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The Imagination Machine

The Imagination Machine

IMAGINATION is unique to humans and is key to creativity and innovation. In a time when elementary students today will be working in jobs that haven’t yet been created, imagination is the path forward. Imagination is the ability to picture that which doesn’t exist.

In The Imagination Machine, authors Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller say that “For the sake of restoring the vitality of our companies, and for the societies these companies serve, we must better harness imagination.”

“We spend much of our time in the realm of what is,” imagination is about what isn’t. Distinct from creativity and innovation, imagination extends beyond programs of innovation: “imagination is not just for inventing new products and services, but for fundamentally rethinking the mental model on which a company is based, even rethinking an entire industry or envisaging new industries.”

The kind of imagination they are talking about is grounded in reality. “Imagination is not just random thoughts unhinged from reality. Rather, it rests on a causal understanding of reality. To the extent we understand the dynamics of the world—why things are the way they are—we can play with recombining and changing things in ways that still make sense and are feasible.”

To get the ball rolling so we can begin nurturing and drawing from the imagination that exists inside all of us, they have presented a six-step process for creating ideas and bringing them to life.

Step 1: The Seduction

Imagination begins with a surprise. Surprise triggers imagination. It takes us “out of our routine way of looking at things into the realm of counterfactual thinking.” To increase the frequency of a productive surprise, the authors suggest we make the time for reflection, pay attention to our frustrations, seek the unfamiliar, reflect on unintended consequences and anomalies, draw analogies, and learn new ways of interpreting the world as it is.

They say, “busy is the new stupid. It is precisely during the busy times that we should not forget to stare out the window.”

Step 2: The Idea

Imagination MachineThe trigger leads us to rethink; to rethink what could be rather than what is. “To harness imagination, we need to turn passing thoughts—triggered by surprise—into starting points for rethinking our mental models to develop new, valuable, counterfactual models.” New ideas are often messy. That’s OK.

We block rethinking by our impatience, fear of standing out, defensiveness (especially of the way things are), and the tendency to avoid taking a risk and playing it safe.

Step 3: The Collision

We need to act. Create a feedback loop from the mind to the world and back again. “A new mental model remains just an individual indulgence unless we act—to collide the idea with reality, spur our imagination again, and drive the evolution of the idea.” At this stage, we are looking for “a basic response from the world: Did the idea work—did the seed grow—or not?”

At the same time, we want to look for surprise to evolve our idea. “In this mindset, instead of looking for a binary response from the world—did the idea work or not?—we are looking for the world to disrupt the way we think.”

Step 4: The Epidemic

Like a virus, an idea needs to spread from one person to many. One benefit of sharing it with others is we “accelerate its evolution by driving collective reimagination.” The key here is to be able to communicate the idea well so that everyone imagines the same thing.

Step 5: The New Ordinary

How do you execute and deliver the new idea? How do you make it the new ordinary? We do this by creating a clear script to guide others in a way that drives thought and action. The script should also be designed “so that it can evolve, to change in response to changing demands or opportunities.”

Step 6: The Encore

Amazon has been successful because they combine efficiency and imagination. Some companies invent something and live off that for decades leading to stasis and eventual decline. “To avoid this fate, your business must combine harvesting well-cultivated areas with exploring counterfactual landscapes.” The challenge is to do both.

The core problem is that the imagining and executing mindsets don’t naturally fit together—in fact, they are often antagonistic. Emphasizing one has the potential to undermine the other.

Both mindsets are important to a successful company. If we focus on execution and efficiency alone, the company becomes oriented around financial metrics. Opportunities, in the form of early-stage imaginative ideas, appear as unevidenced and speculative. On the other hand, if we focus only on imagination, we don’t commit to a model for long enough to realize all its value.

Tips for sustaining imagination in your organization include creating novel information flows and designing spaces for reflection while encouraging low-input time to explore the counterfactual.

Imagination Machine

The Imagination Machine is an exceptionally well-laid-out book. Each chapter begins with an outline, proceeds with the main point with an abundance of examples, a practical how-to section, and what keeps that from happening before finishing with games to play to build on and develop the qualities that spark ideas and imagination. For those who like visual reinforcement, they generously highlight their text with memorable graphics.

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Lead With Imagination How to be More Creative and Enrich Your Life

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:38 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation


The Competitive Ecosystem: Thinking Ahead to Interconnectedness


IN 1982, then graduate students at Carnegie Mellon, Michael Kazar and David Nichols, devised an early IoT (Internet of Things) experiment. Recalls Kazar, “There was a Coke machine on the third floor of this eight-story building, and people didn’t like the fact that they would go down all the way to the third floor and discover that the Coke machine was empty. Someone said, ‘Hey, why don’t we set it up so the Coke machine is on the Internet?’”

First IoT
They set up a serial line connecting the Coke machine to a terminal concentrator of which it just so happened they had control of the source code. It could check the Coke machine’s supply 10 times a second.

In many ways, this early prototype illustrates what IoT is all about — in principle, the Coke machine could automatically reorder supply when stock was running low or dynamically change prices, depending upon stock or demand. Coke suppliers would know ahead of time that supply needed to be increased because the demand at vending machines was increasing. Indeed, the interconnected vending machine had the potential to impact bottlers, distribution (for firms supplying vending machines), repair and maintenance companies that service the vending machines, and even the demand for coffee in the building’s cafeteria that might benefit from vending machine stock-outs. And the list goes on.

One simple idea, connecting vending machines to the internet, had the potential to affect multiple industries. This type of interconnected ecosystem makes today’s economy so unique. One action affects multiple value chains across multiple, high- and low-tech industries alike.

From internet-enabled vending machines in 1982 to traffic lights in 2018

In December 2018, Larry Page, the cofounder of Google and CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, attended a gathering of about 200 of the country’s top CEOs in New York. In front of this group, he was asked what he would do with the $86 billion in cash that Alphabet had at the time (mostly overseas) when tax policy changed so that he was able to bring that money back to the United States with more favorable tax treatment. His answer was surprising yet telling: “traffic lights.” In fact, two other times in the next 10 minutes, he was asked about topics that had absolutely nothing to do with traffic lights and his answer each time was “traffic lights.”

Page went on to explain that he sits at his desk in Mountain View, California, most mornings and watches his employees sitting at a traffic light, waiting to come to work. Oftentimes, no traffic is moving in any direction. He sees this as a waste of time that reduces productivity and impacts the environment from engines idling for minutes at a time.

However, with his answer, he wasn’t actually talking about traffic lights. He was thinking many steps ahead and looking into a future when cars are automated and start talking to each other. Cars will slow, not stop, for other cars automatically. Accidents will be avoided and traffic will flow smoothly and unimpeded. We won’t need traffic lights at all.

In order for this to happen, however, an ecosystem must be built. Cars need to be increasingly autonomous and inter-vehicle communications must be predictable and secure. The elimination of traffic lights would be the result of successful interconnected vehicles, not the objective of interconnecting them. It’s about building all of the components of the ecosystem so that we won’t need traffic lights.

In order to fully understand the ramifications, think to the demands on our infrastructure. For example, there are constant and never-ending calls for more roads to alleviate congestion in urban and suburban areas. However, in a world where most traffic is autonomous and interconnected, we would actually have an over-abundance of roads. The impact of autonomous, interconnected vehicles extends well beyond automobile (and related) production to impact road construction-related firms and industries — from asphalt and paving companies to heavy equipment to laborers to local municipal and federal highway budgets.

All of this requires thinking many steps ahead. Indeed, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the two cofounders of Google, are the only two individuals publicly talking about strategic control points in interconnected markets. They clearly get it.

All of this suggests three things to think about beyond products to platforms and beyond platforms to ecosystems:

1. Think ahead. The issue with traffic lights isn’t about traffic lights — it’s actually about no longer having a need for traffic lights. The interconnected Coke vending machine was about not needing to go down several floors in the building to find out about the stock levels.

2. Know the underlying needs. Saving time is an underlying need in both stories.

3. Think “right to left,” not “left to right,” and avoid incrementalism. Think where you want to be (the “right” end of a timeline) and work back to today (the “left” side of a timeline). Then, ask what you can do today (connect a vending machine, eliminate traffic lights) to get to the vision you have at the end of that timeline.

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Leading Forum
This is a post by Dr. William Putsis is a Professor of Marketing, Economics and Business Strategy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and a Faculty Fellow for Executive Programs at Yale University. He is also president and CEO of Chestnut Hill Associates, a strategy consulting firm offering a suite of online executive development courses. His new book is The Carrot and the Stick: Leveraging Strategic Control for Growth (Rotman-UTP Publishing, Feb. 3, 2020). Learn more at Chestnut Hill Associates

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Leading Transformation Chaos Imperative

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:47 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation


Eat, Sleep, Innovate

Eat Sleep Innovate

THE potential for innovation exists within our organizations. The problem is the culture doesn’t support it. Our organizational cultures tend to prioritize today over tomorrow. How do you make innovation as natural as eating and sleeping? Just something you do; part of your organizational culture?

The authors of Eat, Sleep, Innovate—Scott Anthony, Paul Cobban, Natalie Painchaud, and Andy Parker—contend that the solution “requires focusing people’s daily habits through a series of interventions, and then ensuring that the new habits stick and scale.”

We have to change the culture. And that doesn’t begin by copying the relics of highly innovative companies. We must deal with the source of the problem so that innovation and the manifestations of it arise organically from the culture of the organization.

Their definition of innovation is “something different that creates value.” That’s distinct from invention. A light bulb is just a light bulb until it creates value. “Until you have turned a spark of creativity into revenues, profits, or improved performance, in our eyes, you have not innovated.”

What does the organizational culture need to support?

  1. Curiosity. Innovators ask, “What if?” “Is there a better way?”
  2. Customer Obsession. Innovators understand and are engaged with the potential customer.
  3. Collaboration. Innovation occurs when different ideas and perspectives collide.
  4. Adeptness in Ambiguity. Innovators focus on assumptions over answers.
  5. Empowerment. An idea or invention is not an innovation until you do something with it—create value.

What holds us back is fear and inertia that often the outcome of our successes. This inertia becomes the shadow strategy that is ingrained in our culture. It undermines anything we might say or attempt to do otherwise. “The shadow strategy quietly tugs and budges a company down a path of perpetuation, even if circumstances demand something drastically different.” And that kills innovation.

The antidote to all of this is to break old habits and form new ones—and in effect, change the culture. To this end, a team at Innosight began collecting examples of interventions that promoted better innovation habits. They gave this collection the acronym: BEAN or:

Behavior Enablers: Direct ways to encourage and enable behavior change
Artifacts: Physical or digital objects to reinforce behavior change
Nudges: Indirect was to encourage and enable behavior change

In Eat, Sleep, Innovate, they list 101 BEANs and cover, in detail, over 20 to help you design BEANs specific to your organization. There are six key ingredients to a successful BEAN:

  1. Simplicity: Make it easy to adopt and remember. “Want to exercise more? Leave your running shoes by your bed before you go to sleep.”
  2. Practicality: Connect it to existing routines. “The fewer things you have to change, the better.”
  3. Reinforcement: Create physical and digital reminders. Create “visual cues—fun cubes that people can play with on tables and checklists on the wall—that serve as reminders” of your program.
  4. Organizational Consistency: Ensure it links to objectives, processes, systems, and values. “Effective BEANs don’t encourage people to do one thing if the company rewards them for something else or punishes them for that behavior.”
  5. Uniqueness: Create something fun and social and support it with stories and legends. “Sharing stories helps spread the idea.”
  6. Trackability: Build it in a way that it can be adjusted, measured, and scaled. Capture data that allows you to track and improve the program.

BEANs encourage behaviors that build culture. Build a culture in your organization where innovation is the natural result. A place where people can bring their best to the assets of the organization and create something new that has value and impact. BEANs help to “shrink the challenge” into “micro shifts of change.”

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Innovation is Everybodys Business Innovation at Bell Labs

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:10 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation


3 Tips to Lead Strong During Uncertain Times

Ghandour 3 Tips

“Stability breeds efficiency and complacency. Instability breeds resilience and innovation”

GIVEN we are in a sustained period of instability, how as leaders do we dial up the resilience and innovation, without burning out ourselves or the teams we lead? How do we leverage the instability to build resilience and innovation that creates success in ourselves and our teams? In my twenty-five-plus years of work, I’ve seen stable and unstable times come and go. And, I’ve seen the patterns of those that come out stronger, and those that don’t. Here are three easy to implement lessons for breeding resilience and innovation in yourself and your team:

#1 What You Expose Yourself to Becomes

Your Box: I was recently asked how I shifted my business and found success so quickly given the rug was pulled out from under me, like it was for so many. I told them that while many of my colleagues were still talking amongst themselves, I was fortunate enough to have been exposed to new people, new ideas, and hence, new business models. Be intentional and make the effort to expose yourself and your team to different ideas and experiences. Doing this will automatically drive innovation. Their boxes will expand and change, and so will their ideas along with it.

#2 Recognize Your Lizard Brains Are Extra Active:

In times of stress our primal lizard brain takes over. It’s what creates your fight, flight or freeze response and its main function is to keep you safe and comfortable, especially in uncertain times. The challenge is that the lizard brain shuts down your resilience, your drive to push through. It wants you to curl up in a small ball and wait it out. And while the lizard brain is hardwired into us, with a little effort, we can push past it to get to our higher functioning mind that helps us navigate change and disruption. It’s been my experience that doing something as simple as taking 3-breaths helps get us out of our reactive lizard brain and into our innovative and resilient brain. People that lead strong during uncertainty, don’t give in to the lizard brain, instead, they acknowledge and push through it.

#3 Stop Using the Word “They”:

In tough times, it’s human nature to want to find something or someone to blame. “They don’t get it,” or “they are the reason I couldn’t get my task done,” or “if only they listened to me.” The word “they” actually creates a victim mindset and minimizes innovation. It’s hard to innovate when people don’t feel trust and connection. A colleague of mine, who has been an incredibly strong leader through 2020, told me that when she sees the word “they” popping up in her team, she shuts it down. In taking out that word, she discovered that people built a more accountable, resilient mindset. And, real connection and collaboration went up, igniting innovation. The key she said, “isn’t to make it punitive, but to help people overcome their blindspots and move forward together.”

Instability and uncertainty is definitely challenging, but it can also foster incredible new opportunities and paths to success for yourself, your team and your organization. I’d also encourage you to join me on Sunday, September 20th as I dig even further into how to ignite innovation, influence others and lead strong. This one-time live webinar will cover the 20% that will give you 80% of the innovation results you need to transform uncertainty into opportunity.

Innovation Workshop

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Leading Forum
Tamara Ghandour is the author of the newly released book, Innovation is Everybody’s Business, founder of The Everyday Innovators Tribe and creator of the proprietary Innovation Quotient Edge Assessment.

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Innovation is Everybodys Business Stop Making Sense

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:58 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation


Stop Making Sense

Stop Making Sense

LEADERSHIP is about moving people. And to do that, you need to be able to inspire. And that means arousing their emotions.

Marketing strategist Michael Fanuele says to inspire and fuel passion, you will have to Stop Making Sense. “The more we try to persuade—to explain, to convince, to argue—the less likely we are to arouse anybody to do anything.” The Inspiration Equation:

Passion – Reason = Inspiration

Passion makes you want to sign-up. Reason wants you think about it more. Adding one decreases the other. But there is a place for reason.

By all means, use your reason and logic and the full force of your big brain in figuring out what’s right and wrong, what you want to do and what you don’t, in composing your strategy. But then, when it comes to moving people to inspiring, I’m sorry, but Passion and Reason are indeed enemies. You’ll have to find the right balance between adding one and subtracting the other.

How can you subtract just enough reasonableness to rile up your audience, without sounding completely insane? The Inspiration Playbook shows you how. It is comprised of six skills of inspiration that will help you execute on the Inspiration Equation.

The first two skills are about your goal—what you are trying to do.

1. Get Delusional

If we are going to inspire, we are going to have to get uncomfortable and make others uncomfortable too. “Fear, remember, lives closer to success than reason does.” Make your goal big. And use words ending in -est when you talk about it—best, biggest, fastest.

A clear idea is an idea that isn’t trying hard enough. It’s graspable. But a sublime idea—a delusional idea that makes you a little nervous because you can’t quite totally see how it will come to be—well, those are the ideas that inspire.

2. Aim For Action

Use direction-giving language, so your audience knows exactly what is expected of them. Give them something specific to do in the moment—a plan. And when you want people to do something more, you have to give them a rule to live by—something they can use to filter their decisions.

Sometimes—oftentimes—we don’t want to “move” an audience in the moment; we want to shift their very existence.

When our ambitions are that sweeping, we need to give our audience something more lasting than short-term directions; we need to give them a Golden Rule—a guideline for what to do in any—in every—situation.

Three and four are about the how.

3. Show Up To Stir Up

In a world of sameness, disorienting your audience makes all the difference. When pitching or selling an idea, we often stick to the comfortable and the mainstream. In observing advertising agencies pitching to clients, Fanuele noticed that “their genuine, compelling differences didn’t really matter when they each showed up in a way that felt exactly the same. What they were saying was irrelevant because of how they were saying it.” And when they do, “they sacrifice their most valuable possession: their own narrative.”

When we break conventions and become a force for originality, we inspire our audience to break conventions and become a force of originality.

In the face of what’s bold and surprising, we become bold and surprising. In the face of what’s familiar and ordinary, we remain familiar and ordinary.

4. Talk Like Music

Music moves people because it works on our emotions. If we work on our messages until they arouse our emotions, they become unforgettable earworms. Make it lyrical. Lyrics work “differently than mere speech does. Their intent is not simply to communicate information, but to evoke emotion.” How would your favorite musician retell the story of what you want to achieve?

The final two skills are about who you need to become if you are going to be someone’s Muse. They are the most critical and the most difficult. They are about “summoning the empathy and authenticity you’ll need to move anybody to do anything.”

5. Love, For Real

Empathy matters. You can’t inspire an audience you don’t genuinely love.

Nobody will move for you unless they’re sure you are on their side, looking out for their best interest. So, if you want to inspire, figure out what you love about the people you’re inspiring. This is an act that will require a great deal of effort and imagination, because “what you love” can’t be generic.

For example: “Don’t just love their strength, love the way they start Mondays and end Fridays—and never flag in between.”

“Love needs details.”

6. Be True To You

When people can see our human side, they can connect with us and trust us. We make the mistake of believing that we need to be better than the people we are trying to inspire. Not so, says Fanuele. “Superiority doesn’t inspire. In fact, it often repels. It’s our flaws and imperfections that make us ‘warm and likable.’”

I can’t begin to capture here all of the value that Stop Making Sense provides. It will help you approach your job as a leader in a more effective way. “You’ll have to stop making so much sense. You’ll have to be slightly delusional and very vulnerable.”

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IdeaSelling Contagious

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:30 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Marketing


The Fear of Looking Stupid

Fear of Looking Stupid

NO ONE likes to look stupid. And it keeps us from trying new things or exploring those crazy ideas and dreams that we have been carrying around. The trick, of course, is getting to the place where you don’t care what other people think of you. And that’s easier said than done.

It’s not as simple as telling yourself to just do it. Comedian, entrepreneur, and author of The Art of Making Sh!t Up, Norm Laviolette says the way to get to that place is to slowly step into it as you would train for a marathon. You wouldn’t just run a marathon. You would start with short runs and gradually build up.

Maybe you don’t immediately hit the open mic stage, but rather you sign up for an improv class. That’s all, just sign up. You don’t even have to commit in your mind to go, just execute the simplest first step, which is signing up. You don’t even need to tell anyone! Then once you do that, force yourself to go to the first class. No commitments after that.

What you will find is that you now have put yourself in a situation where “looking stupid” isn’t perceived as stupid at all, and what you are doing is actually the new normal. Sure, you are taking a risk by being in an improv class. But ultimately it is a very mitigated risk, because the entire environment is set up in such a way that everyone is facing that risk together.

Since everybody is facing the prospect of potentially looking stupid, ultimately no one does. As this new normal starts to feel more and more comfortable, you start to rewire your brain and how it perceives what is considered “stupid looking.”

You can apply this to anything. And it is infinitely easier when we realize that other people are not thinking about us as much as we think they are. What are they thinking about? Themselves. Feel liberated yet? We are the ones that give people permission to hold us back from being creative and trying new things.

And then there are those who cast doubt when we tell them what we are up to. Laviolette says you need to take control of the conversation.

I have found that making a strong declarative statement along the lines of “So, I’m doing X now,” tends to stop other people from offering overly negative judgments about what it is I’m doing. It is easy for people to point out why you shouldn’t begin something, but it is much more difficult for people to tell you why you should stop doing something, especially if you follow up with the reason why you like doing it. Even the biggest blowhard tends to not want to crush someone else’s good vibes.

The declarative statement takes the power of judgment away from the responder. Once you state what it is you are doing, most people tend to shrug their shoulders and think to themselves, “I guess she is doing that now.” They may approve or disapprove, but ultimately if they see that you are already committed, they tend to move on to other subjects.

The fear of looking stupid is all in our heads. When we step out, we grow.

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Improvisational Comedy Lead With Imagination

Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:10 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Personal Development


Full-Spectrum Thinking

Full Spectrum Thinking

FULL-SPECTRUM THINKING is not common, and never has it been. And as the world becomes more complex, confused, and scrambled, it has never been more critical. Bob Johansen describes full-spectrum thinking as “the ability to seek patterns and clarity across gradients of possibility—outside, across, beyond, or maybe even without any boxes or categories—while resisting false certainty.”

In Full-Spectrum Thinking, Johansen writes that “the future will punish categorical thinking but reward full-spectrum thinking.”

The future will be a global scramble that will be very difficult to categorize. You will need a full-spectrum mindset to have any hint of what is going on. The scramble will be fraught with toxic misinformation (not necessarily intentional), disinformation (intentional), and distrust. In this future, it will be very dangerous to fit new threats or new opportunities into old categories of thought. Fortunately, new spectrums of thought will become possible in new ways over the next decade. Full-spectrum thinking will be required in order to thrive.

Full-spectrum thinking (FST) combines the “nuances of the analog world with the power and scale of digital.” I like that.

FST is critical thinking that moves beyond binary, simplistic, categorical thinking. It’s questioning assumptions, stereotypes, and categories. Mindless categorizing is harmful and requires very little thinking. It’s dismissive. They create certainties that block us from seeing possibilities. They are, in a word, constraining. Johansen is not against categories “if they are fair and do no harm. All of us need to create structures and categories of some kind that work for us and for others.” He adds, “Rigid categorial thinking is a bad habit we need to break.”

Rigid categorial thinking leads us to certainty, which Johansen and others have declared is the opposite of clarity. And in a narrow sense, I think that is true. Certainty without humility almost certainly, will lead to a lack of clarity. Certainty can blind us to reality—clarity—since we only see things from our own certain perspective. FST demands that we question and take a wider, more inclusive view of the issues before us. But there is a certainty that guides us to clarity and causation and keeps us from adding categories, confusion, and complexity where there are none. And we see that happening all around us.

Johansen spends a good deal of the book applying FST to the future of business, technology, our lifestyle, and our sense of meaning. He noes that a forecast is to be evaluated on “whether or not it provokes a better decision in the present.” Adding, “Strategy lives between insight and action” and “every good strategy is based on a compelling insight.”

Most companies think in terms of Now, Next, Future. Johansen advises us to shift our strategic orientation to Now, FUTURE, Next. Most of our attention should go to Now. But in a highly uncertain future, we need to look to the future (10 years ahead) for clarity then come back to Next to act in the now.

Johansen looks at business development. “Think beyond products. Think especially beyond commodity products where competition is based only on price.”

Organizations of the future will move beyond command-and-control to the U.S. Army’s practice of commanders intent or “direction is very clear; execution is very flexible.”

Leaders will still be a source of clarity, but the leader will not always be on top. The source of clarity should be grounding, and it should flow up and out across the network.

In an interesting chapter on Human-Machine symbiosis, he reimagines the human resources function. Perhaps we need to refer to it as Human-Computing Resources because humans are increasingly augmented by digital resources.

Human resource professionals will need the ability to better understand the capabilities of nonhuman and computer-augmented talent. Intelligent coworkers with powerful digital augmentation will be everywhere.

Collective intelligence—humans working together, augmented by machines—will be required to thrive.

And this. As video gaming as a learning medium becomes more widespread, human resource practitioners will need to be “experts in the medium of immersive learning through digital and in-person experiences.”

Categories themselves will also become “more fluid and cross-spectrum” as opposed to being binary—in or out. “Diversity will become more important even as it becomes more difficult to categorize.”

Creating or finding meaning will become a growth industry. From faith springs hope. Faith has the power to shape our future.

Faith grows out of a learning mindset. Faith allows you to navigate your way through things you don’t have all figured out. Faith helps you make your way through fear. Faith is grounded in a sense of humility and openness to learning in an uncertain future. Faith implies a full-spectrum mindset.

Rituals and habits help to create meaning. “Rituals are a condensed code of meaning, and repeating the code [like saying “I love you” every day] reinforces the meaning.”

Johansen believes that true digital natives (24 or under in 2020) are very good at full-spectrum thinking. “The true digital natives will challenge the social order.” Of course, every generation of young people challenges the social order whether they were brought up on video games and digital content or not. He points out that, “Kids are born with full-spectrum thinking, but adults, schools, and society often force it out of them with education, testing, technology, and culture.” How true. The difficulty for digital natives (like the rest of us) is not relying on soundbites and headlines to form our opinions. Most young people question the status quo and defy categories placed in front of them (or on them) by others. However, they also need to learn to express their thoughts and challenges in an emotionally intelligent way.

Full-Spectrum Thinking does make you stop and think about the categories, boxes, labels we place on people and things. We need to learn to think deeper and broader about the issues before us. It is a valuable and cautionary book.

Full-spectrum thinking will provide powerful ways to make sense out of new opportunities without assuming that new experiences mirror old categories, boxes, labels, or buckets. Full-spectrum thinking will help people avoid thoughtless labeling of others. Full-spectrum thinking will be a technology-enabled antidote to polarization and simplistic thinking.

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Ten Leadership Skills You Need 5 Leadership Literacies

Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:56 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Creativity & Innovation , Human Resources


Innovation is Everybody’s Business

Innovation is Everybodys Business

EVERYONE has ideas. Innovation is within each of us. We just need to unlock it. Many of us have experienced negative reactions to our ideas and so tend to hold back sharing new ones. If we are going to be an innovator, we need to have a healthy relationship with change. Change is an opportunity to innovate.

Tamara Ghandour defines innovation as “thinking differently about what’s right in front of you to create an advantage” in her book Innovation is Everybody’s Business. There are opportunities in the functions we perform every day. People at all levels of an organization see things differently and can add value to an organization through innovation. Innovation is not for a select few.

To help us ignite the innovative mindset that exists inside of all of us, Ghandour has identified nine styles (or triggers) of innovation that relates to how we approach innovation. (You can discover yours by taking the Innovation Quotient Edge (IQE) assessment on her website. The assessment identifies your top two innovation styles and your single dormant trigger.) I believe, like any of our behavioral proclivities, these triggers are not set in stone as they are not part of our DNA, but preferences that we have developed over time. Nevertheless, these styles are helpful for understanding how we approach and think about and execute on ideas, and importantly how we relate and respond to others based on differences in approaches.

“Much like the difference in your overall personality,” Ghandour writes, “you have a unique way of innovating. In fact, there are nine distinct styles of innovation. They show up in your personality, preference, work style, behaviors, and actions.” The nine triggers are:

Innovation CollaborativeCollaborative
As a Collaborative, you create intersections of randomness by constantly tapping disparate people and ideas. You are motivated by making connections.

Innovation ExperimentalExperimental
As an Experiential, you think in motion bringing ideas to life by leaping the chasm from theory to reality. You are motivated by building something.

Innovation FluidFluid
As a Fluid, you turn ambiguity into clarity. Uncharted territory becomes your path to new ideas. You are motivated by creating clarity.

Innovation FuturisticFuturistic
As a Futuristic, you always think about what’s next. Tomorrow’s possibilities energize you, not today’s challenges. You are motivated by future plans.

Innovation ImaginativeImaginative
As an Imaginative, your vivid mind constantly creates new things. You turn wild thinking into real-world ideas. You are motivated by ringing novelty.

Innovation InquisitiveInquisitive
As an Inquisitive, curiosity defines you. You recognize that innovation is in the questions, not the answers. You are motivated by uncovering things.

Innovation InstinctualInstinctual
As an Instinctual, you tap the more intuitive part of the mind. You connect the dots in new and meaningful ways. You are motivated by finding connections.

Innovation Risk TakerRisk Taker
As a Risk Taker, your adventurous spirit likes to take bold action. You willingly pursue unproven yet high potential ideas. You are motivated by bold opportunities.

Innovation TweakerTweaker
As a Tweaker, you look for ways to improve and change. You reserve judgment an allow ideas time to grow. You are motivated by problem-solving.

Identifying and understanding these innovation triggers not only helps you to see what gets your creative juices flowing and ignite your innovative flame, but it also helps you to know how you come across to others. That’s very helpful when it comes to presenting your ideas and working within teams.

For example, if one of your two predominant innovation triggers is Risk-Taker, your communication style is declarative and opportunistic. Your language reflects words like “I, me, daring, impact, change, disruptive, I challenge, why not.”

It is difficult to make the connections necessary for innovative thinking with the stimulus we receive every day. Our minds react by filtering out what doesn’t fit with what we already know or think. Ghandour offers some tips to help us overcome this confirmation bias.

1. Play your own devil’s advocate.
2. Pretend you are walking in someone else’s shoes.
3. Ask yourself what else could be true.
4. Actively take in alternate perspectives.

In addition, she offers this constructive advice: Calm the lizard brain down by letting it know the analysis is coming after you innovate. Don’t sabotage your ideas by jumping to judgment too quickly. There’s a time for that. Let your mind explore the possibilities, then do a reality check.

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Getting Ideas to Flow Culturematic

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:01 PM
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Always Day One

Always Day One

CREATING an innovative culture is not easy. It often defies convention. Organizations that continuously innovate have common characteristics. By examining some of the most inventive companies on the planet—Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft—we can learn valuable lessons to apply in our own situation.

Alex Kantrowitz does just that. He presents case studies of these five tech giants in Always Day One. It not really about always day one, but I presume he chose the title because day one is a mindset that is foundational to sustaining an innovative culture. It is a mindset that forms the bedrock of these organizations—it drives them. And when they lose that, they begin to stagnate. The case studies also provide ample examples of pitfalls we should avoid too.

Day One is inventing with almost complete disregard for current revenue streams. It’s nimble like a start-up. And as Kantrowitz points out, it is minimizing execution work to make room for more invention. To continually turn new ideas into reality, “the tech giants have had to rethink the way a company is run. Loaded down with execution work, most companies today typically develop a few ideas handed down from the top, and focus on selling them. That is why ‘visionary’ is still the ultimate compliment for the CEO today. Bezos, Zuckerberg, Pichai, and Nadella aren’t visionaries, though: they’re facilitators.”

When Bezos was asked in a meeting, “What does Day Two look like?” he responded, “Day Two is stasis, followed by irrelevance, followed by excruciating, painful decline, followed by death.”

Amazon has a Day One culture of invention. “Bezos automates everything he can so they can invent more.” Amazon currently employs over 200,000 robots to work alongside a workforce of approximately 800,000 humans. “The robots are the most visual example of Bezos’s obsession with automating whatever he can to free his employees to work on more creative tasks.”

At Facebook, when it comes to feedback, hierarchy doesn’t matter. Zuckerberg listens and learns. As people began to spend more time on their phones, Facebook needed to design for mobile or risk becoming a dinosaur. “The myth about Facebook’s mobile transformation is that Zuckerberg had an epiphany and brilliantly repositioned his company for the age of the smartphone. This isn’t quite right. The real story is Zuckerberg set up a feedback culture. And when people bought in, they brought him ideas—tough ideas that required rethinking how the company operated—and those ideas ultimately saved Facebook from disaster.”

Google’s strength is its culture of collaboration. Google’s communication “linking its employees in a collective consciousness and breaking down the typical boundaries between divisions.” Ideas move fast, allowing Google to reinvent itself multiple times to keep pace with changing times. Always Day One.

Apple has operated like Day One but struggles today under a refiner’s mindset. Innovation from the top worked for a while under Jobs, but under Tim Cook, it is not the same. To avoid leaks, Apple’s product development takes place in extreme secrecy. Employees not directly involved in the development are kept in the dark. Collaborative communication tools like those found inside Google are not at work at Apple. Not much has changed at Apple since Jobs. When Kantrowitz asked Steve Wozniak what would make Apple more inventive, he said, “Let the lower-level managers make the decisions. More responsibility to the lower levels.”

Under Steve Ballmer, Microsoft was “bureaucratic and slow, and clung to the past. Focused on protecting its lucrative legacy businesses, Windows and Office, Microsoft prioritized profit over invention, developing a command-and-control culture that optimized for the short term.” In 2014 when Satya Nadella became CEO, he sought to change all that. “Tightly holding on to Windows would no longer be tenable. Microsoft needed to risk its core business and focus on its remaining bright opportunity—cloud computing—or endure ‘irrelevance, followed by excruciating, painful decline, followed by death.” Nadella returned the company to Day One.

Each case study carefully documents each organization’s strengths and struggles as they learn to adapt and grow. The future puts a value on inventiveness—creativity, originality, and initiative. If future leaders are going to succeed, we are going to need to begin to teach this kind of thinking rather than teaching to conformity and repetition, says Kantrowitz. Students today are “obsessed with the answer when they should be asking questions.”

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Day  One Creative Construction

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:03 PM
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Innovate Forward

Innovate Forward

INNOVATION has always been important. In a world of pandemic, it’s the only way forward.

Technology is the raw material that 21st-century innovators need to build new business capabilities, to develop exciting new products and services, and to create workarounds for the physical distancing measures we will likely endure for the foreseeable future.

Six powerful new technologies, all reaching maturity simultaneously in the early 2020s, will each act like a new color in the palette of creators, designers, and innovators. Leading companies will combine these technologies in creative ways to solve business problems that couldn’t be solved using traditional digital technology. They will use them to develop new products and services, to build new channels, to elevate their talent, to increase their business resilience, and to develop entirely new business models along the way.

In no particular order, these six technologies are:

Artificial Intelligence (AI):

Rather than needing to be programmed to solve problems, AI learns from examples. It creates its own rules based on training data. That means AI can be used to solve problems that we don’t know how to solve ourselves. AI has led to breakthroughs in machine vision, voice interfaces, next-generation robotics, predictive analytics, sensing, business optimization, and a variety of other tasks. It is used to boost the capabilities of employees by augmenting their creativity, intuition, decision-making, and other capabilities, essentially giving them superpowers. What business problems will you solve using artificial intelligence? What new products and services will you create with it?


The digital world is becoming ever more intimately connected with the physical world that we inhabit. SAP estimates that by 2030 the world will be filled with over 100 trillion sensors: Cameras, microphones, temperature, pressure, moisture, and other sensors that allow the digital world to understand what is happening in our world. Sensors are used to make products, infrastructure, and environments, more intelligent and more responsive to human needs. Smart objects and wearable devices bristle with sensors. Sensors coordinate the activities of humans and machines as they work together, semi-automating business processes. How could you use sensors to get eyes on your business and develop exciting new products and services?

5G and Satellite Networks:

As we have all experienced during pandemic-enforced captivity, broadband bandwidth matters. This decade, two networking technologies will bring broadband internet to every corner of the earth. In cities, new 5G wireless networks will be the first generation of cell network designed to connect more than just phones. Parking meters, factory equipment, self-driving cars, and many other devices will be connected. Outside cities, 5G won’t be widely available. For rural areas, new low-earth-orbit satellite constellations will blanket the globe in high-speed connectivity. By the end of the decade it will be possible to connect every person and everything on earth. What will that mean to your business? How will you reach the next 4 billion people as they come online?

Autonomous Machines:

This is a catch-all term for robots, cobots (collaborative robots), drones, self-driving cars, and other autonomous vehicles. A new generation of smart robots use sophisticated sensors and AI to navigate the same spaces as humans, safely. That means business can use them to solve a new set of problems. Robots don’t get sick like humans do, and autonomous delivery vehicles don’t carry disease like a human driver can. Autonomous machines will take on repetitive, dangerous physical tasks and provide a new way for brands to reach consumers. Why expect customers to visit your store when you can send your autonomous mobile store to them?

Blockchain Technology:

This is one of those technologies that is much-hyped, poorly understood, and whose time has yet to come. Early technology issues limited blockchain’s utility—it wasn’t scalable enough and consumed too much energy. Those problems are now largely solved, and Blockchain will soon start to solve real business problems. Blockchains create trust digitally, so strangers can do business without needing a third-party intermediary. Blockchains also introduce the idea of token economics, a mechanism for aligning the motivations of many parties involved in a value chain. Expect blockchain to underpin brand-oriented supply chains that give brands more control over their suppliers. Supply chains will also use blockchain to meet consumer demand for proof over how and where products were made. Be ready.

