The Ingenuity Process in Action: SMEs
Developed by researchers at Nottingham University Business School’s Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Ingenuity Process seeks to strengthen the link between imagination and reason. It embeds pre-concept innovation activities in creative problem-solving and decision-making.
A recent Nottingham University Business School problem-solving workshop was attended by successful business people with proven track records in entrepreneurial enterprise. Sessions such as this aim to showcase “real” problems.
One participant had run a property management company in a large provincial town for more than 12 years. The firm manages commercial and residential lettings for landlords but also increasingly purchases houses on behalf of buy-to-let investors – up to 20 a month at the time of the session.
The problem was one common to many growing businesses: the amount of time staff spent “fire fighting” – that is, responding to clients’ demands immediately. The team already included an engineer, a builder and an IT consultant – all high achievers in their fields – and the default solution appeared to be to add to the workforce to reflect an expanding portfolio.
But drilling down revealed a more specific problem: how to develop a method of managing clients’ expectations and perceptions more effectively. Over a hundred ideas were generated, from which there emerged a simple and elegant solution.
The impact became clear almost immediately. A tier of unnecessary bureaucracy was removed at a stroke. No new staff were needed and existing resources were freed up.
All it takes is some creative problem solving
The status quo was that whenever the agency received a complaint from a client the appropriate contractor would be contacted electronically. The innovation was that at the same time the client would also be contacted – by mail, text or phone – with a reference number, a timeframe for resolution and, crucially, the contractor’s details.
In essence, then, the solution arose in response to a straightforward question: “Whose problem is this really?” What had been an issue for the agent and the client became an issue for the contractor – the person tasked with dealing with the situation at first hand.
With the necessary software already in place, the change was implemented within a matter of days. The impact, too, became clear almost immediately. A tier of unnecessary bureaucracy was removed at a stroke. Contrary to earlier notions, no new staff were needed. Existing resources were freed up.
Three months later the owner of the company reported that management processes had been greatly enhanced. Contractors’ quality of workmanship had also improved as a result of the new system.
Like many others, this innovation might appear ridiculously straightforward with the benefit of hindsight. Outsiders might even think it little more than common sense. But nobody thought it obvious at the beginning of the workshop. It was only during the sorting and sifting of a raft of other ideas that it emerged – much to the surprise of those who failed to think of it.