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Archive for the ‘Creativity Leadership’ Category

Three Principles for a Creative, Innovative and Impactful 2013

Posted by Plish on January 4, 2013

I read this amazing little piece written by Steven Zuckerman.  Steven reflected on his experiences planning a celebratory event honoring the great musician and inventor, Les Paul.

It’s an extremely short piece and worth reading in its entirety.  It can however, be summarized in three short principles:

  1. “No one told me I couldn’t do it” – Steven Zuckerman
  2. Doing good things will touch people’s hearts and the results will reverberate like ripples on a pond.  (One of those ripples touched Paul McCartney.)
  3. “It wasn’t there and it should be.” – Les Paul

Think about it.

If you go through life, trying to touch people’s’ hearts with goodness…

If you’re bold enough to initiate new projects without needing permission…

If your eyes are open to needs and your hands ready to craft something to fill those needs…

Think about what you could accomplish!

Or better yet,

– stop thinking, start doing –



Posted in Authenticity, creativity, Creativity Leadership, Customer Focus, Design, imagination, innovation, invention, problem solving, Social Innovation, Tactics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Review of ‘Creative Milwaukee at Work’

Posted by Plish on September 30, 2012

“If you want a creative life, do what you can’t and experience the beauty of the mistakes you make”

“Cheating outside school is called collaboration”

On Friday, September 21, friend and colleague, Natasha Lyn Wier, went to the first Creative Milwaukee at Work summit.  Sponsored by the Creative Alliance Milwaukee, it was held at the MIAD (Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design).  The following are some of her thoughts, for which I am extremely grateful!  My thoughts on her thoughts will be in italics.  Based on what I heard and saw in pics, this is a must see next year.  

Just walking into MIAD to register and attend the opening of Milwaukee at Work, you could feel the attendees’ energy and eagerness to learn and share.  Attended by Milwaukee educators, creatives and business professionals, the one day conference was filled with panel discussions and breakout sessions geared towards the growth of creative professionals.  The variety of artists, designers, educators, and business professionals took part in 4 sessions of their choice, and an all-conference panel discussion.  With speakers ranging from successful start-ups to corporate company directors, sessions and panelists provided information on resources and tools to inspire growth, provide development and highlight thought-provoking issues specific to local Milwaukee Creatives. 

To start off my day I joined the first discussion panel of the morning: “The Role of Creative Education in Talent Development”.  The panel was comprised of department heads and educators from surrounding colleges: Alverno, MIAD, Marquette University, Mount Mary, and UW-M.  The topic presented for discussion originated from a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson and animated for the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce): Changing Education Paradigms.  The world-renown education expert, Sir Ken Robinson, raised the question on the structure of formal instruction: How do we educate children for the 21st century?  He argued that the weakness of the current model is that is suits the time of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, all the while pointing to the challenges that need to be addressed for an economy that is ambiguously defined.

The question is not local, but the solutions envisioned by the Milwaukee area institutions were.  The Panelists each presented changes they’ve made to programs based upon their efforts to, “Try to solve Sir Robinson’s problem in Milwaukee”, as Associate Dean at the Peck School of the Arts of UW-Milwaukee, Scott Emmons, Ph. D put it.  Several locally conducted studies revealed that among employers, the number one item required was the ability to problem solve. (!!!) Discussion then followed on what changes to education can foster a creative society that not only meets the demands of today’s workplace, but defines how Milwaukee’s educational institutions could benefit today’s pupil’s, future professionals and employers.  This dialogue from the first session Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in creativity, Creativity Leadership, culture of innovation, Design, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Social Innovation, Social Responsibility, Start-Ups, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Is Your Organization Built for Innovation? Try This Audit Tool

Posted by Plish on April 11, 2011

I put together this Innovation Checkmap.  It highlights the working relationships that should be present in healthy, innovative organizations; a visual checklist to guide an audit of the innovation capabilities in your organization.    The map is simple to use:

  1. Pick a group (and/or individuals) as your Implementing People (IP).
  2. Walk your way around the map asking the questions in bold with reference to your IP.
  3. Repeat steps 1-2 for every entity in the organization.

If you can’t really answer a question, it shows that your organization is most likely weak in that area.  Make sure that you actually have data of some type to back up your answers.  If all you have are your opinions, (as in, “Those people don’t need to have access to the order system.  Why would they?”) that’s a problem.

