November 25, 2014
Jump Start Innovation the Easy Way

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Are you interested in raising the bar for innovation in your organization? Do you want to jump start creativity? Curious to explore new ways of upgrading the quality of your brainstorming sessions?

If so, here are eight short videos from Idea Champions' Co-Founder, Mitch Ditkoff, that very much relate to what you are interested in. May ring some chimes or open some doors or whatever metaphor you prefer that describes how to tune into new realms of possibility.

Brainstorm Champions
In defense of brainstorming

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:20 PM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2014
100 Lame Excuses for Not Innovating

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Do you have a great idea you want to manifest, but... er... uh... um... just can't seem to get things rolling? Chances are good your reasons why are on the list below. No problem. Join the club. Without making yourself wrong, simply note the ones that show up the most for you, then try the simple "go beyond excuses" exercise at the end of the list. Hey, it's time to get unstuck...

1. I don't have the time.
2. I can't get the funding.
3. My boss will never go for it.
4. We're not in the kind of business likely to innovate.
5. I've got too much on my plate right now.

6. I won't be able to get it past legal.
7. I'll be punished if I fail.
8. I'm just not not the creative type.
9. I'm juggling way too many projects.
10. I'm too new around here.

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11. I'm not good at presenting my ideas.
12. No one, besides me, cares about innovation.
13. There's too much bureaucracy here to get anything done.
14. Our customers aren't asking for it.
15. We're a risk averse culture.

16. We don't have an innovation process.
17. We don't have a culture of innovation.
18. They don't pay me enough to take on this kind of project.
19. My boss will get all the credit.
20. My career path will be jeopardized if this doesn't fly.

21. I've already got enough headaches.
22. I'm no good at office politics.
23. My home life will suffer.
24. I'm not disciplined enough.
25. It's an idea ahead of its time.

26. I won't be able to get enough resources.
27. I don't have enough information.
28. Someone will steal my idea.
29. It will take too long to get results.
30. We're in a down economy.

31. It will die in committee.
32. I'll be laughed out of town.
33. I won't be able to get the ear of senior leadership.
34. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
35. The concept is too disruptive.

36. I won't be able to get enough support.
37. I don't tolerate ambiguity all that well.
38. I'm not in a creative profession.
39. Now is not a good time to start a new project.
40. I don't have the right personality for this.

41. Our company is going through too many changes right now.
42. They won't give me any more time to work on the project.
43. If I succeed, too much will be expected of me.
44. Nothing ever changes around here.
45. Things are changing so fast, my head is spinning.

46. Whatever success I achieve will be undone by someone else.
47. I don't have enough clout to get things done.
48. It's just not worth the effort.
49. I'm getting close to retirement.
50. My other projects will suffer.

51. Been there, done that.
52. I don't want another thing to think about.
53. I won't have any time left for my family.
54. A more nimble competitor will beat us to the punch.
55. Teamwork is a joke around here.

56. I've never done anything like this before.
57. I won't be rewarded if the project succeeds.
58. We're not measured for innovation.
59. I don't have the right credentials.
60. I need more data.

61. It's not my job.
62. It will hard sustaining the motivation.
63. I've tried before and failed.
64. I'm not smart enough to pull this off.
65. I don't want to go to any more meetings.

66. It will take too long to get up to speed.
67. Our Stage Gate process will sabotage any hope of success.
68. I'm not skillful at building business cases.
69. Summer's coming.
70. The marketplace is too volatile.

71. This is a luxury we can't afford at this time.
72. I think we're about to be acquired.
73. I'm trying to simplify my life, not complicate it.
74. The dog ate my homework.
75. Help! I'm a prisoner in a Chinese fortune cookie factory.

76. My company just wants to squeeze more blood from the stone.
77. My company isn't committed to innovation.
78. I don't have the patience.
79. I'm not sure how to begin.
80. I'm too left-brained for this sort of thing.

81. I won't be able to get the funding required.
82. I'm getting too old for this.
83. Everyone's on a different page.
84. Spring is coming.
85. I'm hypoglycemic.

86. That's Senior Leadership's job
87. I'm thinking of quitting.
88. Market conditions aren't right.
89. We need to focus on the short term for a while.
90. Innovation, schminnovation.

91. What we really need are some cost cutting initiatives.
92. Six Sigma is all that people care about.
93. Mercury is in retrograde.
94. IT won't go for it.
95. Maybe next year.

96. That's my boss's job.
97. That's R&D's job.
98. I would if I could, but I can't, so I won't.
99. First, we need to benchmark the competition.
100.It's against my religion.


HOW TO GO BEYOND THESE LAME EXCUSES

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1. Make a list of your three most bothersome ones.

2. Turn each excuse into a question, beginning with the words "How can I?" or "How can we?" (For example, if your excuse is "That's R&D's job," you might ask "How can I make innovation my job?" or "How can I help my team take more responsibility for innovating?"

3. Brainstorm each question -- alone and with your team.

4. DO something about it within the next 48 hours.

Frame the right problem

Spark innovation in others
Foster a culture of innovation
Tell more meaningful stories

Idea Champions
One way to go beyond excuses
What our clients say

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:53 AM | Comments (0)

October 29, 2014
Asking for Permission to Facilitate

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Here's a useful tip for you the next time you find yourself standing in front of a group of people and about to facilitate a meeting of any kind.

Before you begin, ask people to give you permission to facilitate.
This may sound like a complete waste of time, especially if you've been brought in by the powers-that-be to facilitate the meeting, but it's not. It's essential. Here's why:

If your meeting is anything like the other 11 million meetings being held each day in corporate America, chances are good that there will be a time during your gathering when at least one person -- bored, cranky, distracted, or angry that they weren't asked to facilitate, will do something (consciously or unconsciously) to derail the session.

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This something can take many forms -- everything from incessantly checking email under the table... to returning late from breaks... to ranting on any number of topics that have absolutely nothing to do with the matter at hand -- moments that will require a skillful and well-timed response from the facilitator.

If you haven't bothered to ask for permission to facilitate, people will resist (or ignore) your spontaneous interventions every step of the way. And if they don't resist you every step of the way, they will silently retreat into their own private Idaho, perceiving you, in their fevered mind, as an invasive, disempowering, or egomaniacal facilitator.

Bottom line, you will lose them.

And, if the people you lose should happen to be "tribal chieftains" of any one of the many feudal kingdoms represented in the room that day, you will lose a bunch of other people, as well. Their minions.

This is not the outcome you want -- an outcome that will lead you to triangulating to third parties or wishing you had gone into your father's dry cleaning business.

The way out of this mess? Simple.

Within the first five minutes of your meeting, after establishing a few simple ground rules, let everyone know that you need their permission to play your facilitator role -- that there may be some times, during the meeting, when you may have to ask someone to hold a thought or shift their behavior in some way ... and that unless you have their permission to do so, they will likely end up resenting you or feeling mistreated when, in fact, all you are trying to do is ensure that the meeting is a productive one.

Invariably, meeting participants will gladly give their permission for you to facilitate, even if they chuckle, under their breath, while doing so. And if they just sit there, silently, after your request -- bumps on an analog -- all you need to do is ask them to give you some kind of visible indication that they agree -- either by standing up or giving you the "thumbs up".

This simple act of people visibly giving you permission to facilitate is often the difference between success and failure -- especially when, later in the meeting, someone starts acting out or marching to a drummer from another planet.

Armed with the permission they gave you at the beginning of the meeting, all you need to do is reinforce the ground rule that's been forgotten and remind them that all you're doing is playing the role they gave you permission to play in the first place.

Works like a charm every time.

Idea Champions

A good meeting

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:18 PM | Comments (0)

October 26, 2014
Innovation Pipeline or Pipedream?

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More
Innovation Keynotes

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:55 PM | Comments (0)

October 07, 2014
THE SEED OF INNOVATION MOMENT: A 3-Minute Video Tutorial

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If you are trying to spark a renaissance of innovation in your company by launching some kind of "innovation initiative", consider the fact that the seed of innovation is already available in every conversation that people are having. This 3-minute video tutorial dives in deeper.

The Seed of Innovation keynote
Create change agents
A more structured way to do this

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:51 PM | Comments (0)

October 04, 2014
HOW TO GET PEOPLE OUT OF THE SO-CALLED BOX: A 5-Minute Tutorial

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Ever heard the expression "get out of the box?" Of course you have. Ever wonder what the six sides of that so-called box actually are? If not, here's your 5-minute tutorial of the day. Once you're clear about what the sides of the box are, you will be significantly more able to help people (and yourself) get out of it.

One way to get out of the box
Another way
My book on the subject
Boxes

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:24 AM | Comments (0)

October 03, 2014
HOW TO MAXIMIZE IDEA POWER FOR FREE: A 3-Minute Video Tutorial

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Need powerful, new ideas to grow your business, solve a problem, or find a better way? Don't want to go to yet another meeting to figure things out? Start paying attention to the ideas you are conceiving away from the workplace. And encourage others to do so, as well. Here's WHY and HOW.

Idea Champions
First, identify the problem
Innovation sparking keynotes
Free online creative thinking tool

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:34 AM | Comments (0)

September 15, 2014
Is Peace the Innovation We Need the Most?

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"Innovation" continues to be a hot topic in corporate circles these days -- a "competitive edge" organizations are increasingly attempting to hone so they can not only differentiate themselves from the competition, but survive in today's topsy turvy economy.

That being said, there are some forward thinking organizations out there who are going beyond the status quo and seriously asking themselves what they can do differently to not only be "socially responsible", but use their corporate clout to help various peace-themed global causes truly impact positive change.

If that describes your organization, please contact us. Idea Champions, in 2015, will be launching a new innovation-sparking service to help corporations, world wide, figure out HOW they can leverage their resources, bandwidth, and brainpower to foster peace and well-being in the world -- and still make a profit.

International Day of Peace in the Huffington Post
Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:35 PM | Comments (0)

September 08, 2014
The DNA of Sparking Innovation

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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.

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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.

2. Customization:
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.

3. Co-Creation:
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.

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6. Mindset:
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.

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:06 PM | Comments (1)

September 05, 2014
If You Are Planning on Asking an Outside Consultant for Help

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If someone from your company's leadership team asks you to locate an outside consultant to help your organization raise the bar for innovation, STOP for a moment and, with all due respect, ask the person asking you to locate an outside consultant to answer the following questions.

If they answer "NO" to any of them or look at you as if you are ungrateful, uppity, or "not a team player", do not accept the assignment.

Really. I mean it. DO NOT ACCEPT THE ASSIGNMENT.

If you're afraid to decline the assignment, not only is the project doomed, but you will soon end up experiencing the kind of low grade corporate virus that leads people to either drink too much, feel depressed, or be overly judgmental of the people around them, including those they claim to love the most.

If you say YES to the "go find me a consultant" request without understanding the current reality of your senior team, you will only be going on a wild goose chase -- wasting your time, theirs, and the TBD consulting company's who will be asked to quickly generate a hefty proposal that none of your senior leaders will be ready, willing, or able to respond to.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR SENIOR LEADERS BEFORE LOOKING FOR AN OUTSIDE CONSULTANT

1. Do you have a clear, compelling vision of our organization's future? If not, are you willing to create one?

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2. Are you personally committed to fostering a culture of innovation? Are other senior leaders on the same page with you? If not, are you and your colleagues willing to get on the same page within the next few weeks?

3. Are senior leaders willing to walk the talk -- modeling the kind of behaviors they want to see others manifesting on the job?

4. Are you willing to challenge the status quo?

5. Are you open to receiving new ideas from the workforce -- and are you willing to establish a process that will make it easy for them to do so?

6. Are you willing to listen more deeply to what employees are thinking and feeling?

7. Are you committed to establishing and supporting an Innovation Council that will drive the process to raise the bar for innovation?

8. Are you willing to invest in a long-term approach, rather than treating the effort as a flavor-of-the-year initiative?

9. Are you willing to go beyond "command and control", empower people, and push decision making further down the food chain?

10. Are you open to input, guidance, and coaching from an outside company who can support you and the senior team in all of the above?

If you are unable or unwilling to ask these kinds of questions, the only thing you will end up achieving is further enabling the "kick the can down the road" mentality of your organization's senior team. By asking you to find an outside consultant to "help", they will have paid their dues for the moment and maybe be better able to sleep that night, but the whole thing will be little more than a charade -- one that simulates the effort to foster organizational change, but in the end is merely a clever way to fiddle while Rome burns.

Beyond sage on the stage consulting
Idea Champions
Culture of Innovation Keynote

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:43 PM | Comments (1)

September 01, 2014
REAL ROI: Return on Imagination!

