It was a moment made for instant Internet fame. At the RNC, actor Clint Eastwood delivered what was supposed to be a rousing take-down of the sitting president of the United States of America. The moment was spoiled, however, by the fact that President Obama was not actually there.
Instead, viewers laughed uneasily as Clint spent 11 long minutes lecturing to an empty chair.
Clint had barely exited the stage when the Internet meme was born. #Eastwooding - as talking to an empty chair came to be called - spread like wildfire as Twitter users crowed about how ridiculous it was to fake a conversation with someone who wasn't actually there.
But #Eastwooding is far more common than people think—especially during ideation.
Think about it. Has your team ever gathered to generate ideas and left your consumer out? My point is, when you're creating a new product or service that is designed to fulfill the unmet needs of your consumers, they should have an actual seat at the table—not an imaginary one.
Here's why it's so important to fill that empty chair:
Data sheets are no substitute for personal stories and insights.
If you're trying to generate ideas, no doubt you’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand your consumer. You've done statistical and focus group research to learn how your consumer behaves and how they react. You've compiled data about how they buy and use your product, and other products. You know what is important to them.
But when you're doing that kind of research, you miss out on the very personal stories that crystalize why your consumers behave the way they do.
There's a vast difference between clear, concise quantitative data that says moms do laundry because they love their kids, and sitting only feet away as a consumer holds up a picture of her sons and says:
Data sheets and consumer polls are tools that tell you what's most important to your consumers. But hearing consumer insights straight from their mouths is what solidifies that data's importance in your mind and emphasizes the importance of including it in your idea generation.
An empty chair means someone else's perspective is ultimately the most important.
If the chair is empty, it's easy to assign your own assumptions about beliefs and behaviors onto your consumers. When Clint was talking to an invisible President Obama, the only voice the President had was the one assigned to him. Obama couldn't explain why he made certain decisions, or what was most important to him, or even attempt to change the tone of the conversation. Instead, what mattered was how Clint thought the President would respond—and what responses best suited Clint's objectives.
Ideation is not a neutral activity. There are always people who want to direct how it goes and the types of ideas that emerge.
Maybe a leader wants their ideas to be recognized. Maybe team members want to make sure that the ideas of their leader rise to the top. Maybe a scientist or a lawyer want to make sure that the team goes nowhere near ideas that the company can't make happen. Maybe the entire team wants to enter a new market in a certain way. Those factors all influence ideation sessions.
But when consumers are sitting there, they cannot be ignored. If an ideation session goes completely off base, they can tell you. If you start making assumptions about why they behave in a certain way, they can tell you that's not the case. Or if your team can't figure out why consumers do something, they can shed light on the situation.
When the consumers’ chairs are empty in ideation, they're at risk of being the least important people in the room.
There's no way to build out of the box.
When the consumer's chair is empty, you’ll ultimately find yourself at an impasse during ideation. Your team knows all about your product or service—and all about what is possible in the real world. That expertise about your subject area ultimately puts a box around the possibilities you can generate.
On the other hand, your consumers know nothing about the rules, regulations and natural laws around your product or service. They are, however, experts on themselves. You might have research on hand about your consumers’ lives—but they live them. They live in the situations that lead them to make purchasing decisions and they have the unmet needs you're trying to fill.
When you seat the consumer at the table during an ideation session, you can combine your expert knowledge about the product with their expert knowledge about how they live their lives
And, most importantly, you can use your consumers' as launching-off points. You can pitch an idea over to them, and then they'll put a different spin on it when they send it back.
During ideation, your consumers will push your team to open their minds to new possibilities. Then your team can challenge your consumers for new possibilities in order to make something crazy work. Both groups challenge each other to go beyond their relative expertise to come up with something that they wouldn't have on their own—and the results are often something completely new. That can't happen with a one-sided conversation.
Clint Eastwood's speech at the Republican National Convention is generating such attention online because he pretended to have a full conversation with someone who wasn't there.
The real problem with Clint's speech wasn't that he looked silly talking to an empty chair. The problem was that by talking to an empty chair, he missed out on the most important parts of an actual conversation.
Don't risk doing that when you ideate. Giving your consumers a seat at the table during idea generation allows you to bring in their personal experiences and their expertise about their own lives—and ensures that their voice is heard over all the other competing objectives in the room. That's how to come up with ideas that truly resonate in the market.
Katie Konrath helps companies come up with "ideas so fresh... they should be slapped" at leading innovation company Ideas To Go. If you're interested in having her speak to your organization, she'd love to hear from you.
This post was originally published on the Ideas To Go Blog.
© 2012 Katie Konrath. For permission to republish, please contact.
July 28th, 2012. London. A man on the verge of glory climbed on the starting blocks of his first final of the 2012 Summer Games. Earlier that day, he had unexpectedly squeaked his way into the final by only 0.07 of a second. As he crouched for the start, the crowd roared for him. When the buzzer blew, he did something that no one expected: he finished a well-beaten fourth.
Two days later, Michael Phelps became the greatest Olympic athlete ever as his 18th and 19th Olympic medals were placed around his neck. Over the next days, he added three more—finishing his career with more Olympic medals than 82 countries.
Yet even as his name was written in the history books, it was obvious that the rest of the world had finally caught up.
He was still magnificent, but Michael Phelps was no longer unstoppable.
In the world of innovation, those shocking upsets lurk on every successful product’s horizon. An amazing product like the iPhone will take over the market. Challengers quickly rise and are just as quickly vanquished. Like Michael Phelps in 2008, the new product seems unstoppable.
Until suddenly, shockingly, it’s not.
Like Michael Phelps, the iPhone is without a doubt the greatest competitor in its category. No phone has sold so much and so consistently been tops for so many years. It has also worn the unstoppable label.
But right before it was named the most valuable company in history, Apple also tasted defeat. When customers bought 2.5 million fewer iPhones than expected this spring, Apple missed its earnings goal - something it has only done a handful of times in the past decade. At the same time, Samsung announced the Galaxy S3 smartphone—and the world pounced.