Augmented Reality:

Virtual reality (VR) is fun for playing games. But beyond simulation, training, and a few important medical applications, it has few practical business applications. VR headsets immerse people in a 100% digital world but cut them off from their physical surroundings. VR’s big cousin, augmented reality (AR), blends digital objects and information into your view of the world. You remain connected to your surroundings and so AR is better suited to business applications. The technology is not quite ready for prime time yet, but a few years from now it will create an entirely new class of worker, the augmented worker—a hybrid of human intelligence, experience and manual dexterity combined with machine intelligence that is connected to the incredible resources of the cloud. AR will provide a new computing interface for the 80% of workers that work with their hands or who work in highly mobile environments, and for whom computing is not a part of their everyday work lives today.

The current crisis requires us all to think and act differently. The best way to catapult ourselves out of recession and to build resilience into our businesses is to embrace technology innovation. New technology will change the way we work. It will transform how we develop, market, sell, distribute, support, and monetize products and services.

Great leaders will inspire their teams to embrace innovation at every level of their organization. To streamline operations and control costs. To build new channels and ensure your customer journey is 100% digital, end-to-end. And to develop exciting new products and services that reignite demand and catapult you out of the economic downturn on a growth path.

Innovation is the best and only way forward.

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Leading Forum
Steve Brown is a futurist, author, and executive consultant with over 30 years of experience in high tech. He is the former futurist and chief evangelist at Intel Corporation. Steve’s consulting practice helps companies to be more prepared for the future, to become more resilient, and to drive innovation into every aspect of their business. He helps leaders to improve their technology literacy, create a thoughtful digital strategy, and inspire business transformation that leads to improved profitability. He is the author of The Innovation Ultimatum: How Six Strategic Technologies will Reshape Every Business in the 2020s, a how-to guide on innovation and digital transformation. Steve holds Bachelor of Science and Master of Engineering degrees in Micro-Electronic Systems Engineering from Manchester University. He was born in the U.K. and became a U.S. citizen in 2008. He lives with his wife in Portland, OR.

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What Kind of Innovator Are You History Speaks on Change and Innovation

Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:08 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation


The Future of AI: What Jack Ma and Elon Musk Are Missing

The Future of AI

THERE IS LITTLE DOUBT that we underestimate the power of Artificial Intelligence.

AI is quickly becoming a force in nearly every facet of human life. Serial Entrepreneur and Billionaire Elon Musk warns that AI will become much smarter than the smartest human.

In a forum at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference held in China, on August 29, 2019, Elon Musk and Jack Ma exchanged differing views of the nature of AI.

“There’s just a smaller and smaller corner of intellectual pursuits that humans are better than computers, and every year it gets smaller. Soon we will be far surpassed in every single way,” says Musk.

Alibaba Group co-founder Jack Ma takes a different view. “When people talk about AI and say human beings will be controlled by machines—I never think that. It’s impossible. My view is that a computer may be clever. A human being is much smarter. Clever is very academic is knowledge-driven. Smarter is experience-driven.”

Musk quickly disagreed. “Definitely not,” said Musk. “Computers are much smarter than humans on so many dimensions. The first thing you should assume is that we are very dumb and that we can definitely make things smarter than ourselves.”

To which Ma responds, “Computer is only one of the collaborative tools that humans created. And computers are clever, but there will be more tools that human beings will create much cleverer than computers. “We invented the computer —I've never seen the computer invent a human being.

Ma is right: the creation is never greater than the creator. But even “clever” is not an attribute of a machine. Machines are not smart. They can access implanted memory faster and process data faster, but they are not smarter. Though they can be programmed to be and “learn” to be more lifelike, it is still artificial.

Nevertheless, Musk’s concerns are warranted. Technology does outpace our ability to understand it and comprehend its consequences. Technology extends our reach, and most always, the intention is to make the world a better place. However, in every case, it is not the technology that is the issue, it is the people using it. What is always addressed too late is the character required to use it properly.

Even with the basic AI we have today, we are seeing unprecedented changes that are beyond rendering certain skills and talents obsolete — they are reshaping what it means to be human. “If you assume any rate of improvement at all, the games will be indistinguishable from reality, you will not be able to tell the difference,” says Musk.

And that is happening.

At the Consumer Electronics Show this year, Samsung introduced the NEON project. Neons are like independent but virtual living beings that form memories and learn new skills, not AI assistants. Neons computationally create a “lifelike reality that is beyond normal perception to distinguish”—an artificial human.

Isaac Asimov observes, “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” As AI increasingly impacts our lives, wisdom has become a fundamental leadership responsibility. It requires leaders to focus on character as a primary differentiator between man and machine.

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Will AI Take Your Job Emerging Technology

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:48 PM
| Comments (0) | Artificial Intelligence , Creativity & Innovation


How Good Leadership Can Impact Employees’ Innovative Behavior

Impact Employees Innovative Behavior

There’s increasing pressure on organizations to be more competitive, and leaders need to have the right skills to influence employees’ innovative behavior.

GOOD LEADERSHIP is an important element in the success of any organization. Having effective leaders can help a company achieve its goals and maximize efficiency. In most cases, leaders have a profound influence on their employees. Besides helping them better handle workplace-related challenges, leaders evoke innovation and creativity and inspire them to reach their full potential.

There’s been a lot of debate on whether leadership skills can be acquired in life or the person must be born with them. The answer is both. There are some people who seem to be born with great leadership skills, as well as those who developed them later in life. To encourage employees to become more innovative, leaders need to pay attention to a number of issues.

Employee Motivation Leads to Better Decision-Making

What can be increasingly hard for modern businesses is keeping employees motivated. A common trend among younger workers is switching jobs, and this is becoming a serious issue in the modern workplace. The generation that’s been criticized the most for being unattached to their organizations and their willingness to move from one job to another, are millennials. According to the analytics and advisory company Gallup, 21% of millennials have changed jobs within the past year. The main reason why the millennial workforce is so keen to switch jobs lies in their low engagement. Gallup reveals that 55% of millennials are not engaged at work. They don’t want to settle for less, and if they don’t get what they need and expect from their workplace, millennials will be more than happy to leave for a better opportunity. This creates a challenge for leaders who need to be very innovative to motivate this young workforce to stay.

To motivate their employees, leaders first need to understand what drives them. During the hiring process, leaders can ask deeper questions to get a better sense of the strategies and techniques they could use to improve employees’ motivation and performance. Another effective way to make workers motivated is to give them the freedom of choice. This topic has sparked the interest of a professor of psychology, Edward Deci, who spent 20 years researching the field, and who discovered that “meaningful choice engenders willingness”. This will not only result in better decisions, but also increase the level of employee innovation. A study that analyzed innovative work behavior among service providers in Oman supports this claim. Based on responses from 320 employees, the study shows that employee motivation is a powerful tool to “mediate the relationship among leadership and employees innovative work behavior.”

The Importance of Recognition

Employee recognition also plays an important role in engagement. When employees get praised for their work and performance, they’re more likely to continue repeating that same behavior. Despite this, many managers and leaders make the same mistake. According to a survey conducted by the employee engagement platform Achievers, 43% of respondents say their managers are OK in giving recognition, while one in five admit their managers are horrible in giving proper recognition. Half of the respondents believe being recognized for their hard work has helped them improve their relationship with their bosses.

Though companies usually offer perks and benefits to keep their employees happy, giving someone recognition for their hard work isn’t just about physical rewards. In fact, recognition is more about acknowledging employees for their contributions to the business.

Creating a Culture of Transparency

Besides employee recognition, what’s fundamental to business success is ensuring trust and transparency within the organization. Leaders who are more open and honest with their teams will empower employees to openly speak about issues that are affecting their performance. If there’s no trust within the organization, teams won’t feel engaged, and they’ll be less likely to take risks to solve specific problems. However, in a transparent and healthy environment that empowers employees to experiment, they’re more likely to succeed. Transparency will encourage collaboration among team members and make their work less stressful, because in a transparent work environment, they aren’t afraid to express their opinions. Meanwhile, if they’re constantly live in fear of being penalized for an error, they’ll be less proactive and won’t be able to think creatively.

Final Thoughts

The nature of work is changing, and organizations today are more agile and less hierarchical in structure than in the past. The role of leaders is about to change as well. Since there’s increasing pressure on organizations to be more innovative, leaders will need to find ways to influence employee innovation and improve their performance. Without the right leadership skills, this isn’t possible.

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Leading Forum
Trendwatcher, futurist and international keynote speaker Richard van Hooijdonk takes you to an inspiring future that will dramatically change the way we live, work and do business. His inspiration sessions have been attended by over 420,000 people. Richard is a regular guest at radio and television programs. With his international research team, he investigates tech trends like robotics, drone technology, autonomous transport systems, Internet of Things, virtual reality, biotech, nanotech, neurotech, blockchain, 3D and 4D printing and of course augmented and virtual reality and their impact on various industries. Findings are published weekly in the form of compelling articles, e-books and white papers.

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Ostergaard Innovation Improvisational Comedy

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:06 AM
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Looking for Ways to Improve Innovation? Improvisational Comedy Can Show You How

Improvisational Comedy

DISRUPTION is happening in even the most stalwart industries, leading business leaders scrambling to create a culture of innovation in their organizations. Coming up with amazingly novel ideas isn’t an innate ability but can be a learned skill that leaders and their teams can develop. The techniques of improvisational comedy can provide important lessons for developing a innovation mindset.

From my 20 years of performing, directing, and producing live improvisational comedy, I’ve learned that fresh ideas are out there for the picking. Originality and innovation blossom from deep in the recesses of the mind, not because some people have the magical creative gene, but because they open themselves up to recognizing and exploring the uncharted areas in everyday work and life. This is where improvisational actors excel and why improv comedy techniques can lend themselves to promoting an innovation culture within organizations.

Here are some methods honed through improv that can trigger new and expansive ideas:

1. Steer clear of the word “No.”

In improv, actors are taught to avoid saying No. If an improv actor offers an idea and the scene partner replies No to it, then the scene is effectively over. Improvisational actors are trained to use the words “Yes, and…” to quickly move ideas forward and create completely new and unexpected concepts.

Using “Yes, and” works best while your team is in the ideation phase. As you get to the execution phase, you may need to start saying No and eliminating concepts with little chance of working. But by listening and encouraging the team to offer ideas in the initial stages, team members will feel included and be more inclined to have buy-in on a final decision.

2. Perfect the practice of “heightening.”

Heightening is a way to allow concepts to evolve in ways that allow them to grow from a seemingly normal, practical idea into a wild, unconventional end product. In improv comedy, the actors step out on the stage not knowing what they’re going to do or say, or what their fellow actors are going to do or say. Without any planning, they take the rawest of material and weave a tale with multiple layers, different characters, random jumps in time and unexpected twists and turns -- all somehow leading to a neat resolution. This is “heightening,” and it allows their imaginations to go to exciting and original places, unfettered by practicality or reality.

When teams allow heightening to take, they generate far more material to consider. The original idea is still there and you can go back to it at any point, but you may also find that by letting imaginations run free, you’ll have new, exciting and more interesting versions of the original concept.

3. Expand your curiosity.

Make a point to follow where your curiosity leads you. Interested in bird watching? Sign up for an outing where you’ll meet people who can share their knowledge about types of gear, bird species, and even what’s threatening bird habitat. Pursuing new interests can’t help but have a ripple effect.

The unexpected benefit that comes from putting new pursuits into motion is that you discover all the different offshoots that surround an activity. Simply by expanding your knowledge, you have a means of uncovering fascinating raw material to turn into new ideas. You’ll begin to see connections or possibilities in all kinds of unexpected places. Those unexpected connections are what lead to innovation.

4. Brush off the shame from being wrong.

The fear of being wrong is one of the biggest reasons we don’t put our ideas forward. The way you build your tolerance to feeling shame from a failure is by repeated exposure. Working as a comedian has helped me build up my resiliency. By failing a whole bunch of times in low-stakes environments -- on open mic stages in crappy bars and clubs -- I began to develop scar tissue. And when I failed, I dissected what worked and what didn’t so I could improve the next time.

Being willing to strike out into the unknown and face the chance of failing or being wrong becomes easier each time you do it. Also, acknowledging you were wrong about a decision or idea can open you up to being right. You learn something new from being wrong and, oftentimes, better options appear. Failing allows things to become clear, and you begin to understand what you may not have realized before.

Allowing yourself and your team to become unfettered in idea creation, to open up to outlandish ideas, to be unselfconsciously curious, and to overcome fear of failure. If you do this, you and others on your team will start to experience the feeling of inspiration finding you instead of you finding it.

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Leading Forum
Norm Laviolette is the co-founder and CEO of Improv Asylum, IA Innovation, and Asylum Gaming and Esports (AGE). He has performed, directed or produced more than 10,000 improvisational comedy shows on three continents. He brings the experience of building companies from the ground up into multi-million dollar businesses. Norm Laviolette has worked with Fortune 500 companies, including Google, Red Bull, Fidelity and more. His new, The Art of Making Sh!t Up: How to Work Together to Become an Unstoppable Powerhouse (Wiley, May 7, 2019), describes how the techniques of improv can transform teams into more powerful, creative and healthy organizations. Learn more at iainnovation.com.

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Lead With Imagination Making Your Team Swing

Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:18 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Leading Views


How Innovation Is Completely Different in Established Organizations Than in Startups

Transforming Legacy Organizations

WE LIVE IN the age of the entrepreneur. New startups appear out of nowhere and challenge not only established companies, but entire industries. Where unicorns were once mythical creatures, the word unicorn now refers to the startups that have a value of at least $1 billion, and there are more than 370 of them worldwide. In 2018 alone, 53 unicorns were added to the list.

Established organizations of a certain size and age, sometimes called “legacy organizations,” are stressed by the entrepreneurial successes. Their greatest fear is no longer their closest competitor, but the startups which, although they live in metaphorical garages and have hardly taken off, have an innovation power that established organizations can only dream of possessing.

Still, no matter what great strides the innovative startups make or how much airtime they’re given by the media, innovation in startups is completely different than innovation in established organizations.

The bad news for established organizations is that innovation for them is much more difficult than it is for startups. The most important job for startups is to focus on their (probably one) product and to subsequently scale up. Established organizations have to entertain many more considerations with their complicated product portfolios and business structures.

The good news for established organizations, however, is that nobody is more likely to succeed than they are in their innovation efforts. Unlike startups, established organizations have tremendous resources. They have money, customers, data, employees, suppliers, partners, and infrastructure -- which put them in a perfect position to transform new ideas into concrete, value-creating, successful offerings.

The Three Tracks of Innovation

Many established organizations commit the mistake of engaging in innovation as if it were a homogeneous process. But innovation in established organizations must actually be divided into three different tracks: optimizing, augmenting, and mutating innovations. All three are important. There’s no one singular type of innovation that’s better than another. And, unlike the startups, established organizations must execute all three types of innovation at the same time.

1. Optimizing innovation: Improving the past. Optimizing innovation makes up the majority of what established organizations already do today. And they must continue doing so. Optimizing innovation is, simply put, the metaphorical extra blade on the razor. When the razor manufacturer launches a new razor that has not just three, but four blades, to ensure an even better, closer and more comfortable shave, only to announce one or two years later that it’s now launching a razor that has not only four, but five blades, that is optimizing innovation. This is where the established player reigns.

No startup with so much as a modicum of sense would even try to beat the established company in this type of innovation. Continuous optimization, both on the operational side and the customer side, is good and important -- in the short term. It pays the rent. But it’s far from enough if the established company wants to continue to be a leader three to five years from now because there are limits on how many blades a razor needs. Each additional blade generates a bit less value than the previous one.

Essentially, optimizing innovation improves upon the past. But startups are inventing the future. To match their entrepreneurial innovation power, established organizations must also prepare for the future and, ultimately, learn how to invent the future.

2. Augmenting innovation: Preparing for the future. To prepare for the future, the established players must engage in innovative augmentations. The digital transformation projects that more and more organizations are initiating can typically be characterized as augmenting innovation. It’s about upgrading the organization and its core offerings and processes from analog to digital. Or, if organizations were born digital, they may have had to become “mobile-first.” Perhaps they’ve even entered the next augmenting phase, which is to become “AI-first.” These augmentations are not small matters. They require great technological conversions. But technology may, in fact, be a minor part of the task. When it comes to augmenting innovation, the biggest challenge is most likely culture.

Where startups have the advantage in building cultures from scratch that fit the times in which they originate perfectly, established organizations, who have had decades or even millennia of history, typically have created cultures in which there’s a preference to maintain the status quo. But if they hope to match the startup innovation power, they will need to transform their cultures to ensure their employees all thrive in constant change.

3. Mutating innovation: Inventing the future. Finally, established organizations also need to invent the future through mutating innovation. The business that maintains or exceeds its level of success 10, 20, and 30 years from now will have mutated. Whatever is currently at the core of the company today, making up the majority of the top and bottom lines, won’t remain the same in the long run.

Mutating innovation requires a bold focus on experimentation into what isn’t yet understood. This is where the successful startups have excelled -- taking what exists and challenging it to either create something new with more value or open up to new target groups. For established organizations, this innovation track is difficult because it essentially challenges their identities. Therefore, mutating innovation cannot thrive inside a company’s core, but needs to be taken outside to the core organization’s edges.

Tools to promote mutating innovation can include establishing labs or X-divisions. Alphabet has excelled in this approach, but other legacy companies are also increasing their experimentations. DIY chain Lowe’s, for example, is building 3D printers that print in zero gravity, thus opening up entirely new markets for themselves. Japanese airline ANA commissioned a global competition via the XPRIZE Foundation to create the future of travel that has now resulted in targeting the next big market: Space.

As game-changing innovation is at the core of these efforts, both startups and established organizations can find common ground in working together. The established companies want access to the startups’ technology expertise, while the startups want access to the established companies’ customers and data, this can be a match made in heaven.

Becoming the Innovation Champions of the Future

Ultimately, if startups turn to scale-ups and succeed, they’ll fast become established organizations with very complex systems, requiring them to change their innovation strategies and entire organizations to remain successful. For Alphabet, even though the company is only 20 years old, this has already happened twice. It moved from a search engine to advertising to spawning off autonomous vehicle and health care companies that may turn into the new cores of the organization.

Similarly, Apple is in the process of transforming from hardware into an entertainment company, and Amazon, perhaps the master of mutation, continuously adds new layers to its complex structure.

For the legacy organizations of the world, they must learn from these examples, dare to challenge their status quo cultures, and ensure that they can engage in optimizing, augmenting and mutating innovation at the same time if they are to become innovation champions of the future.

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Leading Forum
Kris Østergaard is a sought after speaker, facilitator, researcher, and expert on innovation in legacy organizations, corporate cultures and exponential organizations. He is co-founder and Chief Learning and Innovation Officer at SingularityU Nordic, a collaborative venture with Singularity University in Silicon Valley. His new book is Transforming Legacy Organizations: Turn Your Established Business into an Innovation Champion to Win the Future. Learn more at sunordic.org.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:27 PM
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5 Leadership Lessons: Think Like Amazon

Think Like Amazon

LONG-TERM THINKING is the key to what goes on at Amazon. Jeff Bezos has said, “What we’re really focused on is thinking long-term, putting the customer at the center of our universe and inventing. Those are the three big ideas to think long-term because a lot of invention doesn’t work. If you’re going to invent, it means you’re going to experiment; you have to think long-term. These three ideas, customer-centricity, long-term thinking, and a passion for invention, those go together. That’s how we do it, and by the way, we have a lot of fun doing it that way.”

Former Amazon executive, John Rossman provides 50½ ideas that have worked for Amazon and can help you succeed in the digital age in Think Like Amazon. He writes, “Jeff Bezos and Amazon have a remarkably consistent way to approaching and meeting challenges, operating their business and technology, and thinking about new ideas, markets, and growth.” All 50 ideas are a great look behind the scenes. They all may not work for you off-the-shelf, but the principles can be applied anywhere. The 50½ ideas deserve serious consideration, but I‘ll just focus on five here.

1  Reset Your Clocks. Your Journey Will Not Be Short or a Straight Line. Bezos said, “If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue. At Amazon, we like things to work in five to seven years. We’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow—and we’re very stubborn. We say we’re stubborn on vision and flexible on details.”

2  Don’t Go Along to Get Along. The Risk Social Cohesion Poses to Achieving Hard Results. “Being nice and getting along are necessary and valued. You can’t achieve the right results if you have nothing but burned bridges behind you. But getting along is simply not the most important thing. Think about your organization’s priorities and social norms. If getting along is more valued than being right, the business will become more about getting along than about doing the right thing over time.”

3  Are You Willing to Be Misunderstood? “The most impactful and underappreciated aspect of innovation is challenging common and long-held assumptions about how things work. When you create an alternative to these assumptions, exact many doubters.” Rossman adds, “If you’re going to innovate, you not only have to be willing to be misunderstood but you must have a thick skin. If you aren’t upsetting someone, you likely are not disrupting much of anything.”

4  Process versus Bureaucracy. Creating Processes That Scale. “Well-defined processes help prevent bureaucracy or expose it if it exists.” Bezos believes, “Good process is absolutely essential. Without defined processes, you can’t scale, you can’t put metrics and instrumentation in place, you can’t manage. But avoiding bureaucracy is essential. Bureaucracy is process run amok.” Rossman adds, “Bezos understood that A-level performers hate bureaucracy and will leave organizations where it encroaches upon them. Bureaucracy lets underperformers hide, and that’s why they like it.” You know bureaucracy when you can’t get a straight answer or when the rules just don’t make any sense. “As you work to invent and perfect processes, always remember that simplicity is an essential bulwark against the creeping onslaught of bureaucracy.”

And one just for would-be entrepreneurs:

5  What’s Your Just Walk Out Technology? Use the Internet of Things to Reinvent Customer Experiences. Amazon Go offers “No lines, no checkouts, no registers.” You simply check in with you Amazon Go app upon entering the store and begin shopping. Anything you pick up is automatically added to your cart. Just walk out. Rossman says it’s easier than shoplifting.

It’s the Internet of Things. At Amazon, it begins with obsessing over their customers. And that means trying many things that often don’t work out and sticking with things that do or might work out. Obsess over better customer experiences to build long-term trust.

There are countless opportunities to deliver unique customer experiences by leveraging connected devices. What is the path to make the Internet of Things work for you? Rossman lays out four thoughts:

Start with the Customer

“Walk yourself through an entire day in the life of your customer. Not just with your product or service, but broadly and deeply. How might connected devices change the way that your product or service fits into that day?

Remove Friction

Identify and remove friction. “Sometimes, the best way to create a great customer experience is to start by imagining a terrible customer experience.” (Example: Amazon Kindle Fire’s Mayday feature. Service agents can take over a user’s screen remotely to fix problems for them.)

Think Broadly

Think beyond your immediate area of expertise. For Amazon, the pain point for customers goes beyond just the shopping experience and the products they offer. It extends to the delivery of the product. “Connected devices empower you to learn more about your customers and use these deeper insights to build better products and services for the environments in which they are used. What data would help you understand your customers and their experience better?”

Don’t Commit to Scaling

Run trials for as long as necessary to get it right before scaling. “One of the biggest mistakes companies can make is to commit to scaling a new feature or capability before it has been thoroughly tested and perfected. Keep new approaches in a beta state and for a limited number for customers. Set their expectations to be realistic, telling them that this is new and a trial.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:46 PM
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How Big Companies Can (and do) Innovate Like a Start-Up

Creative Construction

THE INNOVATION WE PRIZE at successful start-ups is a mindset that is brought into the start-up and not necessarily the inherent quality of every start-up. Innovation isn’t something that just happens; we create the conditions for it. Big organizations can innovate like small start-ups.

In Creative Construction, Gary Pisano says that when big organizations fail to innovate, the root cause is often related to “management practice and leadership than with organizational scale per se.” While organizational size complicates innovation, “scale if properly exploited could actually be an advantage, not a liability, for innovation.” But here’s the thing:

Simply breaking up a large organization into smaller units or creating autonomous teams is not sufficient to replicate a start-up culture. Urgency, accountability, and risk tolerance in start-ups are mindsets. Re-creating these mindsets inside an established company is challenging because they result partly from the unique pressures and circumstances under which start-ups operate.

Creative Construction is the process of sustaining and rejuvenating an existing organization’s innovative capabilities. “Creative construction requires a delicate balance of exploiting existing resources and capabilities without becoming imprisoned by them.”

Creative construction requires three essential leadership tasks: creating an innovation strategy, designing an innovation system, and building an innovation culture. Pisano carefully details how companies should do each of them.

Creating an Innovation Strategy

A good strategy helps a company clarify the tradeoffs that will be needed to make between short-term improvements and long-term opportunities. It also aligns a company around common priorities.

An innovation strategy has to be based on what kind of innovation is needed. He describes four types: Routine, Disruptive, Architectural, and Radical. Each requires a different system in place to execute on it. Whatever the innovation, “the right way to judge the merits of any innovation (and innovation strategy) is value created and captured.”

When faced with a potential threat of technology or business model disruption, you need to consider two things. First is the nature of the threat. How certain are you of the threat and is it imminent or distant? And second, what is the impact on your profitability. If you adopt the technology or business model, will you achieve a reasonable profit? He produced a chart that helps to clarify these opportunities.

Creative Construction Chart

For example, if the threat is highly likely (imminent) and the profits from it are at least as good as your current business, then jumping on the opportunity is the thing to do. He calls this scenario A New Day is Dawning. On the other hand, is the threat is imminent, but you can’t respond profitably, then The Party is Ending. In this case, you can either find new markets where you might compete or try to defend and extend the ultimate conclusion to give you time to create a better ending.

The other possibilities are Intriguing Possibilities and Dark Clouds on the Horizon. In these scenarios, you are not sure the threat will materialize or if it will disrupt your profitability. “The best strategy when facing high degrees of uncertainty is to hedge and build options for the future.”

Too often, innovation leadership Is posed as a test of “guts”—are you willing to make the big bets? Such “all-in” bets make for great business headlines, but they are actually pretty foolish if you face high levels of uncertainty. Making smaller bets, experimenting, learning, and adapting are survival-enhancing behaviors in highly uncertain environments.

Designing the Innovation System

The next essential leadership task he covers is designing a system that will give you the capability to execute on the type of innovation you need. One size does not fit all. There is no best practice. What works for Apple and Google may not work for you.

Designing innovation systems begins with getting out and discovering novel problems and solutions. “Innovation in general, and the search for innovative ideas particular is an intensely human activity. What we see, what we experience, whom we listen to, whom we speak to, and whom we observe all shape our perceptions about problems worth solving and solutions worth pursuing.”

Pisano says to find, develop and retain the synthesizers in your organization. Those people who are good at seeing connections across fields.

Which projects should you work on and which should you kill? Build learning into your system as part of the selection process. Innovation means tradeoffs. “Every dollar that goes into exploring a new space means one less dollar for making an important refinement to a new product.” Use analytics to drive questions not answers.

Building the Culture

We have all heard the characteristics of an innovative culture. But leaders are not always quick to embrace them. Perhaps though, these characteristics alone are not enough. Pisano modifies each this way:

Tolerance for Failure but No Tolerance for Incompetence
Competent people will fail, but performance standards should be high. No sloppy execution.

Willingness to Experiment but Highly Disciplined
Having a clear idea of what you are doing and why. Kill bad ideas quickly and keep moving.

Psychologically Safe but Brutally Candid
Critical feedback needs to go both ways. Don’t confuse politeness with respect. “There is nothing inconsistent about being frank and highly respectful of individuals.”

Collaborative but Individually Accountable
Innovative cultures blend both. “In high-individual-accountability environments, decisions can be traced back to specific individuals.”

Flat but with Strong Leadership
“Paradoxically, flat organizations require stronger leadership than hierarchical ones.” (If you take hierarchical to mean command and control.)

Leaders must manifest these values in their behavior. An innovative culture is a mindset. Creative Constructive Leader take ownership of that mindset and the related strategic, system, and cultural challenges

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:10 PM
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The Fearless Organization

Fearless Organization

YOU’VE CAREFULLY put your team of people together, spent a lot of time getting the right people on the bus, your best and brightest, and yet you’re underperforming? Your team isn’t giving you everything they’ve got.

People hold back when they feel it is not in their best interests to contribute—to say what they think. As a result of this interpersonal fear, we miss the benefit of the very minds we are relying on to move us forward. Creating psychological safety is essential in a world where innovation, integrity, and renewal can make the difference between success and failure.

In The Fearless Organization, Amy Edmondson explains what psychological safety is and what it isn’t and how we can create in our organizations. We all—most of us—manage our image. Some better than others. But…

No one wakes up in the morning excited to go to work and look ignorant, incompetent, or disruptive. These are called interpersonal risks, and they are what nearly everyone seeks to avoid, bit always consciously. In fact, most of us want to look smart, capable, or helpful in the eyes of others. No matter what our line of work, status, or gender, all of us learn how to manage interpersonal risk early in life.

And it is this fear we have of looking bad or retribution that organizations must reduce or eliminate if we are to help people to bring their best to work.

Psychological safety is not about taking all of the bumps and ruts out of the road (which sadly is becoming more and more prevalent in leadership thought today). Psychological safety is like the oil in the machine. It makes everything else you’re doing work better. It is an enabler. “Psychological safety makes it possible for other drivers of success (talent, ingenuity, diversity of thought) to be expressed in ways that influence how work gets done.” Without it, people will withhold thoughts, ideas, and contributions that are vital to your growth, renewal, and the overall health of your organization.

It’s not about whistle-blowing. “Whistle-blowing is not a reflection of psychological safety but rather an indication of its absence.”

Psychological safety is not about introverts or extroverts. It’s not about being nice. It’s not about creating an environment where people are talking all the time. You need discipline. The is to make it easy for everyone to get everything out on the table so that you can proceed in a thoughtful, calculated way. Psychological safety doesn’t mean sharing everything either. That doesn’t create a safe place to work. People will learn where to draw the line with constructive feedback. It’s an emotional intelligence issue.

Psychological safety is not about lowering performance standards. It’s not an anything-goes environment. As the chart below shows, “psychological safety and performance standards are two separate, equally important dimensions—both of which affect team and organizational performance in a complex interdependent environment.


Psychological safety enables candor and openness and, as such, thrives in an environment of mutual respect. It means that people believe they can—and must—be forthcoming at work. In fact, psychological safety is conducive to setting ambitious goals and working toward them together. Psychological safety sets the stage for a more honest, more challenging, more collaborative, and thus also more effective work environment.

What keeps me up at night is the lower right-hand quadrant. When performance standards are high but psychological safety is low—a situation far too common in today’s workplace—employees are anxious about speaking up, and both work quality and workplace safety suffer.

One must build psychological safety to spur learning and avoid preventable failures, and they must set high standards and inspire and enable people to reach them.

We owe each other our opinions and ideas, and it is the responsibility of leaders to create and reinforce an environment where people free to do that. Psychological safety is about unleashing talent across your organization.

Creating a psychologically safe workplace is an ongoing function of leadership. Edmondson divides the process into three steps which she covers in detail: Setting the Stage, Inviting Participation, and Responding Productively.

Setting the Stage

This step is about framing the work to be done and how failure is to be dealt with. As GoogleX’s Astro Teller stated, “the only way to get people to work on big, risky things…is if you make that the path of least resistance for them [and] make it safe to fail. I’m not pro failure, I’m pro learning.”

Inviting Participation

Two mindsets are required here: situational humility and proactive inquiry. Humility is an obvious quality but not as easy to cultivate. Inclusiveness on the part of leaders helps in this regard. London Business School Profesor Dan Cable wrote, “Power…can cause leaders to become overly obsesses with outcomes and control,” inadvertently ramping up, “people’s fear—fear of not hitting targets, fear of losing bonuses, fear of failing—and as a consequence…their drive to experiment and learn is stifled.” No one feels safe presenting ideas to a know-it-all or someone who feels the need to be talking all of the time.

Proactive inquiry is actively asking questions designed to learn more about an issue, situation, or person. We benefit from a diversity of views. Implement structures designed to elicit employee input.

Responding Productively

“It’s imperative that leaders—at all levels—respond productively to the risks people take. Productive responses are characterized by three elements: expressions of appreciation, destigmatizing failure,” and punishing clear boundary violations—reinforcing the rules of mutual respect.

Fearless Chart

There is a connection between psychological safety and learning. It’s foundational to building a learning organization. In an ever-changing world, learning and adaptability is everything. Edmondson admits that this is not an easy process. It’s not a natural process.

Creating psychological safety is a constant process of smaller and larger corrections that add up to forward progress. Like tacking upwind, you must zig right and then zag left and then right again, never able to head exactly where you want to go and never quite knowing when the wind will change.

It’s a necessary condition for success. What’s at stake is the future of our organizations.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:28 PM
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Unlocking Creativity: Are These Creativity-Inhibiting Mindsets Holding You Back?

Unlocking Creativity

IN AN IBM global survey of CEOs, the overwhelming consensus was that more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision, successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity. In a world where we must adapt or die, we need creative solutions.

In struggling to generate a sufficient number of creative ideas, we typically blame the number of creative individuals in our organization or hierarchy and bureaucracy. But in Unlocking Creativity, Michael Roberto takes a different perspective. He believes that we are getting in our own way by the way we think, decide, and act with regard to the development of original ideas.

We find that while we talk about the need for creativity and innovation, employees don’t feel supported or inspired by their leaders and were not given the time or resources to develop new ideas. And there seems to be a stigma surrounding creative types. There often viewed as quirky, unfocused, strange, and nonconformist. As a result, they are viewed as having less leadership potential.

Isaac Asimov once said, “The world, in general, disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome.”

The question is, do we have a people problem or do we have a situation problem? Roberto looks at six organizational mindsets or belief systems that stifle creativity.

The Linear Mindset

“Many organizations fail to understand and embrace the discontinuous nature of the creative process.” They expect disciplined execution—on time and under budget. But realistically, creativity is not like that. The creative problem-solving process involves a healthy dose of trial and error. We must learn by doing.

Many companies have failed to make the shift from the traditional planning mindset to a learning-by-doing approach. Strategy formulation and implementation remain largely disconnected from one another. Firms continue to engage in annual strategic-planning rituals, pretending that they can predict the future from the confirms of the corner office. Even worse, they have treated design thinking as just another linear process that they can deploy. Step two always follows step one. They march through the phases robotically, as if they have discovered a magic formula for innovation.

But the five stages of design thinking are not always sequential as Roberto explains. “Trying to turn any creative process—design thinking or otherwise—into a highly structured, linear system turns out to be a colossal mistake.”

The Benchmarking Mindset

“Firms study their competitors closely, but in so doing, they experience fixation. Consequently, they adopt copycat approaches rather than creating distinctive strategies.”

Firms should recognize that differentiation comes from becoming more lopsided rather than well rounded. You establish a distinctive competitive position by amplifying your strengths, rather than engaging in knee-jerk efforts to imitate your competition.

We often fixate on what we know. “We become attached to a specific mental set, a way of thinking about a problem based on solutions that have worked in the past. Mental sets can facilitate problem-solving at times, but becoming fixated on an inappropriate solution from past experience can inhibit creativity.”

One way to avoid this fixation is to learn from people outside of our industry. “Rather than simply benchmarking direct rivals, companies need to think broadly about the full range of substitutes against which they compete. American Airlines competes against Skype and WebEx, not just Delta and United.”

Avoiding this mindset takes courage. “When you chose not to imitate, you often make bold bets that may lead to failure.” And “In many instances, people do not recognize the merits of the distinctive, creative strategy at first.” It’s easy to just go back to what you know and are comfortable with.

The Prediction Mindset

“Managers have a desperate desire to see what’s next and they exhibit overconfidence in the ability of experts to forecast the future. The insatiable need to predict just how big ideas will become actually impedes creativity.”

We crave certainty. When it comes to forecasting “How people think matters more than what they already know.” The best forecasters are intellectually curious gathering information from a wide variety of sources and updating their conclusions as the facts change.

The prediction mindset impedes creativity because of the way new ideas are treating in most organizations. We support and fund ideas that we think are going to be the next big thing—move the needle. The problem is we don’t really know. And some great ideas need time to ripen and be modified as they are tested in the marketplace. Focus not on the short-term return but on delighting customers.

“Managers often resort to changes in organizational structure as a means of stimulating creativity and improving performance.”

Here’s the bottom line we can learn from example after example: “Leaders will not find an optimal structure that unleashes creativity. No such perfect solution exists. You cannot find a simple causal path that connects structure to performance.” Instead, “the best leaders pay close attention to team climate (psychological safety), behavioral norms and ground rules (rules of engagement), and the design of the work itself (personal responsibility).” These elements allow creativity to flourish.

