Mayan Calendar Prophecy Demystified
If you've been
why the world
didn't end in 2012
as many interpreters
of the Mayan calendar
thought it would,
here's why --
the full scoop
in my most recent
Huffington Post article --
if you like Italian food.
How to Facilitate Brainstorm Sessions: THE eBOOK
Idea Champions is
proud to announce
the launch of
a series of
on the art
The first one
will be ready
in the Spring.
If you want us
to let you know
when it's ready.
shoot us an email:
Cover art: Jesse Ditkoff
The 10 Most Popular Postings on the Heart of Innovation Blog in 2012
Voila! For your reading pleasure, here are the 10 most popular postings on this blog for 2012.
Curiously, the most popular one had nothing to do with innovation -- it was about the death of my father.
The other most popular topics? Email, Appreciation, Regrets of the Dying, Motherhood, Humor, Technology, Public Speaking, Asking Why, and Being a Manager.
Here's to a happy, healthy, and hugely creative year to you and yours in 2013! With gratitude from the entire Idea Champions team!
THE 10 MOST POPULAR POSTINGS ON THIS BLOG IN 2012:
1. Out of the Box, In the Box
2. 14 Ways to Go Beyond the Email Blues
3. The Power of Appreciation
4. The Five Regrets of the Dying
5. Because I'm the Mom
6. 20 Awesome Quotes on Humor, Play, and Creativity
7. The Cool But Creepy Futuristic World of Ray Kurzweil
8. The Arc of a Good Presentation
9. Why You Need to Ask Why
10. Rethinking the Role of a Manager
A fun peek into how the news would have gotten out differently 2,012 years ago if social media tools had been around. (Click full screen).
Thanks to David Passes for the heads up.December 20, 2012
How to Improve Your RFP Process
If you are
on either end
of the RFP process
(requesting or responding)
and think there's got to be
a better way, you are right.
The way it works now
You know it. I know it
and if there are people
on other planets, they know it.
Here's my manifesto
just published in
the Huffington Post.
Are you confused about how to proceed with your hottest new idea or project? If so, take heart! Confusion is not always a bad thing. In fact, it's often a necessary part of the creative process.
The weirdness enters when you start judging yourself for being confused. Then, instead of benefiting from this normal stage of "not knowing" you end up in endless rounds of self-talk, procrastination, and worry.
What IS confusion, really?
Technically speaking, it's a state of mind in which the elements you are dealing with appear to be indiscriminately mixed, out of whack, or unable to be interpreted to your satisfaction.
Everyone from Einstein to Mickey Mouse has had this experience. It comes with the territory of trying to innovate.
Most of us, unfortunately, have a hard time acknowledging it.
"Not knowing" has become a euphemism for "ignorance". And so begins our curious routine of appearing to know and giving bogus answers -- to ourselves and others -- in a pitiful attempt to mask our confusion and maintain a sense of control, brilliance, and selfhood.
Our discomfort with not knowing prevents us from mining the value of this potentially fertile time of dislocation.
Picasso understood. "The act of creation," he said, "is first of all an act of destruction."
Great breakthroughs often emerge after times of dissolution, chaos, and confusion.
Wasn't the universe itself created out of chaos?
llya Prigogine, a leading brain researcher, describes this phenomenon as the "Theory of Dissipative Structures". Simply put, when things fall apart, they eventually reorganize themselves on a higher level (if they don't first become extinct).
And while this transition stage certainly looks and feels like confusion, what's really happening is that the old structures are giving way to the new.
Lao Tzu, one of China's most revered sages, knew all about this:
"I am a fool, oh yes, I am confused.
Other men are clear and bright.
But I alone am dim and weak.
Other men are sharp and clever,
But I alone am dull and stupid.
Oh, I drift like the waves of the sea,
Without direction, like the restless wind."
Somehow, he knew that things needed to be a little mixed up for there to be space for something new to enter his life. He knew that sometimes it was wisest just to let life unfold -- and that any knee-jerk attempt to clear up what he perceived to be confusion would only leave him with his old habits, patterns, and routines.
There is no need to fight confusion. Let it be.
It's a stage we must pass through on the road to creation. Fighting confusion only makes it worse -- like trying to clean a dirty pond by poking at it with a stick.
