At the end of each of my book synopsis presentations, I give a few of my takeaways for the books I present. For Imagine: How Creativity Works, I had a much longer list than usual – sixteen takeaways. So, here they are. If you want to be more creative, then take a good look, and ask, “what do I need to do differently – what changes do I need to make in the way I work?”
• Sixteen “lessons” (some behaviors to adopt – a longer than usual list of take-aways):
1) Paint the walls blue (but hire an accountant wearing red)
2) Make people interact
3) Connect more. Collaborate more. A lot more.
4) And, to connect, you need lots of face-to-face interactions. There is no substitute for face-to-face! (proximity matters a lot!)
5) If the idea has not come at all, get off task – way off task
• take walks; take showers; have a drink or two…
6) If the idea has come, get focused – very focused… (until you need another idea – then get off task again)
7) Embrace – insist on – debate! (traditional brainstorming, focusing on the positive only, does.not.work!)
8) Get outside. Way outside! – and collaborate with outsiders; lots of outsiders.
9) Play a little (or a lot) – At least, look with new, outsider, child’s eyes… (familiarity/jargon – these are enemies of creativity)
10) Only after expertise is developed can you stray from the traditional, and improvise… (think Yo-Yo Ma). Thus, expertise precedes great breakthroughs…
11) Travel – far away from home… (and pay attention when you travel)
12) And, aim for diversity (and weirdness) in your connections
• embrace the city
13) Walk faster…
14) Treat breakthrough performers more like athletic superstars
15) Get much better at your powers of observation
16) Provide “15 percent time” (or its equivalent) – use your 15 percent time to play around with new ideas……
I’ve finished reading Imagine by Jonah Lehrer. It is a treasure, with story after story worth pondering.
One of his exemplars of creativity is Yo-Yo Ma. Here is a brief excerpt.
For Ma, the tedium of the flawless performance taught him that there is often a tradeoff between perfection and expression. “If you are only worried about not making a mistake, then you will communicate nothing,” he says. “You will have missed the point of making music, which is to make people feel something.” Instead, he reviews the complete score, searching for the larger story. “I always look at a piece of music like a detective novel.” My job is to retrace the story so that the audience feels the suspense. So that when the climax comes, they’re right there with me, listening to my beautiful detective story. It’s all about making people care about what happens next.” (emphasis added).
“Make people care about what happens next.” Now this is your communication tip of the day. In your speeches, your presentations, your blog posts, your articles, even your emails, make people care about what comes next. Always.
America seems to be suffering a decline in innovation advantage.
America seems to be experiencing an increase in the number of people who work alone.
Is it possible that these are connected?
I have read a lot of books on innovation. And a few on creativity. (Bob Morris, our blogging colleague, is good at reminding us of the difference between the two). And I think about these subjects, creativity and innovation, a lot.
And, right now, on my reading list is the new book The Idea Factory, about the Bell Labs, and the new book by Jonah Lehrer, Imagine. (Imagine is getting a lot of buzz, and I will present my synopsis of this book at the May First Friday Book Synopsis).
So, here’s my latest thought about our innovation deficit. A lot of us are in a deficit position. Why? Because we work primarily alone.
I am an independent consultant. Though Karl Krayer and I have hosted the First Friday Book Synopsis together for fourteen full years, we spend little actual time together. We each office separately. And though I work with other folks in a few different ways, I do most of my thinking and pondering alone. My “coffee breaks” lead to little business interaction. And yet, all of the new research seems to say a lot about the enormous value of the forced and not-so-forced interactions in idea factories of one kind or another. Being together, rubbing elbows together, just talking in “unscheduled” run-ins, can lead to breakthrough thinking.
Why? Here’s a quote from Imagine, which Bob Morris quoted in his review of the book:
“Sometimes a creative problem is so difficult that it requires people to connect their imaginations together; the answer arrives only if we collaborate. That’s because a group is not just a collection of individual talents. Instead, it is a chance for those talents to exceed themselves, to produce something greater than anyone thought possible.”
And don’t forget — “together” actually does require some time “together.”
The Bell Laboratories provide an example of a true idea factory. So too with Pixar, and Apple, and other entities that profit from smart and creative people being together. And it is the sum of all of these many interactions, constantly occurring, that leads to breakthrough ideas.
And, yet, so many more people now work in “alone” settings. The very people that, if they had more interactions, might produce more great ideas.
I “interact” virtually. I read widely. But I’m not sure it is the same as the company cafeteria and ping pong tables and simple coffee breaks…
What do we do about this? I’m not sure. But I think this is a problem worth our attention.
Serious: not joking or trifling; being in earnest
Here’s a simple truth about Steve Jobs. He took things very seriously.
Every task; every word; every presentation; every-thing. Though he made his presentations fun, you got the distinct impression that they were very important to him. He took them seriously.
Where did this come from? Where did this trait, and this practice, come from?
I have read the first couple of chapters of the new Steve Jobs book by Walter Isaacson. (I hope to present my synopsis at the January First Friday Book Synopsis). This paragraph grabbed me. When he was six or seven years old, he told a girl who lived across the street that he was adopted.
“So, does that mean your real parents didn’t want you?” “Lightning bolts went off in my head, according to Jobs. “I remember running into the house, crying. And my parents said, ‘No, you have to understand.’ They were very serious and looked me straight in the eye. They said, “We specifically picked you out.’ Both of my parents said that and repeated it slowly for me. And they put an emphasis on every word in that sentence.” (emphasis added).
