The Martial Arts of the Mind
Ten years ago I was invited to teach a course on "Innovation and Business Growth" at GE's Crotonville Management Development Center for 75 high potential, business superstars of the future.
The GE executive who hired me was a very savvy guy with the unenviable task of orienting new adjunct faculty members to GE's high standards and often harsher reality.
My client's intelligence was exceeded only by his candor as he proceeded to tell me, in no uncertain terms, that GE gave "new instructors" two shots at making the grade -- explaining, with a wry smile, that most outside consultants were intimidated the first time they taught at GE and weren't necessarily at the top of their game.
I'm not sure how you say it in Esperanto, but in English what he said translates as "The heat is on, big time."
I knew I would have to raise my game if I expected to be invited back after my two-session audition was over.
And so I went about my business of getting ready, keeping in mind that I was going to be leading a 6-hour session for 75 of GE's "best and brightest" flown half way around the world -- high flying Type A personalities with a high regard for themselves and a very low threshold for anything they judged to be unworthy of their time.
I had five weeks to prepare, five weeks to get my act together, five weeks to dig in and front load my agenda with everything I needed to wow my audience: case studies, statistics, quotes, factoids, and more best practices than you could shake a Blackberry at.
I was ready. Really ready. Like a rookie center fielder on designer steroids, I was ready.
Or so I thought.
The more I spoke, the less they listened. The less they listened, the more I spoke, trotting out "compelling" facts and truckloads of information to make my case as they blankly stared and checked their email under the table.
Psychologists, I believe, would characterize my approach as "compensatory behavior."
I talked faster. I talked louder. I worked harder -- attempting in various pitiful ways to pull imaginary rabbits out of imaginary hats.
Needless to say, GE's best and brightest -- for the entire 45 minutes of my opening act -- were not impressed.
Clearly, I was playing a losing game.
My attempt to out-GE the GE people was a no-win proposition. I didn't need new facts, new statistics, or new quotes. I needed a new approach -- a way to secure the attention of my audience and help them make the shift from left-brained skepticism to right-brained receptivity.
And I needed to do it five minutes, not 45.
The next few days were very uncomfortable for me, replaying in my head -- again and again -- my lame choice of an opening gambit and wondering what, in the world, I could do to get better results in much less time.
And then, like an unexpected IPO from Mars, it hit me. The martial arts!
As a student of Aikido, I knew how amazing the martial arts were and what a great metaphor they were for life.
Fast forward a few weeks...
My second session, at Crotonville, began exactly like the first -- with the Program Director reading my bio to the group in an heroic attempt to impress everyone. They weren't.
Taking my cue, I walked to center stage, scanned the audience and uttered nine words.
"Raise your hand if you're a bold risk taker."
Not a single hand went up. Not one.
I stood my ground and surveyed the room.
"Really?" I said. "You are GE's best and brightest and not one of you is a bold risk taker? I find that hard to believe."
Ten rows back, a hand went up. Slowly. Halfway. Like a kid in a high school math class, not wanting to offend the teacher.
"Great!" I bellowed, pointing to the semi-bold risk taker. "Stand up and join me in the front of the room!"
You could cut the air with a knife.
I welcomed my assistant to the stage and asked him if had any insurance -- explaining that I had called him forth to attack me from behind and was going to demonstrate a martial arts move shown to me by my first aikido instructor, a 110-pound woman who I once saw throw a 220-pound man through a wall.
Pin drop silence.
I asked our bold risk taker to stand behind me and grab both of my wrists and instructed him to hold on tight as I attempted to get away -- an effort that yielded no results.
I casually mentioned how the scenario being played out on stage is what a typical work day has become for most of us -- lots of tension, resistance, and struggle.
With the audience completely focused on the moment, I noted a few simple principles of Aikido -- and how anyone, with the right application of energy and the right amount of practice, could change the game.
As I demonstrated the move, my "attacker" was quickly neutralized and I was no longer victim, but in total control.
In three minutes, things had shifted. Not only for me and my attacker, but for everyone in the room.
That's when I mentioned that force was not the same thing as power -- and that martial artists know how to get maximum results with a minimum of effort -- and that, indeed, INNOVATION was all about the "martial arts of the mind" -- a way to get extraordinary results in an elegant way.
PS: I was invited back 26 times to deliver the course.March 15, 2013
What You Can Learn from the FedEx Logo in Less Than 10 Seconds
During the past two years, I've asked more than a thousand people what they see when they look at the FedEx logo. 80% say "letters" or "colors" or "shapes" or "the word "FedEx." The other 20% tell me they see an arrow -- a white arrow.
When I ask the baffled 80% if they see the arrow, most of them shake their heads and shrug. Only when I point to the arrow (in between the second "E" and the "x") do they see it -- a moment that is usually followed by their favorite exclamation of surprise and a chuckle.
This little phenomenon, methinks, is a great metaphor for what it really takes to innovate.
There's something right in front of our eyes and we just can't seem to see it.
It's been there for a very long time, but for us it doesn't exist. In fact, if someone were to ask us if it existed, our answer would be an emphatic "no" -- not because it doesn't exist, but because we can't see it.
This explains a lot of things.
Cognitive psychologists boil it down to just three words: "Motivation affects perception."
In other words, we see what we're primed to see and miss the rest.
Shakespeare had a more poetic way of referring to this phenomenon. He called it "rose-colored glasses."
Think about it.
When you're driving through a town and you're hungry, you see the restaurants. If you're running out of gas, you see the gas stations. If someone close to you is dying, you see the funeral homes.
And so it goes.
Our entire work life has become a kind of oversized FedEx logo -- full of colors, shapes, and letters -- but all too often we miss the white arrow.
What we need, is a background/foreground shift -- the ability to see what we never knew was there.
Good teachers have a knack for helping their students make this kind of shift. Good coaches, too.
They have, it seems to me, a kind of X-ray vision. They see what their students (or their players) can't see and help them discover it on their own.
Simply put, they know how to prime the experience of tuning into the seemingly invisible - the omnipresent opportunities to innovate that are non-obvious.
That's the challenge before us all these days -- to go beyond our blind spots, limiting assumptions, and habits of thought in order to see bold new possibilities.
What are three things you and your team can do this week to see what you've never seen before?February 19, 2013
High Concept on the Highway
Every once in a while I hear of a cool Kickstarter project that I want to shout from the rooftops. This is one of them, the brainchild of Woodstock artist and renaissance man, Norm Magnuson. Please take a look and help this history making project get off the ground.Go Beyond Analysis Paralysis
December 20, 2012
The Value of Confusion
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")
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 02, 2012
Drumming Up New Possibilities
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
Brainstorm Facilitation Training
The Virtual Option
Outsource your brainstorming
The Top Ten Reasons Why The Top Ten Reasons Don't Matter
I'm sure you are a reasonable person -- thoughtful, analytical, and rational. Nothing wrong with that now, is there? Indeed, these very popular mental faculties can come in handy. But there is something beyond them that needs more breathing space in your life. Reason, no matter how reasonable,
can only take you so far. Anyway, here's my fun list, on the Huffington Post, of why we need to go beyond reason.
The Good Thing About Bad Ideas
One of the inevitable things you will hear at a brainstorming session is "there are no bad ideas." Not true. There are plenty of bad ideas. Nazism, for instance. Arena football. Bow ties.
What well-meaning "keep hope alive" brainstorming lovers really mean is this: Even bad ideas can lead to good ideas if the idea originators are committed enough to extract the meaning from the "bad".
Do you think that War and Peace was written in one sitting? No way. There were plenty of earlier drafts that were horrid, but eventually led to the final outcome.
The key? To find the value in what seems to be a "bad idea" and then use that extracted value as a catalyst for further exploration. The following technique, excerpted from Awake at the Wheel, shows you how...
HOW IT WORKS:
1. Bring a challenge, question, or problem to mind.
2. Conjure up a really bad idea in response to it.
3. Tell another person about your bad idea.
4. The other person thinks of something redeemable about your bad idea -- and tells you what it is.
5. Using this redeemable essence as a catalyst, the two of you brainstorm new possibilities.
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 14, 2012
Michelangelo on Genius 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.July 23, 2012
56 Reasons Why Most Corporate Innovation Initiatives Fail
Innovation is in these days. The word is on the lips of every CEO, CFO, CIO, and anyone else with a three-letter acronym after their name.
As a result, many organizations are launching all kinds of "innovation initiatives" -- hoping to stir the creative soup. This is commendable. But it is also, all too often, a disappointing experience.
Innovation initiatives sound good, but usually don't live up to expectations. The reasons are many. What follows are 56 of the most common -- organizational obstacles we've observed that get in the way of a company truly raising the bar for innovation.
See which ones are familiar to YOU. Then, sit down with your Senior Team... CEO... innovation committee, or best friend and jump start the process of going beyond these obstacles.
56 Reasons Why Most Corporate Innovation Initiatives Fail
1. "Innovation" framed as an initiative, not the normal way of doing business
2. Absence of a clear definition of what "innovation" really means
3. Innovation not linked to company's existing vision or strategy
4. No sense of urgency
5. Workforce is suffering from "initiative fatigue"
6. CEO does not fully embrace the effort
7. No compelling vision or reason to innovate
8. Senior Team not aligned
9. Key players don't have the time to focus on innovation
10.Innovation champions are not empowered
11. Decision making processes are non-existent or fuzzy
12. Lack of trust
13. Risk averse culture
14. Overemphasis on cost cutting or incremental improvement
15. Workforce ruled by past assumptions and old mental models
16. No process in place for funding new projects
17. Not enough pilot programs in motion
18. Senior Team not walking the talk
19. No company-wide process for managing ideas
20. Too many turf wars. Too many silos.
21. Analysis paralysis
22. Reluctance to cannibalize existing products and services
23. NIH (not invented here) syndrome
24. Funky channels of communication
25. No intrinsic motivation to innovate
26. Unclear gates for evaluating progress
27. Mind numbing bureaucracy
28. Unclear idea pitching processes
29. Lack of clearly defined innovation metrics
30. No accountability for results
31. No way to celebrate quick wins
32. Poorly facilitated meetings
33. No training to unleash individual or team creativity
34. Voo doo evaluation of ideas
35. Inadequate sharing of best practices
36. Lack of teamwork and collaboration
37. Unclear strategy for sustaining the effort
38. Innovation Teams meet too infrequently
39. Middle managers not on board
40. Ineffective roll out of the effort to the workforce
41. Lack of tools and techniques to help people generate new ideas
42. Innovation initiative perceived as another "flavor of the month"
43. Individuals don't understand how to be a part of the effort
44. Diverse inputs or conflicting opinions not honored
45. Imbalance of left-brain and right brain thinking
46. Low morale
47. Over-reliance on technology
48. Failure to secure sustained funding
49. Unrealistic time frames
50. Failure to consider issues associated with scaling up
51. Inability to attract talent to risky new ventures
52. Failure to consider commercialization issues
53. No rewards or recognition program in place
54. No processes in place to get fast feedback
55. Inadequate sense of what your customers really want or need
56. Company hiring process screens out potential innovators
Others we may have missed?July 19, 2012
The AHA Man Makes an Appearance
July 17, 2012
Rethinking The Role of a Manager
The root of the word "manager" comes from the same root as the words "manipulate" and "maneuver", meaning to "adapt or change something to suit one's purpose".
Although these words may carry a pejorative meaning, there is nothing inherently wrong with them. Indeed, into each life a little manipulation and maneuvering must fall.
For example, if the door to your office gets stuck, a handyman might need to manipulate it to get it working again. If there is a log jam at the elevator, you might decide to maneuver around the crowd and take the stairs.
However, there is another kind of manipulation and maneuvering that is a problem -- when managers use their position to bend subordinates to their will.
While short-term gains may result, in the end the heart is taken out of people.
Your staff may become good soldiers, but they will lose something far more important in the process -- their ability to think for themselves.
General George Patton said it best, "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."
Unfortunately, ingenuity in many corporations has gone the way of the hula-hoop. "Intellectual capital" is the name of the game these days -- and it is the enlightened manager's duty to learn how to play.
Only those companies will succeed whose people are empowered to think for themselves and respond creatively to the relentless change going on all around them.
Managers must make the shift from manipulators to manifesters.
They must learn how to coach their people into increasingly higher states of creative thinking and creative doing.
They must realize that the root of their organization's problem is not the economy, cycle time, strategy or outsourcing, but their own inability to tap into the power of their workforce's innate creativity.
Where does this empowerment start?
First, by recognizing what power is: "the ability to do or act".
And second, by realizing that power is intimately connected to ideas.
Most managers, unfortunately, perceive new ideas as problems -- especially if the ideas are not their own.
More often than not, managers don't pay enough attention to the ideas of the people around them. They say they want innovation. They say they want "their people" to do something different. But they do precious little to support their subordinates in their efforts to do so. More commonly, they foist their own ideas on others and can't figure out why things aren't happening faster.
That's not how change happens.
If people are only acting out somebody else's ideas, it's only a matter of time before they feel discounted, disempowered and just plain dissed.
People are more than hired hands; they are hired minds and hearts, as well.
Let's start with the basics.
Everything you see around you began as an idea. The computer. The stapler. The paperclip, the microchip and the chocolate chip. All of these began as an idea within someone's fevered imagination.
The originators of these ideas were on fire.
Did they have to be "managed?" No way. In fact, if they had a manager, he or she would have done well to get out of the way.