And, besides, even while our conscious mind is telling us we're confused, our subconscious mind is processing a mile a minute to come up with some amazing solutions. In the shower. While we're exercising. Even in our dreams.
Look at it this way...
First, we refuse (to have our status quo threatened). Then, we get confused (trying to sort out all the new input). Then, we try to diffuse the process (by regressing or denying.) Eventually, we get infused (inundated by new insights). And, finally, we get fused (connecting with previously unrelated elements to form a new and unified whole).
Your next step?
Allow confusion to be what it is -- the catalyst for new and more elegant outcomes.
And if you really can't stand the confusion, here are seven simple things you can do to go beyond it:
1. Take a break from the problem at hand
2. Identify what's confusing you. Name it.
3. Talk about your confusion with friends
4. Seek out missing information
5. Redefine your problem, starting with the words "How can I?"
6. Pay attention to your dreams and other clues bubbling up from your subconscious
7. Maintain a longer term perspective ("this too shall pass")
Six Famous Failures
December 18, 2012
Top 40 Innovation Bloggers Contest
If you have enjoyed reading this blog and think I have added any value to your own exploration of innovation in 2012, I humbly ask for your vote in Innovation Excellence's annual TOP 40 INNOVATION BLOGGER contest.
All you need to do is click this link, scroll to the bottom, enter your contact info in the fields provided, then write my name (Mitch Ditkoff) in the comments box. Very simple.
Here's to a glorious, fun, energized, loving, grateful, graceful, successful year of innovation to you and everyone in your life.
Vote here or click the link aboveOn the Brink of a Breakthrough
The following piece, written by Thomas Wolfe, is the most moving thing I've ever read about what it takes to stand at the crossroads of our own creative calling -- utterly alone, and yet, at the same time, utterly supported.
"During this time I reached that state of naked need and utter isolation which every artist has got to meet and conquer if he is to survive at all.
Before this I had been sustained by that delightful illusion of success which we all have when we dream about the books we are going to write instead of actually doing them.
Now I suddenly realized that I had committed my life and integrity so irrevocably to this struggle that I must conquer now or be destroyed.
I was alone with my work and knew that no one could help me with it no matter how much anyone might wish to help.
For the first time I realized another naked fact which every artist must know, and that is in a man's work there are contained not only seeds of life, but the seeds of death, and that the power of creation which sustains us will also destroy us like a leprosy if we let it rot stillborn in our vitals. I had to get it out of me somehow.
I say that now. And now for the first time, a terrible doubt began to creep into my mind that I might not live long enough to get it out of me, that I had created a labor so large and so impossible that the energy of a dozen lifetimes would not suffice for its accomplishment.
During this time, I was sustained by one piece of inestimable good fortune. I had for a friend a man of immense and patient wisdom and a gentle but unyielding fortitude.
I think that if I was not destroyed at this time by the sense of hopelessness which these gigantic labors had awakened in me, it was largely because of the courage and patience of this man.
I did not give in because he would not let me give in, and I think it is true that at this particular time he had the advantage of being in the position of a skilled observer at a battle, covered by its dust and sweat and exhausted by its struggle, and I understood far less than my friend the nature and progress of the struggle in which I was engaged.
At this time there was little that this man could do except observe, and in one way or another keep me at my task, and in many quiet and wonderful ways he succeeded in doing this.
I was now at the place where I must produce.
Even the greatest editor can do little for a writer until he has brought from the secrete darkness of his own spirit into the common light of the day the completed concrete accomplishment of his imagining.
My friend has likened his own function at this painful time to that of a man who is trying to hang on to the fin of a plunging whale, but hang on he did, and it is to his tenacity that I owe my final release."December 15, 2012
I'm from Woodstock. I Am.
I'm from Woodstock. Yes, that Woodstock, the famous Woodstock -- the most famous small town in the world, some people say.
Former home to Bob Dylan.
Jimi Hendrix lived here for a summer in the house right across the street from where I live now. John Sebastian still lives here, as do a ton of other musicians, artists, writers, healers, therapists, car mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and just about anyone else you'd expect to live in a small town.