If you're a champion of innovation, chances are good you've encountered the ROI beast more than a few times -- senior leaders looking at you cross-eyed and questioning the value of your efforts. Stop the madness! Change the game! Forward this slide show today!

First, get clear about your problem

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:26 AM | Comments (1)

August 18, 2014
Leave Your Title at the Door and Remove the Door From It's Hinges

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When I co-founded my company in 1986, I had two business cards made. One said "President." The other said "Archduke." Whenever I gave clients a choice, they always wanted the Archduke card.

In time, I gave all the Archduke cards away and never re-ordered them -- in a pitiful attempt, I think, to seem more professional.

Fortunately, everything comes full circle. Last night, while enjoying a wonderful concert in my hometown of Woodstock, my next title was suddenly revealed.

Director of Public Elations (and, no, I did not forget the "R".)

In a flash, not only did I get an insight into what my focus will be for the next few years, I also discovered an entirely new field.

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Cirque du Soleil is a perfect example.

Gracefully walking the high wire of the Experience Economy, they know their success is intimately connected to their ability to elate the public -- to uplift, inspire, and activate joy.

Southwest Airlines also understands this.

Theirs is a corporate culture founded on delight. Even Starbucks and Barnes & Noble have gotten into the act. Both of them know their product needs to be more than coffee and books, but a feeling -- a sense of well-being, ease, and community.

In a word, elation.

And so, I decided to share my title-changing revelation with my colleagues -- the "Senior Consultant," the "Webmaster," the "Chief Technology Officer," and the "Director of Operations."

I asked them to tell me what new titles they'd like. Here's what they told me:

- Chief Enlightenment Officer
- Princess of Possibility
- Head of Lettuce
- Webmaster of My Domain
- Director of Whatever Needs Directing
- Duke of URL
- Head of Steam
- Lord High Minister of Depth and Feared Wielder of the Reality Check

How about YOU?

What new title do YOU want to see on your next business card? What name more creatively describes what you really do at work?

Idea Champions

Free the Genie
The Innovation Accelerator

Photo

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:30 AM | Comments (10)

August 02, 2014
Unleashing Business Brilliance

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That's what we do. And below are five ways we do it.

Conducting Genius

Engaging Innovation
Ingenious Leadership
What's the Problem?
Team Innovation
What our clients say

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)

May 17, 2014
The DNA of an Idea Champions Session

When my dear mother was alive, she told me she had no idea what I did for a living. Around the canasta table, with her friends, she would say I was a "motivational speaker", no matter how many times I explained what I actually did. The following slide show is dedicated to her and to YOU, too -- especially if you are wondering what the heck goes on in one of Idea Champions' innovation-sparking workshops.

Here's a simple way to get your arms around WHAT we do and HOW we do it -- the essence of our highly engaging way of helping organizations raise the bar for innovation. WHY we do it? Because we are on a mission to unleash insight, brilliance, and possibility in the world. Intrigued? Call us: 845.679.1066.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:18 PM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2014
25 Reasons Why Brainstorming Sessions Fail in Your Company

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Whenever I ask my clients to tell me about the quality of their company's brainstorming sessions, they usually roll their eyes and grumble, noting several of the phenomena below.

Recognize any of them in your organization?

1. Lame facilitation
2. Wrong problem statement
3. Unmotivated participants
4. Hidden (or competing) agendas
5. Insufficient diversity of participants

6. Addiction to the status quo
7. Lack of clear ground rules
8. Sterile meeting space
9. No transition from "business as usual"
10. Lack of robust participation

11. The extroverts take over
12. Habitual idea killing
13. Attachment to pet ideas
14. Discomfort with ambiguity
15. Hyper-seriousness

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16. Endless interruptions
17. People come late and leave early
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 methods
24. Premature evaluation
25. No real closure or next steps

Who can you meet with, this week, to explore new and better ways of improving the quality of your company's brainstorming sessions?

In Defense of Brainstorming
One way to turn things around
Why train people to be brainstorm facilitators

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:45 AM | Comments (5)

March 29, 2014
56 Reasons Why Most Corporate Innovation Initiatives Fail

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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?

Applied Innovation workshop

Ingenious Leadership workshop
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March 27, 2014
The 10 Personas of a Really Effective Brainstorm Facilitator

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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.

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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.

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1.CONDUCTOR
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."

2.ALCHEMIST
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.

3.DANCER
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.

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5.DIAMOND CUTTER
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.

6. ACTOR
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.

7.ENVIRONMENTALIST
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.''

9.SERVANT
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?

Excerpted from Conducting Genius
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What our brainstorming clients say
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March 16, 2014
How to Spark Wisdom in the Workplace

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Dear Heart of Innovation Readers:

If you have received any value from this blog and would be interested in supporting my next, big project -- now launched as a GoFundMe campaign -- click here for a 3-minute video of me describing it and a written description of what the whole thing is all about -- a venture which includes the writing, publication, and promotion of a new book, Wisdom at Work, along with the launching of WISDOM CIRCLES in organizations around the world.

Whatever support you can provide is very much appreciated, Plus, you will be sent a copy of the book when it's published, if you want.

Mitch Ditkoff's GoFundMe campaign

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February 22, 2014
What's Next After Twitter

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Ever since Twitter made its appearance on the scene in 2006, millions of people have become enamored with the prospect of delivering a message in 140 characters or less.

Short and sweet has become the name of the game. Brevity rules.

And why not? In a world ruled at least as much by ADD as by maniacal despots, who's got time for anything else?

These days, we don't have time. Time has us.

But according to industry sources, Twitter has become passe. Like the SONY Walkman. Like your father's Oldsmobile. Like the last two sentences of this paragraph.

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That's why I've invented TWI -- the next, new super hip, low carbon footprint, social networking platform.

It's quicker. It's faster. And by the end of this post, the company will have already issued an IPO.

140 characters? Please! That's an eternity!

With TWI all you get is 20 characters. That's an 86% improvement in productivity over Twitter. 86%!

If you can't deliver your message in 20 characters, you're obviously a slacker and we don't want your business. Why would we? You'd probably end up calling our customer service bots and wasting their time with your long-winded complaints.

TWI. Think about how much more efficient you will be -- leaving you so much more time to drink coffee and get more things done.

C'mon! What are you waiting for? Time. Is. Passing. Act now!

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February 19, 2014
How to Open the Door to Innovation

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There is no magic pill, but there is a key. And the key has a lot to do with creating a critical mass of savvy innovation catalysts and change agents who know how to open doors (and minds).

Idea Champions

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February 17, 2014
Would You Invest Three Hours to Save Yourself Months of Wasted Effort?

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Idea Champions has just launched a groundbreaking three-hour workshop that will save your organization untold time, tons of money, and a thousand pounding headaches you can't afford to have.

What our clients say

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February 15, 2014
How to Help Your Senior Team Get Aligned About a Strategic Direction

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I am totally inspired by the feedback that Steven McHugh, co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Idea Champions, received from Life Care Centers of America, in response to a two-day Senior Team Strategy Offsite he designed and facilitated for them. See below...

CelebratingMan.jpg"I wanted to thank you for the wonderful work you've done for us at Life Care Centers of America.

As you know, when I left my CFO position at Olin Corporation to help lead Life Care, I was presented with a number of difficult challenges. Due to strict government regulations, the long-term care industry was in turmoil. In 30 years, Life Care had not performed any unified, long-term strategic planning, and there was no HR department for over 27,000 employees.

Based on the excellent work you did for over five years with my former company, I knew you had the skills to help us. Your role in aligning 230 different facilities into a unified force has been remarkable, especially in the short time frame you were given.

As you know, the results of the process you took us through have been astounding. In an environment where five of the top six public nursing home companies have declared bankruptcy, we have enjoyed unprecedented growth. You helped our senior officers transform into a dynamic leadership team. Our clarity around an aligned mission translated into a powerful vision that we can communicate to the rest of the organization.

Your Vision Mapping sessions were the catalysts for communicating our message to the rest of the organization. Your ability to develop balanced scorecards for all 230 facilities was the key to translating strategy into results.

It is now clear what actions are important for us to take, and for the first time, our people know how their success will be measured.

From the senior level to the staff in each facility, actions are now aligned to achieve strategic goals.

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As an interesting byproduct of your work here, we are beginning to develop leaders at all levels in the organization who are empowered to do whatever it takes to get the job done. They have a clear line of sight to the strategic goals and are stepping up to the plate to get them done.

I am proud of how we have responded to the process you have embedded into our culture. Thank you for justifying my faith in bringing you in to facilitate this major change in how we operate.

I look forward to continuing our work together in developing a high performance organization."

-- Michael Waddell, President, Life Care Centers of America

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February 10, 2014
41 Ways Business Leaders Can Foster a Culture of Innovation

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Yes, we know you want your organization to be more innovative. And yes, we know you want to improve your organization's culture of innovation. The best place to start? With YOU.

1. Give up needing to be the smartest person in the room.

2. Seek out people who think differently than you do.

3. Reward new thinking.

4. When you delegate, delegate.

5. Listen more, tell less.

6. Create an environment where no idea is considered dumb.
7. Be a learner, not a know-it-all.

8. Require that 30% of all budget proposals include innovative
products, processes, strategies, business models, or management
approaches.

9. Celebrate failures and learn from them.

10. Don't rush to resolve differences. Tolerate ambiguity while
gaining a deep understanding of the thought processes underlying
all positions.

11. Surface conflict and support minority positions.
12. Let go of your way of doing things.
13. Explore the territory before seeking a destination.
14. Reward people who disagree with you.

15. Protect the new from the old.

16. Get feedback to test whether what you think you communicated is what people actually heard.

17. Do whatever is necessary to deeply engage employees in the realm of the possible.

18. Do whatever is necessary to create widespread understanding and commitment to a shared vision of the future.

19. Reward teamwork and unselfish effort -- not individual heroics.
20. Accept as much of yourself as you can.
21. Recognize the talents of those around you and leverage them to the max.

22. Pave the way for your subordinate's success.
23. Develop all your reports to be your successor.
24. Provide very specific, timely, behavior-based positive feedback.
25. Begin your feedback with what you like about a new idea.

26. Make the path to considering, evaluating, and deciding on new ideas clear and easy to navigate.

27. Look behind "wild ideas" for potential new directions.

28. Never write anyone off. Try to understand where they are coming from before judging them.

29. Don't forget that everything you do is scrutinized for meaning.

30. Spend at least 20% of your time in two-way communication with people at all levels of your organization -- and spend most of this time listening, not explaining.

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31. Be intentional and deliberate. Be clear about what you are trying to achieve and test whether that is what you are getting.

32. Stick your neck out for what you believe in and value.

33. Acknowledge when you don't know -- and rely on others to help you figure it out.

34. Give the work back. Your job is to get the best that everyone has to give -- not come up with all the answers yourself.

35. Eliminate fear from the workplace. Foster excitement and commitment.

36. Acknowledge when you are wrong. Don't defend yourself. Just learn from your mistakes.

37. Engage others in the exploration of what is possible. (Don't create unnecessary limits).

38. Keep your organization in the zone of "productive disequilibrium." Resist efforts to revert to the "tried and true."

39. Increase freedom and accountability. Let employees experiment with whatever approaches they think are worth exploring while remaining accountable for results. Let them own the "how." You own the "what".

40. Provide timely feedback and data to everyone so they can identify what is working and what needs fixing.

41. Remember that the only person you can change is yourself.

-- Barry Gruenberg

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February 04, 2014
Big Blues From the Viagra People

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In 1999, I conceived and co-founded (with Paul Kwicienski) the world's first interactive business blues band, Face the Music.

The concept was a simple one: help organizations increase teamwork and decrease complaint by getting employees to write and perform original blues songs.

The concept resonated with a lot of industries, especially Big Pharma.

Oh yeah, they had the blues, lots of blues, like the "Now We Gotta Compete with Generic Drugs from Canada Blues," and the "No One Trusts the Drug Companies Anymore Blues," and the always popular, "Our Pipeline Is Empty, But Our Inbox is Full Blues."

So we weren't all that surprised when Pfizer came calling...

They had a big conference coming up and wanted to do "something different" to engage participants -- all of whom were high ranking business leaders.

Though our approach seemed risky to them at first, our testimonials from other Fortune 500 companies were proof enough we were the real deal for them to sign on the dotted line.

And so they did.

Unlike most bands -- or business simulations, for that matter -- our service began long before we took the stage.

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For each client wanting the complete experience, we'd write a custom blues song weeks before -- a kind of musical caricature of their company that we'd perform to kick off our performance -- a modern day Greek Chorus routine that loosened up audiences while modeling the message of the evening -- to speak (or in our case, sing) the truth.

And though we always shared our lyrics with clients long before an event, rarely were we asked us to modify what we wrote.

