in the long run — Leadership can muck it all up. Lack of talent can take a well constructed effort and turn it to dust.

    That’s why Innovation — in the realm of Economic Development — might be the toughest innovation challenge of all.

    Why? Because the complexities are magnified by the scope.

    All of us must come to terms with our personal creativity, that is, if we want to be more creatively effective. Then, as leaders, we must cope with the creativity and innovative capacity of a team, or more broadly, an organization. The more people involved the harder it gets because now you’re talking about culture. Culture change in an organization, say moving from an innovation resistant culture, to an embracing innovation culture, is a bear of a transition to make.

    Then think about how an economic development group in a region, are in a sense are managers of the creativity and innovation for an entire area. With hundreds of other organizations and thousands of people, even millions of people, in an area. Moving the needle on creativity and inspiring meaningful real life innovation, in a region, is like tilting at windmills (cue music from Man of La Mancha). The thought is simply daunting. I would imagine that some think it impossible — and that’s a very bad headspace to be in if you’re trying to innovate. Take heart. Think Baby Steps.

    The principles that drive successful innovation in an organization can also guide regional economic development.

    It all starts with innovation projects. The only thing that changes culture is a project.

    I repeat, the Only Thing That Changes Culture is a Project. Don’t take my word for it, listen to Joseph Juran the quality guru.

    All improvement happens project by project and in no other way. — Joseph Juran

    All the studies, theory, research, debate, and discussion is only helpful if they fuel a real world project. So, economic developers — Four Baby Steps for Economic Developers:

    1. Get a project in motion. Find a problem, start solving it with a structured process like CPS*.
    2. Create a small success.
    3. Then do another project. As Bill Murray’s character in What About Bob found so enabling — it’s about Baby Steps.
    4. It needs to be a continuous cycle of projects. Constant Baby Steps.

    This is how you break down the complexity and take those baby steps that lead you up to that mountain top, that culture change, those elusive ideas and jobs.

    I have more to say about the How, but I’ll end this by summing up my advice for economic developers: It’s about problem solving, it’s about better questions, and it’s about projects. Try my Four Things!


    *CPS is easy to learn — read my business novel, Jack’s Notebook and in three hours you’ll have a complete understanding of this powerful framework for structured problem solving.



    Seven Essentials of an Effective Innovation Project Manager

    Outsourcing innovation project management might be the most strategic money you spend this year. It’s not a new idea but it’s one more companies should consider. It sure beats doing nothing. See my Seven Essentials for hiring below. But first: If you’ve not got an innovation plan in the process of being executed, right now, you are treading water and will eventually drown. So what’s stopping you from kicking off an innovation initiative? I often hear resources. What I hear from top management: “we don’t have the time or resources for innovation projects, we’ll start later this year.” I get it. How is it possible to do this separate thing that requires it’s own focus and resources while keeping the

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    Mash-Ups for Innovation, a How To Guide

    How to Do Mash-Ups for Innovation This is an article length, comprehensive post on Mash-Ups for Innovation. To say the least Mash-Ups hold great promise in helping people and organizations find useful and sometimes breakthrough innovations. This article will likely be part of a book on the front end of innovation that’s in development, stay tuned. Meanwhile I hope you find this guide useful. To digest this in bits, simply use the index to go to the section that interests you. There is value to reading these sections in order, but for those with an urgent need, you’ll find instructions for facilitation in the Continuum of Mash-Ups and How To sections below. Generally, if you’re looking for more breakthrough results

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    Innovation 2015 or Five Lame Excuses?

    Death or Kryptonite? I have a  vinyl record with one of those strategic skips that has it repeating — it drives me nuts — but I still play the record because I love the song so much. The song is Jimmy Olsen’s Blues by the Spin Doctors. It’s a hard rocker about the lament of Superman’s pal who has a crush on Superman’s gal. In the song Jimmy Olsen is competing with the man of steel for the affection of Miss Lois Lane. He’s got a secret weapon, a pocketful of Kryptonite. Innovation ca feel a lot like that — your competition is a big tough impossible-to-beat player like Superman. And no matter your size as an organization, you’d better be like

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    Want Innovation? Ask.