Other than winter lasting six weeks too long, I love Woodstock. I've been a resident for 18 years and I'm proud to call it my home.
That being said, in the early days of starting up my consulting business, I noticed a curious phenomenon about Woodstock, or at least my relationship to it, whenever a client or prospective client asked me where I was from.
If I declared myself to be resident of Woodstock, I ran the risk of not only being stereotyped as a counter culture whack job, but being in cahoots with an entire generation of freaks for whom the word "corporation" was second only to "military industrial complex" on the list of buzz kills -- a moment fully capable of leaving my inquisitor with the impression that I was either dangerous, highly unqualified to be of value to their company, or a candidate to be paid in 100 pound bags of chickpeas.
So, I decided to take the low road.
With a big mortgage and a family to support, I saw no reason to scare away potential clients -- especially potential clients who, when push came to shove, were asking where I lived just to break the ice.
"Two hours north of Manhattan" was my standard response. "Upstate New York" was my backup, followed by "The Hudson Valley", "65 miles south of Albany", and the always dependable "Foothills of the Catskill Mountains".
So there I was in Munich at the International Headquarters of Allianz, one of the world's leading financial services institutions, with 142,000 employees and billions in sales.
My task? To lead a workshop, the next day, for the company's hard driving senior leadership team in an effort to jump start the launch of a company-wide effort to "gain a competitive edge through increased innovation".
Corporate speak? Of course it was. But it didn't matter to me. I didn't care what euphemisms my clients used to frame their business challenges. If I sensed even the smallest willingness on their part to become more innovative, I was there.
There, in this case, was the well-appointed, pre-dinner reception for Allianz' Senior Team and a handful of outside, consultants, like me, who had been flown in from God knows where to help the company reach its ambitious business goals.
The dress code? Business casual. The bar? Open. The client? Dutifully introducing me to anyone he could collar.
And so it went, the small talk, the head nods, the firm handshakes -- me patiently waiting for the waiter with the pizza puffs and the inevitable moment when the "Where do you live?" question would head its ugly rear.
Somewhere, in between my first and second glass of chilled 1987 Riesling, standing next to three large German men I had just been introduced to -- Guenther, Heinrich, and Hans -- the question was asked.
I opened my mouth to say "Two hours north of Manhattan", but out came "Woodstock".
Maybe it was the wine or maybe it was the cumulative affect of the past ten years of mouthing geographical euphemisms. I don't know. But whatever it was, I knew this was going to be an interesting moment.
For three very long seconds, no one said a thing. The word just hovered in the air like some kind of Superbowl Blimp.
Guenther was the first to speak.
"Wow!" he announced. "Did you actually go to the festival?"
Hans smiled broadly. "My older cousin went. Lucky bastard. I was too young."
Heinrich just stood there, expressionless, saying nothing. Then he raised his right hand and gave me a rousing high five.
"I love Joe Cocker!" he announced.
Somehow, I got the feeling that tomorrow's innovation workshop was going to be just fine.
December 14, 2012
Excerpted from my forthcoming book, WISDOM AT WORK: How Moments of Truth on the Job Reveal the Real Business of Life.
Santa's Cheerful Guide to Business Development
"Necessity," it is said, "is the mother of invention."
But it is also the father, aunt, uncle, grandmother, cousin, and in-laws. Indeed, for most of us, unless there is a proverbial fire under our proverbial butt, we remain victims of the status quo. Objects at rest. Bumps on a log.
Allow me to be more specific.
The year was 1998. Although the U.S economy was in good shape, my business was flabby. The pipeline was clogged. The marketing plan was a mess. And our cash flow wasn't.
Semi-fearless leader that I was, I bought some muffins and called a meeting. It took us all of 20 minutes to realize we had three choices if we wanted to survive: cut costs, find new clients, or reinvigorate old clients.
Cutting costs wasn't an option. Costs were already cut. Finding new clients sounded good, but it also sounded like a truck load of work. Reinvigorating old relationships, on the other hand, had a nice ring to it.
We decided to focus on local clients -- companies no more than two hours away. Singapore was out. New York City was in.
Being in the creativity business, we knew we'd have to walk the talk. Besides, Christmas was only two weeks away.
