A More Beautiful Question (2)

Here a sequel to How to Get a More Beautiful Question?

question

Defining the thinking task before beginning an idea generation session is one of the most neglected stages.

Most starting questions are far too broad defined. For instance. “In What Ways Might We (IWWMW) get more clients?”. It is more helpful to break it down in smaller topics, as in

  • “IWWMW add more value to our product”
  • “IWWMW get more clients with help of our existing clients”
  • “IWWMW use other product to sell ours”

Design at least 15 IWWMW’s by redefine the initial one in order to escape from the obvious and get a really creative challenge.

Avoid formulating IWWMW’s becoming too small. In that case the IWWMW will just be a concrete solution and will not give you a direction for further searching new ideas.

Then make the challenge less boring and more sexy. That is: make them more imaginative, outreaching, challenging, interesting. For instance: sex up “IWWMW get more clients by using our existing clients” into “our clients collect so much organic waste that we have to export it”.

Follow up by adding a constraint: people, money, time, channels.

Finally, construct a propelling question that has a contradiction in it.

A propelling question is one that drives forward the effort for creative thinking by using a bold ambition and a significant restriction. For instance: “let’s get 50 more clients by firing all account managers”.

The technique of the creative focus is to force oneself outside common thinking, already before the creative thinking session actually get started.

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Key Performance (mis) Indicators

kpi

Key Performance Indicators are meant to keep an organisation on track. By measuring the performance over time, you are able to look at deviations and to take measures. As Wikipedia defines it: A  key performance indicator (KPI) is a type of performance measurement. An organization may use KPIs to evaluate its success, or to evaluate the success of a particular activity in which it is engaged. Sometimes success is defined in terms of making progress toward strategic goals, but often success is simply the repeated, periodic achievement of some level of operational goal (e.g. zero defects, 10/10 customer satisfaction, etc.).

The concept behind Key Performance Indicators is to build a feedback loop between input and output. Its working principle does not differ from a thermostat, which senses the temperature of a system so that the system’s temperature is maintained near a desired set-point.

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In order to get not market driven organisations more efficient the adage “The numbers tell the tale”has become fashion among governments, institutions and not-for-profit companies. There are several metrics or key performance indicators.

However, Key Performance Indicators can also lead to perverse incentives and unintended consequences as a result of employees working to the specific measurements at the expense of the actual quality or value of their work. In the social sciencesunintended consequences (sometimes unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences) are outcomes that are not the ones intended by a purposeful action. Perverse incentives are a type of unintended consequence. A perverse incentive is an incentive that has an unintended and undesirable result which is contrary to the interests of the incentive makers.

There are a lot of examples of bad designed Key Performance Indicators. We came across, but not exhaustive:

  • Police officers get a predetermined quota of fines to give out. The unintended effect of this KPI that the police organisation will be focused on easy to obtain files, f.i. traffic fines instead of fighting serious crime;
  • An organisation involved in handling objections has a KPI for the amount of rejected complaints. Imagine how employees will approach complaints. . .
  • It is generally accepted that the progress of students is evaluated by tests. However, student tests assess only a small part of needed knowledge, skills and attitude of students. Also, often the purpose of the test, timely warning of learning difficulties and study delays, dilutes to “a (missed) ticket to the next hurdle”;
  • An agency of child protection is responsible for placing abused or emotional neglected children in foster parents and child care institutions. It is very logic to design a KPI: like the number of placed children. If this performance is coupled to the financing of the agency, it can easily lead  to placing children out of their home, against sound indications that there is no need for or against parents objections;
  • It is complete reasonable to expect higher efficiency and experience of surgeons as a hospital performs at least 30 knee surgery or angioplasty a year. However, such a KPI can lead to more instead of less knee surgery and angioplasty, an example of a perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended (an intended solution makes a problem worse);
  •  The selling of mortgages as an end in itself, even to people who could no pay the interest, led to the bank crisis in 2008. Another example of a negative, unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy to motivate sellers to do better their best.
  • To increase the efficiency of university studies universities are judged on the number of successful students per year. It is now tempting to reduce the requirements for passing exams.
  • In order to increase the efficiency of General Practitioners many assurance companies allow for not more than ten minutes consults by patients. This KPI leads to far more referrals to medical specialists because GP’s have not much time to carefully investigate the medical complaints. This is an example of a counterproductive KPI: it is more of an “obstacle” than a help in the achieving of a productive project or an objective;
  • Crews of warships run annual series of nautical and operational exercises. Through a complex multi-factor analysis, a KPI is derived: Operational Employ-ability. Members of Parliaments asked questions when the KPI decreased to 10%, as a warship was actually deployed in a crisis;
  • Notorious are budgets: the setting of expenditure levels for each of an organization’s functions. It expresses strategic plans of business units, organizations, activities or events in measurable terms. However, such budget tends to be exhausted at the end of the year, because organizational units realise that they will be shortened in budget for next year, because last year they needed not the full budget. So, as an example, in many towns you can observe that every five to ten years the same streets and squares are completely overhauled without any need but in order to use the full budget.