Some definitions are in order.

Implementing People (IP) – This represents anyone (or group) that is doing a task, whether it’s people in  the C-Suite, Finance, R&D, Operations, etc..  It’s intentionally vague but it’s put at the center of the map as it is the starting point for an innovation audit. Pick a group you want to analyze and they are your IP.

Internal Customers (IC) – These are people the IP interact with on a regular basis.  This can include stakeholders. 

External Customers (EC) – These are your customers, users, patients, clients.  They are people or organizations that are not part of your organization.  They are people you serve or provide products to.

Each group has needs.  They’ve been broken down into, ‘What they need to feel,’ What they need to do,’ ‘What they need to have.”  These are distinguished from what they actually feel, do, and have.  The phrase, “How does your organization determine ‘what IP need to feel’?” means, “How does the organization determine the affective needs of the IP?”  For example, individuals in a certain group may need to feel wanted, feel pride, feel challenged, etc.  Also, disconnects between what people need to feel and what they are actually feeling, or what they need to have and what they actually have, are signs that something is amiss. 

I’ve also included a question regarding understanding what people say they do in addition to what they are actually doing.  If these aren’t the same, that’s an issue.

Another way to look at this map is as a source of metrics for gauging your innovation effectiveness.  Traditionally, most metrics are in the financial realm (ROI, Gross Profits, etc.) with a few from the Creativity side (Number of patents, etc.). Push your organization to have metrics of some type for each node/question in this map.   

This chart can also be used as a culture change guide.  Changing how nodes work and the relationships will impact your culture.

Innovation Audit Checkmap

Any questions or comments are welcome!

Posted in Creativity Leadership, culture of innovation, Customer Focus, design thinking, innovation, Innovation Metrics, Innovation Tools, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Want to Change Your Organization’s Mindset? Rename your ‘Strategic Plan’

Posted by Plish on November 1, 2010

We use metaphors all the time – most of the time we don’t even really think about it. 

For example, we say, “What’s your position on that topic?” Here position implies an actual location of some type, which gets reinforced by terms like ‘left of center’.

In the business world we encounter metaphors all the time.   We hear terms like ‘action’, ‘operations’, ‘Chief’, ‘Officer’, ‘target customer’, ‘hostile takeover’, ‘strengths’, ‘weaknesses’, ‘threats’, ‘resources’, ‘capture a lead’, ‘sales force’, ‘war room’, and the biggie: ‘Strategic Plan’.

Why is ‘Strategic Plan’ the biggie?

Because while all the other terms clearly have military connotations, ‘Strategic Plan’ has become so common that we don’t even think of it being militarily based. Everyone uses the term: non-profits, churches, businesses of all types.  It’s the accepted phrase that describes the process of assessing where an organization stands, where it needs to go and how it’s going to get there.  It also carries the connotation that it is to be done by the ‘Generals’, those that chart the way for the entire organization, those that are in charge (‘in charge’, another military metaphor from leading the charge in the battle). 

Is this bad?

Not necessarily, but all metaphors have their limits and as a result can get developed and applied to situations that they probably shouldn’t be. 

Let’s step back for a moment. 

If  a business believes in bringing value to a customer and improving their experiences, how effectively will a military metaphor instill these orientations in employees of that company? 

If a business believes its customers should be partners in developing value, how does a “Strategic Plan”, a metaphor that by definition, needs to come from the ‘Officers’ of a company, contribute to the desired cooperative mindset?

It doesn’t – at least not effectively.   To really use metaphor effectively and empower the hearts and souls of an organization, it’s better to use consistent metaphor/language that reflects a spirit of cooperation, of empowerment.

The good news is that ‘planning’ doesn’t necessarily carry military connotations.  We plan meals, weddings, buildings, routes.  Planning is a good thing.  But, if we want to foster cooperation, to look at customers as partners and people and not targets of acquisition; if we want to provide value and delightful experiences, we need to replace the word ‘strategic’.