And so we decided to practice one of our own techniques and look at our challenge through the eyes of another, in this case -- Santa Claus. "How would he approach a major cash flow crunch?" we asked ourselves. "What would Santa do?"
The answer -- in an on-Dasher-on-Prancer-on-Vixen sort of way -- was obvious. Santa would take to the road. He'd visit people! He'd give out gifts!
The costume rentals cost us $300. I was Santa. Elizabeth was Mrs. Claus. Val was Rudolf. And Tiffany was the Chief Elf.
Our plan was simple.
We'd drive to Manhattan and pay surprise visits to three of our high flying ex-clients: MTV Networks, Met Life, and Pricewaterhouse. Once past security, we'd give away presents (that included our marketing materials) and get recipients to promise not to open them until Christmas morning.
Fast forward three hours...
There we are, the four of us in full Christmas regalia, standing in the tastefully appointed and very marble lobby of Pricewaterhouse. Behind the imposing front desk sat three very large security guards, none of them named Prancer.
"I'd... er... uh... like to speak to Donna Chandler," I announced, doing my best to channel my inner Santa.
Clearly, the security guard was not in the holiday spirit. His belly was not shaking like a bowl full of jelly.
"And who shall I say wants to see Ms. Chandler?" he replied with a scowl.
I just stood there, saying nothing, hoping my long white beard and general joviality would be enough to grant us access.
"Don't you recognize me, my friend?" I exclaimed. "It's me, Santa!"
"I'll need your real name, sir," the guard replied.
"My real name? It's Santa. Santa Claus."
The guard, now mumbling something under his breath to the equally oversized guard sitting next to him, was not impressed. Scroogily, he paged his way through a company directory and dialed the phone.
"Hello," I heard him say. "This is lobby security. There's some guy here who wants to see you. He's dressed up like Santa Claus and won't give me his real name."
Other people came and went. Other people were given name badges. Other people walked merrily to the bank of elevators.
The four of us just stood there, lump of coal in our imagined Christmas stockings.
And then, unceremoniously, the very large security guard with no visions of sugar plums dancing in his head called us forward.
"OK, Santa," you and your little buddies can go up."
Deck the halls with boughs of holly! We went up!
The moment we got off the elevator, on the 27th floor, everyone flooded out of their offices. Everyone wanted to see us. These weren't auditors at a Big Six accounting firm. These weren't MBAs, number crunchers, or tax geeks. These were big kids in business clothes.
Three very cheerful women led us to their office. Boldly, they sat me down in an overpriced executive chair and, one by one, sat in my lap.
"Have you been good little girls," I asked.
"Oh YES, Santa!" they giggled.
"And what do you good little girls want for Christmas?" I said.
"Better cash flow, Santa! Promotions! Vacations! And a cappuccino machine in the lounge!"
I reached into my bag and pulled out a beautifully wrapped gift for each of them.
"Will you promise Santa not to open your presents until Christmas morning?"
"Oh yes, Santa!" they exclaimed.
And then, with a shake of some strategically placed jingle bells, we were off.
On Dasher! On Rudolf! On Cash Flow!
Out of the office, we turned right at the fire drill sign, took the elevator to the tastefully appointed lobby and skipped out the door to our next former client, spreading Christmas cheer and marketing materials, ho ho hoping like children the night before Christmas, dreaming of clients dreaming of first quarter results and calling us the first day back on the job after the holidays...
Guess what? They did.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
1. What can you do differently this week to get a huge result?
2. How can you infuse your marketing efforts with a little fun?
3. What bogus boundary are you willing to cross?
4. Who else is willing to join forces with you to take a risk?
5. What is your next step?
Excerpted from my forthcoming book: WISDOM AT WORK: How Moments of Truth on the Job Reveal the Real Business of LifeDecember 13, 2012
What's Next After Twitter
This just in! Twitter is dead.
Or if not dead, dying. Or if not dying, passe. It's time has come and gone.
Industry experts agree. There is now a way more streamlined option available to you. Find out here -- noted in my most recent Huffington Post article.December 12, 2012
Einstein Recommends Idea Champions!
December 10, 2012
50 Ways to Foster a Sustainable Culture of Innovation
Want a culture of innovation? Choose a few of the following guidelines and make them happen. If not YOU, who? If not NOW, when?
