There aren’t that many people who wrote five (yes, five) books on the subject of innovation and creativity, and Jeff DeGraff is just that person. He has worked with some of the most innovative companies in the world, including Apple, Coca Cola and GE. Naturally, we couldn’t pass on a chance to ask him a few question about what makes or breaks creative spirit in a corporate world and what companies can do to encourage innovations inside.

There are a lot of different techniques for personal creativity. But how do you create a creative organization?

The keys to producing a creative organization are culture, competency and momentum.

First, culture is by far the most important element and the hardest to develop, establish and maintain. The reason is that culture is not a thing in itself but an attribute of leadership and work practices. This is why the removal of the leadership team of an underperforming firm is the first step in any credible acquisition. Look for where your organization has a successful creative culture and give these leaders a greater voice.

Second, competency comes in many forms and is always domain specific. For example, the creative competencies of medical device company and a fashionable restaurant have little in common. However, there are four aspects of creative competency that are shared across all organizations. These include the ability to form a shared creative vision, goals, processes and values. The ability to sync these up across boundaries, regions and fields of endeavor is essential for an organization to move fr om ideation and opportunity to implementation and value creation.

Talent matters most. Enlist deep and diverse domain experts with great range to serve as organizational emissaries. Third, momentum is the main reason most creative initiatives fail. They lose energy as they try to overcome organizational barriers and boundaries. The key is to hedge your bets with a wide array of relatively small, inexpensive and short term projects like a venture capitalist. This way you can proof the concept before trying to gather the resources to bring it to scale. In the process you will overwhelm the defenses of the bureaucracy. Take multiple shots on goal to quickly discover what really works and what doesn’t and make real-time adjustments.

2. Creative people are known to be difficult to manage oftentimes. What simple techniques can managers follow to achieve their business objectives without creating repressive atmosphere and scaring off their best talent?

Most of what passes for research on managing creative people is highly situational and cannot be applied universally. In other words, one size never fits all. Creative people are for the most part indistinguishable fr om those we relegate to the realm of the “ordinary” folk and prone to the same quibbles and quirks. General statements like creative people want more freedom may be true, but then again, the same could be said for most of us. I have been very lucky in my career to have been an executive advisor to companies like Apple, GE and 3M during turning points in their history. What I have observed is that these organizations embrace constructive conflict. Crossing boundaries and ideas produces radical hybrids. Alignment is great if you are trying to create a more efficient system or a more harmonious work place. But if you are trying to create a breakthrough innovation, something genuinely new, there will inevitably be some creative pushing and shoving, and some talent will move on. Creativity is messy.

3. We’ve seen evolution of knowledge management fr om top down (manuals) to collaborative (wikis) to informal and social (enterprise social networks). What’s next?

We have a false sense of progress when it comes to learning. Searching and reapplying knowledge faster doesn’t create new knowledge. It’s just another form of time management. I call these forms of creative populism the Mongolian Barbeque Effect. The customer believes they are creating something wonderful and new. But in reality they are simply using the prescribed ingredients in a large mass customization system to create a combination other people find inedible. Radical innovation is a form of positive deviance created by post-conventional thinkers and practitioners. They eschew the Mongolian Barbeque altogether. More and more, I find the most creative people I meet have a portfolio life. That is, they exist in the white spaces between organizations, domains and other forms of institutional control. They don’t really have jobs but seem to make a living out of a mash-up of personal and professional interests in a hodgepodge federation with other irregulars. In a world ever more connected via everything from big data to ideology, they have rejected this search and reapply view of creativity. They forgo the dominant logic of the group in favor of creating new interpretations. Since the ideas of these independent and free-thinkers are typically considered somewh ere between unorthodox and seditious, what they know is not easily understood and well beyond what can be managed. While technology makes our knowledge better, cheaper and faster, it offers little in the way of sense making. That remains a uniquely human endeavor. While the trend is greater connectedness and pervasive communication, the ability to understand, reinterpret and mobilize this information is inversely diminished. We get more information but understand it less. The truly ingenious ideas are now found in idiosyncratic hybrid communities of practice. The future looks very similar to the distant past wh ere the great ideas were found in the monasteries, art colonies and laboratories of the alchemists. Think of it as an update of the psychedelic motto of the 1960’s – “Turn on, tune in, drop out” – to – “Turn off, tune out, drop in.”