To get some ideas, I stuck the above desired concepts (cooperation, partners, people, provide value, delightful experiences) into a reverse dictionary and received some provocative possibilities from which I’ll give the following suggestions for renaming  the ‘Strategic Plan’:

  • Service Plan
  • Partner Value Plan
  • Relationship Building Plan
  • Aid Design Plan
  • Community Support Plan
  • ….Wellness Design Plan (Patient, Community, Economic, etc. could be placed before ‘Wellness’ for a healthcare company, non-profit community assistance organization,  bank, etc., respectively)
  • Partner Experience Development Plan

Think about it.

If a company or organization’s Strategic Plan was renamed to one of the above, who would be involved in the drafting process? Who would the shareholders be?  Would the word ‘customer’ even be used?  How would employees of an organization view their relationship to the organization and its ‘partners’?  Where would an organization focus its resources to track how well its being true to its plan? What metrics might be used? How would companies view others in the same market space?

What do you think?

Posted in Authenticity, Creativity Leadership, culture of innovation, Customer Focus, Design, design thinking, innovation, Society, The Human Person, Wellness, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Success is Born in Innovative Cultures That Thrive on Good (and Bad!) Ideas

Posted by Plish on February 26, 2010


“New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can’t be done. 2) It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing. 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!” – Arthur C. Clarke

Over the course of the last week I’ve been coming across multiple articles on the value of ideas.

There was this article that basically says ideas are random useless things with little value unless you commercialize them and then gives guidelines  for implementing ideas.

Then there was this great article from a wonderful new innovation community through Maddock Douglas  saying that good ideas are born from empathy.

Then there was this article that is not really about how to use ideas, but is about the development history of a system for washing clothes without using detergent.  In the middle of the article there is the following quote (Note my italicized section):

The idea for EcoSafe grew out of conversation the three inventors had four years ago after watching a news report on a detergent-less washing system that turned out to be a flop. “We knew it was a scam, but we were amused by the whole idea,” says Briggs. “We were laughing about it, but I said to Eddie, ‘Is it possible to do laundry without using detergent?'”

So, where do I stand with regards to ideas?

The first two articles talk about commercializing ideas, using ideas to make money.

The third highlights a totally different aspect – an idea that was a flop led to success.

Ideas are not just about commercialization; they’re about inspiration, about seeding the mind. They’re the uniquely human fruit that begins to sprout the moment they’re free of our bodies.  In this context, even a bad idea might turn out to be good…and a good idea might scare the pants off those in upper management.

 “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” – Howard Aiken

Good ideas should be dangerous!  For that matter, all ideas -even the bad ones- will be dangerous if people (and the culture) have a basic orientation towards innovation.

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” – Oscar Wilde

So next time you’re trying to see if an idea will see the light of day and running it through a gamut of gates, try allowing yourself to be judged by the idea.  Ask yourself, “What does this idea say about our company, our division, our people, about myself?”  If it doesn’t inspire, if it doesn’t cause you to be knocked off guard, it may be less of an idea and more a harmless reflection of what you, and the market, already know.

Posted in Best Practices, Creative Environments, Creativity Leadership, culture of innovation, idea generation, innovation, problem solving, The Human Person, The Innovation Equation, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Pirate Lessons on Innovating Business Culture

Posted by Plish on September 3, 2009


What would you think if a company:

– Gave employees equal shares in profits?

– Respected everyone as equals in all ways and expected them to live up to their code of honor?

– Elected their CEO’s?

– Stayed nimble enough to take advantage of the status quo and was a feared competitor?

– Had only three tiers of management, max?

– Designed their place of work so that there was no physical, hierarchical office structure and in fact, management ate, drank (and slept!) shoulder to shoulder with the employees?

– Designed their place of work to be optimized for their type of business?

– Always obtained and used the best technology and tools, often modifying them to optimize their effectiveness?

– Valued diverse talents and cultural backgrounds?

– Always looked for the best talent but valued passion and commitment perhaps even moreso?

– Looked for other resources such as artists and artisans to help build the company but also to provide entertainment?

– Gave people the prospect of excitement at work?

It sounds like a pretty good place to work, right? 

In its day, the above business was a welcome change to the stifling, low paying environment of mega-‘corporations’.  The only problem was that the above company was illegal to belong to and if you were found to be a member it was a crime punishable by death.

