The 10 Personas of an Effective 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?
Our brainstorm facilitation website
Conducting Genius Training
High Velocity Brainstorming
What our brainstorming clients say
VIDEO: The 8 Dimensions of a Brainstorm Session
10 Ways to Help Left Brainers Tap Into Their Creativity
If your job requires you to lead meetings, brainstorming sessions, or problem solving gatherings of any kind, chances are good that most of the people you come in contact with are left-brain dominant: analytical, logical, linear folks with a passion for results and a huge fear that the meeting you are about to lead will end with a rousing chorus of kumbaya.
Not exactly the kind of mindset conducive to breakthrough thinking.
Do not lose heart, oh facilitators of the creative process. Even if you find yourself in a room full of 10,000 left brainers, there are tons of ways to work with this mindset in service to bringing out the very best of the group's collective genius:
1. Diffuse the fear of ambiguity by continually clarifying the process
Most left-brain-dominant people hate open-ended processes and anything that smacks of ambiguity.
Next time you find yourself leading a creative thinking session, make it a point to give participants, early is the session, a mental map of the process you'll be using. Explain that the session will consist of two key elements: divergent thinking and convergent thinking.
In the divergent segment, you'll be helping people consider non-traditional approaches. In the convergent segment, you'll be helping people analyze, evaluate, and select from the multiplicity of ideas they have generated.
If participants are going to get uneasy, it will happen during the divergent segment. Your task? Periodically remind them of where they are in the process. "Here's our objective," you might say. "Here's where we've been. Here's where we are. And here's we're going. Any questions?"
2. Get people talking about AHAS! they've had
No matter how risk averse or analytical people in your sessions may be, it's likely that all of them -- at some time or another -- have had a really great idea. "Creativity" really isn't all that foreign to them (although they may think it is). All you need to do to get them in touch with that part of themselves is help them recall a moment when they were operating at a high level of creativity.
Get them talking about how it felt, what were the conditions, and what preceded the breakthrough. You'll be amazed at the stories you'll hear and how willing everyone will be, after that, to really stretch out.
3. Transform limiting assumptions
One of the biggest obstacles to creativity is the assumption-making part of our brain -- the part that is forever drawing lines in the sand -- the part that is ruled by the past. Most people are not aware of the assumptions they have -- in the same way that most drivers are not aware of the blind spot in their mirror.
If you want people to be optimally creative, it is imperative that you find a way to help them identify their limiting assumptions about the challenge they are brainstorming. "Awareness cures," explains psychologist Fritz Perls. But DON'T get caught in a lengthy discussion about the collective limiting assumptions of the group. This is often just another way that left-brain dominant participants will default to analyzing and debating.
Instead, lead a process that will help participants identify and explore their limiting assumptions. Then, time allowing, help them transform each of these limiting assumptions into open-ended "How can we?" questions for brainstorming.
4. Encourage idea fluency
Dr. Linus Pauling, one of the most influential chemists of the 20th century, was once asked, "How do you get a good idea?" His response? "The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away."
That's why "Go for a quantity of ideas" is the first rule of brainstorming. You want to encourage people, early and often, to go for quantity. This will short circuit participants' perfectionistic, self-censoring tendencies -- two behaviors that are certain death to creativity.
5. Invite humor
The right use of is a great way to help people tap into their right brains. Indeed, "haha" and "aha" are closely related. Both are the result of surprise or discontinuity. You laugh when your expectations are confronted in a delightful way.
Please note, however, that your use of humor must not be demeaning to anyone in the room. Freud explained that every "joke" has a victim and is used by the teller to gain advantage over the victim -- a way to affirm power. And when a group finds itself in the realm of power (and the yielding of power), it will undoubtedly end up in left brain territory.
You don't want to feed that beast.
Instead, set the tone by telling a victimless joke or two, or by your own self-deprecating humor. But even more important than "joke telling" is to allow and encourage a free flowing sense of playfulness.
6. Do the right brain/ left brain two-step
Brainstorming for 3, 4 or 5 hours in a row is unusually exhausting, resulting in the "diminishing returns" syndrome. Creative thinking, like life itself, follows natural laws. Day is followed by night, winter by spring, inbreath by outbreath.
That's why the design of your creative thinking session needs to alternate between the cerebral and the kinesthetic -- between brainstorming and some kind of hands-on, experiential activity. By doing this two-step, participants will stay refreshed and engaged.
7. Periodically mention that chaos precedes creative breakthroughs
Left-brained, logical people are rarely comfortable with ambiguity, chaos and the unknown. It seems messy. Disorganized. Downright unprofessional. Indeed, much of the Six Sigma work being done in corporations these days is to reduce variability and increase predictability.
If you want to get really creative, you will need to increase variability and help participants get more "out of control." Picasso said it best, "The act of creation is first of all an act of destruction." Tom Peters said it second best, "Innovation is a messy business."
So, when you sense that your session is filled with ambiguity-phobic people, remember to mention how it's normal for ambiguity to precede a creative breakthrough. You may even want to mention how you will be purposefully infusing the session with moments of ambiguity, just to prime the creative pump.
8. Establish criteria for evaluation
The reason why ideas are usually considered a dime a dozen is because most people are unclear about their process for identifying the priceless ones. That's why a lot of brainstorming sessions are frustrating. Tons of possibilities are generated, but there is no clear path for winnowing and choosing.
Let's assume, for example, that the session you facilitate generates 100 powerful, new ideas. Do you have a process for helping participants pare the 100 down to a manageable few? If not, you need one. Ideally, the criteria for selecting ideas will be clarified before the session and introduced to participants early in the session.
Please note that there is some debate amongst brainstorm mavens as to when to offer the criteria. Some say this should happen at the beginning of the session (to help assuage the left brain need for logic and boundaries). Others suggest delaying the identification of criteria until just before the idea evaluation process. Either way will work. Your call.
9. Be a referee when you have to
No matter how many ground rules you mention about "suspending judgment" or "delaying evaluation," you are going to have some heavy hitters in the room just waiting for a moment to doubt your approach or "the process."
Indeed, one of the favorite (often unconscious) strategies of some left-brainers is to debate and question the facilitator every step of the way. While you want to honor their concerns and right to speak their truth, you also want to hold the bar high for the intention behind the brainstorming session -- and that is to challenge the status quo, entertain the new, and create space for imaginations to roam.
Don't be afraid to be firm with participants who want to control the session. At the very least, ask them to suspend their need for "convergence" (i.e. evaluation, judgment, decision making) to the end of the session when there will be plenty of time to exercise that very important muscle.
