Where Science Meets Muse

Posts Tagged ‘innovative culture’

Three Guidelines For Enabling Innovation (Via a 7 Year Old Crossing the Street)

Posted by Plish on June 26, 2014

The crossing guard waved her arms and held up the stop sign.  On my way to a prototype shop to pick up some parts, I slowed, and stopped, and watched.

Behind the yellow vested guard, thirty to forty seven year olds began crossing the street in a relatively organized manner, except for one girl.  She wasn’t particularly tall as far as 7 year olds go.  She had straight, dirty blonde, just-past-shoulder length hair, and was wearing a white number 4, Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers jersey.  While her friends took a linear approach to street crossing, she took each step in a calculated manner.

With each step she reached with her little legs to the next reflective strip in the cross walk.  Like Indiana Jones crossing a foot bridge, this little girl took a step, rebalanced, shuffled to get to the edge of the strip and then s t r e t c h e d her leg, pointing her toes, landing on the next reflective strip.   Intensely concentrating on where she stepped and avoiding knocking into those around her, she wove her way across the street.

As I smiled at the beautiful play, I realized that this little girl, in this situation, embodies what’s necessary for there to be successful innovation.

1. Safe Space is Needed – She most likely couldn’t have done what she did if cars were whizzing through the crosswalk.  The crossing guard stopped traffic and created a safe area.  If you want people to be innovative, or for that matter, if you want to be innovative yourself, somehow the traffic has to be stopped.  Someone, or something, has to run interference and create a space and time for innovation.   Corporate politics and power plays are guaranteed innovation killers.  There needs to be insulation from NOISE and distraction. If an innovator has to worry about getting hit by proverbial cars, she can’t create.

2. Give the Minimum Direction Necessary – The little girl was likely told: “Cross the street with your friends when the guard says it’s safe. Be sure to stay in the crosswalk!”  She wasn’t told where to step, how many steps to take, or who she had to walk with.  She knew she had to get from Point A to Point B.  Too often there is a tendency to manage how people get from Point A to Point B.  Don’t.  There are infinite combinations of numbers that when added equal 4.  It’s not simply 2+2.  This goes for personal creativity as well.  When in a creative endeavor, ask yourself if you’re simply taking the shortest distance between two points or if you’re exploring options.  Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re taking the ‘easy’ way, or following everyone else, until we stop and ask ourselves what we’re doing.

3.  Space for Fun/Exploration – To me, fun and exploration are largely synonymous.  I alluded to this earlier.  The girl was playing while accomplishing what was asked of her: crossing the street and staying in the cross-walk.  As safe space is needed, so is space for playing.  People need to explore, to try things out, to play and have fun while they innovate.  At least they should.  If someone isn’t having fun going from Point A to Point B, you should ask yourself if that person is the right person in the right place in the project.  But, it’s not always the person!  If someone isn’t having fun, this could also be an indication that above points 1 and 2 haven’t  been implemented.  If they haven’t, fun is much less likely to occur.  Use this check for yourself as well.  Are you passionate about what you’re doing? Are you having fun?  If not, find out what it is that’s blocking the fun.

When you’re trying to create the best environment for innovation for yourself or others, picture the little girl in the Brett Favre jersey stepping from reflective strip to reflective strip while crossing the street.  Remember the three guidelines and you might just find yourself coming up with more creative work and having fun doing it!



Posted in children, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, imagination, innovation, problem solving, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Goal: Making Innovation Disappear

Posted by Plish on December 29, 2012

Some years back I was involved in an inter-religious dialogue with a Muslim group.  During the course of many conversations, one thing became clear.  My Muslim friends didn’t think of themselves as belonging to a religion, per se.  They simply were living a way of life.

They weren’t, and aren’t, alone.

In fact, there are  cultures that don’t have a word for ‘religion’ in their vocabulary.  If a word is used it is a variation on the imported word, “religion.”

The reason for this is as mentioned earlier.  People view living in a “religious” manner as a holistic experience.  There is no place that an individual’s (and community’s!) world view is not influenced by the relationship between God and Humans.  It simply “is”, and if it simply is, it doesn’t need to be labelled.

