Assessing and Testing Ideas; Cognitive Strategies & Creativity

Dr. Schwartz is known for his innovative and creative concept of collaborative action, which unites various businesses to foster idea development and innovation. In our phone call, it became apparent that Dr. Schwartz began assessing this idea by researching what his “customers” were seeking (Byrne, 2009). Along the way, he continued to remind himself of his ultimate goal and planned to achieve it (Thrash et al, 2016). These steps were essential, as his idea was both revolutionary and creative; collaborative action had never been done before.

Yet when it came to testing his idea, Dr. Schwartz employed a method similar to Ms. Perez’s Test & Assess model. While he did take feedback during the development process, it was not until he dove into a real collaborative action session that he was able to see where his idea flourished and failed (Anthony, 2008). In his words, “You need to sense and understand the customers’ needs and test the ideas even if they aren’t completely worked out.” This mindset aligns with Graham-Leviss’s (2016) idea of taking managed risks and is characteristic of the in-class innovators’ successes. As Anthony (2008) says, the biggest barrier to success is one’s self.

After Test & Assess, Dr. Schwartz evaluated the outcome by listening to customer feedback and engaging in a personal reflection before adjusting and re-testing (Byrne, 2009). This cyclical model is similar to the ones highlighted by Zimmerman (2002) and Restructuring Associates, Inc. (2008). This was important in the refinement process, as it allowed him to engage in problem identification and divergent thinking. Csikszentmihalyi (2013) states these are two key ways to enhance creativity. Furthermore, I would argue that collaborative action creates an inspiring environment, as many great minds begin to interact. This environmental cognitive strategy provided Dr. Schwartz with a plethora of feedback he employed in the refinement process (Csikszentmihalyi, 2013).

Even with these cognitive and creative thinking strategies, Dr. Schwartz had to embody skills such as thinking interdependently, applying past knowledge, and thinking flexibly to make his idea successful (Costa & Kallick, 2008). In addition, he needed to courageously lead executives through the session, as often times these individuals are rooted in their ways and cannot visualize the benefits of change (Graham-Leviss, 2016). However, I would argue the most essential dispositions to Dr. Schwartz’s success were his self-awareness and self-regulation. Zimmerman (2002) depicts that these two qualities are crucial to attaining goals. It’s easy to lose focus when receiving feedback in a creative environment. Having the ability to monitor his thoughts and remember what he was striving for allowed him to be successful.

This became clear when he shared his biggest failure, a transformational career change. Dr. Schwartz decided to pursue a new venture outside the comfort of the university setting where he had worked for over 25 years. Upon relinquishing his tenure at Northwestern and beginning the position, he quickly found himself overwhelmed, yet too proud to admit it. This led him to fail greatly. He was not in tune with his environment or employees, which Byrne (2009) asserts is crucial to corporate success. As he stated, “I needed a lot of help to transform my thinking and understand the environment…it’s not just skills. You need to know how to interact with coworkers and take advantage of your skills.” In other words, Dr. Schwartz realized he needed to build relationships to gain the trust of his colleagues (Couros, 2014). In conjunction, he had to recognize and utilize his own skills. It was through his self-awareness and honesty that he was able to learn from failure and ultimately succeed (Zimmerman, 2002).

When we shared our idea, Dr. Schwartz was supportive and believed it would be a great asset to Triadex. He appreciated that we were using The Mosaic Company as an example of what Triadex could develop into. He felt that being able to highlight a thriving eco-friendly program run by an environmentally devastating company would provide reassurance to Triadex. This mirrors the SCAMPER model as well as what Anthony (2008) states about innovating through existing ideas. Dr. Schwartz did encourage us to reach out to Triadex and share our idea in order to gain feedback before we present the final product (Byrne, 2009).

He implied that we should use the Test & Assess model or do research to test a market segment. While we were initially planning to do this with college students, he felt a student survey might not hold precedence with Triadex. It would be more beneficial to gather information on the purchasing habits of eco-friendly regions of the United States or find evidence as to why this idea worked for Mosaic. Either would make our idea more convincing. Furthermore, he felt it would be beneficial to gather data on the corporate advantages of transitioning to environmentally friendly options like profitability and market share (Onyemah et al, 2013).