10. Consult with the tough people on the breaks
Every once in a while, a really opinionated person shows up in a session -- someone who is probably very smart, competent, experienced, with a big BS detector, and just enough arrogance to make you feel uncomfortable. These people can really affect the group, especially if they hold positions of power in the organization.
In the best of all worlds, these people would always be on your side. They won't be. Be careful about playing to these people in a neurotic attempt to get their approval. You won't get it. But DO seek them out on breaks and engage them. Get them talking. Pay attention. See if you can pick up any useful feedback or clues about revising your agenda or approach.
Even though you wouldn't choose to be trapped on a desert island with them, these folks may turn out to be a huge blessing -- because they are carriers of a particular sensibility that needs to be honored. More than likely, some of the other people in the room are feeling the same thing, but have been too polite to show their true colors. So, don't be afraid of these people. They can be a very valuable resource.August 18, 2015
If you are a regular (or irregular) reader of this blog, you now (as of this moment) have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to support the work of a gifted photographer and digital media maven, my son, Jesse, who will be traveling to eight countries for his next semester abroad. My blog is free. His wide angle lens is not. Anything you can contribute will be very much appreciated.August 12, 2015
Creativity Late in Life
A lot of people who assume they are "over the hill", may not be aware of the fact that there have been a ton of people, late in life, who have been extremely creative. The above slide show, adapted from Gene Cohen's The Creative Age, highlights this inspiring phenomenon. Watch full screen for most impact.April 17, 2015
20 Things to Remember If You Love a Highly Creative Person
February 24, 2015
The Only Risk is Not to Risk
February 03, 2015
The Secret to a Good TED Talk January 21, 2015
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. Ask the other person to think of something redeemable about your bad idea -- and tell you what it is.
5. Using this redeemable essence as a catalyst or clue, brainstorm new possibilities.
The DNA of Sparking Innovation
Most people think that the ability to be innovative is a mystical state available only to the chosen few.
The effort, they imagine, takes a lot of time and hard work. And since they don't have time and don't like hard work, they reason that innovation just isn't in the cards for them.
But innovation is not a mystical state. It's a natural state -- a human birthright. The people in your organization, in fact, already are innovative. The only thing is: their natural ability to be innovative is being obscured by their own habits of mind and a variety of bothersome organizational constraints.
Their challenge is the same one as seeing the "hidden" arrow in the FedEx logo (look between the "E" and the "X").The arrow has always been there, but most people never notice it.
This is the work of Idea Champions. We help people see what they already have, but don't know how to access.
We help people make meaningful adjustments of vision, insight, and perception so they can acknowledge, embrace, and apply their innate ability to be more creative on the job -- and, for those clients who want to reinvent their "innovation process", we help them figure it out.
What follows is a brief summary of how we do this...
1. Know Thy Customer:
Long before we ever get into a room with participants, we do our due diligence -- learning about WHO we are serving, WHAT they expect, and HOW our time with them will be the most significant.
Sometimes this takes the form of phone interviews. Or online polls. Or studying key documents our clients send us in order to understand their current reality, industry, business challenges, organizational constraints, and hoped for outcomes.
Based on our assessment of our client's needs, we put together a game plan to get the job done. Towards this end, we draw on more than 100 "innovation-sparking" modules we've been developing since 1986.
Early in the design process, we invite our clients to give us feedback about our approach. Their feedback stirs the creative soup and provides us with the input needed to transform a good session design into a great one.
4. Spacing In:
We make a great deal of effort to ensure that the space in which our sessions take place are as ideal as possible. Form may follow function, but function also follows form.
When participants walk into an Idea Champions session, they begin "mind shifting" even before the session begins. It is both our belief and experience that culture/environment is a huge X factor for creativity and innovation.
5. Drive Fear Out of the Workplace:
Peter Drucker, America's sage management consultant, was a big proponent of removing fear from the workplace. So are we. Towards that end, each of our sessions begins with a norm-setting process that makes it easy for participants to establish a dynamic culture of innovation for the day.
Organizations don't innovate, people do. But not just any "people." No. People who are energized, curious, confident, fascinated, creative, focused, adaptive, collaborative, and committed.
People who emerge from our sessions are significantly more in touch with these "innovation qualities" than when they began. Their minds have changed. They see opportunities when, previously, all they saw were problems.
They let go of perfectionism, old paradigms, and habitual ways of thinking. In their place? Open-mindedness, listening, idea generation, original thinking, full engagement, and the kind of commitment that drives meaningful change.
7. Balancing Polarities:
Human beings, by nature, are dualistic, (i.e. "us" vs. "them," "short-term" vs. "long-term," "incremental" vs. "breakthrough," "left brain" vs. "right brain".)
The contradictions that show up in a corporate environment (or workshop) can either be innovation depleters or innovation catalysts. It all depends how these seeming conflicting territories are navigated. Idea Champions is committed to whole-brain thinking -- not just right brain or left brain thinking.
Our work with organizations has shown us that one of the pre-conditions for innovation is a company's ability to strike the balance between these polarities.
Each workshop we lead and each consulting engagement we commit to is guided by our understanding of how to help our clients find the healthy balance between the above-noted polarities.
8. Expert Facilitation: "A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile when someone contemplates it with the idea of a cathedral in mind," wrote St. Exupery.
This, quite simply, is what Idea Champions does. But we do far more than just contemplate. We also architect and build.
Since 1986, we've been facilitating innovation-sparking engagements for a wide variety of industries. We have mastered the art and science of turning lead (or leaders) into gold. And we can train your people to do the same thing we do.
9. Experiential Challenges: "What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand."
So said the great Chinese sage, Confucius. This 14-word quote describes the essence of our work. Simply put, we get people off their "ifs, ands or buts," and into the experience of what's possible.
While we value theory, research, models, data, best practices, business cases, and most of the other flora and fauna of business life, we've come to understand that the challenge of sparking insight, breakthrough, and change, is best accomplished by doing -- not talking.
That's why all of our sessions include experiential challenges that provide participants with visible ways of seeing innovation in action -- what supports it and what obscures it.
10. Emergent Design: Awakening the creativity of an organization's workforce is not a follow-the-dots exercise.
Although all of our interventions begin with carefully crafted project plans and agendas, our facilitators are fluent in the art and science of making the kind of real-time adjustments, refinements, and improvisations that are the difference between a good session and a great session.
Facilitators who attempt to imitate our approach find it difficult to succeed without first learning how to master the art of emergent design. The good news is that it can be learned -- and this is just one of the things we teach in our Train the Trainer programs.
11. Edutainment: Idea Champions sessions are a hybrid of two elements: education and entertainment. We know that when participants are enjoying themselves their chances of learning increase exponentially.
That's why we make all of our sessions a hybrid of education and entertainment. Participants do not get tired. They do not get bored. They do not sneak long looks at their Blackberries.
