Ode to Rachel Maddow
Whatever your politics, take a minute check out this soulfully hip song of praise to Rachel Maddow by one of Woodstock's own, Marc Black. Marc is a treasure in my home town, but too few people know of him. Now you do.August 28, 2012
Mitch Ditkoff Now a Huffington Post Business and Innovation Blogger
Dear Heart of Innovation Readers:
I am happy to announce that the Huffington Post has invited me to become one of their business and innovation bloggers. Twice a week. How cool is that?
If you like it, LIKE IT -- and tweet it -- and anything else you care to do with it to share it with your friends, co-workers, boss, chiropractor, mother, ex-spouse, accountant, clients, or neighbors.August 27, 2012
Walt Disney Speaks!
What are YOU dreaming about doing?August 26, 2012
Savvy Book Agent Wanted
That's me, folks, the author of this blog. Any recommendations?August 25, 2012
The Upturn Is Upon Us!
If you are having one of those days where you are obsessing about the economy, your cash flow, and the general state of the world, take three minutes and watch this video. (HINT: It all depends what you focus on).August 24, 2012
Autistic Artistic Fantastic!
August 23, 2012
15 Awesome Quotes on Collaboration
1. "It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed." - Charles Darwin
2. "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." - Helen Keller
3. "If two men on the same job agree all the time, then one is useless. If they disagree all the time, both are useless." - Darryl F. Zanuck
4. "If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself." - Henry Ford
5. "Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up." - Oliver Wendell Holmes
6. "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." - Isaac Newton
7. "It takes two to speak the truth -- one to speak, and another to hear." - Henry David Thoreau
8. "If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas." - George Bernard Shaw
9. "Politeness is the poison of collaboration." - Edwin Land
10. "I never did anything alone. Whatever was accomplished in this country was accomplished collectively." - Golda Meir
11. "It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed." - Napoleon Hill
12. "No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you." - Althea Gibson
13. "The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team." - Phil Jackson
14. "Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success." - Henry Ford
15. "The lightning spark of thought generated in the solitary mind awakens its likeness in another mind." -- Thomas Carlyle
Got others? Lay them on me!
This post is dedicated to Ramsey MargolisAugust 21, 2012
Insane or Brilliant? You Decide.
This is a marketing post,
our little effort
to let you know
who our clients are,
just in case
in our services,
but hesitant to call us.
All of these organizations,
at one point,
realized they needed to
do something different
to raise the bar
Rene Descartes Had It Backwards
Rene Descartes, the famous French philosopher, mathematician, and writer is remembered by many as the author of the famous phrase, "I think therefore I am."
With all due respect to the probably-way-smarter-than-me Mr.Descartes, I don't buy it.
Based on my non-Aristotelian, late night sojourns into the flip side of thinking, it's become very clear to me that a more accurate statement would be "I am therefore I think."
Then again, since we all know Werner Heisenberg irrefutably proved that the experimenter affects the experiment, it is likely that the truest philosophical statement of being would probably take on the shape of the person who said it.
And so, in a highly non-caffeinated fit of blogospheric bravado, I present to you 15 alternate statements of epistemological coolitude that give Descartes' tired phrase (and mine) a run for their money.
1. "I wink, therefore I am." - Sarah Palin
2. "I blink, therefore I am." - Malcolm Gladwell
3. "I link, therefore I am." - Larry Page and Sergey Brin
4. "I sink therefore I am." - Davey Jones and his Locker
5. "I stink therefore I am." - Pepe LePew
6. "I drink, therefore I am." - WC Fields
7. "I ink, therefore I am." - Kinkos
8. "I slink, therefore I am." - Marilyn Monroe
9. "I rink, therefore I am." - Wayne Gretzky
10. "I kink, therefore I am." - Ray Davies
11. "I clink, therefore I am." - Moet Chandon
12. "I fink, therefore I am." - Vinny "The Rat" Scalucci
13. "I pink, therefore I am." - Mary Kay
14. "I tink, therefore I am." - Bob Marley
15. "I plink, therefore I am." - Ernest Kaai
Got others? Lay them on me.
A big thank you to Cary Bayer and Barney Stacher for a bunch of the aforementioned pearls of wisdomAugust 17, 2012
The Afghani Cab Driver and the $250 Million Dollar Salty Snack Food
I am getting into the back seat of a yellow cab, as I've done a thousand times before, having just tipped the too-smiling bellboy too much for holding open the door and inviting me, as he had been trained to do just last week, to "have a nice day."