If you want to empower people, honor their ideas. Give them room to challenge the status quo. Give them room to move -- and, by extension, move mountains.
Why? Because people identify most with their ideas.
"I think therefore, I am" is their motto. People feel good when they're encouraged to originate and develop ideas. It gives their work meaning, makes it their own, and intrinsically motivates.
Who has the power in an organization? The people who are allowed to think for themselves and then act on their ideas! Who doesn't have power? The people who have to continually check-in with others.
Think about it. The arrival of a new idea is typically accompanied by a wonderful feeling of upliftment and excitement -- even intoxication.
It's inspiring to have a new idea, to intuit a new way of getting the job done. Not only does this new idea have the potential to bring value to the company, it temporarily frees the idea originator from their normal habits of thinking. A sixth sense takes over, releasing the individual from the gravity of status quo thinking.
In this mindset, the idea originator is transported to a more expansive realm of possibility. All bets are off. The sky's the limit. All assumptions are seen for what they are -- limited beliefs with a history, but no future.
If you are a manager, you want people in this state of mind. It is not a problem. It is not the shirking of responsibility. It is not a waste of time.
On the contrary, it's the first indicator that you are establishing a company culture that is conducive to innovation.
This is not to say, of course, that you have to fund every idea that comes your way.
On some level, ideas are a dime a dozen -- and only a handful of them are ever going to amount to much. But if you treat all ideas as if they are worthless, you will never find the priceless ones.
Creativity, you see, is often a numbers game. Einstein had plenty of bogus theories. Mozart wrote some crap. But they continued being prolific. And it was precisely this self-generating spirit of creation, which enabled them to access the good stuff.
You, as a manager, want to increase the number of new ideas being pitched to you. You want to create an environment where new ideas are popping all the time. If you do, old problems and ineffective ways of doing things will begin dissolving.
This is the hallmark of an innovative organization -- a place where everyone is encouraged and empowered to think creatively. Within this kind of environment managers become coaches, not gatekeepers.
"Coaching", of course, has been widely written about and there are many fine books on the subject. What hasn't been written about very much is how to become an "innovation coach" -- how to create the kind of environment that elicits the hidden genius of the people around you.
It's one thing to tell people "you want their ideas", it's quite another to create the kind of environment that makes this rhetoric real.
Creativity cannot be legislated. It cannot be sustained by pep talks. What needs to happen is that YOU, as a manager, need to change the way you relate to people. Each encounter you have with another person in the workplace needs to quicken the likelihood that their unexpressed ideas will get a fair hearing -- enabling a far greater percentage of them to eventually take root.
How does a manager do this?
First, by expressing a lot of positive regard. Get interested! Pay attention! Be present to the moment!
This is not so much a technique as it is a state of mind. If your head is always filled with your own thoughts and ideas, there won't be any room left to entertain those of others. It's a law of physics. Two things cannot occupy the same place at the same time.
Here's an example: Let's say someone comes up to you in the middle of the day and says something like, "I have this great idea for a new product that will generate over $200 million for our company."
The first thing you need to do is realize the opportunity you have. An idea is about to be shared, one that may herald a breakthrough or, at the very least, solve a problem, capitalize on an opportunity, or make your life easier.
Your willingness to sit up and take notice needs to be just as strong as if a customer were to call and complain. If possible, drop what you're doing, focus all of your attention on the idea generator, take a deep breath, and begin a series of questions that demonstrate your interest. If you cannot drop what you are doing, schedule some time -- as soon as possible -- for the idea originator to pitch you.
And whether the pitch is now or later, your response -- in the form of exploratory questions -- needs to be as genuine as possible. Consider some of the following openers:
* "That sounds interesting. Can you tell me more?"
* "What excites you the most about this idea?"
* "What is the essence of your idea - the core principle?"
* "How do you imagine your idea will benefit others?"
* "In what ways does your idea fit with our strategic vision?"
* "What information do you still need?"
* "Who are your likely collaborators?"
* "Is there anything similar to your idea on the market?
* "What support do you need from me?"
* "What is your next step?"
Basically, you want the idea originator to talk about their idea as much as possible in this moment of truth. An idea needs to first take form in order to take root, and one of the best ways of doing this is to encourage the idea originator to talk about it -- even if their idea is not yet fully developed.
The telling of the idea, in fact, is not unlike someone telling you their dream. The telling helps the dreamer flesh out the details of what they imagined and the subsequent hearing of it firmly installs it in their memory -- and yours -- so the idea does not fade quite as quickly.
Most of us, however, are so wrapped up in our own ideas that we rarely take the time to listen to others. Your subordinates know this and, consequently, rarely share their ideas with you.
But it doesn't have to be this way. And it won't necessarily require a lot of time on your part. Some time, yes. But not as much as you might think.
Bottom line, the time it takes you to listen to the ideas of others is not only worth it -- the success of your enterprise depends on it.
Choose not to listen and you will end up frantically spending a lot more time down the road asking people for their ideas about how to save your business from imminent collapse.
By that time, however, it will be too late. Your workforce will have already tuned you out.May 08, 2012
Creating Time to Innovate
On Thursday May 17th, I will be delivering a live webinar on Fostering a Culture of Innovation. The first 50 people to sign up get half off, so register now!
During the past few years I've noticed a curious paradox heading its ugly rear among business leaders tooting the horn for innovation.
On one hand they want the rank and file to step up to the plate and own the effort to innovate.
On the other hand, they are unwilling to grant the people they are exhorting any more TIME to innovate.
Somehow, magically, they expect aspiring innovators to not only generate game-changing ideas in their spare time, but do all the research, data collection, business case building, piloting, project management, idea development, testing, report generation, and troubleshooting in between their other assignments.
Tooth fairy alert!
This is not the way it happens, folks! Not only is this approach unreasonable, it's unfair, unbalanced, and unworkable.
You cannot shoehorn game-changing innovation projects into the already overcommitted schedules of your overworked workforce.
If you do, it won't be innovation you'll get, only half-finished projects and a whole lot of cranky people complaining to you in between yet another unnecessary meeting.
Oh sure, there are always a few who will find a way, via skunkworks and caffeine, to find the time... but for the most part, organizations are painting their people into a corner.
Aspiring innovators don't need pep talks. They need TIME. Time to think. And time to dream. Time to collaborate. And time to plan. Time to pilot. And time to test. Time to tinker. And time to tinker again.
That's why Google gives its engineers 20% of their time to work on projects not immediately connected to its core business. That's why W.L. Gore gives its workforce a half day a week to follow their fascinations. That's why Corel instituted it's virtual garage program.
"Dig where the oil is," Edward deBono once said. Indeed! And where is the oil? Right beneath the feet of each and every employee who is fascinated by the work they do, aligned with their company's mission, and given enough time to make magic happen.
Need proof? 50% of Google's newly launched features were birthed during this so-called "free time". -- midwived by engineers, programmers, and other assorted wizards happily following their muse.
The fear? If you give people "freedom" they'll end up playing video games and taking 3-hour lunches. Alas, when fear takes over, folks, (the same fear Peter Drucker asked us all many years ago to remove from the workplace), vision is supplanted by supervision and all his micromanaging cousins.
Time to innovate is not time wasted. It is time invested.
Freedom does not necessarily lead to anarchy. It can lead to breakthrough just as easily.
Remember, organizations do not innovate. People do. And people need time to innovate. Time = freedom. Freedom to choose. Freedom to explore. Freedom to express. And yes, even freedom to "fail."
If you've hired the right people, communicated a compelling vision, and established the kind of culture that brings out the best in a human being, you are 80% there.
Now all you need to do is find a way to give your people the time they need to innovate.
For more of our wisdom on innovation, creative thinking, and becoming the best company you can be, check out our newly launched webinars at www.ideachampionsuniversity.com!
Fascination is the DNA of Innovation
I own a huge library of books on innovation. Mostly hardcover. The $27.95 variety with big indexes and forwards by people who make more money than I do.
Some of these books are actually good. Most of them bore me. (I must confess I have a secret desire, whenever I enter a bookstore, to put glue between pages 187 & 188 in all of the new releases just to see if the publishers get any complaints).
The books attempt to describe the origins of innovation. You know, stuff like "the innate human impulse to find a better way" and "the imperative to find a competitive edge." That sort of thing.
Corporate-speak, in other words.
What kids are naturally good at.
Kids and those mavericks at work who make everyone nervous and running for their spreadsheets at the drop of a hat.
A person who is fascinated does not need to be motivated... or managed... or "incentivized."
All that person needs is time, some resources, meaningful collaboration, and periodic reality checks from someone who understands what fascination is all about.
That's why Google gives its workforce 20% of their time to explore projects on their own. That's why 3M and W.L. Gore do something similar. They know that the root of innovation is fascination.
If you, or the people who report to you, are not currently in a state of fascination it's time to turn things around. That is, IF you want to spark some innovation.
How do you do this?
For starters, here's one way, excerpted from Awake at the Wheel.
THE SEED OF FASCINATION
1. On a piece of paper, create three parallel headlines -- "What Fascinates Me," "People I Admire," and "What I Would Do If I Knew I Couldn't Fail."
2. Jot down at least five responses beneath each headline.
3. Look for intriguing, new connections between your responses. Any insights? Ahas?
4. Jot down your new ideas.
5. Circle your favorite idea and brainstorm it with a friend. Then pitch anyone who's influence can help you launch your ideas for how to bring more fascinating projects into your work life.April 14, 2012
100 Simple Ways to Be More Creative on the Job
1. Ask the most creative people at work for their ideas.
2. Brainstorm with a co-worker.
3. Tape record your ideas on your commute to and from work.
4. Present your challenge to a child.
5. Take your team off-site for a day.
6. Listen to your inner muse.
7. Play music in your office.
8. Go for a daily brainstorming walk.
9. Ask someone to collaborate with you on your favorite project.
10. Exercise during your lunch break.
11. Turn on a radio at random times and listen for a message.
12. Invite your customers to brainstorming sessions.
13. Think of new ways to define your challenge.
14. Remember your dreams.
15. Reward yourself for small successes.
16. Introduce odd catalysts into your daily routine.
17. Get out of the office more regularly.
18. Give yourself an unreasonable deadline.
19. Take more naps.
20. Jot down as many ideas as possible in five minutes
21. Work in cafes.
22. Transform your assumptions into "How can I?" questions.
23. Conjure up a meaningful goal that inspires you.
24. Redesign your office.
25. Take regular daydreaming breaks.
26. Dissolve turf boundaries.
27. Initiate cross-functional brainstorming sessions.
28. Arrive earlier to the office than anyone else.
29. Turn a conference room into an upbeat think tank room.
30. Read odd books -- having nothing to do with your work.
31. Block off time on your calendar for creative thinking.
32. Take a shower in the middle of the day.
33. Keep an idea notebook at your desk.
34. Decorate your office with inspiring quotes and images.
35. Create a headline of the future and the story behind it.
36. Choose to be more creative.
37. Recall a time in your life when you were very creative.
38. Wander around a bookstore while thinking about your challenge.
39. Trust your instincts more.
40. Immerse yourself in your most exciting project.
41. Open a magazine and free associate off of a word or image.
42. Write down your ideas when you first wake up in the morning.
43. Ask yourself what the simplest solution is.
44. Get fast feedback from people you trust.
45. Conduct more experiments.
45. Ask yourself what the market wants or needs.
46. Ask "What's the worst thing that could happen if I fail?"
47. Pilot your idea, even if it's not ready.
48. Work "in the cracks" -- small bursts of creative energy.
49. Incubate (sleep on it).
50. Test existing boundaries -- and then test them again.
51. Schedule time with the smartest people at work.
52. Visit your customers more frequently.
53. Benchmark your competitors -- then adapt their successes.
54. Enroll your boss or peers into your most fascinating project.
55. Imagine you already know the answer. What would it be?
56. Create ground rules with your team that foster new thinking.
57. Ask stupid questions. Then ask some more.
58. Challenge everything you do.
59. Give yourself a deadline -- and stick to it.
60. Look for three alternatives to every solution you originate.
61. Write your ideas in a notebook and review them regularly.
62. Make connections between seemingly disconnected things.
63. Use creative thinking techniques.
64. Play with the Free the Genie cards.
65 Use similes and metaphors when describing your ideas.
66. Have more fun. Be sillier than usual.
67. Ask "How can I accomplish my goal in half the time?"
68. Take a break when you are stuck on a problem.
69. Think how your biggest hero might approach your challenge.
70. Declare Friday afternoons a "no-email zone."
71. Ask three people how they would improve your idea.
72. Create a wall of images that inspires you.
73. Do more of what already helps you be creative off the job.
74. Laugh more, worry less.
75. Remember your dreams -- then write them down.
76. Ask impossible questions.
77. Eliminate all unnecessary bureaucracy and admin tasks.
78. Create a compelling vision of what you want to accomplish.
79. Work on hottest project every day, even if only 5 minutes.
80. Do whatever is necessary to create a sense of urgency.
81. Go for a walk anytime you're stuck.
82. Meditate or do relaxation exercises.
83. Take more breaks.
84. Go out for lunch with your team more often.
85. Eat lunch with a different person each day.
86. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
87. Invite an outside facilitator to lead a brainstorming session.
88. Take more risks outside of the office (i.e. surf, ski, box etc.)
89. Ask for help when you need it.
90. Know that it is possible to make a difference.
91. Find a mentor.
92. Acknowledge all your successes at the end of each day.
93. Create an "idea piggy bank" and make deposits daily.
94. Have shorter meetings.
95. Try the techniques in Awake at the Wheel
96. Don't listen to or watch the news for 24 hours.
97. Make drawings of your ideas.
98. Bring your project or challenge to mind before going to bed.
99. Divide your idea into component parts. Then rethink each part.
100. Post this list near your desk and read it daily.
KIND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS TO: Anne Howe, David Beath, Jim Aubele, Gary Kvistad, Howard Moody, Farrell Reynolds, Hector Cruz Rosa, Jill Peckinpaugh, and Marcy Turkington for their wonderful suggestions.April 01, 2012
Our World Wide Webinatrix Speaks!