Pfizer was a different story.

From their perspective, our lyrics were "incendiary, politically incorrect, and might be taken the wrong way."

Customer-focused as we were (and not wanting to blow a good pay day), we revised our lyrics overnight and submitted version 2.0 the first thing in the morning.

Pfizer didn't like our new version, either. Or version 3.0, 4.0, or 5.0.

After five failed attempts, we decided to drop the custom song and focus on the classic blues songs that made up the bulk of our play list.

But doubt had crept into our client's mind. He was now officially nervous and wanted to see the lyrics to all our songs.

"Piece of cake," we reasoned to ourselves. The lyrics we'd be sending him had been performed for more than a hundred years all over America and were a huge part of the DNA of the nation.

True. But they weren't part of Pfizer's DNA. Our client had major issues with every song we sent them.

So we emailed him the lyrics to another ten classic blues songs. He rejected those, too.

Now, we had the blues. Like the legendary Robert Johnson, we stood at the crossroads, Blackberries and guitars in hand.

"Gentlemen," I began the damage-control conference call in the most corporate voice I could muster, "with all due respect, you have just rejected the lyrics of the most popular 20 American blues songs from the past hundred years. Remember, you are engaging the services of a blues band, not a polka band. You've got to have more trust in us."

Ooooh... the "T" word!

They hemmed. They hawed. Them hemmed again. And then with a semi-shrug of their collective shoulders and the growing recognition that their event was just a few days away, they chose the seven tamest songs and gave us a tepid thumbs up.

"But remember!" they warned, "the show must end no later than 9:30 sharp. Not a minute more."

Show time!

When we got to the venue, I could tell we were in for an interesting night.

Though our client greeted us pleasantly enough, something was off. Outwardly, he was fine. Inwardly, he was anxious, uptight, constricted, nervous, sweating, and silently obsessing about how he was going to cover his ass should his worst nightmares about the evening come true.

The band picked up on his mood and immediately tightened up.

Knowing that good music doesn't issue forth from tight musicians, I sent the band backstage for a glass of wine and some small talk while I filibustered with the client -- the theater now rapidly filling with hundreds of people who made a lot more money than we did.

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"Remember," the client reminded me again before the lights went down, "the show must end at 9:30 sharp!"

The band's first two songs that night were lame. Very lame. Channeling the tension of our neck-on-the-line client, the band was playing it safe -- not exactly a formula for foot stomping blues.

By the third song, thank God, the band found its groove. The audience relaxed and the songs they wrote and performed were some of the funniest we'd heard in a while.

I looked at my watch. It was 9:27. Quickly, I signaled the band to wrap things up when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the client making his way to the stage.

Actually, "making his way" wasn't the right phrase to describe his approach. "Storming the stage" was more like it.

I looked at my watch again. Now it was 9:28 and the client was getting closer by the nanosecond. I spoke faster, much faster, doing my best to finish before the bewitching hour

Two sentences from closure, the man bounds up the stairs and lunges towards me.

"Keep playing!" he blurts. "Tell the band to keep playing! This is really going well! Forget the 9:30 deadline. Keep playing!"

I signal the band and they segue into BB King"s "Let the Good Times Roll" -- the 12-minute version. South Side Denny takes off on a blistering guitar solo.

South Side Slim is wailing at the top of his lungs. Screaming Sweet Pea Fradon is bringing down the house. Blind Lemon Pledge is on top of his game.

Everyone in the audience is singing and dancing and clapping and laughing.

The pharmaceutical blues? Gone. At least for the moment

For more on Face the Music, click here or here.
Check out our Six Sigma Blues.
Go beyond the business blues keynotes

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:56 AM | Comments (1)

January 30, 2014
50 Ways to Foster a Sustainable Culture of Innovation

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Want a culture of innovation? Choose a few of the following guidelines and make them happen. If not YOU, who? If not NOW, when?

1. Remember that innovation requires no fixed rules or templates -- only guiding principles. Creating a more innovative culture is an organic and creative act.

2. Wherever you can, whenever you can, always drive fear out of the workplace. Fear is "Public Enemy #1" of an innovative culture.

3. Have more fun. If you're not having fun (or at least enjoying the process) something is off.

4. Always question authority, especially the authority of your own longstanding beliefs.

5. Make new mistakes.

6. As far as the future is concerned, don't speculate on what might happen, but imagine what you can make happen.

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7. Increase the visual stimuli of your organization's physical space. Replace gray and white walls with color. Add inspiring photos and art, especially visuals that inspire people to think differently. Reconfigure space whenever possible.

8. Help people broaden their perspective by creating diverse teams and rotating employees into new projects -- especially ones they are fascinated by.

9. Ask questions about everything. After asking questions, ask different questions. After asking different questions, ask them in a different way.

10. Ensure a high level of personal freedom and trust. Provide more time for people to pursue new ideas and innovations.

11. Encourage everyone to communicate. Provide user-friendly systems to make this happen.

12. Instead of seeing creativity training as a way to pour knowledge into people's heads, see it as a way to grind new glasses for people so they can see the world in a different way.

13. Learn to tolerate ambiguity and cope with soft data. It is impossible to get all the facts about anything. "Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts," said Einstein.

14. Embrace and celebrate failure. 50 to 70 per cent of all new product innovations fail at even the most successful companies. The main difference between companies who succeed at innovation and those who don't isn't their rate of success -- it's the fact that successful companies have a LOT of ideas, pilots, and product innovations in the pipeline.

15. Notice innovation efforts. Nurture them wherever they crop up. Reward them.

16. When you're promoting innovation in-house, always promote the benefits of a new idea or project, not the features.

17. Don't focus so much on taking risks, per se, but on taking the risks OUT of big and bold ideas.

18. Encourage people to get out of their offices and silos. Encourage people to meet informally, one-on-one, and in small groups.

19. Think long term. Since the average successful "spin-off" takes about 7.5 years, the commitment to innovation initiatives need to be well beyond "next quarter."

20. Create a portfolio of opportunities: short-term, long-term, incremental, and discontinuous. Just like an investment portfolio, balance is critical.

21. Involve as many people as you can in the development of your innovation initiative so you get upfront buy-in. This is the "go-slow now to go-fast later" approach. (The opposite approach of having a few people go off to a desert island and come back with their concept is almost always doomed to failure).

22. Improve the way brainstorming sessions and meetings are facilitated in your organization. Create higher standards and practices.

23. Make sure people are working on the right issues. Identify specific business challenges to focus on. Be able to frame these issues as questions that start with the words, "How can we?"

24. Communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate and then communicate again. Deliver each important message at least six times.

25. Select and install idea management software for your intranet. (Or, if you've got an intranet and certain directories available to everyone, set up your own idea depository/database and make it as interactive as you want).

26. Don't focus on growth. Growth is a product of successful innovation. Focus on the process of becoming adept at taking ideas from the generation stage to the marketplace.

27. Make customers your innovation partners, while realizing that customers are often limited to incremental innovations, not breakthrough ones.

28. Understand that the best innovations are initiated by individuals acting on their own at the periphery of your organization. Don't make your innovation processes so rigid that they get in the way of informal and spontaneous innovation efforts. Build flexibility into your design. Think "self-organizing" innovation, not "command and control" innovation.

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29. Find new ways to capture learnings throughout your organization and new ways to share these learnings with everyone. Use real-life stories to transfer the learnings.

30. Stimulate interaction between segments of the company that traditionally don't connect or collaborate with each other.

31. Develop a process of trying out new concepts quickly and on the cheap. Learn quickly what's working and what's not.

32. Avoid analysis paralysis. Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.

33. Before reaching closure on any course of action, seek alternatives. Make it a discipline to seek the idea after the "best" idea emerges.

34. Know that attacking costs as a root problem solves nothing. Unreasonable costs are almost always a sign of more profound problems (e.g. inefficient structures, processes or training).

35. A great source of new ideas are people that are new to the company. Get new hires together and tap their brainpower and imagination.

36. Get customer feedback before committing resources to a product's development.

37. Seek diversity of viewpoints. Get people together across functions. A diversity of views sparks more than conflict -- it sparks innovation.

38. Invite outside partners early on when exploring new opportunities. Find ways for your company to partner with others and actively share ideas, technologies, and other capabilities.

39. Avoid extreme time pressures.

40. Don't make the center of your efforts to help people be more creative a physical "creativity center." Fold your innovation resources into your business units.

41. Don't make innovation the responsibility of a few. Make innovation the responsibility of each and every employee with performance goals for each and every functional area.

42. Give your people specific, compelling, and measurable innovation goals.

43. Try to get as much buy-in and support from senior leadership as you can while realizing that true change NEVER starts at the top. How often does the revolution start with the King?

44. Realize that "resource allocation" is the last bastion of Soviet-style central planning. Think of new innovation opportunities as "resource attractors."

45. Pay particular attention to alignment. Ensure that the interests and actions of all employees are directed toward key company goals, so that any employee will recognize and respond positively to a potentially useful idea.

46. Reward collective, not only individual successes, but also maintain clear individual accountabilities and keep innovation heroes visible.

47. Do your best to ensure that linear processes give way to networks of collaboration.

48. Remove whatever organizational obstacles are in the way of people communicating bold, new ideas to top management.

49. Systematize. Find problems (not only with products, but with processes, customer service, and business models) and solve them.

50. Drive authority downwards. Make decisions quickly at the lowest level possible.

What We Do
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NOTE: This list co-authored with Val Vadeboncoeur

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:31 PM | Comments (17)

January 10, 2014
The Four Currents of a Culture of Innovation

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I've been doing a lot of thinking these days about "culture of innovation" -- trying to get down to the root of what the heck it's all about.

It's easy to wax poetic about the topic (and a lot of people do), but too much of the stuff I've been reading sounds like bad advertising copy for motherhood and apple pie.

So, at the risk of oversimplifying the whole thing, here's my blogospheric whack at boiling the mumbo jumbo down to the core.

If you want to create a sustainable culture of innovation, you will need to understand that there are always four forces at work -- four currents that are always interacting with each other:

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1. Top Down
2. Bottom Up
3. Outside In
4. Inside Out

1. TOP DOWN: It is essential that the leaders of your organization play a "culture-enhancing role" far more than they currently do. They may not think they have the time or the experience, but they've got to step up to the plate and really own the effort.

The people in the trenches need to know that the head honchos not only care about innovation, but are willing to do whatever it takes to establish a company culture conducive to it.

I'm not advocating phony pep talks from the C-Suite. I'm advocating that senior leaders actually lead the effort. I'm advocating that all those wonderful people with three letter acronyms after their name walk the innovation talk... stir the soup... shake and bake... and do everything they can do to martial company resources in whatever way is necessary to transform "business as usual" to "I love this place and I can't wait to get to work." Yes, it's possible.

2. BOTTOM UP:
If an organization wants to innovate, it will need to get everyone into the act. Not just senior leaders. Not just R&D. Everyone. Ideas -- the fuzzy front end of innovation -- can come from anywhere, anytime. When an organization really GETS this and finds new ways to tap the collective brainpower of the workforce, the culture starts changing for the better. People become more proactive. More energized. More passionate about their work.

Indeed, it could easily be said that the democratization of the workplace is one of the most important social movements of the 21st century. As power and decision-making trickle down, creative output ratchets up. People become self-organizing, self-directed and, on a really good day, selflessly committed to being a force for positive change.

3. OUTSIDE IN: Establishing a culture of innovation is only meaningful if the fruits of the effort yield the kind of results that are valued by your customers. Otherwise, the effort to "change the culture" will turn into some kind of weird, solipsistic ritual that will have no impact on the people you are serving.

Do you know who your customers are? Do you know what they want? Do you have any kind of process in place to track changing market conditions, demographics, and emerging trends? Have you figured out how to get real feedback and input from your customers -- how to include them in your ideation process?

4. INSIDE OUT: Ah... now we're really getting down to it. If you want a culture of innovation, you will need to find a way to unleash the passion, fascination, and inspiration of your workforce.

Not by dangling carrots and sticks (read Dan Pink's new book, Drive, if you doubt me), but by finding a way to activate the innate desire for meaning, enjoyment, and success that is buried deep within the bones of every single person who shows up for work day after day.

Organizations don't innovate. People do.

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If you can find a way to unlock the primal mojo of your workforce, you won't need to manage as much as you do. You won't need to rely so heavily on incentive plans, performance reviews, pep talks, frowns, and punishment.

That stuff only exists because your workforce is disengaged.

But when people are on fire with purpose, in touch with their own authentic desire to create, a culture of innovation will naturally evolve.

