Seeing Innovation Clearly
There's an old Indian adage that goes something like this: "When a pickpocket meets a saint, all he sees are pockets." Psychologists summarize this phenomenon in three words: "Motivation affects perception." In other words, if you're hungry when driving through a town, you'll notice the restaurants. If you're running out of gas, you'll notice the gas stations. If your mother is dying, you'll notice the funeral homes.
What is the meaning of this to you?
Simply this: If you are really serious about innovating in 2008, first you will need get clear about your motivation -- what's driving you. The clearer you are, the more your efforts will be free of the hidden agendas, assumptions, and filters that limit your ability to create what you SAY you want to create.
For example, if you think your real motivation is to create a breakthrough product, but what is really driving you is the need for short term profits, you won't have the kind of patience and perseverance required to aacomplish your goal.
Metaphorically speaking, if "innovation" is the "saint" you are seeking, you don't want to be approaching it like a pickpocket.
Next month, in this space, we'll be posting a poll to explore this phenomenon more deeply. We want to find out WHY people want to innovate. To jump start this effort, we invite you NOW to tell us why YOU want to innovate in 2008. What's in it for you? Why bother? What's the payoff?
Is it survival? Is it an attempt to keep pace with the competition? A way to enjoy your job more? A calling? Your strategy to get promoted? Something else? Simply click the "comments" link and let us know.
Which reminds me of that old Woody Allen joke: This guy goes into a psychiatrist's office and, in great distress, confesses that his brother thinks he's a chicken.
"Bring him in," the psychiatrist says.
"I can't," explains Woody.
"Why not," the psychiatrist asks.
"We need the eggs."December 28, 2007
ANNOUNCING: The Winners of Our First Annual Blog Contest!
Ta da! It's official! We have a winner! Actually, we have five winners and a bonus sixth -- the first people to respond to our Dec. 17th 30 Second Blog Contest.
And they are, in the exact order they left their "I-am-about-to-win-something-free-on-this-new-blog" comments: Nettie Hartsock, Paul D. Williams, Harmony, Bill Pearce, and James Todhunter.
Congratulations one and all for responding so quickly and winning a free copy of Mitch Ditkoff's Awake at the Wheel: Getting Great Ideas Rolling (in an Uphill World). The book is in the mail.
And a special acknowledgment to Paul Kwiecinski for entering the contest after the polls had closed and after most of our readers thought there was no more chance to win. Paul's tenacity has earned him a free copy of the book. Perseverance furthers.December 26, 2007
Re-Open For Comments
Btw, the Heart of Innovation is once again set up to accept comments. We were getting so much "comment spam" that we were forced to put in a registration step to ensure that only people could leave remarks, but a technical misstep meant that temporarily no one could.
Fortunately a friend relayed this news, so we thought we'd announce that, dialog-wise, the Heart of Innovation is once again open for comments... and, as ever, we'd enjoy hearing from you anytime.
Millions and Billions: The Probability of Terrestrial Life
The late science popularizer Carl Sagan once urged his readers and viewers to contemplate the millions of galaxies in the universe and consider the probability of extraterrestrial life existing somewhere outside our own planet. Today we live in a revised era, increasingly aware of humanity's impact on mothership Earth. So to shed light on our local dilemma, an innovative artist has been building a body of work that asks us to contemplate a different kind of vastness - the vastness of industrially stimulated consumerism.
Chris Jordan is a photo-montagist who creates vast wall-size panels which from a distance seem to be no more than interesting textures. Upon closer inspection though, they turn out to be created from tens of thousands of a single kind of consumable object we use and throw away: cigarettes, plastic bags, beverage bottles, aluminum cans, Vicodan tablets, cell phones. He packs these objects so tightly together that they merge into unified pointillist fields.
In one three panel set, a giant portrait of Ben Franklin turns out to be composed of 125,000 $100 bills. This number, it turns out, represents how much the United States spends each HOUR on the Iraq war - $12.5 million. Similar short clips of "consuming time" characterize most of Jordan's work: five SECONDS of plastic bags used and discarded by US Consumers (60,000 ; detail image above); a DAY's worth of cell phones discarded by US consumers (426,000, detail image below).
Because of the short time samples Jordan's montages represent, his work can convey the speed and staggering scale of industrial consumption in a way no other visualization has until now. We can grasp intuitively that these beaches of discarded goods are expanding daily, or hourly, by similar spatial units. (Four football fields of plastic bottles every five minutes. More plastic floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean than zooplankton.)
Like grains of sand on a beach, the individual objects in Jordan's images disappear. You search for a "subject" but nothing appears in the foreground. All the objects fuse into one vast background, a disorienting blur of granular overwhelm.
Then it dawns on you: YOU'RE the subject; YOU'RE the foreground. One of those plastic beverage bottles is MY water bottle. One of those cell phones is YOUR cell phone. Each one of us, easing through a supermarket checkout line on any given day, answers the question "Paper or Plastic?" WE are the subject, the foreground.
Chris Jordan creates flat backgrounds we have to place ourselves "in front of." And this helps us intuitively comprehend our interconnectedness and our impact on our LOCAL universe. Unlike Carl Sagan's CETI vision, Jordan lets us step back and contemplate the probabilities for life - not in space but HERE, on this fragile and finite planet. He asks us to consider where the superhighway to "prosperity" as we've defined it ultimately leads.