4. What idea management techniques do you personally use and found to work best?

Metaphors are the way I make sense of how things might work. They connect the dots for me. Analogical thinking synthesizes, synchronizes and systemizes what would otherwise be a chaotic mélange of data, ideas and aspirations.

5. What is the biggest misconception/bad advice about creativity and innovation that you hear people repeat again and again?

I think the Pixar animated movie Ratatouille summed it up best with the reinterpretation of the great chef Gusteau’s catch phrase “Anyone can cook.” At the end of the film, the antagonistic restaurant critic Anton Ego comes to understand that the phrase doesn’t mean “everyone can cook” but rather a great cook can come from anywhere. Similarly, many leaders believe everyone is creative. This too is untrue. Sure, most of us have new ideas every now and then. But new ideas alone are worthless. However, new ideas dynamically synchronized in form and function to overcome challenges or capture opportunities are priceless. Consider any specific product Apple makes and you can think of one made by a competitor that is superior. Think about the Apple ecosystem, it’s integrated design and business model, and it is unrivaled. The creativity method app on your smart phone will only take you so far. Simplicity is for simple people. Creativity with the scope and scale to make a difference is complex and requires real domain expertise, ample resources, a preternatural amount of persistence and good deal of luck. Best wishes putting your creativity to work wh ere you work.

Bitrix24 is a free idea management and team collaboration platform. Use promocode TIP10 when registering your free Bitrix24 account to get extra 10GB

See also:

- How we improved our ROI for PR tenfold

- 5 Ways Your Business Can Save by Moving to the Cloud

- Taking the First Steps to a Paperless Office

- 4 Copywriting Techniques to Remember for Better Email Marketing

- Interview with Andrew Grant author of “Who Killed Creativity and How Can We Get It Back?”

- 3 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Boost Workplace Productivity

- Free Redbooth Alternative 

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 There’s no such thing as a free lunch. It’s one of the saddest facts in my life, right up there with my insane student debt and the realization that Taylor Swift will probably never talk to me.

But there’s good news! I just saved a bunch of money by switching to… no, I’m kidding.

The real good news is that, while lunch may not be free, Customer Relationship Management software can be!

Free stuff is exciting!

Free stuff is exciting!

Free CRM comes in two categories – free, but limited (also known as freemium), and open source.

So the free, but limited versions offset caps on the amount of free users, contacts, storage, extra features, or some combination thereof.

Open source, on the other hand, offers an unlimited, fully functional CRM to users. The caveat is that your company needs a person (or team) who can install and configure the CRM. Of course, because of this, open source CRM is extremely customizable, which is nice. Most open source CRM companies also offer a preconfigured version and/or installation and support for a price.

Where can you find these magical free CRMs? Well, I put together a list for you! Check out the comparison chart below and read the details about the CRM systems that interest you.

Please note that I have not placed these in any particular order. Each system is different and each one will serve some companies better than others.

Free CRM Comparison

1. SuiteCRM


SuiteCRM is an open source alternative to SugarCRM and is actually based on Sugar’s open source version. Sugar’s open source product is extremely stripped down, and as one reviewer put it “SuiteCRM is the best of all worlds. It’s based on Open Source Sugar, but uses Open Source add-ons to make it close to, if not better than, the ‘Pay’ Sugar.”

Suite offers a preconfigured version for those users who don’t have the ability to install/configure in house. The upgrade fee for that is £10 or roughly $16.40 a month.

2. CapsuleCRM


Capsule is free for up to two users with 10 MB of storage, and 250 contacts. To upgrade, it’s $12/user/month. With the upgrade comes two gigabytes of storage, 50,000 contacts, and integration with such applications as Mailchimp andFreshbooks.

Capsule’s best feature, according to its many glowing reviews, is its ability to integrate with at least 33 other software programs, including Mailchimp, Freshbooks, and Gmail.