A big thank you to Val Vadeboncoeur, Tim Moore, Barry Gruenberg, Paul Roth, and Michael Pergola for their humongous collaboration, insight, creativity, and perseverance on this topic.

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January 06, 2014
The Martial Arts of the Mind

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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!

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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.

THE COMMENTARY

Every day, no matter what our profession, education, or astrological sign, we are all faced with the same challenge -- how to effectively communicate our message to others.

This challenge is particularly difficult these days, given the glut of information we all must contend with. The amount of information available to us is doubling every ten years! Yearly, more than one million books are published. Daily, we are bombarded with more 6,000 advertising messages and 150 emails. As a result, most of us find ourselves in a defensive posture, protecting ourselves from the onslaught of input.

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What I've discovered in the past 25 years of working with some of the world's most powerful organizations is that if I really want to have get my message across, I've got to deliver it in a what that gets past the "guardians at the gate" -- the default condition of doubt, disengagement, and derision that comes with the territory of life in the 21st century business world.

My rite of passage at GE was a microcosm of this phenomenon.

Indeed, my presumptive effort to "win over my audience" by impressing them with data, case studies, and best practices was a losing game. Not only was I barking up the wrong tree, I was in the wrong forest.

The key to my breaking through the collective skepticism of GE's best and brightest wasn't a matter of information. It was a matter transformation.

They didn't need to analyze, they needed to engage -- and it was my job to make that easy to do. Or, as Mahatma Gandhi so deftly put it, I had to "be the change I wanted to see in the world."

I had to do something that invoked the curious, playful, and associative right brain, not the logical, linear, analytical left brain -- tricky business, indeed, especially when you consider that most business people, these days, have a very low threshold for anything they judge to be impractical

Which is why I chose the martial arts as the operational metaphor at GE, my attempt to move them from the Dow to the Tao.

Impractical? Not at all.

Bottom line, whether we know it or not, we have all entered the "experience economy" -- a time when being involved is at least as important as being informed.

Information is no longer sufficient to spark change. Data is no longer king. Thinking only takes us part of the way home. It's feeling that completes the journey -- the kind of feeling that leads to full on curiosity and the kind of engagement that opens the door to exciting new possibilities.

Which is exactly what happened at GE when I made the shift from marshaling my facts, to marshaling my energy -- and by extension, the energy of 75 of GE's best and brightest.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What message have you been trying to deliver (with too little impact) that might be communicated in a totally different way -- a way that more successfully engages people and leads to measurable results?

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:58 PM | Comments (3)

December 16, 2013
How to Cultivate a Culture of Innovation

Lightbulb plants.jpgInnovation, the endless effort to find a better way, cannot be achieved by robotically lining up best practices and imitating them. The real catalyzing agent for innovation is the ground from which these best practices spring -- the confluence of purpose, people, and processes better known as culture.

From where will the next wave of groundbreaking innovation come?

Not from organizations mechanically mimicking each other's best practices, but from organizations with the commitment to take their stand on ground that has been cultivated for breakthrough.

If you check the contents of the most popular books on innovation, the same topics show up again and again: strategy, systems, process, leadership, customer focus, risk, speed to market, prototyping, metrics, mass collaboration, market intelligence, technology, and creative thinking.

Yes, all of these topics are important. But none of them can take root in an organization without one fundamental element being in place -- a consciously created culture of innovation.

Is such a culture simple to create? Yes. Is it easy? No. And the reason why it is not easy is because the ground of most organizations is hard, untilled, and in major need of clearing.

The metaphor that most clearly conveys the effort required is creating a garden.

To experienced gardeners, the steps needed to create a garden are simple. To the inexperienced gardener, it is a tangle of complexity.

Yes, gardening demands sustained and methodical effort. And yes, sweating comes with the territory. But getting a yield -- something to harvest -- is a fundamentally straightforward task.

If your company is clear about the effort required, creating a culture of innovation (lets just call it a garden of innovation) is simply a matter of taking the time to execute each step thoroughly -- in the time honored way gardeners have always practiced their craft.

1. WHET THE APPETITE
If you are serious about being a gardener of innovation, the first thing you will need is hunger -- a real appetite for results.

Growing a garden takes sustained effort. It is hard work -- most of it unglamorous and unappreciated. Hunger for a yield is the serious gardener's real motivator. Yes, the serious gardener likes being outdoors and, yes, the serious gardener likes getting exercise, but the ultimate product of his/her labors -- the harvest -- is what it is all about.

Without this level of commitment, the gardening effort remains only a hobby and does not have the roll up your sleeves and get dirty quality so essential to reaping a result.

If your workforce has no appetite for innovation, you will need to find a way to whet it. If you choose not to, people will sit idly by, waiting for R&D, senior leadership, or the tooth fairy to lead the charge. And while they may talk about growth, shovels, and the need for bulk purchase of mulch, talk will not put food on the table.

Fortunately, somewhere, deep inside everyone in your organization is the impulse to create. This impulse is innate. Your task is to awaken this impulse and help people own the effort to innovate. If they do not own the effort, the only thing you will be eating at harvest time will be your own words. (P.S.: Winter is on the way.)

2. STAKE and PREPARE THE GROUND

Amateur gardeners, fueled by visions of ripe tomatoes, have a tendency to plant before they are really ready. Unclear about how large a garden they can sustain, unsure about what is needed to prepare the ground, unable to resist the impulse for a quick yield, they rush in willy nilly.

The result? Lots of wasted effort and the kind of sweating that signifies almost nothing. The same holds true for organizations who claim they want a culture of innovation.

The antidote is a simple, two step process (though the description of the process is much simpler than the execution).

First, an organization needs to get clear about the scope of the effort they want to make. It needs to stake its territory or, more precisely, define the fields in which it wants to innovate. (If it tries to innovate everywhere, all the time, it will only deplete its resources and exhaust its workforce.)

Secondly, it needs to prepare the ground for planting.

This task includes removing obstacles that will interfere with growth, as well as enriching the fertility of the soil. Weekend gardeners cringe at this kind of preparatory effort. It does not feel like fun and there is nothing immediately to show for it. But without this effort there will be no foundation -- no ground -- for future success.

3. FIND THE SEEDS
You can have ample space to plant a garden. You can know exactly where that ample space is. And you can have lots of fertile soil in this ample space. But unless you have healthy seeds to plant, space is all you will ever have.

If you want a garden of innovation, you need seeds. Not just one kind of seed, but many. Indeed, the more varied seeds you have, the greater your chances for an interesting yield.

In the realm of innovation, ideas are the seeds. All innovation from the inside out with an idea. Ideas are the fuzzy front end of the innovation process -- the alpha and omega of new growth. No ideas, no innovation. Its that simple.

The big question, then, is this: Where will your company get its new ideas? Is there an existing process? And if so, is this process working? Can you count on your workforce to deliver high quality, game changing ideas? Or is there something else you need to be doing in order to tap their brilliance?

4. PLANT THE SEEDS
While it is true that some seeds, spontaneously carried by the wind and landing on fertile soil, find a way to plant themselves, most gardens require that seeds be planted in a more dependable way.

If your company is sincere about its intention to create a culture of innovation, it will need to refine its seed planting process. More specifically, it will need to establish a more effective way for the carriers of seeds to increase the odds of those seeds taking root.

Yes, aspiring innovators will need to become more adept at pitching/planting their ideas. But at the same time, the people to whom new ideas are being pitched will need to become more receptive to the possibility that something new is worthy of taking root.

Having a silo of healthy seeds is a good start, but ultimately those seeds need to be planted -- and they need to be planted in a way that will radically increase the odds of them growing into seedlings.

5. FENCE THE GARDEN
If you have ever planted a garden, you have experienced the phenomenon of uninvited predators showing up at all hours to devour your tender, young seedlings. Deer, raccoons, moles, rabbits, and a host of other unidentifiable varmints seem to have no other mission in life but to downsize your dreams of winning the state fair or, at the very least, eliminate all possibility of you having fresh lettuce for dinner. It comes with the territory. And it will continue to come with the territory unless you fence your garden.

Organizations of all shapes and sizes experience the same phenomenon.

Promising new business growth ideas -- the tasty indicators of breakthrough innovation -- are routinely devoured by ravenous corporate naysayers. That is, unless the organization finds a way to protect their aspiring innovators.

Your role, as a gardener of innovation, is to fence your garden and protect your people from the overly acidic scrutiny, doubt, and premature evaluation of predominantly left brained, metric driven, analytical inhibitors of innovation. It can be done. It must be done. And you are the one to champion the process.

6. TEND NEW GROWTH
Conceiving a garden is relatively easy. It requires no special skills, discipline, or education. Anyone can do it. Indeed, anyone does do it every single Spring and Summer. Getting a harvest, however, is an entirely different matter. It is not so easy -- and unlike conception, requires skill, discipline, resources, and the ability to learn on the job.

In the same way, conceiving new ideas is relatively easy. It happens every day of the year to millions of people. Bringing them to fruition is not so easy. Along the way, they get neglected, mishandled, and trampled on. What starts out as a brilliant new possibility, often shrivels on the vine. Most organizations have no conscious process for nurturing the growth of new ideas.

As a result, many powerful, new ideas never mature.

They may break new ground, but they do not necessarily flower and bear fruit. The good news? It does not have to be this way. With the right kind of sustained effort, gardeners of innovation can dramatically increase the odds of exciting new ideas becoming part of the harvest and making it to market.

7. THIN and TRANSPLANT
Inexperienced gardeners, intoxicated by their need for a big harvest and overcompensating for their fear of having nothing to show for their efforts, tend to plant too many seeds too close together. Their fear usually dissipates in a few weeks when the first sprouts emerge, but then another challenge surfaces -- what to do with the apparent bounty of new growth?

While the profusion of greenery certainly looks good to the untrained eye, the reality is different. New seedlings start competing with each other for water and nutrients. Roots entangle. Left unaddressed, the results are disappointing -- row after row of stunted, scraggly plants.

Savvy gardeners respond quickly, thinning out new growth to make room for a select number of the healthiest plants to flourish.

Really savvy gardeners go one step further -- transplanting the healthiest of the thinned out plants to new, roomier locations.

Organizations trying to raise the bar for innovation face the same challenge. Intoxicated by their need for impressive growth (and wanting to involve as many employees as possible in the process), they get overwhelmed by a profusion of ideas and initiate too many projects -- ideas and projects that end up competing for the same, finite resources.

The result? Scraggly, stunted, and undeveloped ventures.

The antidote? A clear strategy for how their organization will evaluate, select, and fund new initiatives -- along with a process for identifying promising new growth to be transplanted for future development.

8. CELEBRATE THE HARVEST
All cultures around the world have a holiday, ritual, or ceremony dedicated to expressing gratitude for the bounty of the harvest. In their bones, they understand the purpose, power, and privilege of giving thanks. Their recent harvest may have fed the body, but the collective acknowledgment of the harvest feeds the soul, strengthening everyones resolve to begin the growing process again the next season.

Corporate cultures could learn a lesson or two from this age old practice.

Historically, organizations have been severely lacking when the time comes to acknowledge the harvest and the people whose efforts were essential to manifesting that harvest. The endless demand for output drives most business leaders to conclude that acknowledging successes is a waste of time -- a luxury no bottom line watching organization could afford. Somehow, deep within the collective psyche of senior leaders, lurks the fear that celebrating successes will invariably lead to a fat and lazy workforce.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

People flourish when their efforts are acknowledged -- not only individually, but as an entire workforce. If you are serious about establishing a sustainable culture of innovation, remember to take the time to acknowledge your gardeners. For their effort. For their resilience. For their collaboration. And for whatever harvest they are able to manifest.

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:10 PM | Comments (10)

November 17, 2013
5 Inexpensive Ways to Jump Start a Sustainable Culture of Innovation

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Trying to create a culture of innovation is a daunting task for even the most committed organization.

Cultures take decades to form. Changing them is not an overnight phenomenon, no matter how many outside consultants you've gotten on the case. You might as well try to end world hunger or wipe out Aids overnight. It's gonna take a while.

But if you and your colleagues are game, culture change is possible. The question, of course, is where to begin?

Starting is always the hardest part. And, in the absence of clarity about where to start, procrastination creeps in -- and nothing changes.

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OK. Enough preamble. Here are five ways to get started. Pick one or all five -- and don't forget to enjoy the process.

1. Name the Beast: If you want to change something, you will need to begin by understanding the current reality of that which you attempting to change. Make sense?

If you're getting into a new market, for example, you'd expect to do some competitive intelligence gathering, right? And if you've decided to parachute into Iran, it would make sense to do some diligence, before hand, no?

Same with the effort to foster a culture of innovation.

Get closer to the problem. Talk to people. Survey your workforce. Get everyone talking -- not just the C-Suite folks, but the people in the mail room, too.