    Not everything about innovation is complicated. I recently gave a creative problem solving workshop to a group of scientists who all worked for the same outfit. It was a lively session. In addition to learning structured creative problem solving (Osborn-Parnes-Basadur framework) we did some short bits of ideation around new business concepts. This was more as a sampler than it was a real session. It wasn’t the goal of the session to reinvent their business, nonetheless, in a short time there were some relevant business growth ideas with potential on the table. An executive with the company remarked after the session that “nobody ever comes to me” with new business ideas. Talking more with this man a reason why emerged:

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    FAQ Re: Dr. Alan Black

    Greetings from gray and chilly Three Oaks, Michigan. As gloomy as it is, I’m grateful to be here and free. Freedom is not something we should take for granted. Later this morning I’ll take a walk outside around my pond and say prayers for my friend Alan Black. I might take a photograph. When he’s released I hope he’ll come visit me here so we can enjoy a walk outside together — and photograph whatever catches our eye. Below is the latest information from Friends of Alan Black. The FAQ pretty much says it all. Much of this has been covered in news reports, but FAB thought it would be helpful to put all the facts into one document. Alan’s

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    Help Detained USA Citizen In Abu Dhabi

    This is a departure for this blog. While there is a direct connection to creativity and innovation it is essentially a press release written by concerned leaders in the creativity and innovation international community. One of our own, Dr. Robert Alan Black, has been detained in Abu Dhabi. The details are below. My request is that if you are so moved, please contact the offices of your elected officials. USA citizens can find contact information here.  Press Release For Immediate Release Contact:                     Rosemary Rein Phone number:       239-910-3354 Email:                  American Creativity Expert Detained In Abu Dhabi Friday October 31, 2014 – Athens, Georgia. Dr. Robert Alan Black, an Athens resident, is being held in Al Wathba prison in

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    Four Criteria for Hiring an Innovation Speaker

    Four Criteria for Hiring an Innovation Keynoter Let this post work as a guide for meeting planners. You don’t have to hire me as your innovation speaker, but if you hire one, you’ll be well served if you pay attention to these four criteria and my comments in bold. Innovation is a complex, wonky topic and it has some special requirements that go beyond the classic things meeting planners look for in a speaker. Let’s keep this simple and as neutral as possible — my shameless personal plug is at the very bottom. I’m even going to suggest my competition here. So here goes, in my view an Innovation Speaker should: 1. Have a background as a successful entrepreneur and/or

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    Rural Broadband Necessary for Rural Innovation

    Tuesday– September 23, 2014 It’s nice to see that people are recognizing that innovation isn’t always in Silicon Valley. Writing you today from the countryside in Three Oaks, Michigan, aka “Michiana” — where my poky web access is satellite based. Steve Case’s article earlier this week in the Washington Post  – Why innovation and start-ups are thriving in ‘flyover’ country –  is spot on. Case, you may recall, was co-founder of AOL. He correctly identifies the reasons why Chicago, Denver, Cincinnati, and other smaller cities are becoming vibrant centers of start-ups. He’s asking for investments of time and money to be made in order to further the trend. I agree, and… He didn’t go far enough with his article — he missed one

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    Quick & Dirty Innovation

    Many companies started 2014 with the good intention of “getting after innovation” this year. Was that your organization? How’s that going? Are you jumping for joy or singing the blues? Some companies have worked hard and consistently at innovation all this year. They started the year running and got things done. Look at the slew of announcements Apple just made (to be fair the watch took years). Other companies made a good start but got caught up in the red tape of too much process. So, it’s September now. For those of you who’ve been busy keeping up with business operations and haven’t had time to do formal innovation this year, all is not lost. Consider: Quick & Dirty Innovation (QDI) “Wake up

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