In fact, according to the reviews, the only place Capsule is really lacking as a system is its customer support. While they have a FAQs section as well as helpful articles posted on their page, if you need any help after hours, you’re sunk. In addition, they offer no direct phone service. Rather, you must submit a form, though they do claim to call you back within a single business day.

3. Insightly


Insightly claims on its homepage to be the “#1 online small business CRM.” I have no evidence to corroborate this particular claim, but I can tell you that they offer a great free program and a very friendly website.

Insightly offers their system free for three users, 2,500 records (which they define as any stored item from contact to note), 200 megabytes of storage and ten custom fields. Perhaps most importantly, Insightly offers free users full product support! The upgrade fee is $7/user/month and includes 100,000 records, unlimited storage, and Mailchimp integration.

As they say on their homepage, Insightly is great for small businesses. For many small businesses three users is really more than enough. However, many reviewershave mentioned that Insightly is not ideal for bigger businesses, particularly because its functionality is not capable of handling the demands of a larger business. One particular example cited is that the email integration lacks a lot of user functionality that other CRM platforms don’t think twice about.

4. Really Simple Systems

Really Simple Systems

Really Simple Systems claims to be the best CRM system for small businesses. (But it does not claim to be the #1 online CRM for small business, so there’s no rivalry with Insightly.)

Really Simple Systems offers a free two user system that includes 100 accounts (business that you deal with), unlimited contacts within those accounts, tasks, and 100MB of storage. To upgrade to five users with the same functionality, it’s $15/user/month.

Customers love Really Simple Systems because it’s actually really simple and they offer excellent customer support. I honestly struggled to find the problems people had with this system, that’s how much users love it.

However, I did manage to dig up one con to keep in mind. Cloudpro’s review, while generally praising this CRM, does mention that Really Simple Systems offers more limited functionality, and so works best for small businesses compared to large or enterprise ones.

5. FreeCRM


Here’s another CRM that claims to be #1 at something. This time its #1 at online free CRM software for business (so again, technically no rivalry!).

This free version comes with five free users, 2,500 contacts, and all the basic features. The upgrade fee is $14.95/user/month for more features, storage, and support. Two major drawbacks up front: you only get one year free, and no customer support.

So what makes FreeCRM worth it? First, their upgraded system is actually one of the most affordable CRMs on the market. Second, it’s a web-based solution, so you don’t need to create an expensive and time-consuming infrastructure to host it on, meaning pretty much anyone can get it up and running with ease.

6. Bitrix24


I like Bitrix a lot because it offers really flexible price options. I like flexibility. For a completely free account you get 12 users, five GB of storage and the ability to do anything you want with that storage, which is already a pretty sweet deal.

This is how it gets better. The upgrade fee to get unlimited users and 50 gigs of storage is $99, but if you’re not feeling that cause really all you needed was a few more users, or maybe just more storage… Bitrix totally hears you! They offer an additional 12 users to the same program for $25/user/month. And/or if you want more storage they offer a tiered pricing plan on that up to one TB.

So that’s the pricing.

Overall, reviewers find Bitrix to be a very easy-to-use system. In addition, itsdocument management feature is well integrated and extremely useful.

The drawback that reviewers all point out is that Bitrix’ aesthetics are a little rough at points. One reviewer mentioned that they use a flashing clock in the corner to remind users to timestamp all activities, which I could easily imagine is quite obnoxious.

7. Raynet


Raynet markets itself as an easy-to-use, does-it-all CRM. It’s free version allows for two users, 150 accounts, 50MB of storage, and full customer support. Upgrade to 20,000 accounts and one TB of storage for just $19/user/month.

Raynet’s system is very aesthetically pleasing and features an “account card” (featured above) where you can glean most of the information you need about a customer from a single glance, including how much they’re worth to your company.

All that said, Raynet is a fairly new company, and the fact that it’s headquartered in the Czech Republic may make support difficult for U.S.-based companies (though they have an office in Florida).  Additionally, perhaps because it’s such a recent entrant to the American CRM market, there is not yet much third party information or reviews on software.

8. vTiger


vTiger is an open source CRM, that is also based on Sugar. vTiger was actually originally a part of Sugar, but both have since gone their own ways.