The Focus Mindset

“Organizations believe that teams will excel at creative work if they focus intensively, perhaps even secluded from their colleagues. They fail to recognize that the best creative thinkers oscillate between states of focus and unfocus.” Focus and distance.

Srini Pillay wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “The brain operates optimally when it toggles between focus and unfocus, allowing you to develop resilience, enhance creativity, and make better decisions too.” Creating that space can be done by simply walking at times, but with teams consider having team members role-play different roles than they currently occupy. Travel helps to spark creativity as does creating temporal distance.

Jeff Bezos and the people at Amazon use “time travel” frequently to stimulate innovative thinking about new products and services. Andy Jassy, Senior Vice President of Amazon Web Services, explains that developers in his organization do not begin writing software code for a new project until they have drafted a hypothetical release for their new product offering.

The Naysayer Mindset

“Managers encourage people to critique each other’s ideas early and often. Unfortunately, the failure to manage dissent and contrarian perspectives constructively causes many good ideas to wither on the vine.”

The Devil’s Advocate technique can be helpful but with ground rules: the who, when, and how of devil’s advocacy. If the role is always played by one person, they begin to be ignored. So rotate the role. Because of the pressure to conform, Roberto recommends having two devil’s advocates. It must be constructive and respectful. As in with President John Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he assigned Theodore Sorensen and Robert Kennedy to “relentlessly pursue every bone of contention in order to prevent errors arising from too superficial an analysis of the issues.” The idea is to provoke dialogue and debate.

Creating an environment that unlocks the creativity inherent in your organization is not easy nor can you expect immediate results. “Remember that the creative capabilities of people throughout your organization may have lain dormant for quite some time.” See the process through their eyes. It is the calling of leaders. “Enabling others to explore, experiment, learn, and create is your duty as a leader, and it’s potentially the most rewarding work you will ever do.”

Unlocking Creativity is well written and engaging as Roberto pulls lessons from numerous studies and a wide variety of people and organizations like Leonardo da Vinci, IDEO, U2, Google, the Beatles, Amazon, Israeli Intelligence, Zappos, Google, NASA, Pixar, Data General, Hollywood, Disney, Trader Joes, Reebok and Planet Fitness. Unlocking Creativity pulls together what we know about creativity and how that knowledge can be applied to our organizations and teams to foster innovation.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:46 PM
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What a Mechanical Shark Can Teach Us About Leadership and Innovation

Mechanical Shark


NE RECENT EVENING, exhausted after a long day of work, I collapsed into bed and turned on the television. On screen was the classic scene from “Jaws,” where actress Susan Backlinie is stalked by the unseen aquatic predator and then pulled underneath the dark water. The scene is famous for the way it terrified audiences without ever showing the titular shark.

But this wasn’t the film itself. It was a documentary on the making of the movie, all about the lengths that then 27-year-old wunderkind Steven Spielberg and his crew went to in creating a film that would define the summer blockbuster.

I soon learned that this scene – one of the best known in the entire film – isn’t what Spielberg initially had in mind. In his original vision, viewers would be treated to a gory scene of the mechanical shark visibly attacking the unassuming woman. But “Bruce,” the mechanical shark, kept malfunctioning, and so the director had to find another way to tell his story.

Spielberg could have insisted on the shot. After all, this was the scene he needed to “hook” the audience and keep their attention throughout the entire movie. He could have bawled out the engineers and technicians behind the mechanical prop, demanding that they somehow find a way to carry out his vision. But he didn’t. Instead, he brainstormed with the talented people around him and came up with a new vision – one that was just as compelling as the original, and with the added bonus that it would actually work.

The result: One of the most memorable scenes in cinema history.

This happened over and over again during the production of “Jaws,” with Spielberg and his crew forced to alter – or completely abandon – the director’s original vision to adapt to conditions on the ground. They had to improvise, making up major new scenes as they hit major new problems.

As I watched the documentary, I was struck by how closely the story mirrored case studies from the business world, and how perfectly it illustrated the points I try to emphasize in the leadership and innovation class I teach at MIT. In business, we tend to mythologize innovative leaders as those who have a revolutionary vision and stick with it, no matter what. But, as Spielberg’s mechanical shark illustrates, the truth is frequently far more complex.

In fact, an original, revolutionary vision isn’t innovation at all (and it certainly isn’t leadership). No, those fresh, once-in-a-lifetime ideas are examples of pure and raw creativity. And while these original sparks are surely important, they usually don’t stand up all that well to the pressures of reality. Anyone with experience with the unforgiving discipline of new product development can testify how exceedingly rare it is for even the best of ideas to emerge from that process unscathed. Creating something new is almost never a simple matter of dreaming a thing up and then building a physical representation of that vision. Nearly always, the process is an iterative one, full of trial-and-error, with more failures than successes. In one famous example, Thomas Edison had to teach himself thousands of ways not to make a light bulb before finding a way that worked.

Innovation, then, is less about having original ideas than it is about being able to execute those ideas. It’s about delivering what customers will buy or use. Friendster’s founders had a creative concept, for example, but it took the minds behind Facebook to turn a similar idea into what is now one of the world’s largest companies. Henry Ford didn’t have the creative spirit that led to the invention of the automobile, but his innovative leadership resulted in a level of execution rarely matched in the history of manufacturing. In fact, even the assembly line was inspired by Ford’s observations of the meat slaughtering process, and how workers in that industry were organized to divide up the whole animal into pieces. Similarly, Spielberg borrowed from his idol, Alfred Hitchcock, in exploiting the terror of the unknown.

One could, perhaps, cite these influences as dings against Ford’s and Spielberg’s creativity. But their willingness to lean on and learn from others’ ideas is a large part of what makes them such innovative leaders.

If innovation is really about execution, then execution itself is really about problem-solving. Inevitably, problems pop up that stand in the way of a leader’s original vision: The bulb won’t light up; the customers won’t buy; the mechanical shark won’t work. The difference between ultimate success and failure is the ability to solve these problems. In fact, I would go a step further and say that the mark of an innovative leader is often his or her ability to redefine the problem – to see it in a new way that presents previously unseen solutions. Spielberg’s genius lies in his ability to recognize that his central problem wasn’t how to make a mechanical shark work, but rather how to terrify his audience.

There’s a delicate balance at play here – what I sometimes call the “paradox” of leading innovation. On one hand, leaders must trust in themselves. They can’t be so wishy-washy that they’re willing to abandon an idea or strategy at the first hint of difficulty. But at the same time, they must be willing to surround themselves with talented people and place real trust in their teams to help them recognize problems and arrive at solutions. That’s what Spielberg did, staying up late with his crew night after night, devising new shots over beer and whiskey when the original storyboards had to be trashed.

In the documentary, Spielberg said that all of the accolades and big-budget movies that came to him throughout the rest of his prolific career (one that includes directing credits on “E.T.,” “Jurassic Park,” and “Schindler’s List”) were made possible by the success of “Jaws.” And that success was due to his willingness to be flexible – to modify his vision through collaboration on his way to redefining the summer blockbuster forever.

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Leading Forum
This post is by Dr. David Niño is a Senior Lecturer in the Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program at MIT School of Engineering. He has taught leadership since 1998 at the undergraduate, masters, doctoral and executive levels. He is currently the instructor for MIT Professional Education’s highly popular online course, “Leadership & Innovation for Technology Professionals.” Dr. Niño is also a founding officer of the Leadership Development Division of the American Society of Engineering Education and consults with professionals and executives around the globe in the areas of leadership and team development.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:32 AM
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Take Charge of Your Company’s Future

Leading Transformation


OW CAN WE BREAK FREE of incrementalism, dream bigger, and inspire people to follow us?

The fundamental problem we face say the authors of Leading Transformation—Nathan Furr, Kyle Nel, and Thomas Zoega Ramsoy—is our tendency toward incremental thinking. That is “to see and act on what is nearby, easy to access, and familiar than what is possible.”

We can’t eliminate our biases, but the authors suggest that to minimize them we take a three-step approach to behavioral transformation in your organization (and life). First, create a strategic narrative about a possible future, second break the decision bottlenecks, and third use key performance indicators—an artifact trail—to create signposts for the road ahead. The authors have a section devoted to each of these, but we’ll touch on them briefly:

Strategic Narrative

We all know stories engage people, but most companies don’t have a meaningful story or if they do, they don’t use it well. The stories you create must be true narratives through the eyes of one person: a story with a narrative arc, characters a conflict, and a resolution. “Narrative works, in part, because it helps us suspend our disbelief and because it creates emotion, belief, and change.”

When it comes to seeing possibilities, science fiction writers have an edge. They urge us to use science fiction writers to write stories of possible futures in your industry. And then present them in comic book format. “Science fiction can be a tool to break the bonds of incrementalism and to imagine other possibilities. The creative genre can help us dream bigger. They provide examples of how science fiction stories help companies do just that.

(Science Fiction: This 1975 video interview with Gerald O’Neill and Isaac Asimov about a manufactured habitat in space inspired Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin company.)

Breaking Bottlenecks

Creating the story, finding science fiction writers and graphic artists may be the easy part. “Navigating the rat’s nest of motivations, politics., and routines in any big company may be the hardest part.” Applying tools rooted in behavioral science like decision maps and archetypes can help to break bottlenecks. Archetypes can help you understand how to approach the decision makers in your organization. In one example, the legal team was holding up progress out of a desire to protect the company. In the example, Natalie reframed the proposal in a way that the caretaker archetype could appreciate. She suggested the moving forward would help to protect the company in the long run by keeping it relevant.

Navigating the Unknown

When we are entering new territory we have few markers to guide us. Most of the ongoing metrics we use are design to access past performance and are little help in judging an uncertain future. So it’s important to create key performance indicators to demonstrate that you are heading in the right direction. “Specifically, we start be identifying the end goal, then work backward to define an artifact trail—the series of small, observable activities and prototypes than can act as small wins to keep enthusiasm high.” Approach the project as an experiment.

There is a brief discussion of the need for negative capability. It is being able to press on while not knowing. The term was coined by poet John Keats who said that “The concept of Negative Capability is the ability to contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems.” We need to be comfortable with uncertainty. “To be a visionary—to take leaps—you need to develop this negative capability. Whereas many people cannot stand the fuzziness of uncertainty, leaders of innovation and transformation frequently demonstrate negative capabilities. The negative capabilities facilitate the exploration of new terrain and the discovery of the adjacent possible.”

The most important step in taking charge of your company’s future is to begin. Take action to create the future you desire. “Creating a narrative to set a vision, identifying a small experiment you could run to build confidence, or seeking out uncommon partners for your next project are all rich areas to being this way of working.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:31 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation


Turning Observation into Innovation

On the Brink


VERYONE WANTS to be an innovator. Every organization wants to be innovative; it doesn’t matter if it’s a church, a for-profit or non-profit business, or a government agency. To not be innovative is to risk being left behind. But how many of us are truly innovative? What have we done that could be called really innovative in the last year?

To be innovative requires a risk tolerance that most people just don’t have. It requires skills that too few have developed. We make incremental changes to be sure, but innovation necessitates something more. Often we just are too close to the situation to see the opportunities. It’s why companies like Google and Intel have called upon corporate anthropologists to bring give them fresh perspectives on their own businesses.

Corporate anthropologists, like traditional anthropologists, explains Andi Simon in On the Brink, look “at a company as a new and unfamiliar culture” to arrive at fresh insights.

Corporate anthropologists “see things that are really happening out there in the field, not what business leaders think is going on. They look for the deeper meaning in the interactions that make up people’s lives and the objects they surround themselves with. They search for those cultural symbols that people live by but have a hard time telling you about. And then they use their findings to help companies rethink how, and why, they’re doing things.”

Andi Simon is a corporate anthropologist that wants to help you do just that—act like an anthropologist for your own organization (or life). Often on the brink of new heights, the challenge is to react appropriately to changing circumstances— “a challenge that requires seeing, feeling, and thinking in new ways.”

Simon says she is amazed at how often we miss what is right in front of us. As expressed in Russell Conwell’s 1890 classic, Acres of Diamonds, “many business leaders fail to recognize that they’re sitting on acres of diamonds of unmet needs or obvious future opportunities.” There are ways to figure out our customer’s pain points and gain insights from observing both the customer and the processes of a business that lead to meaningful innovation and growth.

The anthropologist’s toolkit consists of these four steps to help you change the way you see things; to find meaning in what people do or don’t do:

1. Conduct observational research. You need to go out and watch not only your customers but also your employees. Watch and record how they think and interact with your product or service. Find their pain points. “When companies cannot seem to figure out why they have stalled, customers’ pain points and headaches are often great places to start.” This is true for churches too. What questions are people asking that you aren’t answering?

2. Find out what’s coming in to you already. Users connect with you through call centers, emails, searches, your website, and networking events. What are they happy with, upset about or frustrated by? You’re looking for gaps. In the case of Centenary College, “we needed to experience the college as if we were students, to understand it as if we were their families, and to visualize it through the eyes of high school guidance counselors or a business’s human resource staff.”

3. Capture the stories. Listen. Hold listening and storytelling sessions. Records your observation with photos and videos.

4. Evaluate your culture and perhaps even change it. How does work get done in your organization? Does it fit with your strategy and goals? “As important as branding is, it is equally important that the culture is in sync with that message.”

These steps are pretty straightforward and perhaps obvious, but they require some skill to implement. Simon applies these steps to seven case studies to help you see how they work in practice. The case studies will help you to look at your organization differently.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:19 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation


What Can’t Be Copied?

What Can’t Be Copied


N A WORLD where nearly everything can not only be copied but distributed cheaply—and in some cases for free—what takes on significance and value—what matters—are those things that cannot be copied.

Kevin Kelly highlights a number of things that can’t be manufactured in his book, The Inevitable. They are things that add value to what is a commodity. He begins with trust.

Trust can’t be purchased or reproduced. “You can’t download trust and store it in a database or warehouse it. You can’t simply duplicate someone else’s trust. Rust must be earned, over time.”

People will pay for immediacy. Not just first-in-line but beta versions and prereleases. “Immediacy is a relative term (minutes to months), but it can be found in every product and service.”

You may get the copy free, but you’ll pay for personalization. For example, “A free movie you buy may be cut to reflect the rating you desire for family viewing (no sex, kid safe).” Networked data and AI will play a big part here as “personalization requires an ongoing conversation between creator and consumer, artist and fan, producer and user.”

There is no replacement for human beings here (and trust). “When a copy of your sequence costs nothing, the interpretation of what it means, what you can do about it, and how to use it—the manual for your genes, so to speak—will be expensive.”

When nearly everything can be copied, you will pay to have an “authenticated” copy.

“Ownership often sucks. You have to keep your things tidy, up-to-date, and, in the case of digital material, backed up. And in this mobile world, have to carry it along with you.” If you want to own stuff but without the hassle and responsibility of storing it, you will pay to have someone else do it and deliver it when you need it. In many cases to where ever you are.

While intangibles and cloud storage gives you freedom of movement, sometimes you want the real thing. You can stream a live event but it’s nothing like actually being there. Holding a paper book is an experience as is having the author read it to you.

“Deep down, avid audiences and fans want to pay creators. Fans love to reward artists, musicians, authors, actors, and other creators with the tokens of their appreciation, because it allows them to connect with people they admire.”

People will pay for guidance. “When there are millions of books, millions of songs, millions of films, millions of applications, millions of everything requesting our attention—and most of it free—being found is valuable.” Producers will pay for it and consumers will too. We need help in cutting through the clutter and confusion. We appreciate recommendations based on what we like. In the past, record labels served that purpose even though they overlooked some outstanding artists in the process.

While everything on this list adds value, one item stands out from the rest. And that is trust. The other items on the list should be evaluated as to how they might add differentiation to your offering, but leaders need to focus on championing trust and other character issues as a first line of defense to commoditization. These of course, are the hardest to develop and establish but they are the only differentiators that will stand the test of time—the only ones that can never be copied.

Times change but character never does. Good character is hard to measure but it is easily identified. It has universal value, transcending cultures, gender, and races. Character engenders passion and commitment. It gives weight to everything you do. In short, it endures.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:06 AM
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The Physics of Innovation

The Physics of Innovation


CCORDING to Newton’s law of inertia any body prefers to remain in its present state, and will continue to move (or not) as it has been, unless disturbed sufficiently to be forced – literally – to change direction.

What we were taught in high school science, F = MA, force = mass times acceleration, also describes the physics of innovation. The laws of innovation may be an entirely different application than Newton intended, but tracking through on the metaphor yields pragmatic tips for innovators.

Innovation faces the inertia of the status quo defined by team members, organization culture, and whatever product or service solutions already exist. These all become anchors for evaluating the desirability of anything new. Every member of a team in any organization brings with them some version of “the way things have always been done.” Users have ways they are solving the problems innovations claim to address.

Change makers – whether corporate innovators, founders, or investors – improve their odds of moving their ideas from napkin back and prototype to commercial reality at scale when they acknowledge that one of their biggest challenges is overcoming the bias to maintain things as they are.

How can change makers create the forward motion to dilute the impact of inertia so they can advance innovation?

Here are four imperatives based upon the physics of innovation:

Know and convey your purpose.

Purpose is not about a slogan on the conference room wall. It’s about knowing what you stand for, why your enterprise exists, and why you are there. With purpose backed by passion and commitment, you can challenge and motivate yourself and others to accomplish hard goals. Purpose creates the fuel – the intensity – required to change the status quo of what is, towards the change maker’s view of what is possible.

Chunk down whatever you are trying to create into small steps.

By bringing people with different perspectives together to iterate ever-improving prototypes, and exposing the prototypes to users at each step, the change maker accomplishes key objectives: Collaboration and inclusion build buy-in as people feel heard and are able to contribute their expertise. Costly mistakes are avoided as innovations that are true departures from the status quo evoke counter-intuitive responses – good and bad. And, iteration feeds the next item on this list -- speed.

Move fast.

Taking multiple steps to iterate a prototype before declaring readiness to go to market may feel like a slowdown. But in fact, chunking down the work into iterative cycles can compress the time it takes to get to market with a product or service that works, and that people really want to own and use. Imagine the difference between a fully unfurled piece of string, and one of the same length compressed into a coil. The two strings represent the difference between the start and end times for a linear approach versus one that is iterative.

Follow the ‘compliment then complement’ principle.

Some amount of resistance to innovation happens when people tied to a prior success see the next big thing as a repudiation of their past contributions. Take the edge off this emotional impulse by signaling respect and empathy with a simple practice: Compliment with an ‘i’ then complement with an ‘e’. Here’s an example of how this sounds, in the case of introducing client segmentation to insurance agents accustomed to mining their contact lists one-at-a-time for leads: “You have done an amazing job within your network identifying new clients. We can offer you a new tool to try out that might allow you to achieve even better results by tagging your contacts with a segment identifier. Others are finding this is helping them to win new business.”

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Leading Forum
This post is by Amy J. Radin, author of The Change Maker’s Playbook: How to Seek, Seed and Scale Innovation In Any Company. She is a recognized Fortune 100 chief marketing and innovation officer with a record of moving ideas to performance in complex businesses, including Citi and American Express. Amy is passionate about developing innovations that can create sustainable, business-changing impact. She now advises aspiring growth companies on business development and marketing.

Follow Amy on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can download an excerpt of The Change Maker’s Playbook on her website.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:07 AM
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How to Break the Hold Inertia Has on Your Organization

Break Inertia


RGANIZATIONS get sluggish. They get clunky and myopic. They fall into patterns of inertia. And, in time they fail. But there are signs.

In Transforming the Clunky Organization, Samuel Bacharach takes on the two fundamental sources of organizational inertia—the tendency to be clunky and the tendency to be myopic.

The clunky organization is characterized by a state of organized anarchy. You’ll find overlapping structures, unclear decision processes, chaotic communication, and poor integration. This creates a general lack of focus. People are focused on their own activities but are not attentive to the activities of the whole. The clunky organization is missing the big picture.

The myopic organization is characterized by an addiction to their past successes and behaviors, as a result, they find it difficult to make adjustments. “While they can adapt and improve, they do so by making repetition-based improvements.”

Which type of inertia are you facing?

It's probably not either/or. Most organizations face a little of both and it can vary from one organizational issue to the next—one department to the next. There are some questions you can ask to conduct a self-assessment. Questions related to the clunky organization would include: Are the business units integrated? Are the lines of decision-making authority clear? Is there ambiguity or a lack of goal alignment? Do competing agendas lead to turf and silo issues?

Questions related to the clunky organization would include: Is the organization driven by one product or mindset? Is there centralized control of organizational mission and processes? Is it difficult to convince others to explore new directions or new opportunities? Is there a risk-adverse mind-set?

Great leaders break inertia because they know that in order for an organization to thrive and reach their potential they must “engage in robust discovery and focused delivery” as a way of life. In other words, they must be able to read the signals and take action to bring those innovations to life.

Engaging in robust discovery and focused delivery requires certain skills on the part of the leader as outlined below:

Break Inertia

Robust Discovery

To assure robust discovery, leaders must master the contextual competence of explorers and the ideational competence of innovators. To explore, they must scan the environment for useful information, read signals, and create partnerships. … Leaders who are innovators take steps to move an idea to germination.

As an explorer, a leader looks for signals that the organization needs to adjust or to move in a new direction. Leaders should not just be scanning the familiar sources, but should also diversify the content they consume on a daily basis. If not, the tendency is to simply reinforce what we think we already know. Some signals need to be acted on immediately, others need to be thought through. “A strong signal elicits a question: What needs to be done? The weak signal asks, What does this mean?”

Then those signals need to be transformed into an agenda. If you can see where a change needs to be made but can’t translate that into an actionable concrete agenda, a leader can actually drive their organizations into sluggish territory.

Focused Delivery

To assure focused delivery, pragmatic leaders must master the political competence of campaigners and the managerial competence of sustainers. …To engage in focused delivery, leaders must have the political competence to overcome the headwinds of resistance that sabotage forward movement and have the managerial competence to overcome challenges that could lead to dropping the ball.

The important second half of the solution to breaking inertia in your organization is implementing the new agenda and seeing it through to get the desired result. “Leaders in sluggish organizations may have impeccable discovery, but they may stumble when it comes to making those good ideas a reality.”

And then there’s the resistance. Ideas themselves are rarely threats. But “the moment that a specific idea shows concrete potential, the forces of resistance jump into action.” A leader must know where other people are coming from. “In clunky organizations issues of turf, transaction costs, and fear of losing power can lead to resistance. When the myopic tendency is in play, the fear of losing face or the security that comes from habit will cause many leaders to retreat into accepted business models and the old ways of doing things to preserve some semblance of safety.”

It’s a fact that old game-changing agendas can become the new organizational pattern leading to inertia—the sluggish, myopic organization. Leaders must always be willing to seek out signals that old agendas need to be changed to regain organizational momentum.

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Moving Your Agenda Why We Find it Hard to Change Our Behavior

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:30 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , General Business


Leap: How to Thrive in a World Where Everything Can Be Copied



N TODAY'S competitive environment, where latecomers can copy almost any product or service, companies can no longer just be good at what they do. Is the displacement of early pioneering companies an inevitable fate in the modern economy? Outlasting copycat competition in any industry is difficult; doing so over decades is nearly impossible—unless you leap.

Howard Yu explains in Leap: How to Thrive in a World Where Everything Can Be Copied, how a business can shield itself from copycats. (The stories are absorbing and alone are worth the price of the book.)

Yu identifies five fundamental principles that allow companies to make a leap and stay successful in the face of such competition.

Principle 1: Understand your firm’s foundational knowledge and its trajectory
Protecting a business begin first by knowing its foundational or core knowledge. Here Yu examines what not to do in the case of Steinway and copycat Yamaha. Steinway & Sons spiraled into decline “in large part due to its myopic obsession with craftsmanship at the expense or technological advancement and automation.” He notes, “As history has proved, what begins as an act of human creativity by a world-class expert usually ends in machine automation.” Steinway allowed its strengths to become its weakness. “In other words, core competencies turned into core rigidities, preventing the firm from responding appropriately to the strategic threat Yamaha posed.”

What is the core knowledge discipline that is most fundamental to your company and how widely available is it?

Principle 2: Acquire and cultivate new knowledge disciplines
Yu examines pharmaceutical companies like Novartis and the soap company P&G to see how they moved across knowledge disciplines to leverage or create new knowledge on how their product was made. “Only by forging ahead, rather than refining what has already been, can a pioneer avoid being caught by copycats.”

Two forces—the unwillingness to cannibalize current sales and the tendency to leverage what we have today—leads firms to give their advantage away to copycats. As P&G chairman William Cooper Proctor said in 1933, “This [synthetic detergent] may ruin the soap business. But if anybody is going to ruin the soap business it had better be Procter & Gamble.”

When making the leap timing is important. Steve Jobs said, “Things happen fairly slowly.” Yu writes, “This is an important lesson. Successful executives often exhibit a bias for action. But it’s even more important to separate the noise from the signal that actually pinpoints the glacial movement around us. Listening carefully to the right signals requires patience and discipline.”

Principle 3: Leverage seismic shifts
Where should we look for opportunities to leap? “We must identify those forces that matter the most in the coming decades and reconfigure our competencies ahead of others.” The two intertwining forces that will propel all companies into the second half of the twenty-first century are the rise of intelligent machines and the emergence of ubiquitous connectivity. We must think about how we can use connectivity to mass-produce solutions and solve complex problems and how to use intelligent machines to automate that process in our own businesses.

Principle 4: Experiment to gain evidence
There are puzzles and there are mysteries. To solve a puzzle, you need the correct data—better intelligence and sharper calculation. Mysteries, on the other hand, do not have an answer. The answer has to be invented. It requires a shift in thinking. It requires creativity. “Executives must infuse knowledge work with creativity while automating everything that is routine.”

Ask: “What world am I living in? What are the biggest trends in this world? How do I align my company’s activities so my organization gets the most out of these trends and cushions the worst?”

And while experimentation is good, at some point someone has to pull the trigger. Stop the experimentation process and fully commit to an execution strategy. There is an abundance of ideas but not enough execution.

Principle 5: Dive deep into execution
“The biggest risk that threatens the survival of a large and complex organization lies in political infighting and collective inaction.” Looking at example after example, Yu found that “Every time an organization successfully leaps into a new knowledge base, the senior leaders need to go beyond formulating a strategy and should get their hands dirty during its implementation. Corporate leaders need to absorb career risks…. Success requires an exact combination of knowledge power and positional power.” Maintaining the entrepreneurial spirit is the function of the CEO.

Looking at the successes and failures of startups, the difference “was not that the successful startups got it right the first time but that they learned from their mistakes early enough to shift gears. They had just enough money left over to restart after getting it wrong.”

How do you thrive in a world where everything can be copied? You change the rules of the game. You leap from one knowledge discipline to another. “It turns out that regardless of the industry, it is possible to radically rewrite the rules of the game so as to demand a whole new field of knowledge in support of the change.” We can’t stand on what got us here, we must innovate.

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Cant Be Copied Unsafe Thinking

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:44 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation


Unsafe Thinking: How to Get Out of Your Rut

Unsafe Thinking

E ALL GET STUCK IN RUTS. Thinking ruts. Bias ruts. Stability ruts. Ego ruts.

“The ability to meet challenges with a willingness to depart from standard operating procedures; to confront anxiety, tolerate criticism, take intelligent risks, and refute conventional wisdom—especially one’s own views—in order to achieve breakthroughs” is what Jonah Sachs calls unsafe thinking.

Feeling anxious is not a bad place to be in. Unsafe thinking means becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable.

We’ve all heard the warnings. In changing environments, tried-and-true routines often lead to mediocrity. And we know this is true. Worse still, when we are in the midst of a problem or crisis, we easily revert to the same old thinking with the hopes that we’ll think it through better next time when were under less pressure. But that never happens. So how do we get out of it?

In Unsafe Thinking: How to Be Nimble and Bold When You Need It Most, Jonah Sachs walks us through six key components of unsafe thinking and practices that will help us to overcome our reluctance to use them. First up is courage.

1. Courage

In 2015, shortly before Amazon bought Whole Foods, co-CEO John Mackey is faced with a plummeting stock price and is under fire. He told an audience that, “Staying open, knowing something new is trying to birth itself is hard when everyone’s screaming at you.” It’s hard to stay open to new ideas and expand your thinking when the stakes are so high. He added, “You want to run to safety, but there’s no safety in business these days.” Sachs says we need to accept anxiety as part of the journey and reimagine fear as fuel for creativity. “When you feel fear, remind yourself that it might indicate that you’re on the edge of a creative breakthrough.”

2. Motivation

How do you motivate yourself and others to stay on the edge? The motivation must come from within. Intrinsic motivation is more powerful than extrinsic motivation. In fact, if we focus too much on extrinsic motivation, it can kill our creativity and performance. “Research shows that when we’re in the creative phase of seeking out problems to solve or brainstorming solutions, the phases that call for the open mode, it’s best not to distract ourselves from intrinsic enjoyment with extrinsic rewards.” Getting ourselves in the right frame of mind means knowing what success looks like, getting regular feedback to see that we are on track, and having the skills necessary to complete the task.

3. Learning

Do we rely on or question our expertise? How can we build our expertise without getting trapped by it? Sigmund Freud wrote, “The conceptions I have summarized here I first put forward only tentatively, but in the course of time they have won such a hold over me that I can no longer think in any other way.” And so it goes.

We must become explorers. “The more we project an air f expertise, the more often we’re wrong and the slower we are to learn. And though we may fear nobody will follow us if we admit to fallibility, research indicates that people prefer humble leaders.” The more urgent the problem the more likely we are to seize upon an answer and stick with it without considering that we are on the wrong track. When faced with a deadline, John Cleese “would do all the selection and finalization of ideas at the latest possible hour, leaving as much time for exploration up front as possible. It would give him a creative edge and he would almost always come up with something more original.

4. Flexibility

“Breakthroughs often come from pursuing ideas that seem counterintuitive to most people and therefore crackpot.” Our intuitions should not be ignored, but they aren’t truths. As Robin Hogarth says, “Emotions are data that need to be explained.” Sachs comments on Hogarth’s wicked learning environment that gives slow, ambiguous, or misleading feedback versus a kind learning environment that gives us plenty of timely, clear, and accurate feedback. “Spend a lot of time in a single environment, be it kind or wicked, and we’re likely to grow and more confident in our intuition. But if our learning environments are wicked, our intuitions are likely to get further and further off base, even as they grow stronger.”

5. Morality

When do you break the rules? Writer Wallace Stegner put it this way: “It is the beginning of wisdom when you recognize that the best you can do is choose which rules you want to live by. It’s persistent and aggravated imbecility to pretend you can live without any.” The idea is to disobey wisely or intelligent disobedience.

Sachs says there two things to keep in mind. “First, be open about dissatisfaction with creativity-killing rules. Colleagues and managers are more likely to see the quiet latent dissenter as disloyal and, surprisingly, as more verbally aggressive and argumentative. Next, it’s important to articulate the pro-social value of breaking a rule rather than the personal reason for doing so.”

We reward sheep-like behavior so we have to teach the unacceptability of blind obedience. What problem does this rule exist to solve? “While having a few rules that are meant to be broken can actually spur creativity, organizations should thoughtfully prune policies built up over time to address problems that may or may not still be relevant.” Again, this is not an argument against rules.

Professor Scott Page noted that we easily get stuck when the group thinks the same way. “But if we have people with diverse tools, they’ll get stuck in different places. On person can do their best, and then someone else can come in and improve on it.”

6. Leadership

The presence of other people can depress creativity. “Groups tend to enforce all the attitudes of safe thinking: they rush too quickly to consensus, rally around expert leaders, punish dissenters, quickly harden their shared sense of right and wrong, and unless directed otherwise, squash risky and unfamiliar ideas in the name of efficiency and practicality.” It’s up to the leadership to make sure people have a safe place to think in unsafe ways. Ask people what holds them back.

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Return On Courage Blowing Past Our Limits

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:46 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Thinking


Find the Fire ... Again

FInd the Fire


HERE WAS A TIME when you felt inspired. Like you could take on the world? But somewhere along the way, things changed. What happened?

In Find the Fire, author Scott Mautz says what happens is that we lose control of the process. Most people are overcome by self-defeating beliefs and thought processes. He has identified eight culprits that drain our inspiration and explains how we can counteract them. “You can create the conditions where inspiration is much more likely to occur.” Mautz offers antidotes to the anti-muses as he calls them.

The eight anti-muses that we need to keep an eye out for are:

Fear is probably the most immobilizing of the eight. Most common are the fear of failure, the fear of change, and the fear of criticism. The antidote includes changing the way you look at fear and five specific actions you can take to ensure that you spend more energy trying to succeed rather than trying to avoid failure. Mautz also offers ten ways to overcome the fear of criticism like considering the intent and focusing on the conclusion and not the criticism itself.

Settling and Boredom
When we get comfortable, fall into patterns, and avoid uncertainty, we lose our inspiration. We need to broaden our horizons, reconnect to our why, seek growth, seek out the new, and create opportunities.

Feeling overwhelmed cause us to shut down and miss the inspiration that is all around us. Mautz offers seven methods to prioritize and six helpful insults to hurl at your inner perfectionist.

Loss of Control
We give away our power quite unintentionally by people-pleasing, playing the victim, and self-disparaging self-talk (“Why can’t I catch a break?”). You can gain power by getting off others’ agenda, clarifying your role, taking the initiative, embracing change and not just asking for feedback, but thriving on it. Share your gifts in service to others.

Dwindling Self-Belief
When we doubt ourselves, we miss the inspiration all around us. “Such a powered-down state takes the form of low self-confidence, a lack of perseverance, a tendency to withdraw from the moment (not being fully and energetically present), and a sense of not being well-respected.”

When we are disconnected, we miss the energy we could draw from those connections and a major source of potential inspiration. Connection is based on three elements: shared purpose, trust and truth, and mutual respect. Mautz suggests ways to repair weak links.

Dearth of Creating
When we have stopped creating, we fail to draw on inspiration from our own work. We can learn to be more creative and build a sense of significance by leveraging the right stimulus, employing the right techniques, altering our environment, and by adopting the tight mindset. The STEM method is explained in detail.

Feelings of significance invite inspiration. Combat feelings of significance by being the champion for change, help solve a problem, become an expert, build up others, and again, take the initiative to take care of an unmet need.

Lack of Evocation
Finally, working in an uninspiring environment is well, uninspiring. Mautz lists three things you can do to evoke inspiration in your environment: First, influence the mood by being positive, enthusiastic, and optimistic. Second, find inspiration be studying things we take for granted and find remarkable. Focused appreciation. Third, manage up by, among other things, bringing the attitude you want to be reciprocated.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:11 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation


What Kind of Innovator Are You?

Innovation Code


N EVERYTHING WE DO, we bring with it our personal view of the world. That is both our biggest asset and contribution and our biggest obstacle. We can easily get caught up in trying to make things be the way we think they should be from our perspective. It’s what leads to most of our issues.

When it comes to innovation, it is no different. Jeff DeGraff writes in The Innovation Code, “Your dominant worldview is your biggest strength—the quality that makes you stand out from other people.” He adds, “On the other hand, your dominant worldview is holding you back. Your defining quality is also your greatest weakness. The problem is that our dominant worldviews overpower all other points of view.” And it distorts reality as we miss the bigger picture.

So the place we want to come to is knowing what gift or perspective we bring to the table and then learn to combine it with the gifts of others to create a positive tension that promotes sustainable and scalable growth.

First, we need to get to know ourselves. DeGraff describes four basic worldviews or approaches to innovation: the Artist, the Engineer, the Athlete, and the Sage.

The Artist
The Artist loves radical innovation. “Their core competency is imagination. They thrive in situations riddled with uncertainty and doubt—contexts that peers might avoid—because they are great experimenters. They want organic growth—things not acquired but built. These people are revolutionaries. They are dreamers—expressive, clever, optimistic, charismatic, and quick on their feet. This is the high-risk, high-reward innovation approach.”

The Engineer
The Engineer constantly improves everything. They seek efficiency and quality and depend on processes. “They are systematic, disciplined team members. They embrace reliability as they work to eliminate deviance. They love to take preexisting ideas and products and make them into something bigger—something reproducible, global, universal. What they seek is efficiency. They strive for incremental innovations. They want quality—foolproof systems that can make a lot out of something already proven to be great. This is a slow-moving, low-risk kind of growth.”

The Athlete
The Athlete competes to develop the best innovation. “Athletes are forceful leaders who are driven by profit and speed. They are masters at image—enhancement and deal-making. They thrive in high-pressure environments with quantifiable results. What they seek is power. They reach it by looking at everything that comes their way as a challenge, an opportunity to do something bigger and better than anyone who’s done it before. They win the immediate round but fail to see the long game. Too eager for the instant victory, they don’t have the patience to build the kind of community and culture that sustain durable growth. For this reason, every Athlete needs a Sage. The killer instinct of an Athlete and the social intelligence of a Sage is a dynamite combination.”