12. Full Engagement: Idea Champions sessions are highly participatory. Our facilitators are skilled at teasing out the brilliance of participants, regardless of their social style, job title, or astrological sign.
But perhaps more importantly, our facilitators know how to help participants tease out each others' brilliance. Eventually, everyone gets into the act. The shy people take center stage and the power players take a back seat. The collective wisdom in the room gets a much-needed chance to be accessed and expressed.
13. Convergence: Idea Champions is successful because what we do works. And one of the reasons WHY it works is because our sessions help participants translate ideas into action.
Ideas are powerful, but they are still only the fuzzy front end of the innovation process. Ultimately, they need to turn into results. Creativity needs to be commercialized. Our workshops, trainings, and consulting interventions help our clients do exactly that.
14. Tools, Techniques, and Takeaways: Ideas Champions closes the gap between rhetoric and reality. We don't just talk about innovation or teach about it -- we spark the experience of it. And we do that in very practical ways.
One way is by teaching people how to use specific, mind-opening techniques to access their innate creativity. Another way is by providing our clients with a variety of innovation-sparking guidelines, processes, and materials that can be immediately used on the job.April 26, 2014
If You Need Graphic Design Help
Here is a 3-minute animation by my 19-year old son, Jesse Ditkoff. He is an aspiring digital artist, attending Hampshire College. He is available this summer for graphic design projects, photoshop, etc.April 18, 2014
On the Brink of a Breakthrough
The following piece, written by Thomas Wolfe, is the most moving thing I've ever read about what it takes to stand at the crossroads of one's creative calling -- utterly alone, howling at the void, and yet, at the same time, utterly supported. If you want to get the total value of this brilliant piece of writing, read it aloud and let it sink in. I find it hard not to cry whenever I read it.
"During this time I reached that state of naked need and utter isolation which every artist has got to meet and conquer if he is to survive at all.
Before this I had been sustained by that delightful illusion of success which we all have when we dream about the books we are going to write instead of actually doing them.
Now I suddenly realized that I had committed my life and integrity so irrevocably to this struggle that I must conquer now or be destroyed.
I was alone with my work and knew that no one could help me with it no matter how much anyone might wish to help.
For the first time I realized another naked fact which every artist must know, and that is in a man's work there are contained not only seeds of life, but the seeds of death, and that the power of creation which sustains us will also destroy us like a leprosy if we let it rot stillborn in our vitals. I had to get it out of me somehow.
I say that now. And now for the first time, a terrible doubt began to creep into my mind that I might not live long enough to get it out of me, that I had created a labor so large and so impossible that the energy of a dozen lifetimes would not suffice for its accomplishment.
During this time, I was sustained by one piece of inestimable good fortune. I had for a friend a man of immense and patient wisdom and a gentle but unyielding fortitude.
I think that if I was not destroyed at this time by the sense of hopelessness which these gigantic labors had awakened in me, it was largely because of the courage and patience of this man.
I did not give in because he would not let me give in, and I think it is true that at this particular time he had the advantage of being in the position of a skilled observer at a battle, covered by its dust and sweat and exhausted by its struggle, and I understood far less than my friend the nature and progress of the struggle in which I was engaged.
At this time there was little that this man could do except observe, and in one way or another keep me at my task, and in many quiet and wonderful ways he succeeded in doing this.
I was now at the place where I must produce.
Even the greatest editor can do little for a writer until he has brought from the secrete darkness of his own spirit into the common light of the day the completed concrete accomplishment of his imagining.
My friend has likened his own function at this painful time to that of a man who is trying to hang on to the fin of a plunging whale, but hang on he did, and it is to his tenacity that I owe my final release."March 29, 2014
That Big Beautiful Idea of Yours
What big, beautiful idea of yours needs just the right touch of collaboration, support, and immersion to see the light of day? Your next step? And when will you take it?January 14, 2014
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.November 18, 2013
A Non-Traditional Proposal
Your business, organization, team, department, or community can learn a lot from this video. What, specifically, is for YOU to figure out. To increase the odds, ask yourself: "In what ways might we infuse a key project of ours with more fun, creativity, and collaboration?"November 09, 2013
Painting a Different Picture
Fascinating 7-minute TED video of a woman, with the aspiration to be a political scientist, following her instincts and becoming an artist instead -- but not just ANY artist -- one who is pioneering a new mode of expression.
How might you apply the essence of this video to your own life? What old forms do you need to challenge? What new forms of expression are calling to you?November 02, 2013
Wake Up the Passion to Innovate
Innovation is a big fat generic concept in most corporations -- like life on other planets or trying to get teenagers to clean up their room.
Unless the individuals within an organization have a genuine sense of urgency, personal ownership, and an authentic passion for innovation, nothing much will happen.
Corporate initiatives that fail to awaken the human instinct to innovate are doomed, no matter how many pep talks, tote bags, or t-shirts proliferate.
For me, as an innovation consultant, it is clear that the short amount of time I have with my clients needs to be devoted to awakening the passion to innovate.
Tools, techniques, theory, data, models, bibliographies, business cases, best practices, and the fabulous muffins served on breaks are all fine, but it is the passion to innovate that is the real driver of success.
No passion, no innovation. Plain and simple.
Unfortunately, most organizations squash passion. That is why start-ups have a much easier time innovating than Fortune 500 companies. And that's why savvy Fortune 500 companies recreate the feeling of start-uppiness whenever they can.
The best thing any consultant can do when working with an organization is to hold up a mirror and ask their clients what they see.
Are they modeling what it means to be innovative? Or are they asking other people to do what they themselves have not done?October 30, 2013
Discontinuous Improvement Rules!
This is brilliant -- a penetrating 12-minute talk by Russell Ackoff on why continuous improvement doesn't cut it these days and why whole systems thinking and creativity is the only way to go if an organization expects to succeed in today's marketplace.September 28, 2013
Miles Davis on Mistakes
April 15, 2013
The Phoenicia Festival of the Voice
Our good friends, Maria Todaro and Louis Otey, two inspired visionaries, opera singers, and the Founders of the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice, have launched a kickstarter campaign to bring a world class orchestra to perform at this year's Festival in August. Please consider making a donation today. The campaign ends on April 28th. Music! Celebration! Creativity! Love!January 24, 2013
101 CreativiTeas for Innovators
No matter how many times I tell people there's no such thing as a "magic innovation pill," every one keeps asking.
This just in: I don't have the magic pill. But I DO have something even better -- a virtual potion that has the potential to liberate you and all your co-workers from the bothersome obstacles that keep sabotaging your ability to innovate.
Simply read the list below, pick the CreativiTea you most need to imbibe, and take a virtual drink.
