Innovation Karma - Sandro Morghen - ebook

Innovation Karma ebook

Sandro Morghen



Swiss innovation expert Sandro Morghen writes about how innnovation leaders can get the most out of their innovation activities and about what it takes to create a positive environment in which ideas can evolve in a healthy and productive manner. Learn how to apply a mind blowingly simple and efficient idea creation method and get first hand insights on how to prepare your creative processes, how to involve your innovation stakeholders the right way and receive an exclusive selection of Sandro‘s favourite 25 brainstorming tools.

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Thanks a ton folks!

My thanks go to Nadja and Markus who inspired me,tickled my curiosity, catalysed my obsession for structuredcreativity throughout the years, and taught me to questionthe unchallenged.

Thank you Julia, my love, for looking after our wonderfulkids during these nights of writing, sketching andcompiling tables.

Thanks Cecily for revising and working on myEnglish writing. You really did amazing things to thisbook.

I am greeting also Sven (the best idea visualizer on theplanet), Dominic (that cat video content really helped mekeep up the hard work) and of course all Brains out there(you are the best. Rock your world).

And most importantly: Thanks mum and dad.

Sandro Morghen

Index of contents


Chapter I


About Karma and Innovation

The Innovation Karma Matrix: a charter for your innovation affairs

Chapter II

Guiding Principles for Innovation Endeavours

Define your Innovation Mandate

Including People

Using Creative Processes

Dealing with Politics

Chapter III

The Ideation Process

Introduction to the Ideation Process

Ideation Process Overview

Preparing the Ideation Brief

Project Split-down

Process Setup

Defining your Community

Web Scouting Stimulus Collection

The Creative Workshop

Pre-Evaluation of Ideas

Idea Evaluation

Idea Presentation

The Implementation Workshop


Creativity Tools

Group Cascade

Cascaded Combination

Idea Race

Idea Rotate

Magazine Inspiration

TV Brainwriting

Idea Shop

Creative Challenger

Master and Servant

Creative PowerPoint Karaoke

Idea Bricks

Habits, Hassle, Hearts, Humour

Technology Wall

Force-to-fit Alphabet


New World

Provocative Statements

Advertising Idea Parcour

Story Filling

Creativity Board Game

Creative Interview

Simple Combinator

Conquer & Defend

Mannequin Storming



Index of terms and index of figures


Do you need help or guidance with defining the guidelines that form the foundation of your company’s innovation program? In this book you will discover how to make a simple and logical, yet well-structured, innovation environment an integral part of your company culture. Learn how to use powerful creativity tools, and get hands-on insights on how to successfully run ideation projects with the help of a useful step-by-step guide. Explore how you can prepare your own Creative Workshops, and how to tickle creativity from unsuspecting participants. Learn how food choices influence creative power, explore tips and tricks for a well prepared creative space, and more. As the co-founder of (a revolutionary web application for collecting ideas within a team), and with over 15 years of experience in the field of structured innovation and creativity, I have decided to share my insights, knowledge and experience, by writing this book. For a couple of reasons, I have decided to call it «Innovation Karma». I hope you will find it useful in all of your innovation endeavours.

I wish you a delightful reading experience!

Sandro Morghen

Chapter I


About Karma and Innovation

First of all: I am not interested in Yoga or in any other spiritual philosophy, neither from the far east nor from the Western hemisphere.

However one topic I do care about and that I have been engaged with for a bit more than fifteen years now is ‘innovation’, and the field of structured creativity and idea development. Between 1998 and 2009, I worked with one of the pioneers in the field of systematic innovation and structured ideation, the Swiss ‘Idea Factory’, BrainStore. During this time, I worked alongside many other creative ‘Brains’ in a position we ended up calling (after a series of iterations) ‘Head of Idea Production’ (which you would probably call ‘Creative Director’ in more traditional creative agencies). I have invested a lot of my professional time and personal passion in developing and exploring how innovation not only can but will happen within an organisation. My colleagues and I mainly worked for larger corporations, many of them among the fortune 500 enterprises, but also for smaller and medium sized businesses who also brought quite interesting and astonishing ideation projects to the table.

