Innovation Extracts provides a quick look at current thought regarding leadership and management of planning and improvement initiatives.

If you have any questions or comments about what you read here, or if you would like to suggest items for future Innovation Extracts, please contact Barbara Sherlock, Senior Planning and Improvement Associate in the Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment, at 814-863-8721 or

Quality Endeavors Issue No. 149 May 2012

Better Brainstorming

“Idea Generation and the Quality of the Best Ideas”
Karan Girotra, Christian Terwiesch, and Karl T. Ulrich

Management Science Vol. 56, No. 4, April 2010, pp. 591-605

Brainstorming is a commonly used tool to generate ideas, and there are several approaches, including round robin, silent, and spontaneous. In “Idea Generation and the Quality of the Best Ideas” (Management Science Vol. 56, No. 4, April 2010, pp. 591-605), authors Karan Girotra, Christian Terwiesch, and Karl T. Ulrich detail their research to determine whether there are more effective ways to generate more, and higher quality ideas.

Girotra, Terwiesch, and Ulrich worked with two organizational structures in their research:

  • Teams of four individuals that worked on the task for 30 minutes
  • ‘Hybrid’ groups of four who worked individually on the task for 10 minutes, and then worked as a team for 20 minutes

There were two tasks:

  1. Identify new sports and fitness products for the student market
  2. Identify new dorm and apartment products for the student market

Participants were upper level product design students at the University of Pennsylvania; all participated in both organizational structures and both tasks.

Each of the ideas generated by the teams and hybrid groups was evaluated by a separate group of MBA students on the business value of the idea. An additional group of students was asked to rate each product idea in terms of whether they would purchase the product. These reviews indicated the ‘quality’ of the ideas.

Analysis of the data indicated that the hybrid groups produced more ideas than the groups that worked only as a team. Also, the quality of the best ideas generated by the hybrid groups was better than the quality of the best ideas generated by the teams. Researchers noted that while members of teams build on each other’s ideas, this does not lead to more ideas or higher quality ideas.

The authors conclude that bringing a group together face to face may not be the most effective way to begin the idea generation process. It may be more useful to have those involved work independently before they come together to share their individual ideas.

Additionally, the authors found that neither group did well in evaluating their ideas, compared to the data regarding business value of the idea or likelihood of purchasing the product. Consequently, it may be useful to have a structured means for evaluating ideas and alternatives, such as the criteria matrix.

Quality Endeavors Issue No. 148 April 2012

Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time

We will probably always have a ‘To Do’ list, and maybe more than one. The question we face is how to effectively and efficiently manage that list. In Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, (2007, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, CA), Brian Tracy provides a set of 21 approaches to expend your time more effectively as well as more efficiently.

Tracy presents two concepts that may be considered foundational to his other suggestions.

The first concept is to develop a habit to use each of the principles he suggests. In this way you will apply the principles automatically on a daily basis. He suggests three steps to form a habit:

  1. Make a conscious decision to develop the particular habit.
  2. Be disciplined and actively practice the principle or approach you want to become a habit.
  3. Persist with this practice until it becomes automatic and is a habit.

The second concept is to set priorities. Make setting priorities a habit. Regularly ask yourself:

  1. What are my highest value activities?
  2. What are the things that only I can do and that will make a difference?
  3. What’s the most valuable use of my time right now?

Tracy offers a number of other more specific actions to develop into habits. From the organizational perspective, they include:

  • Think in terms of long term – consequences and results – in making short term decisions about what to do.
  • Make a plan based on a clear goal.
  • Have a plan for each day.
  • Prepare in advance so that you have what you will need when you start working.
  • Break big projects into manageable pieces and have a plan to do one step at a time; set aside chunks of time for projects.

From a perspective more oriented to professional and personal development, they include:

  • Identify and develop your skills.
  • Know when during the day you do your best work – early morning, morning, afternoon, evening, night.
  • Have a positive attitude; look for the good in every situation.

Many of these actions might sound like common sense. Tracy’s most significant contribution may be the idea to turn these actions into habits. Make them your automatic response.