Here, 1,500 miles from home, at 6:30 am in front of yet another nameless business hotel, I settle into position, careful not to spill my coffee on my free copy of USA Today.
In 20 minutes, I will be arriving at the international headquarters of General Mills, creators of Cheerios, Wheaties, and the totally fictional 50's icon of American motherhood, Bette Crocker.
My mission? To help their product development team come up with a new $250 million dollar salty snack food.
It's too dark to read and I'm too caffeinated to nap, so I glance at the dashboard and see a fuzzy photo of my driver, his last name next to it -- an extremely long and unpronounceable last name -- as if a crazed bingo master had thrown all the letters of the alphabet into a brown paper bag, shook, and randomly pulled them out in between shots of cheap tequila.
Where he was from I had no clue.
"Hello," I manage to say, nervous that my driver with the long last name would end up getting us completely lost. "I'm on my way to General Mills. Do you... know where that is?"
"Oh yes," my driver replies with an accent I assume to be mid-eastern. "I know."
Small talk out of the way, I now had three choices -- the same three choices I have every time I get into the back seat of a cab.
I could check my email. I could review my agenda. Or I could continue the conversation with my driver -- always a risky proposition, especially with cabbies from foreign lands who were often difficult to understand, tired, or, seemingly angry at Americans, which, I am not proud to say, often led me to become way too polite, overcompensating for who knows how many years of my government's pre-emptive strikes -- a response, I'm sure (mine, not the government's), which even the least sophisticated cab driver could see through in a heart beat.
"Where are you from?" my driver asks.
"Woodstock," I reply. "Woodstock, New York. And you?"
Deep as we were in the middle of that war, I am stunned, my own backseat brand of battlefield fatigue now gathering itself for the appropriate response.
"Afghanistan?" I reply. "What brought you here?"
I could tell by his pause -- his long, pregnant pause, that things, in this taxi, were just about to change.
"Well..." my driver says, looking at me in the rearview mirror, "I was out for a walk with my 10-year old daughter when she stepped on a land mine."
I look out the window. Starbucks. MacDonalds. Pier 1 Imports.
"So I ripped off my shirt and tied it around her leg to stop the bleeding. Then I went running for a doctor. But there was no doctor."
For the next 20 minutes, he goes on to tell me about his three-day journey through the mountains of Afghanistan, his bleeding daughter on his back, slipping in and out of consciousness.
Villagers took them in, gave them food, applied centuries worth of home remedies, but no one knew of a doctor.
And then... a break. A man on horseback told him of some nurses from the Mayo Clinic who had just set up an outpost just a little way up the road.
With his last bit of energy, he got there and collapsed -- the nurses managing to keep his daughter alive and flying her, the next day, to the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis, where, three days later, he and his wife were flown to be by her side to enter into a year long rehabilitation process with her, so she could learn to walk with her new prosthetic leg.
"That will be $27.55", my driver announces, checking the meter.
Somehow, I find my wallet, pay, and hug my driver, lingering with him as long as I could in that early morning light.
I enter the well-appointed lobby of General Mills, get my security pass, and make my way to the room where I am supposed to set things up for today's salty snack food brainstorming session.
An hour later, fifteen 30-somethings walk in, checking Blackberries.
I have a choice to make.
Do I dismiss my journey from hotel to headquarters as a surreal preamble to the day -- one that has nothing to do with the work at hand?
Or do I realize that my journey here this morning is the work at hand -- a story not only for me, but for everyone in the room that day?
To be continued in my new book: Wisdom at Work
PS: If you are an agent or publisher and are interested in publishing my book, contact me.August 16, 2012
A Breakthrough in Higher Education
This is a very important video to watch. Huge implications. HUGE. Fast forward a year or two and imagine that Coursera has added another 500 courses to their online curriculum. Colleges will go the way of Blockbuster, unless they get their business model more together -- and make higher education way more affordable.The One Voice for Laos Documentary
Here is a remarkable 8-minute video produced by Garland Berenzy (16!), documenting the One Voice for Laos project -- an inspired humanitarian effort spearheaded by Hudson Valley teens, committed adults, and my amazing wife, Evelyne Pouget, to support 600 orphans in Luang Prabang, Laos. If you want to donate to the orphanage, send a check to the Windhorse Foundation (P.O. Box 26582, San Francisco, CA 94126) and write "Deak Kum Pa Orphanage" in the memo line.August 14, 2012
Michelangelo on Genius August 13, 2012
Flowers First! Business Second!