The above company is representative of the best of what pirates had to offer.  While there wasn’t uniformity among pirate groups, and there were abuses among groups, the survival and prospering of piracy as a way of life is a testimony to what can be done when the person is given rights and a share in their work (and the flip side was there as well-no work, no pay). 

At a time when people were not seen as individuals with rights and active hands in their lives, the life of a pirate was not just a means of escape, but  a way to earn wealth while being part of something bigger – a part of a brotherhood. 

I bring this up because in some ways today, people feel they are losing individuality, losing a say in where and how they work, feeling they are working too hard for the amount of pay they receive.  Companies of all sizes could learn something from pirates in structuring their organizations and cultures, in rewarding their people and providing efficient work environments.

For example,

What would company floorplans look like with little hierarchy?

What would paychecks look like with only three tiers of structure and profits being distributed to everyone in the company?

How would people work if they could use the best tools for their jobs and if they knew they were valued?

Think about it…

I’ll leave you with one last thought:

When pirates boarded a ship they would ask the crew for their opinion of their Captain.  If they thought he was  good and fair Captain, he was rewarded with cash and given a boat.  If he was not liked he was beaten up.  How would CEO’s manage their companies if they knew this rule would be applied to them if their companies were ever acquired?

To learn more about pirate life and if you’re in the Chicago area check out the pirate exhibition at the Field Museum of Natural History.  It’s well worth the trip to see what pirates lives were like and what their world looked like.

Posted in Best Practices, Case Studies, Creativity Leadership, culture of innovation, Disruptive Innovation, Human Rights, innovation, Start-Ups, Team-Building, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Need Innovation Inspiration? Step Aboard the USS Benfold

Posted by Plish on June 20, 2009

There is a common perception that the military is all about procedures, about doing things by the book, doing things the way they’ve always been done; you simply don’t make waves.

Waves are something Navy Commander D. Michael Abrashoff lives with, thrives upon, and even fosters.

This Fast Company Articleis well worth reading in its entirety.  In it Commander Abrashoff shares what he and his crew have done to make the USS Benfold a flagship of innovation. 

Some key points:

  • “All I ever wanted to do in the navy was to command a ship. I don’t care if I ever get promoted again. And that attitude has enabled me to do the right things for my people instead of doing the right things for my career. In the process, I ended up with the best ship in the navy — and I got the best evaluation of my career. The unintended benefit? My promotion is guaranteed!” – Commander Abrashoff
  • When Abrashoff took command: “I pulled the string on everything we did, and I asked the people responsible for — or affected by — each department or program, ‘Is there a better way to do things?’ “
  • Always be concerned about morale
  • Retaining your people in tough times is not an option but a necessity.  Commander Abrashoff has 100% retention for his career enlisted people (54% is the average)
  • Get answers to the following questions from each new member of your team: Why did they join the team? What’s their family situation like? What are their goals while they’re on the team — and beyond? How can I help them chart a course through life?
  • Ask each person to answer the following three questions: What do you like most about your workplace? What do you like least? What would you change if you could? Take their answers seriously and work to improve.
  • A culture of trust must be the operating norm
  • Treat people with respect and dignity; take care of them
  • People need to feel good about what they do
  • Use technology to help solve problems
  • People need to be owners of what they do

In short, when leaders empower their people on the grassroots level, the results will be nothing short of amazing.

Posted in Best Practices, Case Studies, Creative Environments, creativity, Creativity Leadership, culture of innovation, innovation, Interviews, problem solving, Team-Building, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

If Creativity is for the Birds, it Should be for People Too

Posted by Plish on May 26, 2009

Lesson in Creativity From the Rook

Lesson in Creativity From the Rook

It is not uncommon for management, team leaders, etc. to have a predisposition towards having only the “creative” geniuses provide the creative input in brainstormings, strategy meetings, etc.

I strongly believe that this view can hinder creative output as all people have, and should be appreciated for, their innate creative capabilities –  whoever they are, whatever their positions.

Moreso, when people are allowed to use their creative abilities, they often will contribute in ways that were not anticipated and thus provide innovative impetus to the work at hand.

I came across this fascinating research out of Cambridge.  They did some research on the tool making capabilities of a bird called the ‘rook.‘  What is really amazing is that rooks don’t make tools in the wild, but they do in captivity.  And, not only do they make tools, they pick the best tools for certain  jobs. And, when the needed tools were out of reach, they used a tool to get the right tool!