Many Key Performance Indicators have unintended effects. They function as rules for behavior. Key performance Indicators are designed to notice need for adjustments of the course of an organisation. However, more often than not, they are invitations to cheat, by employees but equally by companies and institutions,  especially when financial consequences are attached to the KPI.

Whenever designing or encountering a Key Performance Indication, be warned!

 

unintended consequences

For more examples of perverse incentives, see here. For examples of unintended consequences see here.

To built up your Thinkibility skills, imagine your are the director of a hospice. You have set a thinking task: how to improve the occupancy (KPI) of the hospice. Then check your answers with How Dying Became A Multibillion-Dollar Industry.

 

 

Double Bind

double bind

In earlier posts “Contradictions and Aggression” and “Don’t Think You Can Think” part 1 and part 2 we did some thinking about contradictions, dilemma’s and paradoxes. A special case of these are double binds.

A double bind exists when

  • an impossible ultimatum is put forward (either/or, however, both alternatives are unacceptable)
  • two directives are in conflict (be spontaneous)
  • two conflicting messages (you are absolutely fantastic, but you have to change your behavior)
  • double bind questions (do you still beat your wife?)
  • conflict between words and actual behavior (yes, I drink too much)

Essentially, a double bind is a form of unconscious control or exerting tacit power.

Elizabeth Davids offers four strategies to reduce  feelings of confusion and being trapped in a situation where you can only lose.

  1. Look at the bigger picture
  2. Don’t introvert
  3. This is not my game
  4. Look for a third option

Actually, she mentions a fifth strategy, the reverse double bind or counter paradox, which we will explore in another blog post.

Trends in Innovation – Think Inside The Box!

Trends in Innovation

In an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review, “Reversing the Decline in Big Ideas” Max Marmer argues;

“The number of teams working on transformational ideas in Silicon Valley seems to be declining and homogeneity of founding teams is one of biggest reasons why. We started with the dynamic duo of the businessman and the engineer. Recently we added the designer. Now if want to continue to create products that scale into billion dollar companies, create thousands of jobs and transform society, we need to add domain experts to the founding DNA of Technology Companies.”  

As I interpret Max Marmer we are leaving the era of technological breakthroughs which drove an enormously technology push. As competition grew, the suppliers of the new goods tried to differentiate by adding  more gadgets and finally they turned to industrial designers. The aesthetics, ergonomics, and usability of a product, but also the brand development and sales were introduced to gain competitive advantages.

Design for Value: More teams with expert knowledge

Max Marmer asks himself why the world is full of brilliant domain experts and full of people who are great at building software, but who rarely speak to each other or work together. It is inconceivable that, for example, there is no software for performing opportunity audits, or for systematic value creation in product and service design.

The next big idea may therefore come from teams of  engineers, businessperson, designers or domain experts. From technology push to demand pull, or from providing tools to designing value.

We may see a trend towards advantages for manufacturers who are able to think intelligently and creatively about interesting values for consumers. As Tim Brown says,

“Now, however, rather than asking designers to make an already developed idea more attractive to consumers, companies are asking them to create ideas that better meet consumers’ needs and desires. The former role is tactical, and results in limited value creation; the latter is strategic, and leads to dramatic new forms of value.”

However, due to the economic crisis, things in at least the Western world have dramatically changed. Citizens and governments have become increasingly frugal, while the growing affluence of consumers in emerging economies will place an increasingly heavy burden on already strained supplies of energy, water, and other resources.

Frugal innovation – More value for less cost for more people

Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu, and Simone Ahuja from HBR Blog Network believe that this new age of scarcity in the face of ever more demanding consumers will require a new strategy for disruptive innovation and growth that they call More for Less for More (M4L4M): a strategy that places an emphasis on

delivering more experimental value to customers while simultaneously reducing the cost and delivering that value to a greater number of people. M4L4M offers firms a new way to reconcile multiple, seemingly contradictory financial equations”.

However, Western product developers are spoiled with an overabundance of resources. Most products are over-engineered, engineering problems are often solved by adding more resources or by compromising, and if resources are not enough, the project is abandoned. It is well known that former USSR software developers were far more creative than their US counterparts, who had easily access to much more hardware. Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, famously coined the term “frugal engineering” in 2006. He was impressed by Indian engineers’ ability to innovate cost-effectively and quickly under severe resource constraints.  Here some notable examples of Frugal Engineering.

TRIZ

Frugal engineering is close to TRIZ. In TRIZ, it is known as “ideality”, and the approach was introduced by Altshuller  more than 60 years ago, was focused on achieving the needed result by using existing resources as much as possible. ARIZ, for instance, forces a user to use resources available within a system to change the system to obtain a result required. Another TRIZ tool, “Trimming” focuses on trimming system components as much as possible while preserving functionality, quality, and performance. The advantage of TRIZ is that it provides specific tools in a systematic approach. 

More Thinking Inside the Box 

However, it is more about changing mentality of engineers. So, the next time when there is a demand for more resources, say:”No, adding resources is allowed. Use available resources. We are in a closed world, and in that world we have to find a solution”. As you will notice, this thinking instruction will almost automatically lead to creative alternatives for adding for example more energy, time and money.

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Innovation – The Blue Economy Approach 

Photo: “Gift Box With Ribbon” by metrue