While you can download and install the open source version of the software for free yourself, vTiger does offer several preconfigured versions starting as just $12/user/month. In addition, vTiger also offers installation, support, hardware, and/or administration for a price. It integrates with MailChimp, Intuit and Paypal, among others.

One thing that vTiger does really well is offer a wide array of features for very cheap, even on the preconfigured level. These features include billing, inventory tracking, and project management capabilities, all of which are fairly unusual to find in any CRM system.

From reviews, it would appear as though a fairly important drawback to vTiger is the fact that it has compatibility issues with PHP 5.6 and above.

9. ZohoCRM


Zoho is one of the big dogs of business software, so it’s pretty cool that they offer a free program. This CRM version is free for three users and 5,000 records. It comes with a mobile app and social CRM among other things. Their first step upgrade (for more users, features, and 100,000 records) is only $12/user/month.

Zoho is well known for being easy to use with highly developed importing features.

Unfortunately, Zoho is not as feature-rich as other CRMs on this list and has some quirks that take getting used to. An example that one reviewer used was that, when exporting from Zoho, you have to be very careful to ensure that there are no commas in any records, or else it will split up the record when putting it into Excel.

10. Zurmo


Zurmo is open source, and is unique on this list because it is also gamified. Zurmo was written on the principal that offering users incentives along the way makes users better employees. So the system sets goals, or ‘missions’ (which are different for different types of users) and then gives badges along the way to goal completion. It also allows coworkers to challenge each other to missions with set rewards at the end (like a gift card).

Currently, the biggest drawback to Zurmo is that it’s pretty new on the scene – which, being open source, can actually be a bit of a bother. Zurmo’s open source version lacks some fairly basic features such as social CRM.  This, of course, is unlikely to remain a problem the longer it sticks around.

Zurmo does offer a preconfigured version for $32/user/month.

Source - 10 Best Open Source CRM 

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Bob Thompson is an international authority on customer-centric business management who has researched and shaped leading industry trends since 1998. He is founder and CEO of CustomerThink Corporation, an independent research and publishing firm, and founder and editor-in-chief of - the world’s largest online community dedicated to helping business leaders develop and implement customer-centric business strategies. His new book Hooked on Customers reveals the habits of leading customer-centric firms. We talked to Bob about why so many CRM projects fail and what can be done about it.


What CRM mistakes do you see companies make most often, other than not having CRM at all?

Probably the most common mistake is the perception that CRM is a technology project. Thinking that a software implementation is all that’s needed is a source of many CRM failures, because behind the technology are people being asked to change how they do their jobs.

Another big mistake is not thinking about how everyone “wins.” CRM projects tend to be focused on company and management goals. The sales rep or service agent can feel there’s not enough benefit for them to get behind the initiative, thus undermining it. Customers can feel the same way, if a CRM project is designed to make them the “target” of an efficiency effort, rather than a beneficiary of an improved experience.

Finally, “having” CRM is not a black or white proposition. Every company has some kind of process to acquire new customers, sell to them, and service them. Executives shouldn’t think that once they’ve installed software or launched a project that they’ve “done” CRM. Instead, think of CRM as a journey where there’s always room for improvement.

CRM implementation often fails because of human factor, not technical shortcoming of a particular solution. Why is that and what can be done, because the technical part is actually getting better and better, especially with marketing automation?

CustomerThink partnered with Forrester Research in 2013 in a study of CRM project risk. The top three problem areas were business processes (44%), people (42%) and strategy/deployment (40%). Technology as 4th at 35%, which is still significant.

I agree that technology is getting easier to implement and use, in part due to the shift to cloud-based solutions. Human factors are more difficult because people and organizations tend to develop “ruts” in their behaviors. These habits are hard to break, even when new tools are implemented.

CRM can help with great customer service but simply buying software won’t make your company customer centric. What are some non-tech tips you can share that help companies become fore customer focused?

Well, I wrote an entire book (Hooked on Customers) about this! In my research I identified five organization behaviors – habits – that drive customer-centric success. Briefly, they are:
· Listen: Understand What Customers Value; Act on Their Feedback
· Think: Make Smart, Fact-Based Decisions
· Empower: Give Employees Resources and Authority to Serve Customers
· Create: Produce New Value for Customers and the Company
· Delight: Exceed Expectations; Be Remarkable!