As a result of his ideas, personal experience, and creative thinking, Dr. Schwartz exemplifies an innovative leader. His model of collaborative action encompasses various qualities such a person should exude such as thinking interdependently and leading courageously (Costa & Kallick, 2008; Couros, 2014; Graham-Leviss, 2016). His model itself is a cognitive and creative thinking strategy in the way it connects different industries to produce innovative ideas. His story also points to self-awareness, as the realization of his limits was crucial to success (Zimmerman, 2002). This humbleness, or HOPE as Costa & Kallick (2008) state, is key for any innovative leader to possess.

Dr. Schwartz also recognized the importance of establishing the right environment. Collaborative action never would have worked had he not developed a creative environment for the businessmen/women. They would have been unable to engineer innovative ways of thinking, which subsequently would have affected Dr. Schwartz’s refinement process (Csikszentmihalyi, 2013). Testing his ideas in such a way allowed him to create a model that is now used globally. As a result, I believe he is an innovative and creative leader.

Regarding our “product”, the first “P”, our group chose our initial idea, which was to revamp the “Triadex Cares” program. The new program will contain three tiers with each tier correlating to a specific size order. Each tier contains three eco-friendly options, local, national, and international, that Triadex’s customers can choose for a percentage of Triadex’s profits to go toward. As the model becomes rooted, Triadex would begin establishing connections with organizations in its customers’ local areas as well as causes related to its customers’ specific goals. For example, a mature initiative may donate money to research on sustainable farming efforts, which would align with Subway’s business model and decrease environmental damage.

This idea is unique in that it benefits both Triadex and the customer. It gives Triadex a sense of purpose and expands upon its customer value proposition (Johnson et al, 2008). Corporations can now come to Triadex for great products as well as know that their purchase is benefitting the environment. The customers can even label themselves as green companies, which may create a new customer base. Additionally, having a variety of philanthropic connections permits Triadex’s customers to tailor their choice to company goals, thus impacting the customer on a deeper level (Onyemah, 2013).

Another beneficial aspect of this idea is its flexibility in regard to price, the second “P”. While it has key components like the tiers, it is easily adaptable. Triadex is able to choose what percentage of profits it wants to assign to each tier. Furthermore, the donations do not have to be distributed at the point of sale. Rather, Triadex can plan financially by donating every month or quarter. After a few quarters, it will be able to estimate the quarterly cost of the donations and plan accordingly. It can also incentivize the eco-mailers, by donating more money with the purchase of the eco-mailers.

While this idea will be more costly than Triadex’s current initiative, it creates new financial opportunities. The system will be enticing to its customers and may create a new customer base (Isaacson, n.d.). There are certain companies that are enticed to purchase greener options or choose businesses with eco-friendly values. Mr. Mesaros illustrated this when he highlighted that a Seattle-based company specifically chose Triadex for its tree-planting efforts. Moreover, the price of the mailers will not change, so there is no risk for the companies. They simply purchase as usual while gaining the ability to label themselves as “green”. Again, this illustrates the idea’s customer value proposition for both parties (Johnson et al, 2008).

The third “P”, promotion, would have two phases, an initial followed by a continual. The former would be characterized by emails or mailers sent to Triadex’s current customers announcing the new effort. They may contain a statement explaining that while Triadex has been able to plant X amount of trees with its customers help; it feels the need to give back in a greater way. This would be followed by an explanation of the new concept, and its benefits to the customer (Johnson et al, 2008). In addition, Triadex would advertise the new campaign on its website’s homepage and have a separate, dedicated page where customers can find more information. This page would also be where Triadex “sells” itself and the idea to the customer by communicating how it benefits the environment and customer (Onyemah, 2013). In essence, it should create a tripartite conceptualization within customers, meaning it should make them aware of the idea, inspire them, and compel them to act (Thrash et al, 2016).

The update phase is aimed at increasing Triadex’s transparency, which establishes a connection with the customer. As Anthony (2008) stated, “people pay for satisfaction, not a product.” These updates are sent to the companies and are aimed at delivering satisfaction, as one section will show businesses what their money is doing. This creates a “feel good” sensation, which may cause them to continue purchasing with Triadex. Furthermore, Triadex will put monthly or quarterly updates on their website as well as send them to investors and employees. Reminding these individuals what their company stands for fosters loyalty and a unified environment (Couros, 2014).

Place, the final “P”, will expand over many years. Initial local philanthropic efforts will be focused in the Tampa Bay region, but as the idea becomes more rooted, Triadex would begin initiatives in its customers’ areas. For example, say the majority of Triadex’s customers come from the tri-state area. Triadex could establish relations with forest initiatives and water conservation efforts in that region. This would allow customers to impact their local environment, which may be enticing. It also expands upon the choice principle, a key aspect of business (Johnson et al, 2008).

