Work, business & professional services

No new tricks from old dogs

We've talked before about levels of creativity declining after the age of 40. Now there's some hard evidence courtesy of Harvard Medical School. A study of 30 people found that after the age of 40 around 400 genes become lazy which impacts on learning, memory and communication skills. Another study quoted in the Economist says that workplace co-ordination and dexterity fall after the age of 25 and decline dramatically after the age of 35. However, whilst workplace productivity tends to decline with age remuneration tends to increase the older we get. Perhaps in the future we'll see employers putting in more time and effort to keep minds young and lively or maybe we'll see pay linked even more to performance rather than seniority.

Ref: Nature (US), quoted in The Times (UK) 12 June 2004. The Economist (UK), 26 June 2004.

Ratio of incremental to radical innovation

Mehradad Baghai from CSIRO says that when it comes to innovation companies should operate on three horizons, each with it's own gatekeeper and processes. The first aim should be to extend or consolidate (defend) the existing business. Innovation in this instance should be focussed on incremental innovation using known technologies. The second horizon is to create and grow entirely new products, businesses and markets, whilst the third is blue sky thinking focussed on the distant future and the cutting edge of emerging technologies. Investment of time and resources between the three segments should be roughly 6:3:1. However, research by the Doblin Group (quoted in Imaginatik's corporate innovation newsletter) says that 96% of innovation resources are focussed on incremental innovation.

Ref: AFR Boss (AUS), August 2004. Imaginatik newsletter July/August 2004. See also The Alchemy of Growth by Mehradad Baghai.

Where do the best ideas come from?

Research by BMRB for the East of England Development Agency says that our brains are at their most creative when they're not in the office or working on a specific problem. 23% of men and 37% of women have their best ideas in bed compared to 17% and 6% at work respectively. Other favourite places include outside (19% and 18%), in the bath or shower (10% and 15%) and in the car (14% and 9%). This research is broadly similar to other research carried out a few years ago by the Roffey Park Management Institute but also highlights the differences between men and women.

Ref: The Times (UK), 27 September 2004.

The rise of open source innovation

Two heads are better than one. None of us is as smart as all of us. It's good to rub and polish your brain against that of others. All true, which is perhaps why the open source innovation movement is rapidly becoming the process du jour in innovation circles. The idea began in software when developers posted code on the Internet and asked other programmers to fix the bugs. This was networked innovation and the original motive was altruistic because the final product was always given away for free. Then some bright sparks started to apply the principle to all manner of products. There's now an open source encyclopaedia (, an open source cola recipe and an open source beer. There's even an open source Hollywood film script although one suspects that some of these are little more than giant focus groups. A related idea is the wisdom of crowds. This is a theory put forward by James Surowieki who says that when it comes to intelligence groups are surprisingly smart when decisions are made simultaneously.

Ref: The Economist (UK),12 June 2004, 29 May 2004. The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than The Few and How Collective Intelligence Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations By James Surowieki.

Do monopolies create the best innovators?

Conventional wisdom says that monopolies have no incentive to innovate. However, a recent US study suggests that the opposite might be true. Companies with a dominant share of a market tend to have high R&D budgets which in turn causes a desire to hang on to their privileged positions. Of course it's sometimes difficult to work out whether companies like Microsoft are big because they're good at innovation or whether they're just clever at killing the competition. Taken to its logical conclusion an anti-monopolistic argument would also preclude the use of patents - which are, after all, government sanctioned monopolies.

Ref: The Economist (UK), 22 May 2004.

Young, gifted and not coming back

A large percentage of graduates aged 21-35 years old say that work is boring and almost 50% say that their job lacks any form of intellectual challenge. Meanwhile author and academic Jenny Stewart (The Decline of the Tea Lady: Management for Dissidents) says that modern business is riddled with selfish mission statements that lack any real mission, statement or meaning. Maybe the two are related?

Ref: Weekly Telegraph (UK), issue 682, AFR Boss (AUS), 10 July 2004.

Think weeks not for the weak-minded

If Bill Gates can manage to scrape together enough time to schedule solitary 'think weeks' what's your excuse for not taking some time off to think? Despite the rhetoric, modern business is not thinking friendly. Looking out of the window for an hour at work is generally considered to be unproductive and most work place environments seem to be designed to give people as little thinking space as possible. Despite this Bill somehow manages to take regular weeks off with no interruptions, no email and no phone calls. What does he do? - he reads and he thinks. Hey, if it works for him...