This phenomenon is present in other places in our lives as well.  Ask someone to describe how she gets from point a to point b, how he cooks a souffle, and I would be extremely surprised to hear those descriptions contain the phrase, “and then I breathe in and out,” multiple times, if even once.

It just happens and is part of the process.

That’s how an innovation competency should be.  Eventually you shouldn’t need to talk about it. Everything you do, from working in an R&D lab to Finance, to Operations, to taking time to recharge your batteries should be geared towards optimizing your innovation output. (Remember the Innovation Audit)

Yes, some of this is about consistent procedures (‘ritual’ from a religious perspective), but moreso it’s about commitment; it’s about worldview which is tied into identity and brand.

Who are we? What’s our goal? What are we supposed to do and how do we do it?  Who am I?

These are the questions that, at first glance seem to have a ‘religious’ nature to them.  But, it’s not about religion as much as it’s about human authenticity.  It’s about letting people be who they are, contributing from their strengths to help make the whole be more than the sum of its parts. If people can’t be their deepest selves, and if the innovative organization does not contribute to the making of the whole person, then the person suffers and the innovative output of the organization will suffer.

So, next time you find yourself talking about how what you’re doing is innovative, do a little reflection and ask if innovation is a core competency or a way of life.  Ask yourself if you’re doing something because you have to do it, or because you’re committed to it and the company’s mission makes sense, and what you do makes sense, when you do it.

Does this mean that there’s no questioning?

No, in fact there should be, because, just as I learned in the inter-religious dialogue, growth and building relationships is more about sharing questions than sharing answers.

Not to mention, the organization that sells answers will eventually go out of business because humans don’t buy answers – fundamentally they buy a question:

“What will my life become with this product/service/etc.?”

Posted in Authenticity, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, innovation, Religion, Social Innovation, Society, Spirituality, The Human Person, Wellness, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Death to the Project Post-Mortem!

Posted by Plish on November 30, 2012

Turn to any business magazine, look in project management books, (Microsoft’s site even has a template for it!) and one of the best practices of project management is to conduct a post-mortem just after a project has been completed, and right before it’s officially ‘closed.’ The purpose is to get everyone on the team together to examine what went well in the project, what went wrong, and record this information so that others can learn.

Don’t get me wrong, the concept is a good one and should be practiced.  What I have a problem with, in particular, is use of the phrase, ‘post-mortem.’

By now you know that I’m a big fan of the power of words and metaphors – they shape how we solve problems and approach the world.  So it probably won’t surprise you then that my aversion to the phrase is tied to all the meaning around the words, ‘post-mortem.’

Think about it.

The term literally means: after death.  But what’s dead?  You just finished something that myriads of people put their hearts and souls into, and now that that something is impacting the world, you call it dead?  The project is closed, not dead. As a matter of fact, all projects, even those that resulting in the closing of a chapter, are births, not deaths! They are the beginning of something new.

By bringing the concept of death into the mix, there is a meaning conveyed that what just happened was not life-giving.  It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that what just happened needs to be dissected and analyzed, and perhaps even robbed of deeper meaning and import*.  Perhaps worst of all, it creates a sense that no continuity with this ‘dead thing’ is required.

On the contrary, the work of marketing, manufacturing, sales and product monitoring is kicking into full gear!

My point here is that it’s not about ending something, as much as it’s about a continuity of learning!  Sure, one project ends, another begins.  It’s a never-ending cycle. The commonality is that before, during and after a project, there needs to be a recursive aspect, a learning process that is ingrained into the culture.  That mindset only comes about if there’s less emphasis on analyzing ‘that which died,’ and more emphasis on learning each day what works, what doesn’t, and growing from that. And, for that to happen, we need to put the term,”Project Post-Mortem” to death, and replace it with a more forward thinking term.

I like: ‘Lessons Learned.’

What would you call it?




One day after sleeping badly, an anatomist went to his frog laboratory and
removed, from a cage, a frog with white spots on its back. He placed it on a
table and drew a line just in front of the frog. “Jump frog, jump!” he shouted.
The little critter jumped two feet forward. In his lab book, the anatomist
scribbled, “Frog with four legs jumps two feet.”