Before the Galaxy S3 even left the factory at the end of May, it had over 9 million pre-orders (2 times more pre-orders than for the latest iPhone.) In a shocking upset, the Galaxy S3 became the fastest-selling gadget in history.
What happened? How did Apple and Michael Phelps fall so short so fast?
Quite simply, they lost their hunger to push the envelope. They had reached the top—and instead of pushing to reach the next level—they paused to enjoy the moment.
Between Beijing and London, Michael Phelps cut down the mileage he swam and dabbled in alternative training methods. Competitors such as 400 IM gold medalist Ryan Lochte trained harder—and their intensity paid off. Phelps even admitted after the 400 IM that he had come up short at the end of the race.
Like Phelps, Apple stopped being so hungry this past year. The highly-anticipated iPhone 5 did not arrive in 2011 as expected. Instead, Apple disappointed with iPhone 4S—an improved fourth generation iPhone. Upgraded hardware and a nifty new speaking app simply weren’t enough to hold the lead when Samsung sought to change the game with their Galaxy S3.
When companies have a successful product, it’s tempting for them to take that as an opportunity to catch their breath and enjoy their success. But that’s when it’s most critical to keep the hunger level alive!
The instant something reaches the top, challengers have a benchmark and a target.
Between Beijing and London, elite swimmers studied Michael Phelps’ success. They studied his fitness regimen, analyzed his stroke and matched everything he did right. And then they dedicated themselves to going beyond.
The same thing happened with the iPhone. Samsung took some parts of the iPhone that consumers loved—and then asked themselves, “What’s next?” They studied consumer trends, gathered insights and unmet needs—and then set off to create a game-changer. And they succeeded.
In London, Michael Phelps was able to pull himself back to the top—but it was obvious that he was no longer an unstoppable force. In October, Apple has a chance to regain their dominance when the iPhone 5 hits shelves—but they are no longer the innovator to beat.
Reaching the top is an incredible feat—but staying at the top means staying hungry. There’s always a challenger waiting in the wings to take it away.
Katie Konrath helps companies come up with "ideas so fresh... they should be slapped" at leading innovation company Ideas To Go. If you're interested in having her speak to your organization, she'd love to hear from you.
This post was originally published on the Ideas To Go Blog.
When you’re figuring out how to brand yourself for your dream career, you spend oodles of time discovering what you need to demonstrate in your brand to achieve your goals. But, what if I were to tell you that – no matter your field of how much pondering you’ve done – you’re probably forgetting to emphasize the single most important skill you need?
This is a skill that gets a lot of hype, but at the same time, usually gets pushed aside. It’s a skill that everyone has, and can develop more fully – although it’s also one often believed to be soley an innate skill. It’s also one of those soft skills that isn’t quantifiable. But most importantly, it’s the skill that over 1500 CEOS from over 33 industries worldwide believe is the ”most important leadership competency of the future”.
Do you have it? Depends – how creative do you consider yourself?
In a 2010 global survey by IBM, CEOs worldwide ranked creativity as a more essential skill than dedication, ability to manage, integrity or vision for the leaders of tomorrow. Be assured though, that when they talk about creativity, it’s not about the artsy, sparkly meaning that is often given to the word.
This is the creativity that deals with new markets, new competitors, rising levels of complexity and everything else that results from an increasingly-connected global world where change happens daily.
In order to be on top – or to get there in the first place – it’s no longer enough for companies to manage themselves effciently. No, in order to be successful today, companies of all sizes need to create. Investing in creativity gives a company more strength and security than any other thing it can do.
Companies know this, and they’re looking for people – either as employees or as consultants – who are creative and can help them thrive.
At this point, some of you will probably be protesting that you’re simply not creative – so your personal brand will be fine without espousing any creativity. (“Thank you very much.”) And you wouldn’t be alone in saying this. A recent study by the European Centre for Strategic Innovation that found that 67% of business leaders believe great innovators are born and not made.
However, it’s absolute hogwash to say you’re not creative. (And taking the easy way out.)
Renowned innovation researcher Clayton Christensen and the other authors of The Innovator’s DNA have found that people who believe they are creative become so. Other researchers have found in studies of identical twins that (unlike intelligence) only 30% of creative ability has a basis in genetics. And innovation gurus like Edward de Bono, Michael Michalko, Genrich Altshuller and many more have developed techniques that anyone can use to generate ideas.
Instead, as those researchers, innovation gurus and the CEOs in the IBM study have found, creativity is a skill that can be developed – and should. Every person has the ability to be creative: they just need to find the right technique that works with their style of thinking.
So, if you don’t already consider yourself creative and are not demonstrating your creativity already in your brand – or you are not actively learning how to become more creative, you’re leaving a giant hole in your personal brand. Are you willing to risk not having the “most important leadership competency of the future”?
Katie Konrath helps companies come up with "ideas so fresh... they should be slapped" at leading innovation company Ideas To Go. If you're interested in having her speak to your organization, she'd love to hear from you.
This post was originally published on the Personal Branding Blog.
When's the last time you got a reminder that not everyone thinks the same way you do? I did not long ago - and I'm still laughing about it!
A couple months ago, I was in San Francisco for a meeting with co-workers. I decided to stay over the weekend to play tourist - and just for fun, arranged my schedule so I could play a game with the local underwater hockey team.
Before I left, another Minnesota Underwater Hockey player and I chatted on Facebook about how cool it was that I'd get to swim with the San Francisco Sea Lions on Friday night. I mentioned I was even bringing my own fins! I was really excited!
That night, in San Francisco, one of my co-workers approached me with a concerned look on her face. She touched my arm and asked "Are you really swimming with sea lions on Friday?" When I nodded, she continued, "I didn't know you could do that. Isn't it really dangerous?"
Taken aback, I realized that my co-worker was on the verge of an intervention. Why? Because she was expecting me to get in the water with this:
Not quite the same thing at all! We both had an image in our mind about the Sea Lions - but our perspectives were very, very different!
