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Monday, April 26, 2010

Where will your next great marketing idea come from?

by Matt Heinz

Where will your next great marketing idea come from?Here's an idea.

Pick 5-8 people in your organization who are not in sales or marketing. Invite them to a one-hour meeting later this week, and at the meeting spend 15 minutes each brainstorming on the four questions below:

  1. How will you identify and empower your most loyal customers to tell your story, increase positive word-of-mouth and general referrals?

  2. What can employees do to evangelize your brand, and attract both new customers and potential new employees, on and off work hours?

  3. How could you identify, engage and participate in customer communities to build value, trust, credibility and consideration/intent towards your brand?

  4. What simple things can you do to inspire greater retention, renewals or frequency with current customers (without spending additional money)?

I bet you'll be pleasantly surprised how creative, innovative and useful their ideas and that time will be.

Bonus points if you hand them a copy of the questions afterward, give them a day or two to think more about it, then reconvene the group for a follow-up session to discuss additional ideas.

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Matt HeinzMatt Heinz is principal at Heinz Marketing, a sales & marketing consulting firm helping businesses increase customers and revenue. Contact Matt at matt@heinzmarketing.com or visit www.heinzmarketing.com.

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SCAMPER Your Way to Increased Innovation

SCAMPER Your Way to Increased Innovationby Paul Sloane

One of the most popular creativity methods in my Ideas Workshop is SCAMPER. It is a productive and versatile technique for generating innovative ideas for your product or service. It forces you to look at your offering from seven different perspectives. SCAMPER is an acronym and you ask the following types of question when you use this tool:

  • Substitute: What elements of this product or service can we substitute?

  • Combine: How can we combine this with other products or services?

  • Adapt: What idea from elsewhere can we alter or adapt?

  • Maximize or minimize: How can we greatly enlarge or greatly reduce any component?

  • Put to other use: What completely different use can we have for our product?

  • Eliminate: What elements of the product or service can be eliminated?

  • Rearrange or reverse: How can we rearrange the product or reverse the process?

Here are some examples of how the SCAMPER verbs work for innovation:
  • If you were making spectacles then you could substitute plastic lenses for glass (incremental innovation) or you could substitute contact lenses for spectacles (radical innovation).

  • A mobile phone was combined with a camera and then an MP3 player.

  • The roll-on deodorant was an idea adapted from the ballpoint pen.

  • Restaurants that offer all you can eat have maximized their proposition.

  • A low cost airline like Ryanair has minimized (or eliminated) many elements of service.

  • De Beers put industrial diamonds to other use when they launched engagement rings.

  • Dell Computers and Amazon eliminated the intermediary.

  • MacDonalds rearranged the restaurant by getting customers to pay first and then eat.

Luciano Passuello has posted a section of his blog on SCAMPER together with a SCAMPER random question generator and a SCAMPER mindmap. If you want to use this tool in your next brainstorm meeting, then these resources are highly recommended.

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Paul SloanePaul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.

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10 Ways to Help Left Brainers Tap Into the Best of Their Creativity

by Mitch Ditkoff

10 Ways to Help Left Brainers Tap Into the Best of Their CreativityIf 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 in their own lives

No matter how risk averse or analytical people in your sessions may be, it's likely that all of them - at some time or another - have had a really great idea. "Creativity" really isn't all that foreign to them (although they may think it is). All you need to do to get them in touch with that part of themselves is help them recall a moment when they were operating at a high level of creativity.

Get them talking about how it felt, what were the conditions, and what preceded the breakthrough. You'll be amazed at the stories you'll hear and how willing everyone will be, after that, to really stretch out.

3. 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 humor 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.

* Excerpted from 32 Ways of Working with the Left Brain, part of Idea Champions' Platinum Innovation Kit

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Jobs Machine

by Kevin Roberts

The iPad has hit shelves this month, and looks to be leaving them just as fast. A Steve Jobs' quote I relate to is "real artists ship". It goes to the heart of making things happen. We're seeing some encouraging signs in the global economy, (including bellwethers like Swiss watch sales) but an overall recovery will be slow and bumpy. At Davos in late January, Obama's chief economist, Larry Summers, said: "We are in a statistical recovery but a human recession." The social shock waves caused by downturns roll out devastation. Take down-under - at end of 2009, New Zealand unemployment was the highest in a decade. A major 2009 spike in violent crime was fueled by family violence, up 18.6%.

I see creativity and innovation as the two powerful engines that will deliver a sustainable recovery. We need a recovery that delivers real jobs within a frame of sustainable living, and we have to breed attitude that delivers this. Reasonable people see a lot of doom and gloom, but, luckily, our fate is not in the hands of reasonable people. George Bernard Shaw said this:

"Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people."

Unreasonable people have a fantastic record of innovating and cooperating to help get the world out of seemingly intractable places. We have faced huge challenges and prevailed over and over again. I am enough of a radical optimist to believe we will continue to do so.

One example: in the 1970's and 80's, bookshelves brimmed with bestsellers predicting that the world would run out of food by 1990. Given the limitations of our knowledge and imagination at the time, it was a reasonable proposition. Well, that's not how it played out. The Green Revolution allowed us to double food production, thereby eradicating famine in many parts of the world. There are still stubborn pockets where failed states can't feed their people, but agriscientists and innovators have brought about huge advances.

There is no short-cut to prosperity. We are in reset mode. Every business owner and leader needs to steer their organization in ways that add value to the world, not just to shareholders. Every field of enterprise needs to harvest courage and unleash the unreasonable power of creativity. We need bigger ideas, delivered. Here's to the crazy ones, and more jobs.

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Kevin RobertsKevin Roberts is the CEO worldwide of The Lovemarks Company, Saatchi & Saatchi. For more information on Kevin, please go to www.saatchikevin.com. To see this blog at its original source, please go to www.krconnect.blogspot.com.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Who are your positive deviants?

by Hutch Carpenter

positive deviants"The future is already here - it is just unevenly distributed"

The famous William Gibson quote above is generally considered in the context of advanced technologies. Makes sense, seeing as he is a science fiction writer. But I'd like to bring the concept down to a more tangible, prosaic level. One that has value for large organizations.

Specifically, Gibson's quote is a good way way to think about innovative practices that are present in a given ecosystem or community, but which are unknown to most people.

A few months ago, the Boston Globe ran an article titled, The power of positive deviants. It profiled a new way of thinking about innovation, "positive deviance". What is that?