Get off of the generic, politically correct stand that may be ruling the day and get down to the bones.

Then, when you make your case, more formally, you'll have some meaningful ground to stand on -- and the people listening will listen deeper than if you merely showed up one day with a few powerpoint slides, an anecdote from Google, and your newly expressed burning passion for the cause.

2. Set the Expectation: You get what you expect. That's the deal. Psychology experiment after psychology experiment has borne this out again and again.

You need a very strong intention to do this work and then you need to communicate it in a way that is compelling.

Your workforce needs to understand this is not the job of senior leadership, or HR, or R&D. It's everyone's job. Only when a critical mass of people in your organization embraces this effort will anything substantial happen.

If not, you will be wasting your breath -- and their time.

3. Define Innovation: Google "innovation" and you'll find thousands of definitions.

What do you mean by "innovation?" What is your definition? How do you want people thinking about it?

Is it incremental innovation? Disruptive innovation? Product innovation? Process innovation? Or is the whole thing really just a secret code for "cost cutting?"

Before anything significant can happen, you'll need to get aligned with your senior team about what, precisely, you mean by innovation -- and then communicate that, with some passion, to the workforce.

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4. Frame the Challenges: OK. Let's say you want a sea change of innovation within your organization. Great. But in what specific domains? What are the specific challenges people can get their arms around and actually focus on?

As Charles F. Kettering once said, "A problem well-defined, is a problem half solved."

Towards that end, you and your team will need to dive in and start framing the problem. Not vaguely. Not generically. Very specifically. The clearer you are about communicating the domains in which you are asking people to innovate, the more results will show up.

The framing of the challenge, however, is not just your job. You'll need to invite others to get into the act.

If you've done your "name the beast" effort (see #1), this should be relatively easy.

5. Acknowledge What's Already Working: Lots of organizations who dive into the deep end of "culture change" have a tendency to get a sudden case of amnesia when it comes to their corporate history.

Inspired by the promise of the new, they forget to acknowledge the old -- paying precious little attention to what's already working well.

There are a ton of best practices already going on in your organization. There are many inspired "pockets of creativity" where turned-on-teams are doing exactly what they need to do to succeed.

The only thing is: very few people in the company know about this.

Everyone is so enmeshed in their own silos, that they have no clue what innovation-friendly behaviors are alive and well just down the hall -- behaviors they can learn from, adapt, and get rolling within their own spheres of influence.

Building on past successes will not only encourage people, it will guide their journey forward in ways that are empowering, uplifting, and real. And while you're at it, don't forget to routinely acknowledge current successes, as well -- the good things that happened today.

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Thanks to Tim Gallwey for his refinement of #5.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:58 PM | Comments (0)

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.

Big thanks to Russ Briggs of Sadia International for the heads up.

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:24 AM | Comments (0)

October 29, 2013
Brainstorming vs. Braincalming

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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.

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You know, the "two heads are better than one" syndrome.

I'd like to propose an alternative for the moment: "two heads are better than one sometimes."

For the moment, I invite you to consider the possibility that the origination of great, new ideas doesn't take place in the storm, but in the calm before the storm... or the calm after the storm... or sometimes, even in the eye of the storm itself.

Every wonder why so many people get their best ideas during "down time" -- the time just before they go to sleep... or just after waking... or in dreams... or in the shower... or in the car on the way home from work?

Those aren't brainstorming sessions, folks. Those are braincalming sessions. Incubation time.

Those are time outs for the hyperactive child genius within us who is always on the go.

Methinks, in today's over-caffeinated, late-for-a-very-important-date business world, we have become addicted to the storm.

"Look busy," is the mantra, not "look deeply."

We want high winds. We want lightning. We want proof that something is happening, even if the proof turns out to be nothing more than sound and fury.

High winds do not last all morning. Sometimes the storm has to stop.

That's why some of your co-workers like to show up early at the office before anyone else has arrived. For many of us, that's the only time we have to think.

"The best thinking has been done in solitude," said Thomas Edison. "The worst has been done in turmoil."

I'm not suggesting that you stop brainstorming (um... that's 20% of our business). All I'm suggesting is you balance it out with some braincalming. The combination of the two can be very, very powerful.

HERE'S A FEW WAYS TO GET STARTED:

1. In the middle of your next brainstorming, session, restate the challenge -- then ask everyone to sit, in silence, for five minutes, and write down whatever ideas come to mind. (Be ready for the inevitable joking that will immediately follow your request). Then, after five minutes are up, go "round robin" and ask everyone to state their most compelling idea.

2. Ask each member of your team to think about a specific business-related challenge before they go to bed tonight and write down their ideas when they wake up. Then, gather your team together for a morning coffee and see what you've got.

3. Conduct your next brainstorming session in total silence. Begin by having the brainstorming challenge written on a big flip chart before people enter the room. Then, after some initial schmoozing, explain the "silence ground rule" and the process: People will write their ideas on post-its or flip charts. Their co-workers, also in silence, will read what gets posted and piggyback. Nobody talks.

It's your decision, at the end of the idea generating time, if you want the debrief to be spoken -- or if you want people to come back the next day for a verbal debrief.

"Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:23 PM | Comments (5)

October 15, 2013
Go Beyond the Impostor Syndrome

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In a rapidly changing, highly complex and unpredictable world, leadership has little to do with being the smartest person in the room.

It is often the case that those holding positions of authority believe they must justify their position by providing the best solutions to the problems they face.

Often this need to demonstrate that one "has the answer" is grounded in a deeply rooted fear that one, in fact, does not truly know what to do and that revealing one's uncertainty will lead to an erosion of confidence in one's superiors and subordinates.

They see their authority as grounded in their knowledge and expertise and feel obliged to demonstrate their acumen whenever consequential problems are addressed.

This phenomenon invariably leads to compensatory behavior in which one's inner doubts and uncertainty about how to address complex and ambiguous issues leads to unjustified rigidity of positions and an inability to see the value of alternative points of view.

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If we must constantly prove to everyone that we deserve the position we have attained, we can never allow ourselves to be seen as needing to learn anything or to rely on anyone else.

This dilemma -- often referred to as the "impostor syndrome", -- systematically undermines one's ability to learn, to benefit from the perspectives of others, and to appreciate the value of others' strengths and points of view.

It also often leads to behaviors in which we diminish others in order to reassure ourselves of our importance and our value.

Lastly, it virtually guarantees that the decisions that get made are not the best ones because they are not informed by the experience, insight, and creativity of the people around us.

- Barry Gruenberg

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:50 AM | Comments (2)

September 19, 2013
10 Ways to Help Left Brainers Tap Into the Best of Their Creativity

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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. genie2 .jpg"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. Identify (and 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.

Paradox alert!

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.

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:43 PM | Comments (3)

May 19, 2013
An Alternative to Launching Yet Another Innovation Initiative

Superman and sky.jpg Many organizations committed to raising the bar for innovation, end up launching some kind of internally branded "innovation initiative". Logically speaking, this makes sense, but logic is not the most powerful driver of innovation. Most employees cringe at the thought of yet another "initiative" being foisted on them.

So... instead of launching an initiative, help people take initiative by becoming more committed to fostering innovation in every conversation they have on the job -- something you can learn more about, in then next three minutes, by watching this newly produced 3-minute video of me addressing this topic.

Innovation from the inside out
Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:01 PM | Comments (0)

May 16, 2013
12 Ways to Make Bad Decisions

Boss Swivel.jpgThere are three things that astound me about most organizations: The cro-magnon way performance reviews are done; the pitiful way brainstorm sessions are run and; the voo doo way decisions are made.

What follows is an elaboration of the third -- 12 common phenomena that contribute to funky decision making. As you read, think of the teams you work most closely with, which of these behaviors describes them, and what you can do to change the game.

1. Selective Search for Evidence: Gathering facts that support pre-determined conclusions, but disregard other facts that support different conclusions.

2. Premature Termination of Search for Evidence: Accepting the first alternative that looks like it might work.

3. Inertia: Being unwilling to change old thought patterns.

4. Selective Perception: Prematurely screening out information not assumed to be useful.

5. Wishful Thinking: Wanting to see things in a positive light.

6. Recency Effect: Putting undue attention on recent information and experience while minimizing the value of information collected in the past.

7. Repetition Bias: Believing what's been stated the most often and by the greatest number of sources.

8. Anchoring and Adjustment: Being unduly influenced by initial information that shapes your view of subsequent information.

9. Group Think: Conforming to peer pressure or the opinions of the majority.

10. Source Credibility:
Rejecting input from sources prematurely judged to not be credible (or not "cool" or "in sync with the way you do business.")

11. Attribution Asymmetry: Attributing success to your team's abilities and talents, but attributing failures to bad luck and external factors.

12. Role Fulfillment: Conforming to the decision making expectations others have of someone in your position.

Recognize any of these in your organization? What might you and your team do differently to turn things around?

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:28 PM | Comments (1)

March 27, 2013
Infusing Your Workplace with Humanity

62% of all Americans are dissatisfied with their work. 85% of the general public don't trust business leaders to tell the truth when confronted with difficult issues. If YOUR organization wants to explore practical ways of raising the quality of the workplace experience and engaging employees in ways that are humane and sustainable, here's your starter kit. You may also be interested in our Humanizing the Workplace keynotes, town meetings, and workshops.

What our clients say about us

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:33 AM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2013
The Humanize the Workplace Poll

If you work for an organization that needs to become a more benevolent and humane workplace, I invite you to respond to Idea Champions' new Humanizing the Workplace poll.

Not only will it jump start your thinking about simple changes that can be made on the job, it will also provide us with the vital input we need to really tune into the issues.

You'll need about five minutes.

We'll be posting the results of the poll here in a few weeks, but if you'd like us to email the results to you directly, just note your email address in the comments box or send a message to info@ideachampions.com

You can read more about this topic in my latest Huffington Post article.

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:15 AM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2013
How to Humanize the Workplace

A recent poll has revealed that 62% of Americans are dissatisified with their work.

While there are a lot of contributing factors, one BIG factor is that most workplace environments are not wired to bring out the best in people. Quite the contrary.

That's what my newly published article in the Huffington Post is all about.

It doesn't just name the problem, however. It also provides a simple "starter kit" for how each and everyone of us can begin to humanize our workplace environments.

Click here to weigh in on the topic by responding to my Humanizing the Workplace poll. If you want to register for my April 4th Telesummit on this topic, click here. It's free.

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:32 PM | Comments (0)

February 19, 2013
Go Beyond Analysis Paralysis

Einstein counts.jpg

One way to do so
Idea Champions
We talk our walk

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:30 PM | Comments (0)

January 08, 2013
Got the Business Blues? Sing It Out!

FTM Logo Blue.jpg.2
If you work in an organization where complaint rules the day, it's time to do something about it. Yes, it's possible. Bitching and moaning can actually give way to genius and engagement. A homeopathic dose of the blues is all you need.

I'm talking about Face the Music -- a very cool, interactive "business blues" simulation that gives people a chance to get things off their chest AND, at the same time, learn what it takes to get out of the box, take a risk, build a team, and have some fun for a change.

I co-founded this baby, with Paul Kwicienski, back in 1999. It's still cooking -- a great way to add life to any corporate conference, retreat, meeting, or awards ceremony.

Listen
Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:07 PM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2012
50 Awesome Quotes on Risk Taking

Is it time
to try
something new?
Get out of
your comfort zone?
Take a new step
or leap?
Feeling
a little queasy?
Need some
inspiration
to go beyond
the status quo?
Here's the ticket.
50 quotes on risk taking,
my latest piece
on Huffington Post.

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

October 25, 2012
The Kindness-At-Work Manifesto

This just in! We're here for just a little while. No one gets out of here alive. Not even Donald Trump. So while you're here, remember to be kind and go beyond judgment, blame, and impatience -- especially when things start getting stressed out. Like on-the-job.

Here's my inspired rant on the subject, just published in The Huffington Post.

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:38 PM | Comments (0)

The Kindness-At-Work Manifesto

This just in! We're here for just a little while. No one gets out of here alive. Not even Donald Trump. So while you're here, remember to be kind and go beyond judgment, blame, and impatience -- especially when things start getting stressed out. Like on-the-job.

Here's my inspired rant on the subject, just published in The Huffington Post.

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:38 PM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2012
56 Reasons Why Most Corporate Innovation Initiatives Fail

If you
want to
create a
culture of
innovation,
begin by
becoming aware
of the possible
detours along the way.
Click below
for 56
reasons why
most corporate
innovation initiatives
fail,
a new
article of mine
in the
Huffington Post.

