February 20, 2013
Avoiding Reality at All Costs

The Heart of Innovation is thrilled to publish the following inspired rant by one of our favorite clients, Doug Stuke, Associate Professor at Post University's Malcolm Baldrige School of Business, Learning Head at Aetna, and all around cool guy. Doug's post is the launch of a new series of guest posts by Idea Champion's clients -- our attempt to provide our readers with unique viewpoints, insights, and a healthy dose of in-the-trenches-wisdom.

"Reality" is way over-rated.

Frankly, I am pretty sick of it most days, with its in-your-face, glowing white noise electric fueled buzz, tweets and dinging OMG LOLs.

Like my amped up, power tool-obsessed neighbors (we call them "777" -- the neighbors of the beast), it's loud, annoying and really cramping my style. Yes, we are all inter-connected, but even more, we are creatures in love with our cages -- living within our own little boundaries that define our world views and limit our possibilities.

Ironically, we have never been better informed as a species, able to access unprecedented levels of information that hold the promise to empower and expand.

In one week, the New York Times contains more information than a person had access to in a lifetime in the 18th century. And yet, escaping reality has become an addiction.

According to Jane McGonigal, Director of the Institute for the Future Game R&D and author of Reality is Broken, our species invests three billion hours weekly playing video games.

Astoundingly, the average young person racks up 10,000 hours of gaming by the age of 21 -- or 24 hours less than they spend in a classroom for all of middle and high school if they have perfect attendance.

Kids these days!

That's one way to avoid reality. Here are three other ways I prefer:

Expand Your Mind:
No, this doesn't require redefining the meaning of drug testing in the footsteps of Hunter "I-hate-to-advocate-drugs-alcohol-violence-or-insanity-to-anyone-but-they've-always-worked-for-me" S. Thompson.

It does, however, require plugging in, not dropping out.

Last month, for example, my son, who lives on the opposite coast, e-mailed me saying that he had just enrolled in a Berkley School of Music on-line songwriting course.

The spooky thing? I had also enrolled in the same course two weeks earlier.

Independently, we had both come across Coursera.org -- a social entrepreneurship company that partners with top universities in the world to offer their best courses taught by their top professors online for anyone -- for free.

I began my first course Think Again: How to Reason and Argue in mid-November with 170,000 fellow classmates from around the planet!

Rebel Within
One quintessential element of avoiding reality lies in our ability to imagine possibilities that lie outside of our (or our organization's) reality tube and then innovating a way to get there.

With the rise of fast food and pre-packaged food in the 1960's, coupled with millions of mom's leaving the kitchen for the workforce, there was a steep decline in baking product sales. To overcome this decline, one forward thinking company -- Arm & Hammer -- innovated itself into a whole new product space without changing a single aspect of its product other than the consumer mental model.

Henry Ford put it another way, "If I had asked them what they had wanted, they would have said a faster horse."

To reinvent oneself and one's organization means always being the outsider looking in, never quite settling into conventional thinking about what is real and the limits that come with it.

When we were infants, our minds were like rain forests -- a virgin ecosystem free of boundaries and rational limits. We gained experiences and created "footsteps" in the forest via synaptic connections that allowed us to survive and make sense of the world. Over time and repetition these footsteps become trails and then roads and then super highways.

The resulting "mental GPS" allows you to read this blog, sip coffee, check the time, adjust the temperature. and drive your car all at the same time (I think there are laws against this now, but being a rebel has its own rewards).

The downside is that refining a whole world of options into an efficient few means that many, many other choices are automatically discarded.

When I feel as if I am facing the ONLY option, I now resist the safety and consider doing the exact opposite or nothing at all.

It is in the combination of extreme choices where our innovative freedom lies and everything remains possible.

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at February 20, 2013 11:05 AM


Excellent Blog Doug! You couldn't be more right. As we get older we learn to add boundaries to our thought process as opposed to the open book that we were born with free from constraints. In Mitch Ditkoff's words "We need to think outside the cave!". :)

Posted by: Amy Davis [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 27, 2013 12:33 PM

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