CRM systems are getting more ‘social’ and they are now frequently integrated with other tools that companies use (intranets, enterprise social networks, document management, etc.). What other big changes do you see for CRM in the next five years?

I think predictive analytics will increasingly be integrated into CRM solutions. Predictive lead scoring is a huge opportunity, because it’s difficult for humans to know which of the dozens of signals mean that a lead is worth pursuing. I think we’ll see more usage of predictive analytics in the sales arena, to help coach reps on the right “playbook” to use for each situation. And in customer service, analytics can help advise agents how best to resolve an issue and when to offer (or avoid) an upsell.

Can you share your favorite online customer relationship management resources?

My community is a great resource. We have over 1700 contributing authors blogging about marketing, sales, customer service, customer experience, and more.

Thank you Bob!

Bitrix24 is the a free CRM for marketing and sales professionals. Use promocode TIP10 when registering your free Bitrix24 account to get extra 10GB

See also:

- 5 Simple Things You Can Do to Generate More Incoming Leads
- 5 Email trends that will affect you and your business
- Using Bitrix24 as free RingCentral alternative
- Practice vs. Flow, and How to Use Both for Greater Productivity
- Cold Calling Secrets, Part 2
- Free vTiger alternative 

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Procrastination is the deliberate act of delaying, unnecessarily, what needs to be done. Some delays are necessary: waiting on permission, waiting on information, waiting on collaboration. But many delays are optional We choose to delay because we are avoiding something else. If you are holding back on work that you are able of begin, you are procrastinating. And when you or others in your business procrastinate, the costs to your business start adding up.

The Potential Cost in Time

Time-cost is one of the first things that comes to mind when we think about procrastination. When we procrastinate, we may be doing useful things, such as organizing the files or returning phone calls. But useful things are not always important things. Time spent on non-important (but useful) tasks is time we do not spend on the important projects. Maybe you did reach inbox zero. Maybe you do have a really organized office. But how about those billable hours? Did you log any of those in by the end of the day? You know what makes money for your business: finished work and billable hours.

Research shows that up to 64% of employees waste time daily on the Internet, using non-work related sites. Procrastination is nothing new, but the Internet has made it so easy - and so interesting - to procrastinate anytime. For your business, let’s estimate on the low end, and assume that you - and your employees - only waste 2 hours a week surfing the web. That’s 2 hours a week per person. How many people are involved in your business? 10? There’s 20 hours a week down the drain. Could your business have profited fr om those 20 hours being used to help clients, finish projects, and bill hours?

The Potential Cost in Money

A study conducted by management consulting firm Proudfoot Consulting found that the time cost of unproductive workers added up to a loss of around 33 days per worker, per year. The estimated monetary cost of lost productivity came in at $598 billion annually for U.S. companies alone. What is your piece of that very unpleasant pie? Divide your gross profit from last year by the number of days in your work year to get your daily profit average. Then think about the amount of time lost daily in your business due to unproductive habits. If there’s an average time loss of 2 hours per day, that’s 25% of an 8-hour workday. What could your daily profit average have reached if those 2 hours were spent productively? Not all lost productivity is due to procrastination, of course. There’s inefficiency, indecision, poor planning, and waiting on other people. It’s probably not surprising to you that waiting on other people is often due to procrastination on their end.

The Potential Cost in Creativity and Quality of Work

Procrastination creates stress, because by procrastinating we lim it the options and increase the pressure. Job stress has a consistently negative effect on work quality. Time diaries and work research have shown, again and again, that creativity hides when it is under an immediate deadline. When we have some room to breathe, however, we feel more relaxed and open, which gives our brains freedom to make creative connection and come up with unique solutions. If you or your team members procrastinate habitually, you will face looming deadlines and high-pressure scrambles to finish projects on time. The result will be less creative work, and lower-quality work.