1. Remember that innovation requires no fixed rules or templates -- only guiding principles. Creating a more innovative culture is an organic and creative act.
2. Wherever you can, whenever you can, always drive fear out of the workplace. Fear is "Public Enemy #1" of an innovative culture.
3. Have more fun. If you're not having fun (or at least enjoying the process) something is off.
4. Always question authority, especially the authority of your own longstanding beliefs.
5. Make new mistakes.
6. As far as the future is concerned, don't speculate on what might happen, but imagine what you can make happen.
7. Increase the visual stimuli of your organization's physical space. Replace gray and white walls with color. Add inspiring photos and art, especially visuals that inspire people to think differently. Reconfigure space whenever possible.
9. Ask questions about everything. After asking questions, ask different questions. After asking different questions, ask them in a different way.
10. Ensure a high level of personal freedom and trust. Provide more time for people to pursue new ideas and innovations.
11. Encourage everyone to communicate. Provide user-friendly systems to make this happen.
12. Instead of seeing creativity training as a way to pour knowledge into people's heads, see it as a way to grind new glasses for people so they can see the world in a different way.
13. Learn to tolerate ambiguity and cope with soft data. It is impossible to get all the facts about anything. "Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts," said Einstein.
14. Embrace and celebrate failure. 50 to 70 per cent of all new product innovations fail at even the most successful companies. The main difference between companies who succeed at innovation and those who don't isn't their rate of success -- it's the fact that successful companies have a LOT of ideas, pilots, and product innovations in the pipeline.
15. Notice innovation efforts. Nurture them wherever they crop up. Reward them.
16. When you're promoting innovation in-house, always promote the benefits of a new idea or project, not the features.
17. Don't focus so much on taking risks, per se, but on taking the risks OUT of big and bold ideas.
18. Encourage people to get out of their offices and silos. Encourage people to meet informally, one-on-one, and in small groups.
19. Think long term. Since the average successful "spin-off" takes about 7.5 years, the commitment to innovation initiatives need to be well beyond "next quarter."
20. Create a portfolio of opportunities: short-term, long-term, incremental, and discontinuous. Just like an investment portfolio, balance is critical.
21. Involve as many people as you can in the development of your innovation initiative so you get upfront buy-in. This is the "go-slow now to go-fast later" approach. (The opposite approach of having a few people go off to a desert island and come back with their concept is almost always doomed to failure).
22. Improve the way brainstorming sessions and meetings are facilitated in your organization. Create higher standards and practices.
23. Make sure people are working on the right issues. Identify specific business challenges to focus on. Be able to frame these issues as questions that start with the words, "How can we?"
24. Communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate and then communicate again. Deliver each important message at least six times.
25. Select and install idea management software for your intranet. (Or, if you've got an intranet and certain directories available to everyone, set up your own idea depository/database and make it as interactive as you want).
26. Don't focus on growth. Growth is a product of successful innovation. Focus on the process of becoming adept at taking ideas from the generation stage to the marketplace.
27. Make customers your innovation partners, while realizing that customers are often limited to incremental innovations, not breakthrough ones.
28. Understand that the best innovations are initiated by individuals acting on their own at the periphery of your organization. Don't make your innovation processes so rigid that they get in the way of informal and spontaneous innovation efforts. Build flexibility into your design. Think "self-organizing" innovation, not "command and control" innovation.
29. Find new ways to capture learnings throughout your organization and new ways to share these learnings with everyone. Use real-life stories to transfer the learnings.
30. Stimulate interaction between segments of the company that traditionally don't connect or collaborate with each other.
31. Develop a process of trying out new concepts quickly and on the cheap. Learn quickly what's working and what's not.
32. Avoid analysis paralysis. Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.
33. Before reaching closure on any course of action, seek alternatives. Make it a discipline to seek the idea after the "best" idea emerges.
34. Know that attacking costs as a root problem solves nothing. Unreasonable costs are almost always a sign of more profound problems (e.g. inefficient structures, processes or training).
35. A great source of new ideas are people that are new to the company. Get new hires together and tap their brainpower and imagination.