The writers of this blog are excited, thrilled, and tickled to announce the launching of a entirely new service to the known universe: Webinars powered by Idea Champions University.
Having spent the past 25 years delivering a wide variety of innovation-sparking workshops, trainings, meetings, conferences, and consulting interventions to forward thinking organizations everywhere, we've decided to let go of our addiction to Frequent Flyer miles and go virtual.
Our new venture began with a simple question: "How can we have the biggest impact on the most amount of people in a cost-effective, highly engaging, low carbon footprint way?"
The answer? Build a webinar curriculum and deliver our services online.
Which is exactly what we've done and will continue to do as long as the need in the marketplace exists.
Bottom line, if you're looking for a better way to build the core competency of innovation, you've come to the right place.
No airfare required. No cabs. No sending your people to overpriced hotels and wondering whose gonna cover for them while they're eating muffins and collecting one more three-ring binder they will never read.
Operators are not standing by. But our website is. And so is our integrity -- the collective mojo we've built for the past 25 years with some of the finest organizations in the world.
So visit us online to learn more about what we're offering. And while you're at it, feel free to register for one of our upcoming open-enrollment webinars -- a great way to kick our virtual tires.
If you'd rather schedule a group webinar (for up to 100 people), contact Sarah Jacob, our World Wide Webinatrix.
She means business.March 30, 2012
The 10 Personas of a Good Brainstorm Facilitator
Allow me to make a wild guess. You have participated in more than a few brainstorm sessions in your life. Yes?
And allow me to make another wild guess. Many of those sessions left you feeling underwhelmed, over-caffeinated, disappointed, disengaged, and doubtful that much of ANYTHING was ever going to happen as a result of your participation.
Yes, again? I thought so.
There's a ton of reasons why most brainstorming sessions under-deliver, but the main reason -- the Mount Olympus of reasons (drum roll, please....) is the brainstorm facilitator.
Armed with a short list of ground rules, a flipchart marker, and a muffin, most brainstorm facilitators miss the mark completely.
The reason has less to do with their process, tools, and techniques than it does with their inability to adapt to what's happening, real-time, in the room.
In an all-too-professional attempt to be one-pointed, they end up being one-dimensional, missing out on a host of in-the-moment opportunities to spark the ever-mutating, collective genius of the group.
If only our well-intentioned brainstorm facilitators could abide by the words of Walt Whitman, when he confessed that he "contained multitudes."
Translation? If you or anyone you know is going to lead a diverse group of time-crunched, opinionated, multi-tracking, people through a process of originating breakthrough ideas, DON'T BE A ONE TRICK PONY! Be a multitude -- or, at the very least, be multi-faceted. Let it rip. Hang ten. Pull out the stops.
Use your right brain and your left. Let all the cats out of the proverbial bag -- and by so doing, exponentially increase your chances of sparking brainpower, brilliance, and beyond-the-obvious ideas.
OK. Enough bloggy pep talk. Let's get down to business.
Take a few minutes now to rate yourself, on a scale of 1-10, for how skillful you are at embodying the following personas of a high flying brainstorm facilitator
Then tune into your biggest strength and ask yourself how you can amplify that quality. Then identify your biggest weakness and figure out how you can improve in that arena.
A skilled brainstorm facilitator knows how to orchestrate powerfully creative output from a seemingly dissonant group of people. In the conductor mode, the facilitator includes everyone, evokes even the subtlest contributions from the least experienced participant, and demonstrates their commitment to the whole by offering timely feedback to anyone who "gets lost in their own song."
A good brainstorm facilitator is able to transmute lead into gold -- or in modern terms -- knows how to help people "get the lead out." This talent requires an element of wizardry -- the ability to see without looking, feel without touching, and intuitively know that within each brainstormer lives a hidden genius just waiting to get out.
Light on their feet, brainstorm facilitators move gracefully through the process of sparking new ideas. Able to go from the cha-cha to the polka to the whirling dervish spinning of a brainstorm group on fire, savvy facilitators take bold steps when necessary, even when there is no visible ground underfoot. "The path is made by walking on it," is their motto.
4. MAD SCIENTIST
Skillful brainstorm facilitators are bold experimenters, often taking on the crazed (but grandfatherly) look of an Einstein in heat. While respecting the realm of logic and the rational (the ground upon which most scientists build their homes), the enlightened facilitator is willing to throw it all out the window in the hope of triggering a "happy accident" or a quantum leap of thought. Indeed, it is often these discontinuous non-linear moments that produce the kind of breakthroughs that logic can only describe, never elicit itself.
Fully recognizing the precious gem of the human imagination (as well as the delicacy required to set it free), the high octave brainstorm facilitator is a craftsman (or craftswoman) par excellence -- focused, precise, and dedicated. Able to get to the heart of the matter in a single stroke without leaving anything or anyone damaged in the process.
Brainstorm facilitators are "on stage" whether they like it or not. All eyes are upon them, as well as all the potential critical reviews humanly possible. More often than not, the facilitator's "audience" will only be moved to act (perchance to dream) if they believe the facilitator is completely into his or her role. If the audience does not suspend this kind of disbelief, the play will close early and everyone will be praying for a fire drill or wishing they were back home eating a grilled cheese sandwich.
Brainstorm facilitators are the original recyclers. In their relentless pursuit of possibility, they look for value in places other people see as useless. To the facilitator in full mojo mode, "bad ideas" aren't always bad, only curious indicators that something of untapped value is lurking nearby.
8. OFFICER OF THE LAW
One of the brainstorm facilitator's most important jobs is to enforce "law and order" once the group gets roaring down the open highway of the imagination. This is a fine art -- for in this territory speeding is encouraged, as is running red lights, jaywalking, and occasionally breaking and entering. Just as thieves have their code of honor, however, so too should brainstormers. Indeed, it is the facilitator's task to keep this code intact -- a task made infinitely easier by the ritual declaration of ground rules at the start of a session.''
Some brainstorm facilitators, intoxicated by the group energy and their own newly stimulated imagination, use their position as a way to foist their ideas on others -- or worse, manipulate the group into their way of thinking. Oops! Ouch! Aargh! Brainstorm facilitating is a service, not a personal platform. It is supposed to be a selfless act that enables others to arrive at their own solutions -- no matter how different they may be from the facilitator's.
10. STAND-UP COMIC
Humor is one of the brainstorm facilitator's most important tools. It dissolves boundaries, activates the right brain, helps participants get unstuck, and shifts perspective just enough to help everyone open their eyes to new ways of seeing. Trained facilitators are always on the lookout for humorous responses. They know that humor often signals some of the most promising ideas, and that giggles, guffaws, and laughable side-talk frequently indicate a rich vein of possibility to explore. Humor also makes the facilitator much more "likable" which makes the group they are facilitating more amenable to their direction. Ever wonder why the words "Aha!" and "Ha-Ha" are so similar?
Want to learn how to facilitate breakthrough brainstorming sessions? Click here.March 06, 2012
ANNOUNCING! National Good Idea Day
Let me be the first to inform you that today is National Good Idea Day -- a day I am officially declaring without any approval from our dysfunctional government or any slick lobbying group attempting to hustle other people's products or services for a hefty commission.
As the official invoker of this fabulous new holiday, it is my honor to explain that the purpose of this way-better-than-groundhog-day extravaganza is for YOU to pitch your hottest new idea to someone you trust in the next 60 minutes. Got it? Good! Go! (And if anything comes of it, please let us know).March 05, 2012
Innovation from the Inside Out
Some, I'm happy to report, are actually doing something about it. Hallelujah! They are taking bold steps forward to turn theory into action.
The challenge for them is the same as it's always been -- to find a simple, authentic way to address the challenge from the inside out -- to water the root of the tree, not just the branches.
External systems and protocols, no matter how seductive they are to create, are simply not sufficient to guarantee real innovation. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Systems die. Instinct remains."
This is not to say that organizations should ignore systems and structures in their effort to establish a culture of innovation. They shouldn't.
Unfortunately, when the addiction to systems and structures rules the day, an organization's quest for a culture of innovation degenerates into nothing much more than a cult of innovation.
Organizations do not innovate. People innovate. Inspired people. Fascinated people. Creative people. Committed people. That's where innovation originates -- from deep within the inspired individual who understands that his/her sustained effort is what's required to go beyond the status quo.
The organization's role -- just like the individual manager's role -- is to get out of the way. And while this "getting out of the way" will undoubtedly include the effort to formulate supportive systems, processes, and protocols, it is important to remember that systems, processes, and protocols are never the answer.
They are the context, not the content. They are the husk, not kernel. They are the menu, not the meal.
Ultimately, organizations are faced with the same challenge that religions are faced with. Religious leaders may speak passionately about the virtues their congregation needs to abide by, but sermons only name the challenge and remind people to experience something -- they don't necessarily change behavior.
Change comes from within the heart and mind of each individual. It cannot be legislated or evangelized into reality.
What's needed in organizations who aspire to a culture of innovation, is an inner change. People need to experience something within themselves that will spark and sustain their effort to innovate -- and when they experience this "something," they will be self-sustaining.
They will think about their projects in the shower, in their car, and in their dreams. They will need very little "management" from the outside. Inside out will rule the day -- not outside in. Intrinsic motivation will flourish.
People will innovate not because they are told to, but because they want to. Open Space Technology is a good metaphor for this. When people are inspired, share a common, compelling goal and have the time and space to collaborate, the results become self-organizing.
You can create all the reward systems you want. You can reinvent your workspace until you're blue in the face. You can license the latest and greatest idea management tool, but unless each person in your organization OWNS the need to innovate and finds a way to tap into their own innate brilliance, all you'll end up with is a mixed bag of systems, processes, and protocols -- the husk, not the kernel -- the innovation flotsam and jetsam that the next administration or next CEO or next key stakeholder will mock, reject or change at the drop of a hat if the ROI doesn't show up in the next 20 minutes.
You want culture change? You want a culture of innovation?
Great. Then find a way to help each and every person in your organization come from the inside out. Deeply consider how you can awaken, nurture, and develop the primal need all people have to create something extraordinary.March 03, 2012
WEBINAR #1: Ideation Jump Start
Idea Champions is happy to announce the launch of its new webinar curriculum for 2012 -- a series of high value 60-minute tutorials for companies wanting to foster innovation in a way that is encouraging, empowering, and enlightening.
Here's a brief description of the first one -- a webinar that has already been delivered nine times to Chubb Insurance.
IDEATION JUMP START is a powerful way to catalyze brilliance, creativity, and new ideas for individuals and teams at every level of your organization. It is especially beneficial for people who are committed to going beyond the status quo and originating elegant, new approaches to meeting pressing business challenges.
Prior to the webinar, we will help you define 1-3 challenges you want participants to address in the webinar.
WHAT YOU WILL LEARN:
1. How to access breakthrough ideas from your subconscious mind
2. Four mind-opening techniques to help you originate powerful, new ideas on and off-the-job
3. Five simple ways to increase the effectiveness of small group brainstorming
4. How to give and receive the kind of feedback that decreases naysaying and increases the odds of powerful, new ideas taking root in the organization
Bottom line, people who participate in an IDEATION JUMP START webinar have their "creative floodgates" opened and make a meaningful commitment to generating powerful, new ideas that will help their company grow.February 18, 2012
The Romance of Creativity
If you are trying to bring something new into the world, know this:
The creative process is very much like a relationship.
And like most relationships, it usually begins with fascination -- that curious state of mind that keeps you spellbound, charmed, and aroused.
Whenever someone gets a new idea, a kind of romance begins.
For many of us, just thinking about a new idea is an aphrodisiac. It turns us on, psyches us up, and otherwise makes it hard to eat, sleep, or obsess about cash flow.
While some people involved in a new relationship are able to sustain this excitement for months, most of us are less fortunate. It's the rare person who knows how to savor and expand upon this feeling for years.
After the intoxication of the initial encounter wears off, a less-than-incredible reality sets in.
Where once we saw only beauty, now we see blemishes.
To make matters worse, a werid kind performance anxiety enters the picture.
"Will I be good enough to achieve my goal?" we ask. "Do I have what it takes?"
Call it doubt if you like, but any way you slice it, the honeymoon is over.
What follows is a painful period of re-evaluation.
Long-buried fears of being consumed by the "other" surface, driving us into withdrawal. Instead of enjoying the outpouring of creative energy that accompanies a new idea, we study it. We dissect about it. We doubt it. Anything but let go to it.
Before you know it, the approach/avoidance game is upon us. On Monday we're totally absorbed in our new venture. On Friday, we're sure it's a waste of time.
The plot soon thickens.
Instead of maintaining our commitment to our HOT new idea, we begin having flings.
We flirt with other ideas, other possibilities, other new loves. We get into everything and anything -- whatever it takes not to sustain our ongoing relationship with our original inspiration.