"Positive deviance is an approach to behavioral and social change. Instead of imposing solutions from without, the method identifies outliers in a community who, despite having no special advantages, are doing exceptionally well. By respecting local ingenuity, proponents say, the approach galvanizes community members and is often more effective and sustainable than imported blueprints"

The article includes an example, in which authorities were seeking ideas to fight incidents of the MRSA bacteria, which cling to clothes for days and are thus hard to counteract. In canvassing hospitals for a solution, researchers came across the practice of a patient transporter, Jasper Palmer. He would ball up his hospital gown, and stuff it in his inverted hospital gloves. It turns out, this is highly effective in stopping the spread of MRSA. His technique has been widely adopted, and is now called the Palmer method.

See...the future of MRSA control was already here. It was just unevenly distributed.

There are two key concepts in positive deviance:

  1. Outliers as sources of innovative practices
  2. The power of a practice that emerges from a community, not one imposed from outside it

While the Boston Globe article focuses on efforts for improving humanitarian and social problems, the approach is a useful one to consider in the context of solving tough problems for any organization.

Which Organizations Benefit?

Well, any organization can benefit from looking for examples of positive deviance to solve problems.

Who are your positive deviants?
But perhaps the approach is best suited for companies with these qualities:

  • Large, with workers distributed geographically
  • Many employees engaged in similar tasks in these various locations

The distribution of the workforce has the effect of letting different ideas propagate independently. Each person has her own ideas for how to solve different problems that will inevitably occur. Consider this evolution in the realm of work practices. Multiple species of practices can emerge, and some are better suited for long term sustainability than others.

The similarity of activities means the positive deviances can be sources of value for others. Otherwise, these outlier practices are only of value to a limited set of peers.

Eliciting Those Positive Deviations

This is the challenge, isn't it? How can organizations surface the outlier, positive deviations of employees? This is a conundrum that has bedeviled the knowledge management industry for years. People do not simply record all the things they know and do. It's not in the flow of their daily work. There's no motivation to sift through all the different things they do to.

Rather, organizations need to go looking for their positive deviants, because they're out there. Two models exist for this:
  1. Organizations treat the mining of these positive deviations as a campaign
  2. Individuals post their call for examples of how others address a problem

The first model is great for generating a large set of possible solutions to a problem. It leverages the internal communication infrastructure, and the motivation that comes when senior managers are backing an initiative. Rewards can be included in the campaign, increasing the motivation.

But that doesn't have to be the only way. Individuals will face problems that colleagues have solved previously, perhaps in an unorthodox way (e.g. the Palmer method for MRSA). Letting individuals cast a call for ideas is necessary as well. Don't make them wait until a full campaign is undertaken.

Crowdsource the solution from one's peers. With today's tools, the process of crowdsourcing for solutions is easy, enriched with analytics, anchored with workflow, searchable by everybody, and provides the basis for generating reputation scores and rewards.

The great part of this is that solutions coming from others in the organization will generally get a warmer reception than a solution from a consultant. It's just the nature of us. We listen to those who face the same challenges we do first, before someone who doesn't know the business as well.

Go ahead, find the positive deviants in your organization. Make the future a little more evenly distributed.

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Hutch CarpenterHutch Carpenter is the Vice President of Product at Spigit. Spigit integrates social collaboration tools into a SaaS enterprise idea management platform used by global Fortune 2000 firms to drive innovation.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

26 Reasons Why Most Brainstorming Sessions Fail

And what you can do about it

by Mitch Ditkoff

26 Reasons Why Most Brainstorming Sessions FailWhenever I ask our clients to tell me about the quality of brainstorming sessions in their company, they usually roll their eyes and grumble. Bottom line, most brainstorming sessions don't work. Not because brainstorming, as a process, doesn't work - but because it's usually done poorly.

What follows are the 26 most common reasons why - and after that, a list of what you can do differently to turn things around.

  1. Poor facilitation
  2. Wrong (or poorly articulated) topic
  3. Unmotivated participants
  4. Insufficient diversity of participants
  5. Inadequate orientation
  6. No transition from "business as usual"
  7. Lack of clear ground rules
  8. Sterile meeting space
  9. Hidden (or competing) agendas
  10. Lack of robust participation
  11. Insufficient listening
  12. Habitual idea killing behavior
  13. Attachment to old ("pet") ideas
  14. Discomfort with ambiguity
  15. Hyper-seriousness (not enough fun)
  16. Endless interruptions
  17. PDA addiction (Crackberries)
  18. Impatience (premature adoption of the first "right idea")
  19. Group think
  20. Hierarchy and/or competing sub-groups
  21. Imbalance of divergent and convergent thinking
  22. No tools and techniques to spark the imagination
  23. Inelegant ways of capturing new ideas
  24. No time for personal reflection
  25. Pre-mature evaluation
  26. No follow-up plan

  1. Find, train (or hire) a skillful facilitator
  2. Make sure you're focusing on the right challenge.
  3. Invite people who really care about the topic.
  4. Invite people with diverse points of view.
  5. Spend time clarifying the "current reality".
  6. Start with a fun icebreaker to help change mindset.
  7. Ask participants to establish clear meeting ground rules.
  8. Design (or find) a more inspiring meeting space.
  9. Establish alignment re: session goals.
  10. Find ways to engage the least verbal participants.
  11. Establish "deep listening" as a ground rule. Model it.
  12. Invite participants to name classic idea killing statements.
  13. Elicit the group's pet ideas in the first 30 minutes.
  14. Explain how ambiguity is part of the ideation process.
  15. Tell stories, play music, invite humor.
  16. Go offsite. Put a "meeting in progress" sign on the door.
  17. Collect all PDAs/cell phones. Establish "no email" ground rule.
  18. Go for a quantity of ideas. Let go of perfectionism.
  19. Encourage individuality, risk taking, and wild ideas.
  20. Ask people to leave their titles at the door.
  21. Start with divergent thinking. End with convergent thinking.
  22. Use tools and techniques to spark original thinking.
  23. Enroll scribes, use post-its, have an idea capture process.
  24. Create time for individuals to reflect on new ideas.
  25. Explain that evaluation will happen at the end of the session.
  26. Identify and enroll "champions". Explain the follow up process.

