All posts by john

The fourth phase of the creative process: evaluation

What is evaluation?

Evaluation is the fourth of the seven steps of the creative process in business which I have written about. This is the process of deciding whether to commit your time and money to a particular project. Not every idea is worth following up. You have to select or at least prioritise.

A man with a question mark. Wondering how to conduct evaluation?
A man with a question mark. Wondering how to conduct evaluation?
Why is evaluation the third phase?

Until you have done your research, you don’t know enough to make any meaningful evaluation. You also need to have had at least one lightbulb moment so you know what you were planning on doing with all the information you have gathered. And that doesn”t usually come until after you have allowed the ideas time to incubate. You don’t want to leave evaluation much later or you will be in danger of doing too much abortive work.

How should evaluation be conducted?

You need to decide what are the criteria you are going to use. What is important to you? Think of positive and negative factors.  Cost? Availability of resources, including expertise? Lead time? Ultimate benefit? Dealing with an immediate issue? Nonfinancial benefits? Risks?

Three dice. Not the way to manage risks.
Three dice. Not the way to manage risks.

I suggest you list all the criteria you think are important and give each a weighting. Then give each project under consideration a score against each factor, multiply (a x b) and rank by score.

How many projects should you have in your evaluation?

This is a subjective decision. However, if you are doing only one, you can get very frustrated when you hit a brick wall, such as ‘writer’s block’ if the project is a book. I switch to another project and come back to the first one. You also don’t want to come to a halt once the first project is finished. You want to be able to get on with the second one, but not from scratch. I always have several on the go.

Can you have too many projects in your evaluation?

You can spread yourself too thin. You can be doing everything at once and never complete anything. I have heard that some very successful businessmen work on five projects, with another twenty or so in reserve. This means each project is at a different phase most of the time, so if you are fed up with, say, research, you can go to a project that is in a different phase. That keeps you fresh.

Remember, if you need help with evaluation, have a chat. I may be able to help you. 

The second phase of the creative process: incubation

Why do ideas need incubation?

Incubation is the time when the mind works behind the scenes. A lot of your best work is actually done when you are not consciously doing it! Ideas seem to sort themselves out. Perspective develops. You can suddenly see why something was a bad idea, or a good one, and you spot the gaps that need filling.

A man with a question mark, needing to give his ideas time for incubation.
A man with a question mark, needing to give his ideas time for incubation.
Why is incubation the second phase in the process?

Until you have done your preparation, as explained previously, you won’t have anything to incubate. It needs to continue until you’ve had at least some inspiration. But inspiration based on the sound basis of knowledge gained in preparation and allowed time for ideas to incubate. The other phases will work much better if you’ve let the first ones take place in the right order.

How can you forget about your project to allow incubation?

I know it is difficult but it is best to leave the project alone and work on another for a while. I’ve always got several books in my head and at least some partly on paper, so I can switch easily. It helps. Don’t try to force it. This may take only a day or two or it may take weeks. It depends on your makeup and on the problem or project in question. Anyway, it will be worth taking the time the process needs if you are to find a creative solution.

 

The third phase of creativity: inspiration – that lightbulb moment!

Inspiration is part of a process.

In an earlier post, I have promised to say something about each of the seven stages of creativity. The one most of us think of first is inspiration. Although it is an essential part of the process, it is of little use without all the others, beginning with preparation, as I have explained in another post. 

Of course, this lightbulb moment can occur at any stage of the process, but it is unlikely to do you any good if you haven’t identified the problem properly through preparation. You also usually need to have allowed time for your ideas to incubate, before the inspiration comes. Don’t try too hard to force it.  On the other hand, it is unwise to rush to the next phase until you have experienced at least one blinding flash of inspiration to set you on your way.

Where does inspiration come from?

It is hard to say. We are all different. It is, however, not the logical result of your reasoning. Not only. It is the bit that comes out of the blue. Often as a complete, or near-complete, idea.

How can you encourage inspiration?

Sometimes it just comes. But you can help inspiration to come. Usually it does not happen when you are in the office, working on your project, because you want your analytical brain to take a back seat and let your creative imagination take over for a while.

Inspiration often comes when you are relaxed, say in the shower or in the bath. Being close to nature often helps. This does not have to mean going to the jungle or climbing a mountain. A park or your own garden will do.  When you are surrounded by green, even green wallpaper, you may be more creative.