(And yes, it's still possible)

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:53 PM | Comments (0)

September 05, 2012
Innovation From the Inside Out

Arianna welcome.jpg

My newest Huff Post article: Innovation From the Inside Out
My day job

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:40 PM | Comments (0)

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.

More

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:11 PM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2012
Rethinking The Role of a Manager

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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"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.

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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.

What we do
More
Even more

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:14 AM | Comments (0)

July 05, 2012
Introducing Interdependence Day!

Declare Your Interdependence.jpg


One day after
Independence Day,
its time to introduce
a new holiday:
Interdependence Day.
Yes, it's true,
we are all
in this together.
You cannot
do this alone,
no matter how skillful
or experienced
you may be.
Innovation is a team sport.
1+1=11.
Today,
declare your
interdependence.
Connect!
Cooperate!
Collaborate!
Commit!

Want to perk up your game?

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:34 PM | Comments (0)

June 13, 2012
Find a Reliable GPS for Your Organization's Innovation Journey

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ED NOTE: It has recently come to our attention that some of our most avid readers still don't know the full scope of what Idea Champions (that's us) does. Here you go:

For 25 years, Idea Champions has catalyzed organizational innovation -- guiding forward-thinking companies to both short-term and long-term success in their marketplace.

As a result of our work, our clients not only learn to quickly adapt to constantly changing markets, but also evolve and invent offerings that blow their competition out of the water.

These companies are committed to what we call the "Innovation Journey." Think of us as your GPS for the journey.

winding-path.jpg

We provide innovation consulting, skill-building training, team facilitation, catalytic conferences, and products to help you create a strategic, systemic and sustainable innovation process -- one that fully engages your workforce.

We have the road map. We know the shortcuts. We know the detours. And we also know how to get you to your destination with the least amount of wheel spinning, frustration, and expense.

To build capacity for innovation, we provide services in five key areas:

1. Innovation Journey Consulting: Needs assessments, senior team alignment sessions, visioning, roadmapping, and a simple process for choosing and developing ideas.

2. Creative Thinking Sessions: Skills for opportunity finding, ideation, brainstorming, breakthrough thinking, and idea assessment. Includes creative thinking tools, support materials, and webinars.

3. Leadership Development Workshops: Customized meetings to increase the core competency of innovation for your organization's "best and brightest". Focuses on helping participants go beyond business as usual and establish a sustainable, culture of innovation.

4. Team Collaboration: Jump starts the process of groups becoming teams and teams becoming high-performing teams. Focuses on team culture, values, communication, collaboration skills, coaching, and how to create low-cost business incubators.

5. Catalytic Conferences: Innovation-sparking events focused on generating new revenue, reducing costs, incubating new business models, and establishing a sustainable culture of innovation. Includes interactive keynotes and conference design, and expert facilitation.

simple road sign.jpg

Idea Champions turns theory into practice in a way that is engaging, enlivening, and empowering. Top down. Bottom up. Inside out. And outside in.

Our approach is collaborative, empowering, creative, productive, and fun. Everybody commits to taking the journey together so innovation becomes a mindset, not a program.

We can start small -- with a team or department event. Or we can start BIG, with a series of Innovation Journey Roadmap sessions designed to align and enroll your senior team on their innovation strategies for the future.

Call us today to begin: 845.679.1066. Or email.

What our clients say
How we get the job done
Our team
Our values

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:42 PM | Comments (0)

May 08, 2012
Creating Time to Innovate

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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.

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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!

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:36 AM | Comments (1)

May 07, 2012
Fascination is the DNA of Innovation

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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.

In my experience, the origin of innovation is fascination -- the state of being intensely interested in something. Enchanted. Captivated. Spellbound. Absorbed.

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."

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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.

Photo
Photo

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:24 PM | Comments (7)

May 06, 2012
"Anonymous" Revealed

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I have a confession to make. Actually, it's more like a revelation than a confession.

You know all those fabulous quotes and articles you've read over the years with no attribution other than "anonymous"? It was me.

It's true. I have written thousands of things I've never signed my name to. I couldn't. I mean -- the writing just came through me. Like a storm. In fact, I was in such a state of presence as these pearls of wisdom appeared, there wasn't even a "me" involved, so how could I sign my name?

So I did the only thing I could do -- and that was to sign what I wrote with the now all-too-familiar word "anonymous".

anonymity2.bmpTrue, I did sign my birth name -- Mitchell Ditkoff -- to some pieces, including most of the blog posts on Heart of Innovation and Heart of the Matter, but that was all free stuff.

The vast majority of what I've written? All "anonymous". Bottom line, I've never really gotten my due.

How could I when millions of my readers never knew that "anonymous" was my pseudonym?

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining, nor do I have any regrets about my decision. It felt right at the time. But now -- with one kid about to go to college and the other not far behind -- it's starting to make sense that I claim what is rightfully mine.

After countless hours of consultations with pundits, epistemological savants, numerologists, and intellectual property lawyers, I've arrived at an approach that is not only honorable and fair, but flawless and timely with absolutely no carbon footprint. Nor were any animals harmed in the writing of this paragraph.

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I am pleased to announce that YOU, dear reader, get to play a key role going forward -- one that will take you less time than it will to read this anonymous pearl of mine -- or order a take-out pizza.

Since I am claiming no royalties whatsoever from my past writings (many of which, by the way, went on to become blockbuster movies, novels, bumper stickers, and refrigerator magnets), I think it is only fair to request that every time, from now on in, you encounter anything attributed to "anonymous" you link it to my website or any of the following cyberpalatial residences of mine.

Free the Genie cards
Free the Genie online
Awake at the Wheel
Innovation Kits
Idea Champions University
It's AHAppening!

The goal? To model what it is like to claim one's true inheritance and take the risk that this post will go viral and I will have to answer a lot of questions from slick talk show hosts more interested in their own TV ratings than my no longer anonymous success.

A small example of what I've never been paid for

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:37 PM | Comments (7)

May 03, 2012
The Power of Positive Feedback

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Most high level executives do not expect a lot of recognition from others. Neither do they give a lot of recognition to others.

Many managers are like the classic husband who, when his wife complains that he doesn't tell her he loves her any more, responds that he told her he loved her when he married her -- and would have let her know if anything had changed.

Similarly, most managers act as if the act of hiring an employee is recognition enough -- this in spite of the fact that every one of these managers wants to be valued and appreciated by their superiors, and is regularly disappointed by the lack of appreciation coming their way.

In today's workplace, there is a great fear that only the most extraordinary achievements warrant recognition and that all "just good" performance is merely what should be expected and does not require any special recognition.

The fear most manager's have? That "excessive" recognition will dilute the praise they give and reduce future motivation for outstanding performance.

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The data, of course, indicates otherwise.

Acknowledgment of good performance increases the probability of more good performance. And specificity of feedback -- telling people exactly what you liked about what they did and why you liked it -- dramatically increases the likelihood of that performance occurring again.

The bottom line?

If we can get to a place where we are more generous and specific in the expression of our positive feedback, we will notice, in time, a dramatic increase in the quality of employees' performance and their overall satisfaction with work.

-- Barry Gruenberg

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:47 AM | Comments (1)

May 01, 2012
56 Reasons Why Most Corporate Innovation Initiatives Fail

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Innovation is in these days. The word is on the lips of just about 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 soup. This is understandable. But it is also, far too often, very disappointing.

Innovation initiatives sound good, but usually don't live up to the expectations. The reasons are many.

What follows are 56 of the most common ones -- organizational obstacles we've observed in the past 25 years that get in the way of a company really raising the bar for innovation.

56 Reasons Why Most Corporate Innovation Efforts 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"

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6. CEO does not fully embrace the effort

7. No compelling vision or reason to innovate

8. Senior Team is 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.

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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

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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. Overemphasis on structures, protocols, and processes

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. No real sense of what your customers really want or need

56. Company hiring process screens out potential innovators

Others we may have missed?

We can help. Click here for more.

Thanks to Barry Gruenberg, Bill Shockley, Chuck Frey, and Farrell Reynolds for their sage input.

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:17 PM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2012
Our World Wide Webinatrix Speaks!

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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.

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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.

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If you are one of the first 50 people to register, you'll receive a 50% discount and a free annual subscription to our highly regarded online Free the Genie app.

If you'd rather schedule a group webinar (for up to 100 people), contact Sarah Jacob, our World Wide Webinatrix.

She means business.

More about Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:48 AM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2012
Why Good Leaders Pause

It's often the case that people expect their leaders to be decisive -- able to make difficult decisions quickly. Indeed, this kind of behavior is interpreted as one of the hallmarks of good leadership.

The reality is different, however.

The "rush to judgment" mindset creates undue pressure on leaders -- the kind of pressure that causes them to prematurely choose a path forward even when confronting a complex problem.

To be truly effective, leaders need to balance the need to quickly converge on a single solution with the conflicting requirement that multiple perspectives be considered.

Yes, spending time to gain an understanding of the thought processes behind conflicting perspectives slows down the decision-making process. But it also creates a rich opportunity for much more robust solutions.

Slowing down is not necessarily a sign of procrastination or indecision. More accurately, it is a sign of impending wisdom about to be applied.

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Tolerating this period of pause requires leaders to exhibit two qualities that seem to be in short supply these days:

1. Self-confidence (not bravado).
2. Patience (not procrastination).

Unfortunately, as external pressures from above and below increase, leaders experience an increasing tendency to internalize these pressures, causing self-doubt, stress, and a relentless need to prove their worth.

The result? Leaders end up adopting pre-existing solutions not well-suited to the challenges at hand. They decide fast, but the decisions they make are all too often fatally flawed.

Being able to resist mounting pressures to act quickly requires great intestinal fortitude. It requires leaders to keep themselves and others passionately engaged in the process of finding a way through the uncertainty instead of grasping at known "solutions" which only make the problem worse.

This phenomenon is similar to the classic story of the drunkard looking for his car keys under a streetlight even though he knows it's not where he dropped them.

"I know my keys aren't there," he confesses, "but that's where the light is."

It's not easy searching in the dark. Nor is it easy convincing others to join you in the search.

Which is precisely why being an authentic leader is so difficult these days.

- Barry Gruenberg
Here's another one of Barry's fine articles.


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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:39 AM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2012
Innovation from the Inside Out

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These days, almost all of Idea Champions' clients are talking about the need to establish a culture of innovation.

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.

But systems and structures all too often become the Holy Grail -- much in the same way that Six Sigma has become the Holy Grail.

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.

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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.

Keynotes
Idea Champions

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:58 AM | Comments (10)

January 31, 2012
Go Beyond Your Pet Ideas!

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If your company runs brainstorming sessions, know this: too many of them have become veiled opportunities for people to trot out their pet ideas.

Because everyone is so ridiculously busy these days and real listening is at a premium, people use brainstorming sessions as a way to foist their pre-existing ideas on others.

And while this sometimes leads to results, it doesn't make best use of the opportunity a brainstorm session provides. The way around this phenomenon?

Give people a chance to express their pre-existing ideas at the beginning of a session. Clear the decks. Then use the rest of the time to explore the unknown. Woof! Woof!

High Velocity Brainstorming
Conducting Genius
Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:48 AM | Comments (2)

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).

More from Albert

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:17 AM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2012
The Professor and the Jar

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A college professor stood before his philosophy class at the start of a new semester. Silently, he picked up a very large jar and filled it with golf balls. Then he asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly, pebbles settling into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full.

They agreed that it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students again responded with a resounding "yes."

The professor then produced two beers from under the table and poured them into the jar, filling the empty spaces between the sand. The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor. "I want you to understand that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things -- your family, health, friends, and feeling of well-being. If everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full."

"The pebbles are the other things that matter -- your job, your house, your accomplishments etc. The sand is everything else -- the small stuff."

"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there's no room left for the golf balls or pebbles. The same holds true for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you'll never have room for the things that are really important to you."

"Pay attention to the things that are essential to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Smell the flowers. Enjoy the beauty of existence. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first -- the things that really matter. The rest is just sand."

One of the students then raised her hand and asked what the beer represented.

The professor smiled, "I'm glad you asked."

"The beer shows you that, no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of beers with a friend."

Idea Champions

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:36 AM | Comments (1)

Have Innovation Challenge Will Travel

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Because I post a lot on this blog (and because I was recently voted the #1 innovation blogger in the world), many people think all I do is write.

Not true.

My day job is being the President and Chief Creativity Officer of Idea Champions, a highly regarded consulting and training company, founded in 1987.

But hey, don't take my word for it. Take a look at what our clients have to say about the value of our work.

Intrigued? Interested in raising the bar for innovation in your organization? Drink coffee? Eat cheese? Breathe? If so, click here to get the ball rolling.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:24 AM | Comments (0)

January 07, 2012
Go Beyond the Business Blues

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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.