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Think What Nobody Else Thinks

by Paul Sloane

Think What Nobody Else ThinksHow can you think of things that no-one else thinks of? The answer is by deliberately taking a different approach to the issue from everyone else. There are dominant ideas in every field. The innovative thinker purposefully challenges those dominant ideas in order to conceive new possibilities.

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who discovered Vitamin C, said, "Genius is seeing what everyone else sees and thinking what no-one else has thought." If you can identify the standard viewpoint then survey the situation from a different viewpoint you have an excellent chance of gaining a new insight. When Jonas Salk was asked how he invented the vaccine for polio he replied, "I imagined myself as a virus or cancer cell and tried to sense what it would be like."

Ford Motor Corporation asked Edward de Bono, who originated the concept of lateral thinking, for some advice on how they could clearly differentiate themselves from their many competitors in car manufacturing. De Bono gave them a very innovative idea. Ford had approached the problem of competing from the point of view of a car manufacturer and asked the question, "How can we make our cars more attractive to consumers?" De Bono approached the problem from another direction and asked the question, "How can we make the whole driving experience better for Ford customers?" His advice was that Ford should buy up car parks in all the major city centers and make them available for Ford cars only. His remarkable idea was too radical for Ford who saw themselves as an automobile manufacturer with no interest in the car parks business.

The spectators at the Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1968 were amazed to see a young athlete perform a high jump with his back to the bar. Until then, every high jumper 'rolled' over the bar with his or her face down. Dick Fosbury, and American, introduced an entirely new approach, the 'flop', leaping over with his back close to the bar and his face up. Fosbury was ranked 48th in the world in 1967; yet in 1968 he caused a sensation when he won the Olympic Gold Medal with his unprecedented technique and a leap of 2.24metres. What he introduced was literally a leap of the imagination - and it revolutionized high jumping. Nowadays all the top jumpers use his method. He thought what no-one else thought and conceived a new method.

How can we force ourselves to take a different view of a situation? Instead of looking at the scene from your view try looking at it from the perspective of a customer, a product, a supplier, a child, an alien, a lunatic, a comedian, a dictator, an anarchist, an architect, Salvador Dali, Leonardo da Vinci and so on. Apply the What if? technique. Challenge all the common assumptions. If everyone else is looking for the richest region, look for the wettest. If everyone else is facing the bar then turn your back on it.

If you had to study a valley, how many ways could you look at it? You could look up and down the valley; you could scan it from the riverside or stand and look across it from each hillside. You could walk it, drive along the road or take a boat down the river. You could study a satellite photo. You could peruse a map. Each gives you a different view of the valley and each adds to your understanding of the valley. Why not do the same with any problem? Why do we immediately try to frame a solution before we have approached the problem from multiple differing perspectives?

The great geniuses did not take the traditional view and develop existing ideas. They took an entirely different view and transformed society. Picasso took a different view of painting; he saw cubes, shapes and impressions instead of accurate images. Einstein imagined a new approach to physics; a world where time and space were relative. Darwin conceived a different view of the origin of species; he saw how they might have evolved rather than been created. Each of them looked at the world in a new way. In similar fashion Jeff Bezos took a different view of book retailing with Amazon.com, Stelios took a new perspective on flying with Easyjet, Swatch transformed our view of watches and IKEA changed the way we buy furniture.

If we can attack problems from entirely new directions then we can think of things that conventional thinkers miss. It gives us unlimited possibilities for innovation.

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Paul SloanePaul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.

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Monday, April 05, 2010

Avoiding Creativity Suicide

by Glen Stansberry

Avoiding Creativity SuicideStarting and stopping a project is suicide. Ideally we could dive in to a project for 50 hours and just get the thing done. Unfortunately, our bodies aren't made for that kind of thing. Unless you're a cyborg, you're limited by:
  • focus
  • sleep
  • limbs getting tired or restless
  • and did I say focus?

In college I'd occasionally stay up all night to write a paper I'd procrastinated on. The results were never, ever good. These nocturnal writing sessions produced the same quality of writing as a monkey plunking on the keyboard. And my grades confirmed my suspicions.

Yet there is one aspect of just plowing through a project that I do find helpful: you don't have to keep figuring out where you left off. For example: I'm in the middle of a very big project. Unfortunately, when I try to pick up where I stopped working the previous day, I have a hard time getting back into the proper frame of mind. I can spend up to 30 minutes reverse engineering what it was exactly that I was working on the day before.

Gaps in our work are hard to come back from. Especially if you're doing something that requires intense creativity. You have to get back into the mindset of the project. You have to wrap your head around the entire concept, to really be able to continue where you left the project at.

I've found that the only way to really wrap my head around something is to force myself back into the "zone", so to speak. If it's writing, I'll re-read everything I've written, so as to recapture that mindset. If it's programming, then I'll have to go look at SVN commits, or just start digging around the code. Anything to get my mind back into the frame of the task at hand.

Once I finally wrap my head around the project, it's not hard to get back into gear. It's the process of climbing back up to the previous ledge and pushing forward that is a tad difficult.

There are plenty of techniques to help you remember where you left off in a project. Here are a couple that I use that never fail me:
  • If I know I'm going to be revisiting the project quickly, I leave open all tools, documents, etc., so it's like a visual snapshot
  • I take detailed notes as to what I was thinking, feeling and doing when I stopped working

These techniques are simple, but they take a while to get used to. If you can become more mindful of what you're working on, odds are you'll get into the flow easier and quicker.

What do you all use to get back into the continuity of a project?

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Glen StansberryGlen Stansberry writes at LifeDev, a blog that helps people make their ideas happen. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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100 Simple, Low-Cost Ways to be More Creative on the Job

100 Simple, Low-Cost Ways to Be More Creative on the Job
by Mitch Ditkoff

  1. Ask the most creative people at work for their ideas.
  2. Brainstorm daily with a co-worker.
  3. Tape record your ideas on your commute to and from work.
  4. Present your challenge to a child.
  5. Take your team off-site for a day.

  6. Listen to your inner muse.
  7. Play music in your office.
  8. Go for a daily brainstorming walk.
  9. Ask someone to collaborate with you on your favorite project.
  10. Exercise during your lunch break.

  11. Turn on a radio at random times and listen for a "message."
  12. Invite your customers to brainstorming sessions.
  13. Think of three other ways to define your challenge.
  14. Remember your dreams.
  15. Reward yourself, in specific ways, for small successes.