As you might have noticed, there has been quite a lot of noise in the field of innovation management and corporate creativity during the past 15 to 20 years. When I started to work professionally in the field, working on a wide selection of fascinating innovation projects, only a few people among all the different industries and fields of business had any idea what an innovation manager’s job might involve, or what form his or her responsibilities might take.

The story is very different today. People interested in learning more about innovation management now have difficulty deciding between the large number of study programs offered on the topic. In science, education, and industry, there seems to be a generally accepted understanding of what innovation management and idea generation is about and how it should work. As you can imagine, I do not fully agree with this general interpretation, and so I have been motivated to write this book in order to share my opinions, experience, and insights with you.

However this book is not about comparing traditional innovation management tools with my own approach; I am fully aware of the enormous amount of literature and knowledge already available on this topic. I will even go as far as to admit that in recent years I have not deep dived into the details of other approaches to innovation and creativity. Instead I have used my efforts and energy to develop the findings and principles that you will find in this book. You may already be familiar with some of the content, but some theories and practical tips will surprise you. And even if you have already amassed a great deal of experience in this field for yourself, I am convinced that I will bring some insights to the table that will be of interest.

Let us talk first about the term ‘karma’, before we jump into the details. What does it mean? What does it stand for? In everyday life we use the word ‘karma’ and most of time what we mean is ‘atmosphere’. ‘There was bad karma in the meeting’, means there was a terrible atmosphere, in that we could not exchange ideas on a certain topic in an open manner. Or to put it another way, it was a ‘karma’ in which ideas and innovative approaches could not grow. So let’s take a look at what Wikipedia can tell us about the word in the box below.

Karma means action, work or deed it alsorefers to the principle of causality where intentand actions of an individual influence thefuture of that individual. Good intent and gooddeed contribute to good karma and futurehappiness, while bad intent and bad deed contributeto bad karma and future suffering.

Souce: Wikipedia,

Basically what karma implies is that if you act with good intentions, you get good results, if you act with bad intentions, you get weak results.

Wikipedia’s definition also says something about rebirth and afterlife, but I hope you won’t mind if we skip that part for now, as what we are trying to understand is how the concept of karma can provide a beneficial approach to ideation and innovation management.

Of course, there is not only ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in traditional innovation management, and just because somebody follows bad principles it doesn’t mean he or she is acting with bad intent. In the next pages of this book I will summarise what I think ‘good’ and ‘bad’ intentions in innovation management are, allowing you to understand my proposal for an alternative approach and to see if it can work for you and your business, innovation team or start-up crew.

The Innovation Karma Matrix: the charter for your innovation affairs

What is ‘good’ for your innovation karma? What resulting positive effects can you expect in your innovation endeavours? What is ‘bad’ for your innovation karma? What might the consequences of such behaviours be?

The matrix on the next double page spread provides you with an overview of the aspects that I think are most important for a successful innovation environment. It provides you with a comparison between recommended behaviours (good karma) and behaviours that ought to be discouraged (bad karma) in order to organise innovation activities in a productive and positive manner.

From my perspective, this matrix represents everything you need in order to create a charter that will help you define the structure of your innovation process. However in this book I will elaborate further. In the first part of my book, I will give you an overview of the principles I recommend for enterprises setting up their innovation management structure: the Innovation Karma Matrix. Then in chapter II, I will go into more detail about the different aspects of this matrix, and share my experience and the insights I have collected while conducting more than 600 innovation projects for corporate clients from all over the world. In chapter III, you will receive instructions for the creativity and ideation process I have co-developed and used for many years, and which forms the basis of my own business: Finally, I will detail 25 of my favourite creativity tools, which you can use in the context of the creativity process I will explain to you in chapter III.