This is why I prefer to generate ideas with others even though I'm an introvert.
|Every single person brings a completely different perspective to an ideation session that is based on their personal history and knowledge base. And that's excellent for ideation because it expands the range of possibiliities exponentially.|
When I brainstorm on my own, it's easy to get stuck on a single train of thought. But just bringing another person into the conversation will usually bring up a connection or direction that wouldn't have come up otherwise.
And if you take everyone's different perspectives as a jumping off point for ideation, you can really get a diverse set of ideas. (Which is exactly what you want!)
For the record though, if you ever come across me chatting casually about playing with Sea Lions, Loons, Swordfish, Hammerheads, Oysters or Narwhals - you can rest assured that they won't be the biting kind!
Without a doubt, San Francisco is one of the most innovative places on earth. But when I was there, I found myself irresistably drawn to a place that has actually shunned innovation for its premier product - and provided me with a fascinating lesson on how even the best innovation can fail.
The Boudin Bakery, the bakery that makes the delicious sourdough on Fishermans' Wharf, has been using the same sourdough starter since it opened in 1849. In fact, keeping this original "mother dough" was so important that bakery owner Louise Boudin risked her life to save it during the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.
I don't blame her. Their sourdough bread is incredible! I tried to eat my weight in it during the week I was in San Francisco.
During my tour of their bakery though, I was intrigued by the description of the delivery cart in the picture above. It's one of the Boudin Bakery's old delivery wagons - and it's fascinating because the text talks about how bakers actually shunned using automobiles for their delivery routes long after they became the preferred method of transportation!
At first glance, this really took me aback! Why would a business shun a new technology that requires less upkeep, works faster and more consistantly, and - ahem - doesn't necessitate constant manure clean-up???? Seems like a slam dunk to me!
As it turns out though, some mental ethnography reveals exactly why bakeries were so unimpressed by the "advantages" of the automobile for bread delivery.
To understand, pretend you're an automobile salesperson interested in selling your newfangled automobiles to the Boudin Bakery. You really want to make them your client, so you've decided to let the delivery boys try your automobiles during the delivery morning route.
Imagine your sales attempt goes something like this:
You show up at the crack of dawn to hand the lucky delivery boys their key to a shiny new car. They're thrilled: "You just hop in this thing, turn this key and go?" they ask with a big smile on their face.
"Absolutely!" You reply. "No more taking care of horses - all you have to do is turn it on when you want it!" And then the delivery boys are off!
While you wait, you sit down to enjoy a delicious sourdough loaf and chat with the bakery owner how much faster automobiles go than horses. He can barely contain his excitment - it seems he'll be saving a lot of time (and money) with this newfangled invention.
When the sun is fully in the sky, the delivery boys return and the bakery owner heads off to hear their report. You're feeling great - and are supremely confident that your automobile has sold itself.
Finally, the bakery owner comes your way. He tosses you the keys and says "I want nothing to do with those automobiles. I'd rather keep my horses!"
Wait! What? That's not how this story is supposed to go. The baker should be begging for the keys. Isn't the automobile cleaner, faster and more convenient than the horses currently being used to deliver bread? What in the world just happened?!!!
Sure there must have been a mistake, you convince the bakery owner to give your automobiles another chance. And just in case of technical problems, you'll ride along with a deliver boy the next morning. Here's how that went:
Early the next morning, you show up bright and early as the delivery boys are loading their horse carts. You jump in the passanger seat with the delivery boy who will be driving your auto, and off you go with an enormous stack of bread loaves to deliver to the bakery customers.
The ride-along goes great. You drive to the first customer's house, the delivery boy turns the auto off, gets out, and delivers the loaf. Then he hops back in the automobile with you, turns it on, drives to the next customer and repeats the cycle until finally the loaves are gone. Then it's back to the bakery - and you're totally mystified. It seems like everything went perfectly and the delivery was a success.
After the delivery, you sit down with the bakery owner and give him your sales pitch again. He signs and says, "Look: I love the automobile. I love how it takes less effort to get it ready and how I only need to pay attention to it when we're actually delivering bread. But it just doesn't work for my business."
He then explains that even though horsedrawn carts take more effort around delivery hours, they're radically more efficient during delivery times.
How? Because the horses learn their delivery routes. That means the delivery boy can set the horse on the route, and then jump on and off the cart to deliver loaves of bread to customers' doorsteps while the horse keeps slowly walking forward!
With an auto, the delivery boy had to start and stop the vehicle for every customer - which makes absolutely no sense when doors are less than 20 feet apart. With a horse, the cart never stops and advances just far enough that the delivery boy never has to backtrack. As a result, the loaves of bread get to their customers faster and more efficiently - which is essential for a business that has to deliver freshly baked bread just in time for breakfast!
Suddenly, it's clear why automobiles had no appeal to a bakery owner. In a business where speed of delivery was everything, horses were a clear winner.
Horses might require more upkeep before and after the delivery - but in the bakery, that didn't matter. Delivery drivers had time while the bread was baking to get the horses ready, and time after the delivery to unharness the horses and care for them.
Efficiency and speed during the delivery window were the bakers' priorities, and the automobile simply could not compete with their old method of delivery!
Luckily, as it turns out, bakeries were not the only target market for automobile manufacturers. And in the long run, autos did win out over horses.
But to me, hearing this story really drove home the point that it's absolutely essential to understand what motivates your target audience when you're inventing a new product for them. Automobile companies weren't targeting their product solely to bakery owners - but if they were, they would have had to focus on different priorities in order to make their product a success. Otherwise, we might still be driving to work in our horsedrawn carriages!
"There are no bad ideas" is always the first thing everyone will tell you when you're learning how to be creative. No matter how outlandish, or dangerous, or downright impractical - every idea has value in an idea-generation session.
That's because even a bad idea has something in it that made it pop up in your head.