A man with a magnifying glass, looking for inspiration. That's the wrong way!
A man with a magnifying glass, looking for inspiration. That’s the wrong way!
Does physical exercise invite inspiration?

Another way to relax and put the creative side of your brain into gear, while turning off, or down, your analytical side, is to take some gentle exercise. That can energise you. Not excessive exercise. You won’t think of anything useful, or think at all, if you’re exhausted. What you do should depends on yourself: your preferences and your state of fitness. For some an hour’s jog is fine. For me, it would be too much. A half-hour’s brisk walk is about right. A swim, a bike-ride, a session in the gym, whatever. Just do what comes easily: don’t tire yourself out.

This does not mean you shouldn’t do hard workouts or long runs. Just don’t expect many good ideas to come to you when you’re collapsed in a heap gasping for breath.

Capture your inspiration!

Don’t waste it. Always have a notebook handy. And a pen. Or be modern and use the notebook facility or your phone or tablet, so long as you can access it quickly. The note needs to be only as long and as detailed as you need, in order to recall what that blinding flash was about.

Good luck! Be inspired!

How would you manage an allegation of sexual misconduct in your business?

Why is sexual misconduct an issue for you or your business?

The media have been full of allegations of sexual misconduct  concerning people in politics, sport and the movies, but so far they have left the business community alone. However, some have alleged that this sort of thing goes on in all areas of life. I tend to think that is the case. Without making the headlines, people make claims for sexual harassment in the workplace every week. Perhaps nobody has ever made such a claim against anyone in your business. If so, ask yourself is it a result of  luck or good management?

What do I consider to be the sexual harassment risk?

There are two risks. It is important to be aware of both and not to  focus on either to the exclusion of the other.

Firstly, there is the risk that someone might bring a claim or a complaint against the business or an individual in it. It may or may not be justified. There are several aspects to this risk:

  1. Damage to the firm’s reputation.
  2. Compensation to the complainant.
  3. Diversion of resources into investigating and processing the matter.

Secondly, there is the risk that people will commit acts of sexual misconduct with impunity. This happens if there is a culture where people seem to regard it as acceptable and where victims are afraid to complain. In such places, some people usually appear to be above the law.

This can result in:

  1. High staff turnover.
  2. Stress and strained relationships.
  3. The failure to promote or retain good employees who fail to cooperate or fit in with the culture.
Sexual harassment is a risk that can be managed

As with any other risk, there is no guarantee that any controls will work all the time, but you can take measures to reduce the risk and not just leave it to  chance.

  1. Have a clear policy setting out what is and what is not  acceptable.
  2. Ensure you communicate it.
  3. Ensure you enforce it and challenge remarks or actions you consider unacceptable, before they lead to complaints.
  4. Have arrangements for people to complain to an independent person without fear of recrimination.
  5. Have a procedure for investigating and adjudicating complaints.
  6. Maintain records of complaints, how they were handled and what was the outcome.
Allegations of sexual misconduct must be properly investigated
Allegations of sexual misconduct must be properly investigated

A sound policy and procedure should give everyone confidence due to certainty and it should deter bad behaviour and also discourage trivial complaints. If in doubt, consult an HR professional or other expert in this field.

Finally, remember that sexual harassment often goes with a culture of bullying and intimidation. It is especially prevalent when a few people have apparently complete power over others. A lack of transparency will make things worse.

 

Is it time to restart my Newsletters? I need feedback.

What’s happened to my newsletters?

It has been months since I last sent out any newsletters, for various reasons. It has been an interesting time for me, writing, editing, blogging, and having work done on my house. I am still working on two sequels to Accounting for Murder, Double Entry and am trying to produce a book on Risk Management, in response to an enquiry I received via Linkedin from an American academic publisher.  Now I think it’s time to restart communicating with readers, but perhaps I could improve my output. What do you think? I need some feedback. If you were never on my mailing list, you can still have your say. I would particularly like to hear from my Twitter followers. How can I serve them better?

What do you think of my newsletters?
  • Would you like to be on the mailing list?
  • How frequently should I send them out?
  • Any comments on the format?
  • What sort of articles do you like? Risk Management, claims, writing fiction, religion, general?
How often shall I write newsletters to you?
How often shall I write newsletters?

 

How will your answers affect the newsletters?