Today, in a sudden fit of love and appreciation, I bought a dozen roses and brought them home to my wife.
Usually, when I think of buying roses, I go through a predictable sequence of events. First, I surrender to a wonderful feeling of expansiveness that takes me over. Then I get curious and smell the flowers. Then I ask the shopkeeper how long she thinks the roses will last.
Then I ask the per stem price, do the math, and reach the pitifully male conclusion that $46.95 is way too much too spend on something that won't last out the week and is probably less expensive somewhere else and it's obviously indulgent of me to be buying so many roses when I've got two kids to put through college in a few years and besides, beauty is within.
All of this, of course, is my inner Woody Allen taking the low road in response to what is obviously a Johnny Depp moment.
So I dig deep and bring the roses home -- my entire living room taking shape around them.
I then become very aware that there are definitely not enough flowers in the room. In a curious way, the recent appearance of roses has made the rest of the room seem barren. Tabletops and shelves that only minutes ago were doing just fine, are now utterly flowerless.
So I do the only thing a man can do when faced with such a paradox -- I return to the flower shop.
But the shop is closed. Closed? Impossible! I need flowers!
So I get back in my car and speed my way to the other flower shop in town.
It, too, is closed -- or, should I say, closing. The owner is shutting the door and giving me the "too-bad-you-didn't-get-here a few-minutes-ago" look.
But I will not be denied. And he knows it.
"What do you want?" he asks.
"Flowers," I reply.
He signals me to enter and I buy way more flowers than makes sense. A ridiculous amount.
Let's put it this way: if I was in the federal witness protection program, my sudden flower buying behavior would have put my government handlers in a tizzy.
Fast forward ten minutes to my wife in our kitchen.
She is looking at me as if I am totally insane -- me, the guy who, only days ago was making an airtight case for a more modest household budget.
Here's my philosophy:
Flowers first. Business second. If money is tight, buy more flowers. The more flowers you buy, the more money will appear. And if not in this lifetime, then the next (or maybe the one after that).
OK. There you go -- my not very financially sound, flower-centric view of the universe. You, my friend, are a witness. If I forget, please remind me.
OK. Stop reading this blog. Go out and get some flowers, already.August 10, 2012
Web Workshops from Idea Champions
Here's a 3minute video overview of Idea Champions newest service -- Web Workshops -- highly engaging 60-minute tutorials to help your workforce raise the bar for innovation, collaboration, and communication.What You Can Learn, in the Next Five Minutes, from a Ping Pong Ball
Big thanks to Val Vadeboncoeur, Idea Champions' Director of Training, for this insightful post on an important topic.
I have a handyman friend, Paul Duffy, who is a real-life MacGyver and possesses an uncanny ability to improvise an inexpensive and elegant solution for just about any electrical, plumbing, or construction problem that exists.
For example, just last week he correctly diagnosed a stopped kitchen drain as being the fault of a cheaply-made plastic vent not operating properly. After providing him with a pin, I watched him tweak the device with the pin and his trusty pocket knife so it did what it was supposed to do. No roto-rooting, no run to the hardware store, and no plumbing-related costs.
Paul says he learned this skill from his mother back in Ireland -- a woman who could solve any household problem with whatever was at hand.
MacGyver, as you might recall, was a very popular American TV hero back in the late '80's and early '90's -- a "troubleshooter" who displayed an amazing ability, usually in life and death situations, to simulate just about any complex device with everyday materials needed within a matter of minutes.
Household cleansers could be turned into explosives or made into poisons. Engines could be fixed with flip-flops, coins, and bubble gum -- that kind of thing.
Both the real-life Mr. Duffy and the fictional Mr. MacGyver demonstrate an important innovation skill -- overcoming the human propensity to be hypnotized by current reality -- a thinking box called functional fixity -- whereby it is difficult to imagine any object operating outside of its already-known function.
Functional fixity is a kind of near-sightedness of the mind -- a psychological phenomenon that demonstrates how the more familiar we are with an object or tool, the more we see that object or tool's uses as fixed.
A hammer stays a hammer and a blender stays a blender. They never become an emergency can opener or doorstop.