What I won’t tell you in this book, is exactly how to structure the whole innovation management chain within your organisation. By following the principles of my Innovation Karma Matrix, and by adopting the ideation process described in this book, you are in possession of the perfect toolkit to build a lean and output focussed innovation management structure, which you can adapt to your company’s needs and use to get the results you want. In my opinion, all good innovation starts with an idea, and a productive, and creativity-focused, ideation strategy. And good innovation is exactly what these two major pillars for a successful innovation environment will deliver to your business.

Read on to find the Innovation Karma Matrix: a charter for your future innovation ecosphere.

Good Innovation Karma

Aspect of your innovation cultureWhat creates good innovation karma?Effect on your innovation endeavoursDefining your innovation needsIdentify where your company has weaknesses regarding innovation. Establish a culture where innovation is always linked to a specific brief or challenge description.An idea and innovation output which is focused on what your organisation currently needs. Build a sense of precision among staff attitudes to innovation.Inclusion of peopleInclude groups that are as large and as diverse as possible when you create or evaluate new innovation or ideas. Live the mantra ‘Everybody can contribute great ideas when properly guided’.A diverse collection of ideas and innovations, with true disruptive character, that often come from outside the box.Creativity process and tools usedUse a specific, systematic process for producing ideas and innovation in response to a defined goal or brief.Guaranteed innovation and idea output in any situation, no matter who is involved in the process.Accessibility of tools and processesMake innovation tools and processes within your organisation accessible, i.e. reduce hurdles. This means providing access to much of your workforce and, even to clients and other stakeholders. Enable individuals to start new innovation projects on even the most apparently trivial topics with ease, at any time, and within their own working environment and team.A positive, bottom-up innovation strategy that involves your staff and stakeholders in identifying areas where innovation is needed. Build a true culture of innovative thinking throughout your company. Innovation is everywhere, and can come from anywhere.Dealing with hierarchy, criticism and politicsMake your innovation process a content business instead of a people business. Create an atmosphere and processes that make the question, ‘whose idea was this?’ irrelevant, and even non-identifiable.A content focused atmosphere where status and politics is minimised, and where ideas evolve instead of careers.

Bad Innovation Karma

Aspect of your innovation cultureWhat makes bad innovation karma?Consequences for your innovation endeavoursDefining your innovation needsStay vague in your innovation processes. Live the mantra ‘let’s wait and see what happens’.An innovation process that does not address weak points in a company’s competitiveness, and that produces potentially inappropriate or misguided innovations and ideas.Inclusion of peopleBe discrete and secret about your innovation challenges. Work alone, and include as few people as you can. Live the mantra ‘only experts have good ideas’.Uninspired and boring innovation initiatives, and few ideas. Those that do arise are very much from ‘inside’ rather than ‘outside’ the box.Creativity process and tools usedDon’t rely on a specific strategy for coming up with ideas once a need has been identified. In ths type of company, creativity happens by chance.Innovation output that cannot be planned and that relies on the talents and moods of individuals.Accessibility of tools and processesOnly allow a small group of people to launch innovation challenges. Apply a very tight set of hard criteria that define under what circumstances ideation processes can be started or not.Innovation output that is limited by the characteristics and insights of a classic top-down innovation strategy. You will end up with employees who don’t see themselves as innovators, who do not have exposure to all levels of an organisation, and who don’t contribute important thoughts on the future of the company.Dealing with hierarchy, criticism and politicsMake your innovation process a people and politics business. Allow or even foster structures within which the loudest people are heard, instead of the ones asking questions aimed at bringing the company, rather than their own careers, forward.Innovation output that focuses on the individual interests of your management staff instead of what is best for your company or brand.

Chapter II

Guiding Principles for Innovation Endeavours

Look in more detail at how you can improve your innovation endeavours by ensuring there is good innovation karma within your enterprise.

Define your Innovation Mandate

Innovation Karma Tip

Identify where your company has weaknessesregarding innovation. Establish aculture where innovation is always linked toa specific brief or challenge description.