  16. Introduce odd catalysts into your daily routine.
  17. Get out of the office more regularly.
  18. Play with fun toys in your office whenever you get stuck.
  19. Take more naps.
  20. Ask for help.

  21. Work in cafes.
  22. Transform your assumptions into "How can I?" questions.
  23. Write down as many ideas as you can think of in five minutes
  24. Redesign your office.
  25. Take regular daydreaming breaks.

  26. Dissolve turf boundaries.
  27. Initiate cross-functional brainstorming sessions.
  28. Arrive earlier to the office than anyone else.
  29. Turn a conference room into an upbeat "think tank" room.
  30. Read odd books - having nothing to do with your work.

  31. Block off time on your calendar for creative thinking.
  32. Take a shower in the middle of the day.
  33. Keep an idea notebook at your desk.
  34. Decorate your office with inspiring quotes and images.
  35. Create a headline of the future and the story behind it.

  36. Choose to be more creative.
  37. Recall a time in your life when you were very creative.
  38. Wander around a bookstore while thinking about your challenge.
  39. Trust your instincts more.
  40. Immerse yourself in your most exciting project.

  41. Open a magazine and free associate off of a word or image.
  42. Write down your ideas when you first wake up in the morning.
  43. Ask yourself what the simplest solution is.
  44. Get fast feedback from people you trust.
  45. Conduct more experiments.

  46. Ask yourself what the market wants or needs.
  47. Ask "What's the worst thing that could happen if I fail?"
  48. Pilot your idea, even if it's not ready.
  49. Work "in the cracks" - small bursts of creative energy.
  50. Incubate (sleep on it).
  51. Test existing boundaries - and then test them again.

  52. Schedule time with the smartest people at work.
  53. Visit your customers more frequently.
  54. Benchmark your competitors - then adapt their successes.
  55. Enroll your boss or peers into your most fascinating project.
  56. Imagine you already know the answer. What would it be?

  57. Create ground rules with your team that foster new thinking.
  58. Ask stupid questions. Then ask some more.
  59. Challenge everything you do.
  60. Give yourself a deadline - and stick to it
  61. Look for three alternatives to every solution you originate.

  62. Write your ideas in a notebook and review them regularly.
  63. Make connections between seemingly disconnected things.
  64. Use creative thinking techniques.
  65. Play with the Free the Genie cards.
  66. Use similes and metaphors when describing your ideas.

  67. Have more fun. Be sillier than usual.
  68. Ask "How can I accomplish my goal in half the time?"
  69. Take a break when you are stuck on a problem.
  70. Think how your biggest hero might approach your challenge.
  71. Declare Friday afternoons a "no-email zone."

  72. Ask three people how they would improve your idea.
  73. Create a wall of images that inspires you.
  74. Do more of what already helps you be creative off the job.
  75. Laugh more, worry less.
  76. Remember your dreams - then write them down.

  77. Ask impossible questions.
  78. Eliminate all unnecessary bureaucracy and admin tasks.
  79. Create a compelling vision of what you want to accomplish.
  80. Work on hottest project every day, even if only 5 minutes.
  81. Do whatever is necessary to create a sense of urgency.

  82. Go for a walk anytime you're stuck.
  83. Meditate or do relaxation exercises.
  84. Take more breaks.
  85. Go out for lunch with your team more often.
  86. Eat lunch with a different person each day.

  87. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
  88. Invite an outside facilitator to lead a brainstorming session.
  89. Take more risks outside of the office (i.e. surf, ski, box etc.)
  90. Ask for help when you need it.
  91. Know that it is possible to make a difference.

  92. Find a mentor.
  93. Acknowledge all your successes at the end of each day.
  94. Create an "idea piggy bank" and make deposits daily.
  95. Have shorter meetings.
  96. Try the techniques in "Awake at the Wheel"

  97. Don't listen to or watch the news for 24 hours.
  98. Make drawings of your ideas.
  99. Bring your project or challenge to mind before going to bed.
  100. Divide your idea into component parts. Then rethink each part.
  101. Post this list near your desk and read it daily.

KIND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS TO: Anne Howe, David Beath, Jim Aubele, Gary Kvistad, Howard Moody, Farrell Reynolds, Hector Cruz Rosa, Jill Peckinpaugh, and Marcy Turkington for their wonderful suggestions.

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How to Spark a Snowcrash & What the Web Really Does

by Venessa Miemis

It's been an interesting week, to say the least.

In a lot of ways, we all just pulled each other up to a new frequency, I think. We've been sharing our ideas and perspectives of our personal discoveries for a while now, and all of a sudden all these perspectives assembled into an insight that helped me understand why the human network is so important, and why building a personal 'trust network' is critical for moving forward in society. (For anyone new here, check out An Idea Worth Spreading post and comment thread as an orientation to this site and the thinking going on here.)

So the past few days have been spent thinking about what just happened, and how we can keep doing it.

I have realized what's happening here is that this blog has become a public learning community, where we are all literally learning how to learn. We are learning how to think in this new way. This new way of thinking, this 'network thinking', by default requires a network. We can't learn how to think in the new way alone. We can only figure it out through experimentation and collaboration. This is the "shift" everyone is talking about, the big thing that individuals and organizations "need" to operate in the 21st Century. We're revealing it, unfolding it, right now, together.

My takeaway of what this means and how to do it:

1. Create a personal 'trust network' for yourself first.

In order to understand the implications of the shift and to internalize it, you need to experience it firsthand. You can't tell your organization that you're going to be implementing "social media" and everyone is going to start "collaborating," and assume that waving a magic wand is going to make this happen. My experience has been that I had to learn what trusting and sharing means on my own.

That really sounds bizarre, and I feel a bit sub-human that it took me so long to re-learn how to trust someone and share resources. It's what we're taught as children, but apparently society does a good job beating it out of us.

All of us have a trust network already 'in real life'. It's your family and your close friends and colleagues, all those strong ties, and also your extended family, community, and coworkers, your weak ties. These people are crucial, they are your companions day to day. But what about people beyond your real life connections? Is there a way to extend our connections and build trust with strangers who have a diversity of backgrounds, skills, strengths, resources, and knowledge? People who could help us if we needed help? Could we establish a global trust network?

What I discovered through Twitter was that there are people out there who know what community means. Who really, truly know. These people have already internalized what a society could look like based on a cooperative model, and it seems that this is what's really going on on the web. Beyond all the superficial stuff out there, all the mindless entertainment and porn, at the core (or maybe at the periphery) is a community of...thousands?...millions?...of people who have jobs and careers and passions that they carry out "in the real world," but have already embraced the vision of a much different way of life that is based in trust.