So, instead of dismissing a bad idea, you throw yourself at it like you want to know everything you possibly can about it. What prompted the idea? What's the benefit? Who does it benefit? What do you like about this idea? What would make this idea work for you?
Once you've done that exploration of the "bad idea", then it's time to start coming up with new ideas based on the stuff you like about the "bad idea". That's how real innovation starts. You take a new concept or benefit, and you find a new way to make it happen.
But what happens if an idea is so bad that your internal censors automatically and unconsciously squash it before the idea even forms in your mind? What if the current modus operandi is so solidified in your head that something wildly different never even has a chance of occurring to you?
For example, I recently saw the shoe pictured above at a department store. Notice anything... um... unusual about it?
If I were a shoe designer, I would never in a million years have created a high-heeled shoes that didn't actually have a heel. It simply wouldn't have occurred to me.
Judging by the millions of other shoes I've seen, not many real shoe designers have ever imagined this either. It probably never crossed any of their minds - or if it did, it it was probably dismissed at light speed as something that would never work.
But it does work. People actually can walk in those shoes - real people, not just Lady Gaga and Posh Spice. They're even sold at normal everyday stores like Nordstroms, Urban Outfitters and even on Zappos.
The shoe market is a very crowded one and it's near impossible to really stand out. But heelless shoes make that splash - because they're something that no one even thought was possible until they saw it happen.
So think about it. What conventions are so ingrained in your mind that you take them as a given even when you're thinking creatively? ("Oh, high heeled shoes MUST have heels") What assumptions are you making? Where ideas have you squashed before they've even had a chance to become "bad ideas" in your head?
Think about it!
“What in the world is underwater hockey???” you’re probably wondering. Right? I don’t blame you – it’s right up there with cheese rolling and ferret legging as one of the world’s weirdest sporting events!
Underwater hockey is a game where two teams of six battle on the floor of a pool to knock a hockey puck into a goal. The hockey puck is weighted so it stays on the bottom – and it’s the goal of the players to spend as much time on the bottom – in play – as possible.
(Players train both to hold their breath longer and to quickly grab a breath while getting back down to the bottom quickly. They wear snorkels, diving masks, and fins – and teams are apparent by the colors of their sticks and caps.)
Still not picturing it? Take a look at the championship bout at last weekend's CanAm Midwestern Championships:
What’s fascinating to me about this sport – besides it being tons of fun to play – is how the game began as an innovative solution to a snorkeling club’s problem!
The whole story reminds me of “PO”, one of innovation guru Edward de Bono’s creativity techniques.
“PO” is a tactic where you take a statement that leads to a dead end, and then revise it to figure out ways to move forward.
Still unclear? Let me teach you about this technique through underwater hockey’s creation story.
Almost 60 30 years ago, a new snorkeling club in England found themselves facing a vexing situation. They had just spent all summer attracting new members to their club – and then it became too cold outside to actually go snorkeling!
Not surprisingly, interest in the club quickly waned. Plus, members who stuck with the club during the winter got out of shape and lost significant lung capacity because they weren’t motivated to work as hard in a boring pool as in the open (and much more interesting) water!
So, the snorkeling club's dead-end statement was “Our members don’t want to snorkel in a pool."
Is that statement true? Absolutely. But it leads right to a dead end. There's no point in coming up with ideas for snorkeling in the pool because everyone already knows their members won't like them.
In the creation story of underwater hockey though, several leaders of the snorkeling club decided that they wanted to push beyond that dead end. So they challenged themselves with the statement “PO: Our members look forward to snorkeling in a pool.”
(Let’s all imagine they added the word “PO”.)
As a result, this avenue of thought is no longer closed off and they have permission to think of ideas for snorkeling in a pool.
Then, the snorkeling club members could start coming up with ideas for fun things they could do in a pool to get their members excited about strapping on their snorkels and spending time holding their breath underwater in the winter.
And thus underwater hockey was born!
Today, underwater hockey is played all over the world. Local clubs scrimmage regularly, with teams in over 30 countries and dozens of clubs in the US alone. And every 2 years, the best players compete to represent their countries at the World competition.
All because a new snorkeling club in England said “[PO] Let’s figure out a way to make our members want to go snorkeling in a pool in the winter.”
Cool, huh? Lateral Thinking definitely leads to fun possibilities!
Tonight I'm going to a PDMA event about the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ), which is a Soviet method of systematic innovation. And last night, I went salsa dancing. Believe it or not, those two very different events are connected through one of my favorite creative problem solving tactics!
First of all, what in the world is TRIZ?
In college, I was lucky enough to briefly study TRIZ in St Petersburg under a handful of the Russian masters. It was January, the room was barely heated, I was wearing 5 layers of clothes to stay warm and we had class for 8 hours a day - and it was one of the coolest (and coldest) experiences of my life!
The whole premise of TRIZ is that by breaking a specific problem down into its underlying generic problem, you will be able to uncover solutions that would never have otherwise occurred to you.
TRIZ was developed in the Soviet Union over 2 decades by a man named Genrich Altshuller who studied 40,000+ patents in order to reveal how invention runs in patterns. And it really works.
Unfortunately, as TRIZ is geared for technical invention, many examples are hard to follow for non-engineers (like myself). So it doesn't get a ton of buzz.
But I'm a huge fan, because it really pushes people to look at problems in different ways.
So, let me give an example of how I just used TRIZ in my everyday life. This is about as non-engineering as you can get! (And how I'm going to tie this post into salsa dancing.)
The Situation: Yesterday, a group of friends and I decided to go salsa dancing. As you can imagine, salsa dancing requires a lot of twists and turns so I knew I'd need to have secure shoes that move with me.
The Problem: Egads - in reviewing my salsa-dancing wardrobe choices, I ran into a huge problem! My sneakers simply wouldn't cut it with my sparkly-gold/black skirt. And my cute heels wouldn't stay on if I move too fast.
Whatever is a gal to do in this terrible, terrible situation? Compromise on fashion for the ability to enjoy myself spinning in circles? Or grit my teeth and wear something that didn't make me feel like dancing?
