Home > Case Studies, Competitive Intelligence, Management / Marketing / CI Theory > Sharing ideas, creativity and intelligence

Sharing ideas, creativity and intelligence

November 3, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I was recently pointed to a great YouTube video from Steven Johnson on where good ideas come from:

A key point that Johnson makes is that many creative ideas often take years to develop and depend on the input of other people. It is only through the sharing of partial ideas and hunches that fully fledged creativity can happen.

This is also important for competitive intelligence. Some managers view competitive intelligence as a “cloak & dagger” type process that needs to be enshrined in secrecy. They view it as of strategic importance and accordingly not for their corporation’s rank and file.

I believe that they are wrong! Competitive Intelligence IS strategically important but all employees need to be involved in the process. What often happens is that one employee will hear some information that by itself seems meaningless. It is only when combined with information from several others that a coherent picture emerges, turning disparate data pieces into important intelligence. Management needs to encourage such information sharing throughout the organisation – and only through such cooperation will the CI information gathering process be 100% effective. The role of the CI personnel then becomes that of coordination and facilitation – putting together the jigsaw of pieces gathered throughout the organisation and building a picture that management can safely use to make strategic decisions. Failure to do this can mean that several jigsaw pieces are liable to be missed or found too late – and so decision-making will suffer and the chances of making a wrong decision increase.

There is a story told by Sheila Wright of DeMontfort University. I’ve slightly adjusted it – partly to protect the innocent (and guilty) – apologies, Sheila.

Baked Beans TinApparently a number of years ago, there was a senior managers’ meeting at a food canning factory. Six months earlier, the factory had installed new machinery for wrapping the cans in plastic. Plastic wrap allowed them to reduce pallet sizes, and so ship products at a lower cost. Unfortunately the factory was having problems.  Too often the plastic was tearing – and not doing the job of keeping the cans immobile on the pallet. This meant that cans got damaged and costs got higher than anticipated.

As is common in senior management meetings, lunch and coffee is delivered during the meeting. A junior staff member was bringing in the coffee when he overheard his bosses talking about the plastic wrap problem.

Er hmm….. can I interrupt…. I know what the problem is and how to fix it….I thought that you already knew the answer to the problem….” he said, to the incredulous stares of his bosses. The junior staff member then explained that he played football every Sunday and was friends with an operations manager who worked for a rival company. Apparently this competitor had installed similar machinery and come across the same problem. A few Sundays before, the operations manager had come to the football game in an ebullient mood. “We’ve fixed it” he’d explained. “All it needed was to recalibrate the machinery to take into account our cans and the plastic wrap we were using. It took us months to work out, but we’ve done it“.

By not encouraging the sharing of information, the canning company had compounded their problems. Nobody knew that this staff member had friends in a rival company or that this competitor had also been having problems with their packaging – and had solved it. There was no process to communicate the information – that would have helped and saved time and money. Essentially, information flowed down but there were no processes to allow it to flow up or be networked within the organisation.

Effective competitive intelligence builds systems that encourages the flow of information throughout the company – up, down and sideways. Of course there does need to be a respect for secrecy – and some conclusions should be kept secret. Business, strategy, and product development plans and so on do need to be protected.  However this should not be at the cost of failing to encourage all staff to contribute to the overall intelligence process and provide any information they come across – whether obviously relevant, or seemingly irrelevant or unimportant. There needs to be a balance between secrecy and openness. Anything else is a flawed system – that deserves to be canned!

  1. November 3, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    So Mother was right all along: it’s nice to share.

    • November 3, 2010 at 3:58 pm

      Especially if you want to get to the top-of-the-class with the most creative ideas. (Although sharing crib-sheets with the person in the next desk during an exam probably doesn’t count).

  2. November 9, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Please, can you PM me and tell me few more thinks about this, I am really fan of your blog… 34

    • November 20, 2010 at 7:47 pm

      Done – and thanks for the feedback.

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