The Sage
The Sage innovates through collaboration. “Sages are facilitators that put everyone they meet at ease. They attract people and bring them together, creating a family atmosphere and collaborative spirit. Their charisma lies in their reserve, their willingness to let people speak. Sages thrive on building a culture—defining the lager character and vision of the people they unite. They are the fundamental source of knowledge for the groups and teams they lead. They are the people who first develop the crucial competencies and capabilities that endure for years or even lifetimes.”

DeGraff provides each type with more in depth characteristics and examples. He lays out the strengths and weaknesses of each and what do about it, including how to work with each of the other types.

What kind of innovator are you? DeGraff has created an online assessment.

Here’s the thing. When you bring these four types together it can get messy. But it can be constructive. “The key,” says DeGraff, “is not to strike a balance but to know when you need more or less of each approach.” If we know the strengths and weaknesses of our type, then we can know what types we need to surround ourselves with to complete the picture and to find an approach that will work. Knowing the kinds of innovators you need to bring to a project is all about knowing all of those things you can’t do (well) yourself.

Not surprisingly, different stages of organizational growth require more of one type over another. “At their onset, groups need more Artists and Athletes. Artists will give a young company a creative edge, while Athletes come up with a playbook. As it starts to grow, the organization has to get the right people and community involved and develop the best customer relationships. This is when the company needs Sages. Finally, when the organization gets really big, it needs structure, processes, and hierarchy—the gifts of Engineers.” When it matures, the organization needs to reinvent itself. “Instead of maintaining the same ratio of different kinds of thinkers, the organization needs to incorporate more Artists or Athletes or Sages or Engineers, whichever form will add more variance to the current situation.”

Organizational Growth Cycle

“When you combine the radical, visionary thinking of the Artist and the methodical, practical thinking of the Engineer, you get innovation that’s both revolutionary and manageable, highly ambitious but without high risk. When you combine the cutthroat, results-oriented attitude of the Athlete with the conscientious, values-oriented attitude of the Sage, you get innovation that’s both a good investment and good for the world.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:18 AM
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Originals or How Non-Conformists Move the World


THERE ARE SO FEW originals in life.

“We find surface ways of appearing original—donning a bow tie, wearing bright red shoes—without taking the risk of actually being original. When it comes to the powerful ideas in our heads and the core values in our hearts, we censor ourselves.”

Originals by Adam Grant—a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school—is about the people who choose to champion originality and move us forward. They are not that different from the rest of us, but in spite of inner doubts and a world geared toward uniformity, they press on and change the world.

For most of us we are not like the conceptual innovators that formulate a big idea early on in life and act on it. We are probably more like the experimental innovators that move through idea after idea, learning and evolving as they go. “While experimental innovation can require years or decades to accumulate the requisite knowledge and skill.” writes Grant, “it becomes a more sustainable source of originality.”

Interestingly, it is not the child prodigies that go on to change the world. While they are rich in talent an ambition, they don’t learn to be original. “Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.” Most prodigies never make the leap to originality. “They apply their extraordinary abilities in ordinary ways, mastering their jobs without questioning defaults and without making waves.”

How Do We Get More Original Ideas?

If you want to do original work, do more work. “On average, creative geniuses weren’t qualitatively better in their fields than their peers. They simply produced a greater volume of work, which gave them more variation and a higher chance of originality.”

Quantity is the most predictable path to quality. Our most brilliant work will be found in the mass of our less brilliant work. It is important to mention also that originals expose themselves to influences far outside their official arena of expertise. Nobel Prize winners are “dramatically more likely to be involved in the arts than less accomplished scientists.” Notice more and look for connections.

How Do We Bridge the Gap between Insight and Action?

The best judges of creative ideas are fellow creators. Fellow creators are more open to original ideas. “The more expertise and experience people gain, the more entrenched they become in a particular way of viewing the world.”

Critical reviews are often viewed as better—more intelligent. “Prophets of doom and gloom appear wise and insightful.” Too much optimism comes across as salesmanship. No one wants to be sold. When you are trying to sell an original idea people are looking to reasons why it won’t work. Next time try presenting a candid discussion of your ideas weaknesses. In trying to sell investors on his company Babble, Rufus Griscom described the hurdles he faced in his own business. He came across not only as knowledgeable, but also honest and modest. “When I led with the factors that could kill the company, the response from the board was the exact opposite: oh, these things aren’t so bad.”

We often undercommunicate our ideas because we are so familiar with them that we think there is no need to repeat them. Our audience needs more exposure to accept them.

Developing Original Ideas

Procrastination can improve our creativity. In one example Grant notes, “It was only when they began thinking about the task and then deliberately procrastinated that they considered more remote possibilities and generated more creative ideas. Delaying progress enable them to spend more time considering different ways to accomplish it, rather than ‘seizing and freezing’ on one particular strategy.”

Being original doesn’t mean being first. “It just means being different and better.” When originals try to be first they tend to overstep. They move before the market can support their idea. They tend to take bigger risks and are prone to make impulsive decisions. “When you are the first to market, you have to make all of the mistakes yourself.” Those that follow can more easily learn from you mistakes and improve on your idea.

When presenting original ideas they can’t be seen as too radical or people will never accept them. When selling them you have to give people something to connect with. “Instead of assuming that others share our principles, or trying to convince them to adopt ours, we ought to present our values as a means of pursuing theirs. It’s hard to change other people’s ideals. It’s much easier to link our agendas to familiar values that people already hold.”

How to Build a Culture of Originality

Too many rules and they way we understand them can greatly affect our creativity. “In one study, parents of ordinary children had an average of six rules, like specific schedules for home work and bedtime. Parents of highly creative children had an average of less than one rule and tended to ‘place emphasis on moral values, rather than on specific rules.’” Grant also adds:

If parents do believe in enforcing a lot of regulations, the way they explain them matters a great deal. New research shows that teenagers defy rules when they’re enforced in a controlling manner, by yelling or threatening punishment. When mothers enforce many rules but offer a clear rationale for why they’re important, teenagers are substantially less likely to break them, because they internalize them.

In this regard, nouns are better than verbs. It’s better to ask children to be helpers than ask them to help. It speaks to their identity. In the same way being told not to cheat is not as effective than saying “Please don’t be a cheater.”

Dealing with Groupthink

Cohesion in a group doesn’t cause groupthink. “There’s a fine line between having a strong culture and operating like a cult.” When organizational performance is down, leaders tend to search for people who share their perspective. When what they need to do is look for advice that challenges them. “If you’re going to build a strong culture, it’s paramount to make diversity one of your core values.” It’s what separates a strong culture from a cult.

You need a loyal opposition. You need a devil’s advocate. But here’s the thing, you need to find one, not assign one. “When people are designated to dissent, they are just playing a role. This causes two problems: They don’t argue forcefully or consistently enough for the minority viewpoint, and group members are less likely to take them seriously. But when it is authentic, it stimulates thought; it clarifies and it emboldens.”

To keep this process constructive, organizations must prioritize their values. This provides a framework for new ideas. “The more principles you have, the greater the odds that employees focus on different values or interpret the same values differently.”

In Originals, Grant utilizes new examples and counterintuitive research to inspire us to lead—to change the world. He concludes with 30 Actions for Impact for unleashing originality.

Adam Grant demonstrates how originality, can and should be taught and nurtured. Anyone can innovate if given the opportunity and the support. He provides practical tools to “unleash” the hidden creativity in all of us. However, not just for ourselves but also to build cultures of originality both at home and at work.

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Of Related Interest:
  Are You a Giver or a Taker?
  Hacking the Creative Process
  Be a Coach, Not a Critic.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:37 PM
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Why You’re Not Achieving Your Goals

Achievement Habit

BERNARD ROTH, one of the founders of the multi-disciplinary d.school at Stanford University, has written a book titled, The Achievement Habit. However, it is much more than the title might let on.

It’s about how you can achieve your goals more fully and faster by expanding your limited view of reality. It’s about design thinking applied to every aspect of your life. It’s about assisting us to break through the walls that are mostly of our own making.

You Give Everything Its Meaning

Roth begins by reminding us that nothing has any meaning except for the meaning that we give it. “Stop labeling things in their usual way. Make the familiar into the unfamiliar, and the result can be amazing and delightful, as opposed to dull, nonfunctional, and ordinary.” Along these same lines, this applies to our need to be right. “Next time you find yourself playing right and wrong, remember: You give everything in your life its meaning, so you can choose to end the game. It does not matter how right you are or how wrong they are; you lose just by playing.” You have the power to change your attitude and therefore, how you will play the game.

Reasons Are Excuses

And then there are all the reasons we have for why something is or isn’t happening. They’re really just excuses prettied up says Roth. He was chronically late until he decided to stop coming up with reasons and deal with the real issue. Here’s the key point: We use reasons “to hide shortcomings from ourselves. When we stop using reasons to justify ourselves, we increase our chances of changing behavior, gaining a realistic self-image, and living a more satisfying and productive life.” In other words, we take responsibility for our life.

We often get stuck because we are working on the wrong issue. We have some faulty assumptions. “Experience has shown me that one of the main causes of losing sleep over a problem is that we think we are dealing with a question when in fact we are dealing with an answer (a solution) that turns out not to be a good fit to our actual problem.” Letting go of the problem is often the best solution. Roth shows you how to rework your question to find the actual issue.

At the d.school there is a bias toward action. Failure is part of the expected result. In reaching our goals we also need to watch our language because it influences the way we see things (and the way others see us too). The word but creates conflict. Using the word and opens up the conversation. Change “I have to” to “I want to.” It clarifies the fact that we have a choice in the matter.

Don’t Interrupt

Here’s a ego taxing communication tip: Don’t interrupt. “Many people interrupt because they have something that they are afraid they might forget or that it will not be relevant later. The best thing to do is to let it go. If it is still appropriate at the end, say it then. If it gets lost and remains unspoken—no matter how brilliant it would have been—the world will not notice.”

Flat Organization

Roth describes the flat organization of the d.school over the last forty years. Why and how it works. With a common goal and purpose, I think what Roth describes is possible: “We operated by consensus and negotiation, almost never voting on anything. There was almost no acrimony, and people treated each other with respect, collegiality, and a spirit of shared purpose and commitment.” “We were all in charge, and we wanted to make it work.” If you can overcome your biases, “you might find a management structure that strongly supports what you want to accomplish.”

Many more topics from designing workspaces to self-image are discussed. All of it valuable. Each concept is followed by a “Your Turn” section to give you tools and techniques to apply these ideas to your own situation.

When you hold yourself in high esteem and keep a positive outlook on your future, others will usually follow suit. By choosing the meaning we give to people and things in our environment, ultimately we control our own experiences, no matter what work we are doing.

The Achievement Habit is a book about life. How to design your life and leadership through design thinking. Stop wishing, start doing, and take command of your life.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:44 PM
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5 Leadership Lessons: How to be More Creative and Enrich Your Life

Curiosity has been the most valuable quality, the most important resource, the central motivation of my life,” writes Hollywood producer Brian Grazer in A Curious Mind.

Early in life, Grazer began having what he calls “curiosity conversations.” He began tracking down people he was curious about and asking them if he could sit down with them and talk. He particularly looked for people outside of the entertainment business. The goal was to learn something. He says, “I want to understand what makes people tick; I want to see if I can connect a person’s attitude and personality with their work, with their challenges and accomplishments.”

Grazer is a storyteller by trade and it comes through in the stories he tells of the people he has met through his curiosity conversations. Conversations like these get you out of your head and better connected to reality. They provide great insights into yourself and others. It would be a worthwhile goal for anyone to create similar conversations in their own life. And Grazer persuasively argues that you should. (Give one to a graduate. They’ll get it. I put my son on to the project.)

Here are five leadership lessons from A Curious Mind. I particularly like the first point as it provides a starting point—a practical behavior—to develop the thinking and the creativity that drives innovation.

1  As indispensable as they are, “creativity” and “innovation” are hard to measure and almost impossible to teach. Unlike creativity and innovation, though, curiosity is by its nature more accessible, more democratic, easier to see, and also easier to do. Curiosity is the tool that sparks creativity. Curiosity is the technique that gets to innovation.

2  I’ve discovered that even when you’re in charge, you are often much more effective asking questions than giving orders. The real benefit of asking rather than telling is that it creates the space for a conversation, for a different idea, a different strategy. I’ve discovered another unexpected characteristic of using questions: they transmit values. In fact, questions can quietly transmit values more powerfully than a direct statement telling people what you want them to stand for, or exhorting them about what you want them to stand for.

3  Being able to imagine the perspective of others is also a critical strategic tool for managing reality in a whole range of professions. In fact, the very best doctors, detectives, generals, coaches, and diplomats all share the skill of being able to think about the world from the perspective of their rivals. You can’t simply design your own strategy, then execute it and wait to see what happens so you can respond. You have to anticipate what’s going to happen—first by disrupting your own point of view.

4  Curiosity rewards persistence. Persistence is what carries curiosity to some worthwhile resolution. Likewise, persistence without curiosity may mean you chase a goal that isn’t worthy of the effort—or you chase a goal without adjusting as you learn new information. You end up way off course. Persistence is the drive moving you forward. Curiosity provides the navigation.

5  Curiosity is great, but if what we learn evaporates, if it goes no further than our own experience, then it doesn’t really help us. Curiosity itself is essential to survival. But the power of human development comes from being able to share what we learn, and to accumulate it. And that’s what stories are: shared knowledge. Curiosity motivates us to explore and discover. Storytelling allows us to share the knowledge and excitement of what we’ve figured out. And that storytelling, in turn, inspires curiosity in the people to whom we’re talking.

“When curiosity really captures you, it fits the pieces of the world together. You may have to learn about the parts, but when you’re done, you have a picture of something you never understood before.” Grazer encourages us to keep asking questions until something interesting happens! And it can start with anyone you come into contact with. Everyone has a story to tell—go and be surprised.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:20 PM
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Getting the Attacker’s Advantage

Attackers Advantage

TO Ram Charan, The Attacker’s Advantage is the ability to detect ahead of others those forces that are radically reshaping your marketplace, then position your business to make the next move first.

The key is not fearing uncertainty but immersing ourselves in it. It is in the uncertainty that we find the possibilities we can combine to create something new and immensely valuable. We miss the possibilities says Charan because we’re flying at low altitude—immersed in the daily minutia.

The other problem is that we gravitate towards being comfortable. Uncomfortable and uncertainty is where the growth is. Uncomfortable and uncertainty is where possibility exists.

What we are facing is structural uncertainties or uncertainties arising from our external environment. Charan says the opportunity in structural uncertainty was summed up for him by G. M. Rao, who said, “Every bend in the road contains a message about a future growth trajectory that someone could explore and exploit if he or she looked at it through a different lens without being controlled by an existing core competency.” A world in flux “creates new possibilities and lowers the entry barriers.”

Seeing what is happening requires that we develop sharp perceptual acuity. It is seeing in all of the noise the anomaly, the contradiction, the oddity. The more you start looking for these things in your own industry, but perhaps more importantly, in unrelated industries, the better you will get at it. Talk about what you see with others, ask questions, seek contrary viewpoints, ask what’s new daily, watch the social scene and read voraciously, are all ways to help you develop perceptual acuity.

Charan notes that “seizing the attacker’s advantage is not the same thing as seeking new ways to use your core competencies.” Attachment to your core competencies interferes with your ability to see clearly and make the right choices. Uncertainly will that we look for ways to grow and expand our competencies—not merely tweak our old ones.

“Trying to ignore uncertainty only increases fear, triggering a variety of symptoms, from withdrawal or losing control of your temper to suppressing bad news and blaming others.” Dean Stamoulis commented that “blaming and rationalizing is an extreme red flag….Blaming indicates a thinking style that is not effective in uncertainty, and it erodes the connection with whatever constituencies are taking the heat.” The more you embrace uncertainty the more you’ll be energized by it.

bend in the road

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:28 PM
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A Beautiful Constraint

A Beautiful Constraint

TYPICALLY we look at a constraint as a negative. A problem to be solved.

But what if a constraint was the gift that opened up previously unimagined possibilities? What if a constraint was the gift that took you to the next level?

Authors Adam Morgan and Mark Barden remind us in A Beautiful Constraint that Google’s home page is as simple as it is because that was the limit of Larry Page’s coding ability at the time. The overall-wearing hero Mario is as colorful as he is because of the challenges of eight-bit technology. And which of us would be using Twitter at all today if it had a limit of 14,000 characters rather than 140?

We are all faced with the challenge of growing within the constraints of time, resources, method and /or people. Sometimes constraints are imposed on us and sometimes we benefit by placing constraints on ourselves. “We are living in an era of extraordinary people rewriting our sense of what is possible. They make an unarguable case that a constraint should be regarded as a stimulus for positive change—we can choose to use it as an impetus to explore something new and arrive at a breakthrough. Not in spite of the constraint, but because of it.”

Organizations of all types—business, churches and schools—and people from all walks of life would benefit from understanding how to reframe a constraint into a better way of doing something.

We begin the process by creating the right mindset. We need to increase our ambition relative to the constraint not to scale back our ambition to satisfy the constraint. That’s victim mentality. And that’s usually where we begin. Better yet, we can try to find a way to neutralize the constraint so we can deliver on our ambition. But the authors have created a path for us to become transformers—to find a way to use a constraint as an opportunity, possibly even increasing our ambition along the way.


Often transformers will impose constraints upon themselves to force themselves to unearth different, possibly transformative strategies and solutions. This helps to reduce path dependence or the assumptions and ways of thinking about solutions that define “the way we do things around here.” “Today’s path is really yesterday’s path.” We must examine all of the ingrained habits that may stand in the way of our being able to see and realize the possibilities in a constraint.

To bind our bold ambition to a significant constraint we have to ask a propelling question. The kind of “what if…?” question that forces us to think and behave in a better way. “If we don’t ask propelling questions of ourselves, someone is going to ask them of us, and by that time we will be behind the curve.”

To answer a propelling question we need to answer not with a “we can’t because” statement but with a “we can if” statement. It focuses the nature of the conversation on how something could be possible and not on whether it would be possible.

Then we get resourceful. What stops us from being more resourceful is the way we think about resources. We tend to think of the resources available to us as the ones within our immediate control. But there are all kinds of resources outside of our immediate control. One method is to create shared agendas. “We, who might appear to have little, need to help them see that we have what they want.”

There are organizations that routinely embrace constraints to make themselves better. The beautiful constraint process cannot be managed, it must be led. “When making constraints beautiful, motivation is method. Breakthrough happens when a propelling question meets strong emotions. Without activating the right emotions, it will be too easy to regress to the victim mindset.”

The authors note that “if we are heading into a more constrained future, then how we manage those constraints will determine how we progress.” As a leader, steering your organization towards constraints sooner rather than later, is an important source of competitive advantage. Raising the level of ambition alongside a constraint encourages growth and learning—both individually and organizationally—because it causes us to reexamine our current paths, assumptions, and ways of thinking.

A Beautiful Constraint is a outstanding book with inspiring examples that will spark your imagination to create your own beautiful constraint. It should be standard issue to every student as the thinking described here will serve them well in life.

What constraint will you go and make beautiful?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:02 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Education , Learning


The Chaos Imperative

The Chaos Imperative

OUR BRAINS need white space to think creatively.

We need white space to think more deeply and completely.

Leading With Intention
In The Chaos Imperative, co-authors Ori Brafman and Judah Pollack say that “if we want to foster creativity and innovation in our own lives, we too need a bit of chaos.” We need organization and routines to be sure, but we also need “pockets of chaos”—“places where structure and efficiency are set aside or blocked off to create a more organic process that allows new ideas to come to the fore.” What Brafman calls “organized serendipity.”

We could actually use more of this white space not only in our organizations, but in our homes, schools and personal lives as well. In one study, “researchers discovered that the children with more recess time learned more, developed better emotional and cognitive skills, were healthier, behaved better, and managed stress better.” The problem is that it seems counterintuitive to us; like we’re not doing our job; we’re slacking off. But if you, as a teacher, a parent, or a leader think of your job as an opportunity to draw out ideas from others, to listen and to connect, it makes a lot of sense.

However, white space is not a shortcut, but a step. Using the stories of Dmitry Mendeleev (created the table of the elements), Gary Starkweather (invented the laser printing), and Albert Einstein (developed the general theory of relativity), the authors write that none of these men could have arrived at the solutions to their problems had they not spent considerable time thinking about the particular problem and mastering their particular field. “But in order to solve the problems they were working on, they needed to create a bit of white space.”

Our brains need time to process the information we take in and it is our default mode unless we are focused on a task. We actually interrupt this process when we perform a specific task. “It’s often in those moments when we cede control, when we put down that pen, when we fall asleep, or when we talk offline, that true eureka moments seem to find us.”

Introducing chaos into our lives and organizations is inherently messy, so the authors have introduced five rules for managing it:

Rule 1: Avoid the Seductive Lure of Data and Measurements. It’s a process. Results will vary. Sometimes you will have more insights and sometimes you won’t have any.

Rule 3: Make White Space Productive. Here are a few tips: You first have to put in the work. A slacker won’t necessarily benefit from white space. Get up and move. Get some exercise. Take a walk. Create a micro white space—a minute or two—think before you speak.

Rule 4: Embrace Unusual Suspects. Intentionally seek out those with different views and approaches. Different doesn’t mean crazy. Break down silos. Get people from around the organization to contribute.

Rule 5: Organize Serendipity. Create openness. Allow people to bump into one another.

Organize a little chaos in your new year!

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Of Related Interest:
  Does Your Leadership Have “White Space?”

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Fitzgerald Test Dealing With Paradoxes

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:52 AM
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Are We Too Busy Competing to do Anything New?

Zero to One

PETER THIEL’S Zero to One is a quick and engaging read, but the ideas are not as quick to digest.

Zero to One is based on the idea that progress can take two forms: horizontal or vertical progress. Horizontal progress is doing more of what works—going from zero to n. Vertical progress is doing something new—going from zero to one. Thiel explains it this way:

"Vertical progress is harder to imagine because it requires doing something nobody else has ever done. If you take one typewriter and build 100, you have made horizontal progress. If you have a typewriter and build a word processor, you have made vertical progress."

Zero to One

Most of us are busy making horizontal progress. We are competing—trying to better or make incremental improvements to what already exists. Certainly, there is a value in this, but it leads to the creation of commodity businesses. Thiel recommends: avoid competition as much as possible. Instead, be a monopoly.

Monopolies occur when some is doing something no one else is doing. “Monopolies deserve their bad reputation—but only in a world where nothing changes….Creative monopolists give customers more choices by adding entirely new categories of abundance to the world.” To make a finer point, Thiel writes: “Every business is successful exactly to the extent that it does something others cannot. Monopoly is the condition of every successful business.”

Part of the problem is that we have developed a mindset of indefinite optimism or hoping the future will get better with no plan—the future just-sort-of-happens approach. What we need says Theil is a mindset of definite optimism. That is to say, getting on with building the future you envision—working the plan. “Arguing over process has become a way to endlessly defer making concrete plans for a better future.” A definite optimist believes the future will be better if he plans and works to make it better. We need to get back to making a plan for the future.

Successful start-ups and monopolies are built on a secret. “People at a successful startup are fanatically right about something those outside it have missed.” What everyone knows will not give you an edge.

What we need to restore is our sense of adventure—our sense of possibility. Are we too busy competing to do something new?

"The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them."

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:09 AM
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Everything Connects

Everything Connects


And because it does, “the depth of understanding that we have of ourselves and others will be the asset that we use the most throughout our working lives.”

Everything Connects by Faisal Hoque and Drake Baer is a book about how to create an innovative, sustainable organization. But it is much more. It’s about being intentional about relationships to create the space to do something great.

1. Converged Disciplines. Ideas from one discipline aren’t isolated from another. The disciplines in a sustainably innovative organization form a single entity. An ongoing part of identity building—both in our individual working lives and as part of a team—is to practice inviting a breadth of experiences, a pool of experiences from which we can draw on later in life.

2. Cross-Boundary Collaboration. No one operates in a vacuum. The more we can connect the people within an organization, the more we can increase our overall potential. Relationships are the bandwidth within an organization, which means we need to be deliberate in forming them. You have to quash any sense of a zero-sum game.

3. Sustainably Innovative Structures. If you are not careful of the culture that’s being created, it will merge thoughtlessly rather than by design. Organizational structures can wreck your organization if you rigidly cling to the product that they’re built to deliver rather than the value they attempt to create. “They couldn’t change because all they could think about was how to improve the thing they did, not the value they offered.”

All of this leads to setting up a system that continuously discovers. In other words, Hoque says, “we’re responsible for our long term growth in each short-term situation.” A long-term mindset that we manifest every day. Wedding the long-term to the short-term requires “mindfulness and authenticity, for mindfulness allows us to directly perceive our experiences in the moment, while authenticity acts as a star in the night sky, orienting us toward the future we wish to arrive at.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:15 PM
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Creativity, Inc.

Creativity Inc

Ed Catmull’s Book, Creativity, Inc. is about how to lead when you care about and believe in the people you lead. Catmull is co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation.

Creativity Inc
Rethink, adapt, and push-on describes his career path. Inspire by the TV show, The Wonderful World of Disney, Catmull wanted to be an animator. But he knew he would never be good enough to do it professionally. So, naturally, he went into physics and the emerging field of computer science. Eventually, that lead him to computer graphics. By 26 he had set a life goal: To make the first computer-animated feature film. By pursuing what he was good at it allowed him to do what he was passionate about. A good section for any young person to read who is wondering "What next?"

From the early days at Lucasfilm to Pixar, success caused Catmull to ask why companies expanded like bubbles and then burst. “What was causing smart people to make decisions that sent their companies off the rails? Can paying careful attention to the missteps of others help us to be more alert to our own? Or is there something about becoming a leader that makes you blind to the things that threaten the well-being of your enterprise?”

Creativity, Inc. provides insight into the answers to these questions from his experience at Pixar. It’s “about the ongoing work of paying attention—of leading by being self-aware, as managers and as companies.”

After the success of Toy Story, he discovered an important dynamic: The good stuff was hiding the bad stuff. “When downsides coexist with upsides, as they often do, people are reluctant to explore what’s bugging them, for fear of being labeled complainers. I also realized that this kind of thing, if left unaddressed, could fester and destroy Pixar. Being on the lookout for problems was not the same as seeing problems.

Another key lesson : “Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right. That means it is better to focus on how a team is performing, not on the talents of the individuals within it. Find, develop, and support good people, and they will in turn find, develop, and own good ideas.”

Catmull admits, “early on all of our movies suck.” He walks us through the process they use to develop ideas into a successful finished product. Candor is key. At Pixar, candor trumps hierarchy. “People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process. The details converge to obscure the whole, and that makes it difficult to move forward substantially in any one direction. The experience can be overwhelming. No matter what, the process of coming to clarity takes patience and candor.”

At Pixar they have built candor into the system by the use of various feedback mechanisms. For example they have the Braintrust. It is made up of people with a deep understanding of storytelling and, usually, people who have been through the process themselves. It has no authority and it doesn’t try to fix the problem but to try to identify the root cause of the problem.

The inevitability of mistakes is a given. They are the consequence of doing something new. “Failure is a manifestation of learning and exploration.” Importantly, “if your primary goal is to have a fully worked out, set-in-stone plan, you are only upping your chances of being unoriginal.” Start things that might fail. “Management’s job is not to prevent risk but to build the ability to recover.

Along with that is the leader’s responsibility to protect the new. “Part of our job is to protect the new from people who don’t understand that in order for greatness to emerge, there must be phases of not-so-greatness.” A new idea “may be ungainly and poorly defined, but it is also the opposite of established and entrenched—and that is precisely what is exciting about it.” Incidentally, it is the insecurity of leaders that causes them to take issue with the uncertainty of the new. Instead of growing they mobilize all of their strength in defense of the status quo.

Sometimes there is no other way to grow than “by putting yourself in the unstable place and then feeling your way.” A leader that won’t listen or consider new ideas isn’t leading, they’re entrenching.

A case for developing leaders at all levels is found in this statement: “If we allow more people to solve problems without permission, and if we tolerate (and don’t vilify) their mistakes, then we enable a much larger set of problems to be addressed.”

As leaders, much of what we need to know we can’t see. A leader’s view is obstructed by “people who are skilled at figuring out what the leader wants.” We want to believe what they say. We also like to think that we are right and know more than we really do. “There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.”

Catmull reminds us that things constantly change as they should and “with change comes the need for adaptation, for fresh thinking, and, sometimes, for even a total reboot—of your project, your department, your division, or your company as a whole.” There will always be mistakes and problems. “We must work to uncover them and assess our own role in them” and then do whatever it takes to solve them.

Creativity, Inc. is an excellent resource full of the practical application of principles and insights. Catmull’s Bottom-line: “Unleashing creativity requires that we loosen controls, accept risk, trust our colleagues, work to clear the path for them, and pay attention to anything that creates fear.”

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Pixar Unlocking Creativity

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:53 AM
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Asking a More Beautiful Question

Asking a More Beautiful Question

IF our questions are so unimaginative and predictable that Google can guess what we’re asking before we’re even three words in, says Warren Berger, then we aren’t asking the right questions.

“It’s the questions Google cannot easily anticipate or even answer that we should be asking. Asking the right questions helps us figure out what matters, where opportunity lies, and how to achieve our goals.”

We are drowning in answers. What we need today are good questions. In times of great change, doubt is the norm, so good questions, not answers, have the edge. John Seely Brown says, “If you don’t have a disposition to question, you’re going to fear change. But if you’re comfortable questioning, experimenting, connecting things—then change is something that becomes an adventure. And if you can see it as an adventure, then you’re off and running.”

In A More Beautiful Question, Berger shows how the most powerful forces for igniting change is the question. Example after example demonstrate how often off-beat “why” questions were at the foundation of many innovations. But he cautions, “Just asking why without taking any action may be the source of stimulating thought or conversation, but it is not likely to produce change.” He suggests the following sequence: Why? What If? and How? It brings some order to an otherwise chaotic an unpredictable process.

We must even question the questions. Neurologist Robert Burton says we should step back and inquire, “Why did I come up with that question? Every time you come up with a question, you should be wondering, What are the underlying assumptions of that question? Is there a different question I should be asking?

Finding that one big beautiful question for you is not easy. It is a process—a way of looking at life. “You don’t have to be a recognized expert; you just have to be willing to say, I’m going to venture forth in the word with my question and see what I find. As you do this, you’re in a strong position to build ideas and attract support. Because, whereas people are more likely to ignore or challenge you when you come at them with answers, they almost can’t resist advising or helping you to answer a great question.

Live the questions.

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(A More Beautiful Question has more than enough examples of questions that led to great ideas to fire up your brain. Interestingly enough, in place of a standard index, he has an Index of Questions.)

• Why do kids ask so many questions—and more importantly, why do they stop? (p.39-70)
• Considering that today’s schools were built on an industrial model, is it possible they were actually designed to squelch questioning? (p. 4-60)
• Should businesses replace mission statements with “mission questions”? (p. 162-165)
• How do the most innovative companies foster a “culture of inquiry”—and how can any business or organization do likewise? (165-174)
• What has worked for me before—and how can I bring more of that into my life now? (p. 193-194)
• Can I use productive “small failures” as a means of avoiding devastating “big failures”? (p. 199-202)
• Why did George Carlin see things the rest of us missed? (p. 39-40)

A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change. What is yours?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:43 PM
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Leading Views: Intuition is about Listening

Leading Views Ray Davis, CEO of Umpqua Bank, writes in Leading Through Uncertainty, that following your intuition is important at any time, but especially so in uncertain conditions. Intuition shouldn’t be thought of as being irrational but rather a “powerful, heightened state of awareness.” Intuition isn’t a magical process that happens inside of you. Its quality is dependent on how well you are informed by the reality of what’s happening around you. The only way to accomplish that is to listen and pay attention. He writes:
At its core intuition is about listening; it’s not some magical thing that you either have or don’t have. It’s being focused and zeroing in on people. When you’re intuitive, you’re listening closely to what others have to say, and watching and feeling intently. You’re observing everything that’s going on around you and taking it all in, increasing the amount of data that you’re gathering and processing. This all becomes fuel for your intuition.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:15 PM
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Booknotes: 16 quotes from Die Empty

Booknotes“Don’t go to your grave with your best work inside of you.” In another remarkable book, Die Empty, Todd Henry encourages you to “embrace the importance of now and refuse to allow the lull of comfort fear, familiarity, and ego to prevent you from taking action on your ambitions.” Eventually all of our tomorrows will be gone, is how we choose to spend our time today is significant. Here are some ideas from Die Empty to reflect on:

  1. An ounce of preventative discipline today is worth a pound of corrective action later.
  2. Emptying yourself of your best work isn’t just about checking off tasks on your to-do list; it’s about making steady, critical progress each day on the projects that matter, in all areas of life.
  3. The love of comfort is often the enemy of greatness.
  4. No one charts a course for mediocrity, yet it is still a destination of choice.
  5. To countermand ego, you must adopt a posture of adaptability. This means being in a state of continual learning and openness to correction.
  6. People sell their souls by running away from the battles they know they should be fighting.
  7. If assumptions weren’t challenged, innovation would cease.
  8. How would you act differently tomorrow if you knew that your actions and attitude on that one day were going to be a permanent testament to your life?
  9. You must define how you want to grow, then establish a plan to get there.
  10. You cannot pursue comfort and greatness at the same time.
  11. You want to choose attributes to emulate that they will help you become more of who you are, not more of who they are. It does you no good to simply pull off the mask you’re wearing and put on a slightly more desirable one. Quote
  12. The key counterpoint to ego is adaptability.
  13. Control is all about my needs, my ego, and my desire to feel like the center of my environment. I wish to impose my will on everyone else around me, and expect them to fall in line with how I believe things should be.
  14. Discovering your voice is rarely a linear path, but instead is the culmination of a lifelong process of observation, course correction, and risk-taking that eventually leads to the recognition of a valuable contribution.
  15. Over the next several decades, people who are especially adept at problem finding will define the world of work.
  16. Creating a culture of transparent trust requires that you be able to speak difficult truth to one another.

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Of Related Interest:
  Hacking the Creative Process

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:15 PM
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5 Steps to Thinking in New Boxes

Asking a More Beautiful Question

THINKING outside-the-box is a useful metaphor for thinking creatively or trying to get out of a rut. But practically speaking, it’s not going to happen. Your brain just doesn’t work that way. Your brain needs boxes. You can’t think without them. We create and use mental boxes to organize and use what we know.

The reality is, getting out of one box means getting into another. Thinking outside-the-box really means finding a new box. A new box with different assumptions, prejudices, beliefs, and parameters. A different box will give you different answers because it forces you to ask different questions.

In Thinking in New Boxes, authors Luc de Brabandere and Alan Iny say that the improved solution will be found in a new box. Here’s the key thought: “Since your brain needs models or boxes to think, the key to being creative in practical ways, to managing change during these times of such uncertainty, is to first try to understand your existing boxes to a greater degree, and then attack any situation or issue by developing a range of new boxes. You can then carefully choose which box(es) to use, even as you embrace the ambiguity inherent in doing so.”

Based on how the human mind actually thinks and reasons, the authors have developed a five-step approach to thinking in new boxes:

Step 1: Doubt Everything
All of your ideas, even the most successful, are hypotheses within you—and not set in stone. “Step one of our process involves acknowledging the seductive comfort of the boxes you’re using now.” It’s understanding that the way you have been pre-wired may be curtailing your ability to develop new perceptions.

Step 2: Probe the Possible
Reexamine the world in front of you with vigor, diligence, and refreshed self-awareness. Use prospective thinking “Prospective thinking means taking a more expansive, long-term view of things, staying open to all sorts of possibilities, and doing your best to stay fully aware of what is happening both within and outside your organization or your immediate environment.”

Step 3: Diverge
In step 3 you will try to create as many new models, concepts, hypotheses, and ways of thinking as you can. “Divergence is about not only permitting but actively encouraging the expression of diverse and sometimes wildly opposing ideas, beliefs, opinions, and visions, including those that are unpopular, unattractive, or unconventional, even those that seem misguided, reactionary, or downright absurd. But, we cannot stress enough, you should always begin divergence armed with a carefully framed question that you will then, instead, work to answer.”

Step 4: Converge
In this step we evaluate our ideas, choose the most promising among them, and then zero in on which should be implemented, or in what order you think they should be pursued. “Convergence is about beginning to translate ideas into reality rather than simply trying to give birth to more and more ideas; it is about prioritizing decisions so that you can act on your best ideas.”