Oh no! Not me! Instead I decided to use TRIZ - the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving to reveal a solution. (Isn't that what every innovator does in a crisis?)
Think those are the same thing? Not at all.
When your mind gets stuck thinking about holding on high heels, your brain automatically searches for things that are related to high heels only.
But when you expand the parameters to securing footware, that opens up many new possibilities.
Some initial solutions I came up with:
- Glue (ouch)...
- Duct tape (ugly and inflexible)...
- Elastic bands around the arch of my foot (hard to create)...
- Shoe laces (don't work with the heels)...
Then, as I thought of ways to secure footwear, I realized I had recently seen a solution for this exact same generic problem in another part of my life!
As a hobby, I play underwater hockey, which has a lot of quick changes in direction as the puck moves back and forth. So, even though my flippers fit well, I constantly lost them if I turned too fast.
The solution I learned about from my teammates: little rubber straps called "Fin Keepers" that hold your flippers more securely to your feet.
The y-configuration holds the bottom and heels of the shoe securely to the top of my feet, and makes them basically impossible to lose or have slip out of place.
Doesn't that sounds exactly like the result I was looking for with my heels? Hmmm....
So off I run to grab the fin keepers from my gym bag so I could figure out how to mimic their success with my heels. As an experiment, I slipped them onto my heels - and (what do you know!) they held my footware securely to my feet! Problem-solved!
To make it even better - the black rubber almost exactly matched the black of my shoes! In fact, from more than 2 feet away, you couldn't even tell that the fin keepers weren't actually part of the shoe! So, instead of trying to recreate the same functionality with other materials, I just wore my Fin Keepers salsa dancing.
The Result: The Fin Keepers worked perfectly! My shoes didn't slip an inch all night, no matter how fast I spun! (And the only reason my friends noticed I was wearing snorkeling equipment on my feet was because I insisted on showing them.)
All because I went beyond thinking about how to keep my heels on when I danced to thinking more generically about the problem...!
Now, I can't wait for the PDMA event tonight to refresh what I do know about TRIZ, and to open my eyes to how I can use it more ways in creativity. I'll be looking for more things to share for sure.
I just got back from a really interesting PDMA event (Improv for Innovation) on how to use improvisational skills to enhance brainstorming sessions.
Improvisation has a very strong connection to creative thinking because both require people to think in an open-minded "building" fashion.
In Improv, actors depend on the phrase "yes, and" to keep the action going. "yes, and" means that they have to build off whatever the actor before them said or did - not matter what it was!
So if the previous actor jumped off a cliff, or lost a leg, the next actor has to keep going in that direction - or they risk bring the play to a screeching halt.
Creativity has a similar need for "yes, and". When someone voices an idea, and another person pipes up with "But that will never work!", it kills the will to innovate! No one wants to put forth an idea that will immediately be shot down - or invest time thinking in a direction if someone tells them it was all a waste of time and they had to start over!
So, I was really excited to go to this PDMA event and hear about creative thinking from a master of improv.
Stevie Ray of Stevie Ray’s Improv Company started off by talking about how our brains spend most of their time doing logical patterned thinking.
As a result, your brain doesn’t have to do mental gymnastics to drive to work in the morning, or while you’re thinking of the work you do every day. Your brain knows how to get from Point A to Point B in a consistent, orderly and extremely efficient fashion.
That type of thinking breaks down though when you want to come up with fresh ideas. Then your brain travels down those same well-worn paths in your memory to generate ideas - none of which are groundbreaking at all.
Stevie Ray's solution was to use exercises to force your brain out of its normal pathways and into “whole brain thinking” (where your brain is engaged on all fronts and thus has the greatest innovative potential).
Sounds like Lateral Thinking, right?!!! Except Stevie Ray's approach is a little different. He focuses on pushing your brain out of standard situations to where it has to be more aware and responsive to its surroundings.
One way he taught us to do that is to play games full of randomness. Basically, when your brain doesn’t know what to expect next, it forces itself wide open. The game we tried last night was called “Pass the Clap” where a group forms a circle and people try to “pass” a hand-clap along. The goal is to have the person in charge of giving the clap and the person next to them (the receiver) to clap their hands at the same time.
It turns out, this exercise is extremely hard! Both people had to pay attention with all their senses to time their clapping motions at the exact same time. But it was also very energizing and pushed us out of our normal inhibitions.
Then Stevie Ray taught us how to get our minds into an innovating mode through an interesting spin off the "yes, and" improv technique.
In almost every ideation session, whenever someone comes up with an idea, someone else’s first impulse is to respond to that idea with a “yes, but…[insert reason that idea won’t work]”.
Stevie Ray’s exercise was to get everyone to respond to an idea by asking “what do you like about this idea?” By asking even the skeptics to justify why an idea was good, the exercise pushed people beyond immediately dismissing that idea.
During the session, we spent a little time practicing this technique - and it was fascinating to watch people struggle! You could tell that the first impulse of most PDMA's attendees was to come up with objections to an idea - and this forced them to think differently.
The one thing I noticed about this innovation technique though was that it was missing a step to keep innovation moving. The tendency was for particpants to be too supportive: they would keep coming up with ideas why an idea was good, instead of supporting the idea and then coming up with another one.
My company, Ideas To Go, does a really good job of this with our similar technique called Forness Thinking. When someone comes up with an idea, we ask them what they like about the idea AND what they wish for to make it better. And then we use that the wishes as stimulus to generate new ideas.
Overall, a fascinating evening on innovation!
I highly recommend going to PDMA events in your city for anyone who is interested in learning about product development and marketing. And if you want to see the creative mindset on display, check out a local innovation event. Stevie Ray's Improv Comedy group performs regularily in the Twin Cities.
Today, my interview of Clayton Christensen, one of the leading authors on innovation, goes live as the cover story of the November Personal Branding Magazine (click for sample). In the interview, I questioned Clayton about the qualities of an innovator, how people can learn to be more innovative, and how they can demonstrate their innovative skills to others.