And they are modeling it online.

What is actually happening on the web is an epic experiment in creating a new society.

When you hear people talk about this online "gift economy," and "building value and trust," and "sharing" - this is WAY beyond a new gimmick for your business. Please don't underestimate what's going on. This is actually people laying down the foundation and infrastructure for a new global economy. There is a movement that is slowly gaining steam as people are "waking up," and it has the potential to change the world.

That thing you think about before you go to sleep at night, when you say "sigh, if only the world was a little more like ________" - that thing is actually going on right now. It's terrifying and magical, because it means that there is hope. It means that we don't have to stand by and let the economy and education and government all erode and crumble around us as we watch from the sidelines. There's the opportunity to actually get involved, take charge of our own lives, and join in the experiment and see how to make it a reality. How to make it THE reality.

The beauty of the complexity of it is that in order to really reap the benefits of it, you have to participate in it genuinely, and in order to participate genuinely, you have to do it intentionally, and in order to do it intentionally, you have to understand it, and in order to understand it, you have to understand yourself, and in order to understand yourself, you have to learn how to give, and in order to learn how to give, you have to establish a network to give to.

It's a complex interrelated web, but it seems that establishing the network is a first step.

2. Share yourself.

This is the part where mindfulness comes in, and where you really have to start exploring the depths of personal Identity.

That's a lot to ask, and you may not have even asked yourself that question in a while. That's the point. If you were really going to live in a trust-based society - what would that look like? Who would you be?

There's a big path of self-discovery and self-reflection that goes on, there's a lot of confronting your beliefs and your ego, and it's painful sometimes.

For me, that is kind of the beauty of the web. It can help you to help yourself, if you choose to use it to that end.

And the way that 'it' helps you, is that PEOPLE help you. It's the people. It has always been about the people.

Why has our society become so jaded, so selfish, so afraid, so arrogant, so egotistical, and so greedy?

I think it's because our society doesn't give us many chances to share ourselves with each other. To really let our guards down and just be authentic, good people, who are not out for gain, who are not out to exploit each other in order to get ahead, but who just want to be able to freely exchange gifts and collaborate because it makes us feel good.

Society doesn't want this. You want to know why?

Because these things are free.

What does society reward? Cheating. Stealing. Exploitation. Fame. Big houses. Fancy cars. Executive titles. Material stuff. All these things are attached to something else. Something has to be sacrificed to get these things. And they often don't make you happy in the end. They're not who you really are, or what you really care about, but you do them because that's how it's set up, and we're just operating within the framework that exists.

But, there's this other way.

In this experimental society in which you can participate, if you want - people are a little more 'real'. People will give you advice, pass along a link they think might interest you, offer to collaborate on a real project, or exchange some information with you, for no other reason besides that it's "how THIS system works."

The precondition is trust. You can't buy trust. You can't force trust.

You earn trust.

You earn it by sharing your gifts. I don't know how to tell you what yours is. It took me years of exploration to find mine, but I can say from my firsthand experience on the web, that my trust network pulled me forward into the realm where I made the discovery. The search for self-identity that I've been on my life was actually aided by real people around the planet who I've never actually met.

The process of self-discovery is of course completely personal. I can only tell you that for me, starting my blog was one of my greatest tools. Writing my thoughts was a powerful way for me to practice thinking about what I think, and critically evaluate myself. The even better part is when other people started leaving comments on my posts, challenging the way I think, offering their perspectives, and making me rethink what I thought I knew. These conversations have been evolving for months, but each blog post resulted in people leaving comments that challenged my thinking further and further. Sometimes people disagreed with me, and sometimes I wanted to lash out and defend my thinking.

But instead, I tried to understand that other person's perspective, see where they're coming from, and imagine why they might think what they think. I tried to learn empathy. I think empathy is a critical emotion to develop in a trust society, and also a necessary one to help bring about 'the shift'.

The learning process that takes place during this self-discovery isn't just a discovery of self, but the discovery of self in relation to others. The thinking process becomes one that can encompass the idea of interdependence. I don't know how to explain this, but I can only say this "new way of thinking" involves a transcendence of ego. It is a mental model that assumes that problems cannot be solved alone, and that collaboration is not just desirable, but is actually a display of higher intelligence.

When you are able to put your ego aside, and realize that problems can only be solved by many, your mentality shifts from "I know the answer" to one of "How can I contribute to the solution?"

For me, when this started, it felt like a video game. I would send people links, or retweet people's stuff that seemed useful, and when I got a "thank you," it caused a little high. People were appreciating my contributions. When people would comment on my blog posts or retweet my posts to their networks, it caused a little high again, because again I was being appreciated.

As you start sharing more of yourself and your ideas, your art, your gifts, your insights, people will start to notice. You don't have to try to 'sell yourself'. You have to try to BE yourself.

There's a difference. And the difference gets noticed.

And the shift starts to creep into your brain, as this behavior becomes reinforced over and over and over again.

Every time someone shows you some appreciation for being you, even something as small as a retweet, a different kind of synapse starts firing in the brain.

We start getting rewarded for giving and for sharing.

We get rewarded for being our authentic self.

It starts to build self-confidence and self-esteem in a strangely gratifying way, because all you're doing is kind of having a good time, and just being yourself.

Just keep doing this.

3. Rewire your brain

In order to function in this new society, what it comes down to is that you need to kickstart your brain.

Beyond all the fun and giving and sharing is an actual restructuring of the way the brain works. We have to teach our brains how to process the type of information that now needs to be processed. Digital information. Information that has a place it needs to go in order to be useful. We are problem solvers, but we are also transmitters. We need to build a new brain.

This new brain is intuition based.

I actually think it's not a new brain at all, but the 'real' brain. I think what happens is that we start to unlearn some things, and then rediscover how the optimal brain actually functions.

I have read quite a bit of research on complexity science, evolutionary theory, neuroscience, and really so much more, so this isn't coming from a place of being uninformed, but there's something different about this brain.

Because it's intuition based, it defies description. It doesn't think hierarchically or in a linear way, instead it operates in patterns. It happens seemingly instantaneously. It happens through intention.

Someone gave me the example of reaching out for a glass. Do you think about all the muscles and movements involved in moving your arm, or do you simply have an intention for your hand to grasp the glass?