Step 5: Reevaluate Relentlessly
No good idea remains good forever. “To be successful, it is imperative to create one new box after another, embracing change, and knowing when it’s time to discard one box and replace it with another.” As the world changes, we will need to change. We will need new boxes.

Thinking in new boxes is first about being aware of the box you’re in and why you’re in it. The reason many find it difficult to change – to move to a new box – is because they don’t know why they think and do what they do. Once you do, it’s easier to see where you need to go and what you need to do.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:46 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Creativity & Innovation , Thinking


Why We Need Strangers

Why We Need Strangers

PART of the reason we get stuck and part of the reason we lack the feedback we need is that we are surrounded by the familiar. The familiar that continuously reminds us that we are doing the best we can and that we are doing it right. We are mired in the familiar when what we need is the strange.

We need strangers. “These strangers,” writes Alan Gregerman in The Necessity of Strangers, “whom we quickly choose to ignore or form an opinion about, are the people who force us out of our comfort zones and challenge us to question the knowledge, belief, and habits we hold dear.”

Gregerman asks, “What if strangers are actually, in many ways, more important than friends?” Interesting question.

There are two issues here. “First, most of us just don’t have enough friends or a diverse enough set of them to give us the breadth of insight and perspectives we need to continually stretch our thinking and to grow. And second, the exact reasons why we count on friends are the same reasons that their input may not be ideal for our efforts to stretch and grow.”

Maybe it’s not who you know but who you could know that will determine your success and growth.

While we tend to be adverse to outsider's thinking, our real aversions, says Gregerman, “should be to see our own thinking as the only way to move forward. The real trick is to “pick the right strangers with ties to what we hope to accomplish and then ask them the right questions.”

Gregerman suggests that 99% of all new ideas are based on an idea or practice that someone or something else has already had.

New employees are a great source of fresh ideas, but we tend to quickly shape them into the way we do things. “They arrive filled with different ideas and fresh perspectives based on a new and different set of work and life experiences—ideas, perspectives, and experiences that might actually make us more efficient, effective, innovative, customer-focused, and successful if we were willing to listen.”

If we don’t focus on the strange but instead focus on the different that we could tap into, we might grow in ways we never imagined. “Everyone matters. And that’s an idea that leaders must convey.”

The Necessity of Strangers is an excellent analysis on why we need to seek out the new and different. Gregerman suggests ways we might do this on a daily basis. When it comes to hiring, collaboration, and managing, most organizations reward “group think” in the name of strengthening their culture. When in fact, the opposite is what unlocks potential and leads to breakthrough ideas.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:42 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Creativity & Innovation , Human Resources , Leadership


4 Design Thinking Tools for Engaging Your Team

4 Design Thinking Tools

APPLYING the tools of design thinking to help your team conquer its goals doesn't mean hunkering down on your own with an org chart in a dimly lit office to devise the perfect execution strategy. Design thinking is about engaging with your team at its most fundamental levels. It's amazing how many little problems germinate at the earliest stage – the problem definition stage – and expand into bigger problems whose solutions also grow in complexity. Finding clever solutions to big, tough, problems requires harnessing your managerial creativity to really understand the problem you and your team are solving. Creativity—contrary to popular myth—does not emerge spontaneously from nothing. One way to think about creativity is as the novel synthesis of data. Those creative shower moments rely on lots of data. If there is no data to mull over, then it's just a boring showing.

Below are four design thinking tools that you, as the manager of a talented team, can use to build a creativity-enhancing dataset. All of that data, cleverly applied, will extend your team's ability to boost its operational and innovative performance.

Design thinking is a method for understanding complex problems – to really get at their genesis – and developing ways to eliminate or, better yet, leverage those problems into novel solutions. While this still sounds cryptic and too-good-to-be-true, these tools can sharpen your creativity to help you uncover obscured facts and use your knowledge in new ways.

Where problems lurk unnoticed

How well do you really understand how your team executes a typical project from day one to the very end? There are different stages in a project. Team members' daily roles can be different depending on the project life-cycle. They have a lot of data some of which may even be hidden from themselves.

Journey mapping is the art of observing what is really going on. Where are your team members using improvisations to overcome a process deficiency? Heck, you and your team may be so used to making some shortcuts that you don't even see them. Journey mapping requires careful investigation of the process. Yes, it's time-consuming, but you've probably already solved the easy problems, and finding the really deeply embedded problems requires objective observation.

Collectively mulling the data

Mind mapping is a method for finding useful patterns hiding in lots of noisy data. All of those observations can get you and your team thinking about what's happening throughout the project lifecycle. You have to help your team articulate those ideas and capture them. Sticky notes are the stock-in-trade of design thinkers. Everyone on the team armed with a block of sticky notes is a source of deep process knowledge and ideas. Getting the team around a table and sharing ideas and recording them on sticky notes is a method of capturing institutional knowledge, some of which may not have been explicitly articulated before. After many rounds of sharing ideas and letting everyone build on ideas, you'll be able to see a rich set of patterns. Use the patterns to isolate problems.

Looking for a path

Hypothesis generation is about figuring out what creates the problems and how to solve them. Solutions aren't solutions until you know that they work as you expect. Until then, your proposed solutions are just hypotheses. That's a pretty powerful notion really. Hypotheses can be wrong or need tweaking and that's fine. Your team can offer hypotheses without the turmoil of suggesting solutions that may fail. Figuring out if a hypothesis holds water is easier and more productive than starting at this point to create The Solution based only on the data that you have so far. Hold back on jumping to The Solution. There are still steps that will help produce even better outcomes.

Using your hands to activate your brains

Prototyping helps you prove or disprove the hypotheses. You can prototype anything including processes. Allow time and space to try things out physically. PowerPoint presentations full of fancy renderings are good for generating excitement. Prototypes generate hard data, not ephemeral comments about ‘good ideas.' Prototypes are ideas that you and your team touch and are often underestimated beyond the world of product design.

How do these design thinking tools boost your managerial creativity and your team's achievements? Our research with high performing teams at large multinational companies like Toyota and IBM all the way to non-profit organizations that have used design thinking has uncovered many team enhancements. These activities listed above engage the whole team. These steps work best when as many of the team members participate as possible. There's a boost in cross-team communication enriching collaboration. A better communicating and collaborating team ultimately generates comprehensive ideas leading to higher-quality activities. Your management skills will help them spend time really understanding the problem. Too often we want to start working on The Solution. Disruptive and highly valuable innovations come from really understanding the problem and finding a solution that really nails the problem rather than put a bandage over the symptoms. It takes a creative manager to engage their teams deeply, and that deep engagement engenders trust and sense of purpose.

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Leading Forum
This post is by Andrew King. He is the co-author of Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works. He was the the Associate Director at the Darden School of Business for more than a decade and is currently the Director of the Flemming Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Hampden-Sydney College.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:42 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Problem Solving


Phil Jackson's 11 Principle's of Mindful Leadership

Eleven Rings

PHIL JACKSON, considered one of the greatest coaches in the history of the National Basketball Association, has won 11 titles as a coach. The most in NBA history. Eleven Rings is a memoir that, for me, is more about leadership and relationships than basketball.

Eleven Rings
Jackson's principles are worth taking a look at. They support the idea that a leader's job is to build leaders at all levels. You could take back to your organization and put into practice today any one of the following 11 principles:

1. Lead From the Inside Out. Avoid fads. Lead from who you are. "As time went by, I discovered that the more I spoke from the heart, the more players could hear me and benefit from what I gleaned."

2. Bench the Ego. "The more I tried to exert power directly, the less powerful I became. I learned to dial back my ego and distribute power as widely as possible without surrendering final authority. Paradoxically, this approach strengthened my effectiveness because it freed me to focus on my job as keeper of the team's vision.

"Some coaches insist on having the last word, but I always tried to foster an environment in which everyone played a leadership role, from the most unschooled rookie to the veteran superstar. If your primary objective is to bring the team into a state of harmony and oneness, it doesn't make sense for you to rigidly impose your authority."

3. Let Each Player Discover His Own Destiny. Jackson's goal wasn't to provide all of the answers. "I've always been interested in getting players to think for themselves so that they can make difficult decisions in the heat of battle."

"My approach was always to relate to each player as a whole person, not just a cog in the basketball machine. That meant pushing him to discover what distinct qualities he could bring to the game beyond taking shots and making passes. How much courage did he have? Or resilience? What about character under fire? Many players I've coached didn't look special on paper, but in the process of creating a role for themselves they grew into formidable champions."

4. The Road to Freedom is a Beautiful System. Similar to the principles used to foster greater creativity and innovation in an organization, Jackson used a system known as the triangle offense. "What attracted me to the triangle was the way it empowers the players, offering each one a vital role to play as well as a high level of creativity within a clear, well-defined structure."

5. Turn the Mundane into the Sacred. Leaders take note. Jackson writes, "As I see it, my job as coach was to make something meaningful out of one of the most mundane activities on the planet: Playing pro basketball." He incorporated meditation into his team's practices. "I wanted to give players something besides X's and O's to focus on. What's more, we often invented rituals of our own to infuse practices with a sense of the sacred."

6. One Breath = One Mind. Players "often have to make split-second decisions under enormous pressure. I discovered that when I had the players sit in silence, breathing together in sync, it helped align them on a nonverbal level far more effectively than words. One breath equals one mind."

"If you place too many restrictions on players, they'll spend an inordinate amount of time trying to buck the system. Like all of us, they need a certain degree of structure in their lives, but they also require enough latitude to express themselves creatively."

7. The Key to Success is Compassion. "Now, 'compassion' is not a word often bandied about in locker rooms. But I've found that a few kind, thoughtful words can have a strong transformative effect on relationships, even with the toughest men in the room." Compassion breaks down barriers among people.

8. Keep Your Eye on the Spirit, Not on the Scoreboard. When a player is "playing within his natural abilities, he activates a higher potential for the team that transcends his own limitations and helps his teammates transcend theirs. When this happens, the whole begins to add up to more than the sum of its parts." He adds, "Most coaches get tied up in knots worrying about tactics, but I preferred to focus my attention on whether the players were moving together in a spirited way."

9. Sometimes You Have to Pull Out the Big Stick. Sometimes Jackson used "tricks to wake players up and raise their level of consciousness….Not because I want to make their lives miserable but because I want to prepare them for the inevitable chaos that occurs the minute they step onto a basketball court."

10. When in Doubt, Do Nothing. "Basketball is an action sport, and most people involved in it are high-energy individuals who love to do something—anything—to solve problems. However, there are occasions when the best solution is to do absolutely nothing….I subscribe to the philosophy of the late Satchel Paige, who said, 'Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.'"

11. Forget the Ring. We all hate losing. "And yet as coach, I know that being fixated on winning (or more likely, not losing) is counterproductive, especially when it causes you to lose control of your emotions. What's more, obsessing about winning is a loser's game: The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome."

Jackson concludes with: "What matters most is playing the game the right way and having the courage to grow, as human beings as well as basketball players. When you do that, the ring takes care of itself."

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Getting To US Porter Moser All In

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:33 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Leaders , Management , Teamwork


5 Things Smart Risk Takers Do Well

Smart Risk Takers

Doug Sundheim’s book, Taking Smart Risks, isn’t really about making your next risky decision smarter or safer; it’s about pushing all of your choices to be riskier, but smarter on a daily basis.

We tend to view our choices as risky or safe. Safe is good while risky is well, risky. You’re taking a chance with a risky choice; it could lead to ruin. Sundheim says that view doesn’t capture the essence of what taking a risk is all about. Taking a risk is “exposing oneself to the possibility of loss or injury in the hopes of achieving a gain or reward.” It’s really the reason we would consider taking a risk rather than just playing it safe. It’s not an either/or proposition—safe or risky. But because we perceive it that way, we tend to do all we can to avoid risk and stay in our comfort zone.

Sundheim lists five common dangers of playing it safe for too long:

• You don’t win.
• You don’t grow.
• You don’t create.
• You lose confidence.
• You don’t feel alive.

Are you caught in the comfort zone? Here’s a thought we can all relate to:

Being caught in the comfort zone doesn’t mean that you’re sitting around doing nothing. It’s more nuanced than that. You could be making progress, but not quickly enough. You could be taking chances, but not boldly enough. You could be going out on a limb, but not far enough, and the extra push is what will make a difference.

What Sundheim is advocating is a change in our mindset regarding risk. Rather than perceiving risk as negative (“Things may not be perfect now, but they’re not all that bad. If I make a move, things could end up worse. I’d better not risk it.”), we should view it as a balanced focus on both the downside of taking risks and not taking risks (“I’ll regret it if I don’t pursue this thing. I’ve got to find some smart ways to take risks to move it forward.”). A limiting mindset versus a liberating mindset.

Smart Risk Zone The shift from limiting to liberating is “a move from needing total security before moving forward to understanding that you can’t have total security before moving forward.” Between safe and risky is the smart-risk zone.

Smart risk takers consistently do five things well to disrisk whatever they’re up to:

  1. Find something worth fighting for. It is what all smart risks have in common. It must be simple, stir emotion, lend itself to a story or narrative, and inspire action.
  2. See the future now. Ask questions, understand concerns, test the concept behind your ideas, and predict as many fail points in advance that you can. Have an open, honest conversation with trusted people around you to determine what is the worst that could really happen.
  3. Act fast, learn fast. Start before you know where to start, fail early, often, and smart—build learning into everything, and stay humble. Accept that you have to live with failure—since it is an inevitable by-product of taking risks, even smart risks. Failing smart is the best way to learn.
  4. Communicate powerfully. Expect communication to break down and plan accordingly. Share thought processes, meet regularly, and don’t avoid difficult conversations.
  5. Create a smart-risk culture. Define a smart failure—the acceptable boundaries within which it is okay to fail. Reward both the successes and these smart failures.

Communication is a critical element of each of these stages. “At every stage of any risk, improving the way in which you discuss thoughts, plans, and actions is the single most effective way to derisk the risk, that is, to make it smart.”

Taking Smart Risks makes a solid case for and gives the methodology to push ourselves and our organizations out of our comfort zone to achieve growth, innovation, results, and satisfaction. Importantly, it also a book about how to live with the inevitable failures that are part of a meaningful life.

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Fail More Embracing The Dip

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:34 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Communication , Creativity & Innovation , Management , Problem Solving , Thinking


The Secret to Leadership Growth

Secret to Leadership Growth.jpg

THE NUMBER ONE way leaders grow is by listening.

Leadership feels like a talking role, but it is predominately a listening role. That can be hard to accept. It feels counterintuitive. A leadership role often makes us feel like we should be talking all the time; like we’re the most important person in the room. We’re not.

Listening takes us outside our own heads. It gives us a chance to see things from a different perspective. It creates options. It creates the space for serendipity.

Listening takes us beyond our egos. Without it we begin to miss very elementary things. When we miss elementary things we crash and burn in a self-made morass of complexity. Listening clarifies.

Listening renews and refreshes. Without it we get stuck and tedious.

When we help others grow, we grow. Leaders guide people and then listen. Listening is the best way to turn someone from a victim (of your talk) to a supporter of your idea. Listening gives others the chance to take ownership.

Listening is the catalyst for making individuals a community.

Listening creates the space for leadership.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:53 AM
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Think Like a Futurist

Think Like A Futurist

THINKING like a futurist isn’t a magical process. Practically, it is about creativity. It’s learning to step out of our present thinking to make connections with what we don’t yet know. Any good book on “future thinking” should help you do just that.

Think Like a Futurist by Cecily Sommers, is just such a book. What we can imagine or create or any manifestation of future thinking must link to something that already exists in our mind. The more points of connection we have, the more possibilities we have for discovery. This is the key idea.

Sommers explains, “If our capacity for prediction is limited by what we already know, then the solution is to know more about things...With a richer store of memories, we are able to imagine a vast range of possibilities, understand their nuances better, and make more of the associative links that produce our best predictions about the future.” It’s not magic. It can’t be.

Sommers claims that the four building blocks of all change are: resources, technology, demographics, and governance. Resources is the foundation of the system of forces and is the slowest moving. Technology is the next and gives us the power to leverage ourselves. Demographics, both in numbers and composition is next, followed by governance which is the rule of law. Understanding how these forces work together to drive change is helpful when trying to understand the world around you and how it might impact the future. That these four forces will change is a given, the unpredictable part is how.

To make the best and most informed decisions today for the future, Sommers introduces what she calls the Zone of Discovery. It is a method for “effectively accessing the imaginative power that precedes, those decisions.” Through the process, you will answer two basic questions: Who are you? and Where are you going? The answers to these questions will become a filter through which you create meaning from the information you collect and process into the best choices for you and your unique situation. The method is a way of thinking to pry you from thinking only in the present and removing you from the cycle of reactivity. Not surprisingly, developing greater self-awareness is key.

She urges everyone to spend at least 5% of their time – two hours a month – on this process. Start where you are. “There’s no point in resisting or trying to change a limitation (in this case, people’s full schedules and existing commitments). You must accept things as they are and shift your focus to your First Movable Piece.”

What we’re doing, at the most basic level, is reconciling dualities. Our life experience is constantly about navigating the existential tensions between objective and subjective realities, Us and Them, male and female, right and wrong, known and unknown, questions and answers, and present and future. The duality even shows up in our biology, as the two separate hemispheres of the brain indicate. Our life’s energy is spent negotiating the space in between, a place in which we find purpose, meaning, and possibility.

Think Like a Futurist is a book about helping us to get unstuck—to free ourselves from ourselves. The consequences present a range of possibilities of course, but more importantly the method helps us to get to know ourselves better and create meaning.

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Overcome Negative Emotions Predictive Analytics

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:35 PM
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Resilience: How We Can Learn to Bounce Forward

Bounce Forward

ALL OF US will be tested from time to time on our ability to adapt—on our resilience.

The goal of resiliency is not necessarily to bounce back, but to bounce forward. It is the ability to maintain your purpose even while adapting your methods.

“If we cannot control the volatile tides of change, we can at least learn to build better boats,” write Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy in Resilience. “We can design—and redesign—organizations, institutions, and systems to better absorb disruption, operate under a wider variety of conditions, and shift more fluidly from one circumstance to the next.”

Resilience-thinking is not the same thing as being in a defensive mode. It’s engaging the world in a different way. They discuss tight feedback loops, dynamic reorganization, built-in countermechanisms, decoupling, diversity, modularity, simplicity, swarming, and clustering, as proactive ways to encourage resilience. They don’t give check-lists or quick fixes (indeed, there are none) so you’ll have to think about the ideas they offer. Most of the ideas are quite useful in principle on a personal level.


Interestingly—but not surprising—they found that resilient communities had a special type of leader: a translational leader. “These leaders demonstrated an uncanny ability to knit together different constituencies and institutions—brokering relationships and transactions across different levels of political, economic, and social organization.” They were leading from the middle out.

Translational leaders do not dispense with hierarchies; they recognize and respect their power. Instead, standing at the intersection of many constituencies, translational leaders knit together social networks that complement hierarchical power structures. Rooted in a spirit of respect and inclusion, these complementary connections ensure that when disruption strikes, all parts of the social system are invested, linked, and can talk to one another.

It sounds like they have a high degree of emotional intelligence or ego-control. That necessitates a leader that is reflective and operates from strength rather than weakness; a grounded mindful leader.


Many of the lessons learned from the disruptions discussed in the book boil down to adhocracy, say the authors. Adhocracy is adaptive, creative, flexible and non-permanent organizational style. “In the digital age, an adhocracy can be put together in a plug-and-play, Lego-like way, well suited in fast-moving, fluid circumstances where you don’t know what you’ll need next. If it were a musical genre, adhocracy would be jazz.” (Robert Waterman on Adhocracy.)

They caution: “When systems are structurally overconnected … or when interventions are bureaucratically imposed on communities rather than developed with them, there is no space for adhocracy to germinate.” Of course formal organizations have a role to play. “But when we focus too strongly on them as the sole actors in response to a disruption, we don’t just ignore, but can actually smother the opportunities for these kinds of successful, improvisational approaches to emerge.”

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Crystal Ball LeadingViews Resilience

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:22 PM
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Leading Apple With Steve Jobs

Leading Apple With Steve Jobs

JAY ELLIOT, former Senior Vice President of Apple, has spent a lot of time with Steve Jobs. In Leading Apple with Steve Jobs, he writes that “Isaacson’s Steve is not the Steve I knew.” He believes that there has been too much focus on the negative aspects of how Jobs dealt with people and not enough on the positive. “I think,” he writes, “most people who worked for him, including me, would say they did the best work of their lives for him and don’t regret the experience a bit.” While his stories regarding his time with Jobs don’t do much to polish his image, he does bring out aspects of his thinking that undoubtedly have given people the opportunity to feel that in spite of the negative aspects of Jobs' behavior, Apple is where they wanted to be.

When analyzing anything, it always a challenge to pull out the important lesson and learn how to integrate the good without the bad. We are all a complex mix of motivations and behaviors and everything we do seems like an indispensable part of achieving our success (or not). But we can always improve—diminish the negative and emphasize the positive.

It is not unusual for any of us to find ourselves in a position where our intention is admirable but we lack the skill to implement it in the most beneficial way. Frequently, we can find ourselves stuck without alternatives to our own patterns of behavior. As leaders, we have to constantly be learning—by reflection and reading about the lives of others—to discover where we could expand our thinking and therefore our options.

Not only does Elliot help us understand why Jobs was the way he was, he does a good job of explaining the development of and reasoning behind much of the Apple mystic that is worth implementing.

Jobs said that “It’s not my job to pull things together from different parts of the company and clear the ways to get resources for the key projects. It’s my job to push the team and make them even better, coming up with more aggressive visions of how it could be.” Jobs believed that accountability, attention to detail, perfectionism, simplicity, and secrecy, would sustain innovative leadership at Apple.

Getting the right people was as important to Jobs as creating a new product. “When you’re in a startup, the first ten people will determine whether the company succeeds or not.” Elliot says that he learned from Jobs the value of “knowing your own values so well that you can instinctively recognize someone who shares those values.” It would be good to reflect on our own values from this standpoint. Another way of thinking about this would be to consider: if you don’t know why you do what you do, why would anyone want to follow you?

The right people make the difference. “A leader in the Steve Jobs model needs to have a set of lieutenants who can translate his goals and vision into detailed action plans. The success of Apple through the years has largely been due to Steve’s talent for surrounding himself with people who could bear the heat when he wasn’t satisfied, were strong enough to stand up to him when he was wrong, and were able to relay not just his instructions but his commitment, drive, and vision to the crew.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 02:54 PM
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Leadership as Provocative Competence

Yes to the Mess


AZZ HAS ALWAYS been a good metaphor for the art of leadership. In Yes to the Mess, Frank Barrett knocks it out of the park. How do we create a culture where people can innovate? Barrett wants us to look at leadership differently and increase our leadership repertoire beyond hierarchical models, “so that we more fully appreciate the power of relationships.” And in that he succeeds.

Barrett introduces us to what he calls Provocative Competence. It is the capacity “to create the discrepancy and dissonance that trigger people to move away from habitual positions and repetitive patterns.” Barrett says “Leadership as a design activity means creating space so that people will be tempted to grow on their own.”

Herbert Simon, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978 for his research on decision making in organizations, believed that we should not think of leaders as making decisions on past data, “but as creating forms so that people can flourish in the future,” or as Barrett expresses more clearly, as shaping “worlds of interpretation in which others can make meaningful contributions.”

The outcome then, is to enliven activity and rouse the mind to life. It isn’t about authority but is “relational moves within an unfolding context” and are judged by “how well they work with the resources at their disposal … and how effectively they help free their own potential and that of others.”

Barrett breaks provocative competence down into five component parts:

First, it is an affirmative move. “What makes these interventions powerful is that the leader holds a positive image of what others are capable of. This often means seeing other people’s strengths better than they see their own strengths.”

Second, provocative competence involves introducing a small disruption to routine. “What makes provocative competence an ‘art’ is the introduction of just enough unusual material that it engages people to be mindful—to pay attention in new ways.” Timing and pacing is important he cautions. “Leaders who disrupt on a regular basis or try to be provocative all the time are obnoxious, and are eventually ignored and probably mimicked.”

Third, it is important to create situations that demand activity. People are expected to jump in and work it out and discover as they go.

Fourth, provocative competence means facilitating incremental reorientation by encouraging repetition. There is a balance here. “Not all repetition is the same. Sometimes you need to repeat a gesture and then start to notice it from a slightly different angle…. Even while people are learning on old habits, they have to attend to new cues and new options, and start to manage and process information within a new, broader context.”

Fifth, provocative competence involves analogic sharpening of perspectives and thought processes. “This is the point at which people look back at what is emerging and jump into the morass as they make comparisons, links, and connections to a larger, emerging whole.” This is the thrust of innovation. Net effect: “People start to notice affinity between pieces that previously seemed disconnected; resemblances that no one noticed before start to emerge.”

Of course, notes Barrett, “different groups have different levels of performance, and leaders certainly have to deal with imperfect talent, but saying yes to the mess means finding affirmation in the best of what already exists.” That’s the job of a great leader. It’s what separates leaders from bosses. “That’s a true gift: to be able to see people at their very best when their current behavior is far less than that.

Of Related Interest:
  Making Your Team Swing
  Leadership: Artistry Unleashed
  Does Your Leadership Have “White Space?”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:59 PM
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Innovation at Bell Labs

Innovation at Bell Labs

BILL GATES once remarked, “My first stop on any time-travel expedition would be Bell Labs in December 1947,” That was the year Bell Labs invented the transistor—a tiny invention that makes possible the technology we have today.

Finding an aspect of modern life that doesn’t incorporate some strand of Bell Labs’ DNA would be difficult. Cellular communications, the laser, digitized and synthesized music, the solar battery cell, the first orbiting communications satellite, and the UNIX operating system, are all products of Bell Labs.

AT&T officially created Bell Telephone Laboratories on January 1, 1925. At its peak in the late 1960s’, Bell Labs employed about twelve-hundred PhDs and produced 13 Nobel Prize winners.

In The Idea Factory, author Jon Gertner brings back to life not only the story of Bell Telephone Laboratories through the people that worked there, but the story of innovation—how it happens, why it happens, and who makes it happen. It is a well told and fascinating story.

Our Mr Sun
(My first encounter with Bells Labs was like many school aged kids in the sixties, through their series of science filmsHemo the Magnificent, Our Mr. Sun, Gateways to the Mind and others. A great way to spend an hour in science class.)

John Pierce is one of the brilliant and interesting people we are introduced to in Gertner’s story. It was Pierce that suggested calling the new device of 1947 a transistor. Peirce was what Gertner calls an instigator. “An instigator is different from a genius, but just as uncommon. An instigator is different, too, from the most skillful manager, some able to wrest excellence out of people who might otherwise fall short.” Pierces real talent was “in getting people interested in something that hadn’t really occurred to them before.”

Humans all suffer from a terrible habit of shoving new ideas into old paradigms. “Everyone faces the future with their eyes firmly on the past and they don’t see what’s going to happen next,” observed John Pierce.

For creativity to flourish, it needs both freedom and structure. When pierce first came to Bell Labs “he was given free rein to pursue any ideas he might have. He considered the experience equivalent to being cast adrift without a compass. ‘Too much freedom is horrible,’ he would say in describing his first few months at the Labs. Indeed he eventually came to believe that freedom in research was similar to food; it was necessary, but moderation was usually preferable to excess.”

Gertner writes, “We usually imagine that invention occurs in a flash, with a eureka moment that leads a lone inventor toward a startling epiphany. In truth, large leaps forward in technology rarely have a precise point of origin. At the start, forces that precede an invention merely begin to align, often imperceptibly, as a group of people and ideas converge, until over the course of months or years (or decades) they gain clarity and momentum and the help of additional ideas and actors. Luck seems to matter, and so does timing, for it tends to be the case that the right answers, the right people, the right place—perhaps all three—require a serendipitous encounter with the right problem. And then—sometimes—a lead. Only in retrospect do such leaps look obvious. When Niels Bohr—along with Einstein, the world’s greatest physicist—heard in 1938 that splitting a uranium atom could yield a tremendous burst of energy, he slapped his head and said, ‘Oh, what idiots we have all been.’”

Today there is nothing quite like the Bell Labs of AT&T and Western Electric to produce the creative technology that they did. Bell Labs laser scientist Herwig Kogelnik describes the magic of Bell Labs well: “It’s the interaction between fundamental science and applied science, and the interface between many disciplines, that creates new ideas.

First Transistor
The first transistor created in 1947 was a quarter of the size of an American penny. Now a computer-processor chip the size of a postage stamp contains 2 billion transistors. Intel alone, makes 10 billion transistors every second. Time marches on. “I am afraid that there will be little tangible left in a later age,” Pierce wrote of his world at Bell Labs, “to remind our heirs that we were men, rather than cogs in a machine.”

While the Bell Labs story is a fascinating read on its own, Gertner’s The Idea Machine has much for leaders about designing a innovative environment and the management of creative people. Great read for the summer.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:54 PM
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Are You a Culturematic Maker?


A Culturematic, says author and anthropologist, Grant McCracken, is a little machine for making culture. It is an exercise in edge finding. But at the same time, a Culturematic must speak to us. It must make us go, “Hmm, that’s interesting.” A Culturematic is also an attitude of mind that goes beyond the box of ordinary thinking “not because it is mischievous to do so, but because there might be a world out there and it might be interesting to find out what this world is.”

McCracken says that because we live in a world of constant change and because we must adapt to it with an experimental stream of new ideas, we need Culturematics.

It is when the problem is too complex or difficult and the solution is not forthcoming that Culturematics shine. Culturematics aren’t sure where they are going. When we aren’t sure what we’re looking at but think, “I’ll know it when I see it,” then we need ideas we can’t possibly guess we will need. “The trick,” says McCracken, “is to invent our own serendipity, to establish a cloud of possibilities in which we can spot the telling pattern.”

Start a Culturematic by asking “what if?” Then, try it. The result should discover and distribute meaning. It helps us to see ourselves or something in the world, differently. It should also unleash value—even repurposing value; discovering “value in the artifact the maker does not know is there.”

“Culturematics manage a tension between the order of the starting point and the unpredictability and disorder of the ending point.” This is not to say that we point a Culturematic in any direction and pull the trigger. A Culturematic is working with the culture that is already in place, so we point it in the direction where we think we might be able to create meaning and value.


• start playing in our heads immediately. They capture our attention.
• make the world manageable.
• are something we want to try.
• like order out of accident. They don’t file a flight plan, so we can’t tell where they’ll end up.
• find value invisible to others.
• are both playful and deadly serious.
• aim to change the contents of our heads.
• work from native curiosity.
• make scientists, social chemists, and adventurers of us all. The thing is to try. Failure is inevitable.

Fantasy Football, Twitter, and Reality TV are just a few of the examples of Culturematics discussed in the book. More can be found at the Culturematic Pinterest site.

Culturematic is not based on entirely new ideas. However, it will not only make you look at the world (and what you are doing) differently, but you will develop a new appreciation for what you see, feel, and think. McCracken explains how to Culturematic yourself or your organization. Worth the read if you’re trying to create meaning and value in the world.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:21 PM
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The 11 Essential Elements Needed to Achieve True Collaboration

The 11 Essential Elements Needed to Achieve True Collaboration

DAN SANKER states that ironically, in order to remain “competitive” companies will have to become more collaborative. Collaborate: The Art of We is a practical guide to going beyond democratic or cooperative work to creating truly collaborative work environments as a growth strategy.

Collaboration is not a new concept, but globalization and new technologies have turned it into one of the best methods of competitive advantage available. Rather than engaging in an endless tug-of-war over the dwindling crumbs in a finite market, collaborative companies find ways to make the pie bigger, or create whole new pies, expanding everyone’s market and revenue. “It’s not about how many people you can defeat, but rather about how many people you can help win.

Although networking, coordination, and cooperation may look like collaboration, they are not. True collaboration is the “synergistic relationship formed when two or more entities working together produce something much greater than the sum of their individual abilities and contributions.” It results in something that did not exist before. The focus is on results and not process.

Collaboration is distinct from cooperation in that “although both cooperating parties may achieve a common goal, they do not necessarily enhance each other’s capacity. In addition, cooperating parties do not fully share risks, responsibilities, and rewards. In the case of collaboration, all available resources, as well as risks, responsibilities, and rewards, are fully shared.”

For a collaboration to be successful, Sanker says that eleven elements must come together:

Ongoing Communication. People need to be able to talk to one another freely and regularly. Groups that do not have this kind of interaction are nothing more than loose collections of individuals working on their own tasks, toward their own ends.

Willing Participation. Everyone believes that they are working toward the same, mutually beneficial goal and that each one of them will have gained something valuable when that goal has been achieved.

Brainstorming. It’s the creative part of the collaboration process, in which members of the group move beyond the “same kind of thinking” to come up with new ideas that bring true value to the collaborative effort.

Teamwork. It’s teamwork that keeps people with a diverse set of skills, knowledge, information, and perspectives working together effectively and efficiently to achieve their common goal.

A Common Purpose. If the group moves forward too quickly without taking the time to clarify their goal and make sure that everyone is in agreement about what it is, they will undoubtedly run into huge disagreements that are likely to tear the effort apart.

Trust. You need to feel confident that other people in the group are putting the group’s shared goal—not their own interests—first, and that they will keep confidential or sensitive information within the group, take you seriously, respect your point of view, and not take credit for your ideas.

A Plan for Achieving the Goal. Everyone needs to be working from the same script, clearly understanding roles and responsibilities, and they need to have the same understanding of what success looks like.

A Diverse Group. Diversity is the power behind collaboration. Without diversity groupthink sets in. It is diversity that gives a team the unique perspectives needed to create truly innovative solutions.

Mutual Respect. For collaboration to be successful, team members must encourage, listen to, and seriously consider all of the ideas suggested by others in the group, no matter how unworkable they might seem.

A Written Agreement. A written agreement helps the group avoid misunderstandings and lack of clarity that could derail the process after everyone has invested a great deal of time, effort, and resources.

Effective Leadership. Whether one person has been formally designated as the leader of the group is self-led, leadership of some sort is essential to keep the group focused on its destination and facilitating the process of getting there.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:33 PM
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Leading Views: Ideas are Immortal. Inspiration is Perishable.

Leading ViewsIn ReWork—a go-to book for inspiration—authors Jason Fried and David Hansson explain why you need to get on with it. Just do it.

We all have ideas. Ideas are immortal. They last forever.

What doesn’t last forever is inspiration. Inspiration is like fresh fruit or milk: It has an expiration date.

If you want to do something, you’ve got to do it now. You can’t put it on the shelf and wait two months to get around to it. You can’t just say you’ll do it later. Later, you won’t be pumped up about it anymore.

If you’re inspired on a Friday, swear of the weekend and dive into the project. When you’re high on inspiration, you can get two weeks work done in twenty-four hours. Inspiration is a time machine in that way.

Inspiration is a magical thing, a productivity multiplier, a motivator. But it won’t wait for you. Inspiration is a now thing. If it grabs you, grab it right back and put it to work.

Of Related Interest:

  How to Decommoditize Your Leadership
  Get to the Why by Starting at the Epicenter

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:05 PM
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Why are Organizations Slow to Respond?

Organizations are only human.

Organizations share many characteristics with the people that populate them. Organizations are born, they mature, they age, and they die. The life expectancy of most is about 15 years and only 5% last longer than 50 years.

They begin with an innovative idea—even developing beyond all expectations—but eventually they begin to show signs of aging. Claudio Feser writes in Serial Innovators, “Some firms become blinded by success and begin to resist external views and challenges. Some are locked into mental models and become driven by habits. Some lose the sense of purpose that pervaded them in the early days. Some become bureaucratic. Some have processes and incentive systems that have put them on autopilot, leading in a dangerous direction. Some develop dysfunctional organizational cultures.”

Occasionally, some organizations resist these all too human tendencies and thrive. They continually reinvent themselves. They confront rigidity. They become serial innovators.

We create over time, our own and our organization’s rigidities. Individually, we develop rigidities in the form of biases, lack of self-confidence, and habits. The human mind is quite adept at this in order to create efficiencies. We can only process so much. Organizationally, we create rigidities like structures, performance management, and reward systems, supporting cultures and capabilities that while necessary to some degree, often prevent us from adapting rapidly. Worse still, we add complexities to existing structures, processes, values and norms, without ever rethinking and possibly eliminating obsolete ideas and procedures. All of this can cause entropy and our demise.

Rigidities are not going to go away, but we can learn to manage them better. Feser says that organizations that want to become serial innovators must do the following:

  1. Cultivate the organization's members’ desire to make a difference.
  2. Build a team of learners at the top.
  3. Frame the organization’s vision and strategy positively.
  4. Build on self-managed performance cells.
  5. Promote the organization’s members’ drive to perform and grow.
  6. Invest in capabilities to quickly develop new assets and skills.
  7. Cultivate a culture that fosters execution and promotes challenge.

Again, it is a leadership issue with a leadership solution.