In the business world, this type of psychological straightjacket shows up as an inability to imagine new uses for the products and services we've created or new applications for the tools and processes we use every day.
Unchecked, it leads to statements like "that's the way this works" or "that's the way we do things around here."
It also enthrones the "expert" or the "experienced ones" as the arbiters of what is possible and what is not possible, which, for an organization, is the road to total paralysis and it's eventual mummification.
This kind of self-hypnosis or "spell" can and must be broken if new ideas are to be generated and developed.
In the brainstorm sessions I facilitate, I break this spell by asking participants to perform a simple exercise. I give them the task of coming up with as many possible uses of a ping-pong ball as they can imagine in three minutes.
With nothing on the line, and no identification with the object at hand, it becomes easy for people to generate alternative uses -- necklaces, tiny boats, toys, packing material, mobiles, Christmas tree decorations, Kermit the Frog's eyes, etc.
Then, I ask people to come up with alternative uses for their own company's products, services, or processes.
What people notice is that it's harder to generate multiple alternative uses for something they are very familiar with. In other words, they are bound by functional fixity.
Having done the ping pong ball exercise just minutes before, however, people become much more able to expand their thinking horizons and see everyday objects in a new light.
Maybe data collected via a particular manufacturing process can be used somewhere else in the organization. Maybe a core competency in molding plastic can be used in another line of business. Maybe there are new markets for a flagship product.
Once freed from functional fixity, our creativity expands. We have more choices and more freedom to move.
My invitation to you?
For the next seven days, notice the functional fixity in yourself as you go about your daily routines. Then look for alternative uses of the objects all around you. See how many new ways you can use common household items -- elastic bands... forks... or your favorite hat.
Then consider your company's poorest-selling product or service and ask: "How else could this product or service be used? What non-obvious need might it fulfill?"
Or look at your own skills and ask: "How can I use these skills to help others in new ways?"
The answer will probably be right under your nose. You just have to un-hypnotize yourself to see it.August 09, 2012
Why Leaders Shouldn't Lead Brainstorming Sessions
Here's one of the dirty little secrets of corporate brainstorm sessions: When they are led by upper management, department heads, or project leaders, they usually get manipulated.
Because honchos and honchettes are so heavily invested in the topic being brainstormed, it is common for them to bend the collective genius of the group to their own particular point of view.
Not a good idea.
Participants -- out of respect for the expertise (or position or parking space) of the facilitator -- will invariably moderate their input. The results? Same old same old.
That's why brainstorm facilitators need to remain neutral.
Not neutral like vague. Neutral like free of any pre-determined concept or outcome.
An open window, not an empty suit.
A facilitator's role is to facilitate (from the Latin word meaning "to make easy") the process whereby brilliance manifests -- not use their platform to foist their ideas on others.
In the best of all worlds, brainstorm facilitators wouldn't be the people who care the most about the topic. They wouldn't be the content expert, team leader, department head, senior officer, or anyone whose job is described by a three-letter acronym.
There's a HUGE difference between facilitating and leading a brainstorming session. Leaders get people to follow them. Facilitators get people to follow the yellow brick road of their own imagination.
Here are four classic ways that some brainstorm facilitators manipulate the ideation process. Any of them familiar to you?
1. They verbally judge ideas as they are presented
2. They scribe only the ideas they approve of
3. They spend more time pitching their own ideas than listening to the ideas of others
4. They develop only ideas consistent with their own assumptions
Shouldn't Hallmark Create an International Dancing Day?
August 05, 2012
Thanks to my sister, Phyllis Rosen, for this link.
The "L" Word in Business
Big thanks to Sarah Jacob, Idea Champions' Dutchess of Business Development for this fine post.
I recently had the delightful privilege of attending HSM's World Innovation Forum in New York City -- two days of luminous speakers on a broad spectrum of innovation-themed topics.
With tickets at $2,500 a pop, attendees were heavy-hitters at major corporations from around the globe -- a no-nonsense crowd.
Jean-Claude Biver was one of the first speakers.
Not many CEOs have helped their company grow revenues from $24 million to $100 million in two years. Biver did at Hublot Geneve, a Swiss watchmaker that sells ten thousand dollar watches -- a product which he admits are now "totally useless" since most people these days use their smartphones to check the time.
Gesturing to the glittery watch on his wrist with a slightly baffled look, he shrugged and laughed.