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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

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:33 AM | Comments (0)

January 01, 2012
How to Foster a Culture of Innovation

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Looking for inspiration and guidance on how to make your company more conducive to innovation? Here's some food for thought and action -- Idea Champions' ten most popular postings on the subject.

HOW TO FOSTER A CULTURE OF INNOVATION

1. The Garden of Innovation

2. 50 Ways to Foster a Sustainable Culture of Innovation

3. 56 Reasons Why Most Innovation Initiatives Fail

4. Innovation: It's About Time

5. The Paradox of Innovation

6. The Art of Seeing the Invisible

7. The 100 Lamest Excuses for Not Innovating

8. Innovation Is An Inside Job

9. 41 Ways Business Leaders Can Foster a Culture of Innovation

10. The Four Currents of a Culture of Innovation

Idea Champions
Who We Are
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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:17 PM | Comments (0)

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.

50 quotes on ideas
Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:20 PM | Comments (2)

September 26, 2011
The Six Sigma Blues

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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?

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"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....

THE GOTTA HAVE A PROCESS BLUES

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,
corporate karate,
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,
corporate karate,
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,
corporate karate,
and soon we'll need a process
for going to the potty.

-- Blind Willy Nilly (aka "Mitch Ditkoff")

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Face the Music
Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:10 PM | Comments (2)

June 08, 2011
The Hero Culture

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The hero culture is alive and well in many organizations.

Riding in on a white horse to rescue the company from a downward spiral, occasioned by a history of poor decisions, will win you lots of recognition and rewards.

On the other hand, insisting on the importance of truly understanding customer needs prior to deciding on a product's features... or really thinking through the technical challenges associated with achieving a desired outcome... or taking the time to engage people before instituting a difficult reorganization, will likely gain you the reputation of being an obstacle, poor team player, or just plain indecisive.

Unfortunately, being the person who seems to know all the answers and can turn things around by telling everyone what to do is often what we are looking for these days.

Creating an organization that is agile and can run on its own -- where decisions are made close to the customer and higher level managers only need to provide strategic direction and uphold key values -- is not the fastest way to "the top" these days.

What is?

Making sure your thumbprint is on every critical decision and that you're the person who always has the last word with the CEO.

So by all means -- if you want to get to the top -- do not make your organization self-sufficient, do not develop your successor, and do not make yourself anything but "indispensable".

-- Barry Gruenberg

Idea Champions
The Anti-Heroes
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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:34 AM | Comments (1)

May 23, 2011
Reinventing the Technology of Human Accomplishment

Here is an impassioned, inspired, lucid, refreshing 15-minute presentation by Gary Hamel on the need for organizations to radically reinvent the way they manage their people. Hamel not only builds a compelling case for something you've always felt (but never quite had the words to express), he uses motion graphics in a way that adds major mojo to his presentation.

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:56 PM | Comments (1)

April 16, 2011
How the Ivy League is Killing Innovation

Here's a wonderful article, just published in Bloomberg Business Week that raises a very curious paradox -- why academics are teaching innovation.

Authors G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Viton state their case clearly, cleanly, and with just enough of an edge to draw blood.

"Process-driven cultures love process-driven experts. Organizations, just like people, do what makes them feel strong, and nothing makes mature, process-driven companies feel stronger than having a template for doing anything (even if having a completely buttoned-down-ain't-no-exceptions-allowed template for innovation seems oxymoronic on its face).

Need innovation? Simply call in a PhD with a bow tie and trademarked process and watch your innovation portfolio grow. Right? Nope."

If you are a professor and find Maddock and Viton's article objectionable, speak up! Let them know what you think -- and why. Maybe you're the one who's found a way to teach innovation in a novel, cut-to-the-chase, non-academic way. I know there are some of you out there. Yes?

If you are a high roller in a corporation looking for the "secret innovation sauce," I invite you to read their article before reaching out to academia for your next keynote speaker.

Here's an alternative

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:11 PM | Comments (0)

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.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:22 PM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2011
Getting Out of the Organizational Box

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Last Thursday, I had an opportunity to be the keynote speaker at the Ethical Sourcing Forum, in NYC, a conference sponsored by Intertek, a world class organization dedicated to "helping customers improve performance, gain efficiencies in manufacturing and logistics, overcome market constraints, and reduce risk."

The topic? Sustainable Innovation. Or, more specifically, how people who work in large organizations can get out of the so-called "box".

After the keynote, I was approached by two very animated people from 3BL, a savvy media company specializing in corporate social responsibility, sustainability and cause marketing communications. Apparently, they liked what they heard and wanted to dig deeper -- on camera.

So, it was off to their make shift media center down the hall for an impromptu interview. Click here to watch the 7-minute video.

My innovation keynotes

My speaker's bureau

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:40 PM | Comments (1)

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.

More
A fun way to get started

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2011
The Hole In the Soul of Business

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If there was an Oscar to be given out for Management Revolution (or better yet, Management Revelation), I would award it to Gary Hamel, author of The Future of Management, Leading the Revolution, and a truckload of other leading edge materials on how to reinvent management.

Gary is the real deal -- a great combination of head and heart. He's got the in-the-trenches experience to know what he's talking about and he's got the head-in-the-clouds aspirations of a true visionary.

Here's a recent blog posting of his that rings very true for me.

I like to think of Gary as the Eric Clapton of management consultants. Go, Gary, Go!

Join the revolution!
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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:07 PM | Comments (0)

September 23, 2010
Unity Takes Two

original.jpg 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.

Joshua Wolf Shenk's Creative Pairs series is now in its third installment at Slate. Part 1 of Inside the Lennon/McCartney Connection starts here and continues on to Part 2.

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 Moore

Posted by Tim Moore at 11:08 PM | Comments (0)

August 10, 2010
Getting Down to the Business of Creativity

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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.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:35 AM | Comments (0)

July 21, 2010
Top 100 Amazon Reviewer Favorably Compares "Awake at the Wheel" to "Who Moved My Cheese?"

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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.

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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.

What others are saying about it.

Winner of Axiom Business Book Award:
(scroll to category #22)

Buy the book

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:11 PM | Comments (0)

February 21, 2010
The Rise of the Innovation Ninjas

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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."

Thanks Gary!

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.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:57 AM | Comments (0)

January 08, 2010
The Eight Irresistible Principles of Fun

One reason why "innovation initiatives" don't work all that well is because their well-meaning architects usually take them too seriously. If people aren't having any fun in the workplace, chances are slim they will ever innovate. There is a huge relationship between AHA! and HAHA!

www.eightprinciples.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:45 AM | Comments (0)

September 16, 2009
The Google Brain Drain?

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"From rock star engineers like Mark Lucovsky to whiz entrepreneurs like Dick Costolo, Google seems to lose a top tier employee every week. Why are so many talented people fleeing such a successful company?" More

Illustration

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:25 AM | Comments (1)

March 25, 2009
Generation "F" vs. the Fortune 500

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This just in from Gary Hamel.

"The experience of growing up online will profoundly shape the workplace expectations of "Generation F" -- the Facebook Generation. At a minimum, they'll expect the social environment of work to reflect the social context of the Web, rather than as is currently the case, a mid-20th-century Weberian bureaucracy."

Hamel's 12 key concepts:

1. All ideas compete on an equal footing
2. Contribution counts for more than credentials
3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed
4. Leaders serve rather than preside
5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned
6. Groups are self-defining and self-organizing
7. Resources get attracted, not allocated
8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it
9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed
10. Users can veto most policy decisions
11. Intrinsic rewards matter most
12. Hackers are heroes

Full story here.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:57 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2009
USA! USA! We're # 8!

America may the world's biggest consumer of Frappucinos, but we're #8 in innovation, according to a joint study of 110 countries by the Boston Consulting Group, National Association of Manufacturers, and the Manufacturing Institute.

But hey, if you don't really care about joint studies (and who can blame you?), click here for an inspiring music video by my good friend, Stuart Hoffman, the Hindi-Hasidic founder of the LA-based Hoffmaniacs.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:33 AM | Comments (0)

February 14, 2009
Find Your Creative Tribe on Facebook

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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.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:31 AM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2009
10 Reasons to Design a Better Corporate Culture

If your organization is committed to creating a corporate culture that is conducive to growth, innovation, and high employee morale, take a look at this insightful article from Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge Newsletter.

The article won't tell you how to create the ideal culture, but it does make a strong case for why it's important. Good ammunition for you in case you need to get the attention of senior leaders and other key stakeholders.

PS: If you're looking for guidelines to help you establish a culture of innovation, click here.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:47 AM | Comments (0)

November 05, 2008
Baking the Change and Innovation Cake

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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?

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:22 AM | Comments (0)

November 04, 2008
"It's No Time to Forget About Innovation"

Writing in the New York Times, Janet Rae-Dupree reminds us that even or especially in times "of corporate belt-tightening," companies reduce their efforts to strengthen innovation at their own risk.

She quotes Jon Fisher, a business professor, serial entrepreneur, and author of "Strategic Entrepreneurism," saying, "'Innovation has to be embedded in the daily operation, in the entire work force.' Addressing companies whose aim is to be bought by a major player in their vertical, he explains, 'A large acquirer's interest in a start-up or smaller company is binary in nature: They either want you or they don't, based on the innovation you have to offer.'

"In fact, hard times can be the source of innovative inspiration, says Chris Shipley, a technology analyst and executive producer of the DEMO conferences, where new ideas make their debuts. 'Some of the best products and services come out of some of the worst times,' she says. In the recession of the early 1990s, 'tiny Palm Computing managed to revitalize the entire industry in a matter of months.'"

Also on the encouraging side: as I write this, Rae-Dupree's article is number six on the most-emailed in the Business section.

"It's No Time to Forget About Innovation" - NYT, 11/1/08.

(Illustration: The White Rabbit, by John Tenniel (1820-1914), from the original "Alice In Wonderland.")

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October 18, 2008
Keep It Simple, Genius!

When I was in my 20s, I worked at the University of Virginia Medical Center. Initially, I was impressed when I heard the interns and residents spicing their diagnostic conversations with impressive sounding Latin words. It made me feel like I was in the presence of experts -- people in the know -- professionals to whom I could entrust my life should I ever get really sick.

In time, it became clear to me that the Latin name dropping routine was just a game -- a way that insecure medical students could instantly feel better about themselves, somehow justifying all those long nights of studying while, at the same time, raising their perceived value in the eyes of their overwhelmed patients.

It is not just medical students who are enamored of complexity. We all are. Somehow, in our over-caffeinated, multi-tracking, digitally-assisted life, we have come to equate complexity with knowledge. Complexity is not knowledge. Complexity is complexity. Simplicity is where its at.

All savvy business leaders I meet these days have a knack for keeping things simple. They demystify. They speak in the language of the people. They cut to the chase in a way that cuts no one in the process. And if they write a book, you do not need a translator to understand it.

My invitation to you today? Keep it simple -- whatever business you are in. You will feel better at the end of the day -- and so will all the people you work with.


Everything should be as simple as possible -- but no simpler. Albert Einstein

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Leonardo DaVinci

Our life is frittered away by detail... Simplify, simplify, simplify! Henry David Thoreau

Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art. Fredrich Chopin

There is no greatness where there is no simplicity. Leo Tolstoy

Nothing is true, but that which is simple. Goethe

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:56 PM | Comments (0)

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."

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:30 PM | Comments (1)

August 03, 2008
INNOVATION SCHMINNOVATION: Give Peace a Chance!

Yes, we're all interested in innovation and that's a good thing, but if innovation doesn't lead to something more than increased marketshare, profits, and stuff to consume, we're in big trouble. Here's a very cool, new video by Stuart Hoffman that will lift your spirits and, hopefully, inspire you to think about new ways in which you can focus your innovation efforts on bringing peace to the world. Got any ideas?

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:56 AM | Comments (2)

June 25, 2008
POLL RESULTS: Where and When Do You Get Your Best Ideas?

Einstein used to get his best ideas while shaving. Mozart used to exercise before composing. The Scientific Method came to Rene Descartes in a dream.

One of our clients gets her best ideas when blow drying her hair.

Fascinated by the question of what catalyzes people's best ideas, Idea Champions polled 163 people and are sharing the results with you here (i.e. "Where and When Do You Get Your Best Ideas?")

Why bother reading it?

1. It will help you be more creative.
2. It will increase your ability to capture your best ideas.
3. It will give you insights about how to create a culture of innovation.
4. It's fascinating (i.e Out of 80 choices, the "workplace" ranked #35. "Daydreaming" was #6.)

If, after reading the poll, you think of other "best idea" catalysts, let us know. When we get 20 or more, we'll share them with Heart of Innovation readers here.

