Creativity in the Year of the Dog

Creativity in the Year of the Dog

Looking for fresh inspiration? Consider how you can learn from the attributes of our canine companions

Kung Hei Fat Choy, Happy Chinese New Year! Tomorrow marks the start of the Year of the Dog, or to be more precise, the Brown Earth Dog. The dog was the first species that humans domesticated, and thanks to this long bond with humans, dogs are uniquely accustomed to our behaviour. What creative inspirations can we obtain from "man's best friend" to help us flourish in the coming 12 months?

Being of value: Compared to other animals, dogs have developed a strong influence on human society because of both their practical usefulness and the emotional companionship they offer. Dogs serve a wide range of practical roles: hunting, herding, guarding and protection, pulling loads, assisting the police and military, rescuing people in emergencies, aiding the disabled and in other therapeutic roles.

Moreover, dogs are loyal companions who can light up the day with their playful enthusiasm, sincere affection and emotional sensitivity towards their two-legged friends. As the humourist Josh Billings noted: "A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself."

Creative inspirations: Wouldn't you enjoy doing business with someone who is helpful and at the same time fun to be with? So, ask yourself: How close are we with our customers? How intimately do we know their true wants and needs? How can we become more useful for our core customers? What other roles may we perform for them to make ourselves more useful? How can we design better emotional experiences for the users of our products and services? How can we better satisfy both their functional and emotional wants and needs?

How to "breed out" new ideas: Over the millennia humans have selected certain dogs to breed with each other, due to particular physical and behavioural characteristics that support desired functional roles. This selective breeding has led to the hundreds of modern breeds that are classified into certain dog types (such as companion dogs, guard dogs or herding dogs). These types vary greatly in size, character and behaviour and functions.

Creative inspirations: The breeding process is similar to the approach taken by a classic creativity technique, Morphological Matrix. How can you engage in morphological thinking?

First, create a matrix listing all the morphologies covered by your value offerings. Such categories might be: product features (functional and emotional benefits), service types, customer types, related promotional activities, etc). Then, list elements under each category (B2B, B2C, NGOs in the customer category, for example), and add as many new elements as possible into each (don't forget that we're in the digital age). Finally, ask yourself: How to create meaningful new product and service "breeds" by connecting certain desired features and elements?

Problem-solving: Are dogs intelligent creatures? If you've ever owned a dog, you're likely to agree. While breeds vary in intelligence, dogs can perceive information, retain this as knowledge, and apply it to solve certain problems. They can also learn to respond to different body postures and voice commands. But how do dogs fare when compared to other canines?

Although dogs and wolves share a lineage, there are noticeable differences between the two species. Free-roaming wolves have longer teeth, bigger skulls and also bigger brains. Moreover, experiments have shown that Australian dingos outperform domestic modern dogs in non-social problem-solving.

Likewise, researchers have found that when presented with an unsolvable variation of an original problem-solving task, socialised wolves tried to find a solution themselves, while dogs looked to a human for help. Domestic dogs seem to have "outsourced" more advanced problem-solving to humans, which is convenient but makes them highly dependent.

Creative inspirations: Many multinational and large corporations today outsource internal skills and certain functional roles to outside suppliers. While outsourcing has reduced headcount and -- to some extent -- overhead costs, it has also led to an organisational brain drain.

The situation is comparable to a dog turning to humans to "do the thinking for us", "solve our problems on our behalf" and "tell us what to do". But just as a dog is dependent on the smarts of others, so do companies depend on the intelligence of their outsourcing partner. So, ask yourself: "What problem areas and functional roles are so important for our business that we should 'insource' the ability again? What topics do we want to resolve by ourselves to control our fate?"

Staying healthy: Dogs are often plagued by parasites such as fleas, ticks, mites and worms. Parasites live in or on another organism and obtain their nutrients at the host's expense. While they typically don't cause severe harm, they steadily impair health, energy and performance levels.

Creative inspiration: Just as you want to keep your dog parasite-free, you may use the Year of the Dog to rid your business of parasitic elements. Ask yourself: Who has benefited from us and derived monetary nutrients at our expense without returning an adequate benefit? Such freeloaders may be suppliers and service providers, advisers and lobbyists, and maybe even certain managers and staff. Investigate how much benefit each derived from you, and what you really got in return. If you notice a gross mismatch, clean out the parasite.

Rewarding loyalty: People born in the Year of the Dog are said to be loyal and honest, amiable and kind, responsible and prudent, lively and courageous. Due to a strong sense of loyalty and sincerity, dogs will do everything for a person -- or business -- who cares for them.

Inspiration: Who are key members of your company or team who have loyally and responsibly worked for you for a long time and contributed to the success of your business? Who are your long-term customers who loyally continue buying from you? Who are other loyalists who have served your cause as loyal suppliers, advisers, advocates and cheerleaders? In the Year of the Dog, think about ways to say "Thank you" to these loyal, dependable and sensible companions.


Dr Detlef Reis is the founding director and chief ideator of Thinkergy Limited (www.Thinkergy.com), the Innovation Company in Asia. He is also an assistant professor at the Institute for Knowledge & Innovation-Southeast Asia (IKI-SEA), Bangkok University, and an adjunct associate professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University. He can be reached at dr.d@thinkergy.com.

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