The Innovator's DNA is a really interesting book. The three authors - Clayton Christensen Jeffrey Dyer, and Hal Gregersen - studied innovative leaders and surveyed thousands of executives to identify what makes a person truly innovative.
They discovered it came down to five activities that innovators do: Associating, Questioning, Observing, Experimenting, and Networking. They also found that innovative skill isn't purely a result of talent - instead innovators spend an average of 50% more time on those activities than non-innovative people!
This is very important info! A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the “leadership competency” of the future.
That's really discouraging if you don't think of yourself as naturally creative. BUT, if you view creativity as a learned skill... suddenly the future is wide open!
So, if you want to learn to be more creative, here's a chance to get your hands on a great resource! This week, I'm giving away a copy of The Innovator's DNA to one lucky reader.
How can you win it?
Simple, all you have to do is give me one idea. I'll even tell you how to get it!
Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to use the associations you think of with a Random Word to come up with "fresh ways to improve cell phones".
It takes only four super quick steps to be entered to win...
- Get a Random Word.
Use the generator below. The word you'll get will be completely unrelated to mobile phones. You have to use one of the words that comes up.
- Think about what comes to mind when see that word?
Don't worry if it doesn't feel related to the problem! That's the idea! For example, if your Random Word is Cat, you might think about how your cat purrs when she's happy.
- Then, use that association to come up with an idea to improve a cell phone. For example, just like your cat purrs when she is happy, perhaps your cell phone could make a soothing background noise to let you know how the person you're talking to is feeling.
Note: You can't just combine your random word with a cell phone to have an idea. For example, if your Random Word is "Wine"...
- Creative Idea: A cell phone that checks the alcohol content on my breath and tells me whether I can legally drive according to the rules of my geographic location.
- Lazy Answer: A cell phone that has wine in it.
Don't worry if your idea is funny, crazy or silly. The whole point of this contest is to push our thinking on cell phones so that we come up with ideas beyond faster, smaller or better connectivity. Let your random word bring you somewhere completely different.
- Write your fresh idea in the comments (with the random word that got you there) and you're done!
Now, get started! Close your eyes and point at one of the Random Words in the list below. (All the words are hard. Just go with the first one you get.)
Adult Airplane Airport Album Apple Army Baby Backpack Balloon Banana Bank Barbecue Bathroom Bathtub Bed Bee Bible Bird Bomb Book Boss Bottle Bowl Box Boy Brain Bridge Butterfly Button Cappuccino Car Carpet Carrot Cave Chair Chess Chief Chisel Chocolates Church Circle Circus Clock Clown Coffee Coffee-shop Comet Compass Computer Crystal Cup Cycle Desk Diamond Dress Drill Drink Drum Earth Egg Electricity Elephant Eraser Explosive Fan Feather Festival Film Finger Fire Floodlight Flower Fork Freeway Fruit Fungus Game Garden Gas Gate Gemstone Gloves Grapes Guitar Hammer Hat Hieroglyph Highway Horoscope Horse Hose Ice Ice-cream Insect Jet fighter Junk Kaleidoscope Kitchen Knife Leather jacket Library Magnet Map Maze Meat Meteor Microscope Milk Milkshake Mist Money Monster Mosquito Mouth Nail Navy Necklace Needle Onion PaintBrush Parachute Passport Pebble Pendulum Pepper Perfume Pillow Plane Planet Pocket Pool Post-office Potato Printer Prison Pyramid Radar Rainbow Record Restaurant Rifle Ring Robot Rock Rocket Roof Rope Saddle Salt Sandpaper Sandwich Satellite School Ship Shoes Shop Shower Signature Skeleton Slave Snail Solid Space Shuttle Spectrum Sphere Spiral Spoon Sports-car Spot Light Square Staircase Star Stomach Sun Sunglasses Sword Table Tapestry Telescope Television Thermometer Tiger Torch Torpedo Train Treadmill Triangle Tunnel Typewriter Umbrella Vacuum Vampire Videotape Vulture Web Wheelchair Window
Then use that Random Word to come up with new ideas for cell phones and leave your answer in the comments.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
If you need some help starting your thinking, go to Do You Have Trouble Being Creative? for examples about using this technique.
If you'd like to see the fantastic ideas people entered in my last Random Word contest about how to improve cars, go here:
Photo by Paleontour
One of the blogs I read, Think Simple Now, just wrote a great post about watching a man in his late 70's learn to use a brand new computer.
The Apple rep is showing him how to browse the web and set-up his first email account. The elderly man is diligently taking notes as the Apple rep gives him a tour of the fresh and foreign, online world with his newly purchased laptop...
...As the rep carefully dictates the process, the elderly man numbers “1, 2, 3” on a yellow pad, followed by step-by-step, detailed instructions.... Once finished, the elderly man articulately asks for advice on what other websites people would usually bookmark....
...[The elderly man says to the author after noticing her attention] in a polished, humbled tone, “Ahh… to be young again. I feel like I’m exploring in a desert…I’ve been here for 4 hours.” He smiles gently, his eyes gleaming.
The author writes about how inspiring it was to see someone so clearly out of his comfort zone taking on the challenge of learning a new thing - especially at an age where no one expects you to learn anything new. And she's right - it is super inspiring!
And it's also a fact: if you want to keep having great ideas throughout your life, you MUST keep pushing yourself to learn new things!
Think about it. New ideas come from making new connections between points of innovation in your brain. Each new point of information that goes into your brain creates the possibility to connect with everything already in there. And, as a result, your possibility for creativity grows exponentially every time you learn something new.
If you stop learning, you stop expanding your creative potential.
All the possibilities you will ever come up with are already inside you. You might still putter along for a long time, spitting out ideas based on sheer talent, but eventually that well will run dry.