Is there any hope?
Yes, there is. And something a lot more powerful than hope -- awareness.
Simply by being aware of the mind games you play will go a long way towards making magic happen.
To begin with, understand that all romances, no matter how inspiring, are temporary. The trivial ones end. The good ones mature, often growing into committed relationships -- even marriages.
If you are serious about your current hot idea, be willing to get closer to it. Be willing to go from the romance stage to an intimate relationship.
Understand what the creative process is -- an impossible-to-deny encounter with yourself -- your fears, your power, your vision, and what drives you to play the game of life.
Know that you will have your falling out periods and your disagreements. Know that you will sometimes feel like a fraud. And know that the fuel for many creative breakthroughs has not only been passion, purpose, and power, but confusion, conflict, and collapse.
It's normal. It's human. It's part of the process.February 08, 2012
Consultant Outsources Sleep!
In an extraordinary move, destined to be emulated by forward thinking business leaders everywhere, I've just outsourced all my sleep to a guy named Namdev in New Delhi.
Yes, it's true. I no longer need to sleep. Namdev does it for me. It's astounding how much more productive I've been this week.
And, as if my sleep breakthrough wasn't enough, I've also outsourced all my exercise to a guy named Sung Lee in Malaysia. God bless Sung Lee! He's been on the Stairmaster three hours today and will be working on our delts and pecs tomorrow. Needless to say, I'm feeling totally buff at the moment.
I was just about to have a big piece of cherry cheesecake to celebrate my innovative, time-saving enhancements, but I've outsourced all my eating to a woman named Min Yung in Taiwan. I'm down to 145. Hallelujah! All my pants fit!
The only thing I didn't outsource this week was this blog posting and a visit to my dentist. (Do any of you know someone willing to get a root canal on my behalf?)February 03, 2012
The Top 10 Reasons Why The 10 Top Reasons Don't Matter
1. If you need more data to prove your point, you'll never have enough data to prove your point.
2. Being unreasonable is often an innovator's biggest advantage.
3. Analysis paralysis.
4. You already know what to do.
5. You're going to follow your gut, anyway.
6. "Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted counts." (Einstein)
7. By the time you put your business plan together, the market has already passed you by.
8. "Conclusions arrived at through reasoning have very little or no influence in altering the course of our lives." (Carlos Casteneda)
9. The scientific method came to Rene Descartes in a dream!
10. "Reason" is your clever little strategy for explaining the decisions you've already made with your gut. Not that there's anything wrong with "reason," mind you -- it's just highly overrated. Like Six Sigma, for example. Or having been afraid of doing something risky in high school because others kept telling you it was going to end up on your "permanent record."January 31, 2012
26 Reasons Why Most Brainstorming Sessions Are a Big Disappointment
Whenever I ask my clients to tell me about the quality of the brainstorming sessions in their company, they usually roll their eyes and grumble.
Simply put, most brainstorming sessions don't work.
Not because brainstorming, as a process, doesn't work -- but because they're usually done poorly.
What follows are 26 of the most common reasons WHY -- and after that, a list of what you can do differently to turn things around. Ready?
1. Lame facilitation
2. Wrong (or poorly articulated) topic
3. Unmotivated participants
4. No transition from "business as usual"
5. Insufficient diversity of participants
6. Addiction to the status quo
7. Lack of clear ground rules
8. Sterile meeting space
9. Hidden (or competing) agendas
10. Lack of robust participation
11. The boss is in the room
12. Habitual idea killing behavior
13. Attachment to pet ideas
14. Discomfort with ambiguity
15. Hyper-seriousness (not enough fun)
16. Endless interruptions
17. PDA addiction (Crackberries)
18. Premature adoption of the first "right idea"
19. Group think
20. Hierarchy, turfs, and competing sub-groups
21. Imbalance of divergent and convergent thinking
22. No tools or techniques to spark creativity
23. Inadequate idea capture
24. Meaningless speed. No time for reflection
25. Pre-mature evaluation
26. No real closure or next steps
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO TURN THINGS AROUND?
1. Find, train (or hire) a skillful facilitator
2. Make sure you're focusing on the right challenge.
3. Invite people who care about the topic.
4. Invite people with diverse points of view.
5. Spend time clarifying the "current reality".
6. Start with a fun icebreaker to help change mindset.
7. Ask participants to establish clear meeting ground rules.
8. Design (or find) a more inspiring meeting space.
9. Establish alignment re: session goals.
10. Find ways to engage the least verbal participants.
11. Establish "deep listening" as a ground rule. Model it.
12. Invite participants to name classic idea killing statements.
13. Elicit the group's pet ideas in the first 30 minutes.
14. Explain how ambiguity is part of the ideation process.
15. Tell stories, play music, invite humor.
16. Go off site. Put a "meeting in progress" sign on the door.
17. Collect all PDAs/cell phones. Establish "no email" ground rule.
18. Go for a quantity of ideas. Let go of perfectionism.
19. Encourage individuality, risk taking, and wild ideas.
20. Ask people to leave their titles at the door.
21. Start with divergent thinking. End with convergent thinking.
23. Enroll scribes, use post-its, have an idea capture process.
24. Create time for individuals to reflect on new ideas.
25. Explain that evaluation will happen at the end of the session.
26. Identify and enroll "champions". Explain the follow up process.January 30, 2012
The Art and Science of Losing Count
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
-- Albert Einstein
If you have even the slightest respect for the wild-haired father of modern physics, consider this: Your organization's fascination with metrics is often nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to quantify the unquantifiable -- a compulsive effort to validate that which you and everyone else already know to be true.
I'm not suggesting you abandon metrics (I track, daily, how may unique visitors make it to my website) -- all I'm saying is not everything needs to be measured, at least not all of the time.
The core of your company's "innovation process" is actually less about mind, and more about heart. (And if you're about to ask me how I know that, please read the Einstein quote one more time).January 22, 2012
You Are Never Too Old to Create
Got a big idea? Think you're too old to create! Think again. Here are some incredible examples to inspire you to go for it! Click "full screen" (bottom right icon) for easiest reading.January 14, 2012
Want to Innovate? Start Here! January 10, 2012
Get Out of the Box!
What can you do, this week, to help your team get out of the box?January 07, 2012
Go Beyond the Business Blues
For years I was trying to figure out what all my clients had in common. Opposable thumbs? Yes. The Isle of Langerhans. That, too. Big, fat opinions about everything. For sure.
But even more than the aforementioned stuff in the preceding paragraph which you just read and probably haven't yet forgotten even though your short-term memory is getting shorter by the nanosecond and you're probably wondering, by now, why I'm rambling on and on when most blog postings are supposed to be short and sweet, it dawned on me one fine day as I was scraping marinara sauce off my shirt that the main thing all my clients had in common was the blues.
Yes, indeed. The blues. The same blues Muddy Waters had. And Robert Johnson. And BB King. Those blues.
Unlike the blues greats, however, my clients didn't have a way to express their blues. And, in the absence of this opportunity, their God given right to get right was lost.
But no more, brothers and sisters! No more!
Now, even the most buttoned down, white collared, bow-tied creators of spreadsheets at midnight have a chance to get those business blues off their chest and move towards a better future -- not to mention have fun, collaborate, and learn what it takes to innovate on the fly.
Ladies and gentlemen, without any further ado, allow me to introduce you to the world's first business blues band -- Face the Music!.
PS: Should you decide to contact them, be sure to mention that it was Idea Champions who sent you. (We give 5% of our referral fees to TPRF, one of the most well-run and inspired humanitarian organizations in the world).
The Six Sigma Blues
My blues encounter at Pfizer
The Email Blues
The Gotta Have a Process Blues
Intro to Divergent Thinking
Sir Kenneth Robinson makes a lucid, three-minute case for the power of divergent thinking and offers a surprising factoid (which intuitively you already know).
Thanks to Scott "Divergent" Cronin for the heads up.December 23, 2011
Treat Crazy Ideas With Respect
The next time somebody approaches you with a "crazy" idea, pause before putting them down. Instead of looking for what's wrong, look for what's right.
See if you can find a hidden jewel in the idea, a principle, an essence that is promising -- even if the idea itself is rough, raw, or imperfect.
The fact is: most great inventions, products, or services begin as a crazy idea. Maybe 99 out of 100 times, the so-called crazy idea will go nowhere, but the 100th time it just may be a winner.
One more thing -- if you make a habit of trashing other people's "crazy" ideas too quickly, people will stop approaching you with any idea. Then all you'll be left with are your own.December 17, 2011
Are You an Idea Addict?
There are lots of things in this world people get addicted to: alcohol, nicotine, heroin, sex, and iPhones just to name a few.
But perhaps the biggest addiction of them all is the addiction to our own ideas. Here's how it works:
We think something up. We feel a buzz. We tweak it, we name it, we pitch it, and POOF, the addiction begins.
At first, like most habits, it's a casual pursuit with a thousand positive side effects: increased energy, renewed focus, and a general feeling of well-being. Like wow, man. But then...
We think about it in the shower. We think about it in the car. We think about it when people are asking us to think about other things. We even dream about it.
Soon we want everyone to know about it. We want them to feel the buzz. We want them to nod in agreement. We want them to recognize just how pure our fixation is.
If this is where it ended, it wouldn't be that big of a deal. I wouldn't be calling it an addiction. Maybe I'd be calling it an "inspiration," or a "commitment" or a "visitation from the Muse." But it doesn't end here. It goes on and on and on and on -- often to our own detriment.
If you have a business, of course, you want to conjure up cool ideas. That's a good thing. But if you cling to ideas just because they're yours, or just because you've invested major mojo in them, then it's definitely time to rethink where you're coming from.December 16, 2011
The Atlassian FedEx Day Goes Global
Atlassian is a very successful Australia-based software company founded in 2002. It has 400+ employees, with 125 of them in San Francisco.
It also has more than 17,000 satisfied clients including Google, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn, Pixar, Adobe, Hulu, Salesforce, UPS, Nike, and Coca-Cola.
Atlassian's software helps companies organize their data, track it, collaborate about it, and detect/fix bugs in their software.
Yeah, I know... I had never heard of them before either.
But those days may soon be over. Atlassian is fast becoming famous not only for their popular software development tools, but also for their rapidly-spreading innovation creation playfully named "FedEx Day".
Very simply, FedEx Day is a 24-hour innovation immersion event that enables employees to brainstorm, prototype, and pitch their emerging innovations.
Why is it called "FedEx Day"? Because the goal of the 24-hour blitz is for participants to originate, develop, and deliver new products, new services, or business process improvements overnight.
FedEx Days typically begin on a Thursday afternoon at 2:00 pm and end with a spirited round of presentations delivered exactly 24 hours later.
The experience is energizing, empowering, and exciting -- with the company supplying pizza and beer (this DID originate in Australia, after all) for everyone on Thursday night.
The end result? Lots of useful and successful innovations that would not have materialized had employees been required to stick with their "day jobs."
Atlassian has been, internally, conducting FedEx Days (now done quarterly) since 2005. But this program is now spreading like a Charlie Sheen Twitter meme. Many other organizations, like Yahoo, Symantec, Flickr, Hasbro Toy, and the Mayo Clinic have all begun conducting their own versions of FedEx Day.
And, NOW, for the first time ever, Atlassian is offering to send their own FedExperts to one deserving company in order to help them conduct their own FedEx Day.
Explains Jonathan Nolen, one of Atlassian's FedExperts, "It's so exciting. The possibilities are endless. Everyone has great ideas and this gives them a way to unleash the power of those ideas. And it happens all over the organization. It's incredibly inspiring to see this happen in real time."
Atlassian's Annelise Reynolds agrees. "This is part of a new trend in business where companies are understanding the importance of engaging and energizing their employees. It works wonders for both the companies and their employees. The employees have fun and the companies get some great innovations."
Entering is simple. All you need to do is fill out this entry form and make a convincing case for why YOUR company or department could use a 24-hour innovation blitz.
Deadline is December 21st, 10:00 PM Pacific Time! Good luck! And good on ya, mate!
- Val Vadeboncoeur
Shining Eyes and Open Hearts
Ben Zander is the most extraordinary speaker/presenter/catalyst I've ever had the good fortune to experience other than my teacher, Prem Rawat. I first heard Ben at HSM's World Business Forum, in NYC. He entranced 4,000 business people for two hours and ended his enchantment by getting everyone to sing Ode to Joy in German. Ben is a masterful conductor, not just of orchestras, but of the human spirit of what's possible every single minute of the day.November 13, 2011
Obvious to You, Amazing to Others
Derek Sivers, Founder of CD Baby, used to live one street away from me in Woodstock, NY. I saw him only once, walking on the road. Now here he is on YouTube. Yo, Derek! Thanks for this! So true...November 03, 2011
The Incremental Improvement Trap
In today's nano-second, downsized, caffeine-buzzed business world, corporations are increasingly demanding that "their people" redouble their efforts to find new and better ways of getting the job done.
If this were the 1950's, an efficiency expert might be called in, a bespectacled, uncharismatic gentleman with a fascination for predictability, order, and control. His motto? "A place for everything and everything in its place."
It wasn't a great leap of faith for upwardly mobile managers to buy into this trendy "consulting service" since it seemed like such a safe way to yield increased productivity and reduced costs.
And yes, sometimes it did...
Eventually, this tidy little service matured into a full blown "organizational intervention" and was renamed and repriced.