If company leaders do not accept challenging and diverging views, neither will the organization.

If company leaders do not show self-confidence, do not have a positive mindset and do not role-model resilience, the organization will not develop the confidence to adapt to ever-changing and dynamic markets.

If company leaders do not change their behavior when confronted with new situations, the company will run on autopilot.

If company leaders do not clearly define the structure of the organization and fight organizational complexity, complexity will creep throughout the organization.

If company leaders do not thoughtfully review and reward performance, behaviors fostering collaboration and innovation will become rare and–over time—disappear.

After all, organizations are only human.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:11 AM
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Creative People Must Be Stopped

Mostly people say they want big, new, creative ideas. But when you come up with one, they seem to go out of their way to kill it. They act like creative people must be stopped. Wouldn’t it be nice to know where the opposition is going to come from before you ever present it?

In Creative People Must Be Stopped, David Owens suggests that it will come from at least one of six different areas:

Individual—your idea may not be that good
Group—your group criticizes it out of existence
Organizational—it dies in your organization's bureaucracy, lack of will, and fear of risk

Industry-Wide—competitors or even customers torpedo it
Societal—it gets killed by regulation or cultural norms, or—
Technological—it can’t be done with current technology

Owens presents a framework “that will enable us to see in advance the vital factors that determine our chances for success when we embark on an innovation.”

We both lead and manage innovation, says Owens. “Think of the process of innovation as simply a set of steps that will need to be accomplished in order to get from the stage of identifying a problem all the way through to implementing a solution. Along this path, there will be a number of management activities that can smooth progress and make for a more efficient effort.” At the same time, there are leadership-type activities along the lines of emotion, motivation, and mission. He writes:

One of the most important leadership skills is to discern whether the person standing in front of you is asking for your help as a manager or for your attention as a leader. Sometimes explaining the plan, clarifying a goal, or acquiring a resource is enough management to keep team members moving along a path. At other times, they may need something significantly different. They may want to understand whether this mission is truly meaningful given that they heard otherwise over the office watercooler. Or they may need help staying motivated in the face of seemingly endless late nights and setbacks in the project.

He adds a crucial reminder for leaders as it’s easy for a leader to get to the place where you think, “Why are they questioning me? They should just do!:”

Everything we know about leadership suggests that people need reasonable answers to be willing to follow. Of course you can choose not to answer them proactively; but then don’t be surprised when rumor, gossip, and hearsay gathered from around the office watercooler quickly fill the void you have left.

David Owens offers a free Organizational Innovation Constraints Assessment on his web site.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:22 PM
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6 Concepts for Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It

Demand is created in the gaps between what we really want and the goods and services we settle for. “Demand creators figure out how to solve the big and little hassles we all face—and they make our days easier, more convenient, more productive, and simply more fun,” writes Adrian Slywotzky in Demand.

Slywotzky has identified six insights and behaviors of demand creators:

Make it Magnetic. Demand creators begin with a very tough realization: Very Good does not equal Magnetic. When it comes to creating demand, it’s not the first mover that wins; it’s the first to create and capture the emotional space in the market.

Fix the Hassle Map. Mapping the hassles that dominate so much of daily life, and then figuring out how to fix them, provides the path to explosive potential demand.

Build a Complete Backstory. What you don’t see is often what makes or breaks the product. Backstory is the unseen, often overlooked factors, including infrastructure, ecosystem, and business design, that are essential to creating demand. Why did Sony’s Librié fail and Amazon’s Kindle succeed even though it was launched three years before the Kindle using the same technology?

Find the Triggers. The biggest obstacles to creating demand are inertia, skepticism, habit, and indifference. Finding the trigger to get people to act may take years, but great demand creators constantly search for them, always experimenting to find what turns fence-sitters into customers.

Build a Steep Trajectory. Even on launch day, demand creators ask themselves a very simple question: How fast can we get better? They know that every improvement they make—technical or emotional—will unlock new layers of demand, and leave less open space for imitative, piggybacking competitors.

De-Average. Demand creators know that the “average customer” is a myth. They allow for variation. The de-average by finding efficient, cost-effective ways to create product variations that more perfectly match the varying needs of very different types of customers, getting rid of overages (things we don’t want) and underages (gaps we want filled).

Most project launches fail because we fail to overcome our own human nature. We think the odds of success are pretty good. But we’re wrong. “Launch is a mind game. Success and failure hinge on how people think, and the degree to which they can overcome business as usual—and the innate proclivities of human nature.” Slywotzky offers these seven habits to help you with the odds of a successful launch:

  • conduct a fatal flaw search,
  • encourage competition inside the organization to select the strongest to compete in the outside world,
  • don’t innovate everything—borrow and steal on the least critical variables,
  • emotionalize the offer,
  • prepare the team or organization to handle the launch,
  • maintain an artful balance between confidence and fear (“Confidence is important, but fear is critical. Fear helps you fully develop the imagination of disaster—at a time when you can actually do something about it.”),
  • and finally, think in terms of series, not event (a series of assaults on the indifference of the market).

The next time you are experiencing a hassle or frustration and wonder where we will find the demand to make the change that needs to be created or implemented, Slywotzky encourages not to look up; look in the mirror.

The lessons found in Demand reveal opportunities for the creation of new demand—not just for people in business but also for social activists, government leaders, non-profit managers and even individuals and teams within organizations. It’s the essence of leading from where you are. Where do you see a gap that needs to be filled?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:36 PM
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Uncertainty Will Freeze You in Place if You Let It

Uncertainty Will Freeze You in Place if You Let It

AMBIGUITY is not only certain; it is a necessary state for advancing. Jonathan Fields writes, in Uncertainty: “The more you’re able to tolerate ambiguity and lean into the unknown, the more likely you’ll be to dance with it long enough to come up with better solutions, ideas, and creations.”

The problem is that most of us, to one degree or another, react so strongly to ambiguity or uncertainty, that it becomes a limiting factor in our lives and stops us from acting in the face of it. The issue is not so much failure as it is not wanting to “be judged for taking the less-mainstream path and coming up empty.”

But taking the risk in the face of uncertainty is “not about tempting fate, it’s about going to that place where magic happens.” Living in the question. So how do we push forward when everything seems to be spinning out of control?

Fields suggests we first find our certainty anchors. Certainty anchors are rituals and routines that we build into our lives that help to counter the resistance. On those occasions when you find that it is “Twitter-Time,” rituals and routines will help move the process along. “Ritual helps train you to sit down when you most want to stand when you’re forced to work on the part of the process that leaves you anywhere from bored to riddled with anxiety.”

Get feedback along the way. Build a hive of heroes, mentors, and champions. Consider ways to bring into the process the very people you are creating for.

Train your brain in the art of focused awareness through meditation, mindfulness, visualization, and exercise to stay focused and grounded. Randy Komisar, author of The Monk and the Riddle, told Fields:

It’s a process of stripping myself bare of all the pressures, all of the barnacles that accumulate around you every day as you interact in the world—the pressures, the expectations, the ego, the things that ultimately make your vision unclear.

Exercise in the list above wasn’t an afterthought. Most of us feel we don’t have time to work out. But we really can't afford not to. Fields writes:

Studies now prove that aerobic exercise both increases the size of the prefrontal cortex and facilitates interaction between it and the amygdala. This is vitally important to creators because the prefrontal cortex, as we discussed earlier, is the part of the brain that helps tamp down the amygdala’s fear and anxiety signals.

For artists, entrepreneurs, and any other driven creators, exercise is a powerful tool in the quest to help transform the persistent uncertainty, fear, and anxiety that accompany the quest to create from a source of suffering into something less toxic, then potentially even into fuel.

I emphasize this a lot on the Leading Blog, but I think it’s something we really have to work at. Randy Nelson, Pixar’s former head of education said, “The core skill of innovators is not failure avoidance, it’s error recovery.” Fields adds, “When that’s baked into your creative culture on all levels, people become more empowered to lean into the creative abyss—and magic tends to happen.”

Creating value involves varying degrees of uncertainty. But that uncertainty can lead to fear and paralysis unless we learn how to use it to our advantage. And it’s important that we do because that’s where the greatest creations and experiences happen. The poet John Keats put it well. He called it “Negative Capability.” He referred to it as the quality that people of achievement possess: the capability of being in uncertainties. Fields shows how to be okay working in that space.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:39 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Personal Development , Problem Solving


Innovation Creates Uncertainty

We don’t like uncertainty. It’s not comfortable.

We want innovation. We like creativity. It’s engaging.

But innovation creates uncertainty. So while we say we want creativity and innovation we often reject it because it is new, different and risky. It takes us to places that we are not familiar with and places where we don’t have all the answers. The irony is that while we say we like innovation we develop a deep bias against it.

Interestingly, a recent study from Cornell University states that “Anti-creativity bias is so subtle that people are unaware of it, which can interfere with their ability to recognize a creative idea.” In other words, our aversion to uncertainty means we find it difficult to even recognize a creative idea when we see it, focused as we are on removing the risky, uncomfortable strain on the status quo.

Consequently, new ideas are often rejected out-of-hand in favor of the tried and trusted at times when we need new ideas the most. This resistance is so strong at times that even supporting objective evidence may not help break down barriers.

The study concludes, “Our results show that regardless of how open minded people are, when they feel motivated to reduce uncertainty either because they have an immediate goal of reducing uncertainty, or feel uncertain generally, this may bring negative associations with creativity to mind which result in lower evaluations of a creative idea.”

If you want to change the world, get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Innovation creates uncertainty. Creativity changes the status quo, but if we want to grow and develop we have to get comfortable with the unknown and accept reasonable risk. Our fear of uncertainty can cause us to reject new ideas just because they are new.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:58 AM
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The Art of Leadership

Max DePree popularized the idea that leadership is an art. So much of what a leader does cannot be objectively measured. To reduce leadership to a set of algorithms is to remove it from its context; to ignore the complexities, the contradictions, and the possibilities. Artists must deal with uncertainty, contradictions, and diversity almost by definition. Leaders need to have this capacity.

Julie Burstein has created a valuable achieve of thought about art and artistry in Spark: How Creativity Works. Her book is drawn from hundreds of hours of conversations from the radio program Studio 360. Studio 360 was created to show how creativity works by talking to some of the world’s most talented people. I hope you find these artist’s thoughts on their work inspiring to you no matter where you lead.

Painter Chuck Close reminds us that leadership is about results. You will be judged on your accomplishments. So, you have to get on with it.

Inspiration is for amateurs, and the rest of us just show up and get to work. But so much of it comes out of the process … if you try to preconceive everything you do and conceptualize it, you’re gonna do the same thing over and over. If, however, you just get busy and things occur to you in the process, you make the rules and therefore you can break them.

Sound designer Ben Burtt talks about the importance of being what Saul Bellow once called a “first class noticer.” We need to observe more, to listen closer, and be open to surprises.

Many of the most useful sounds I’ve used were discoveries made by accident. I would be going about some other business but then hear something interesting. I learned to keep my recorder nearby. I’d grab a sound that caught my attention. Even if you don’t know what it’s going to be. If something interests me, if something is provocative in some way, if it has a sense of suspense to it, or power, or humor, then it’s worth gathering and stockpiling until I find a place in a movie to use it. I have a big collection and it’s always growing. I’m probably always listening to what goes on around me, whether I want to or not.

Being a leader means stretching yourself and your team; getting out of your comfort zone; becoming more than is expected. Choreographer Elizabeth Streb knows the importance of taking a risk.

“What the audience sees is somebody taking their physical entity and just stretching it beyond their comfort.” It’s not that the dancers want to put themselves in harm’s way, she explained. “It’s the other way around. To effect certain actions onstsage, it’s necessary to put yourself in harm’s way. I think it’s a means to an end. If you don’t allow yourself to get out of your comfort zone, then you can’t discover new physical territory. And it comes with that territory that here’s going to be certain things that scare you. You’re going to try to locate them, and unravel them, and go further and further and further toward something that you couldn’t imagine doing physically prior to that initial investigation.

Getting out and discovering new territory is how leaders define choices. And some days it’s easier than others says Streb.

We are all normal people and we’re scared of similar things that other people are scared of. We just have an appetite to dig into them and conquer them on some level. And then the fear switches…. All of a sudden, on a Wednesday, you’re just terrified, you can’t do it. There’s no accounting for those shifts in fear.

The late poet Stanley Kunitz reminds us that like most things in life, leadership requires pruning; eliminating those things that distract and detract. Creative destruction. It’s an art.

As with the making of a poem, so much of the effort is to get rid of all the excess, and at the same time be certain you are not ridding the poem of its essence.

While it’s in a leader’s DNA to shake-up the status quo, it has to be done with the past in mind. The past is not all bad, and the future is not all better. The past can serve as an anchor, but it can also provide depth to the future. Director Alexander Payne points to the importance of our past.

We forget our past do quickly, but we need it for a sense of identity. For some idea of who we are.

Photographer David Plowden would agree.

I fear that we are eradicating the evidence of our past accomplishments so quickly that in time we may well lose the sense of who we are.

Of course, leaders can’t do it alone. We are made better by the teams we build and the people we associate with. It’s how we learn and grow. Robert Plant speaks of his collaboration with Alison Krauss on the album Raising Sand:

Something had to happen for me where I was going to learn something. I wanted to work with people who were going to push me, and not threaten me but challenge my whole capacity to be a really proper singer. Not just a one-trick pony, but somebody who could actually modify and adapt and get into some kind of dreamscape. As it happens, this is the combination that transpired, and it couldn’t be better, really.

If our insecurities get in our way and we exclude those with differing opinions or those who might be critical of what we are doing, we attenuate our leadership potential. We narrow our perspective. Architect’s Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi are a married couple and partners in work. They value each other’s criticism in the creative process. Denise explains:

We jump-start the design process by batting ideas around between us. Our ideas bounce back and forth….This questioning intensifies the process and speeds it up. Self-criticism might eventually have led him to the same position, but my questions and suggestions push him and he gets there faster. Of course, he does the same for me.

“Intensifies the process and speeds it up.” That’s a good way to think about it. As in any creative endeavor—and each of us is a creative endeavor—we need to be who we really are and not a reflection of someone we admire. Robert Venturi’s respect for the past doesn’t mean recreating it. Our heroes should serve as a reference point, but not a straightjacket.

Reference to the historical past can enrich architecture; copying stultifies it.

When it isn’t working you have to have the courage to rework it or even start over if necessary. Novelist John Irving once took an 800-page book back from the publisher because it wasn’t right.

It was such an enormous undertaking to rewrite this book from the first person to a third-person novel. Took me nine months, all by hand. I hope I come to that conclusion sooner if it happens again.

But when it is working, Chuck Close says you should celebrate!

Every time I finish a painting, I play Aretha Franklin full blast, from start to finish, and I usually sing along with her as my celebratory end to each painting.

Author and producer Julie Burstein says that we should “never miss this essential step of celebrating the accomplishment.” The work now, she concludes, is for each of us to create our own stories.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:03 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation


Hacking the Creative Process

While creativity is associated with artists, creativity is really part of life. It is how we shape our work into something meaningful. Benjamin Franklin put it this way: “To cease to think creatively is but little different from ceasing to live.”

You might not think of yourself as being creative, but if you are expected to solve problems, strategize and come up with new ideas, then you are required to be creative. "While a designer will solve a problem visually, a manager may solve it by developing a new process. But they're both using the same creative tools and wrestling with many of the same obstacles." What’s more you are expected to do it consistently and on demand. This isn’t easy. “If you want to deliver the right idea at the right moment, you must begin the process far upstream from when you need that idea,” says Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative.

Henry believes that you can create faster and more effectively over the long term if you build powerful practices into your life to help you to do so. Ironically, if you are going to thrive in a create-on-demand world, you need structure. “Creativity craves structure. When you establish effective boundaries, you are focusing your creative energy rather than allowing it to run rampant.” Working harder isn’t the answer. An “always on” approach works against you says Henry. “You need to incorporate practices that instill a sense of structure, rhythm, and purpose in your life.” Consistent creativity demands it.

In creative work there is the tension between possibilities and pragmatics. Creativity is about exploring, innovation, and the next big breakthrough. But it’s also about budgets and deadlines. It’s easy to get off-track doing creative work. "Because we tend to gravitate toward possibilities, many creative people wrestle with focus." We can become fascinated by the process and never really accomplish anything. Yet we are paid for the value we create. It’s important to be able to articulate exactly what we are trying to accomplish.

Henry discusses the assassins of creativity and offer many ways to counter them. One very simple yet profound suggestion is “The Big 3.” The Big 3 is not a to do list, a wish list, or a project list. It is “best described as the three most important ‘open-loops’ in my life and work. They are the three most important items that I’m still looking for critical insight on.” The key thought here is that by identifying them and writing them down, it helps you to filter the stimuli you take in each day through the lens of your most important creative priorities.

This technique is a very helpful way of keeping your mind focused and looking for connections to create unexpected insights.

Henry also emphasizes the importance of relationships. “We sometimes begin to see the act of maintaining a relationship as an obligation that pulls us away from our important work, rather than as an opportunity to stretch ourselves, explore new possibilities, and take advantage of collaborative opportunities within our team.” You must engage with other people. This is a big point for leaders. When we get busy this always seems like the first thing to go. Big mistake.
Relationships give us perspective on our unique strengths, on which of our ideas are most likely to gain traction, and on how we can most benefit the world around us. Our relationships play a vital role in helping us understand how we can get moving on, and devote our best efforts to, the work that really matters.
This is an essential read for all knowledge workers. You will find ideas here to help you to reduce non-work, focus on real work, and filter information, to produce better and more consistent results.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:35 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Problem Solving


5 Leadership Lessons: Redesigning Leadership

5 Leadership Lessons

John Maeda is the president of the Rhode Island School of Design. In Redesigning Leadership, he—with co-author Becky Bermont—pulls the leadership lessons from the ups and downs of his time there. In his transition from MIT to RISD he found that the two words “free pizza” were a powerful motivator to convene large numbers of students. “Making people work together can be fairly challenging, but getting them to eat together is somehow vastly easier. A meal is often a catalyst for a conversation that can lead to a collaboration, and a meal is a natural happening to signify closure when the collaboration has been completed.”

Leadership is never easy and it is made more difficult by what I perceive is a growing sense of entitlement we all feel in our culture. It’s not all good or bad, but it is something to deal with. Redesigning Leadership is a slim book, but it is full of great thoughts like these:

1  Learning something new means finding not just a new way to see the world, but often a new way to change the world. Artists constantly seek to find new and improved means to transform ideas into reality.

2  Artists rely on their intuition much more than those who are analytically trained. Analytical people tend to take a complex problem and reduce it to its component parts in an effort to solve it step by step. Artists, however, attempt to make giant leaps to a solution, seeming to ignore all constraints. By making those leaps, they sometimes miss the solution completely. But they are not afraid to miss the target.

3  Ironically, with all the communication technologies at our disposal today, it’s still difficult to get a message across to the person sitting right next to you in a reliable fashion. The shortest communication path between two people is a straight talk.

4  In forming any team, the most basic challenge: getting folks to take the big step away from just being themselves (the thing we all know best) and joining something larger (the thing we fear may let us down).

5  Whether brought by duty or desire, once people are in the same room, they’ve assumed the basic stance of being a team—which is to be together. Preconceived negative opinions don’t evaporate, but at least negativity can mix with positivity in the room, which by electrical principles results in the neutralizing of the respective +/- charges. I now consider this the most basic concept to leading a team.
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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:52 AM
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Bill Roedy: From West Point to MTV

Bill Roedy
Bill Roedy, former Chairman and CEO of MTV Networks International, began working for HBO in 1979 when it was broadcasting only nine hours a day. There he learned that distribution was everything. It was to be his mantra at MTV—aggressive, creative, relentless distribution.

Roedy shares his experiences and lessons in What Makes Business Rock. From virtually nothing, he built MTV International into the largest media network in the world. For anyone involved doing business internationally, it is essential reading.

As manager of HBO’s national accounts, he learned that “In life as well as in business, the ability to sell is the foundation upon which success is built.” Some people don’t understand that he says, but even in Vietnam, although he had the formal authority to force troops obey my orders, I found that if people didn’t believe in the mission, I never got a total effort from them.” Leaders are always selling.

Although reluctant to leave HBO and move to London, in 1989 he became managing director of MTV Europe. What he inherited wasn’t working. He had to quickly create a better product, get more distribution and generate revenue. Getting the right people in place was crucial to creating an entrepreneurial organization. “Never take ‘No’ for an answer.” “Take chances.” “Break all the rules.”

Their objective was to be the most visually engaging channel in the history of European television. To make sure viewers always knew they were watching MTV, they put their logo in the corner of the screen and left it there. No one had done that before. (Now everyone does.)

Here is a lesson every leader could bear to keep in mind: as a leader, your opinion matters—maybe more than you know. But it can actually be having a negative impact. The MTV playlist is extremely important to its viewers and giving them what they want to hear is essential to MTV’s survival. Roedy says that in the beginning he attended those meetings if only to be the voice of reason and a subtle reminder that they were running a business. “But after attending half a dozen of these meetings I realized I was making a huge mistake. I was much older than our demographic and my musical tastes were very different. I was skewing the choices older.” So he stopped attending those meetings. “As much as I enjoyed being part of that process, I had to remind myself that I was a manager, and I had to delegate decision-making authority to those people I trusted.” How many leaders, for all kinds of well-intentioned reasons feel they have to leave their fingerprint on everything, while they are in-fact stifling their people and skewing the results?

Roedy’s success at MTV can be attributed to the fact that he was always reinventing. “The longer you stay with the same strategy, the more vulnerable you become to your competitors.”

His most important contribution was the idea, “Think global, act local.” MTV was already local to Europe, but it had to be broken down to the national level, country by country. “Learn the local culture and reflect it in every decision we make,” was their business strategy. He created a structure similar to what he learned in the military: small operating units in the field fighting the competition. “My belief was that the local people would best reflect the needs, tastes, and desires of the local audience, and because their jobs would depend on the bottom line, they were much less likely to make risky or destructive financial decisions. In Vietnam, I had seen over and over the benefits of dealing directly with the loyal population on their own terms, rather than trying to impose our beliefs on them.” Because of the complexities of operating an international business, you need be there on the ground to really feel it.

On MTV Arabia for example, they broadcast the call to prayer on the channel five times every day. For Ramadan they produced an animated film explaining the meaning of that important religious holiday to young people in a creative way and refrained for a month from showing any music videos.

Throughout the book there are stories of music celebrities—singing karaoke with Bono and Bob Geldof dressed as a nurse in Tokyo at 4a.m.—and others like Sumner Redstone, Robert Maxwell, Jeff Bewkes, Nelson Mandela, Jiang Zemin, Fidel Castro, Tony Blair, and the Dalai Lama. They add color to the book and make it all the more interesting. But read it for the insights into global business.

Related Interest:
  More lessons from Bill Roedy can be found on the LeadershipNow Facebook page.
  What Makes Business Rock

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:28 PM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1) | Creativity & Innovation , General Business , Leaders , Management , Marketing , Teamwork


Heritage and Innovation: Finding the Balance

In times of change there is the tendency to either stick doggedly to what has always worked in the past or to throw it all out and start new. Neither extreme is the answer.

Heritage and innovation is a tension that needs to be managed—thoughtfully. Our default thinking is to view the world in terms of what has worked before so we often fail to address the changes going on around us. As a result we tend to lose our influence. At the same time, to overhaul everything without regard to our roots—our traditions, our heritage—can take us away from why we began doing what we are doing in the first place.

Howard Schultz recognized as he began to deal with Starbuck’s identity crisis in 2008 that they had to strike a delicate balance between heritage and innovation. In Onward he writes: “I understood that we had to return to our roots, but if that heritage was not linked to a willingness to reinvent and innovate, then we would fail.

Our heritage is the repository of our values and unshakable truths. Applying them to a changing world makes them relevant. But how to go about this is not always self-evident. As we naturally view what we do through the lens of what has worked before, it is hard to envision a different world. If we don’t learn to apply them to what is happening today, they begin to look worn and outdated to the present world.

We have to begin by asking, “What is Truth (for us) and what is habit?” Truths are maintained. Habits can be adapted.

Heritage and Innovation

We need to learn to translate our heritage into a meaningful direction aligned to the present situation. Heritage either stands the test of time or it is a fad. Change for change sake, is faddish. Sustainable influence and growth is achieved when heritage and innovation overlap. Innovation should be informed by heritage which is in turn, made relevant by it.

Change is essential to growth. More than anything else, fear keeps us from making necessary changes. Fear of the unknown. “What will happen?”

Innovation rocks the boat. It creates instability, yes, but the kind of instability needed for growth. If we don’t make heritage relevant by innovation we can stunt growth and diminish our influence. We actually aid people’s ability to cope and thrive in a changing world when we find ways to change what we do without changing who we are. Heritage and innovation is an ongoing tension that needs to be managed.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:46 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation


How Did They Get Ten Steps Ahead of the Rest of Us?

How Did They Get Ten Steps Ahead

ERIK CALONIUS wants to know what makes a visionary? What allows a Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Berry Gordy, John Lennon, Richard Branson, and others like them, to do what they do? How do they see what the rest of us are missing?

Blending cognitive psychology, neuroscience and (mostly) first-hand accounts of the visionary’s life, in Ten Steps Ahead, he builds a picture of what makes them tick. He identifies the importance of intuition and emotional intelligence and the role of courage and conviction in separating visionaries from mere dreamers.

“Visionaries don’t succeed by lying in bed with their dreams floating idly by above their heads. They get out into the world and experience things, and from that, shape their ideas.” It’s being a first-class noticer as Warren Bennis suggested.

Calonius cites Thomas Kuhn’s work on paradigm shifts and the years of “mopping up” that follow them. Julian Huxley wrote in 1957, “Once science has reached the stage of having a coherent theoretical basis, it will inevitably proceed … to make further discoveries and further extension of its theory.” Calonius explains:

That’s why commercial products often follow scientific breakthroughs by about 20 years or so. … “First movers,” in other words (and contrary to the mantra of the “New Economy” of the late 1990s), very often do not prevail. This means you don’t need to deliver the paradigm to mop up quite successfully in its aftermath. You don’t even need to be the first mover. Just be clever enough to make off with the flotsam of the paradigm after it has crashed upon the shore.

The reoccurring insight I find in these pages is that it really comes down to the ability (and confidence) to walk a fine line, to develop a balance of thought. For example, pattern recognition allows visionaries to make connections and see what is not yet seen. Yet at the same time, pattern recognition can lock us into a constrained view of life of our own making. “The same patterns that help us predict the future are also the ones that lock us into the present.”

Calonius observes, “Intuition is essential to the visionary. Visionaries almost always work at the edge of our understanding, where information is scarce or nonexistent and where intuitive decisions are often the only choice.” But again, there’s a balance. If we follow our intuition blindly, we can lose it all. “Intuition is a judgment call” that must be developed. “Practiced insight, leavened with intuition.”

Emotional intelligence is also an important element. It is “that rare balance between dry logic and emotional intuition.” It gives the visionary the ability to read others, and thereby be able to rally others behind their idea.

Of course, luck plays a part. In The Drunkard’s Walk, Leonard Mlodinow writes, “Keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under our control: the number of at-bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized.”

One of the greatest challenges to visionaries—indeed all of us—says Calonius, is “to get outside the walls, to rise over the yes-men and sycophants and even their confidence in their own ideas, to be able to see clearly.”

Visionaries are all around us. The brain is remarkable in that it is an ever-changing network of circuitry that learns as we live our lives. We can guide that process to, as Joseph LeDoux says, “transcend our genes.” We can be visionaries too. Visionaries keep “running forward, adjusting their ambition along the way.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:08 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Vision


A Case for Reconsidering the Way We’ve Always Done It

The Way Weve Always Done It

S SOCIETY that doesn’t train their children to think critically, to be aware of those around them, and to serve, must create more rules and regulations than can be accounted for. There will never be enough rules—there are too many variables—especially when people begin to direct their creativity in dysfunctional ways.

The challenge is to develop sound minds. As Kant determined, a person with a sound mind is one that can think for oneself, is able to place oneself in the place and viewpoint of others, and can think consistently and coherently. But it‘s easier, in the short term, to create rules. And we pay a price.

To be sure, I am not advocating anarchy—we absolutely must have rules—and some rules unquestionably make possible the learning process, but when the rules we have in place reflect our lack of engagement, they become disrespectful and de-motivating. It’s easier to lay down the law or set up a checklist than it is to explain the why; to communicate where we’re headed with this idea. From time to time, it is good to think about the rules we have created (or have had handed down to us), that are impeding progress, relevance, imagination, and growth both for ourselves and others. Here are a few thoughts to guide that process:

I am a big advocate of tradition, but when “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “that’s how I learned to do it” gets in the way of relevance or growth, we need to take a step back and reconsider our stand. What we have done may have served us well in a particular place and time, but may only be an irritation here and now.

Rules can reveal a lack of trust. “I don’t trust you to be as smart—considerate or creative—as I am.” And they never will be if not given the chance.

As leaders, we need to be aware of where we are blanketing people with rules and procedures that do nothing more than to serve us and not the people it is our intention to serve. We need to consider that perhaps we have implemented rules to create a comfort zone for ourselves. A world where people act and think like we do. A world of clones. A world on autopilot that requires less of us.

Often our need for rules and procedures is just masking our fear of the unknown. Our attempt to manage a world that is changing faster than we are learning. No leader can do it on their own and rules are no substitute for not trusting, growing and building relationships with people. Where are we hiding behind rules?

Rules, for the most part, do not leverage other people’s strengths and thinking, they mostly mirror our own. Given the chance, people will surprise us with new, different, and better ways to push our agenda forward.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:43 AM
| Comments (0) | Change , Creativity & Innovation , Education , Human Resources , Leadership Development , Thinking


Leadership: Artistry Unleashed

Artistry Unleashed
The executive functions … are feeling, judgment, sense, proportion, balance, [and] appropriateness. It is a matter of art rather than science, and is aesthetic rather than logical.
—Chester Barnard, The Functions of the Executive
Leadership is an art. But what does that really mean?

Leadership can be taught in the way that art can be taught. There are techniques and principles that need to be understood. Seeds that can be planted. But ultimately it has to be practiced and experienced. There is the part that really matters, as Georges Braque observed, that can’t be explained. That is the art; the ever-changing context of leadership and the dance between leaders and followers that molds and shapes both the leader and follower. There is an art to bringing leadership teaching into the nuance of life.

Leadership practiced, is artistry unleashed.

Artistry Unleashed
Hilary Austen does a masterful job of explaining, even if indirectly, the art of leadership in Artistry Unleashed. She takes design thinking beyond the surface concerns of practical design and to the processes behind it. These are important issues for leaders as we face what Austen terms enigmatic problems: those that push us to the edge of what we know. “Our best solutions to such problems lie not just in better analytical tools but in a fundamentally different approach to our work—an approach that follows from cultivating qualitative intelligence in our given profession or medium.” Any more quantitative approaches alone won’t work. She explains the difference:

Quantitative thinking allows us to be precise and to share understanding; we use it to define fairness and rationality and effectiveness. It’s this utility that has led so many people to equate quantitative thinking with intelligence.”

“A qualitative approach embraces the unexpected, the subtle, the open-ended, the unique, the poetic; it escapes rules, single answers, or single perspectives. These features are by their very nature hard to pin down and can be quite unnerving to people who want precise information and specific answers. The quantitative approach gives us the means to predict and control what we can measure, to record and codify what can be clearly defined, to collect sharable facts, and to identify universal rules and laws.

To be sure, Austen is not advocating one or the other. “Each has its own set of purposes, and developing one does not mean abandoning the other. Achieving artistry means being able to use qualities to help you work when that’s what the situation demands; it doesn’t mean rejecting quantitative methods.”

We gravitate to quantitative thinking. We like things nailed down. Numbered. Labeled. Defined. It gives us some certainty. It makes us comfortable. We can check it off and move on confident that we’ve done the “right thing.” Unfortunately, life is messier than that. Austen cites Ted Sorenson’s observation from his book Decision-Making in the White House: “White House decision-making is not a science but an art. It requires not calculation but judgment….Every decision a president makes involves uncertainty.”

Qualitative thinking is less about imposing an answer and more about shaping an answer from awareness of the present and feedback from the application of knowledge to it, when predetermined steps and measurable goals are absent. The present and the possible are considered at the same time so that ends and means influence each other as they occur. Austen writes, the “interdependent relationship between ends and means is a hallmark of artistic work. As your effort to solve an enigmatic problem proceeds, the ends evolve as means are generated. Likewise, as means unfold, new ends become possible; these may, in turn, demand new means.”

It means managing the tension between mastery and originality in search of the possible. “The forces that drive mastery are conservative. Mastery brings predictability and control to action. By contrast, originality is driven by often unpredictable responses to immediate experience. Finding originality means leaving behind some of what you know. Artistry is driven forward by the interplay of these two competing forces.”

New York University professor David Ecker’s six phases of qualitative problem solving developed from the work of John Dewey, described in Artistry Unleashed by Austen is helpful:
In the first phase, artists engage what Ecker calls the presented or initial relationship between existing qualities….Some of these relationships may be problematic, others intriguing, and so they attract the artist’s attention. Different practitioners may see different qualities and make sense of what they see differently, depending on the ideals, concepts, and sensibilities they bring to bear on the situation.

In the second phase, working with these initiating qualities and their interrelationships, artists enhance some and destroy others….They begin to imagine possible ends—what Ecker calls ends-in-view. Artists enhance, destroy, shape, and reshape initiating qualities, ultimately turning these qualities into the means they can use to reach the qualitative end-in-view they have imagined.

The third phase that Ecker identifies can be recognized because a pervasive quality eventually takes hold of the work in progress….In the fourth phase, the artist can make subsequent changes based on how they fit, or don’t fit, with this pervasive quality.

In the fifth phase, exploration and experimentation still occur, but they do so as tests of what will and will not sustain the pervasive quality….Finally, in the sixth phase of Ecker’s sequence, a total quality is shaped, and the work is judged complete.
A leader’s function is to create the disequilibrium needed to go from the known to the unknown possibilities. Qualitative thinking is important to the leader because without it we can easily impose answers rather than exploring possibilities. We can too, get in our own way by overvaluing the importance of our own experience and thought and thereby limit possible outcomes.

Austen develops a Knowledge System model comprised of the interdependency of Experiential Knowledge, Conceptual Knowledge, and Directional Knowledge, that can be used to help anyone develop and apply qualitative thinking. The cursory view I present here of the connection between business and art, she more fully develops in her book. The examples she gives dramatically demonstrate this important connection and essential understanding needed by leaders of every type.

Related Interest:
  5 Leadership Lessons: Artistry Unleashed

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Yes to the Mess Leadershift

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:21 AM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2) | Creativity & Innovation , Leadership Development , Problem Solving , Thinking


Shifting From a Supply-Driven Economy to a Demand-Driven Economy

How Companies Win
It was always safe to assume the ever-expanding marketplace would consume everything we produced. But the economic downturn has brought to light, the shift from a supply-driven economy to a demand-driven economy. Authors Rick Kash and David Calhoun point out in How Companies Win that we “have now entered an era of oversupply.” ... Consequently, “organic growth and profitability become increasingly difficult to achieve.” At the same time, “it is imperative that you construct a framework in your company that encompasses and aligns everyone toward meeting not just the current but the latent and emerging demand of your highest-profit customers and consumers.”

How Companies Win is a book about learning to understand demand. If you are relying on your customers to tell you what they want it’s too late. You’re playing at best a defensive game because they’ve already told your competitors as well. Getting ahead of the demand “whole it is still forming” is the key. Successful companies are looking at what the demand will be like tomorrow, next year, and five years from now. They get their cues, the authors report, in these ways:
  • They use macroeconomics to look across multiple markets, to draw lessons to apply in their own markets.
  • They look at customers and consumer trends (lifestyle, work style, fads, demographics), to anticipate how to interact with emerging trends.
  • They look at adjacent categories, to see what they can learn from bets practices, successes, and failures from businesses similar to their own.
  • They look at the most profitable segments of their own customers, to detect even small variations in their behavior and buying patterns.
  • They take advantage of the real-time ability to monitor buzz on the Internet.
This requires, of course, a new set of skills for leaders to understand the management of demand. Not that supply chain management is no longer needed, it just isn’t the decisive factor it once was, say the authors. To the four P’s of marketing—product, price, place and promotion—they add precision as an important factor in creating the alignment between what you sell and the customers demand. It goes beyond market segments—who is buying—to an analysis of the demand landscape—why customers are buying what they are buying; how they think about their purchasing decision. Society is guiding many innovations and is shaping industries. Businesspeople should keep a focus on demand.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:18 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Marketing


It’s a Jungle in There

It’s a Jungle in There

ANYONE that has ever been to the Rainforest Café, knows it's a treat. Created by Steven Schussler, the Rainforest Café holds the record as one of the top-grossing restaurant chains in the world and was the first restaurant concept to be featured at every Disney theme park worldwide. Schussler shares in It’s a Jungle in There, what it takes to make it happen and the lessons he learned that can be applied to your dream.