Probably the most important aspect in your innovation framework is your ability to identify the innovation weak-spot of your company or organisation. The way you approach this aspect will determine how well you can organise yourself to create new innovation, and also how your company will define topics and business fields for your idea generation activities.

A traditional approach to enabling innovation, which includes many features that have dominated the research & development (R&D) field for decades, is for teams to work autonomously on innovation topics by following a very general and altogether high-level assignment approach. The teams would usually have some sort of subject specific expert within them, and would have a broad topic headline such as: ‘Create new product innovations for corporation XYZ’. Innovation coming from this kind of process is mostly not market driven, but technology driven. Management might try to steer this type of idea generation by defining an innovation strategy, but the results mainly depend on what is coming out of that innovation black box. Not only is this type of innovation strategy quite one-dimensional, it also does not involve much influence and insight from the outside world. It includes no input from lateral thinkers, customers or staff lower down in the hierarchy. This approach to innovation clearly damages your innovation karma because it does not include any outside views, and it typically restricts the origin of ideas to a few selected people.

Many R&D teams I have talked to still see themselves as ‘inventor’ type innovators, just researching topics until a solution is found. Once the eureka moment has happened, the white fog outside the lab dissolves and a new invention is made ready for presentation before management. This, however, is not innovation but invention, and there is a simple way to tell the difference. Invention is born from luck and randomness, innovation is the result of a planned process. Now, you might think that I am exaggerating, and that despite the fact that this is how innovation worked in the Fifties, that things have now changed. And of course there are many corporations who do a great job cultivating their internal innovation program. But there are many companies who insist on continuing to use the sam rusty innovation structures that were introduced not long after the beginning of the industrial age. Let me give you an example: While writing this book, I had contact with a Swiss technology firm in the automotive sector with several thousand employees. The purpose of the encounter was to promote our web-based ideation tool, yutongo, which was designed to act as a catalyst for generating ideas the process driven way.

The person I met with was the vice president of innovation management who held a Phd in a technical field. He very quickly let me know that he was not interested in yutongo. Not because he had another tool lined up, or because he already followed a specific process which our application wouldn’t fit into, in fact his response surprised me: Because the company had become more global, management had distributed innovation tasks to several local headquarters. As such, he said, no global ideation tool was needed, because staff were being asked to present their ideas personally to local branch management, who would decide if their initiatives should be pursued or not.

What else but an innovation output which solely depends on a magic moment of fortuitous luck should produce such behavior? To me, innovation staff members performing innovation management like this actually do put the business success of their company at stake, simply by not adopting common sense strategies to approach their innovation affairs with the decency, professionality and commitment which I think they should to and which I am convinced is needed to establish a true culture for innovation and a forward looking spirit.

Whenever I hesitated as to whether this book was necessary, it is episodes like this that would remind me of the need to get my views down on paper.

Limit a brief for limitless ideas

I have seen a lot of open innovation initiatives where large companies and brands request ideas from a public community, which in itself is conducive to good innovation karma, as you can read in the next chapter.

The problem lays with the way these innovation challenges were formulated. Most of the time briefs were written and defined in a very broad and generic manner. One particular example that caught my attention came from a company who had a very broad product portfolio in the food and beverage sector. The audience was asked something along the lines of: ‘What new product ideas can you suggest for company X?’.

The problem here is that a broad question will only generate general and broad responses, and if a project goes on for a long time, more and more boring ideas are generated. When you ask people to come up with ideas from such a general starting question, people have to do much of their own thinking and interpretation, and this often results in many repeated ideas. It is much better practice to specify your creative problem as exactly and specifically as possible. The more detailed and specific your questions, the more people will learn about the obstacles facing your innovation challenge, and the deeper they can dive into the different factors that led to the project in the first place.