The name? "Reengineering." The price? A lot.
The theory upon which this was based was difficult to find fault with -- that most company's processes were sadly misconfigured and, like the average American city, had grown to incredibly convoluted proportions without much thought for elegance, orderliness, or efficiency.
Systems, as the story went, were often disconnected from organizational needs, bringing with it an extraordinary amount of confusion, frustration, and a few too many martinis.
But let's dig a bit deeper.
It's interesting to note that the root of the word "reengineer" is "engine" (as in the machine that drives movement forward) and the root of the word engine is "gine" -- from the Latin "ingenum", meaning "genie," the spirit that drives the engine (from the same root as the word "genius").
What reengineering enthusiasts have forgotten is the fact that it is the "genie/genius" that drives the engine -- the very same genie being routinely excised from our organizations for the sake of efficiency.
The result? Organizational "solutions" have become overly systems- driven and do not give proper due to the collective intelligence, imagination, and creativity of the workforce.
If you are a Lean Management aficionado or a Six Sigma fan, relax. I am not making fun of you. You are smart. You are committed. And you do good work. Yes, I understand that root cause analyses, histograms, fishbone diagrams and the like do have an important role to play in an organization's effort to operate optimally. Indeed, when predictability, control and measures are the key drivers, continuous improvement tools can be extremely useful.
However, (dramatic pause here, folks... drum roll...and a paradigm shift to go), predictability, control, and measures are not the only forces that guide a company's success.
Invention, innovation, ingenuity, and creativity are not merely "processes" that can be replicated by getting everyone to follow the dots drawn by some reductionist-driven consultant. For that, something else is needed -- something beyond business as usual -- something that embraces discontinuity, ambiguity, serendipity, spontaneity, surprise, paradox, mystery, and chaos.
(Sounds like an upstart law firm from the future, eh?)
The invention of penicillin? A surprise to the inventor. A complete accident in the lab. The invention of Teflon? An experiment gone awry. Vulcanized rubber? A big overnight boo boo. The discovery of Velcro? Certainly not a function of a fishbone diagram.
Time and again the literature speaks of breakthrough moments and breakthrough ideas being preceded by a breakdown of the existing order. "You can't get there from here", could be their motto. Logic is replaced by a-logic, analysis by intuition, fixed laws by mutable laws. Is light a wave or a particle? Both and neither, depending, of course, on who the experimenter is.
And what about the Theory of Dissipative Structures which posits that everything in this universe eventually falls apart only to reorganize itself at a higher level? ("The act of creation begins, first of all, as an act of destruction" noted Picasso).
Business leaders beating the drums of double digit growth need to wean themselves from their addiction to incremental improvement and allow more discontinuity in their lives. Lots more. In fact, I'd venture to say several standard deviations more.
At the very least, our fearless leaders (and the people they lead) would be well-served to contemplate this pearl by Albert Einstein: "Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted, counts."
Indeed, honoring the laws of discontinuity is one of the most responsible things forward thinking business leaders can do. Otherwise they are merely moving the chairs around on the deck of the Titanic. (The boat is sinking, but they know exactly at what rate the chairs are sliding into the ocean.)
How then, does a company introduce "discontinuous improvement" into its culture? How does a company stir the soup, challenge the status quo, think more creatively, go beyond business as usual, explore blue sky, get disruptive, and otherwise foster a dynamic culture of innovation without the whole "thing" devolving into some kind of corporate Lord of the Flies?
Stay tuned, folks. We'll be tackling these and other vital questions in the weeks and months to come. (If you really can't wait, contact us).
Until then... some food for thought to tide you over.
"Don't be afraid to take a big step when one is indicated. You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps." -- David Lloyd George
"After years of telling corporate citizens to 'trust the system,' many companies must relearn instead to trust their people -- and encourage them to use neglected creative capacities in order to tap the most potent economic stimulus of all: idea power." -- Rosabeth Moss Kanter
"Systems die; instincts remain." -- Oliver Wendell Holmes
"You can only be as good as you dare to be bad." -- John Barrymore
"There's always an element of chance and you must be willing to live with that element. If you insist on certainty, you will paralyze yourself." -- J. P. Getty
"If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself." -- Rollo May
"The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge." -- Albert Einstein
"The best way to predict the future is to create it." -- Alan Kay
"You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new." -- Steve Jobs
"We've reached the end of incrementalism. Only those companies that are capable of creating industry revolutions will prosper in the new economy." -- Gary HamelOctober 04, 2011
Meet Me at the World Business Forum
Hey everyone... I'm going to be at the World Business Forum, in NYC, this Wednesday and Thursday (October 5-6) as a "guest blogger."
If you are attending and want to connect, seek me out. I'll be sitting in the "Guest Bloggers" section.
I'm kind of a cross between Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney.
Or maybe Ben Kingsley, George Carlin, and your Uncle Normie.
Hope to see you there!
The Six Sigma Blues
One of my favorite clients of all time was a key manager in a prominent Fortune 500 company.
She was smart. She was funny. She was creative. And she was kind.
Then her company adopted Six Sigma.
I couldn't help but notice that soon after this she started becoming very cranky, not unlike the way an artist gets upon filling out a tax form.
When I asked her how the Six Sigma initiative was going, she rolled her eyes and mumbled something about "going through the motions."
In a lucid online Business Week posting, Brian Hindo deconstructs some of the flawed assumptions of the Six Sigma approach.
"The very factors that make Six Sigma effective in one context," explains Hindo, "can make it ineffective in another. Traditionally, it uses rigorous statistical analysis to produce unambiguous data that help produce better quality, lower costs, and more efficiency. That all sounds great when you know what outcomes you'd like to control. But what about when there are few facts to go on -- or you don't even know the nature of the problem you're trying to define?
"New things look very bad on this scale," says MIT Sloan School of Management professor Eric von Hippel, who has worked with 3M on innovation projects that he says 'took a backseat' once Six Sigma settled in.
"The more you hardwire a company on total quality management, the more it is going to hurt breakthrough innovation," adds Vijay Govindarajan, a management professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business. "The mindset that is needed, the capabilities that are needed, the metrics that are needed, the whole culture that is needed for discontinuous innovation, are fundamentally different."
And so, dear Heart of Innovation readers, in honor of all people who have ever questioned the long-term value of Six Sigma... in honor of all the people who have understood that increasing -- not decreasing -- variability is often the key to success, it is my utmost pleasure to make my graceful exit from this latest blog posting with the immortal, finger-snapping, toe-tapping, knee-slapping, put-on-your-blues-hat-and-sunglasses lyrics to....
I woke up this morning,
put both feet on the floor,
but I didn't have a process
to find the bathroom door,
so all I did was shuffle,
first the left foot, then the right,
forgot to count the tiles,
(hey boss, I ain't too bright.)
We got green belts, black belts,
and soon we'll need a process
for going to the potty.
Lord, I need a chart and graph to help me choose
just what to name this song about the Six Sigma blues.
Back when we were kids
the only processed thing was cheese,
now we need a process
every single time we sneeze,
I say "achoo," I blow my nose,
I try to get it right,
my Black Belt says my charts don't flow,
not once a gesundheit.
I make no mistakes,
I do everything right --
to make sure nothing breaks,
I stay up all night,
I'm a Six Sigma cowboy
cutting cycle time in half,
I measure every joke
and the way it makes me laugh.
We got green belts, black belts,
and soon we'll need a process
for going to the potty,
a fishbone diagram would be so cool to help me choose
just what to name this song about the Six Sigma blues.
I barely make a boo boo, I rarely blow a deal,
you might call it voo doo, but that's just how I feel,
I'm one in a million
though my defects number three,
I log on while I'm sleeping
and I've changed my name to "E."
We got green belts, black belts,
and soon we'll need a process
for going to the potty.
-- Blind Willy Nilly (aka "Mitch Ditkoff")July 17, 2011
Unleash Your Inner Genie, Virtually
In olden times (pre-Starbucks, pre-Twitter, pre-Lady Gaga), the quickest way to get your wishes fulfilled was to rub a magic lamp and wait for the genie to appear.
Times have changed.
Now you need a life coach and a social media strategy.
Me? I long for simplicity.
Breakthrough is not about complexity. It's about getting out of your way long enough to arrive at extraordinary, new possibilities.
Which is why I'm thrilled to announce the launch of Idea Champions' new, virtual Free the Genie tool -- an engaging desktop tool that makes it easy for anyone with a challenge to generate, develop, and share their new ideas with others.
You've heard of the One Minute Manager? Well, this is the One Minute Innovator. Or five. Or ten -- depending on how much time you've got.
Intrigued? Please accept our gift of a free 15-day trial subscription.
So, go ahead. Rub our lamp. Kick our virtual tires. Do whatever it takes to free your genie.March 03, 2011
What, Exactly, IS the Box?
"Innovation" is the holy grail for most organizations. Everyone wants it. Everyone talks about the need to "get out of the box" and do something different. But there's a huge gap between the rhetoric and the reality.
The reasons are many -- but the biggest reason is this: No one really knows what the so-called box really is.
And because we don't, we end up shadow boxing imaginary monsters -- coming up with untold processes, protocols, and pep talks that don't really get to the heart of the matter. Not a good idea.
So, dear aspiring innovator -- what do YOU think the box is?
Next week, in this space I will share my current understanding of the box, name all six sides -- and kick start the conversation of how you, your organization, and the rest of world can get out of it.December 03, 2010
What You Can Learn from the Bloody Mary
In 1939, a Russian immigrant owned the rights to distribute vodka in the U.S. His efforts bombed, big time. Americans weren't interested in a colorless, odorless alcohol.
Depressed, he sold the rights to Heublein, who asked themselves: "What can we combine with Vodka to give it a distinctive taste and color?"
They came up with tomato juice and, voila, the Bloody Mary was born. Sales? Through the roof.
What most of us think of as an "innovation" is really just the elegant combination of two (or more) pre-existing elements resulting in the creation of a new, value-added product or service.
Want to try it for yourself? Click here for a cool, interactive technique.
October 08, 2010
It's Time to Go For It!
You need a breakthrough. I know you do. You need a quantum leap.
Forget about incremental improvement for the moment. Go for something big and bold.
Stop wimping around.
Stick your neck out.
(The card to your left is from our Free the Genie deck.
For a 15-day free trial of the online version, click here.August 10, 2010
Getting Down to the Business of Creativity
Here's a terrific article on creativity, based on the work of three Harvard researchers/professors.
According to Teresa Amabile's research, "inner work life" is one of the biggest determinants of creative output. In other words, a positive mood is a pre-condition for creativity in the workplace.
If you are attempting to establish a sustainable culture of innovation in your organization, you (and everyone else) would be well-served to do everything humanly possible to positively impact the mood (i.e. tone, feeling, atmosphere, vibe, spirit) of the environment in which you work.
And that begins, of course, with the individual.
When you treat people with respect, acknowledgment, and genuine positive reinforcement, you significantly increase the odds of creativity -- and by extension, innovation -- flourishing in your organization.
Common sense? For sure. But common sense is all too uncommon in most organizations these days. In our rush to produce, get an edge, and accomplish, we forget the most important thing -- and that is the quality of our interactions with others.July 24, 2010
The Fine Art of Blue Sky Thinking
In 1989, Gary Kasparov, the Soviet Union Grand Chess Master, played a two game match against "Deep Blue," the reigning supercomputer of the time.
Kasparov won easily.
When asked by the media what his competitive advantage was, he cited two things: intuition and the ability to fantasize.
Einstein, too, was a big fan of fantasizing. "The ability to fantasize," he said, "is more important to me than my ability to absorb positive knowledge."
Few of us, in the workplace, are ever encouraged to fantasize -- a behavior most commonly associated with children, flakes, or perverts.
And yet, fantasizing is exactly how many breakthrough ideas get their start -- a quantum leap of thought by some "dreamer" entertaining the seemingly impossible.
A SIMPLE BLUE SKY THINKING TECHNIQUE:
1. Make a wish for the successful resolution of your most pressing business challenge. (i.e. "I wish it was easier... faster... cheaper.")
2. Extend this wish further by making a wild wish -- something less likely than your wish, but still in the realm of possibility.
3. Stretch your wild wish even further by thinking of a fantasy solution to your challenge -- a seemingly impossible way to get a result. (If your fantasy solution makes you laugh or whistle, you're on the right track).
4. Distill your fantasy solution down to it's core principle -- the essence or gist hidden within it.
5. Using this core principle as a catalyze, conjure up -- and write down -- at least five new ideas to help you meet your goal.
Blue Sky Thinking guidebook
Excerpted from Awake at the Wheel
Top 100 Amazon Reviewer Favorably Compares "Awake at the Wheel" to "Who Moved My Cheese?"
Nice review of my book from Thomas Duff, Top 100 Amazon reviewer:
Awake at the Wheel: Getting Your Great Ideas Rolling (in an Uphill World) can, in my opinion, be compared to the classic "Who Moved My Cheese?".
Ditkoff does for creativity what Johnson and Blanchard did for living with change... It gives the reader a short, humorous story loaded with meaning and concepts that hit the reader right where they live.
Ditkoff explores the world of ideas and creativity though the story of Og. Og is a caveman who spends more time thinking than the average Neanderthal.
He stumbles upon the concept of a circle, and becomes obsessed with what it could mean to the group. Of course, most of his fellow cavemen are more concerned about maintaining the status quo... hunting, eating, staying warm.