There are some great lessons to glean here and apply in our teams, workplaces, and homes.

  1. Sometimes creativity shows up when people are out of their natural element.  It might help to put people in non-threatening environments that are different from the norm and let them do their thing.
  2. Let your people determine the best tools for a job.
  3. If the right tools don’t exist, let people make the tools that they will use to do their jobs.  That means two things: a) Take them seriously and listen if they say there’s a better way, b) Supply them with the raw materials they ask for.
  4. Sometimes the tool that someone uses will just be a stepping stone in the process of getting or making the right tool.  Don’t interrupt the creative process!

Ultimately, creating tools is about creating solutions. 

So just think:

If birds came up with these cool solutions, what could you and your teams do with open minds?

Posted in Case Studies, cognitive studies, Creative Environments, creativity, Creativity Leadership, culture of innovation, idea generation, imagination, innovation, invention, nature, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Research, Science, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

An Innovation Checklist Based Upon Sun Tzu’s, “Art of War”

Posted by Plish on April 10, 2009


“…A skilled Commander seeks victory from the situation and does not demand it of his subordinates.”-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

This wisdom is brilliant. 

Success isn’t about demands placed on your people, it’s about creating the circumstances and environment in which it is the natural result of the fullness of your work.

OK, what does that mean?

When you demand success from people, in general there is a linear thinking: do x, y, and z and whatever it takes, make it happen.

The difference with this approach is that there is a holistic view of the entire situation – a view that honestly accounts for modes of possible failure, but more importantly frames and drives execution of the campaign such that the end result is success.

How do you implement this approach?

Run through the following checklist:

  1. Are you commited towards a bias of maximum success – Or are projects “do or die?” (This translates to, “Do you really, REALLY, have every person’s back or do you need to make points at others’ expense?”) Does your team trust you? Is there a common vision?
  2. Look at the lay of the land; what obstacles (physical, mental, procedural, organizational, etc.) stand in the way of an idea and its commercialization? Can you move quickly or do you have to move slowly? Are you better off developing this product here or in the barn down the street?
  3. What is the mood of the market like?  Is it easy to entice? Excitable? Cautious? Cheap?
  4. What is the competition up to? Are they doing what you’re doing?  Do they know what you’re up to?

If the four points above are examined at the start of (and throughout the execution of!) any endeavor, and all questions answered honestly and frankly along the way, success will be built into your process!

Success is there for the taking because every aspect of your endeavor is biased towards and, in fact, contains, the potential (and forming) successful outcome. 

All that is needed then is execution, not victory per se.


Victory will be yours!!

Posted in Books, Creativity Leadership, culture of innovation, Disruptive Innovation, innovation, Tactics, Team-Building, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

People + System + Passion = Successful Culture of Innovation

Posted by Plish on March 5, 2009

The Underdogs Win It All

The Underdogs Win It All

People of the United States love the underdog.

People of the United States put “A” performers on pedestals.

Therein lies the basis of an schizophrenic dichotomy in the American Spirit.

Underdogs, by definition are not “A” performers. 

And, since everybody loves winners, we’d rather not be the underdog; we’d rather stack our deck with “A” performers because it increases our odds of not losing.

Not losing is not the same as winning – as rocking the world.

Sports history is full of stories of teams that are full of “B” and “C” performers, but yet they win it all (the picture of the USA Hockey “Miracle on Ice” is one such team). 

There are also stories of teams (The New York Yankees come to mind, there are others) who consistently have “A” performers but they come up short.  Why is that?

Being a winning team is about being creative, innovative, realistic, passionate and oriented towards success.

Oriented towards success?

It means that everyone on the team is firing on all cylinders, that the modus operandi of the team is tuned to success; people play to their strengths, not their weaknesses, there is a system of success at work.

Creativity and innovation are percolating in your organization.  Look at your teams and follow the GROW!™ Process.

You’ve hired people for a reason.

They’re your lifeline

They’re your innovation

What are your thoughts on team dynamics and the need for “A” players in order to achieve success?

Posted in Authenticity, Creative Environments, Creativity Leadership, culture of innovation, innovation, Sports Creativity, Team-Building, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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