Schussler embodies the five Ps of successful entrepreneurship—Personality, Product, Persistence, People, and Philanthropy—that he teaches in the book. He writes, “As a leadership quality, one’s own passion is what galvanizes others into action.” Passion and persistence has played a big part in everything Schussler has done. It’s “not going through the motions but going through with the emotions.”

rainforest cafeSchussler says that he’s always wanted to create a rainforest themed restaurant but the problem was getting investors interested in the idea. To get their attention he turned his home into a tropical rainforest. “Over a period of a few years, my standard split-level home was transformed into a jungle dwelling complete with rock outcroppings, waterfalls, rivers, layers of fog, mist that rose from the ground, a thatched hut covered with vines on the roof, tiki torches, a twelve-foot neon ‘paradise’ sign, and a full-size replica of an elephant near the front door.”

“In the bedroom, my bed was constructed to look like it was suspended in a tree….Birds and animals moved freely through the area during showings of the house….Every room, every closet, every hallway of my house was a ‘scene’: an attempt to present my idea of what a rainforest restaurant would look like in actual operation….No venture capitalists were going to invest their money in my far-out concept without actually seeing it, so I transformed my house into my vision of what a rainforest restaurant would look like in order to make them believe in my dream.”

Naturally, this would catch the attention of your neighbors (and law enforcement) too. There were problems of all sorts as you can imagine. And Schussler writes, “Being passionate doesn’t totally shield you from moments of doubt.” But his passion finally won out.

How far are you willing to go to see your dream realized?

In short, high-content chapters, he explains his guiding philosophy and backs them with concrete experiences. He has two quotes framed on the wall over his desk: “When you’re out of quality, you’re out of business” and “The noblest search is the search for excellence.”

He talks about looking for “enhancement gaps.” Those gaps between “what you are seeing and what you could create to make what you are seeing better by providing some product or service.”

He asks, “Are you willing to help other people succeed even when it’s not a requirement of your job to be of assistance?”

Self-control: “What you don’t want to do is say things and/or act in a manner that will create negative impressions and the unwanted consequences that are certain to follow.” You must know your audience.

Burning Bridges/Writing People Off: Don’t do it. “What I learned that day reconfirmed my belief that ego can be a killer, especially an unchecked ego. Most entrepreneurs need to have a healthy ego, but you also have to be realistic. That’s a very delicate balance—the kind of balance you need to cross a bridge you tumbled off the first time around.”

Anyone would benefit by reading and integrating the lessons offered here.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:13 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , General Business , Marketing , Motivation , Vision


The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs

Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs
What is innovation? Innovation is a new way of doing things that results in positive change. It makes life better. Innovation can be big or small but the principles apply to many aspects of life. As such, The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs is more than just about innovation. It’s about principles that have guided Jobs throughout his life. Innovation is about thinking differently, making new connections and making things better.

Author Carmine Gallo offers not rules, systems, or steps to greater innovation, but inspiring principles that can be applied to your own situation to get you to think differently. The principles are:
  1. Do What You Love. Think differently about your career. Jobs advises, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. ...My goal wasn't to die the richest man in the cemetery. It was to go to bed at night saying, we've done something wonderful."
  2. Put a Dent in the Universe. Think differently about your vision. Jobs attracts like-minded people who share his vision and who help turn his ideas into world-changing innovations. Passion fuels Apple’s rocket, and Job’s vision creates destination.
  3. Kick Start Your Brain. Think differently about how you think. Innovation does not exist without creativity, and for Steve Jobs, creativity is the act of connecting things. Jobs believes that a broad set of experiences broadens our understanding of the human experience.
  4. Sell Dreams, Not Products. Think differently about your customers. To Jobs, people who by Apple products are not “consumers.” They are people with dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Jobs builds products to help them fulfill their dreams. "Some people think you've got to be crazy to buy a Mac. But in that craziness, we see genius" says Jobs.
  5. Say No to 1,000 Things. Simplify. Think differently about design. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, according to Jobs. From the designs of the iPod to the iPhone, from the packaging of Apple’s products to the functionality of the Apple website, innovation means eliminating the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. Jobs: "I'm as proud of what we don't do as I am of what we do."
  6. Create Insanely Great Experiences. Think differently about your brand experience. Jobs has made Apple Stores the gold standard in customer service. The Apple Store has become the world’s best retailer by introducing simple innovations any business can adopt to make deep, lasting emotional connections with its customers. Use analogies or metaphors to think about a problem. By finding the similarities between two things that are unalike, your brain makes new and sometimes profound connections.
  7. Master the Message. Think differently about your story. Jobs is the preeminent corporate storyteller, turning product launches into an art form. You can have the most innovative idea in the world, but if you cannot get people excited about it, your innovation doesn’t matter. Make your brand story consistent across all platforms: presentations, website, advertising, marketing materials, social media.
Confidence is a key to innovation. Jobs told Stanford graduates, “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” “Most important,” writes Gallo, “how you think about yourself and your business will have the greatest impact on the creation of new ideas that will grow your business and improve the lives of your customers.”

Gallo provides a lot of background on Jobs and in doing so has written an inspiring, down-to-earth book that will encourage you to imagine what you could do by thinking differently.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:17 AM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1) | Creativity & Innovation


Getting Ideas to Flow

Getting Ideas to Flow

Charles Landry is the founder of Comedia, and works to help cities to be more "creative for the world" so that the energies of individuals and companies can be brought into alignment with their global responsibilities. He recently told Sally Helgesen that his experience has taught him that “the single biggest problem in the world is not finding great ideas but getting great ideas to move, to flow.”

Getting stuck is an issue we face both individually and organizationally. At its core, it’s a thinking problem and is often self-inflicted. Creating the right kind of movement and in the right direction begins with re-thinking our view of reality. If we keep applying the same patterns of thinking even after they have been shown to be counterproductive we skew our perception of even everyday life situations and block the flow of growth, ideas, and influence. Here are some common areas we need to rethink to get ideas to flow:

Re-think complexity. We create complexity by over-analyzing our situation; creating issues where there are none; forgetting our purpose. Complexity obscures the issues. Keep the issues as uncluttered as possible. Often an outsider can see the situation and the real issues more clearly than you can. Try asking, “Am I making this a bigger problem than it is because of fear, insecurity or lack of knowledge?” “Is this really a problem to be solved or a tension to be managed?” Stick to what needs to be addressed. Complexity can lead to procrastination.

Re-think systems. Trying to create a new vision without addressing old systems is at best counterproductive. Tenaciously grasping the old ways of doing things just because that is what you have always done, can stop the flow of ideas and innovative solutions and lead to hopelessness. If you are experiencing a chronic lack of movement, a resistance to change or lack of compliance to your “really good idea,” you probably have a system in place that discourages the very behavior you seek. A system should reward the behavior you want. What systems are getting in your way?

Re-think ego. Our ego frequently keeps us from exploring new ideas. We get so invested in what we have done that we can’t get out of our own way. We keep retrying to work the old and deceive ourselves into thinking we’re making progress when all we are doing is rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship. Sometimes we need to set aside our ego and simply abandon what isn’t working and start over with a better design.

Re-think boundaries. Think bigger. Think interdisciplinary. Growth often involves blurring boundaries to open your mind to new possibilities. What principles outside of your world of experience could expand the possibilities for your idea?

Re-think reactions. Repetitive reactions are the result of ingrained patterns of thinking that we have hard-wired into our brains long ago. Take the time to reflect on why you think the way you do; why you do what you do. Default patterns of thinking lead to more of the same. Ask yourself, “Is this working for me?” Think about the unspoken.

Re-think failure. If you’re afraid of being wrong, embarrassed by failure or paralyzed by insecurity, you will never find the solutions that lead to meaningful growth. Failure provides the nutrients for growth when we respond to them positively. Keep failure in perspective, it’s a regular part of life. You can’t avoid them so learn to work with them. Failures help you to raise the bar and reorient your thinking to possibilities and new ways of thinking.

Re-think success. Know what success looks like. How will you know when you have arrived? Muddy expectations lead to exhaustion and defeat before you even get started. Praise short-term accomplishments to appeal to your heart and not just your head. It will keep your ideas moving along.

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Creative Construction Creativity Inc

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:16 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Creativity & Innovation , Thinking , Vision




IDEAS don’t sell themselves. In fact, the better and bolder they are, the more they need selling. Sam Harrison offers hundreds of tips to help you get your (creative) ideas sold and keep you centered in the process. IdeaSelling, says Harrison, is for “anybody who knows the pain and suffering of presenting an idea and having it slammed to the ground, picked over, or altered beyond recognition.”

Simply saying, “They just don’t get it” is playing the victim. It doesn’t help you get your idea sold. One of the first reminders he gives us is one that is easily forgotten in the moment: It’s not about you. He writes:

Decision-makers aren’t interested in your pain.

They’re interested in their pain.

They want to know how your ideas will ease their pain. Solve their problem. Provide worry-free sleep.

Or maybe they want to know how the idea will make their lives fun and joyful. Make them prosperous. Make life easier.

The last thing they want to hear are your problems. The overtime you put into the idea. Your hassles along the way. Your sleepless nights and supreme sacrifices.

Don’t whine or complain during your pitch. Keep it positive.

Stay out of your problems. Stay in their solutions.

A few others:

  • If you can’t describe your concept without taking a breath, you probably haven’t nailed your theme.
  • Dig down. But use a spade, not a bulldozer.
  • Don’t build up clients only to let them down at the end with “Well, what do you think?” or “That’s it.”

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Stop Making Sense Contagious

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:52 PM
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How Many Surface Areas Do You Have?

Power of Pull

Power of Pull
HOW MANY points of contact do you have with the world around you? If we limit ourselves to one area or experience, then we limit our exposure and growth. If we depend too much on one facet of our lives, we isolate ourselves from the world around us and we end up missing what is really going on.

In The Power of Pull the authors share their conversation with entrepreneur Jack Hidary. He explains that people overlook obvious situations because they “paint themselves into a corner such that their entire interaction with the outside world is mediated through this one facet. Then they’re unable to critically analyze where they are. That’s how they end up going down with the ship.”

This is important because as authors John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison point out, “If we are going to succeed in this rapidly changing world, we face two challenges: making sense of the changes around us, and making progress in an increasingly unfamiliar world.” To do this we need to approach what we do in a way that allows us to be in the flow of knowledge and open to serendipitous events that inform us of things we didn’t know and didn’t even know we were looking for.

That approach they call pull: the ability to draw out people and resources to address opportunities and challenges. It’s different than push. Push predetermines our needs and then creates systems and standardized processes designed to provide what we need when we need it. It says, “I know better than you. Do this, not that.” It says, “I know. Here’s what you do.” On the other hand, pull says, “I don’t know. I’ll seek.”

The pull approach works to help us to find and access people and resources when we need them, the ability to attract people and resources that are relevant and valuable and then to pull from ourselves the insight and performance required to achieve our potential.

The attract aspect of pull is critical. In a world that is changing so quickly, we often don’t even know what we are looking for or the questions to ask to get there. It calls for a different approach. It increasingly depends upon serendipity. You need to increase your surface areas. You need to look for ways to pull people and their knowledge toward you. “If you want to find out what it is you don’t know that you don’t know, you need to hang out with other people who might already know it.”

We need serendipitous encounters with people because of the importance of the ideas that these people carry with them and the connections they have. People carry tacit knowledge. … You’ve got to stand next to someone who already knows and learn by doing. Tacit knowledge exists only in people’s heads. As edges arise ever more quickly, all of us must not only find the people who carry the new knowledge but get to know them well enough (and provide them with sufficient reciprocal value) that they’re comfortable trying to share it with us.

The authors claim that serendipity in certain respects can be shaped. Of course luck is involved, but we can materially affect it by our actions. We need amplifiers and filters. Amplifiers “that can help us reach and connect to large groups of people around the globe that we do not know.” Filters “that can help us to increase the quality as well as the number of unexpected encounters and ensuing relationships that are truly the most relevant and valuable.” We can manage serendipity by:

  • Choosing environments that increase our likelihood of encountering people who share our passions
  • Becoming and staying visible to the people who matter most
  • Influencing their endeavors so they amplify our own
  • Discovering and interacting with the right people at the right times
  • Making the most of every serendipitous encounter

The authors ask: What are the five places in the world that would offer the richest opportunities for serendipitous encounters with people who share your passions and interests? What actions could you take to increase the likelihood and quality of serendipitous encounters in the online social networks you participate in? Of the people you met serendipitously in any venue over the past year, how many of these people have you actually engaged in some joint initiative related to your passions and interests?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:58 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Learning , Thinking


Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive Advantage

Design Thinking

WE live in a reliability-oriented world. And understandably so. We want predictable outcomes. We want things to keep working as they have always been—perfectly.

Success. Repeat. Success. Repeat.

But that thinking ultimately limits our growth and quite possibly harbors the seeds of our own destruction. It can be (very) valuable to a point, but it isn’t adaptable because by its very nature it has to leave something out of the equation. While reliable outcomes “reduce the risk of small variations in your business, they increase the risk of cataclysmic events that occur when the future no longer resembles the past” and the reliable is no longer relevant or useful.

To remain relevant—to foster innovation—you need to incorporate into your thinking outcomes that are valid. That is outcomes that produce a desired result even if the solution employed can’t produce a consistent, predictable outcome. A perfectly valid solution is one that produces a result that is shown, through the passage of time, to have been correct. It is best to have a system that incorporates both—validity and reliability—into their approach. Balancing and managing the two approaches—analytical and intuitive—is what design thinking is all about.

In The Design of Business, Roger Martin presents the knowledge funnel to show how knowledge moves. Each stage represents a simplification and ordering of knowledge. At the beginning is a mystery; a question. It is the observation of phenomena. Things we see but don’t yet understand. knowledge funnel

The next stage is a heuristic, “a rule of thumb that helps to narrow the field of inquiry and work the mystery down to a manageable size.” Heuristics don’t guarantee success but do increase the probability of success.

The last stage is the development of an algorithm. “An algorithm is an explicit, step-by-step procedure for solving a problem. Algorithms take the loose, unregimented heuristics—which take considerable thought and nuance to employ—and simplify, structuralize, and codify them to the degree that anyone with access to the algorithm can deploy it with more or less equal efficiency.”

Martin uses the example of the development of McDonalds to illustrate how they proceeded down the knowledge funnel. In 1940 the McDonald brothers opened their first drive-in restaurant in San Bernardino, California. It did well, but by 1950 they began to lose business. Food was getting cold before it was delivered and families were put off by the hoards of teenagers they attracted. They had to develop a winning heuristic. They reduced and standardized the menu, and implemented their Speedee Service System.

Ray Kroc saw an opportunity in it and bought them out. While the Speedee Service System was good, Kroc thought it left too much to chance. So he refined it and simplified it down to an exact science. The new system left nothing to chance and it was repeatable. “Kroc relentlessly stripped away uncertainty, ambiguity, and judgment from the processes that emerged from the McDonald brothers’ original insight. And by fine-tuning the formula, he powered McDonald’s from a modestly prosperous chain of burger restaurants to a scale previously undreamed-of.”

The problem is getting stuck in any one stage. We tend to operate within a knowledge stage as opposed to moving across the knowledge stages. We need to explore and question, we need to exploit our solutions, even reducing them to a repeatable, efficient, formula where possible, but we need to be doing these things simultaneously.

The vast majority of businesses follow a common path. The company is birthed through a creative act that converts a mystery to a heuristic through intuitive thinking. It then hones and refines that heuristic through increasingly pervasive analytical thinking and enters a long phase in which the administration of business dominates. And in due course, a competitor stares at the mystery that provided the spark for this company, comes up with a more powerful heuristic, and supplants the original business.

McDonalds did well for decades, but eventually the heuristic (Americans want a quick, convenient, tasty meal) changed (Americans want a healthier menu). The solution for McDonalds is to go back and rethink the mystery and develop new rules of thumb to guide them. A trip back through the knowledge funnel.

design of business
Avoiding this cycle is the job of the leader—a leader at any level. Martin writes, “CEOs must learn to think of themselves as the organization’s balancing force—the promoter of both exploitation and exploration; of both administration and invention.” This is design thinking. We need to develop our design thinking skills, analyze what’s working and why, and at the same time revisit the original mystery while considering entirely new mysteries. “The design thinker develops the capacity for observation, for seeing features that others may miss. The design thinker, in the words of novelist Saul Bellow, is ‘a first-class noticer.’” Always cycling through the knowledge funnel.

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Roger Martin on Assertive Inquiry How to Develop Integrative Thinking

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:28 PM
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Are You Leading Creatively?

The new economy brings with it new demands. New ways of thinking. New ways of communicating. “The world is spinning faster,” said a Government CEO in Australia. “We need to keep pace.”

In the face of complexity and uncertainty, over 1500 CEOs interviewed in a study conducted by IBM, said that creativity was the leadership quality they valued most. Creativity: “the basis for “disruptive innovation and continuous re-invention”—new risks, new ideas, new ways of influencing and communicating. “Creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are open-minded and inventive in expanding their management and communication styles, particularly to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers.” CEOs are looking or a significant shift. IBM’s Global Chief Executive Officer Study asks:
  • How will you develop the critical capabilities to enhance creativity among your leadership team?
  • In what ways can you explore, reward and globally integrate diverse and unconventional points of view?
  • What is your approach to challenge every element of your business model to get the most from currently untapped opportunities?
  • How will you leverage new communication styles, technologies and tools, both to lead a new generation of talent and encourage breakthrough thinking?

Of Related Interest:
  Building Teams that Capitalize on the Innate Creativity of Everyone on the Team
  Leading for Creativity
  Thinking Gray and Free
  Five Great Innovation Myths

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:46 AM
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Dreamers, Doers and Incrementalists. Which One Are You?

Making Ideas Happen
Scott Belsky speculates that “having an idea” is perhaps only 1 percent of the journey. Ideas don’t just happen. You have to make them happen. That is what Making Ideas Happen is all about. Anyone can develop the capability to make an idea happen. That capacity is derived from a combination of forces that he builds on in detail:

Making Ideas Happen = Ideas + Organization + Communal forces + Leadership capability

Organization enables you to manage and ultimately execute your ideas. Belsky’s Action Method helps those with creative tendencies live and work with a bias toward action. By broadcasting your ideas you put communal forces to work for you. They will help you to refine your ideas. Finally, a specific leadership capability is required to manage the “delicate chemistry of a creative team” and to help them to withstand and capitalize on the inevitable doubts and pressures that will be felt along the way.

Belsky identifies three broad categories of creatives: the Dreamer, the Doer, and the Incrementalist.

Dreamers are always generating new ideas. They’re always starting new projects. “Dreamers are fun to be around, but they struggle to stay focused. In their ideas frenzy, they are liable to forget to return phone calls, complete current projects, even pay the rent. While Dreamers are more likely than anyone to conceive of brilliant solutions, they are less likely to follow through."

Doers are focused on the logistics of execution. They ask, “How are we going to implement this?” “While Dreamers will quickly fall in love with an idea, Doers will start with doubt and chip away at the idea until they love it (or, often, discount it). As Doers break an idea down, they become action-oriented organizers and valuable stewards."

Incrementalists have the capacity to play both roles. “An Incrementalist is able to bask in idea generation, distill the Action Steps needed, and then push ideas into action with tenacity.” Incrementalists may seem like the best of all worlds, but they “have the tendency to conceive and execute too many ideas simply because they can. This rare capability can lead to an overwhelming set of responsibilities to maintain multiple projects at the expense of ever making one particular project an extraordinary success.”

All three types have their strengths and weaknesses. The answer here is to collaborate. You have to pick a partner carefully, but when it works, “ideas can flourish on a much larger scale.” Doers and Dreamers are a good fit because of their very different strengths.
If you work in isolation as a Dreamer, your ideas will swiftly come and go without accountability and stimulation from others. As a Doer, you may struggle to come up with new ideas and solutions in favor of becoming mired in the details. As an Incrementalist, you will likely conceive of and execute a raft of projects that eventually sputter and grow stagnant, short of their true reach. No matter which type you fall into, developing meaningful partnerships will make you more effective.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:37 PM
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Share Your Ideas Liberally

Leadership Nuggets

Making Ideas Happen
Scott Belsky makes the case in Making Ideas Happen for sharing your ideas with others. To make it part of the corporate culture you may even have to “move people around and literally share people to share ideas.” Former Belsky colleague Steve Kerr, even went so far as to say that “’hording information is an integrity violation,’” making the case that failing to share a best practice with your team or department was essentially akin to stealing from the company.” Belsky explains the rationale for sharing ideas liberally:

The notion of “sharing ideas liberally” defines the natural instinct to keep your ideas a secret. Yet, among the hundreds of successful creatives I’ve interviewed, a fearless approach to sharing ideas is one of the most common attributes. Why? Because having the idea is just one tiny step along the road to making that idea happen. During the journey, communal forces are instrumental in refining the very substance of the idea, holding us accountable for making it happen, building a network that will push us to go above and beyond, providing us with valuable material and emotional support, and spreading the word to attract resources and publicity. By sharing your idea, you take the first step in creating the community that will act as a catalyst to making it happen.
He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening mine. That ideas should spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been particularly and benevolently designed by nature.
–Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Isaac McPherson, August 13, 1813

Adapted from Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision & Reality by Scott Belsky.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:31 PM
| Comments (0) | Communication , Creativity & Innovation , Leadership Nuggets


Where Does Innovation Begin?

Robert Brands is an innovation coach with a lot of experience with real-world product innovation. It’s no surprise then that his book, Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival, is heavy on the consumer products side of innovation. Nevertheless, the 10 rules he presents can be applied in any setting.

Innovation is first a leadership issue. Innovation begins with the Chief Executive Officer who has to be the Chief Innovation Officer. It is the important first step.

Throughout the book he gleans insights from other innovators he has worked with like Jill McCurdy of the Innovation Center of the Rexam’s Plastics Division. She offers a few keys to getting started:
  • “When I think of ideation that goes awry, I think of too much overplanning…. It’s more about real strategies, and problem solving, and harnessing the right people.”
  • “Paramount is starting with a specific problem in mind, which helps to focus, or channel, the energy in the room and create just the right environment for success.”
  • Build a knowledgeable group attuned to customer or end-user needs. “And the group should be diverse, from across functions, divisions, age groups, gender lines, ethnic backgrounds, and company levels.”
Brands says that the team leader is the make-or-break factor in the groups success. That means that the management must lead by example. Their emotional and material buy-in is critical.

Overcommunicate and underpromise “without hyperbole or pie-in-the-sky verbiage. Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Keep it real.” And remember communication is two-way.

Knock down the barriers,” Brands says, “that keep silos apart by creating cross-functional teams between groups that don’t typically interact.”

Provide accountability and ownership. “Even the most technical of innovations require leaders with superior people and communications skills.”

Brands’ book details 10 rules to create and sustain a culture of innovation:
  • Inspire, lead, and drive the process
  • No Risk, No Innovation: Manage risk, without letting fear of failure kill innovation
  • New Product Development Process : Create a formalized New Product Development (NPD) process -- an absolute must
  • Ownership: Convince others to work outside their comfort zone
  • Value Creation: Build value for your Innovation
  • Accountability: Instill accountability
  • Training and Coaching: Properly hire, train, and coach -- to create, reinforce, and enhance your company's culture and mindset
  • Idea Management: Stay open to new ideas
  • Observe, measure, and track NPD results -- essential to optimal ROI
  • Net Result and Reward: Grow profitably, which benefits shareholders, stakeholders, employees, customers, and consumers

Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:44 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation


Get to the Why by Starting at the Epicenter

When beginning or introducing anything—an idea, a project, or a new venture—you need to start with asking yourself why. In Rework, authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write candidly about where to begin:
When you start anything new, there are forces pulling you in a variety of directions. There’s stuff you could do, the stuff you want to do, and the stuff you have to do. The stuff you have to do is where you should begin. Start at the epicenter.

For example, if you’re opening a hot dog stand, you could worry about the condiment, the cart, the name, the decoration. But the first thing you should worry about is the hot dog. The hot dogs are the epicenter. Everything else is secondary.
They suggest you begin by asking, “If I took this away, would what I’m selling still exist?” It’s easy to get bogged down in the details and get off on tangents. And while details are important, they can distract you, pulling you in the wrong direction or even derail your idea. They caution: “Getting infatuated with details too early leads to disagreement, meetings, and delays. You get lost in things that don’t really matter. You waste time on decisions that are going to change anyway. So ignore the details—for a while. Nail the basics first and worry about the specifics later.”

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:31 PM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1) | Creativity & Innovation , General Business , Thinking


The Right Fight

The Right Fight
If you believe that the single most important thing leaders have to get right is alignment, if you think that the leader’s time is best spent promoting teamwork and making sure everyone is on the same page and playing nice, then you might want to take a look at Saj-Nicole Joni and Damon Beyer’s book, The Right Fight.

The book is based on a counterintuitive premise: In an environment where alignment is the only goal, alignment robs us of necessary dissent, of the checks and balances that mitigate risk, and of the tensions that create innovation and sustainable value. In short, you need to systematically orchestrate the right fights but … you need to fight them right.

The Right Fight principle is based on the idea that you learn and grow by the right amount of friction and stress. “A certain amount of healthy struggle is good for organizations and for individuals. Indeed, people and organizations perform optimally when they are under the right kinds and amounts of stress.” They add, “With alignment and properly managed tension, organizations hit a sweet spot and start realizing their potential.”

Citing a studies by Theresa Wellbourne of eePulse, the single greatest predictor of poor performance is when employees are happy or complacent and thus unmotivated to change. The second greatest predictor is when employees are overwhelmed. Both groups exhibit a low level of energy. They conclude that, “Tension in the right measure creates the emotional energy people need to change.” The trick for leaders is to avoid these extremes. “Knowing where and when to use tension is critical. Knowing how to work through the tension is equally important.”

They lay out three principles that identify right fights and three more principles that clarify the rules of engagement. The first three Right Fight Principles will help you in identifying and eliminating destructive tensions:

Right Fight Principle #1: Make it Worth Fighting About. Make it Material. “A right fight has to create significant value, require integration of multiple perspectives, and change the way work gets done in an organization. In short, a material fight is worth the trouble.”

Right Fight Principle #2: Focus in the Future, Not the Past. “Obsession with past performance, or intense interest in decisions made months or even years before, is a dead giveaway that your organization is stuck in a wrong fight.”

Right Fight Principle #3: Pursue a Noble Purpose. “Right fights connect people with a sense of purpose that goes beyond their own self-interest, unleashing profound collective abilities to create in ways they didn’t think possible.”

The final Right Fight Principles guide you in fighting right fights right:

Right Fight Principle #4: Make it Sport, Not War. “Right fights, like sports, have to have rules. One of the key tasks for leadership in a right fight is to define the parameters so everyone involved understands how to participate and what it takes to win.”

Right Fight Principle #5: Structure Formally but Work Informally. “You need to structure right fights through the ‘formal organization,’ but work out the tensions created by those fights through the ‘informal organization.’”

Right Fight Principle #6: Turn Pain into Gain. “There is a fine line between productive tension and destructive distress, and no two people draw that line in exactly the same place. For right fights to be fought right, leaders need to make sure no one is put under unbearable pressure. Turning pain into gain requires leaders to relate to their team members as individuals and to figure out what creates synergy, stretches skills, and honors outcomes for each of them.”

There are case studies to illustrate each of these principles in action. It’s easy to see the negative side of tension: focusing on the past, stigmatizing the losers, fighting over turf. “But without tension, nothing moves.” Tension creates an opportunity for leaders to help their organizations fight the right fight.

Of Related Interest:
  Focus on the War, Not the Battle
  A Pyrrhic Victory

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:57 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , General Business , Learning , Management , Problem Solving


Leading Clever People

Leading Clever People

CLEVER people, according to Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, are highly talented individuals with the potential to create disproportionate amounts of value from the resources that the organization makes available to them. Distinct from those individuals that thrive on their own, clevers need organizations to produce remarkable results. And organizations need them. They can be the competitive difference. In Clever the authors write, "Without clever people, leaders cannot hope to succeed. Without good leadership, clevers can never realize their full potential."

Making the organization more valuable to the clevers requires a different approach from leaders. Leaders cannot be the ones that lead the charge up the mountain. "Rather they must identify the clever people with the potential to reach the summit, connect them with others, and help them get there.

In fact, successful leaders of clevers they interviewed don't even think of themselves as leaders. Instead they refer to their roles as a compass ("to give that compass, that direction"), as a magnet ("you have to be a magnetic field. You never touch anything."), as a bridge (bridging the technical side and the management side), or as a plug ("connecting clever people to the rest of the business ... many clever people have a blind spot here born of their own conviction that their way is definitely the right way.").

The paradox is that while they don't want to be led, they need leadership in order to achieve their potential and create value for society.

Clever helps you to identify who the clevers are and in a very practical manner, what a clever organization should look like. Nestlé demonstrates the importance of clarity in the clever organization—"clear about your priorities and efficient in delivering objectives." While they are keenly aware of those aspects of the business they should never change they have been able to change and continually innovate. That means avoiding the tendency to process people, an over-reliance on systemization, an addiction to efficiency, and the division of labor and the alienation of the workforce. These tendencies are an anathema to clevers.

The authors list several dos and don’ts for leading clevers:

Explain and persuadeTell people what to do
Use expertiseUse hierarchy
Give people space and resourcesAllow them to burn out
Tell them whatTell them how
Provide boundaries (agree on simple rules)Create bureaucracy
Give people timeInterfere
Give recognition (amplify their achievements)Give frequent feedback
Encourage failure and maximize learningTrain
Protect them from the rainExpose them to politics
Give real-world challenges with constraintsBuild an ivory tower
Talk straightUse bull or deceive
Create a galaxyRecruit a star
Conduct and connectTake all the credit as the leader

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Sony Walkman Leading For Creativity

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:07 AM
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Do You Have a System for Thinking?

Gerald Sindell has developed a system for thinking through and developing ideas called The Genius Machine. The eleven step system is designed to develop and polish an existing idea, think through a complete issue, or create something entirely new—to create something with a goal in mind. “It’s fast, it’s complete, it helps people get to the bottom of what they need to think through, and it anticipates the outreach part of innovation at the very beginning.”

Ideas enter the process fuzzy, weak, and partially baked. Using the eleven steps–

Distinction (seeing something new),
Identity (knowing who you are and why you are driven to share your idea),
Implications (exploring every possible consequence of your idea),
Testing (find the breaking point),
Precedent (who else has done something like this),
Need (who will it be most valuable for / focus on your audience),
Foundation (discover the underlying principles or rules),
Completion (can your idea stand on its own),
Connecting (flattening the learning curve),
Impact (is the impact of your idea in alignment with your goals)
and Advocacy (you must champion your ideas)

–those ideas are examined from every angle and leave robust, polished, bulletproof, and ready to change the world.

Sindell says that after you use The Genius Machine for awhile it will turn you into a noticer.
You’ll start to realize that you see things no one else does. And those are the very things that are important to you. You might notice really subtle things, like how the wind blows a leaf, or you might notice the various ways an airplane flying overhead sounds to you depending on the cloud cover, or you might notice how your sister kind of rolls her eyes when she has something important she’s about to say.

Also, The Genius Machine will make you into a better listener. Now that you are paying closer attention to the differences you are seeing all the time, you will become much more acute in your sensitivity to what others are seeing and saying. You’ll be listening carefully for new distinctions that other people are making. And you’ll be on the hunt for new and important ideas.
The Genius Machine is a repeatable process that encourages the deeper exploration of complex problems for better solutions. When used properly, it becomes a thorough organized system of thinking to develop any intellectual property.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:16 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation


Newswire: Leaders as Learners and Teachers

    Steven Spear, author of The High-Velocity Edge writes, "In a commoditized world, the essence has to be developmental, not transactional. Develop and discover great opportunities and learn to exploit them."

For me the key word there is "learn." As leaders, we have to enable others to learn while being eager to learn ourselves. It is an adaptive mentality as opposed to a fixed mentality. It means improving our perception as we tend to see and therefore learn things that fit our view of the world and the future.
  • Leadership and Innovation in a Commoditized World
    by Steven Spear, HBR: Now, New Next Blog

    When interviewees at Toyota were asked to describe the best leader they had ever encountered, no one mentioned the leader who was a visionary, the one who made a tough call, the one who out thought everyone else. Instead, there was always a story about some leader who took the time to teach someone else how to learn faster, better, and with more certainty, and to teach others to do the same. One friend described an interaction with Fujio Cho, former head of Toyota, visiting a plant and gently chiding people for too much attention to accomplishments and too little on struggle points. If he didn't know what was difficult for them, he was reported to ask, how would he know where he could be of help?

    Then there was Norm Bafunno, who as part of his daily work running Toyota's Indiana plant, visited the many projects being conducted continuously. For all the discussion about what was tried and what was accomplished, he concludes with the quintessential Toyota leader question. Not, "what did you accomplish?'" but "what did you learn?"

    And that is the essence of what a leader has to do in any innovation-driven organization. Not tell people what to do but constantly challenge them to identify challenges and obstacles, investigate their source, develop and test solutions, all the time asking: "So, what did you learn from the experience and how can we put that learning to good use?"
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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:01 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , NewsWire


The How of Innovation

Rodin on Innovation

JUDITH RODIN, the then president of the Rockefeller Foundation, delivered a month ago, a thought provoking presentation on the process of innovation and its importance to solving the challenges faced in the 21st century. She believes that innovation is a skill that can be taught. Additionally, believing too, that innovation is not just a product, it’s a process, the Rockefeller Foundation is focusing their funding on the how, not just on the what. Below I have pieced together some excerpts from that speech:

Edison was arguably the first modern innovator: not just an early electrical tinkerer, but a systems thinker—a visionary—who recognized that how you innovate is as important as what you invent.

Tim Brown, CEO and President of the design firm IDEO, said it well in a recent Harvard Business Review essay: “Edison’s genius,” Brown wrote, “lay in his ability to conceive a fully developed marketplace, not simply a discrete device. Edison understood that the light bulb was little more than a parlor-trick without a system of electric power generation and transmission to make it truly useful. So, he created that too.”

Today, for firms and institutions in every sector—from the smallest nonprofits, to the biggest corporations, and at every level and branch of government—the financial crisis affords a crucial moment for innovation. And, perhaps surprising to some, according to the Wall Street Journal, America’s largest companies spent nearly as much on innovation during the last quarter of 2008 as they did during the last quarter of 2007, even as revenue declined nearly 8 percent. Call it the lesson of the iPod, the fruit of Apple’s 42 percent increase in R&D expenditures during the downturn between 1999 and 2002: Businesses that sow seeds of innovation during periods of economic contraction, studies attest, perform significantly better over the long run than those that make big cuts.

Too often, though, innovation is considered a right-brain activity. It’s equated with intuition—with a feeling that emerges from the gut-up or cortex-down. But innovation can also be a left-brain skill—an achievement of methodical experimentation, not just “aha!” inspiration. Innovation is a way of working, not just something you work on. Not only a product; a process.

In today’s world, innovation processes look different for two important reasons: First, because of technology and global interdependence, innovations that work in one place can be transmitted, translated, and transformed to work in another. Second, the intellectual processes—the methodologies—that enable innovation are increasingly user-driven, and not only by people in Manhattan, but also by those in the far reaches of Mumbai and Manila.

Indeed, technology married with interdependence gives birth to momentous changes not only in the ways we lead our lives and engage with the world, but also in the ways we learn, store, and share knowledge. Information is no longer a static, objective article, classified by Dewey decimals. It’s fluid. Because of innovations like wiki, for example, shared, collaborative knowledge development emerges in real-time from people with diverse experiences and perspectives.

The implications are incredibly far-reaching, particularly when applying “open” innovation, an approach that emerges from the revelation that the collective wisdom of strangers can be channeled to develop solutions to an array of challenges.

This entirely new concept is called “collaborative competition.” Collaborative competition facilitates two broad areas of learning: First, it identifies clusters and blank spots among proposed solutions. Problem-solvers can easily see where their counterparts are focusing and where there may be white space to propose alternative possibilities. Second, it enables collaborative revision and iteration. The sooner applicants submit their proposals, the earlier they can see others’ ideas, and the further they can sharpen their own thinking.

Still, the what was less important than the how. Hundreds of people, who never met each other—and likely never will—joined together to solve a common problem, pooling their expertise and putting their ideas into practice. This is a new way of working only possible in an interdependent world. This is smart globalization.