1. Opening Up to PossibiliTea
2. Easy Going FlexibiliTea
3. Gandhi-like HumiliTea
4. Well-timed AdaptabiliTea
5. Taking Care of Details Amidst InfiniTea
6. Loosey Goosey ManeuverabiliTea
7. Acceptance of MortaliTea
8. Flashes of NonsensicaliTea
9. Beyond MoraliTea
10. An Occasional Dose of RealiTea
11. Following Your Passion With ImpuniTea
12. Balancing PolariTea
14. Total QualiTea
15. Unfettered CreativiTea
16. Appreciation of DiversiTea
17. Tuning in to SynchroniciTea
20. Old Fashioned PracticaliTea
22. Celebration of IndividualiTea
23. A Deeper Sense of InevitabiliTea
24. Letting Go of FutiliTea
25. A Transformed MentaliTea
26. Go With the Flow FluidiTea
27. Baby Oh Baby SensualiTea
29. Child-like SimpliciTea
30. Tiger-like FerociTea
31. Nose to the Grindstone DurabiliTea
32. Let it Rip TheatricaliTea
33. Grrr!! TenaciTea
34. Authentic AuthenticiTea
35. Mucho GenerosiTea
36. Acceptance of AsymmetricaliTea
37. Quick Moving MobiliTea
38. Enlightened SpiritualiTea
39. Day By Day ClariTea
40. Sylvester Stallone MusculariTea
41. In the Moment SpontaneiTea
42. Twelve Step SobrieTea
43. Beethovian VirtuosiTea
44. Wild Maniacal HilariTea
45. Increased CapaciTea
47. Lucid PerspicaciTea
48. Ha Ha Ha LeviTea
49. Focused SingulariTea
50. A Daily Shot of InsaniTea
51. Expressing Your PersonaliTea
52. Frontal NudiTea
53. International CommuniTea
54. Much More VarieTea
55. Information Highway ActiviTea
56. Higher ProductiviTea
57. Que Sera SororiTea
58. Off the Wall BanaliTea
59. Alimentary CanaliTea
60. Relaxed InformaliTea
61. Sprint? Verizon? AT&Tea?
62. Understanding Primal CausaliTea
64. Huge Amounts of PubliciTea
65. Give Up Feeling ShitTea
67. Beyond Beyond MetaphysicaliTea
68. A Bowl of Soup and a BLTea
69. Hip Hop, Reggae MusicaliTea
70. Calling on Your Own DiviniTea
71. A Touch of SubtleTea
72. Profound ProfundiTea
73. Bottom Line ProfitabiliTea
74. Surprise and SerendipiTea
75. Do It Now InstantaneiTea
76. Proven CertifiabiliTea
77. Solid MarketabiliTea
78. Truth, Love and BeauTea
80. Let Go and Be EmpTea
81. We Are the World SolidariTea
82. A Twist, A Change, Some NovelTea
83. Getting Down to the Nitty GritTea
84. San Andreas FaulTea
85. Midwestern SinceriTea
86. Transcending Financial ScarciTea
87. Death of CertainTea
88. Buddha and KrishnamurTea
89. You Don't Have to Feel So GuilTea
90. Total ResponsibiliTea
91. Challenge AuthoriTea
92. Anyone here From Joisey CiTea?
93. More and More CredibiliTea
94. Get it Done MasculiniTea
95. Be More Receptive to FemininiTea
96. A Three Month Vacation in TahiTea
97. Get Rich and Become a CelebriTea
98. Much Deserved SereniTea
99. Hot Diggity DoggiTea
100. Tons of PositiviTea
101. If All There Is Is Now, What Is EterniTea?January 18, 2013
Getting Back Into Our Right Brains
The following is by Val Vadeboncoeur, Idea Champions' Director of Training.
"May God us keep from single vision & Newton's sleep." - William Blake
The prolific Chris Hedges has written a powerful, new piece for Truthdig entitled "We Need Free Thinkers or Society Will Shrivel Up and Die".
I'd like to expand on it.
We need prophets and, as my good friend Roberta, a devoted student of the Torah, remarked the other day -- a "prophet" is not someone who foretells the future -- a prophet is someone who speaks the Truth right here in the moment, saying what needs to be said, whether it's popular or not (and it usually isn't).
We have had some prophets in recent times: comedian George Carlin was a prophet, for example, and so was Bill Hicks.
They told us what needed to be said, but they made us laugh about it so we didn't stone them to death when they did. Maybe Chris Hedges is a prophet.
But, today, we lack people who can see the bigger picture and help us make sense of things because, in great part, we have cut ourselves off from an essential part of ourselves.
We have neglected half of our human inheritance. In fact, we have dismissed it, made it an orphan, and cast it into exile.
The human being is a creature of balance. That's why we get so elated when our child takes his/her first steps.
After being born, this is the most significant event in a human life. It means we are learning about the fundamental reality of being human. We are mastering balance.
With every step we take in our lives, there is a moment where we have to find our balance or fall down. Once mastered, we do this so elegantly that we don't even notice this remarkable skill, much like a cheetah doesn't know how breathtakingly fast it runs, or a bird doesn't know how beautifully it flies. It just does it.
Physical balance is only one small part of it.
We are always balancing some kind of duality -- a duality of left/right, good/bad, up/down, wet/dry, smooth/rough, fast/slow, rich/poor, light/dark, hot/cold, positive/negative, me/you, us/them, etc.
We are always dealing with the reality of opposites. We also have two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, two vocal cords, and two brains -- and that's what I want to talk about here.
We don't have one brain. We have two. And they're supposed to work in tandem, like a team of horses.
But our society has lost a critical balance between our two brains. We are overworking one horse and ignoring the other, so it starves to death.
Or to put it another way, instead of using our hammer to do what it is designed to do and our screwdriver to do what it's designed to do, we are trying to do everything with the hammer alone.
It is not the hammer's fault that it can't deal with the application and removal of screws. It is ours for expecting the hammer to be able to do this at all.
In terms of our two brains, commonly referred to as the left brain and the right brain, we are a left-brained biased culture -- and that bias is, in the final analysis, killing us and everything else on the planet.
When our body gets out of balance in some way, that's commonly referred to as "illness". When our minds are out of balance, that should be understood as "mental illness". Our culture, being out of balance in the use of our brains, is, in some sense, mentally ill.
Our left brain is the brain that sees the individual, detects differences, categorizes, measures, experiences time, and follows a single line of thought.
It's the brain that tells us when to cross the street safely, which product is the better buy, and which clothes we should wear that will best suit the day's weather.
It's the brain that's created Science, Mathematics, Logic, Reason, and all manner of technology. It sees "things" and can count, measure, divide, multiply and categorize those things.