It's complex beyond reason, and blows away our current models of description.

It happens because we just 'know'.

I think what's happened to us is we have trained our brains to operate like machines for 100 years. We have been working in jobs that have set descriptions, with specific tasks and roles, and they box in our mind. I think our minds have actually struggled to form the linear paths to think in the linear way that typical organizations want us to operate in; following directions, following rules, doing repetitive tasks, regurgitating information.

But the brain doesn't want to work like that. It wants to work like a network. It wants to send ideas and information all over the place, jumping from synapse to synapse on multiple pathways. It wants to be contextual, relational, adaptive, and non-linear. It wants to imagine things, map new models, and revise itself constantly. I think it WANTS to be a learning machine. As we pick up on new ways of thinking about things and assembling information, new synapses form, helping information reach its destination faster and more effectively.

I started to think about the brain this way by watching the way information travels on Twitter. This was a huge help in shifting my thinking. I imagined each person as a node in a network, even imagining the people out there who I wasn't following. I tried to imagine EVERYONE who's on Twitter. All the humans around the world. I imagined we each operated as a switch and a filter.

As a switch, we each can decide where to allow information to spread into our network. (Keep toggling this example between how Twitter works and how the brain's neural nets work)

When we retweet, we expose our entire network of relationships to this particular piece of information. That's like flipping the switch 'on'. It fires the synapse. Or we can take no action, and the tweet just passes through the stream. The switch stayed 'off'.

In addition, we can also be a filter. We can add extra data to a tweet, leaving a short comment about it, or cc'ing specific people on it, or just sending it directly to people.

As we become more familiar with who we're following and who's within our human network, we individually get better at being a switch and a filter.

We become more discriminatory about what to tweet, what to retweet, and where to send information.

Like the brain that forms new pathways for effectiveness, we also learn to more effectively move information.

I think that the act of doing this in itself trains the brain. It teaches the brain to recognize itself. It's like you giving your brain permission to operate the way you're modeling the movement of information in Twitter. Your tweets don't get seen by the same people after every tweet, and you never know who is going to pick up your tweet and send it to their network. If the person is influential, they can cause a huge number of people to see your tweet, sending along all kinds of new and unexpected pathways. But the travel of a tweet is kind of random - you can't predict exactly where it will go or who will combine it with some other novel piece of information, it's just this organic process.

Now the interesting thing is when you stop thinking about tweets, and stop thinking about the screennames that are retweeting tweets.

Instead, think that you are sending an important piece of information. And think that your network isn't Twitter, it's human beings who need certain information in order for them to be able to solve problems. And then assume that you've got a pretty good read on the human beings within your personal network, and you have a pretty good intuition about who you should send that information to in order for it to get to where you think it needs to go and be seen and processed in order for it to have the most impact.

Now you're operating intelligently.

My little snowcrash was understanding this process of information travel. It's non-hierarchical, fluid, organic, and unpredictable. But it's a lot closer to how the brain wants to function than the way we usually use it.

I think that by observing how information moves in Twitter, by literally SEEING it, watching it, observing, we can teach the brain to recognize itself, and jumpstart this shift process.

It's said that "two neurons that fire together, wire together."

This is the snowcrash. It's the moment that a new connection, a new pathway, is forged in the brain. Or maybe many pathways. Maybe a whole new network of pathways. Maybe that 'lightning bolt' feeling is really what it looks like, just a ton of new pathways blazing across your brain.

At any rate, once your brain locks in this new set of pathways, you're in.

Now you're ready to start doing some reeaaalllllly interesting things.

I think this might be the way innovation works. It might be the way idea generation works. It might be the way creativity works. It's allowing the hierarchical thinking to loosen its grip on your brain, and let it do what it wants to do. I think it will start jumping in these non-lateral patterns and joining up ideas that you would have never thought to join before, because you have a whole new set of pathways to connect them.

And if your individual brain starts acting like that, and then you tune up your whole organization to that frequency and have a network of minds operating in this non-lateral way... well... the combined intelligence of a network like that seems pretty radical.


I wanted this to be an abridged version of the last post, but it seems like it has gotten pretty lengthy as well. I'm looking forward to your perspectives on the way I'm interpreting what happened, and for those that have had a similar experience, please share your version of how it happened and how you think the process can be accelerated.

I think our capacity to learn and grow is going to skyrocket once we start experimenting with building these new paths in the brain.

So, what I've covered here is three (3) concepts for boosting our intelligence:
  1. Build a web of relationships, of alliances, with people who will help us to grow and learn

  2. Initiate the process of self-discovery and self-awareness / mindfulness, and learn to share, trust and empathize

  3. Intentionally rewire the brain through watching its behavior modeled in the way information travels on Twitter

The other component that I'm going to cover in the next post is dialogue.

I've thought a lot on this, and the thing that's missing from this formula is the spoken word.

I'll get into the concept of orality and generative dialogue, but I think this is the other critical component for us to learn and challenge our minds. We have to engage in spoken 'debate', in a mutually respectful way, to share the way we understand things with others, and then get their perspectives and insights. Some of my greatest growth has happened during conversations that go late into the night, where my mind is stretched to new levels.

I generated what seems like a potentially powerful way to do this publicly online so many can learn at once, which evolved out of my thoughts for starting a Junto.

Sneak preview: Intelligent dialogue -> Chat Roulette format + livestream + Twitter backchannel

I'll explain more about it soon!

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Venessa MiemisVenessa Miemis is a Media Studies graduate student at the New School in NYC, exploring what happens at the intersection of technology, culture, and communication. Connect with her at www.emergentbydesign.com and on Twitter @venessamiemis.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Need for Variety and the Innovation Quiver

by Boris Pluskowski

The Need for Variety and the Innovation QuiverInnovation, like writing, is a fickle mistress really - easy to find one day, hard to find the next - but always around somewhere.

At the recommendation of my good friend, fellow Bostonian and business author extraordinaire Steve Shapiro, I'd begun to use a local Starbucks as a place to go and get inspired and avoid the typical distractions that keep popping up in my office.

However, this last week or so, my Starbucks was failing me; it simply wasn't doing it for me anymore. Whether it was the constant parade of chatty college girls passing through the doors, releasing a blast of cold air to all inside; or the large trimmed windows reminding me of the yucky grey day I was trying to avoid outside , I just couldn't find the inspiration I needed to begin writing anything useful. My trusty "innovation tool" simply wasn't working for me anymore.