So if you want ideas, go learn something. It doesn't matter what it is - you could be learning about using a new technology or about the astronomical impact that salt has had on the development of empires. All those things push the boundaries of your thinking, and give you that many more possible ideas.
Well, what are you waiting for? Go!
Not long ago, I highlighted a school district in Minnesota that is flipping the typical educational approach around. Students learn their lessons as "homework" and then do their assignments in class under the instruction of the teacher.
Reactions were mixed, as they always are for radical new ideas, but I was particularly intrigued by one commentator who declared vehemently:
I can't lie. I think this model is horrible. I'm not convinced that the content and difficulty level of the lessons aren't suffering. If the goal is to provide kids with extra help in mathematics a teacher can always offer extra help sessions. Parents can become more responsible in offering help as well. We need to make sure that math is taught and drilled live in a classroom so that any nuances or problems can be addressed on the spot.
Furthermore, to rely on children to watch videos at home and then "work together" to solve problems is to take a huge gamble on an educational system whose math skills are already lagging alarmingly behind much of the rest of the world's. I mean, most Americans who come out of public schools are basically mathematically illiterate compared to Chinese and Indian students of a comparable socioeconomic level.
What's utterly fascinating to me is that this commentator flat-out admits that our schools are not currently doing a good job of educating students - but then goes on to insist that if we all just put more effort into the status quo, the problems will be solved.
So what's going on here? Why insist that it's better to continue doing something that isn't working without even giving a new idea a fair chance? If educating our children is so important, why don't we want to push for a more effective system?
Perhaps it's because educating our children is... well... so important!
If that makes no sense to you, consider another critically important decision people have to make: whether or not to be organ donors.
In the excellent book Predictably Irrational, behavioral economist Dan Ariely writes about organ donation rates in different countries. He points out that the overwhelming indicator of whether a country has high or low organ donation rates is not based on how organ donation is viewed in the country. Actually, the main factor is whether the default organ donation option is to opt-in or opt-out on the form:
You might think that people do this because they don’t care. That the decision about donating their organs is so trivial that they can’t be bothered to lift up the pencil and check the box. But in fact the opposite is true. This is a hard emotional decision about what will happen to our bodies after we die and what effect it will have on our those close to us. It is because of the difficulty and the emotionality of these decisions that they just don’t know what to do so they adopt the default option.
And consequently, the vast majority of people are so overwhelmed by the immensity of their decision that they shy away from making the "wrong choice" and pick whatever is the default.
To me, it seems like this happens too with our educational system. Educating children is incredibly important and nearly everyone cares about it. Yet, we are still teaching in the same way we taught children to be good factory workers 50 years ago - even thought the world is a completely different place today.
It is absolutely true that educators today face incredible challenges - such as parents who are less engaged, children with more behavioral issues, increased distractions, more children coming from poverty (and all the attendant problems), etc, etc. All of those things make it harder for teachers to do their job and teach well.
But those challenges aren't going to go away, and it's naive to think that they will if everyone just tries a little harder. That ship has sailed, and the world is changed. Now it's time to design an educational system that does work for the needs of students today.
Yet instead of pushing to radically reform our school system, we instead just glop on more tests and accountability standards - without pushing for innovative changes in how people teach.
The fact is, it might be an awful idea to turn the school day around by having students learn at home and do their work/synthesize information in class. But, it is an idea and shouldn't just be dismissed out of hand. Otherwise, what we're doing is creating a stagnant educational culture in America and making it a place where innovation is not welcome.
And that, I fear, is the worst travesty of all!
A local Minnesotan school district is experimenting with a novel way of educating students. Instead of teaching math to kids while they're at school, and expecting them to complete the assignment at home, the school flipped things around.
Lessons are pre-recorded and students are expected to watch the lessons at home. Then during the regularily-scheduled class time, students work on their math assignments individually or in small groups with the teacher standing by to help.
So far, the approach seems to be working extremely well. Teachers quickly learned how to teach to the camera, dvds are available for students without home internet access. And (unsurprisingly) it's dramatically increased the amount of time teachers are able to focus on helping students!
To me, it's shocking that more schools aren't doing things like this. In today's world, the knowledge-dispensing aspect of what teachers do has become a commodity.
The whole model of students quietly learning while a teacher instructs is a relic of a bygone time when that was a student's only way to learn. Teachers were the gatekeepers and they held the keys to knowledge in a world where only a few were truly educated.
But today, acquiring information is not the hard part. Students can spend 20 minutes online and learn how to solve a math problem, or learn about the history of the United States or even dive into the latest scientific breakthroughs.
What the web doesn't offer (yet) is help understanding and synthesizing the knowledge out there. A Wikipedia entry can't sit down with a student, find out why they're struggling and ask the questions that help the student solve the problem on their own. Nor can Google provide encouragement when a student hits a wall or push an outstanding student to challenge themselves.
Those are why teachers are so valuable to schools - not because they can dutifully show a class how to solve a multiplication problem!
Bravo to the Stillwater Area Schools for taking this fresh approach to teaching that takes the realities of the modern world into consideration!
I feel it's time to finally come clean here on this blog. For a long time, I've been keeping a secret - much like I hide the fact that I did indeed watch the full last season of the Bachelorette! (Whoops. Cat's out of that bag too!)
Every month at work, I have to admit I eagerly await the arrival of a certain glossy piece of literature. Even more that I await National Geographic - or the latest gossip mag that keeps me more up-to-date about celebrities than I am with many friends.
No, this piece of literature that I snatch every month is none other than the Solutions Catalog!How can I love a catalog so much? Because it's all the cool solutions people have found to vexing problems!
Isn't that exactly what creative thinking and innovation is all about? See a problem - find a way to fix it. And Solutions Catelog is an entire mini booklet FULL of problems that people have solved!
It's so fun to read through this catelog, see a new product and have a lightbulb go off in my head that says "I get it! I have that problem too and it drives me insane!"
And to make it even better, every single item in the catelog has a headline that clearly states exactly the problem it solves.
For example, have any of you ever wanted to:
- Chill wine bottles fast & keep them at serving temperature?