I can see two reasons why people might end up asking such an open question. Firstly, it is likely that the initiators of the project did not want to limit people’s ideas by being too specific. I will call this phenomenon ‘lost in innovation’. It draws attention to the paradox that contributors to a creative process work better when constrained in some way. Without the guidance provided by such a constraint, they get lost in the spectrum of possible categories and solutions.

Let me give you an example based on the afore mentioned question, ‘What new product ideas can you suggest for company X?’. Respondents would likely feel much more comfortable, and would deliver far better ideas if the question had more direction. The easiest way to do this would be to provide some sort of category within which the product ideas should sit.

Here are a few examples of constraints that could be added in order to make the question more specific:

The desired general product category could be defined, e.g. food OR beverage.

The question could mention who the target audience for the product should be.

The brief could include a time frame. E.g. By when does the innovation need to be realised? Will it be the food product for the year 2025, or does it need to be ready for launch next year?

A specific product category could be the focus, e.g. the next yoghurt market hit.

It is more useful to clarify these questions before an innovation project takes off, and I know many companies simply don’t. It can mean doing a little more work and thinking beforehand, but the time spent will be rewarded with a better hit rate when it comes to the creative output of a session, and will consequently save you time and money.

The second reason why such an open question might be asked, is because the company hasn’t developed an innovation strategy that goes beyond this basic level. In most cases, both reasons will be true.

Be in control

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when trying to successfully facilitate and curate the innovation activities in your company, is to look at innovation within your company as an uncontrolled and unfacilitated flow of incoming ideas, randomly collected by your staff or your R&D crew. In my talks with innovation managers in mainly German and Swiss companies I noticed that most of the time innovation management evolved directly from the traditional staff suggestion boxes, and stale employee innovation programs that have been the status quo for the last 60 – 80 years.

Many companies have a virtual (or sometimes physical) box into which improvement ideas and innovation suggestions can be placed. My own father was a factory worker and where he worked there was an ‘ideas’ box hanging next to the time clock. Employee innovation is basically a good thing. Your staff will often be the most useful innovation experts for your innovation challenges. However in most cases, idea collection methods aren’t combined with specific challenges or specific creative methodologies. Employees simply contribute their ideas on whatever topic they may have in mind.

These programs aren’t usually very productive in an innovation management sense, the ideation pace is fairly slow. I have discussed this with many innovation managers, and it seems that the main reason for this slow pace is that there are few motivational and dramaturgical twists connected to these programs. When it comes to rewarding contributors, in most cases a possible financial reward for implemented projects is simply too abstract and, as several studies have shown, rewards connected to contributed ideas do nothing to significantly help corporate idea-flow. I will go into more detail about my experiences in compensating idea contributors in chapter III of this book, when I describe the ‘Creative Workshop’.

The lack of specific challenges when requesting ideas results in the ideas contributed reflecting on too broad a set of topics. Many ideas placed in these boxes centre on improvements to minor aspects of established working procedure because that is what most employees are confronted with day to day. Only a few parts of the ideas are ever about higher level innovations relating to products, services or strategies, despite the fact that these types of innovation ideas are the ones you should be striving for. And as if that wasn’t enough, it seems to me that most web-based staff innovation solutions that have flooded the market during the past 10 years seem to have been designed only to add to this quality problem, only adding more randomness to innovation programs. What if more dramaturgy and playfulness were added when defining the direction of your corporate innovation program? By defining different strategic topics for instance, and using a different one of these each week, e.g. ‘Product XYZ add-on week’, where employees are asked to come up with ideas for interesting add-ons/additional features for a certain product or a particular product line. With this simple and easily communicated method, you would bring structure to your employee’s thinking, and have them focused on one specific topic at a time.