Depending on the responses, I am considering separating readers into two lists. I would produce two newsletters, not necessarily at the same time or with the same frequency, each with a different emphasis. Unless I discover that most people prefer the same things.

You can reply on the contact form on either of my websites, or just send me an e-mail.

The first step to creativity in business or anything else: preparation!

What has preparation got to do with creativity?

Preparation is the first of the (click here) seven steps I have recently written about concerning creativity in business. Although you might not think it involves your creative side, preparation is an essential part of the process. If you are looking for a solution or planning a new initiative, you need to understand the question before rushing to an answer. You want to know what research other people have already done on the subject, if you don’t want to reinvent the wheel.

What preparation do I do as a writer?

I research the background. I want to be as authentic as possible. Of course, in fiction you can alter some of the facts to make the story work better, but do it intentionally. I recently took a trip to Cardiff to remind myself of some of the locations I am using in Accounting for Murder, Book II, Old Money. In particular, I visited Castell Coch, where I have set much of the action. I am glad I did so. I will change a few things to make it more realistic but overall I am more certain than ever that I have chosen the right location for the story.

When do I do more preparation?

For historical novels, which I write under a pseudonym, I always need to do more research, so as to be true to the period and to incorporate as many historical facts as I can. They give a framework for the fiction.

Preparation for me includes reading other fiction and other kinds of reading. Studying modern grammar comes into it too. I am amazed how much has changed since I was at school, especially capitalisation.

Pic4
The things I have learnt about writing, including preparation, are helpful in my business too.
What if you have begun working on an idea without preparation?
Risk Dice
What if you have omitted preparation?

Do not despair. Preparation obviously ought to come before anything else, but your situation, although not ideal, is not necessarily beyond repair. Go back and do it now. Be ready to rethink some of your ideas. It’s only too late once you have gone live. Doing things in the right order usually saves time in the long run, but we live in the real world. Even fiction writers!

Coming soon: the lightbulb moment, aka Inspiration!

 

How do you use statistics? For illumination or support? Don’t copy Mr Trump!

Who has been misusing statistics now?

I have recently criticised the Foreign Secretary for misusing statistics in relation to Brexit and the NHS.

Now Donald Trump has commented on statistics which  show an increase of around 13% in reported crimes in the UK . He says that this shows an increase in Islamic terrorism around the World. I find this statement quite worrying for several reasons.

  • Politicians do not  usually comment on internal matters in other countries.
  • The figures quoted refer to all crimes, of which terrorism makes up only very small part.
  • For some categories of crime, the police think the increase in reporting is because the public has more confidence that they will act. These include hate crime, sex offences and domestic violence.
  • The UK security services have expressed concern at the increased risk of terrorism, but they are basing this on information they have. It has nothing to do with the crime rate.

The last point would actually support PresidentTrump’s comment, if it had come from the US security services!

JHM Data Protection
You need to see what lies behind the data.
Statistics could help make the USA safer.

A real study of the relevant data shows that Americans are far more likely to die in a robbery, a neighbour dispute or a random shooting than in a terrorist incident. This suggests that gun control would  make the USA safer. It would almost certainly be more effective than immigration controls or most anti-terrorism security measures. I would not, however, suggest anyone should be complacent about terrorism. Anywhere.

I have previously quoted Andrew Lang (1844-1912) writing:

He uses statistics as a drunken man uses a lamppost – for support rather than illumination.

Mr Lang was obviously ahead of his time.

Want to know more about statistics?

To learn more about the use of statistical data, try my book: How to avoid being misled by statistics.  You could find it a help in your business and in your life.

How to avoid being misled by statistics
Book cover: How to avoid being misled by statistics

Do you know which of the 7 phases of the creative process you are in?

Is being creative necessary in your business?

Many people thing creativity is relevant only to certain types of business. I wrote about this some time ago,  see How is creativity related to your business? when I explained that you need creativity when you are developing new products, new systems or anything new. In fact, whenever you are working on rather than in your business. I also said we all have a creative side, which we need to develop to succeed in business.

You need to be intentionally creative

It is easy to think creativity just happens. Ideas fall from the sky. If not…they don’t. Perhaps you are creative sometimes. I used to think like that. Now I have learned that you can manage this aspect of your life, just like any other. You can keep on producing new ideas, new products etc like our most successful business leaders. This means understanding the creative process, and especially to understand the different phases of that process.