Here's a short interview with the artist.December 22, 2007
Time to Catch the Bubbles
A few years ago I found myself standing in my closet, madly searching for clean clothes in a last minute attempt to pack before yet another business trip, when I noticed my 4-year old son standing in the entrance. In one hand he was holding a small plastic wand. In the other, a plastic bottle of soapy water. "Dada," he said, looking up at me -- his eyes wide open -- "do you have time to catch my bubbles?"
Time? It stopped. And so did I. At that moment it suddenly made no difference whether or not I caught my plane. (I could barely catch my breath.) The only thing that existed was him and that soulful look of longing in his eyes.
For the next ten minutes, all we did was play -- him blowing bubbles and laughing, me catching and laughing, too. His need was completely satisfied. His need for connection. His need for love. His need for knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that absolutely everything was perfect -- just the way it was.
He is 13 now. His bubbles are digital. But his need is still the same -- and so is mine. And so is yours, I would venture to say.
And so dear friends, clients, prospects, bloggers, and fellow earthlings, I wish you the happiest of holidays and a fabulous New Year. If you are busier than you want to be, I wish you stillness. If things are a little too still, I wish you more business. But no matter where you are on the continuum of life, please remember -- as my young son reminded me not that many years ago -- to take some time to catch the bubbles. Be in the moment. Enjoy the gift of life. Be grateful for every single breath, your family, and all the wonderful people who love you.December 17, 2007
The 30 Second Blog Contest
If you are one of the first five people who leave a comment in response to this blog posting, you win a free copy of Mitch Ditkoff's newly published book on what it takes to manifest bold new ideas, Awake at the Wheel. Thirty seconds of your time is all it will take -- about the time it takes to put your socks on. You see... the Idea Champions team has a little bet going on. We want to find out how many people will actually respond to this invitation.
Alright, enough context. Now's the time. Post your comment already...
Winners will be announced by Dec 31.
(PS: Idea Champions staff and family are excluded from this little contest.)
Create In-House Start Ups
If your organization is finding it slow going cranking up its innovation machine, take a tip from the world of high tech.
Teradyne, a manufacturer of testing equipment for semiconductor chips, phone networks, and software, has found a way to cut to the chase and go beyond the internal money grubbing game that all too often drives aspiring innovators up the wall or out the door. Simply put, Teradyne funds ersatz start-ups inside the company for its best ideas. The start-ups report not to a boss, but to a Board of Directors. It has venture capital -- not a budget.
Now you're talking -- a simple way to turn "one's job" into "one's work" -- and that is the secret sauce. If you want to spark innovation, you first have to spark the innovators. And one way to do that is to treat them like entrepreneurs, not worker bees. Go beyond the command and control budget game. Give people room enough to match their excitement. Let them create a business, not just work for a business.
December 05, 2007
I ask myself the question, "Am I innovative?" My answer is, no surprise, "Of course I am!"
Being a pain in my own butt, I then press on and ask, "But are you innovative like in being creative, when no one asks you, or are you innovative like in response to something?"
I'm really beginning to annoy myself.
"Well, I have innovative ideas when no one's around, when no one's looking!" I answered somewhat whiningly.
"Sure you do. Of course you do. No doubt about that. Next question. Once you have these original, creative, innovative thoughts and ideas when no one's around, when no one's looking, what do you do with them?"
Sheeesh! Busted once again.
The answer is, I usually keep them to myself.
We all remember being in third or fourth grade and having the teacher ask the class a question and sort of raising our hand at half mast because we were pretty sure we had the answer but Ann Smith and/or Gregg Rimsky were just about bursting out of their seats, raising both hands at once, grunting, moaning, waving wildly for teacher's attention. Remember? And when teacher called on Ann or Gregg, they gave the correct answer and it was exactly what you were going to say.
Our first Homer Simpson D'OH! moment.
Let's fast forward twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years. Probably not much has changed in this regard. And many times we still have the right answer. What I'm referring to here is human behavior, very cherishable human behavior. We want to make that contribution of the right answer. We really, really do. But we are afraid.
I'm not going to go through the pantheon of fears we all have when we are in community. I don't have to. We all know them. What I want to draw attention to is the richness of innovation that resides in all of us, and how we can and will all benefit from its expression if we create a safe and fearless environment in which it can be expressed.
By a safe and fearless environment I'm not referring to brainstorming sessions or other organized activities geared to "getting the juices flowing." While these have their place and are very valuable, what I refer to here is the creation of a culture wherein spontaneous innovation, three o'clock in the morning innovation, is encouraged, nurtured, fed and given space and place for expression.
This is a two step process that takes place almost simultaneously within the individual and the community. It starts with the individual who must be willing and courageous enough to put some starch in their arm and get it up there for everyone to see. Creating the environment and providing the tools for fearless expression comes next. We all need a safe place. This is not a difficult or complicated thing to do, but it requires courage, vision, compassion and leadership.
Once individuals become willing to take a chance and the safe environment is in place, the wellspring, the cornucopia of intelligence and innovation that resides in all of us will begin to flow forth and the benefits, expressed in the form of less employee turnover, improved morale, improved revenues and a smarter, more pertinent, more competitive product line, will be expressed.
It won't take long, so let's get started.