The silver-haired entrepreneur began his presentation by letting us in on a little known fact: he was a hippie in the 60s, shaped by the Beatles and his many visits to Woodstock.
"First, we have to share," he explained. "Giving employees a bonus at the end of the year is not sharing. It is justice. It is important to share experiences, knowledge, doubts, and the process of success."
And then he dropped the L-bomb.
"Sharing," he declared, "is an act of love."
I was intrigued that this man was brave enough to speak that depth of truth to an audience of businesspeople.
I looked around and noticed a few people shift in their seats.
Biver went on to pitch us Principle #2: Respect, making note that self-respect was primary.
"If you don't respect yourself," he asked, "how can you respect others, or your customers, suppliers, or the earth? A person who respects himself is guided by love."
There it was AGAIN, the word "love"!
I glanced sideways.
A man got up and awkwardly sidestepped his way to the aisle. Then a woman. I stayed put, captivated.
Principle #3: Forgiveness.
"We must forgive every mistake," he explained, "but only once. You cannot make the same mistake twice."
At Hublot Geneve, Monday was the day for sharing mistakes, and for every mistake shared, employees received a bonus. The result? People got used to sharing mistakes, and everyone got the benefit of the lesson.
"Forgiveness," he said, smiling, "is an act of love."
BOLD. This man was talking about LOVE at a global business conference of people who controlled billions of dollars! He was not talking about metrics or social media or ROI. Love!
And I was loving it.
In my experience, love is at the core of any kind, generous, authentic interaction.
A corporate culture that fosters the values of freedom, autonomy, purpose, mastery, integrity, and responsibility is a culture that is really about love -- a feeling that starts with inspired leaders who care. These leaders want to make the world a better place and deliver something great, while valuing the well-being of every person they employ.
I know this inside and out, having left a six-figure job in an investment firm three years ago to do what I loved: to travel the world dancing tango.
But did others in this sophisticated business crowd know this? Could they hear Biver's message? Business movers and shakers are often distracted by the depths of data, deadlines, and deliverables and miss the chance to be authentic.
I'm guessing the word love doesn't come up too often in their weekly staff meetings. But maybe it should.
"If people act from love," Biver explained, "then they are strong."
A company with this kind of culture, Bivre continued, is one where people are comfortable, ethical, enjoy themselves, and are happy to share. They help each other, and that support makes each person stronger and the organization great -- not to mention profitable -- even if they sell incredibly expensive, useless, luxury items in a soft economy.
Jean Claude Biver's closing comment?
"My biggest asset is that I was a hippie. Thank you Woodstock, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones."
Hallelujah! As the Director of Business Development for an innovation consultancy actually headquartered in Woodstock, I thank you, Mr. Biver, for unapologetically using a word that is taboo in American corporate culture.
Let's start a revolution.
Is Your Team in Sync? Or Sunk?
August 02, 2012
I Am Moving to a Blog Cabin
I see the future.
Everyone will have a blog. Every blogger's pet will have a blog. Every blog will have a blog. Every blog's blog will have a blog. No one will be reading any of these blogs because everyone will be too busy writing blogs. (Those with ADD will be tweeting).
Bloggers will occasionally visit other blogs, but only for the purpose of leaving comments that will direct readers back to their own blog.
Letter writing will become popular once again, gaining a new lease on life after the internet crashes repeatedly because of the profusion of blogs, tweets, and youtube videos created by 5-year olds, holographic spammers, robots, and terrorist groups.
Why all the blogging?
Because people want to connect. And WHY do people want to connect? Because there is a fundamental need inside each and every one of us to feel connected.
"Connected to WHAT?" is the question.
Most business leaders are likely to say something like "the marketplace," or "our customers" or "company values," but the real answer is far more fundamental -- your self.
Remember that? The part of you that doesn't have a title, a strategic plan, or a smart phone to keep it all together? That's where real communication begins -- from the inside out. And even more importantly, that's where the real experience of life begins.
Bottom line, for each of us to feel truly connected, we first need to connect with ourselves. Then, and only then, does it make sense to connect with others.
Otherwise, all our efforts to connect will be fundamentally flawed -- tinged with the slightly neurotic need for more approval, information, and virtual friends -- none of which are really necessary once we master the fine art of tapping into who we really are in the first place.
Sort of like putting the isness back in business.
And speaking of the future -- high rises are out. Blog cabins are in.
Illustration: Sara Shaffer