It occurred to me that something needed to change, so I got up and walked out the door. I ended up walking into the cavernous interior of the Boston Public Library, and found a desk and chair nestled somewhere within the US History section - that for whatever reason seemed to call to me. Surrounded by books on George Washington's military career on one side and books on Thomas Jefferson's political career on the other and before I knew it, the floodgates had opened and off I was writing again!

As I wrote and reflected upon my inner creation demons that I was struggling to overcome just a few hours earlier - I was thus reminded of one of the most important lessons in innovation - the need for variety in an innovation program. Let me explain:

Whilst you should strive to make innovation a repeatable, sustainable process, that doesn't mean it should be executed like an automaton. I've seen too many clients ultimately fail because they don't understand that they simply can't rely on a single trusted process to last them forever. There are three main reasons for this, in no particular order:

1) Innovation is about problem solving - identifying, defining, and solving problems that will drive new growth opportunities for your company to be precise. Problems have a tendency to be unique, to offer individual challenges that need to be understood and overcome - and whilst most can frequently be tackled in more than one way, to rely on one single methodology to tackle all of them is foolish.

2) Modern day innovation is a highly human intensive process, relying on creative and constructive contributions from a variety of sources - employees, suppliers, customers, and more. As such, we are subject to the subtle whims of the human creative conscience. In other words - people get bored.

They also can just get creatively exhausted. Keep asking the same subset of people a continuous stretch of questions and you'll notice participation slowly, and sometimes dramatically, fall off. No matter how important the topic, people reach the limits of their creative thought endurance.

3) Modern day Innovation is also no longer the domain of a few, but rather the expectation of the many. You're now expected to run an innovation program that is no longer confined to one part of your company like R&D, but reaches out across all aspects of your business in search of the next big thing that will eek out a few more points of competitive advantage in the market. And that reach doesn't stop at the traditional corporate walls, but extends to a global audience with the understanding that the best solution to your problems will frequently lie outside of those walls.

What that means is that you're now talking to a variety of people - some internal, some external, some trusted, some unknown - each of which should be handled in a different manner to obtain ideal collaborative input from them.

I've frequently told my clients that they should think of their innovation program as a quiver of arrows - the more arrows you have, and the better aim you have, the more your chances of coming back home with a nice venison dinner rather than a shot-up turnip.

Each arrow in the innovation "quiver" is designed to offer a different way to bring in a solution to the innovation problem at hand; and by using a variety of arrows in your innovation program, you not only become a better and more well rounded "hunter", you also become more adept and understanding how best to overcome the environmental conditions at hand.

Ask a cross sectional group of employees for their ideas on how to solve a specific problem. No success? Then ask a different cross section of employees in a different manner. Maybe your internal staff has reached exhaustion point, or maybe they're just too close to this particular problem. Look outside then! Maybe we invite specific suppliers and partners to have a go at the solution in our Idea Lab. Maybe we invite the local entrepreneur community to show their potential solutions in an Entrepreneur Day at our offices. Have we found several solutions now? Maybe we bring in interesting entrepreneurs from inside/outside the company to a "Dragon's Den" ("Shark Tank" in the US) type of event. Or how about setting up a virtual idea market to tap into the wisdom of the crowds instead?

Each of these methods and many more should be developed as innovation arrows in your quiver that can be reused multiple times to ensure an active, engaged and efficient innovation program that will drive the achievement of corporate growth goals.

It's an interesting paradox though how many in the innovation industry, an area where we endeavor to bring a state of constant (but controlled) change into our organizations, don't consider the necessity for that same state in our very own innovation programs.

In other words, we decide upon one arrow to use, and we keep on using it until it fails to work anymore before we begin to look around our bare quiver for further possibilities.

How many arrows do you keep in your quiver?

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Boris PluskowskiBoris Pluskowski is the Founder of The Complete Innovator where he regularly shares new ideas and best practices on how big companies can harness Innovation, Collaboration and Social Media to drive new sources of value throughout the enterprise.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Do you have an Anti-Creativity Checklist?

by Braden Kelley

I came across Yougme Moon's "Anti-Creativity Checklist" over at the Harvard Business Review after a tweet from @lindegaard and it got me thinking...

In order to build a culture capable of encouraging innovation or creativity (or both), you must first do an inventory of the psychology and mental models in play in your organization.

One great way to do this would be to build an 'anti-innovation checklist' or an 'anti-creativity checklist'. If you start watching the vocabulary that people use in meetings where ideas are being discussed, the behavior of senior leadership as it relates to these areas, and most importantly - how people respond - you'll get a better sense of where your organizational challenges lie with respect to innovation and creativity. Wouldn't that make such an exercise of great value to an organization?

Anyways, as an example, I've pulled out the fourteen items on Yougme Moon's checklist from the video above, which you may just want to watch:
  1. Play it safe. Listen to that inner voice.
  2. Know your limitations. Don't be afraid to pigeonhole yourself.
  3. Remind yourself: It's just a job.
  4. Show you're the smartest guy in the room. Make skepticism your middle name.
  5. Be the tough guy. Demand to see the data.
  6. Respect history. Always give the past the benefit of the doubt.
  7. Stop the madness before it can get started. Crush early-stage ideas with your business savvy.
  8. Been there, done that. Use experience as weapon.
  9. Keep your eyes closed. Your mind too.
  10. Assume there is no problem.
  11. Underestimate your customers.
  12. Be a mentor. Give sound advice to the people who work for you.
  13. Be suspicious of the "creatives" in your organization.
  14. When all else fails, act like a grown-up.

What is on your "anti-innovation checklist" or your "anti-creativity checklist"?

Please feel free to share yours in the comments below.

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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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The Art and Science of Innovation

by Jeffrey Phillips

The Art and Science of InnovationI'm a bit troubled by the fact that many people in corporate America seem to believe that innovation is a mystical art, rather than a set of skills and capabilities that many people can learn and implement. I suppose around every complex problem solving process there seems to be a bit of magic, but at the core of all magic there's a simple set of rules. It may take an Einstein to figure out the rules to relativity, but they are knowable, demonstrable and proveable. So, too, are the processes, capabilities and skills behind innovation.

