In Your Dreams
Well, there it is again.
I've discovered an amazing, arts-centered television channel, Ovation TV. They screen an impressive array of high quality programming on music, film, dance, painting, etc., the artists and their processes (quite a lot of it being BBC productions from the late 90's, interestingly enough).
It was specifically a trio of programs on music hosted by the legendary producer of the Beatles, George Martin, that gave me the jolt to write this. Together they're titled, "The Rhythm of Life," one lengthy show each on Rhythm, Melody, and Harmony. For those who love music, these programs are an unparalleled feast, with Martin listening to friends from Stevie Wonder to Michael Tilson Thomas playing and talking about the marvels and mystery of music.
In the one on melody, he talks with Paul McCartney about "Yesterday," Paul's greatest hit and what I remember reading is the most recorded song of all time. (That sounds more impressive than it really is, though, since the ability to record sounds and music is only around 100 years old. It's not even close to nominating the greatest books, or ships, or bridges, for instance.)
Martin asked his old partner McCartney how he came up with that famous melody; and Paul simply said, "I dreamed it." He explained that he woke up from a dream, with that melody playing itself in his imagination.
One of the projects I've been working on here this year, and among the most inspiring and energizing, has been editing the updated version of the workbook for one of Idea Champions' most fundamental courses, the Creative Thinking Training, "Banking on Innovation" (in the process of rebirth as "Freeing The Genie").
One segment (adapted into this article, "AHA! Great Moments in Creativity,") dealt all of the breakthroughs in art, science and technology that came as unexpected gifts to the practitioner, who would later be credited with their discovery. It turns out that the ideas for many great inventions came to the "inventors" in their dreams.
My favorite, easily the most amazing of all, was how Rene Descartes came up with The Scientific Method: that's right, he dreamt of it. And, fundamentally via that moment of insight, he would become known as "the father of modern science." (Ah, sweet paradox.)
We have a level of awareness that we walk around in all day, thinking about and trying to juggle all the conflicting thoughts and needs that living presents us with. But we all possess an entirely other level of awareness, far deeper and more connected.
All the techniques of creative thinking, on an individual level, are about learning different ways to trick yourself out of that everyday, crazybusy mode of thought... so that you can connect with your own inner resources.
The summary: if you're looking for a better way to accomplish what you need to do -- a plain language translation of "innovation" -- leave a line open so you can hear from your own subconscious mind, when it has something it would like to share with you.
Of course, we are not suggesting that you immediately get busy dreaming your day away! As the article takes great pains to point out, "Great creative breakthroughs usually happen only after intense periods of struggle. It is sustained and focused effort towards a specific goal - not luck, not wishing, not caffeine - that ultimately prepares the ground for great creative insights." Once you get the big idea, now it's up to you to put it into action.
These paired principles are an essential part of "the heart of innovation."
This in turn directly relates to our current poll (open through October): How and where do you get your best ideas? September 24, 2007
Nature and Human Nature
The Mid-Hudson Valley has been home to Idea Champions since we moved up here from Park Slope, Brooklyn in the early 1990's. And we're now entering that red maple and golden oak-hued autumnal season when we can best enjoy that beneficent reality. It's a great time of the year for taking walks, whether for exercise, conversation, or merely to renew the spirit.
When the locals are not enjoying the many bike paths, walking trails, or state parks, they can be seen traipsing along many of our two-lane county roads which are equally plentiful and lovely.
However, on the public thoroughfares, pedestrians, joggers, and bike-riders have to compete with the principal users of roads; cars, trucks and SUVs.
When I'm driving along County Road 32, for example, which takes me to the Idea Champions office, I usually pass at least one pedestrian or bicyclist, if not several. When I can see the road up ahead for a good distance and it's quite safe, I ease my Saab into the left lane as I pass to save the pedestrian or bike-rider the discomfort of having a streamlined ton and a half of metal and glass hurtling past them, just feet away, at 50 miles per hour. It demonstrates common courtesy and makes us all just a little bit safer, so why not? And, being the judgmental sort, I often metaphorically scratch my head at those drivers who choose not to do the same. "Pinheads," I think.
Just recently, I ran across a letter to the editor in our very local paper, The Woodstock Times. I never would have paused to read it had I not noticed the name attached to it: Bar Scott. Bar is an acquaintance and a friend of Idea Champions who lives a few miles from our office. She is a wonderfully accomplished singer/songwriter, besides being a fine example of a fully functioning human being. (You can find out about her and get her latest CDs here, at barscott.com)
In part, her letter read: "After many years of walking here, I want to thank the many drivers who take the extra moment that's needed to steer your car away from me as you drive towards me on the road. It makes a world of difference to me every time you do it. Your kindness means a lot and regularly lifts my spirit as I walk. Thank you."
The graceful tone of this letter struck me. Had I, or a similarly unenlightened individual, written on the same subject, it might have gone something like this: "Why is it that some drivers are so frightened of the solid yellow line down the center of the road that they'd rather put the lives of their fellow citizens at risk than risk touching it with the left wheel of their cars? Do they think that their car is going to explode if they do so? Or are they afraid that a Ninja-outfitted SWAT team, guns ablaze, is going to descend from the trees, shoot out their tires and whisk them and their families to a CIA prison in Romania for the rest of their demented, little lives? What IS the matter with you people!?"