As the idea becomes more rooted, Triadex could publish a current location algorithm on its website, which would illustrate conservation efforts in the visitor’s local area. Again, seeing that Triadex is committed to local sustainability efforts increases its value proposition, thus increasing sales. Such a salesmanship tactic may make Triadex stand out from competitors (Onyemah et al, 2013). To test this, Dr. Schwartz suggested segment testing to observe if businesses purchase products at the same or higher rates as a result.

In order for this idea to be successful, we need Triadex to be motivated to change as well as be excited about its potential. In addition, the idea needs to benefit Triadex. While the “feel good” aspects are nice, it needs to deliver value such as increased profit and marketability (Johnson et al, 2008). If this idea costs Triadex too much money, it could kill our proposition. Triadex may find that the donations substantially impact profits, or that it needs to hire employees dedicated to this venture, which may minimize profits. Moreover, poor test segment results could kill the idea all together.

In presenting this idea, we are assuming that Triadex is open to new ideas and change. While this is troubling, Mr. Mesaros’s speech illustrated that he wants to do more than Triadex currently does. Not only this, he stated that he is open to changing the program. Outside of this, we believe the fact that Triadex reached out to us highlights a willingness to change. Along the same lines, we assume that this idea is a small step toward a larger initiative. We presume this is a valid point, since Mr. Mesaros is already trying to expand the company’s current efforts.

Additionally, we are assuming that because aspects of the idea worked for Mosaic and International Paper, it will work for Triadex. A large portion of the concept relies on the customers, too. We imagine that they would care about impacting the environment, especially if it is of no cost to them. We also believe that being able to label themselves as a green business is appealing. To address these assumptions, we contacted both model companies to research why their idea worked as well as why they chose to begin the initiatives.

Lastly and most importantly, our idea assumes that there will be a measurable impact on the environment and profit. We gleaned data from Mosaic and International Paper’s websites to find how impactful their systems have been in reducing emissions and overall environmental impact. We also researched both companies to see if they saw any increase in sales after launching the initiative.

Testing many of our assumptions did not go as planned. While we are confident in Mr. Mesaros’s willingness to change, our other suppositions required further research. When we contacted Mosaic to learn about its efforts and effects, we were transferred to the Director of Sustainability who did not answer or return our voicemail. International Paper did not know how to answer our questions and referred us to its website, which “has all of the information you need.” Thus, our test and assess results are based on the information we could glean from their websites.

It’s evident that the initiatives at both companies have been successful as a result of their company culture and commitment. Mosaic’s website highlights that it began its efforts for the same reasons Triadex wishes to. Namely, it wanted to be a better steward of the environment and corporate citizen. Within the first 5 years of launching eco-friendly efforts, public opinion of the company increased more than 55%. We also found that it joined the EPA’s Climate Leaders Program, which leads business through a 3-7 year plan on reducing emissions. This type of commitment would pair well with our idea, since our concept focuses on counteracting emissions where as the Climate Leaders Program would directly reduce in-house emissions (http://www.mosaicco.com/sustainability/or_gri_archive.htm).

While neither website boasts customer reviews on their eco-friendly aspects, we believe that their financial success may demonstrate our idea’s validity. On average, International Paper’s stock has risen over the past four years, and Mosaic’s net profits have increased after beginning its eco-initiative (http://www.internationalpaper.com/performance). Mosaic was able to dedicate $3 billion to expansion projects at the end of 2016 as well (http://www.mosaicco.com/sustainability/or_gri_archive.htm). While these are larger companies with more money to allocate, Triadex’s small size is actually an advantage. It makes it more nimble. Ms. Perez illustrated that Triadex is able to begin and stop initiatives relatively quickly in comparison to larger companies like P&G, making philanthropic ventures less risky.

Mosaic’s website shows our concept is expandable as well. The company began with localized efforts surrounding its manufacturing plants, which is similar to our idea’s initial phase. Currently, the company donates 1% of profits to numerous organizations locally, nationally, and internationally, including those focused on emission reduction. In doing so, it reduced CO2 emissions by 2.7% and donated more than $17 million to charities in 2016, while grossing over $750 million in profits. Other highlights include planting over 1.2 million trees in 2015. Employees have helped reduce water intake by 2% and energy by 5% (http://www.mosaicco.com/sustainability/or_gri_archive.htm).