And if you're looking for help establishing a sustainable culture of innovation, click here... or here...or here. (Clicking your shoes three times ain't gonna cut it.)

Or, if you want to spring for $13.95, you can read Awake at the Wheel: Getting Your Great Ideas Rolling (in an uphill world).

(Much thanks to Tim Moore (scroll down to the 8th bio) for his deep thinking, coordination, analysis, and report writing on this project!)

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:53 PM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2008
Getting All Googley

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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

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:58 PM | Comments (0)

June 01, 2008
AWAKE AT THE WHEEL: Getting Your Great Ideas Rolling (in an uphill world)

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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."

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:05 AM | Comments (0)

May 21, 2008
"The Business of Life is Not a Life of Business."

Yes, it's true. The business of life is not a life of business. And only when you realize that, will your business (and your life) really flourish.

Research has shown that business people are more creative when they are happy. Indeed, a positive mood is one of the precursors to a culture of innovation.

If you are a manager, entrepreneur, or simply someone who gets absorbed in their work, you would be well-served to create more balance in your life. All work and no play not only makes Jack a dull boy, it screws up marriages, friendships, health, parenting, and ultimately the workplace environment.

Any thing specific you can do this week to walk the talk?

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:57 PM | Comments (0)

May 15, 2008
BOOK REVIEW: Growing Great Employees

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I love this management development book by Erika Andersen. It's simple. It's beautifully written. And it's very useful.

It's clear that Erika is talking from her real-world experience and not the jive zone of wannabee consultants. It's rare to find a business book devoid of gobbledygook. This book is that rare book.

I thoroughly enjoyed the various ways in which Andersen coaches the reader through real-time challenges in the corporate workplace -- especially the art of hiring and listening.

Growing Great Employees reminds me of what Michelangelo said when asked how he made the David. "I just took away everything that wasn't."

It sure seems to me that the very talented Ms. Andersen has found that secret formula, taking away everything that didn't need to be in this book and leaving the reader with everything they need in order to understand what it means to manage people skillfully and with great humanity.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:42 PM | Comments (1)

April 29, 2008
Got The Email Blues?

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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.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:40 AM | Comments (0)

January 21, 2008
The Big Game

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Last night I watched the NY Giants beat the Green Bay Packers 23-20 in an NFL championship football game.

I watched it with eight friends. As always, we had a fantastic time - an experience that our wives (no matter how wonderful they may be) have never been able to truly fathom. Our viewing behavior, to them, is a merely a parody of the American male: two-dimensional, woefully predictable, and absurd.

That assessment, however, was not my experience last night. No way. On the contrary, my experience was noble, ecstatic, tribal, and divine. Beyond the pretzels, popcorn, chips, and beer something else was happening.

At the risk of making a mountain out of a football game, allow me to share a few observations about the experience and, by extension, the experience of millions of men huddled together before the Big Game. In that sacred act of viewing, NOTHING ELSE WAS HAPPENING! Zero. Nada. Zilch. No work. No bills. No back taxes. No car repairs. No war in Iraq. No recession. No primaries. No relationship issues. No cholesterol. No this and no that. Only The Game.

Pure immersion it was. Spontaneous expression. Presence. Unbridled emotion. Liberated laughter. And the kind of concentration most yogis would trade their third eye for.

What, you may ask, has any of this to do with innovation -- the supposed topic of this supposed blog? Plenty. The state of mind (no, make that state of being), of last night's BIG GAME watching, pretzel munching men is exactly the state of being required by an individual, team, or organization in order to have even the slightest chance of innovating.

OK. Let's go to the slow motion, video replay of that last sentence: I'm talking focus, friends. I'm talking compelling goal. The experience of community. Uncensored delight. Resilience. Loyalty. Humor. Hope. Perseverance. The entertainment of possibility. And the soulful appreciation of each other.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about the common garden variety trance experience induced by watching TV or a movie. No. I'm talking about the BIG GAME. The "All In" moment. The Full Monte. The No Turning Back. The This Is It. The There's No Tomorrow. And all of it sprinkled with a healthy dose of pepperoni and celebration even before anyone knows the final score.

Yes, I admit, the eight of us didn't deliver anything as a result of watching the BIG GAME -- no output, no product, no proof that we had used our time well. But so what? When you're eating chips and experiencing the Unified Field of Consciousness on the day the Lord rested and time stops as your team huddles in the freezing cold, against all odds, to gather together one more time, focused on the goal and absolutely free of constraint, doubt, and delusion, what is there left to say except:

Giants 23, Packers 20. (And in overtime, yet!)

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:30 AM | Comments (0)

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.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:17 PM | Comments (0)

December 30, 2007
Seeing Innovation Clearly

perception_vase.gif

There's an old Indian adage that goes something like this: "When a pickpocket meets a saint, all he sees are pockets." Psychologists summarize this phenomenon in three words: "Motivation affects perception." In other words, if you're hungry when driving through a town, you'll notice the restaurants. If you're running out of gas, you'll notice the gas stations. If your mother is dying, you'll notice the funeral homes.

What is the meaning of this to you?

Simply this: If you are really serious about innovating in 2008, first you will need get clear about your motivation -- what's driving you. The clearer you are, the more your efforts will be free of the hidden agendas, assumptions, and filters that limit your ability to create what you SAY you want to create.

For example, if you think your real motivation is to create a breakthrough product, but what is really driving you is the need for short term profits, you won't have the kind of patience and perseverance required to aacomplish your goal.

Metaphorically speaking, if "innovation" is the "saint" you are seeking, you don't want to be approaching it like a pickpocket.

Next month, in this space, we'll be posting a poll to explore this phenomenon more deeply. We want to find out WHY people want to innovate. To jump start this effort, we invite you NOW to tell us why YOU want to innovate in 2008. What's in it for you? Why bother? What's the payoff?

Is it survival? Is it an attempt to keep pace with the competition? A way to enjoy your job more? A calling? Your strategy to get promoted? Something else? Simply click the "comments" link and let us know.

Which reminds me of that old Woody Allen joke: This guy goes into a psychiatrist's office and, in great distress, confesses that his brother thinks he's a chicken.

"Bring him in," the psychiatrist says.

"I can't," explains Woody.

"Why not," the psychiatrist asks.

"We need the eggs."

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:43 AM | Comments (0)

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).

Posted by at 07:12 PM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2007
Talking Innovation: 3M's Secret Weapon

When talking (or blogging) about practical innovation in the corporate world, there's no better place to start than 3M, a company whose name has become synonymous with the word. 3M is committed to 30% of its revenues coming from recently introduced new products.

Impressive, indeed, but how do they do it?

Dr. Larry Wendling, VP of 3M's corporate research labs, revealed 3M's "secret weapon," in what he refers to as the "Seven Habits of Highly Innovative Organizations."

The Seven Habits are (paraphrased from Amy Rowell's Innovate Forum article):
1. Totally commit to innovation from top management on down.
2. Actively maintain an innovative culture.
3. Maintain a broad base of technology.
4. Encourage formal and informal networking.
5. Reward employees.
6. Quantify efforts.
7. Tie research to customers.

It all makes perfect sense, of course, starting with Wendling's first habit, the commitment of top management. But the fourth habit, what Wendling calls 3M's "secret weapon," is often overlooked, or even ignored, much of the time in organizations. In Rowell's words: "Talk, talk, talk. Management at 3M has long encouraged networking -- formal and informal -- among its researchers."

I think Wendling calls this 3M's "secret weapon" because so few other companies do this well, or are even aware of its importance. But what could be more important to innovation than encouraging the collaboration and teamwork we know lies behind every innovation since the invention of the wheel?

This is where the "silo" mentality and the "not invented here" syndrome intrudes on an innovation culture. Strict, formal reporting structures, loyalty to business unit before the organization, and the human tendency to only interact with people who already share our own views and experiences, all come into play. Any or all of these can block, or at least slow down, many companies' internal "network of innovation."

I can't tell you how many times I've facilitated a brainstorm session at a major corporation when a proposed idea will get criticized, or even rejected, because the development of the idea would involve another department or business unit! Sometimes the excuse is that there is no protocol for working with the other unit, and one would have to be created. Sometimes there is a poor previous history of collaboration between the two departments, (often involving, unsurprisingly, the two people at the top of each division).

In any case, I can't help but wonder how many great ideas fall between the cracks because executing them falls between the purviews of two different departments. And, unfortunately, it is in space between two major realms of focused business activity where we would expect to find some of the most exciting and profitable innovations!

To its credit, 3M actively encourages employees to talk to each other; across business units and despite formal roles, responsibilities, and organizational charts. If an employee has the kernel of an idea, he (or she) has the permission, indeed, the responsibility, to reach out and find out if it's viable, or if someone else has the missing piece. They're free to ask if others are interested in developing it, no matter where they work in the organization! (You mean you're allowed to DO that? Who knew?)

So, how does YOUR company's culture deal with employee networking? Does it encourage employees reaching out across organizational boundaries to share insights and ideas? Does it ignore this important aspect of innovation? Or is it actually hostile to it, punishing employees who reach out to others in order to get something started?

Here's a relatively cost-free way to improve the culture of innovation of your organization. Take advantage of 3M's experience and success and make employee networking your innovation "secret weapon" as well.

And, yes, you ARE allowed to do that!

Posted by Val Vadeboncoeur at 06:45 PM | Comments (0)

Talking Innovation: 3M's Secret Weapon

When talking (or blogging) about practical innovation in the corporate world, there's no better place to start than 3M, a company whose name has become synonymous with the word. 3M is committed to 30% of its revenues coming from recently introduced new products.

Impressive, indeed, but how do they do it?

Dr. Larry Wendling, VP of 3M's corporate research labs, revealed 3M's "secret weapon," in what he refers to as the "Seven Habits of Highly Innovative Organizations."

The Seven Habits are (paraphrased from Amy Rowell's Innovate Forum article):
1. Totally commit to innovation from top management on down.
2. Actively maintain an innovative culture.
3. Maintain a broad base of technology.
4. Encourage formal and informal networking.
5. Reward employees.
6. Quantify efforts.
7. Tie research to customers.

It all makes perfect sense, of course, starting with Wendling's first habit, the commitment of top management. But the fourth habit, what Wendling calls 3M's "secret weapon," is often overlooked, or even ignored, much of the time in organizations. In Rowell's words: "Talk, talk, talk. Management at 3M has long encouraged networking -- formal and informal -- among its researchers."

I think Wendling calls this 3M's "secret weapon" because so few other companies do this well, or are even aware of its importance. But what could be more important to innovation than encouraging the collaboration and teamwork we know lies behind every innovation since the invention of the wheel?

This is where the "silo" mentality and the "not invented here" syndrome intrudes on an innovation culture. Strict, formal reporting structures, loyalty to business unit before the organization, and the human tendency to only interact with people who already share our own views and experiences, all come into play. Any or all of these can block, or at least slow down, many companies' internal "network of innovation."

I can't tell you how many times I've facilitated a brainstorm session at a major corporation when a proposed idea will get criticized, or even rejected, because the development of the idea would involve another department or business unit! Sometimes the excuse is that there is no protocol for working with the other unit, and one would have to be created. Sometimes there is a poor previous history of collaboration between the two departments, (often involving, unsurprisingly, the two people at the top of each division).

In any case, I can't help but wonder how many great ideas fall between the cracks because executing them falls between the purviews of two different departments. And, unfortunately, it is in space between two major realms of focused business activity where we would expect to find some of the most exciting and profitable innovations!

To its credit, 3M actively encourages employees to talk to each other; across business units and despite formal roles, responsibilities, and organizational charts. If an employee has the kernel of an idea, he (or she) has the permission, indeed, the responsibility, to reach out and find out if it's viable, or if someone else has the missing piece. They're free to ask if others are interested in developing it, no matter where they work in the organization! (You mean you're allowed to DO that? Who knew?)

So, how does YOUR company's culture deal with employee networking? Does it encourage employees reaching out across organizational boundaries to share insights and ideas? Does it ignore this important aspect of innovation? Or is it actually hostile to it, punishing employees who reach out to others in order to get something started?

Here's a relatively cost-free way to improve the culture of innovation of your organization. Take advantage of 3M's experience and success and make employee networking your innovation "secret weapon" as well.

And, yes, you ARE allowed to do that!

Posted by Val Vadeboncoeur at 06:45 PM | Comments (0)

July 23, 2007
Welcome

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."

Welcome aboard!

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Who Are We?

Idea Champions is a consulting and training company dedicated to awakening and nurturing the spirit of innovation. We help individuals, teams and entire organizations tap into their innate ability to create, develop and implement ideas that make a difference.

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