It's specialty is isolation and singularity. It's useful and convincing. So useful and convincing, that we have completely identified with it.
When you ask people who they are, they usually respond in a way that indicates that the sum collection of the workings of their left brain is their identity.
The left brain, however, cannot prophesy because it cannot see beyond the material, physical realm. It doesn't even know that anything else but the material realm exists.
It cannot see how the individual things it can see might be connected in unexpected, non-logical, non-spatial, non-temporal ways.
It can't even imagine such things. The left brain cannot empathize, since it sees others as separate entities -- as objects "out there". It cannot have hunches. It cannot create a metaphor. It cannot see the whole, just the parts.
If it wants to know more about a cat, it kills the cat, dissects the cat, takes out and measures all the parts of the cat, and then feels as if it understands what a cat is. It doesn't even entertain the idea that a better way to know what a cat is might be to live with a cat, watch the cat, and empathize with the cat -- an approach that has the additional benefit of still having a cat when all is said and done.
Those qualities of connectivity and wholeness and warmth all belong to the kingdom of the right brain.
The right brain has insights and can imagine what is not yet manifest. It can be inspired. It can connect with the heart so it can feel and experience joy or sadness and the entire range of emotion.
It can put this experience of connectivity and emotion into the language of music and form and movement. It can see possibility and the road not taken. It is somewhat magical, it is now (not burdened by a past or worried about a future), and it is what we often refer to as "love".
As a society, we have rejected the genius of the right brain and we are suffering this imbalance every single day in a myriad of ways.
We suffer with psychological isolation and drug addiction. We suffer when quantity trumps quality in our food, our sex lives, and our education. We suffer when we create extremes of wealth, health, and value that cause tensions in our society that explode into violence.
We suffer when we scapegoat people, and create fear-inducing enemies and bogeymen that we try to destroy -- creating war, injustice and chaos. We suffer when we exploit our planet, and our fellow living creatures, for profit, without realizing that we are destroying our own lifeline -- that we are cutting off the very branch we are sitting on.
It's way past the time when we have to recognize our full humanity and start paying a whole lot more attention to our ignored and belittled magical right brain.
We are suffering unnecessarily because we are not in balance with our own true nature.
We are the "thinking creature" only using half of our thinking ability, and it's not even the better half, in my opinion.
We are like the cheetah using only two of its four legs to run, or a bird trying to fly by flapping only one wing.
Is this prophecy? I don't know, but what I do know is that we need to find our balance in our thinking -- and soon -- or we will all fall down.
That's the bad news.
The good news is that we are designed to do exactly that.November 25, 2012
What Do You Want to Create?
Well, then, my friend, WHAT IS IT that YOU want to create?November 19, 2012
Layne Redmond's Kickstarter Project
Here is a link
to a very inspired Kickstarter project
originated by my good friend,
When the Women Were Drummers
and all around renaissance women.
Layne and her team
of talented musicians
and film makers
are making a documentary
celebrating the dance,
drumming, and chants
of traditional and sacred
Click here to donate.
VOTE FOR ME (I will not raise taxes, start a war, or give a boring speech)
Good news! A leading Speaker's Bureau has just nominated me as a TOP FIVE SPEAKER in the field of innovation & creativity. To win, I need your vote.
So... if you believe I've added value to this field and am speaking about it in a way that inspires and educates, I humbly ask for your vote.
All you need to do is click this link , then scroll down to the fifth category and check the box next to my name (MITCHELL DITKOFF). Then scroll to the bottom and enter your name etc. The whole thing will take you less than three minutes.
My ten tips for giving a great keynote.October 20, 2012
100 Simple Ways to Be More Creative On the Job
Here's the deal:
You are creative.
Really. I mean it.
Maybe you know it.
Maybe you don't know it.
But the fact remains:
you are creative.
Unfortunately, your creativity
show up on the job.
tend to subvert creativity
and make it hard to access.
If this sounds familiar,
my newest article in
The Huffington Post
will be useful to you. Enjoy!
Insights into the Creative Personality
Here's an informative and inspiring article on the creative personality by the lifelong creativity researcher, renowned author of Flow (and the man with the hardest last name to pronounce in the world) -- Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi.
The aforementioned Professor C. offers deep insights into the complex and often polarized personality of creative people. Recognize yourself in any of his descriptions?July 19, 2012
The AHA Man Makes an Appearance
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.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.December 09, 2011
Give the Gift of Creativity
If you want to avoid the Holiday shopping hassle and are looking for some non-traditional gifts that will get your loved ones' creative juices flowing, you're in the right place.
This place. Here. Now.
All you need to do is click and order. Nancy (5th bio down) will do the rest.November 16, 2011
The Democratization of Creativity
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...July 15, 2011
We Need More Poetry!
Poetry, like looking up at the moon instead of down at a Blackberry, is all too rare these days.
We need more poetry! We need more poets! We need more business people willing to express their "softer" side on the job -- especially if we want to raise the bar for creativity and bold new ideas.
We also need more YouTube videos like this one featuring the delightful words of Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Go, Billy, go!April 14, 2011
Beer and the Invention of the Wheel
You may not know it, but I wrote an award-winning book in 2008, Awake at the Wheel. It's a business fable about the creative process. Easy to read. Fun. A real support for aspiring innovators.
I'm guessing the caveman in the Bud Lite ad below would have found a better way of getting their beer to the party if they had read it.
But enough about me. Let's talk about YOU.
Do you have a creative venture that needs an infusion of mojo, inspiration, and clarity?
Yes? Good. Click. Buy.
September 23, 2010
Unity Takes Two
Mitch Ditkoff and I have an interesting mercurial chemistry when we get together.
Certain things get completed when we riff and improvise. He and I, and the rest of the Idea Champions crew, have all been talking about what creates a culture of innovation for a few years now. Often, all it takes is two people who have what I call "creative resonance."
Show me any two people who can agree and disagree with equal enthusiasm and respect and I'll show you a duo who can brainstorm persistently at high heat.
A great new series on Creative Pairs at Slate talks eloquently about the dynamic balance and high energy the right two people can create when they "complete" each other.
As a successful professional songwriter, I grew up loving the songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and older teams like Rogers and Hammerstein, the Gershwin brothers, and Lerner and Lowe. It makes perfect sense to a songwriter that creative pairs would launch some of the most successful companies of the last 35 years.
The creative boom in digital technology started in the early 70's with Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and continued a generation later when Larry Page and Sergey Brin created Google.
Great duos exist in every vocational and artistic field: Watson and Crick, Gilbert and Sullivan, Engels and Marx.
Two centuries ago, breakthrough composers often arrived in pairs, pacing each other even when they weren't working as teams: piano innovators Chopin and Schumann (both born 1810), opera titans Wagner and Verdi (both born 1813).