A mediaeval monk being creative as he produces a manuscript.
A mediaeval monk being creative as he produces a manuscript.
Why are the phases so important?

You can blame yourself for apparent failure simply because you were not on the phase you thought you were on. They require different approaches. Perhaps even different physical environments. It is also important to go through them in the right order. You can go back as often as you need, but never try to jump ahead missing a phase out.

So what are the phases of the creative process?
  1. Preparation – research, getting facts, studying previous work
  2. Incubation – letting the ideas develop in your subconscious
  3. Inspiration – the lightbulb moment
  4. Evaluation – prioritising
  5. Elaboration – working out the details
  6. Review – costs, benefits, risks, opportunities
  7. Implementation

I will be writing again about each of these phases. For now, just acknowledge that they exist and make a decision to work your way through each of them in turn for every creative project you are planning. Each one can be at a different phase. In fact, it is better if they are.

 

350 million a week for the NHS when we leave the EU – are you joking, Boris?

Did you believe Leave?

Do you ever wonder how many people voted Leave because of this incredible claim which Boris has just resurrected? I use the word incredible in its correct sense! Better statisticians than I have taken the foreign secretary to task over this, but as I have written a book on How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics, I felt a need to add my two penn’orth. Not 350 million worth, of course.

How much?

Let’s look at the amount. Yes, we do usually pay something like 350M to the EU every week, although the amount varies some years, being based on a formula.  So Boris is right? No! There’s a 100M rebate we get back every week. Don’t ask why they don’t just net it off. They don’t go for simplicity.

That leaves 250M a week for the NHS. Right?

Wrong. All the money we, and every other member state, pay to the EU, doesn’t just disappear! Apart from the cost of running its institutions, like the Commission and the Parliament, the EU spends most of it on agricultural subsidies and various projects, mainly from the Regional Development Fund. A certain amount of the agricultural subsidies comes to British farmers. As to the projects, it depends which projects get approved at any time. Overall, the UK benefits by over 100M a week. When we leave the EU it will be for the British Government to decide whether to continue subsidising agriculture and supporting development projects. If so, by how much? It could be more or less than the present.

Does that mean we will be 150M a week better off when we leave?

Probably. BUT. There’s a lot of negotiating to be done. We may have to pay something in future to gain access to the Single Market or to remain in some EU institutions. I expect each of us will have a different view as to what is a good or a bad bargain. But we might have 150M a week for the NHS? Maybe. If all other things are equal. Will they be? That will depend on two things. The state of our government’s finances and their political choices.

Government finances.

You cannot separate the money we pay to the EU from everything else. If the economy booms, there could be more tax revenue to the exchequer. On the other hand…! And that will depend on the state of the World economy and on the impact of Brexit. The total available to spend could be more or less  than 150M a week. There are risks, as they say.

Risk Dice - Leave has positive and negative risks
Dice – Leave has positive and negative risks
Political choices.

It will be for the government at the time to decide priorities. Perhaps the NHS will come top. What about infrastructure, education, defence etc? Then there’s the deficit. Remember that? Some think the first call on any extra money should be to clear that as fast as possible. Some of the Leavers are among the strongest believers in fiscal responsibility. They want to clear the deficit.

What does this say of Boris?

I would not go so far as to call him a liar. I would just say that his assertion of 350M a week for the NHS is misleading. Another example of how to be misled by statistics. Perhaps he should read my book.

 

 

What are you going to review this autumn?

Summer is more or less over. This is the time of year many businessmen and women review their activities. Some are thinking of an autumn sales drive, others of a new product coming out in January. There are even those who are thinking about Christmas (sorry to mention that!). I hope you have got plans. How far ahead are you planning?

Review your business this autumn?

Is it time to review something that you weren’t planning on changing, just to make sure that what has worked OK so far is still fit for purpose?

Whatever you are going to review, remember to look at the risks and opportunities. Then look at the controls. Otherwise you could be about to score an own goal. Your dreams could become nightmares. If you’re not sure how to go about that kind of review, you could do worse than read my book Load the Dice

https://www.createspace.com/5163656

 

Load the dice - risk management for small businesses

Of course, you could have a chat with me, if you’ve no time to read. An initial consultation is always free.

You do want to make sure it’s only the leaves that will fall this autumn, don’t you?