After contemplating our findings, it’s clear that a committed, profit-based donation system, partnership efforts, and in-house adaptations can reduce environmental impact, while still increasing sales. We believe this would be more convincing if we could find a smaller company taking similar action. However, both companies make it clear that simply starting is the key (Anthony, 2008). In addition, we saw that both companies have philanthropic efforts at the local, national, and international levels, which adds to their impact, prestige, and value proposition (Johnson et al, 2008).

Where our idea may fall short is inducing customer interest. We could not find any evidence that customers chose Mosaic or International Paper for their efforts, but we may have received a different impression had we been able to speak with an executive. However, both employees I spoke to before being redirected were very aware of their companies’ eco-efforts and appeared proud of them. In addition, the fact that both companies clearly expose all of their data conveys that it is important to them, but also that customers care enough to read it.

After speaking with innovative leaders like Dr. Schwartz, it’s apparent that testing and assessing ideas begins with understanding customer desires and ensuring the product fits them (Byrne, 2009). This is how one formulates an effective delivery. This plan must be backed by extensive research and thoroughly developed. Yet, its development must not impede action. Testing the ideas is where true learning arises, so it’s okay to test ideas that are not completely worked out (Anthony, 2008).

However, it’s important for innovators to have a model for assessing those test results, such as Restructuring Associates, Inc.’s (2008) 6-step problem solving model. This was seen in Dr. Schwartz’s story. He was too busy testing his skills and trying to prove himself that he forgot the ultimate goal: to lead effectively and progress the company. A blueprint might have prevented this.

The mentors’ stories highlight that new ventures may not always go as planned. Costa & Kallick (2008) share three habits of mind that are crucial to exude in such times: being flexible, applying past knowledge, and thinking interdependently. These keep innovators from getting trapped in failure; yet when failure does arise, drawing on lessons from previous successes and failures can be beneficial. I’ve realized behaviors like asking questions can help develop tangible solutions, too. Examples include: “What did or did not work for me before?” and “Are there other companies that face similar situations? How did they surmount them?”.

In order to further our idea, we need to gather more information from Triadex regarding customer-purchasing patterns. It would be valuable to know if certain regions of the United States purchase more green options compared to their counterparts. If so, Triadex could begin testing this segment with the tiered approach. Moreover, another student in our class suggested we present Triadex with an example on presentation day. Our group should begin working on this now, as we plan to contact one or two of Triadex’s customers and observe if they are in favor of such a program. We also will be creating a handout to give to Triadex executives after our presentation, which summarizes the idea.

Our group believes that this tier system is one part of a new company culture rooted in sustainability. Our handout will also have a list of ideas on how Triadex can counteract its carbon footprint in smaller ways that will add up over time. Examples include office changes like automatic sinks and hand dryers, employee events like an Earth Day celebration, and even customer events to showcase eco-friendly progress. Being transparent in as many areas as possible creates trust within and outside of a company. It also fosters a creative environment and a platform for continual innovation (Csikszentmihalyi, 2013; Johnson, 2013).

Lastly, we need to identify a means for Triadex to calculate its carbon footprint; since that is a calculation we cannot perform. Fellow classmates have suggested Triadex bring in experts that are equipped in doing so. This is a good idea considering they also will show Triadex where it can reduce emissions in-house.

To monitor our progression, it’s important to employ a model such as a combination of the 6-step problem-solving model and cyclical model (Restructuring Associates, Inc.’s, 2008; Zimmerman, 2002). The 6-step model is more in depth than Zimmerman’s cyclical model, and specific areas such as “selecting a solution” and “implementing a solution” will guide us. However, I enjoy the self-reflection component of Zimmerman’s model, as it implies both business and personal reflection. As students, we have individual, unique goals to achieve. In the end, it’s important to revisit both the company’s goals as well as our own to ensure they are being met.

Lastly, we need to be self-aware and remember disruption is a process (Zimmerman, 2002; Christensen, 2015). When we speak with Triadex, it’s inevitable that issues will arise, so remembering to be flexible is crucial. Even more important is recognizing our emotions and feelings, especially during setbacks. It’s easy for us to tell Triadex to take a certain path, which may not be feasible or in line with its vision. In the past, we have let our emotions get the best of us, but we need to remember that Triadex is a business. Businesses have goals and need to be profitable (Johnson et al, 2008). Reminding ourselves of this will help us deliver an effective product that meets both parties’ desires.

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