Creative pair chemistry ignites when two people spontaneously strike a agreement to both compete and collaborate with each other simultaneously. That tension between collaboration and competition is more easily achieved and managed in pair relationships than any other kind of team configuration.
If you really want to see how simple the crucible of creativity can be, be sure to keep following Shenk's series. You'll think differently about that colleague you argue with all the time.
One little tweak, a mutual change in attitude and mindset, and something magical could happen.
-- Tim MooreAugust 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 21, 2010
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 toall 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.January 30, 2010
Get Deeply In Touch With the Passion to Create!
If you want to CREATE something extraordinary, you're going to need some of the spirit that Dean Schambach exudes. When the true force of creativity is burning bright in every cell of your body, all the rest will follow. Hats off to David McDonald, Woodstock filmmaker, for this pearl of brilliance.November 13, 2008
Forget About the Box, Get Out of the Cave!
See the caveman to your left? That's Og. He's the protagonist of my new book, Awake at the Wheel: Getting Your Great Ideas Rolling (in an uphill world). The word "protagonist" is not in Og's vocabulary. Even I don't use the word "protagonist" all that much -- though I have used it three times in this paragraph.
Hmmm... That's pretty odd.
Then again, the experience of inventing the wheel was pretty odd, too. Which is what Og did. 24,000 years ago. Long before Game Boy, i-Pod, or Starbucks. And yes, long before the Mesopotamians -- the people who usually get all the credit for the wheel -- some 20,300 years after my main man, Og.
(Hey, when was the last time you used the word "Mesopotamian?" That's another word not in Og's vocabulary.)
Actually, Og didn't need a big vocabulary. He had something else going for him: Neanderthalic genius. Stone age brilliance. Originality. Og, you see, was the first innovator. Intrinsically motivated, he was. Fascinated. Inspired. Mojo-driven. And while he was not without imperfections, he needed no attaboys, cash awards, or stock options to follow his muse.
Back in Og's time, when men were men, and stones were stones, even the idea of an idea was unthinkable. And yet... somehow, he had one -- an IDEA, that is -- and not just your dime a dozen variety. Nope. A GREAT idea, a BIG idea, or what I like to call an "out of the cave" idea: The wheel.
Ah... but I go on too long. If Og were here, he'd be frowning by now, shrugging his stooped shoulders, wondering in his delightfully pre-verbal way what other new ideas and discoveries awaited his wonderfully hairy touch.
Want to order the book now? (Og gets 10% of every sale). Go ahead. Help him put bear meat on the table.November 05, 2008
Baking the Change and Innovation Cake
Last night, my 11-year old daughter, Mimi, and her good friend, Zoe, stayed up late to watch the election results. After Obama was declared the winner, they baked a cake in his honor and, in the morning, frosted it.
As they left the house this morning, Mimi stopped, cake in hand, and shouted out Obama's name at the top of her lungs. Something deep within her rose to the surface and begged to be expressed. Which, being 11 and free of the politically correct constraints that rule the lives of too many adults, she accomplished with great flair.
That same intrinsic motivation that moved Mimi and Zoe to bake their cake, needs to be alive and well in your company if you are truly serious about raising the bar for innovation and change. Mimi and Zoe didn't need to be TOLD to bake the cake. They wanted to. Even more than that, they HAD to.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: In what ways can you create the kind of culture in your organization that will encourage everyone to bake their cake for change and innovation?October 31, 2008
Idea Champions' Creativity Tools Declared "Awesomest" Tools on the Web
Many thanks to gottAquirk for acknowledging us for having the "awesomest" creativity tools on the web. Of the nine tools they cited, our Jump Start and Idea Lottery tools were ranked #1 and #2. (By the way, the Idea Lottery tool came to us in a dream.)
You might also like our Innovation Kits, It's AHAppening guidebooks, free downloads, or our innovation-sparking kick asss. You might also like our homemade split pea soup, but we've not yet figured out how to deliver it over the web.
PS: If you want to license Free the Genie cards or our Teamwork Cards for your intranet, call us: 800-755-IDEA.
"If not YOU, who? If not NOW, when?"August 11, 2008
Big Problem or Right Problem? The Egg Freckles Saga.
Have you ever spent hours trying to solve a problem only to find you've been working on the wrong problem? Try doing it for five years. That's what Apple Computer engineers did with the Newton handheld computer over a decade ago.
From 1993-1998, Apple made a valiant effort to break open a market for portable handheld pen computers. Unfortunately, they spent most of that time working on a problem that didn't really exist for consumers. And as they labored at it, their intended market was stolen by Palm Computing's PalmPilot.
What follows is a tale about a fatal assumption -- an obsession with a Big Problem that led to one of Silicon Valley's great product misfires.
Consider the moral first.
Solving a Big problem doesn't mean you're solving the Right problem.
Apple's team chose to tackle the biggest challenge in pen computing: high-level handwriting recognition. Newton would be the first portable computer people could write on directly using their natural hand. From anyone's scrawl, the computer would extract the standard ASCII characters computers need to work with. This posed a massive challenge in pattern recognition. Since every user's handwriting is different, the Newton would need to learn the particular way its user wrote each letter and number. IF it got all the letters in, say, the word "thing" right, Newton would compare that string of letters to words in its 10,000 word native memory. IF the word "thing" was stored there, Newton would find a match and "know" the word.
The Newton team was determined to build the world's most sophisticated pattern learning pen computer. But why were they doing it? And for who? Here they made one fatal assumption about their potential buyer, an assumption that would seal the Newton's fate.
The assumption went something like this:
"Users want to do things the way they've always done them. The user shouldn't have to learn anything new to adapt to a machine. A smart machine can and should adapt to the user (in this case, learn the user's handwriting)."
This assumption became a frame and the frame became a mindset. Without ever turning back to question their customer premise, Newton's team labored to build a noble, mind-blowing machine that could recognize the diverse scrawls of any and every human on Earth. But was this the Right Problem to solve?
When the Newton Message Pad debuted in 1993, its handwriting recognition fell way short of the mark, and a public drubbing ensued. The Doonesbury comic strip showed a character writing a six-word sentence on a Newton-like hand-held. The unit coughed up "Egg freckles?" Then The Simpsons piled on. The world laughed.
All through 1993, the Newton was skewered in the press. In October of that year, Apple CEO John Sculley left with freckled egg on his face. Humiliated, the Newton team redoubled their efforts to solve their core problem: getting Newton to learn better.