We will spend a lot of time, and read a lot of pages, trying to figure out what made Steve Jobs Steve Jobs. But there is little doubt as to what he was. He was a serious, curious, creative one-of-a-kind multi-hit wonder. I’ve long thought that curious and creative were the critical traits. I think “serious” might be the trait I had not yet grasped, or seen… It might be the true foundation for all the other traits. (But, I’ve got a lot more to read…).
I am deeply immersed in the book Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven Guide to Drive Breakthrough Creativity by Josh Linkner (Founder & Chairman, ePrize). This is my selection for this Friday’s First Friday Book Synopsis. (yes, I know that this is the 2nd Friday — we postponed due to the holiday weekend). Bob Morris posted his review of this book here, and his interview of Linkner, the author, here.
This book presents quite a challenge — it drills into the reader just how hard it is to shake free from the “we’ve always done it this way” thinking. It is so hard to be creative on purpose, and practically on demand — perpetually. But without the discipline to practice disciplined dreaming, we, and our companies and organizations, will be left behind.
Here is just one terrific slice from the book:
• Five skills separating the most accomplished innovators from the rest:
1) Associating – creating links between seemingly unrelated items
2) Questioning – questions are at the core of creativity
3) Observing – raising your level of awareness, observing in greater detail what is happening in the world, and then imagining what could be different
4) Experimenting – be unafraid of failure
5) Networking – finding diverse people whose ideas challenge your own thinking and expand your perspective
If you are near the DFW area, come join us this Friday, 7:00 am. Just follow this link to register. This book is a terrific book, and I think my presentation will be worth your time. And my colleague, Karl Krayer, will present his synopsis of Onward by Howard Schultz, the man behind the success of Starbucks. It should be a good morning of learning.
I caught the Fareed Zakaria interview with David Books this past Sunday. Zakaria is a terrific writer, and an equally effective interviewer. David Books is… well, he’s David Brooks. The “conservative/right of center” columnist for the New York Times, author of Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (which I presented way back at the July, 2000 First Friday Book Synopsis), his new book is The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement. It is in my “to read” list, and I have read through the free sample portion from iBooks on my iPad. There were some real gems in the interview. (You can read the transcript here). Here are some excerpts:
• On creativity and innovation – Brooks:
…that’s actually what creativity and innovation is, merging two things to create a third thing.
• On traits of the most financially successful people – Brooks:
The average self — the self-made millionaire in this country had an average collegiate GPA of 2.7, a C plus. The A students can get into law school or something and they have secure roots to decent affluence, but the ones who really take risks are the ones who are sort of down below and they’re more risk takers and they don’t fit into the cookie cutter model of education. But they have commonly several traits. And there’s no one formula for success. But they tend not to be too charismatic often, but they tend to be — and they have done studies on this. The charismatic types, you get occasion, Jack Welch, somebody like that. But — but most tend to be ordered, disciplined execution. They tend to do the same thing over and over again in a very reliable, predictable way. And so they’re really into detail, execution and order.
Those are the sorts of personality that more often than not lead to business success. Not flashiness, but just doing the thing and having a compulsive need to get it right. And then an awareness of how to work in groups, groups are smarter than individuals. Groups that meet face to face are a lot smarter than groups that communicate electronically. And so some people have a compulsive need to soak up information from people around them.
• On individualism and optimism – Brooks:
But I would say it’s first individualism does encourage the sense I can rise ferocious — a sense — if you tell people these two things, the future can be better than the present and I have control over my future, those are two powerful ideas that not all cultures are born with and those are powerful ideas that motivate people to change.
• On President Obama:
ZAKARIA: — politically. Is he (President Obama) a social animal?
BROOKS: Yes. He’s multiple animals. You know, I would say we’re all — we all have multiple personalities. My psychobabble description of him is he’s a very complicated person who has many different selves, all of them authentic, but they come out in different contexts. And he is — has always has the ability to look at other parts of himself from a distance, and so it means he has great power to self correct and I think it gives him power to see himself. It means that he rarely is all in. You know, President Bush didn’t have as much — many multiple selves, so when he made a decision he was all in, he was just going to be there. But as I think President Obama is much more cautious, because he’s a man of many pieces and many parts and not all of which I understand or I think anybody understands. But it may — it leads to that caution that we see time and time again and almost a self distancing I see.
• on the “soft” (think “soft skills”) – Brooks:
My argument is the soft leads to the hard. So if you want to really do well in business, say, make a lot of money, you really have to understand people and it’s through the emotions you do that.
• On morality and fairness – Brooks:
…we have a folk wisdom that we think through principles and come up with right or wrong, but that’s not actually how morality works. Morality is more like taste. You instantaneously know whether something is fair. Nobody needs to tell a 2-year-old what’s fair or not.
• On honest self-evaluation – Brooks:
So 96 percent of college professors think they’re above average teachers. And 94 percent of college students think they have above average leadership skills. We tend to overvalue ourselves, so — and this is particularly a male trait. Men drown at twice the rate of women because men think they can swim across that lake and women know they can’t. And so — but building boot straps for yourself to prevent yourself from acting on that overconfidence is tremendously important.
The lessons (my list — from the interview):
• To be creative and innovative, we have to learn to merge two things to make a third thing.
• Groups that meet face to face are the most effective.
• Disciplined execution is all about doing the same thing over and over again in a reliable, predictable way. People who are good at this are “really into detail, execution, order.”
• Morality is about simple fairness – and you know if you are being fair, or not. (at least, you certainly should know!)
• The soft (think soft skills) matters greatly!
• Be authentic – and master the discipline of self-correction.
• Cultivate individualism – and, be genuinely optimistic (The future can be better!), while taking control of your own future.
• But, be honest and realistic in your self-evaluation.
• And, keep learning! (“soak up information” from those around you).
There’s a lot more in Brooks’ best-selling book, but this interview offered much!