Another barrier to broader innovation deployment is the sense that innovation is an art - an intrinsic skill that you are either "born with" or not. I, for one, am terrible at drawing. I simply didn't receive an innate ability to depict people or landscapes from my parents. I believe, though, if I tried to, I could become better at drawing using programs like Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. This program has radically improved the drawing ability for thousands of people, and demonstrates that even art can be learned through the careful application of basic principles. I may never be a Van Gogh, but I can improve my drawing capabilities to a significant extent. Why, then, do so many people believe they aren't "creative" or aren't "innovative" as if this is a binary decision?

I'm not going to argue that "anyone" can master innovation skills, any more than I'd care to argue that "anyone" can master relativity or will become a Van Gogh. But it is also clearly the case that innovation is based on a number of tools and processes which can be learned, and is enabled through looking at a problem through a number of different perspectives, or imagining new perspectives, which is all that artists try to do. Furthermore, everyone is creative. Think back to your childhood when a cardboard box was a rocketship and a stick was a sword. We are all creative, we simply allow corporate cultures and society's expectations to force our creativity into hiding. One of the most instructive training activities we do at OVO is a prototyping exercise in which we ask our participants to prototype and defend to others an idea using nothing more than pipe cleaners, Play-Doh, paper, crayons and found objects. You'd be amazed at the creativity demonstrated when people know they'll be evaluated on their creativity!

So, the title of this post is really a set-up. Innovation is a science with rules, processes and established tools that requires the participant to think like an artist. The thinking requires new perspectives and the ability to imagine something new. Therefore, innovation combines the tools and methods of both scientists and artists, but all of those skills can be learned. If your organization wants or needs innovation to compete successfully, perhaps your team should start by examining the staff and its proclivities. Most organizations are full of people who are steeped in orderly process and science, and they need the perspectives and imagination an artist can introduce. Others have never been introduced to the tools and techniques that innovation has to offer, and need to learn those skills. Simply starting an innovation effort with no training is almost certainly doomed to failure.

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Jeffrey PhillipsJeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of "Make us more Innovative", and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Adopt, Adapt, Improve and Innovate

by Paul Sloane

Adopt, Adapt, Improve and InnovateAdapting ideas that have worked in one environment and using them in another is one of the most successful of innovation techniques. Let's look at some examples.

In 1916, a young American scientist and inventor called Clarence Birdseye went to Canada as a fur trader. He noticed that people in Labrador kept their food frozen in the snow for extended periods in the winter. When he returned to the U.S. he developed this idea and launched a line of quick-frozen foods and persuaded retailers to stock them in freezers. He created the frozen food industry. Birdseye subsequently sold his business to General Foods Corporation and made his fortune. He saw a good idea, adapted it to his business environment and implemented it.

Alexander Graham Bell studied the workings of the human ear. He adapted the idea of the eardrum vibrating with sounds into the workings of a metal diaphragm which led to his invention of the telephone.

The motto of the Round Table is adopt, adapt, improve and it is an excellent guideline for implementing new ideas in your business. Taking ideas from other environments and adapting them for use in your situation is one of the best ways of implementing novel solutions. Amar Bhide of the Harvard Business School studied the origin and evolution of new businesses. He found that over 70% of successful start-ups were based on ideas that the founders had adopted from their previous employments. They took a promising idea in a field they understood and made it better.

The person who invented the roll-on deodorant was looking for a new way to apply a liquid. He copied an idea from another field, writing, where the same problem is solved. He adapted the concept of the ballpoint pen to create the roll-on deodorant.

Samuel Morse was the inventor of morse code. He encountered a problem sending signals over long distances on the telegraph - the signal became attenuated and weak. Then one day when he was travelling by stagecoach he noticed how the coach changed horses at relay stations. He adapted this idea to put in relay stations for telegraphs that boosted the signal.

In 1941 George de Mestral went for a walk with his dog in the Jura mountains in Switzerland. On their return he noticed that many plant burrs were attached to his trousers and to the dog's coat. They were hard to remove. He examined them under the microscope and saw that they contained tiny hooks that caught in the loops of his clothes and in the dog's hair. He developed an artificial material to mimic nature and in doing so he invented Velcro.

Putting this creativity technique to work

If you have a problem try to force fit a link with a random event or animal or institution. Then adapt some ideas from that environment. Say your problem is how to motivate a lethargic team and you choose at random the Olympic Games, a tiger and a Ballet school. What sorts of ideas would that trigger? You might offer medals as recognition for top performers. You could keep records of who has achieved the fastest qualified lead or the fastest assembly time and post them on the wall or the extranet in the form of Olympic records. The tiger might suggest face painting as a trick for raising morale or it might suggest hunting - you could have a treasure hunt in the office or organise a 'hunt for sales' competition. And so on. The ballet school students practice all their exercises each day before they perform a dance. This might suggest a high-energy group practice session each morning before work proper begins. Ballet dancers practice in front of mirrors - what if we installed systems that gave us feedback to build the team's motivation?

Alternatively, try to adapt a combination between your organization's main strength and that of other organizations or people. Say you provide high level training courses and you choose at random a hospital then you might come up with the idea of a consulting accident and emergency clinic where people turn up with their problems and you help diagnose them on the spot. Or you may ponder that many people forget what they learn on training courses. In a hospital patients have ongoing physiotherapy sessions to aid recovery. This idea could be adapted so that you send out "physio trainers" to top up the learning of participants after they have completed their courses. Alternatively, if you think of the Boy Scouts then you might imagine a summer camp for some of your top clients or a "bob a job" campaign where you offer short introductory courses for new clients.

Lateral thinking is about finding new ways to solve problems. It is very likely that the current problem you face at work today has been faced and solved by other people. Maybe they were in your line of business or maybe they confronted a similar problem but in an entirely different walk of life. Why do all the brain work yourself when you can adapt someone else's idea and make it work for you?

Tips for finding ideas you can adopt and adapt:
  • Deliberately gather inputs from unrelated settings.
  • Take time out to discuss your problem with people from entirely different backgrounds. If you are a businessman then ask a teacher or a priest or a musician.
  • Read a different magazine, visit a different environment, see a foreign movie, drive a new route home, find some new inspiration in a different source.
  • Place yourself in a different environment and it will help you see concepts and ideas you can adapt. If you visit an Eskimo in his igloo, like Clarence Birdseye, you may come back with an idea as good as the one that built the frozen food industry.
  • Identify analogous situations in other fields and ask how they would be handled.

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Paul SloanePaul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.

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