At the heart of Newton's learning challenge was the "second-stroke problem." Each time a user's pen lifted off the tablet and set back down, Newton's brain detected a pause and became uncertain. "What did that pause mean? Is this next stroke part of the current letter, or a new letter or word?" As it turns out, many alphabet characters need multiple strokes, leaving plenty of room for uncertainty. Capital "T" and "X" involve two strokes. "H" needs three. Add user hesitancy and writing quirks, and you have a thorny problem. And that's just English. Try Cyrillic or Japanese ideograms.
Because Newton's recognition engine was unsure so often, it routinely threw a list of possible words at the user. This was both inconvenient and embarrasing. Who wants their computer to say, "I'm confused. Take time out, scan these words and select the right one"? Worse, if you wanted Newton to learn a word outside its native 10,000 word database, you had to train it. You first had to write it your way, then type it letter by letter using an on-screen keyboard. All that to tell Newton, "This is what 'Hoboken' looks like when I write it."
The upshot? To "save" users from having to adapt their writing habits to machines, the Newton subjected ordinary people to drawn out and repetitive clarification and training routines; a tacit admission that Newton wasn't doing its core job cleanly.
None of this was lost on Jeff Hawkins, inventor of the Palm Pilot, who was carrying around a wooden block as a pretend pocket PDA and using a whittled down chopstick as a pen to imagine his interface.
Hawkins never lost sight of what consumers would want most in a pen computer: fast writing and true mobility - something they could fit in their shirt-pocket. He cut to the chase and questioned Apple's core assumption:"Why must the computer learn everything? Why can't users adapt? Why build a sophisticated learning machine at all? Let's get the job done. People learn faster than computers, so why can't people help the machine? People could easily get the hang of a new single-stroke alphabet. Hmm. One stroke per character and presto! No more second-stroke problem."
So that's what Jeff Hawkins did. With his Grafitti language, he simply redesigned the alphabet, turning centuries-old letters and numbers into single-stroke symbols that mostly kept the look of the original characters. Suddenly the computer had only one master rule to follow. "When the pen lifts up, the character is done. When the pen comes down again, it's a new character. Want to end a word? One stroke makes a space." Simple. And while we're at it - since each stroke is a new character, lets not even write along a line. Write letters on top of each other, in the same input space, and let them display as type in another. Presto - a smaller screen.
Hawkin's low-tech solution made Palm Pilot's pen input "good enough." (Apple even licensed Grafitti in 1995 as an input option for the Newton. Some say it kept the Newton alive.) But the real power of Grafitti was size. It shrank the screen, which shrank the box, which created a viable pocket-PDA market.
In March, 1996, when Newtons were selling as digital writing tablets for up to $1000, the first pocket-sized PalmPilots debuted for under $300. A million of them sold in the first 18 months. The Newton team countered with a much improved Newton 1000 and 2000, but by then it was too late. Two years after the PalmPilot was released, Apple cancelled the Newton product line on February 27, 1998. The project had cost the company half a billion dollars.
Hawkins "technology" was a low-tech workaround; it wasn't "handwriting recognition" in the high-level MIT sense. But while PhD's may have felt Grafitti was a cheat, ordinary people, not giving a hang about the technology issues, found PalmPilots handy and useful. While engineers rallied around solving the Big Problem, consumers swarmed to buy the solution to the Right Problem, which started with a chopstick and a block of wood.
By year 2000, Palm owned 70 percent of PDA sales and had sold well over five million units. At the peak of PDA use, white boards everywhere were covered with Grafitti symbols, which many considered faster to write for high-velocity brainstorming.
The Newton team spent five years working on the Big Problem, writing and rewriting untold lines of code to create a learning machine for the existing alphabet. Hawkins spent a few days designing a new alphabet any computer could easily understand.
Despite its truly impressive interface, Newton stumbled at the main task it promised to do - turn writing into standard ASCII characters quickly. And why did Apple paint themselves into this corner? Because they assumed consumers would want their handheld to adapt to their personal way of writing. Instead of biting into Apple's Big Problem, Jeff Hawkins assumed people would adapt. As he once put it, "It takes you weeks or months to learn how to type, so why not spend 15 minutes learning [how to talk to a computer] with a pen?"
In hindsight, Apple's underlying user assumptions made little sense. What makes people's standard routine (handwriting) so sacred? Who said people shouldn't adapt to machines? Who said you had to work with the existing English alphabet? Why make a program strain to recognize every possible variant of every letter and number? Who said your program had to recognize scrawled words by finding them in a limited word database? Engineers set up these problems, not users.
Great minds often get hijacked by their own brillliance and vision. They forget that simple is smart, dumb is basic and low-tech often beats high tech. We can get so obsessed with an elusive quarry and so enamored of our intelligence that we never go back up to the 20,000 foot level and see that we're hacking the wrong problem. The famous monkey trap metaphor is worth repeating here.
If a monkey reaches through a hole for a banana, but the hole is too small for her hand to withdraw with the banana, she's presented with a quandry. "Which do I want? - the banana or my freedom?" All she has to do is let go of the banana in order to be free of the trap. But the monkey doesn't let go of the banana. She sits there determined to extract it, even in the face of being captured.
Big Problems are like monkey traps. If your Solution quest starts feeling "heroic," or your Big Problem is "big" mostly because everyone is trying to solve it (big kudos await if YOU solve it), its likely you're trapped by the epic magnitude of your quest. In that mindset, the simplest options are likley to escape your notice. Check to see if your solving the Right Problem by running your mind through the following four steps:
1. Restore objectivity. Take time off and come back fresh later. Sleep on it.
2. Once you're fresh, carefully and slowly go over your assumptions about the people who will use you product or service. Put yourself in their shoes. Separate your needs from theirs. Don't underestimate their intelligence or overestimate the rightness of your point of view. Break down every assumption you have about your prospective buyer and question it.
3. Especially question your assumptions about what your "users" expect. Often they don't know what they want. They rarely see the next development much less have an opinion about it. But they are ready for a surprise, a break in routine, a new challenge. Keep in mind that IF the payoff is strong, humans will learn new tricks. Are student drivers motivated learners? You bet.
4. Review your supposed technical limitations, challenges or goals to see if you can use lower-tech or human-scale solutions. Stretch for new metaphors that can change the problem, shift the frame, reverse figure and ground.
5. Simplify. Simplify again. Keep simplifying.
Whenever you're stuck or breathing hot and heavy about a solution, you're too close to your work. It's time to step out of problem-solving mode and reassess the problem you're trying to solve.
This excerpt is from the author's book-in-progress, Big Problem or Right Problem? Innovating For Real People.
Copyright Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â© 2007 Tim Moore. All reproduction rights except blog linking are reserved.June 10, 2008
Getting All Googley
Interesting summary of Google CEO's speech to the Economic Club of Washington this Monday.