The Potential Cost in Employee Satisfaction

Job stress is a key cause of employee dissatisfaction. If there is serial procrastination happening in your business, the stress on everyone is increasing in proportion to it. When overloaded, employees may tend to procrastinate more instead of less. They feel taken advantage of, and they feel simply incapable of doing all that is asked of them. So they give up. They doodle around. They surf the web. They procrastinate. And as a result, they get less done and their feeling of being stressed and overloaded grows. Even one person’s procrastination can negatively affect an entire business. You can’t eliminate procrastination entirely, but you can take it seriously. By refusing to let yourself procrastinate, and rewarding others who do the same, you set the tone for your entire business.

And that may just save your business thousands, in hours, dollars, and, well, happiness.

Bitrix24 is the a free CRM for marketing and sales professionals. Use promocode TIP10 when registering your free Bitrix24 account to get extra 10GB

See also:

- Practice vs. Flow, and How to Use Both for Greater Productivity
- Cold Calling Secrets, Part 2
- 5 Simple Things You Can Do to Generate More Incoming Leads
- 5 Email trends that will affect you and your business
- Bob Thompson - why CRM is not a technology project
- Free Insightly alternative 

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Your team works well together, solves problems, and comes up with innovative, unique ideas. Except when they don’t. If your team is in a creative slump, here are five ways you can end it.

1. Identify the Blocks

Denial is your enemy. Awareness is your friend. If everybody is sitting around, pretending like everything is going just fine, you need to step in. Open the discussion so that they can be open about their difficulties. Ask questions and listen to their answers. Chances are, they already know a few issues - or, perhaps, many - that are causing blocks. Set up a team meeting and talk about what is blocking the normal creative flow you have come to expect from them. The goal of the meeting should not be to destroy all creative blocks, but to figure out what they are. Sometimes, talking through the issue will prove to the solution. If communication problems, personality conflicts, or internal stress is the source of reduced creativity, an open and supportive discussion can do a lot to resolve it. If, however, the issues are different, you will know how to start addressing them once you know what they are.

2. Take an Enforced Break

Walking stimulates creativity. Sleeping stimulates creativity.

Most likely, neither of those things is happening when your team is actively working on a creative project. If the pressure is on and the deadline is looming, your team members are focused and stressed. And that stance is kind of the opposite of what creativity needs. Enforce a break, of a few hours, a half day, or more if you can afford it. Require no work during the break: team members should take personal time, take a walk, take a nap. After the break, your team will be able to get back to work with refreshed minds and new creative energy.

3. Work on a Different Project

The magic of creativity is in the diverse connections made. Inventiveness doesn’t usually happen from stumbling across brand-new knowledge, but in combining well-known facts in new ways. In order to do that, though, the brain needs input from a variety of sources. Stimulation is important. If your team has been hunkered down, working on a single task or on very similar projects, their brains are starved for new input, different input, a variety of sources. Move the team to something completely different for a while, then come back later with fodder for fresh connections.

4. Take the Pressure Off

There’s another thing creativity doesn’t like very much: pressure. People might feel like they are being creative when they come up with solutions under stress, but research shows that both the quality and creativity of work plummets when stress is high. Remove or extend deadlines. Give your team some breathing space. Bring in more team members so that tasks and responsibilities can be spread out. Add more resources. Creativity is a function of growth, not survival. If the brain interprets the environment as a threatening one, it will not be searching for new and novel ways to respond. It will be coming up with quick, defensive measure to end the threat (or stress) as quickly as possible.

5. Impose Limits

Generality does not heighten creativity. There’s a reason that Hallmark cards don’t go down in the annals of great poetry: generalities do not make powerful images. Generalities do not produce powerful creativity, either. Creativity responds to challenges (not pressure) when there is a particular need to be met. If you’ve asked your team to “be creative” about a broad area or request, try tightening the scope. Define the lines. Set boundaries. Name the problem, as specifically as possible, and then work on a single, focused solution.

Bitrix24 is a free online team productivity and collaboration platform. Use promocode TIP10 when registering your free Bitrix24 account to get extra 10GB

See also:

- 5 Simple Things You Can Do to Improve Workplace Productivity
- Intranet review checklist – seven must-have features for ANY intranet
- Social HR 101: What is social intranet?
- Mobile Productivity Dos and Don’ts
- Michael Leander - People still make the same email marketing mistakes they did ten years ago
- Free Asana alternative 

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