Og takes a journey to talk with a wise one, and from that trip the wheel is born.
But even then, others in his clan are more interested in shooting it down as something that will never work. But one person does figure out the practical application, and pretty soon everyone is "rolling along" with the greatest thing since dried mammoth...
I really did like this book.
Taking the concept of ideas and putting them in caveman terms freshens up what could be just another book on creativity.
At the end of the book are 35 "tools" you can use to spur your own idea machine, as well as how best to make sure these fleeting thoughts don't disappear like smoke from a campfire.
Like many companies have done with "Cheese", this should be a mass purchase, handed out to all employees, and then discussed in team meetings.
Those who are into this genre will love it, and the Neanderthals who are cynical will likely spend the 30 minutes or so it should take to read it.
And they might even come out of that experience as the new Og of your organization.April 15, 2010
Einstein Wasn't Into Six Sigma
February 21, 2010
The Rise of the Innovation Ninjas
Every once in a while I come across a quote or excerpt from an article that I want to immediately post on the windshield of every client of mine. It cuts to the chase and lucidly states what I've been trying to say, in various Neanderthalic ways, all these many years.
Take Einstein for example: "Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted counts." Bingo! Bullseye! What a perfect way of explaining to a left-brained addicted world that metrics and analysis is not the only game in town.
And then there's Gary Hamel. He takes a bit more time than Albert to make his point, but hey, it's all relative isn't it? Check this out from the man behind one of my favorite business books of all time:
"Today, innovation is the buzzword du jour in virtually every company, but how many CEOs have put every employee through an intensive training program aimed at boosting the innovation skills of the rank and file? Sure companies have electronic suggestion boxes, slush funds for new ideas, elaborate pipeline management tools, and innovation awards -- but in the absence of a cadre of extensively trained and highly skilled innovators, much of the investment in these innovation enablers will simply be wasted."
"Imagine that you coaxed a keen, but woefully inexperienced golfer onto the first tee at Pebble Beach. After arming the tyro with the latest titanium driver, you challenge him to split the fairway with a monster drive. You promise the neophyte a $100 bonus every time he hits a long bomb that stays out of the rough, and another $100 for every hole where he manages to break par.
But what you don't do is this: You don't give him any instruction -- no books, no tips from Golf Digest, no Dave Pelz and Butch Harmon, no video feedback, and no time off to perfect his swing on the practice range. Given this scenario, how many 200-yard drives is our beginner likely to land in the fairway?
How long is he likely to stay avidly devoted to the task at hand? And what kind of return are you likely to get on the $2,000 you spent on a bag full of high tech clubs and the 450 bucks you shelled out for a tee time? The answers are: Not many, not long, and not much. And no one who knows anything about golf would ever set up such a half-assed contest.
"That's why I'm dumbfounded by the fact that so few executives have invested in the innovation skills of their frontline employees. The least charitable explanation for this mind-boggling oversight: senior managers subscribe to a sort of innovation apartheid.
They believe that a few blessed souls are genetically equipped to be creative, while everyone else is a dullard, unable to come up with anything more exciting than spiritless suggestions for Six Sigma improvements.
A more charitable reading: CEOs and corporate HR leaders simply don't know how to turn on the innovation genes that are found in every human being.
"Obviously, you can't teach someone to be an innovator unless you know where game-changing ideas come from. In other words, you need a theory of innovation -- like Ben Hogan's theory of the golf swing.
This is why, a few years back, I and several colleagues analyzed more than a hundred cases of business innovation. Our goal: to understand why some individuals, at certain points in time, are able to see opportunities that are invisible to everyone else. Here, in a pistachio-sized shell, is what we learned:
Successful innovators have ways of seeing the world that throw new opportunities into sharp relief. They have developed, usually by accident, a set of perceptual "lenses" that allow them to pierce the fog of "what is" in order to see the promise of "what could be." How? By paying close attention to four things that usually go unnoticed:"
1. Unchallenged orthodoxies -- the widely held industry beliefs that blind incumbents to new opportunities.
2. Under-leveraged competencies -- the "invisible" assets and competencies, locked up in moribund businesses, that can be repurposed as new growth platforms.
3. Under-appreciated trends -- the nascent discontinunities that can be harnessed to reinvigorate old business models and create new ones."
4. Unarticulated needs -- the frustrations and inconveniences that customers take for granted, and industry stalwarts have thus far failed to address."
Clearly, what's needed these days are organizations full of Innovation Ninjas. Skillful, agile, perceptive, courageous, and highly trained individuals who know how to find their way through the seeming obstacles in the way in order to get a result.
These obstacles might be "internal" -- as in the outdated assumptions, paradigms, and habits of people with three letter acronyms after their name. OR the obstacles might be "external" -- as in an organization's funkadelic infrastructure, protocols, and processes.
But whatever the obstacles encountered (not counted!), our nimble ninjas of necessity manage to find their way to the goal. Imagine if you had hundreds of these people working in your company. Imagine you had thousands.December 28, 2009
Need a Breakthrough in 2010?
Whenever Aladdin wanted a wish fulfilled, he rubbed a magic lamp to invoke the genie. You? What do you have? I'll tell you what you have. You ALSO have a genie, but yours is virtual. No need to rub. Just click.
But before you do, you'll need to bring a challenge, opportunity, or problem to mind. Then frame it as a question beginning with the words "How can I?" Something you REALLY want to see manifest in 2010 -- whether it's business or personal.
And while you're at it, check out my book on the art and science of manifesting new ideas.November 03, 2009
14 Ways to Get Breakthrough Ideas
Here are 14 ways to get breakthrough ideas, excerpted from my ChangeThis Manifesto, available here for downloading.
1. Follow your fascination
3. Tolerate ambiguity
4. Make new connections
6. Define the right challenge
7. Listen to your subconscious
8. Take a break
9. Notice and challenge existing patterns and trends
10. Hang out with diverse groups of people
12. Look for happy accidents
13. Use creative thinking techniques
14. Suspend logic
Additional catalysts for generating breakthrough ideas can be found here.July 15, 2009
Jump Start Innovation in 7 Minutes
I begin this blog posting with a big, fat assumption -- that you, dear reader, are involved in some kind of project, venture, or team that's committed to innovation, growing your business, or breakthrough results.
I'm also assuming that your project, venture, or team, gets in a rut from time to time.
Bold new ideas are needed... a clearer vision of what's possible... and increased forward momentum.
If so, click here. It will take you to an online brainstorming game designed to spark breakthroughs. Reading about it, however, isn't enough. You actually have to DO it.
"If not YOU, who? If not NOW, when?"July 07, 2009
No Strings Attached
Tired of going to long, boring conferences that promise to give you the "competitive edge," tool you up with the latest best practices, and supercharge your ability to see the future clearly? Of course you are. And so, in the spirit of true customer service, Idea Champions is happy to provide you NOW with two minutes of priceless wisdom rarely shared at corporate gatherings. (No handouts! No 3-ring-binders! No tapes to buy at the back of the room!)March 03, 2009
14 Ways to Get Breakthrough Ideas
Is there a secret to coming up with a breakthrough idea? No, there isn't. But there are things you can do to increase the likelihood. Here are 14, excerpted from my ChangeThis Manifesto, available here for downloading.
1. Follow your fascination
3. Tolerate ambiguity
4. Make new connections
6. Define the right challenge
7. Listen to your subconscious
8. Take a break
9. Notice and challenge existing patterns and trends
10. Hang out with diverse groups of people
12. Look for happy accidents
13. Use creative thinking techniques
14. Suspend logic
Photo by PelaFebruary 20, 2009
Awake at the Wheel wins Silver Medal in the Axiom Business Book Awards!
This just in! Awake at the Wheel, my book on what it takes to originate, develop, and manifest BIG IDEAS has just won a Silver Medal in the Axiom Business Books Awards competition (Business Fable category).
Needless to say, I am very pleased and hope this kind acknowledgment by the savvy business wizards at Axiom will encourage you to click here and order a copy (or ten) before the Sultan of Brunei buys out the entire inventory.
A huge thank you to the fabulous Nettie Hartsock (digital strategist, publicist, and book champion) for encouraging me to enter. And another huge thank you to David Hancock and the wonderful people at Morgan James Publishing for seeing the value of my book (after 22 other publishers rejected it) and launching it lovingly into the world.February 16, 2009
Streaming Visual Inspiration
Little Jolts of Wow Dept.:
Lunarr's Elements is another clever new community service for the programmable Web, existing to share "inspirational images and quotes (elements)." It's basically an on-demand slide show of photos or graphics that people find especially moving, with social media style customization. You can actively share faves and your own uploads with registered "friends," or just view streams of images from the larger community.
It's very, purposefully, simple in appearance: against a black background, with a minimum of buttons or other elements, one picture appears. It'll stay there until you click Explore to see another, or on I Like It, (broad)Cast It or Create. At right, free membership will let you add pictures, and to view publishers you follow and viewers watching you. Seven buttons, that's it, to do the simple job it has come into this world to offer.
In Mashable, Jennifer Van Grove's take was, "Elements feels like a cross between Flickr's interestingness, Twitter's follow features and Tumblr's content submission, with a focus on sharing inspirational content." - "Elements: A Flickr, Twitter and Tumblr Hybrid?" (2/8/09)
Similar to a Flickr slideshow, say, from a search on "inspiration"?
Behind the presentation level of the Elements site, their company site is fairly disorganized, perhaps because they've based it on a blog and those type of entries are so inherently slippery. So I had to go looking for the declaration of their raison d'etre; but the following, which seems ready to serve as a basic statement of purpose, can be seen if you counter-intuitively click "Products" in the nav bar:
"We've brought the cultural concept of 'ichi-go ichi-e' into LUNARR elements. It means 'one chance, one meeting,' and is traditionally at the center of a Japanese tea ceremony. It's the idea that you must treat your interaction with others as if it is the last time you will see them. With elements, we invite you to come take part in 'ichi-go ichi-e.'No one's taken credit for this other blog post on Lunarr's company site (Toru Takasuka and Hideshi Hamaguchi are listed as management), but it gives some elegant examples of the essential role inspiration plays in a productive life.
"The elements will gradually become customized for what you might find inspirational based on your actions, those you follow or those who follow you, the elements others cast in your direction and more. We also welcome you to become a catalyst of inspiration by uploading your own elements or clipping them from the web."
December 19th, 2008
What image caught Peter Tchaikovsky's eye while he was writing The Nutcracker ballet? .. . What conversation stirred John Logie Baird to create the first mechanical television?
What if instead of just seeing their finished product, I could see their entire thought process from inspiration to production? I imagine taking a look at the first images that inspired them to think in a new direction... The doodles and diagrams that came from their hands when that first wave of excitement flew over them as they realized that they could change the rhythm of the world.
Neat. But ultimately, isn't this just a cute implementation of "Web 2.0" social media with photo sharing? Basically pretty much the same thing as that slide show in Flickr or Picasa, or from a desktop Web widget? A one-trick pony?
Well, yes; as we saw, you can go to Flickr, type "inspiration" into the search bar, then look for the subtle "slideshow" link to the right of the top picture... and sit back. Elements, which clearly doesn't claim to be any more than one arrow in your quiver, adds the weaving social media in more directly, and a certain charm derived from the beautiful presentation and the sense of drama it creates.
But the fact that this picture-show site is centered on providing inspiration, the element that energizes and enables us in the most practical way, is what makes this more than just another cool site.
= = =February 14, 2009
Have to give the nod to VentureBeat.com's writeup, "Lunarr's Elements is a Twitter-like image-sharing tool to stoke the imagination" by Dean Takahashi, February 8th, 2009.
Find Your Creative Tribe on Facebook
Yo! Back in the day, whenever I wanted to hang out with other "creative types" I had to do weird stuff like pound my chest or send smoke signals at midnight. No more!
Now there's Facebook Groups. Or more specifically, my new Create, Innovate, Get Out of the Cave! group -- a place for aspiring innovators to gather round the cyberspatial fire and stoke the flames of creation.
Hey, don't be a neanderthal! You're not in this alone!
Dig it. I struggled to invent the wheel thousands of years before the Mesopotamians (who got all the credit). I had, like, one friend, Ugh, to help me through the process. But YOU have thousands! And they're all starting to meet here.
Hamster Burial Kits and 998 Business Ideas
Ideas are a dime a dozen. The money is in the execution.
Need proof? For Seth Godin's Alternative MBA program, this week nine forward thinking (and very prolific) wizards each came up with 111 business ideas.
But ideas are only valuable when someone (like you) makes something happen. What follows are their 999 business ideas, free for the taking.November 11, 2008
Metaphors Be With You!
If you want to originate breakthrough business solutions, you will need to think differently than you usually do. In a phrase, you will need to "get out of the box."
But how? How does a person go beyond the boundaries of their own mind? Is there a key? A door? A nearby genie just waiting to be invoked? How, precisely, does a person think something they've never thought of before?
Perhaps the simplest and most powerful way is to awaken the image-making part of your brain. To imagine. (Ever wonder why the word "image" is the root of the word "imagination?")
Poets and writers are masters at awakening the imagination. A simple turn of phrase, a simple metaphor, and a reader's mind is opened to a whole new world of perception, understanding and experience.
But not only poets and writers have this knack. Scientists do, too.
Friedrich Kekule, the noted German chemist, at a loss for words, described his breakthrough understanding of the benzene molecule as "a snake biting its own tail." And Einstein's Theory of Relativity was preceded by one of his famous "thought experiments" in which he imagined himself riding a light beam into outer space while holding a mirror in front of his face.