36. Get customer feedback before committing resources to a product's development.
37. Seek diversity of viewpoints. Get people together across functions. A diversity of views sparks more than conflict -- it sparks innovation.
38. Invite outside partners early on when exploring new opportunities. Find ways for your company to partner with others and actively share ideas, technologies, and other capabilities.
39. Avoid extreme time pressures.
40. Don't make the center of your efforts to help people be more creative a physical "creativity center." Fold your innovation resources into your business units.
41. Don't make innovation the responsibility of a few. Make innovation the responsibility of each and every employee with performance goals for each and every functional area.
42. Give your people specific, compelling, and measurable innovation goals.
43. Try to get as much buy-in and support from senior leadership as you can while realizing that true change NEVER starts at the top. How often does the revolution start with the King?
44. Realize that "resource allocation" is the last bastion of Soviet-style central planning. Think of new innovation opportunities as "resource attractors."
45. Pay particular attention to alignment. Ensure that the interests and actions of all employees are directed toward key company goals, so that any employee will recognize and respond positively to a potentially useful idea.
46. Reward collective, not only individual successes, but also maintain clear individual accountabilities and keep innovation heroes visible.
47. Do your best to ensure that linear processes give way to networks of collaboration.
48. Remove whatever organizational obstacles are in the way of people communicating bold, new ideas to top management.
49. Systematize. Find problems (not only with products, but with processes, customer service, and business models) and solve them.
50. Drive authority downwards. Make decisions quickly at the lowest level possible.
NOTE: This list co-authored with Val Vadeboncoeur
Thanks to Michael Plishka, of ZenStorming, for his refinement of #25.December 09, 2012
The Breakthrough Bathroom Technique
During the past 25 years I have worked with some of the most analytical people in the world: tax auditors, engineers, polymer chemists, actuaries, and rocket scientists just to name a few.
In my effort to help these fine folks make the journey from caution to creativity, I've had to develop a number of non-tradtional learning strategies -- most of which worked well enough to get me invited to work with some extraordinary organizations.
Not a single one of the methods I used had anything to do with the bathroom.
At least not until one fateful day at GE, when I found myself teaching Innovation and Business Growth to an amphitheater full of GE's "best and brightest" -- all of whom would be listening, the next day, to the iconic Jack Welsh, standing on the very same stage that I was standing on today.
My task? To move GE's leaders of the future from their left brain to their right -- to help them understand, from the inside out, what Einstein meant when he said "Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted, counts."
Having done this kind of work for the past 25 years, I had developed my own Swiss Army knife's worth of mindset-shifting approaches to get the job done -- approaches that included the right use of music, story telling, humor, movement, emergent design, creative thinking techniques, experiential challenges, and teaching people how to juggle.
Two hours into my GE session, things were going just fine. The 75 participants from 11 countries had given up their fear that I was going to make them sing Kumbaya and I had given up my fear that someone would soon discover my graduate school education was in poetry, not business.
At 10 am, my advanced facilitator skills kicked in and I began to notice that my bladder was full -- the kind of full that, If I didn't respond soon, would result in me hopping from one foot to the other.
Priorities newly clarified, I tweaked my agenda and taught the group a creative thinking technique that would keep them busy for at least another 10 minutes -- plenty of time to relieve myself.
Technique taught, I made my way up the aisle, out the door, found the bathroom, and did what 95% of all men do when it's time to pee -- aim dead center for the round hockeypuck-shaped thingee in the middle of the urinal, mindful not to get any drops on my newly dry-cleaned pants when it was time to zip up.
The bathroom, also one of GE's best and brightest, was about the size of a New York City studio apartment, complete with shiny marble counter tops and a week's worth of neatly folded hand towels on the impeccable sink.
Mission accomplished, I flushed, checked my face in the mirror, and retraced my steps to the meeting room.
Upon entering, everyone turned around and looked at me. Half of them were laughing. The other half were smiling. And if there was another half lurking somewhere beyond the laws of earthly mathematics, they would have been madly texting the details of what they had just found so amusing.
I was tickled that GE's best and brightest were so happy to see me, but I was also perplexed. This was not the usual welcome I received upon returning from a bathroom.
Confused, I shot a glance in the direction of Ben, my business partner, in the back of the room. He was standing, wildly gesticulating, Marcel Marceau on steroids.
"Your mic is on", he seemed to be saying, pointing at his lapel.
"Hmmm", I thought to myself. "My mic is on... my MIC is on".
Oops. Double oops!
From what I could tell, I had just broadcasted my entire bathroom experience to 75 global, business leaders of the future.
I had to think fast
"Oh that?" I said, taking another step down the aisle to the podium. "All part of the day's design. Intentional. Totally intentional. My attempt to..."
The rest of my sentence was drowned out by laughter. A lot of laughter. They would have none of it. Of course, they wouldn't. What I was saying was completely ridiculous, but because the way I said it was entertaining and self-effacing, they were not only forgiving, but suddenly much lighter and much more engaged than before I left the room just minutes before.
In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that in the three years of facilitating Innovation and Business Growth sessions at GE, I had never seen a group of people as focused, engaged, and happy to be in the room as this particular group was at this particular moment in time.
In some strange way, I had accomplished in three minutes, from a remote location -- the bathroom -- what usually took me at least a few hours -- bringing a room full of left-brained, curmudgeonly, bottom-line oriented business people to a collective state of mind that was fully present, relaxed, focused, and receptive to whatever was going to happen next.
Excerpted from my forthcoming book, WISDOM AT WORK: How Moments of Truth on the Job Reveal the Real Business of Life.
If you want to be informed when the book is published, send me an email (email@example.com)December 08, 2012
Creators on Creating
Inspiring slide show of quotes by breakthrough thinkers, innovators, and other assorted wizards. View full screen for max impact.You Suck at Powerpoint!
December 07, 2012
You Think YOU Have a Long Commute?
And now for a little perspective, just in case business is slow or you haven't gotten the promotion you think you deserved.December 06, 2012
Why You Need to Ask Why
Some years ago, there was a big problem at one of America's most treasured monuments -- the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC.
Simply put, birds -- in huge numbers -- were pooping all over it, which made visiting the place a very unpleasant experience.
Attempts to remedy the situation caused even bigger problems, since the harsh cleaning detergents being used were damaging the memorial.
Fortunately, some of the National Parks managers assigned to the case began asking WHY -- as in "Why was the Jefferson Memorial so much more of a target for birds than any of the other memorials?"
A little bit of investigation revealed the following:
The birds were attracted to the Jefferson Memorial because of the abundance of spiders -- a gourmet treat for birds.
The spiders were attracted to the Memorial because of the abundance of midges (insects) that were nesting there.
And the midges were attracted to the Memorial because of the light.
Midges, it turns out, like to procreate in places were the light is just so -- and because the lights were turned on, at the Jefferson Memorial, one hour before dark, it created the kind of mood lighting that midges went crazy for.
So there you have it: The midges were attracted to the light. The spiders were attracted to the midges. The birds were attracted to the spiders. And the National Parks workers, though not necessarily attracted to the bird poop, were attracted to getting paid -- so they spent a lot of their time (and taxpayer money) cleaning the Memorial.
How did the situation resolve? Very simply.
After reviewing the curious chain of events that led up to the problem, the decision was made to wait until dark before turning the lights on at the Jefferson Memorial.
That one-hour delay was enough to ruin the mood lighting for the midges, who then decided to have midge sex somewhere else.
No midges, no spiders. No spiders, no birds. No birds, no poop. No poop, no need to clean the Jefferson Memorial so often. Case closed.
Now, consider what "solutions" might have been forthcoming if those curious National Parks managers did not stop and ask WHY:
1. Hire more workers to clean the Memorial
2. Ask existing workers to work overtime
3. Experiment with different kinds of cleaning materials
4. Put bird poison all around the memorial
5. Hire hunters to shoot the birds
6. Encase the entire Jefferson Memorial in Plexiglas
7. Move the Memorial to another part of Washington
8. Close the site to the general public
Technically speaking, each of the above "solutions" was a possible approach -- but at great cost, inconvenience, and with questionable results.
They were, shall we say, not exactly elegant solutions.
Now, think about YOUR business... YOUR company... YOUR life.
What problems are you facing that could be approached differently simply by asking WHY.... and then WHY again... and then WHY again.. until you get to the core of the issue?
If you don't, you may just end up solving the wrong problem.
THE FIVE WHYS TECHNIQUE
1. Name a problem you're having
2. Ask WHY it's happening
3. Get an answer
4. Then WHY about that
5. Get an answer
6. Then ask WHY about that -- and so on, five times
The Syndrome Syndrome and the Rise of the New World Disorder(s)
If you don't have ADD or ADHD, you probably know someone who does -- and if they don't have ADD or ADHD, they probably have some other newly identified syndrome, disorder, or dysfunction.
It's a bull market, these days, for medical conditions, so I thought I'd provide a public service and alert you to 14 of the most recently discovered ones coming down the pike -- my newest article in the Huffington Post. Enjoy!
Digital Coolness from an 18-Year Old
The first photo below is a street in Tokyo. The second is my 18-year old son's (Photoshopped) vision of that same street after the Apocalypse.
PS: If you need any Photoshop work, Jesse, is your guy. He's honest. He's creative, And he's looking for some work over the Christmas vacation. Check out his new website.December 03, 2012
Introducing: BLUE PEARL WOODSTOCK
More info Staff Meetings in Less than 10 Minutes
Tired of boring, ineffective staff meetings? Here's what you do: Get your team together. Declare a challenge. Then play this song at full volume. Debrief. Vote. Commit to something. Go back to work.December 01, 2012
Brainstorming vs. Braincalming
If you work in a big organization, small business, freelance, or eat cheese, there's a good chance you've participated in at least a few brainstorming sessions in your life.
You've noodled, conjured, envisioned, ideated, piggybacked, and endured overly enthusiastic facilitators doing their facilitator thing.
You may have even gotten some results. Hallelujah!
But even the best run brainstorming sessions are based on a questionable assumption -- that the origination of powerful, new ideas depend on the facilitated interaction between people.
You know, the "two heads are better than one" syndrome.
I'd like to propose an alternative for the moment: "two heads are better than one sometimes."
For the moment, I invite you to consider the possibility that the origination of great, new ideas doesn't take place in the storm, but in the calm before the storm... or the calm after the storm... or sometimes, even in the eye of the storm itself.
Every wonder why so many people get their best ideas during "down time" -- the time just before they go to sleep... or just after waking... or in dreams... or in the shower... or in the car on the way home from work?
Those aren't brainstorming sessions, folks. Those are braincalming sessions. Incubation time.
Those are time outs for the hyperactive child genius within us who is always on the go.
Methinks, in today's over-caffeinated, late-for-a-very-important-date business world, we have become addicted to the storm.
"Look busy," is the mantra, not "look deeply."
We want high winds. We want lightning. We want proof that something is happening, even if the proof turns out to be nothing more than sound and fury.
High winds do not last all morning. Sometimes the storm has to stop.
That's why some of your co-workers like to show up early at the office before anyone else has arrived. For many of us, that's the only time we have to think.
"The best thinking has been done in solitude," said Thomas Edison. "The worst has been done in turmoil."
I'm not suggesting that you stop brainstorming (um... that's 20% of our business). All I'm suggesting is you balance it out with some braincalming. The combination of the two can be very, very powerful.
HERE'S A FEW WAYS TO GET STARTED:
1. In the middle of your next brainstorming, session, restate the challenge -- then ask everyone to sit, in silence, for five minutes, and write down whatever ideas come to mind. (Be ready for the inevitable joking that will immediately follow your request). Then, after five minutes are up, go "round robin" and ask everyone to state their most compelling idea.
2. Ask each member of your team to think about a specific business-related challenge before they go to bed tonight and write down their ideas when they wake up. Then, gather your team together for a morning coffee and see what you've got.
3. Conduct your next brainstorming session in total silence. Begin by having the brainstorming challenge written on a big flip chart before people enter the room. Then, after some initial schmoozing, explain the "silence ground rule" and the process: People will write their ideas on post-its or flip charts. Their co-workers, also in silence, will read what gets posted and piggyback. Nobody talks.
It's your decision, at the end of the idea generating time, if you want the debrief to be spoken -- or if you want people to come back the next day for a verbal debrief.
"Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
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