Quality Endeavors Issue No. 146 February 2012

John Seddon, Freedom from Command and Control: Rethinking Management for Lean Service

The focus of a Lean system is providing maximum value for the customer by producing the product the customer wants as efficiently as possible. (For more information see Innovation Insight #23, Increasing Efficiency and Effectiveness Through Lean.)

John Seddon, in Freedom from Command and Control: Rethinking Management for Lean Service (2005, Productivity Press, New York, NY) points out that the above approach works in a manufacturing situation. In that case, an organization is producing a standard product with little or no variation. Even if the product is a car, there are a limited number of models and trim variations. Additionally, products or the components can be made and stored in advance.

On the other hand, in a service organization, the provider and the customer interact in the providing of the service. It cannot be provided in advance, and what the customer wants may vary with each contact. In this case, Seddon points out, the effective data to track is not simply how many customers are served and how quickly. Some customers are making contact for the first time, and the goal then is to meet their need as efficiently and quickly as possible. Other customers are returning because they were not satisfied the first time. Their contact is ‘rework’. Something was not provided as expected in the first contact, so there is a need to also track what Seddon calls ‘failure demand’. How many customers were not satisfied during their first contact? How can the failure demand be reduced?

This is the challenge in applying Lean to service organizations. In manufacturing, reduction of variation within physical parts of a product can make it possible to streamline the process, reduce waste, increase efficiency and reduce cost and time. Measuring quantity produced and the time to produce a standard unit, with goals of increasing quantity and decreasing time, makes sense. However,in service organizations specialized training and focus, coupled with measures like these, can be counterproductive. Training and directing service providers to focus on specific services can lead to multiple transfers to meet a customer’s need, rather than the person having the first contact with a customer being able to deliver value and prevent or resolve failure. This specialized referral system results in a less efficient system and dissatisfied customers. At the same time the service provider is meeting their goal of quickly providing service in their area of expertise. As Seddon reminds the reader, you get what you measure and reward.

So what is the solution for a service organization? To address this, Seddon suggests a systemic approach, with the goal of meeting all customer needs at the first point of contact effectively and efficiently, ‘one stop shopping’. Measures should be based on flow, the delivery of a service from start to finish, rather than on fragmented individual activities involved in providing that service. Design the provision of the service and plan training based on the actual demand of those being served, not on specific functions or products.

Seddon called this the 'Vanguard’ model. First, identify the purpose of the organization from the customer’s perspective. Then determine the type and frequency of customer demands on the organization. Third, for high-frequency demands, determine what the organization is capable of providing – can it meet the demand? Then analyze the work flow to separate the activities that add value from non-value producing activities and see how the system can be changed to reduce the time and resources spent on non-value producing activities.

Quality Endeavors Issue No. 145 January 2012

Jack Foster, How to Get Ideas

As Jack Foster points out in How to Get Ideas, (2007, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.), a common, recurring definition of a new idea is some unexpected recombination of existing ideas. New ideas are rarely, if ever, totally new. So how does one produce these new ideas? Foster presents a five step process:

  1. Define the problem: Are you asking the right question? Are there different questions you can ask?
  2. Gather information: Think about the question. Do research. Talk to people and make visits. Dig deep.
  3. Search for the idea: Get many ideas, and don't get stuck trying to find just the one best idea. Wait until you have many ideas to analyze them.
  4. Forget about it: Switch gears and work on another project. Insight will come.
  5. Put the idea into action: Start right away, when you have enthusiasm for the idea. Make a 'To Do' list. Set a deadline and stay with it.

So you can be more productive when you are searching for the idea in Step 3, Foster shares ten ways to 'Idea-Condition Your Mind'. Among them are:

  • Recognize that there are many ideas, many ways to address a situation, and not only one 'best' way.
  • Visualize success in your project, and imagine getting the ideas that you need.
  • Identify what boundaries you are setting that are not really there and what assumptions you are making that are incorrect.
  • Work with others, but consider brainstorming with a group of only two to four peers, to give more freedom to come up with crazy ideas.
  • Look on less than perfect outcomes not as failures but as challenges and learning opportunities.



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