No wonder Einstein said, "I rarely think in words at all." No wonder Aristotle, centuries before, concluded, "It is impossible to even think without a mental image."
Unfortunately, business people do it all the time. Addicted to the logical, linear, analytical and rational, we have traded in our artistry for craftsmanship...our palette of possibilities for an increasingly thinning bottom line.
The resulting state of our imagination? Downsized, outsourced, and otherwise re-engineered into oblivion. But it doesn't have to be that way. Not by a long shot. A simple turn of phrase can re-ignite it. And the most effective turn of phrase is the metaphor (and its kissing cousins, analogy and simile).
Simply put, a metaphor is the application of a word or phrase to an object or concept it does not literally denote (i.e., "The ghetto was a volcano about to erupt.") A metaphor calls attention to a similarity between two seemingly dissimilar things and, by so doing, establishes the kind of creative tension that has the potential to spark quantum leaps in thinking -- the kind of leaping that generates insight and discovery.
In fact, a well-placed metaphor is a lot like a... chemical reaction... or a meeting of the minds... or a successful merger between companies. Something good can happen when two similar, but different, elements enter into a relationship with each other.
"That's a stretch," you might say. And yet, it is this very act of "stretching" that opens the door to new solutions.
If you're stuck in the desert, which would you rather have: A 20-page report telling you where the water is... or a map? Metaphor is the map -- a guide to your own, out-of-the-box solution-finding ability. Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words -- especially when that picture, consciously chosen, stretches the imagination just enough to disentangle it from the limitations of ordinary business logic.
If you want to learn more about metaphorical thinking, click here to order It's AHAppening!, Idea Champions' series of five creative thinking guidebooks. Metaphors Be With You, from which this posting was excerpted, is one of the five.
Digital image from www.toddpowelson.comOctober 16, 2008
True Blue Sky Thinking
Where everyone else saw only buildings overhead, one innovator saw a new font.
Lisa Reinermann, a University of Duisburg student, had this Aha! insight while exploring the narrow streets of Barcelona.
Suppose you were Lisa. How would you notice the font-ness of sky-shapes contained by rooflines? First, ignore size. Don't let the fact that fonts are small but these sky-shapes are building-sized distract you from the visual reality. (Lisa's camera probably helped her flatten, rescale and reframe her perception.) Second, reverse figure and ground. Make the usual background (the sky) the foreground and the usual foreground (the closer buildings) background. Role reversals are common in many innovations. Weaknesses (like inferior glue) often reframe as strengths and become the breakthroughs (Post-It Notes) of the future.
To Lisa's credit, once she had her breakthrough she stuck with it, searching, walking and neck-craning to find other locations to complete every letter in the alphabet. Her photo-typographic alphabet is now a font set published by German Type Foundry Slanted called Type The Sky. The collection comes as a type face and a photo book.True Blue Sky Thinking
Where everyone else saw only buildings overhead, one innovator saw a new font.
Lisa Reinermann, a University of Duisburg student, had this Aha! insight while exploring the narrow streets of Barcelona.
Suppose you were Lisa. How would you notice the font-ness of sky-shapes contained by rooflines? First, ignore size. Don't let the fact that fonts are small but these sky-shapes are building-sized distract you from the visual reality. (Lisa's camera probably helped her flatten, rescale and reframe her perception.) Second, reverse figure and ground. Make the usual background (the sky) the foreground and the usual foreground (the closer buildings) background. Role reversals are common in many innovations. Weaknesses (like inferior glue) often reframe as strengths and become the breakthroughs (Post-It Notes) of the future.
To Lisa's credit, once she had her breakthrough she stuck with it, searching, walking and neck-craning to find other locations to complete every letter in the alphabet. Her photo-typographic alphabet is now a font set published by German Type Foundry Slanted called Type The Sky. The collection comes as a type face and a photo book.August 30, 2008
Innovation Slush Funds
Nortel, the fiber optics giant, allocates pools of money (or "innovation slush funds") at different organizational levels for any idea a manager thinks has great potential, but doesn't want to be accountable for the bottom-line result. Very cool.
A client of mine, at Michelin, does a similar thing. He is authorized to distribute as much as $10,000 to aspiring innovators who have done their homework and are able to convince him that their high potential projects need a bit funding to get untracked. Also very cool.
What I like about this approach is that it sidesteps the bureaucratic hokey pokey, run-it-up-the-flagpole, command and control, funky chicken shuffle that all too often scuttles powerful new ideas in need of a timely infusion of capital to get them rolling.
Of course, these "innovation slush fund" scenarios require some trust and clearly defined evaluation criteria to keep things on the up and up -- but that is simply done. No Six Sigma required. It's such a simple thing to do and can radically reduce the time it takes for breakthrough ideas and aspiring innovators to make magic happen in your organization.
In what ways can YOU establish some kind of innovation slush fund this month? And if you have already done so, click "comments" below and let us know how it's working out.
And remember, as one wise pundit put it, "It's not the money that starts the idea, it's the idea that starts the money."July 13, 2008
Need a Breakthrough?
Tired of rubbing that magic lamp you bought on ebay, hoping for a genie to appear? Need a big breakthrough on a project of yours? Look no further. You've come to the right place. And you won't need to rub a single thing.
All you need to do is click.But first you'll need to think of a venture or idea you really want to get off the ground. Got it? Good. Now click here and let our online genie help you on your way.
(If you like the results, you can order the off-line genie here.)July 12, 2008
Ideas for Other People
I have an odd ability to come up with ideas for other people when I'm not really trying. Book and song titles are my specialties. Often the ideas are so intriguing, I try to convince myself to do something with them, but eventually I realize they belong to someone else. The question, of course, is WHO? Usually I don't know and the ideas end up orphans. But now that I've got this blog thing going, I've got a way to share the wealth -- or at least a few chuckles. So, here goes:Book title for a psychic: I Thought I Was a Small, But I'm a Medium. Book title for a psychologist with an Eastern bent: Yin, Yang and Jung. Title for a song for a recovering alcoholic: 50 Ways to Love Your Liver.Go ahead. Take 'em. They're free.June 29, 2008
More On Where and When You Get Your Best Ideas
Chuck notes the top ten catalysts:
1. When you're inspired
2. Brainstorming with others
3. When you're immersed in a project
4. When you're happy
5. Collaborating with a partner
7. Analyzing a problem
9. Commuting to and from work
10. Reading books in your field
And here are the bottom ten:
71. Brushing your teeth
72. Drinking anything with alcohol
73. Playing a sport
74. When you're sad
75. Mowing the lawn
78. In a bar
79. Having sex
80. Smoking tobacco
(If you're looking for a fun way to spark some great ideas, click here.)
Or here.June 27, 2008
HEAR AND NOW: Small Business Big Ideas Show: 6/29/08
If you're looking for some inspiration and insight to help you grow your business and radically increase your ability to manifest BIG IDEAS, tune into the Small Business Big Ideas Show out of Toronto this Sunday, 7/29, at 9:00 am (www.ckdo.ca).
The delightfully open-minded Lissa Bergin-Boles will be interviewing me from 9:02 -- 9:15 am. We'll explore the fabulous world of creative thinking and what it takes to foster a culture of innovation within yourself and your business.
We'll also be talking about how my new book, Awake at the Wheel: Getting Your Great Ideas Rolling (in an uphill world), can help you turn your top-of-the-line ideas into bottom-line results.
If you want to call in and ask me a question, the number is 888-511-2436. Hope to hear you then.June 01, 2008
AWAKE AT THE WHEEL: Getting Your Great Ideas Rolling (in an uphill world)
Ta da! After seven years, 22 rejections, multiple rewrites, 2 agents, and a whole lot of looking at myself in the mirror, here it is: the publication of my new book, AWAKE AT THE WHEEL: Getting Your Great Ideas Rolling (in an Uphill World). Part fable, part creative thinking toolbox, the book is a wake up call for all aspiring innovators -- a simple way to help people "get out of the cave" and manifest BIG ideas in a world not always ready for the new and the different.
If you have an inspired idea that is lingering in your mind and needs a fresh jolt to see the light of day, this book is for you.
To order from Amazon, click here.
Tim Gallwey: "A superb catalyst for anyone with the urge to bring their best ideas into reality."
Donna Fenn: "Og may have invented the wheel, but Mitch Ditkoff has created a GPS for the innovation process. Awake at the Wheel is a witty and inspiring roadmap for the journey from ideas to invention."
Jay Conrad Levinson: "Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come. The time has come for this book and Mitchell Lewis Ditkoff has put it into words. He has done a masterful job."
Jack Mitchell: "Go ahead and 'hug' your employees by giving them Awake at the Wheel and creating a company culture that fosters, develops, and celebrates the best of their ideas."
Joyce Wycoff: "A highly accessible alchemist's stone for aspiring innovators."
Melinda McLaughlin: Awake at the Wheel illuminates! It's the perfect book for those of us who have felt the excitement of the 'aha' moment only to experience the frustration that comes when no one sees the brilliant lightbulb above our head. Mitch Ditkoff takes us on an engaging journey that re-imagines how to turn an idea into great success and makes it suddenly seem easy.?
Chuck Frey: "Entertaining and inspiring."
24,000 Year Old Cave Man Invites You to a Book Signing in Woodstock
See that Neanderthal to your left? That's Og, the mythical inventor of the wheel and the hero of Mitch Ditkoff's new book which hits the book stores on May 1.
In honor of Og, I am inviting you to the book signing at the Golden Notebook in Woodstock, NY, Saturday, April 26th, 5:00 - 7:00 pm.
Here's what Og has to say about the book signing:
Morkel noophpa umphh! Kiaww noofti agu. Brrpp. Obama! Rok. Remu! Ditkoff sumphfta jabu.
"Hey bipeds with Blackberries and cash flow problems! You don't even need to know how to read to enjoy a book signing! Free wine! Free cheese! The tribe reconvenes! And Mitch Ditkoff, who has recently developed full use of both opposable thumbs, will be signing books. Or eating crackers. Or talking too much.
Bring a friend. Bring two. Really, you don't have to buy a single book if you don't want to. Just come and be part of the fun.
And support the fabulous Golden Notebook!
If you want to listen to Mitch's two minute rap about the book, click here.
PS: If you can't make it to the book signing, so be it. You can still buy a copy here.April 10, 2008
If You Want a Breakthrough, Take a Break
True innovators rarely follow the straight and narrow path. Not only do they march to a different drummer, they're often not even on the same playing field as most people.
Take Seymour Cray, for example, the legendary designer of high-speed computers.
According to John Rollwagen, ex-chairman of Cray research, Seymour Cray used to divide his time between building the next generation super computer and digging an underground tunnel below his Chippewa Falls house.
Cray's explanation of his tunnel digging behavior is consistent with the stories of many other creatives -- inner-directed, boundary-pushing people who understand the need to go off-line whenever they get stuck.
Bottom line, whenever they find themselves struggling with a thorny problem, they walk away from it for a while.
They know, from years of practical experience, that more (i.e. obsession, analysis, effort) is often less (i.e ideas, solutions, results).
Explained Cray, "I work for three hours and then get stumped. So I quit and go to work in the tunnel. It takes me an hour or so to dig four inches and put in the boards. You see, I'm up in the Wisconsin woods, and there are elves in the woods. So when they see me leave, they come back into my office and solve all the problems I'm having. Then I go up (to my lab) and work some more."
Explained Rollwagen, "The real work happens when Seymour is in the tunnel."March 10, 2008
Google: Huge Idea, Simple Insight
In the spirit of picking a veteran player to throw out the first pitch at a game, I'll quote the title of a blog post at Search Engine Watch to remark that, "Discovery's Science Channel Has Good New Series On (the) Internet."
Download: The True Story of the Internet, by former editor and writer for Wired, John Heileman, "is no softball show.. . the series gives it to you 'warts and all' and does not hold back the punches on how things have developed so far. The last show I watched discussed the development of search, and told how Excite turned down the chance to buy Google for a million dollars."
The Discovery Channel's page says, "From the founders of eBay, Yahoo, Amazon, Netscape, Google and many others, we hear amazing stories of how, in ten short years, the Internet took over our lives. The style of the story-telling is up close and personal.. . with first-hand testimony from the people that matter."
I've been along for the ride and was very familiar with the story's timelines, but of course here you get to hear about it from the principals, and in their own words. There's always so much more to any story, and this one's very well told.
I also was watching that episode on search, one of four. To me, the most arresting observation was that while the original, breakthrough idea at the root of Google's effectiveness and success came from a programmer, cofounder Larry Page, it was a very simple thought. Page was not crouched over a keyboard or remembering any computer code in order to come up with this construct.
The billion-dollar insight was just this: that a link to a site from another is like a vote for that destination. The more sites link to yours (and the more linked-to their sites are), the better yours must be.
So the most useful search engine will give its results from the sites where the most people look for information or connections on that subject, the ones which the most visitors have "voted for with their feet," or in this case, their eyeballs. (Adwords, the next step in Google's still-astronomical success, was someone else's brainstorm, but they eventually settled. Fascinating story.)
I was working at AltaVista, though on the biz dev/marketing side in Mass., when Google first surfaced. At the time AltaVista was the standard in search, coming from R&D and its creation at their research office in Palo Alto, and put up on the Web as a free demo in the research-lab spirit of, "look at this cool thing we've got!"