- Save money on your water bill without giving up a luxurious shower flow?
- Quickly turn light strings into neat, ready to store bundles?
- Hide plunging necklines with without wearing a bulky tank top underneath?
- Keep your cat's litter box from ruining the decor of your small apartment?
- Play Fetch with your dog without getting dog drool all over your hands from throwing the ball?
Guess where you can find solutions to those problems and many more! (And if you don't like getting snail mail, they even have the url www.solutions.com! Jealous!)
Plus, I love all the whacky solutions people come up with - especially the seasonal ones. Who doesn't want to put up window hangings that make it look like monster eyes peering out of your house? Or glow-in-the-dark nail polish markers to make spooky fingernail designs???
Anyone else love the Solutions Catalog? What's your favorite solution?
|"Hey Fish! You look friendly... I wonder what you could be!"|
This past weekend, while trying out snorkeling equipment for my exciting new hobby of underwater hockey (more on that later), I ran across a product that was a fantastic example of a simple solution to an unmet need.
If you've ever been birdwatching, you've probably taken along a little book so you can identify the birds you see and learn about them. That's a big part of the fun.
But, unsurprisingly, that's not so easy to do that when you're snorkeling! Aside from having no pockets to stash your book, there's also a slight risk that your book might get wet.
So, what is a curious fish observer to do? Take pictures of all the fish you see and hope you'll find time to research them later? Go swimming for shore every time you see something new and try to flip through your books without soaking them? Take your iPhone underwater and hope you can (1) get a signal off the coast and (2) operate the phone through a waterproof case? All those sound like a lot of work... and because those are so difficult, most people wouldn't even try. They'd just accept that they'd probably never know what fish they were seeing.
Or - you could just bring along a Fish-Flip - a wearable & weatherproof book filled with beautiful large pictures of fish!
When I saw those little booklets, it immediately clicked in my head that it was a simple solution to an unmet need many snorkelers didn't even know they had. Those are the kind of ideas I absolutely love.
Plus, I love the story of how the idea came from a frustrated snorkler who decided to find a solution to a problem that was vexing her. Fresh thinking all the way!
There's a news article that's been making the rounds about a German Nursing home that has found a unique way to keep their most forgetful residents from trying to leave*. I want to share it here because too often it seems we gravitate towards punitive or restrictive measures in order to stop unwanted behaviors - especially in people with conditions like Alzheimers - and this is nothing of the sort.
Instead...the nursing home has found a way to use the natural behaviors and reactions of their residents to keep them from "escaping".
This seems counterproductive to their goal of keeping their residents from wandering - except for the fact that the bus stop... isn't! It looks exactly like one, but no buses ever come.
So, when a resident decides to leave, they head out the door and wait for a bus. Then, someone from the Senior Center waits a couple minutes before heading out to apologize to the resident that the bus is running late - and to invite them in for a cup of coffee until the next bus comes. The resident, who has likely already forgotten why they were there in the first place, happily comes back into the Senior Centre of their own free will.
There are no alarms as a resident passes a doorway, no Senior Center staff chasing after a resident, no calls to the police and frantic searches, and no defient residents struggling on the way in.
It's a beautifully-simple solution. And better yet, it doesn't leave the residents feeling like they're in a prison - like locked doors and ankle bracelets do. Instead, when a nice person comes out to the bus stop and invites them in for a cup of coffee, the resident feels taken care of, and happy to come inside.
That's really important, because there are studies that show that while Alzheimer's patients don't always remember much from moment-to-moment, they do continue to feel the same emotions that they were feeling before.
I wish more organizations would take human behavior into account to come up with fresh solutions that make life less stressful for vulnerable adults (and the people who care for them)!
*A frequent problem with Alzheimer's patients - who decide they'd much rather be someplace they remember from their youth, instead of the Senior Center. It's especially dangerous when those places no longer exist, or when the Alzheimer's patient forgets where they are going en route.
A friend sent me to an interesting mini documentary about the world's largest shopping mall - South China Mall in Dongguan, China. It's a fascinating video, because it turns out that the largest mall in the world is not.
The mall has space for over 2000 tenants, plus a replica of the Arc de Triomphe, a replica of Venice's St Mark's bell tower, a canal with gondolas, and an indoor-outdoor roller coaster.
Unfortunately, the mall is 99% unoccupied. And unlike most other "dead" malls, South China Mall never was filled with stores. (Or even close to a quarter filled!) It was stillborn from the very beginning.
What really struck me from the video was when someone mentioned that the giant mall was the first mall people in that area had ever seen. Not just the biggest one they'd ever seen - the very first mall they'd ever seen.
And that was probably the problem. The whole idea of a mall was so far beyond the normal everyday needs of the people in that area that they simply didn't get why they should go to one.
That's the risk with pushing the envelope... there's a chance you can go too far. In order to fully appreciate a great new idea (and make it a success) it has to have points of reference in its customers' current lives.
It's the difference between giving people a radically new way to carry around their favorite music (iPod) versus needing to convince them that they want to bring it with them in the first place. In the first case, people see the value instantly. In the second case, they might never see it.
If you're interested, watch the 13 minute mini-documentary on the South China Mall here. It's spooky how deserted the place is - especially for what looks like such an amazing mall (for us mall-lovers here in the snow-covered north!)
Years ago, I used to compete in a creative problem solving competition where we had to create sets for performances done in a super-small area. So, we tried to figure out ingenious ways to use each element of our set in multiple ways - from evolving backgrounds to multi-use props.
Unfortunately, we were never that good. But the people from Resource Furniture who created the furniture in the video below... are amazing.
Check out this video about their space-saving furniture. They've manufactured all their pieces to serve at least 2 functions - without looking clunky or thrown-together!
This is a promo video for their company, but their stuff is so cool that it definitely deserves a mention here. These are people who design furniture in a totally innovative way!
Amazing, huh? Now, who wants to buy one of those coffee tables for my apartment?