All ideas would then circle around this challenge, and you would end up with more material to work with. Approaches like this will also educate those employees occupied with orchestrating innovation related processes about the many different forms corporate creativity can take. The more curated focus you bring into your innovation process, the better the idea output you will end up with at the end of the day, or better, at the end of the week. Why else do I think this is a good approach? Firstly, if people do not have to waste time thinking about what topic to concentrate on, they can dive deeper, and the resulting ideas are less likely to be generic and more likely to be equipped with creative uniqueness than if the approach were more general. Secondly, with focused innovation, you will end up with many people thinking about the same topic at the same time. The rules of probability then tell us that when we start with more ideas, we are more likely to find the desired solution in among them. In addition, by using this approach, employee innovation becomes far more interactive, less monotonous, and people will become more curious about what the next challenge will be.

Finally, a strategy like this will allow you to actually plan your innovation endeavours and monitor their outcome more precisely. Along the same lines, you can also view the finding of the right innovation challenge as a creative process in itself. Why not start a brainstorming session (online or offline) aimed at finding the most promising, the most important and the strategically most relevant innovation challenges? You can include staff and other stakeholders in this. In the next sub chapter, ‘Including People’, I will talk more about who you can include in such processes.

A little big bang theory

In astronomy, the most well-accepted big bang theory suggests that in the beginning there was nothing, then the big bang happened, and the universe has been expanding ever since – and will do until the end of time or whatever comes afterwards. But there is also a different big bang theory which has evolved in the past few years. This particular approach claims that the universe is in fact trapped in an infinite sequence of big bangs and universal expansions. According to this theory, once the (current) universe we are living in stops expanding, it will explode and initiate another big bang – the circle starts again. If you transfer this metaphor to your innovation process, you might understand what I am getting at. A successful innovation process is not limited to a strategy for the collection phase of creative content and ideas, it is an infinite circle of creative processes paving the way in a never-ending chain of redefining, and evolving, what you are as an enterprise. Defining your innovation hotspots? Is a creative process. Defining the goals for your next innovation process? Is a creative process as well. Finding your innovation weak spots?

Yes, these aspects should definitely be elaborated in a structured creative process too. To me, how companies pave the way their innovation mandates are defined, is a very good indicator of the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of their innovation activities. You can read more about this topic in chapter III, ‘The Ideation Process’, where I will tell you what is important when writing a good innovation brief, how to execute a particular creative challenge, and how it should be drafted in order to guarantee a great idea outcome.

Take home

Think about how you can discover innovationweak-spots within your company.

Set up a 12 month plan tackling the 12hottest innovation topics in your company.

Formulate one to three specific innovationchallenges that need immediate attention (e. g.‘We need ideas that appeal to a young audiencefor the name of our new sub brand XYZ’).

Including People

Innovation Karma Tip

Include groups that are as large and asdiverse as possible when you create orevaluate new innovation or ideas. Live themantra ‘Everybody can contribute greatideas if guided properly’.

Innovation and creativity in general are, like many other fields in your organisation, a people business. It is still a common habit within enterprises, guided by best practices introduced by the science driven and R&D influenced innovation environment, to depend on the creative genius of single experts. A better plan is to think about who else in the company’s surroundings could help generate new ideas, and to build on the collective intelligence of an internal or external crowd.

It does take quite a change of mindset to accept that not only your closest circle of experts, university graduates, and members of the management are capable of shaping the future of your company. If you are responsible for an enterprise, you have probably already noticed that many of your R&D and innovation staff love the role they have within the innovation value chain, and that not everybody is open-minded and happy to share their responsibility in order to favour the company’s future competitiveness.

Get rid of your lonely wolves

Based on my very personal experience, in more than 600 innovation projects that I conducted and managed for many large corporates from all over the world, I can confirm that coming up with future ideas for a company or brand produces the best creative output when you look at it as a collaborative and democratic process. By democratic, I mean that anybody is to be believed able to contribute valuable content and ideas to an innovation challenge if guided and involved in the proper way. There are a couple of ways to look at the role of your innovation staff in your innovation activities.

You can look at your innovation staff as the actual origin of the creative solutions flooding your innovation pipeline, you could call these ‘lonely wolves’, or you can look at them as agile moderators, facilitators. Or better