But it quickly became evident that Google had a better solution: I remember my friend Don Bradley, AV's genial spokesguy, showing how when you typed "Cadillac" as a search query there, cadillac.com came up first(!). AltaVista had not yet attained that level of algorhythmic hipness (or you might simply say, usefulness), and didn't get it in time to catch the strong updraft from the explosion of online searching that swept Google to its current exalted position.
Technical insight and chops aside, Google, with two guys, the garage, and a VC or two, had the little-guy's advantage of quick response and manuverability. AltaVista, on the other hand, was then a sort of semi-autonomous division of Digital, aka DEC, and still had to get around a dozen people to agree on any action.
(I'd say, in the words of this earlier post here of Mitch's, such a company should "Create In-House Start Ups," but in this case they had started to spin off AV from Digital. The senior board changed directions, though, as they set their sights on eventually selling the whole company, which had been founded by Ken Olsen, a great innovator of his generation.)
On March 15th, The Discovery Channel is beginning a cable run of one of the four one-hour episodes each week. ScheduleFebruary 22, 2008
Video clips of the show on Science Channel
The Sweat that Eureka demands
Serious about doing something innovative? Be prepared to spend many long, focused hours working on it (and working and working and reworking...)
"We want to believe that creativity and innovation come in flashes of pure brilliance," Janet Rae-Dupree writes in the New York Times. But, "Innovation is a slow process of accretion, building small insight upon interesting fact upon tried-and-true process. Just as an oyster wraps layer upon layer of nacre atop an offending piece of sand, ultimately yielding a pearl, innovation percolates within hard work over time."The article also quotes Jim Marggraff, creator of an interactive world globe called the Odyssey Atlasphere, and the LeapPad reading platform for children, among others. "The 'aha' moments grow out of hours of thought and study," he says. "If you look at my innovations, there's a common theme. I take something familiar, intuitive and ubiquitous, and recast it in a manner that will redefine its use to drive profound change."
"'The most useful way to think of epiphany is as an occasional bonus of working on tough problems,' explains Scott Berkun in his 2007 book, The Myths of Innovation. 'The goal isn't the magic moment: it's the end result of a useful innovation.'"
Of course, which famous inventor explained this to us early in the 20th century? Who else but Thomas Edison. A bit of quick research gives us his famous quote in an expanded context:
(From a 1929 press conference, quoted by James D. Newton in Uncommon Friends; Newton knew Edison personally.)
"None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration."
In an interview in Harpers magazine, February 1890 (stay tuned here at Heart Of Innovation as we present the latest, greatest breakthroughs! ; ) , Edison explained his method:
"I would construct a theory and work on its lines until I found it was untenable. ... I speak without exaggeration when I say that I have constructed 3,000 different theories in connection with the electric light, each one of them reasonable and apparently likely to be true. Yet only in two cases did my experiments prove the truth of my theory."
"Eureka! It Really Takes Years of Hard Work" (NYT, 2/3/08)
"Innovation: It's About Time!"
View from a Creative Mind
Although we are by no means a locally-focused company, with consultant/trainers traveling very widely to lead sessions, we are based in the mid-Hudson Valley of New York State, and one similarly local-but-far-reaching event caught my eye which I thought was very much worth sharing.
That would be a nearby exhibition of the work of Saul Steinberg, titled "Illuminations," the artist most famously known for his frequent appearances over six decades in The New Yorker magazine. He was the clever fellow who gave us the much-imitated 1976 cover illustration of how New Yorkers see the world, "The View from 9th Avenue," where a couple of blocks of the city dominate, and the rest of the country occupies a small square of land in the distance.
But so much of his work displayed such a fresh, wonderfully creative mind that, for me, it "illustrates" an essential attitude that successful innovators have. This is the habit of looking to see things newly, as opposed to how we usually see, which is through a haze of existing thought patterns; and, freely associating, to find useful connections between things that were hidden until then.
In the words of the Saul Steinberg Foundation's page on his life and work, "fingerprints become mug shots or landscapes; graph or ledger paper doubles as the facade of an office building; words, numbers, and punctuation marks come to life as messengers of doubt, fear, or exuberance; sheet music lines glide into violin strings, record grooves, the grain of a wood table, and the smile of a cat."
"Saul Steinberg: Illuminations" will be on view through February 24 at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, 124 Raymond Avenue, Poughkeepsie. (845) 437-5632;
(...which I found in Chronogram magazine.)
(All works © by The Saul Steinberg Foundation)December 23, 2007
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.November 01, 2007
Absurd Collisions: No Breakthroughs Without Them
You say your kid's starting to crawl AND your floor's dusty? This handy pre-toddler mop garment was "invented" by Kenji Kawakami, a Japanese inventor and writer who works in a parallel innovation universe he calls Chindogu.
Chindogu translates as "strange tools," but a Chindogu invention isn't really a tool. It's a humorous insight into how two unrelated things might do something useful. Its visual punnery relies on a certain something two things have in common, a shared intersection. Crawling kids and mops have the floor in common, and floors get dusty...so why not a mop suit for baby? Silently, in our heads, we add the caption: "Hell, honey. Put the kid to work." Shazam! Baby as time-saving device.
What does Chindogu's absurd universe have to do with real world innovation? Well, think about it. The insight process is the same. What was the undiscovered intersection shared by music filesharers and early mp3 music players? Single song downloads. So not only did Steve Jobs launch the Apple iPod in 2001; he thought two sales ahead and had his team design the record store to go with it. Armed with rocketing i-Pod sales, Jobs was able to finalize deals with all the major labels the next year and launch Apple's iTunes music store in April of 2003.
Get it? Catching links and intersections, like dusty floors and single-song downloads depends on the same kind of insight. It makes no difference whether the resulting invention is absurd, like Chindogu, or highly strategic, like the iPod/iTunes-store disruption. The point is to keep exercising the mental muscle that crosses wires, tries absurd combinations, and associates the previously unassociated.
Some artists and designers (like yours truly) use tools to spark these happy collisions. Randomizing oracles, lists, cards and computer programs can all be used to force pairs and triads of things together that wouldn't normally be near each other. And once the muscle is working, no aids are needed at all.
The visual pun long predates Kawakami. Dadaist Meret Oppenheim did it in 1936 with her Objet: dejeuner en fourrure (Luncheon in Fur).
Magritte, Dali, Man Ray - the list is huge. Rock bands, too, have collided words absurdly since the sixties. And the inventions in Philip Garner's 1982 Better Living Catalog, now out of print, were as funny as Kawakami (and debuted more than a decade earlier).
Try giving yourself a regular absurdity workout. For a few minutes, just stop making sense, collide two or three unconnected things and see what impractical AND practical ideas arise. Think of Chindogu-like thinking as yoga for keeping the creative mind flexible, receptive and original.
You'll have plenty of company, by the way. Kawakami's two Chindogu books have sold close to half a million copies in Japan alone.
Oh, before you go (and while our increasingly spammed comments are still open): What's your favorite absurd band name? Let us know. We'll add it to this post. And if you're already into Chindogu, drop us links to pictures of your favorite and funniest Chindogu inventions. I'll share a few in future posts.October 23, 2007
Owning Your Own Knowledge
One of the guiding principles of Idea Champions is that any large enough group of people who work in any organization already has the requisite knowledge to deal with the majority of the issues and challenges facing them. There may be issues where they need additional information from outside experts but, in general, they know their business, industry, and market and what they have to do to grow their bottom line.
Why they can't easily access this knowledge on a regular basis and act upon it is another story, however, and why, I imagine, we are in the business we're in.
The issue of not being able to act on the knowledge one already has does not exist because of organizations, of course. It exists because this phenomenon is a major issue for many human beings, and has been, it seems, for as long as there have been human beings. I have a psychologist friend who once confided that when he came across a patient who embraced this syndrome, he recommended other therapists to them as quickly as possible because he found their denial of their own knowledge, and subsequent lack of corrective action, totally exasperating.
Books have been written about the phenomenon of the tragic characters of Shakespeare "disowning knowledge" leading directly to their inevitable demise. Hamlet knows what he needs to know in order to act very early on in that play, but does not, requiring ever greater "burdens of proof" which delay action until it is too late. King Lear knows that he will create a power vacuum if he abdicates his crown that will lead to strife and confusion among his daughters and discord in his kingdom, yet he does so anyway, etc.
Speaking of vacuums... a simple example of this phenomenon occurred to me only recently.
Fourteen years ago, I purchased a fine, expensive vacuum cleaner. This machine cost over a thousand dollars back then and it's been worth every penny, as it is so well made that it probably will outlast me on this planet. During those years, I've often come across a warning in manuals and brochures that if one persisted in dragging the machine around by its hose, or lifting it by same, one would eventually loosen the electronic connections that give signals from the body of the vacuum to its end attachments and it would cease to function properly. The result: $300 to replace the hose and attachments.
Well, after 14 years of dragging the machine around by its hose and lifting it by same, the inevitable has occurred. I need to replace the hose and attachments.
Why didn't I simply use the knowledge I had instead of ignoring it? Well, for the first 14 years everything seemed fine, reminding me of the joke about the guy who wanted to see what it was like to jump off a tall building and thinking to himself during his descent, "so far, so good."
The very same goes for organizations and the people within it.
What knowledge of our organization, its processes, its people, its products and services, our customers, our markets, and our society are we choosing to ignore because, "so far, so good?"
One good way to check this collective syndrome of disowning our own knowledge in organizations is to conduct regular brainstorm sessions that use a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis or Environmental Scan as a starting off point. This tactic forces us to see what's going on in and around our organization, assess the level of threat or opportunity, and to consciously go about doing something about it.
Look around you. Check all your mirrors. Exercise your peripheral vision. What's sneaking up on you in your environment that you hadn't noticed before? What is the market telling you about your products and services? What are your customers telling you every single day in their words and actions, and even more importantly, in what they don't say and don't do? What threats or opportunities right there in front of you have you not taken the time and effort to act upon?
What do you already know to be true that you haven't shared with others or acted upon yourself?
Don't end up in your own self-made tragedy like Hamlet or Lear, or be like that poor guy falling from the skyscraper thinking everything is going to work out just fine, or that dolt in upstate New York staring at a sea of dust bunnies armed only with an expensive vacuum cleaner which no longer works.
Act now on what you know to be true. It's why you're alive.
Just a Great Idea
(Occasionally we'll run little quickies like this one, examples of remarkably creative thinking that we found irresistible, just for the purpose of passing along a small flash of inspiration that may help raise your own efforts up a notch.)
Parent-Child Dancing Shoes
These shoes are meant to be worn by a father and a young daughter for dancing together.
Titled "Tanssitossut" or Dance Shoes, they were designed by Finnish artists Huopaliike Lahtinen and Haraldin Kenka. If you can think of anything sweeter than this (or "these"?), please let us know.
Found it on: Boing BoingSeptember 30, 2007
Who got it from: Neatorama
originally from Salakauppa / Secret Shop
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 11, 2007
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.
Are We Still In Kansas? (Don't Think So)
This insightful video showed up on YouTube eight months ago, posted by an assistant Cultural Anthropology Professor at Kansas State University, Michael Wesch. It's a fast-paced reminder about how quickly digital text and open content are transforming human (machine) communications.
3.3 million people have viewed it already, so if you haven't, it's a good thing you're about to. It's almost 2008.
A short interview with Michael Wesch is here. The montage image is a dissolve frame from his video.August 21, 2007
Building "Living Space" around Railroad Stations
A great idea, wherever it's found, is a wonder to behold. Newsday, the major daily of Long Island, New York, published an article last week, "Living Space" (8/12), on suggestions from some architecture students for "more affordable housing for singles and young families," a big issue on the big, expensive island.
All four students (from the New York Institute of Technology) share some good ideas. But one in particular, John Patrick Winberry, came up with a concept with great synergy, that admirable quality of solving more than just the problem at hand.
"More than a place to park your car"
"Imagine that at each major stop along the Long Island Rail Road, communities of housing, dining and shopping were built above existing parking lots. Parking garages would be underneath the new buildings.
"Given the location, generally within walking distance of an existing shopping area, residents would have little need for a car.
"A railroad station would no longer be a stop along a route, but a destination in itself. Even better, each of these hubs would be connected along the main arteries of the LIRR, ensuring easy accessibility within Long Island without the use of a car.
"The apartments would attract young professionals wanting easy access to commute to work in Manhattan and a lively community to come home to without having to drive."
This is just plain brilliant. As anyone who spends any time on Long Island will tell you, traffic is a tremendous headache -- and even that's a sizable understatement.
The Long Island Expressway was built to whiz drivers from one end of the island to the other, but a couple years back it attained the state of almost permanet gridlock. People have bitterly reinterpreted its acronym with the updated meaning: now it's referred to as "the Big LIE."
So here's a young planner who was able to look at the problem of affordable housing in a fresh way, imagining a method that also makes a dent in another, tightly related problem. It's apparent that Mr. Winberry has some good "living space" between his ears.
Naturally, the Newsday article characterized these young architects' ideas as being "out-of-the-box." What, again? Can there be no "creative" suggestion any more that isn't measured with that damn box?
Here's a wish that fans of innovation-and-creativity will one day have the courage to throw that "box" into a uniquely designed conceptual garbage can. Yes, we realize we're talking about the ol' "square peg and round hole" here; but we're convinced it can be done.
(Image uploaded to Flickr 8/16/07 by ultraclay!)