Like the invention of other tools—the telephone, the electrical grid, the accountant—the evolution of innovation practices helps people connect and communicate, compete and collaborate with one another in fundamentally new ways. These practices emerge not a moment too soon, for today is our once-in-a-generation opening for innovation in health care and infrastructure, energy and education, the environment, and economy—21st-century challenges that cannot be mastered with 20th-century ideas.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:29 PM
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Ten Leadership Skills You Need For An Uncertain World

Ten Leadership Skills You Need

UNCERTAINTY is a part of life. Uncertainty is a call for leadership. Creating clarity from uncertainty is a leader’s stock in trade. Unquestionably some periods of time are more demanding than others. Times like these call on leaders to take a broader view of who and why they are leading and the impact they are having on the world around them. While this is very demanding for any leader, it is also more meaningful.

In Leaders Make the Future, futurist Bob Johansen reports that volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity will only get worse in the future. “Solvable problems will still abound, but top leaders will deal mostly with dilemmas which have no solutions, yet leaders will have to make decisions anyway.”

Leaders Make the Future
Johansen emphasizes ten leadership skills that will help leaders to cope and thrive in the volatile decade ahead. “We need not passively accept the future. Leaders can and must make a better future.” Although it’s “hard to even think about the future if you are overwhelmed by the present … looking to distant possibilities can provide new insight for the present.” The ten skills he lays out move from the instinctual to the complex and build on each other. Here is a summary of Johansen’s work for you to think on:

1. Maker Instinct: The ability to exploit your inner drive to build and grow things, as well as connect with others in the making. Future leaders will need both a can-do and a can-make spirit. The maker instinct is what separates the leaders from the powerless.

2. Clarity: The ability to see through messes and contradictions to a future that others cannot see. Leaders are very clear about what they are making, but very flexible about how it gets made. How can you as a leader, create and communicate with clarity in confusing times – without being simplistic?

3. Dilemma Flipping: The ability to turn dilemmas – which, unlike problems, cannot be solved – into advantages and opportunities. We must be able to nurture the ability to engage with hopelessness, learn how to wade through it to the other side, and flip it in a more positive direction. Think Roger Martin’s concept of the “opposable mind.” How can you remake a situation with no solution?

4. Immersive Learning Ability: The ability to immerse yourself in unfamiliar environments; to learn from them in a first-person way. Immersive learning requires active attention, the ability to listen and filter, and to see patterns while staying centered – even when overwhelmed with stimuli. Leaders can’t absorb everything, so they must filter out extraneous information and learn how to recognize patterns as they are emerging.

5. Bio-Empathy: The ability to see things from nature’s point of view; to understand, respect, and learn from nature’s patterns. It is big-picture thinking that respects all the multiple interrelated parts and nonlinear relationships, as well as cycles of change.

6. Constructive Depolarizing: The ability to calm tense situations where differences dominate and communication has broken down – and bring people from divergent cultures toward constructive engagement. The next decade will be characterized by diversity and polarization. The temptation is to pick sides, but that is rarely a good strategy.

7. Quiet Transparency: The ability to be open and authentic about what matters to you – without advertising yourself. This begins with humility. Leaders who advertise themselves and take credit for their own performances will become targets. Are you self-promoting?

8. Rapid Prototyping: The ability to create quick early versions of innovations, with the expectation that later success will require early failures. Fail early, fail often, and fail cheaply. Accept failures as important ingredients to success and learn from them.

9. Smart Mob Organizing: The ability to create, engage with, and nurture purposeful business or social change networks through intelligent use of electronic and other media. Leaders are what they can organize. Can you organize smart mobs using a range of media?

10. Commons Creating: The ability to seed, nurture, and grow shared assets that can benefit other players – and sometimes allow competition at a higher level. Can you create commons within which both cooperation and competition may occur?

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5 Leadership Literacies Reciprocity Advantage

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:30 AM
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Maybe What You Need is a Little Disruption

Disruption Brought Order

How Disruption Brought Order
IN TIMES LIKE THIS we need to rethink what we are doing. Hit the reset button. Jean-Marie Dru’s prescription may be just the thing you need. Dru is the President and CEO of TWBA/Worldwide and author of How Disruption Brought Order, calls it Disruption. Disruption is “breaking with the status quo, refusing given wisdom, and finding unexpected solutions. We believe that the best way to help our clients grow their businesses is most often through strategies that involve rupture.”

In describing marketing campaigns for Nissan (Shift), Adidas (Impossible is Nothing), Apple (Think Different), and others, he shows how Disruption asks the public to see the brand in a new light and thereby refresh, transform and reinvent it. But, it’s not limited to marketing and advertising. It has application to both your business and your thinking.

“If you change nothing within a company you are sure to fail. As you also will if you try to change everything. The key to success lies within your ability to determine the fine line between what must change and what you must not.

Fiona Clancy, the TWBA Disruption Director, summaries it this way:

Disruption Is:

• Being endlessly curious
• Keeping an open mind
• Looking for new beginnings with larger futures
• Anticipating the future without fully expecting it
• Accelerating change to your client's advantage
• Recognizing patterns of success and building on them
• Being creative ahead of the usual agency creative process (Creative is not a department.)
• Turning intuition into a discipline, but without devaluing intuition
• Gaining stability from going somewhere fast
• Being in control rather than controlling
• Anticipating change rather than defending against it
• Questioning the way things are: imagining the way things could be

Disruption Is Not:

• Change for change’s sake
• Upsetting the client’s organization
• A particular creative style
• Throwing away the past
• Being deliberately wacky
• Limited to advertising

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Simple Sabotage Disrupt You

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The Block of Wood That Became the First Sony Walkman

Sony Walkman

IN The Illusion of Leadership, Piers Ibbotson explains the difference between the creative and the managerial style of leadership. “Creative leadership thinks as it works. One of the fundamentals of the creative style is that you have a leader who can frame the task so that the led will be delighted to attack it and bring their imaginations with them as they do….you cannot define in detail the outcome.” He cites the following example of the development of the Sony Walkman:

Walkman 1979The CEO goes down to the research labs where all the eggheads are working. He gathers them round and he pulls out of his shirt pocket a small block of wood. He holds it up and he says: “Make me a tape-player this big.” He puts it down on the table and he leaves.

This is good constraint. It is concrete and specific. The guys can pick it up and start measuring. They can respond immediately and the challenge focuses them immediately in the right direction.

But this is really such a good constraint because of what it not said:
  • He did not say “Make me the smallest tape-recorder you can.” (They’d still be at it.)
  • He did not say “Make me a small portable tape player.” (They might come up with something just to big to fit in your shirt pocket.)
  • He did not say “Make something new and revolutionary that will let people play music wherever they want.” (No point in encouraging them to reinvent the wheel.)
  • He did not email them a set of specifications. (How would they tell he cared about the outcome?)
He went there in person; he gave a controlled and gnomic performance in front of the people who would be doing the work. He left plenty of space for them to imagine, invent and innovate but within concrete and specific boundaries that he personally communicated. He had a partial vision of the desired outcome, but he had no idea how it would finally turn out.

He did not give them a target to hit; he gave them a field to play in.

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Leading For Creativity Leading Clever People

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Leading for Creativity

Leading For Creativity

IN A press release for Gosford Park, director Robert Altman explains, "The characters in Gosford Park had very few mandates. There are certain things that happen in the plot, and most actors will read the script and come prepared, but I don't say, 'This is the way to do it.' They have the whole sphere of their character in their head, and I don't want to cut it down to a little slice of pie. There are plenty of people [on a project] that keep track and see that we get through plot points, but if I'm just shooting to get that stuff in, then I'm looking for the wrong thing. What I really want to see from an actor is something I've never seen before, so, I can't tell them what it is.

We normally shoot a few takes, even if the first one was terrific because what I'm really hoping for is a 'mistake.' I think that most of the really great moments in my films were not planned. They were things that occurred and we thought, 'Wow, look at that - that's something we want to keep!'"

The Illusion of Leadership
This dovetails with what Piers Ibbotson writes in The Illusion of Leadership. “The best directors did not know in detail what was going to happen in the play until they saw me do it. They didn’t tell me what I should do because they didn’t know. This ability to carry on being in charge and maintaining the trust of a company, when you and I do not and cannot know in detail how things will turn out, seems to me to be at the heart of creative leadership in business and the arts.”

Because, Ibbotson believes, that people outside the arts generally misunderstand the creative process and the behaviors necessary to encourage creative teamwork, they don’t put a culture in place that promotes group creativity. It doesn’t come from competitive individualism and it needs boundaries and constraints. “The creative juices get going when you are up against a boundary, at the edge of what is acceptable, possible, or known.”

Ibbotson presents the leader as director. He explains how they release creativity and optimize innovation, how they give space to the creative drives of performers but still maintain an outcome that is true to the original vision and delivered on time and within budget. If the right culture is in place, innovation is not an issue.

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Sony Walkman Leading Clever People

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:20 AM
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Thinking Gray and Free

In The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership, author Steven Sample, shares the idea that leaders think differently. “Leaders are able to maintain their intellectual independence by thinking gray, and enhance their intellectual creativity by thinking free.”

Leaders have to deal with ambiguities and unknowns. The idea is to learn to think gray while holding firmly to your core ideals. It’s not being binary and instant in your judgments and seeing the nuances to be found in many situations.

Free thinking is more than just brainstorming. It’s brainstorming beyond your current reality. What would we do if we had no budgetary constraints, no time restrictions, no personnel problems, no legal restrictions and no fear of failure? It’s to “contemplate absolutely outrageous and impossible” ideas and solutions.
The leader whose thinking is constrained within well-worn ruts, who is completely governed by his established passions and prejudices, who is incapable of thinking either gray or free, and who can’t even appropriate the creative imagination and fresh ideas of those around him, is as anachronistic and ineffective as the dinosaur. He may by dint of circumstances remain in power, but his followers would almost certainly be better off without him.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:04 AM
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5 Leadership Lessons: Jim McNerney’s Top Tips For Implementing Innovation

5 Leadership Lessons
In Business Management magazine, senior editor Ben Tompson reports on Jim McNerney’s focus on innovation at Boeing – specifically in the development of the 787 Dreamliner.

1  Never-ending incremental improvements are vital both to sustaining current business and to opening new opportunities.

2  Today we are managing inputs on a global scale across every boundary you can imagine – across engineering disciplines and in concert with all the other business disciplines. The challenge before us is to manage information better and get more information to more people in a more usable form. That requires more than being adept at using computers, cell phones and other tools; it requires exceptional teamwork across the entire enterprise – extending from our supplier-partners, on one side, to our dealings with customers, on the other.

3  Innovation is a team sport, not a solo sport. It depends on a culture of technical sharing and openness. It takes people working together across different groups, disciplines and organizational lines to make it happen. It also takes real leadership in charting the course and inspiring people to reach for the highest level of performance, supported by a never-ending focus on integrity. [When at 3M] the company changed its mindset in two basic ways. First was to switch the emphasis from the individual to the team, and to make the team an all-inclusive concept. Second was to move away from the thought of innovation for innovation’s sake and replace it with a disciplined focus on customer-inspired innovation. A heightened focus on the customer did not and does not inhibit the flow of ideas or creativity. On the contrary, through a more disciplined, customer-based approach, 3M raised the bar.

4  Even in the laboratory, innovation should not be left to happenstance….
In a business environment, you can’t have creativity without discipline because – like it or not – not all ideas are created equal. You need the rigor and discipline both to say “no” on some projects and to put the pedal to the metal on others. As a project moves from the lab, through marketing and manufacturing, and into the field, there is a continuing need for discipline. At every stage, you must ask whether the project is on target to deliver a compelling value proposition to your customer – and, in the business-to-business world, to your customer’s customers.

5  For a company’s growth to be sustainable, it must be combined with an unrelenting emphasis on productivity. On taking everything you do and finding a way to reduce waste, cut cycle time and do everything better, so you can free up resources for the next cycle of growth.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:48 PM
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Creativity Is Not Just For Artists

Miguel Corzo

Miguel Angel Corzo, former President and CEO of The Colburn School, an accomplished leader himself and internationally recognized for his contributions to the arts, chaired a session on creativity at the What Makes Us Human? conference in Los Angeles. In his presentation, he touched on a concept that can’t be emphasized enough—the Creative Economy. We are caught up in a social and economic revolution that urgently calls for people that are creative, innovative, and adaptable.

As choreographer Twyla Tharp wrote, “Creativity is not just for artists. It’s for businesspeople looking for a new way to close a sale; it’s for engineers trying to solve a problem; it’s for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way.”

Corzo remarked, “What was once central to corporations—price, quality, and much of the left-brain, digitized analytical work associated with knowledge—is fast being shipped off to other countries. Increasingly, the new core competence is creativity—the right-brain stuff that smart companies are now harnessing to generate top-line growth. It isn't just about math and science anymore. It's about creativity, imagination, and, above all, innovation.”

It’s not just about getting better, but getting different. Everyone in an organization has the shared responsibility to be creative. We all have creativity, but we all have it differently. The challenge organizations face is to not only to utilize the creative capacities of their people but to develop them as well. Corzo outlined six ways organizations are trying to develop creative capacities in their people:

Analogy and Metaphor - not only useful for visualization, but also for problem-solving: if we can resolve an analogous situation or issue, we can perhaps then solve the particular challenge we are facing.

Perception - the ability to see patterns where others are unable to do so

Simplicity - the most creative solution could be the most simple

Adversity - dealing with obstacles through innovative thinking

Technical Mastery - using the proper tools, techniques, and methods

Persistence - New ideas, new art, new discoveries and inventions that often defy traditional concepts or aesthetics and are not readily accepted. But creativity demands that the innovator persists in the face of such obstacles.

Corzo asserted, “Creativity is the ultimate intellectual property.” He added, “The time has arrived for creative people to take their places as leaders of society in professions other than the arts. The specific talent in people with a creative intelligence is the asset most needed by today’s emerging global creative economy: the expression of ideas through design and storytelling.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:20 AM
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Integrative Thinking: The Opposable Mind

Opposable Mind

The Opposable Mind
NOT ONE to put the cart before the horse, Roger Martin understands the importance of doing but he prefers “to swim upstream to the antecedent of doing: thinking.” He writes in The Opposable Mind, “My critical question is not what various leaders did, but how their cognitive processes produced their actions.”

In examining how exemplary leaders think, he found an approach that was common to many, that he has termed integrative thinking. Integrative thinking is:

The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.

In other words, integrative thinking examines problems as a whole, taking note of the complexities that exist and embrace the tension between opposing ideas to create new alternatives that take advantage of many possible solutions.

Is integrative thinking necessary for all problems? No. For some problems, there is an easy solution. Some problems benefit from breaking them down to a single manageable issue and nailing the solution. These are generally simple, linear cause and effect problems. But there are those problems that stem from multiple avenues of causation and nonlinear relationships between cause and effect. For example, when you find yourself faced with win/lose solutions, problems to which there is no apparent solution or issues for which all of the solutions are choices between bad alternatives, then integrative thinking becomes necessary.

It’s easy to get into the destructive rut of thinking that money is the solution to most problems. School boards are notorious for claiming that their hands are tied because they lack the money they want. They cripple themselves. What they really need are creative solutions. Education is a complex issue and has for too long been subject to tunnel-vision problem-solving. They need integrative thinking.

Einstein opined that we should make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler. Too often we try to make complex issues too simple and leave ourselves with too few options based on our limited point-of-view. If we instead embrace complexity and learn to deal with it, we might find more and better solutions. Martin writes, “More salient features make for a messier problem. But integrative thinkers don’t mind the mess. In fact, they welcome it because the mess assures them that they haven’t edited out features necessary to the contemplation of the problem as a whole. They welcome complexity because they know the best answers arise from complexity.”

In The Opposable Mind, Martin clearly illustrates this thinking process in action by dissecting varied examples from both business and interpersonal situations. Martin claims that we are all born with an opposable mind—the ability to hold two conflicting ideas or models in constructive tension. “We can use that tension to think our way through to a new and superior idea….Opposing models, in fact, are the richest source of new insight into a problem. We learn nothing from someone who sees the problem exactly as we do.”

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Opposable Mind Roger Martin on Assertive Inquiry

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How To Get Great Ideas: Lessons for Brainstorming

Think Better

IN 1941, advertising man Alex Osborn (BBDO) came up with the idea of “Thinking Up” which was later changed to brainstorming by his “thinking-up” colleagues. In an excellent book about innovative and productive thinking simply titled, Think Better, author Tim Hurson reviews Osborn’s list of four essential rules for effective brainstorming:

  • Criticism is ruled out. Adverse judgment of ideas must be withheld until later.
  • Freewheeling is welcomed. The wilder the idea, the better; it is easier to tame down than to think up.
  • Quantity is wanted. The greater the number of ideas, the more the likelihood of useful ideas.
  • Combination and improvement are sought. In addition to contributing ideas of their own, participants should suggest how the ideas of others can be turned into better ideas or how two or more ideas can be joined into still another idea.

Hurson notes that studies have shown that the last third of a brainstorming session usually results in the best ideas. He calls it the miracle of the third third. “You’ll have a greater chance of coming up with that one brilliant idea if you get all the way to the third third than you will if you stop at the first “right” idea.” He writes:

The first third of the session tends to produce mundane, every-one-has-thought-of-them-before ideas. These are the early thoughts that lie very close to the surface of our consciousness. They tend not to be new ideas at all but recollections of old ideas we’ve heard elsewhere. They are essentially reproductive thoughts.

Generally, the second third of a good brainstorming session produces ideas that begin to stretch boundaries….The third third is where the diamonds lie.

He says, “Brainstorming is like cholesterol—there’s good and bad, and most people have only experienced the bad.” We have all experienced brainstorming like this:

There’s no separation of the different ideas of thinking going on. Creative, idea-generating thinking is being stopped cold by critical, judgmental think. Ideas are being killed before they’re fully articulated.

The session isn’t about new ideas at all. It’s actually a version of a sad little business game called “Guess what the boss is thinking.” Everyone in the room knows it, and so as soon as someone says the boss’s secret word, the duck comes down and the meeting is over.

Perhaps the deadliest of all, the people participating in the braindrizzle stop as soon as they come up with “the first right answer.” They satisfice on the first reasonable idea they think will solve their problem and out them out of their misery.

He adds, that “Bad brainstorming is binary; ideas are either good or bad. Good brainstorming is full of maybes." The biggest issue we face in creative thinking is our own patterns of thought that keep us on the straight and narrow. We hold ourselves back because of personal notions of what is right and wrong and what will and won’t work. There’s no magic pill to conquer this. It takes a conscious effort. He suggests though that “Generating long lists of ideas flushes those early ideas out of your head so you can make room for new ones.”

Tim Hurson is a founding partner of thinkx  intellectual capital. It is a global consultancy for productive thinking and innovation.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:53 AM
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The Great Brain Robbery

The Great Brain Robbery

IN another post I quoted Will and Ariel Durant’s observation that out of every hundred new ideas ninety-nine or more will probably be inferior to the traditional responses which they propose to replace, comes a related idea. It may take a dose of humility to accept, but whatever problem you are faced with—whether personal of professional—someone else has faced the same problem and solved it. Although it sometimes gives us comfort to think we are different, we are not totally unique in this way.

Paul Sloan, author of The Innovative Leader, says that we should harness other people’s solutions. Ray Considine called it The Great Brain Robbery. Baseball Hall-of-Fame inductee, Bill Veeck said, “There’s nothing wrong with stealing other people’s ideas. And anyone who doesn’t is presumptuous. Because there simply aren’t that many new ideas. You simply take something used somewhere else and adopt it for your own use.” These people aren’t talking about plagiarism. What they are saying is that we should find ideas that have worked for others and adapt them to our own life situations and to make them our own. By careful observation, you can start where others have finished and be the better for it. This is part of the thinking behind listening to others (especially your elders), reading biographies and histories. Armed with the knowledge of what others have done, you can jumpstart your problem-solving capabilities.

Paul Sloan relates this example: “Doctors had a problem with hypodermic needles. Patients were afraid of them. Children dreaded them. The pain the needles caused was not intense bit it was unpleasant and it dissuaded many people from having important injections. So the doctors asked – Who else has this problem? Who else injects into people and has solved this problem? The answer was quickly given. Mosquitoes insert a tiny needle into people and extract blood. They carry the deadly malaria virus. They go about their deadly work without being felt. By studying how the mosquito stings its victims, scientists were able to develop a hypodermic needle that patients do not feel.”

Sloan adds, “A successful innovation in your business does not have to be an all-new invention. It just has to be something new to your business that is beneficial…. Maybe every consulting firm does it but yours is the first doctors’ surgery to try it.” You need to cast your net widely and look around for connections in otherwise unrelated fields and disciplines and make their solutions your solutions. What can you adapt?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:43 AM
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The Innovation Mindset

Innovation Mindset

The Myths of Innovation
INNOVATION involves looking for change for the purpose of exploiting it. As Drucker explained, it’s really a social or an economic term as opposed to a technical term. It's a term that is thrown around far too loosely today. Rarely does a bright idea become an innovation. It usually stays what it is—a bright idea. Scott Berkun helps us to get some perspective on innovation in his book The Myths of Innovation. In his excellent and highly readable discussion of innovation, he explains the truth behind our popular ideas and misconceptions about innovation. While there may be no methodology, there is some good advice. He offers some attitudes one can adopt that are conducive to creating paths to innovation.

First, we must understand how we cloud our own judgment. We all make decisions based in part, on how we feel. “The best business opportunity might be the least interesting personal challenge, and vise versa.”

Second, be willing to step back. “Many successful innovators work passionately, but periodically step back and ask, ‘What is happening in the world that impacts my goals?' or ‘What else is my work good for?’ Innovation is powered by the combination of intensity and a willingness to reconsider assumptions, minimizing the chance of following dead ends and maximizing the potential for finding better paths.”

Third, keep ego in its place. “Changing the world or revolutionizing an industry is a nice fantasy, but it’s foolish to start with those ambitions because they’re out of any individual’s control. It makes more sense to attack a specific problem in a known field; only as successes accrue should the ambition grow.” Drucker wrote, “Those entrepreneurs who start out with the idea that they’ll make it big—and in a hurry—can be guaranteed failure. They are almost bound to do the wrong things.”

Finally, honor luck and the past. “Honoring luck doesn’t diminish an accomplishment: it’s an acknowledgment to others that you can do everything right and fail, and do many things wrong and succeed.

When looking at the great innovations of the past, Berkun cautions us that “these glorified accounts present innovation in a distorted way that is impossible to achieve because the neat arcs of progress, clear sense of purpose, and certainty of success are heavily shaped, if not invented, by hindsight.” Innovation is messy, hard work.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:11 AM
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Fast Company Interview with Sir James Dyson

James Dyson

THE discussions on Appreciative Intelligence and Charles Pellerin’s views on the social leadership aspects of project management, parallel a good short interview in the May issue of Fast Company with Sir James Dyson. Here are a couple of his comments:

FC: You once described the inventor's life as "one of failure." How so?

I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That's how I came up with a solution. So I don't mind failure. I've always thought that schoolchildren should be marked by the number of failures they've had. The child who tries strange things and experiences lots of failures to get there is probably more creative.

FC: Not all failures lead to solutions, though. How do you fail constructively?

We're taught to do things the right way. But if you want to discover something that other people haven't, you need to do things the wrong way. Initiate a failure by doing something that's very silly, unthinkable, naughty, dangerous. Watching why that fails can take you on a completely different path. It's exciting, actually.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:13 PM
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Charles Pellerin on Project Management

Appreciative Intelligence

APPRECIATIVE INTELLIGENCE—the ability to perceive the positive inherent generative potential within the present—is an important component to develop as part of organizational culture. AI contributes to a high incidence of innovation and creativity and the potential development of previously unnoticed strengths in people. This happens by the actions of leaders at all levels, to encourage people to look at everyday issues—the commonplace—in a new way; by telling a new story.

Former Director of Astrophysics for NASA, Charles Pellerin believes that most projects fail around social and leadership issues. Both "unknown and unnamed" social undercurrents are at the root of many, if not most, project difficulties. NASA publication, ASK Magazine talked to him about project management and how social and leadership issues come to play in why projects fail. Here are some excerpts from that interview:

Can you explain what you mean by "social issues," and how they relate to leadership?

I began to see a pattern repeated far too often when a successful project manager would get promoted or leave a project for some reason. I would replace him with someone who looked just as good on paper, but three months later, all of a sudden, the project started to fall apart. Milestones got missed. Reserves depleted too fast.

I was frustrated that I couldn't anticipate and recognize the difference between project managers who were going to succeed and project managers who were doomed to fail. We could predict things like sensor performance. We could understand the detectors. We could understand the power systems. But we couldn't understand this one critical, invisible piece: What makes a good manager?

Was it the magnitude of the Hubble telescope problems, launching it with a flawed mirror, which brought this all to a head?

Yes, exactly. If you go back to what was happening at the time, we launched Hubble in 1990 and very soon thereafter we found that a technical person had made an error. At first we thought, "Now at least we know what the error was. We can figure out how to fix it." And that's just what we did -- we fixed it. This would appear to be a very happy story for me; I got a NASA medal for the repair mission.

That's all well and good, but then I said, "Wait a minute. We should have had systems in place to find this kind of thing." The procedures are written. The engineers sign them. Safety & Quality Assurance stamps it all to verify that this is being done properly along the way.

Hubble was the final straw for me. I needed to understand what had happened, because when I looked around me I realized it was commonplace. I mean, take a look at Challenger. It was not, in a sense, a technical failure. It was another human communications failure. I knew a bunch of those people. They were damn good managers and engineers, but they got caught in a story. They created an environment where it wasn't safe to tell the truth.

That's interesting how you describe it as people who got "caught in a story." How do stories figure into this leadership quotient?

The stories that you carry affect how you make decisions in your life. That's why I'm very interested in the stories we tell. We all perceive reality through the filter of the "stories" we believe. We create stories to make sense of our experience. And, we act within this context as if it were truth, because to each of us it feels like truth.

You said that leadership was at the core of the Hubble mishap. Do you find evidence of this in other projects?

Sure. Diane Vaughn, in her book The Challenger Launch Decision, said she was a year into her study before she realized that then-accepted accounts of what happened were wrong. Vaughn concluded that the disaster was caused by an "incremental descent into poor judgment." And she went on to say that the technical risks grew out of social issues. Notice the word "social" again. She realized that signals of potential danger had been repeatedly "normalized." That was okay in the context of the stories their culture supported.

This would help to explain the recent experiment reported in the Washington Post by Gene Weingarten to discover if violinist Josh Bell—and his Stradivarius—could stop busy commuters in their tracks. Surprisingly, he did not. If our story is to ignore street musicians and includes the belief that no famous musician would ever do it, then we will ignore street musicians and we will not scan the streets looking for our favorite artists. (If you haven’t read it yet, do so. It’s a great story.)

Pellerin has been developing since his retirement from NASA in 1995, a leadership/culture assessment and learning system called "Four-Dimensional (4-D) Leadership." He states, “We began with workshops, and then added coaching, and now have Web-based diagnostics customized for NASA projects. Simply put, we make three measurements in each of the social dimensions -- directing, visioning, relating and valuing—that we believe are fundamental to effective leadership and efficient cultures.

“I truly believe that we can identify and address the root cause of most project difficulties. That's my story. And many of the projects I'm working with are choosing to run that story as well -- because they see results. You know, no story is "good" or "bad." Some just get you the results you want and some don't.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:21 AM
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Appreciative Intelligence

Appreciative Intelligence

IN April 1990, shuttle Discovery launched the Hubble Space Telescope into its planned orbit. However, within weeks it became obvious that there was a serious problem with the primary mirror. Authors Tojo Thatchenkery and Carol Metzker describe the events that followed in their book Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn.

Congress demanded an explanation for the failure. The project and its creators became the butt of late-night television jokes. Stress was high among NASA engineers, as were health problems. “It was traumatic,” said Charlie Pellerin, the former director of NASA’s astrophysics division, who oversaw the launch of the Hubble. Nobody could see how to fix the problem, which many seemed afraid even to address.

Well, nobody except Pellerin. He not only had the initial insight to solve the problem but also found the funding and the resources to repair the telescope, for which he received NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal.

What was behind Pellerin’s success? There were dozens of other people at NASA with high IQ and world-class technical knowledge—they were, after all, rocket scientists. They could perform the same analysis, use the same logic, and wield the same models and mathematical formulas.

Pellerin possessed something more than the others did: Appreciative Intelligence. While he lived with the same conditions and circumstances as everyone else, his mind perceived reality very differently than others did. He reframed the situation as a project that was not yet finished, not as a completed product that had failed. He saw the potential for a positive future situation—a working space telescope. He saw how that positive future could happen as the result of technical solutions—a corrective optics package and repairs performed by a crew of astronauts—that were already possible with a rearrangement of funding and resources that already existed within NASA. By reframing, recognizing the positive, or what worked, and envisioning the repaired telescope, he was able to help orchestrate the unfolding of a series of events that changed the future.

Appreciative Intelligence is defined as “the ability to perceive the positive inherent generative potential within the present.” More simply, it is “the ability to see the mighty oak in the acorn. It is the ability to reframe a given situation (or person), to appreciate its positive aspects, and to see how the future unfolds from the generative aspects of the current situation.” These three characteristics form the foundation of appreciative intelligence.

Reframing is about shifting reality by choosing what feedback we will ignore and what feedback we will pay attention to. Appreciating the positive is the ability to see the positive aspects of any given situation. To see how the future unfolds from the present refers to the ability to see what can be done instead of what can’t. Appreciative intelligence is the mindset that allows you to step back and access the situation and move forward instead of being thwarted by circumstances.

Appreciative Intelligence
Appreciative intelligence can, of course, be developed by consciously expanding your responses to situations as they occur. Asking yourself different questions by questioning your assumptions (what you know to be right), looking for positive and different meaning in what you experience, and becoming what Saul Bellow calls a first-class noticer, will help you improve your appreciative intelligence.

Additionally, keep in mind the AI qualities of persistence, conviction that your actions matter, tolerance for uncertainty, and irrepressible resilience. As these qualities develop, so too will your creativity and success in finding a resolution to the issues you face. Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn provides in more detail what I have outlined here.

Tomorrow we’ll look at what Charles Pellerin has to say about leadership and project management.

Additional Interest:
  The Prepared Mind of a Leader: Eight Skills Leaders Use to Innovate, Make Decisions, and Solve Problems
  Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:42 AM
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In Difference Lies the Potential to Contribute


WE tend to think that if we get the smartest people all together in one room, we will get the best solutions. In a very readable book, The Difference, Scott Page shows that in fact diversity in thinking and perspective produces more and better solutions and contributes to overall productivity. He maintains that “when confronted with a difficult task, be it solving a problem, predicting the future, or making a choice, we benefit by including diverse people.” Value can be added just by virtue of its being different. How many disciplines have benefited from interdisciplinary approaches? Diversity doesn’t necessarily mean black/white or men/women, but diversity in thinking and perspective. He notes that “cognitive diversity increases innovation. Preference diversity leads to squabbles.” So we’re looking for relevant diversity and informed intelligence.


The trap we fall into is that we prefer to continue to work with and consult people who think like us—people with the same general background and types of experiences. The familiarity is more comfortable and seems right to us. In the end, we get the same way of looking at things and we bring the same kinds of tools to the table to tackle our problems. We miss important clues. If one of us gets stuck, then we all get stuck. “People who think alike get stuck.” We also create barriers to innovation and radically new ideas.

A preference for working with people who bring the same formal perspectives to bear on a problem leads to segregation by function in firms and by discipline in the academy. In each case, the tendency to interact only with people like us creates the same micro-level dynamic. Each culture in a society, each identity group in a city, each department in a university, and each functional area of a firm ends up building walls around itself. As these walls become higher, the members of each group—be they Evangelicals, African Americans, chemists, or accountants—find themselves inside silos of their own creation.


He suggests that we should not only get more kinds of people involved in tackling the issues, we should also encourage our people to think differently by giving them time to pursue individual projects that interest them (varied experience) and by creating skunk works type groups within the organization. He observes, “as individuals, we can accomplish only so much. We’re limited in our abilities. Our heads contain only so many neurons and axons. Collectively, we face no such constraint. We possess an incredible capacity to think differently. These differences can provide the seeds of innovation, progress, and understanding.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:56 AM
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We Are Educating People Out of Their Creative Capacities

Out of Their Creative Capacities

HERE is a presentation worth watching from the TED 2006 Conference. Sir Ken Robinson is author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, and a leading expert on innovation and human resources. In this talk, he makes an entertaining (and profoundly moving) case for creating an education system that nurtures creativity, rather than undermining it.

We don’t know what the future is going to look like, but we do know that it is moving away from the right brain dominated tasks brought on by the industrial revolution. (See Dank Pink’s, A Whole New Mind.) Robinson observes that our educational system is predicated on the idea of academic ability to meet the needs of industrialism. Yet it is this educational system is meant to take us into this unknown future. To meet this future we need to begin to educate the whole being.

Here are some thoughts from his presentation:

Creativity is as important as literacy and we should treat it with the same status. We don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it; or rather we get educated out of it.”

“I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value more often than not comes about from through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.”

His comments on making mistakes are important because I believe that we really only pay lip service to this in our personal lives, our families and organizations. Robinson states, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original. By the time we become adults we are afraid to be wrong. We run our company this way. We stigmatize mistakes and as a result, we are educating people out of their creative capacities.” How true. But I think it comes second nature to us to respond to mistakes in this way. It is something that we really need to be conscious of.

Beyond personal growth, the issues he raises in his presentation have far-reaching implications for developing and more importantly sustaining a learning organization. Einstein wrote, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” We lose the true value of our people by stigmatizing mistakes. Not all mistakes are acceptable of course, but a genuine mistake that people are taking responsibility for and learning from should be rewarded and encouraged. John Wooden said, “If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes.” By treating mistakes and failures as a positive learning experience, people get better and make fewer and fewer mistakes.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:43 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Learning


Five Great Innovation Myths

McNerney 5 Innovation Myths

BOEING'S former Chairman and CEO, Jim McNerney delivered a speech to the National Center for Healthcare Leadership and he spoke about innovation. He stressed that innovation is a team sport. It is best brought about by people working together across different groups and organizational lines. And it ought to be part of everyone’s job.

He asks, how do you cultivate innovation?

For starters, you should do no harm. Unfortunately, there are a number of popular but damaging misconceptions about innovation. From personal experience, I have seen how these romantic but misguided notions can lead to dysfunctional behavior—serving only to discourage creativity and growth. So here are five great innovation myths (Do you see these in your organization?):

Myth #1: It's the solitary genius who is responsible for most innovation.
Myth #2: It's all about technology. The techies are the only innovators.
Myth #3: If it isn't "New to the world," it's not innovation.
Myth #4: Innovation can't be "managed." It's a matter of serendipity. An accident. Or luck.
And Myth #5: As a follow-on to Number 4, creativity and discipline are mortal enemies.

Leaders who take over companies with a long-pedigree of success often find mid-life crises in the form of these myths ... largely because they are rooted in a desire for life to remain more or les cluttered and simpler than it's become.

3M was one of those companies that were faced with this transition. It had lost its edge on the real reasons why innovation happens. McNerney added:

The team and I set out to change the mindset of the company in two basic ways:

First was to switch the emphasis from the individual to the team, and to make the team an all-inclusive concept.

Second was to move away from the thought of innovation for innovation's sake and to replace that with a disciplined focus on customer-inspired innovation.

He concluded with:

Apollo 13

I opened this discussion with the Apollo 13 story because it illustrates what an organization on the top of its form can do, in bouncing back from near catastrophe. The astronauts and the ground crews came up with one innovation after another—and none of those innovations, I might add, was especially high-tech. What they really involved was the brilliant use of scarce resources, a magnificent display of teamwork across a large organization, and the kind of gutsy decision-making that is the true mark of an organization with a high leadership component.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:31 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation


Innovation From the Inside Out

Innovation From the Inside Out

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF'S book, Get Back in the Box is worth going back to take a look at. He sees our current creative dearth as the beginning of a new innovative age. The tough part is proving to ourselves that genuine creativity is a result not of out-of-the-box thinking, but of true expertise. Experience counts. The chief barrier tends to have less to do with any external obstacle or competition than with our own reluctance to engage in our own enterprises. In other words, we need to get back to what got us fired-up in the first place. Understand what we are doing from the inside out.

Innovation and meaning come from what we are passionate about. It's intrinsic. We need to take on a playful approach. Yet play is hard work. So instead we try to cover up and distract ourselves and our employees from the issues and delay the inevitable. Consider this observation from the book:

"Employers are busy installing foosball tables, hiring chefs, and building gyms for their increasingly disgruntled employees, but these are just ways of trying to make a bad situation more tolerable. A foosball table is not the sign of a fun place to work; it's a glaring symbol indicating that work is not fun and employees need a break. Why would they rather be playing foosball than doing whatever it is they have been hired to do."

Some food for thought.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:07 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation




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