You get the idea.
Now, which approach is more likely to achieve the desired outcome; that is, more drivers becoming considerate enough to steer away from pedestrians when they can? Bar's approach, where she praises considerate drivers... or dum-dum's, where he/I castigate those who fail to do what he/I think they should be doing?
Well, the very same goes for the world of organizations. Even in the highly unlikely event that you're 110% correct in your position, if you communicate like the Lord High Executioner you will most likely not only not get your desired outcome, you'll make any situation worse. Conversely, if you always take the time to "catch people doing things well," and praise and reward them, you end up getting more of the same.
This is simple, basic human nature. When dealing with humans, it's always best to take it into consideration before speaking and acting.
Does innovation have to be arcane, esoteric and out of the box? We think not. Let's take a look at innovation as applied to a practical business situation: defining, re-defining, re-inventing, exploring and enhancing markets.
All businesses must be current on the various facets and complexities of their markets. Some would say this is more clearly defined as a chore, something to be done on a regular basis by left-brained employees who have a research/statistical/analytical bent.
Not so fast. Let's take another look this "chore." If we approach the reality of our market in a dynamic and innovative fashion, we might find that the entire equation requires consideration of the following:
1. Knowing our Market
2. Knowing our Product
3. Knowing how our Product is satisfying our Market's appetites
4. Communicating 3 and 2 to 1
Practical, applied innovation is really about taking a meta view of entire processes and looking for either synergistic or symbiotic relationships. In this example, innovation is as much about a point of view as it is about "new" ideas. Understanding and responding to the reality that markets foster products and that products can shape markets prompts us to energetically and innovatively dive into the whole process, as opposed to periodically doing an analysis that will make no new assumptions and probably gather dust while our whole world (and market) is dynamically morphing around us.
It is also about the notion that innovation is not to be exercised by only a select few who are deemed "gifted" in the art of seeing things that other mere mortals can't. Quite the opposite. All employees should be given the opportunity to express their innovative thoughts. The organization will benefit exponentially. What's required are leaders who create an atmosphere and environment where all employees are presumed to be capable of innovative, creative thought. Foster that environment and get ready to be very pleasantly surprised, maybe even astounded, by the results.
Innovation, don't show up without it.
The Best Ideas Poll: 2007
Einstein got his best ideas while shaving. Mozart used to exercise before composing. Rene Descartes came up with the Scientific Method in a dream. Three geniuses. Three totally different catalysts for breakthrough thinking.
How about you? Where and when do you get your best ideas? In the shower? Late at night? On vacation? Brainstorming?
Three years ago, I polled 200 people on this very same topic -- a poll that consisted of 34 items and one other category. What astounded me was how many other responses I received -- a veritable Jerry Lewis Telethon of times and places I never once considered as having anything to do with the act of creative thinking.
Which is why our 2007 BEST IDEAS POLL is way more comprehensive. (Notice I did not use the word robust to describe our poll. The word robust is hereby banned from this blog for all eternity). Where was I? Oh, yes -- this year's Best Ideas poll. Interested in taking it? Of course you are. All you need to do is click here. The whole thing will take you less than seven minutes. Its simple. Its fun. And it will likely spark at least a few insights into where and when YOU get your best ideas.
NOTE: The results of our research will be posted here sometime in November, so be sure to check back.
September 07, 2007
Seeding Is Believing
I have recently been accused, by one of my colleagues, of writing overly long blog entries. At first I got a bit defensive, but then I realized how right he was. And so, it is with great respect to the blogospheric code of brevity, that I ask you all to contemplate one, simple, non-hyperlinked question today: Where do you find the seeds to grow seedless watermelons?September 01, 2007
Where do Great Ideas come from?
Ever notice how many times the biggest, most successful ideas come from closely imitating some principle at work in nature?
I've kept one particular book around for years both because it contained a statement that really rang my chimes, and it's full of beautiful, striking imagery. The book is, "Bridges, a history of the world's most famous and important spans," by Judith Dupre (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 1997).
And its memorable, "Whoomp, (ta-ta, ta,) there it is," declaration:
"Bridges are based on one or more of three basic structures that are derived from forms found in nature: the beam, from a log fallen across a stream, the arch from natural rock formations, and the suspension from a hanging vine."
So there it is, again: a human "invention" that turns out to be fundamentally "derived from forms found in nature."
As you may have some dim Science class memory of, "Four types of forces act on bridges, either singularly or in combination: tension, compression, shear, and torsion." (Push, pull, slide and twist.) I add this to point out that building a bridge is not as easy as falling off a log, even when you are borrowing the design principle of the log.
There's that funny tendency to see things that work as simple and therefore easy to do. But as anyone who's made something look easy will tell you, it takes a long time and a lot of focused effort for it to appear that way. So, naturally, while a brilliant first step is to work from a natural model, the second, third, fourth, etc., steps are to work like hell refining it. But at least this way, you're working on a foundation that's worth building on.
Talk about creative thinking: this is a remarkable book for another reason. Like her elongated companion volume, "Skyscrapers" (only sideways), Ms. Dupre's book is printed in the long and low format of a foot-and-a-half wide by 8" tall, allowing her subjects to be pictured in their fully horizontal glory.