Among other things, Schmidt talked about his company's attempts to innovate, including allowing engineers to use 20 percent of their time to work on projects of their own choosing. Schmidt acknowledged that trusting the workforce to follow their fascination has resulted in many successes for the enterprise. "Part of Google's success is creating more luck," he said.
Success also needs a positive environment and encouragement for employees to be more creative and innovative, Schmidt said.
"It is possible to build a culture around innovation, it is possible to build a culture around leadership, and it is possible to build a culture around optimism," added the googley Mr. Schmidt
Got The Email Blues?
At least once a week, one of my friends or one of my clients complains about email -- how they get too much of it and how too much of what they get is spam. I feel their pain. I really do. Which is what inspired me to write this little blues song, first performed by Face the Music, back in 2000.
THE EMAIL BLUES
I logged on this morning
And found out I'd been spammed,
Got 500 emails, Lord, my inbox was way too jammed,
Most of it was useless, the rest of it was jokes
Sent by friends with downtime to the rest of us working folks.
Oh baby, I'm so digitally cool,
Oh baby, I'm gonna start my own gene pool,
Oh baby, I'm a nanosecond fool,
Gonna download half the universe,
Challenge Bill Gates to a duel.
I logged on this morning, heard that familiar digital buzz,
Had to double check my password to find out who I was,
Read the stock quotes in a minute, the box scores and the news,
But all I really learned was... I had those email blues.
Oh baby, I'm so digitally hip,
Oh baby, I'm a dot com chocolate chip,
Oh baby, my life is just a blip,
Gonna download half the universe,
Don't you give me no more lip.
I logged on this morning and found out I was dead,
At least that's what I think my new webmaster said,
I guess it kind of shocked me since I haven't seen the light,
But when I get to heaven I'll just launch my new website.
Oh baby, I'm so digitally fine,
Oh baby, I got fiber optic up my spine,
Oh baby, my life is so divine,
Gonna download half the universe,
Don't know where to draw the line.
Want to listen to the Email Blues? Now's the time.
What kind of blues do you get? Let us know and we'll choose the most compelling topic, write a blues song about it, and post the lyrics here within the next 30 days.April 18, 2008
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."January 02, 2008
Give Everything You Have
If you are looking for a breakthrough in 2008 -- whether it's in the realm of innovation, collaboration, business, or personal relationships, allow me to offer you one simple piece of advice: give everything you have. Yup. Go all the way. Let it rip. Put all your chips on the table. Go all in. "A monomaniac on a mission" is how Peter Drucker once put it.
Martha Graham said the same basic thing, but a bit more poetically: "There is a vitality, a life force, that is translated to you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and will be lost."
Yessiree. Now's the time -- the time to translate your life force into action no matter what form it takes. Book to write? Move to make? Idea to manifest? Business to turnaround? Whatever. The key is to go for it. Give it everything you have. And yet, the act of giving everything you have is only HALF the battle. The other half... is HOW you give it.
And so, for all Heart of Innovation readers and any one else who has somehow found their way to this virtual space and time, I offer the following as a gift to you for a life well-lived in 2008. Imbibe it's meaning and you will find yourself succeeding beyond your wildest dreams. Not only will your cash flow, but so will you...
GIVE EVERYTHING YOU HAVE
Give everything you have,
and after you have given,
give what's left.
After you give what's left,
give what remains.
After giving that,
give the feeling of having given.
After giving the feeling
of having given,
give what you get
for having given.
Then give again,
never stopping, always giving.
And should it come to pass that you forget,
forgive yourself immediately.
Then begin again,
giving everything you have,
and after you have given,
give what's left.
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.
August 01, 2007
Einstein Tip of the Week
If you find yourself working closely with predominantly left-brained, analytical, logical, linear, rational, data hungry, bottom-line focused business people, and you're sensing there is precious little openness to the state of mind affectionately known as "receptivity," you may find it useful to trot out the following quote from Albert Einstein, Idea Champions' patron saint of possibility. It works every time:
"Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted counts."
Ah... feels so good, doesn't it? Takes the pressure off. Opens doors. Expands horizons. Hey, who can argue with Big Al, the embodiment of brainpower, science, and all things yet to be known?
So, next time you find your "out of the box" approach being summarily dismissed by the number crunching, naysayers of the noosphere, boldly cite Einstein's point of view. And if you STILL find yourself on the receiving end of doubt, ask someone in the room to explain what the quote actually means.
In less than 60 seconds, the mood in the room will shift dramatically. Not only will you have invoked the spirit of wonder and exploration, you will have (at least for a few moments) diffused one of the biggest obstacles to innovation: shrink-wrapped addiction to data.July 26, 2007
InnovationTools' "Quote of the Week" is from Mitch
In a nice and unexpected coincidence with the kickoff of our blog here, the Quote of the Week in the current InnovationWeek newsletter is from our own Mitch Ditkoff, President and co-founder of Idea Champions. The newsletter is published by the respected InnovationTools.com.
Innovation Quote of the Week
"In today's flattened, restructured, downsized organization, your role is much more than getting the best out of people. It's getting the best out of the best part of people - out of their inspired imaginations, their ability to dream, conjure and conceive - and transforming those inspired ideas into the products, services and improvements that will not only keep your business humming, but make the world an even better place for all of us to live."
- Mitch Ditkoff
The quote comes from near the end of an article of Mitch's, "Innovation Coaching, The Manager as Idea Midwife." The article also appears on the InnovationTools site (demonstrating at the very least what a thorough reader their Chuck Frey is). July 23, 2007
Welcome to the Heart of Innovation, Idea Champions' new blog -- a place to slow down, take a breath, and spark new possibilities. If you're interested in what it takes to get past your limiting assumptions, access your brilliance, and turn creative thought into action, you've come to the right place.
This is an equal opportunity blog. Everyone is welcome. Whether you're left-brained, right-brained, whole-brained, or air-brained, you'll find plenty of inspiration, insights, and tools to help you on your way. We've been working with major corporations since 1986, and have gotten quite a guided tour of what enables innovation and what gets in its way -- both for individuals and for organizations. We'll be sharing lessons and tales from our epic saga here, with a special focus on what it takes for organizations to establish a sustainable culture of innovation.
So relax. For the moment, forget all the books you've read, pundits you've listened to, and best practices you've heard about. When it comes right down to it, innovation is all about you, a hopefully inspired human being committed to getting your most meaningful ideas out of your head and into the world. The world needs your ideas. Now's the time for you to connect with others, and do your best to make magic happen.
We hope you'll find the spark that lights your genius here.
Whatever we choose to focus on, you can count on one thing: we're going to keep it simple. As the great jazz musician, Charles Mingus, once said; "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity."