What Are the Benefits of Storytelling in Business?
There's a new growth industry in town -- ORGANIZATIONAL STORYTELLING -- half art, half science and totally fascinating.
It's roots go back... let's see... um... er... 100,000 years -- long before written language -- the time when our ancestors stood around the fire and shared their wisdom in small groups. Not a tweet or YouTube video to be seen. Only wooly mammoths.April 26, 2014
If You Need Graphic Design Help
Here is a 3-minute animation by my 19-year old son, Jesse Ditkoff. He is an aspiring digital artist, attending Hampshire College. He is available this summer for graphic design projects, photoshop, etc.April 22, 2014
The Big Electron April 18, 2014
On 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 one's creative calling -- utterly alone, howling at the void, and yet, at the same time, utterly supported. If you want to get the total value of this brilliant piece of writing, read it aloud and let it sink in. I find it hard not to cry whenever I read it.
"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."April 09, 2014
Storytelling in Business Infographic
April 07, 2014
Not Knowing What Can't Be Done
Who do you need to collaborate with who lives the spirit of what Henry Ford was talking about? And when will you contact them?April 05, 2014
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?
April 03, 2014
To be continued in my new book: WISDOM AT WORK: The Power of Personal Storytelling to Spark Insight, Breakthrough, and Lifelong Innovation.
Sagacious Storytelling in Business April 02, 2014
Zen Innovation Koan of the Day
April 01, 2014
What Makes a High Performing Innovation Council?
During the past 25 years I've seen a lot of innovation councils (aka "innovation task forces") come and go.
Some of them looked good at the beginning and died a slow death. Some of them looked bad at the beginning and died a quick death. And some of them actually succeeded.
Before diving in, pause, take a breath, and consider the following guidelines.
They will save you time. They will save you headaches. And they may even save your company.
20 TIPS FOR LAUNCHING AN INNOVATION COUNCIL
1. Quit now if you're not really into it.
2. Be mindful of who you invite to participate. Just because someone is a "senior leader" doesn't automatically mean they should be on the Innovation Council. If they don't have the time, passion, or willingness to push the envelope, there's no reason for them to participate.
3. Create a charter. Define tasks. Make sure everyone knows exactly what's expected of them.
4. Establish clear agreements at your first meeting. Otherwise, prepare for chaos, wheel spinning, indecision, and the corporate hoky poky.
5. Build accountability into the process. Innovation Council members, no matter how high up they are on the corporate food chain, need to keep their word to each other. No slacking.
6. Clarify the lines of communication to key stakeholders who are not Innovation Council members. Do not fall prey to the Ivory Tower Syndrome.
7. Feel free to include senior leaders on the council, but only if they really want to do the work. This is NOT a committee or a plum ambassadorship to a fictitious country called "innovation." This is a working group that really needs to be on top of its game, honor its commitments, and model the very best of what real innovation is all about.
8. Meet more often than you want to. (If you only meet once a quarter, fuggedaboutit.)
9. Make sure the person who facilitates your meetings knows what they're doing -- and is prepared for each meeting.
10. Limit the size of your Innovation Council to seven. Any more than ten and you'll have an Innovation Swamp.
11. Have a sense of urgency, not panic.
12. Celebrate your successes, even if they're small.
13. Honor confidentiality.
14. Be lifelong learners about innovation. Put together a reading list. Teach each other.
15. If an Innovation Council member starts to flake out, ask them to either step up or step out.
16. Take notes at each meeting and distribute them within 24 hours.
17. Invite non-Council members to participate in your meetings every once in a while. Don't become a cult.
18. Speak your truth to your "executive sponsors", or whoever the Innovation Council reports to. If they're not holding up their end of the bargain, you're wasting your time.
19. Communicate what you're doing to the rest of the company. Don't keep it a secret. Transparency is the name of the game.
20. Do whatever is necessary to stay inspired. All too often Innovation Councils implode under the collective weight of their own busyness, ridiculous work loads, and stress. PS: Have fun with this!
What have I forgotten? Please add to this list, oh esteemed present and former Innovation Council members. Let it rip!