Then, he surgically
removed one leg of the frog and repeated the experiment. “Jump, jump!” To which,
the frog leaped forward 1.5 feet. He wrote down, “Frog with three legs jumps 1.5

Next, he removed a second leg. “Jump frog, jump!” The frog
managed to jump a foot. He scribbled in his lab book, “Frog with two legs jumps
one foot.”

Not stopping there, the anatomist removed yet another leg.
“Jump, jump!” The poor frog somehow managed to move 0.5 feet forward. The
scientist wrote, “Frog with one leg jumps 0.5 feet.”

Finally, he
eliminated the last leg. “Jump, jump!” he shouted, encouraging forward progress
for the frog. But despite all its efforts, the frog could not budge. “Jump frog,
jump!” he cried again. It was no use; the frog would not response. The anatomist
thought for a while and then wrote in his lab book, “Frog with no legs goes

Posted in Best Practices, Creative Environments, culture of innovation, innovation, Innovation Tools, Project Management, Team-Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Want to build an Entrepreneurial mindset? Look to INDIE Artists

Posted by Plish on August 14, 2011

There is a growing consensus that when building a successful, thriving, innovative culture, it’s essential that people adopt the mentalities of entrepreneurs.   While there are many different facets, Bob Baker over at The Buzz Factor has summarized them nicely in this great article  (it’s worth reading to understand the nuances of what being INDIE means). 

In summary, people should be:

I – Inspired

N – Nontraditional

D – Determined

I – Innovative

E – Empowered

Adopt these perspectives and foster them in those around you and, trust me, the sky will be the limit.

Posted in Authenticity, creativity, Entrepreneurship 2.0, innovation, Musical Creativity, Start-Ups, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Insights Into Innovation via the Way of the Mad Scientist

Posted by Plish on August 11, 2011

While at a client’s the other day, a colleague looked at the collection of new and failed prototypes, bits and pieces of scrap, notes, Ziploc bags with components,  and exclaimed, “Plishka, you’re a mad scientist, man!”

It wasn’t the first time I’ve been called that jokingly.  I’ve always considered it a compliment.  Yes, I know,  ‘bad’ mad scientists get much more billing than ‘good’ mad scientists so people tend to think of mad scientists as primarily ‘bad’.  But, since I don’t have people coming after me with torches and pitchforks, I can only surmise that I’m labelled with the moniker because I share certain traits with mad scientists in general – what we’ll call, ‘Common Mad Scientist Traits’ (CMST’s for short).

So, it got me to thinking about traits of mad scientists (good and bad), myself and about other creative people at innovative companies.  A compilation of CMST’s is as follows: 

  • Empathy for the human condition
  • Tenacious, passionate commitment to solving problems
  • Will prototype/experiment before committing to the bigger project
  • Customizes environment and tools to increase odds of success
  • Accepts failure as a learning opportunity
  • Leverages technology
  • Has assistants(team) that share(s) the vision
  • Finds ways to work around bureaucracy
  • Authentic – true to self

Does this list jive with the “Mad Scientists” you know?  How does your business empower  and foster these behaviours and perspectives? Which CMST’s do you have?

Posted in Authenticity, Creative Environments, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, idea generation, innovation, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Renaissance Souls, Science, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Tips for Spotting, Hiring and Retaining Innovative Talent

Posted by Plish on March 15, 2009


Do You See People in Black and White or...?

Do You See People in Black and White or...?

In the Mid 1980’s, Lotus was having a tough time coming up with new products.  In spite of the new influx of talent, many with MBA’s and resumes that included the likes of Procter and Gamble and Coca-Cola, Lotus was losing its luster and many of the original hires were jumping ship because they no longer felt they fit in.

CEO Mitchell Kapor and  Head of Organizational Development and Training, Freada Klein, decided to look more deeply at the hiring practices to see if maybe something had changed.

In a brilliant experiment, they took the resumes of the first 40 people hired and doctored them up to disguise the identities contained therein, while leaving untouched more unconventional aspects of their resumes (such as their experiences as clinical psychologists, community organizers, meditation teachers, etc.)   They then submitted these people to the applicant pool to see what would happen.  Incidentally, Kapor’s resume was also included.

The result?

None of the original 40 employees were asked for an interview!

Lotus was screening out the innovative, multi-talented people and had created a narrow minded culture.

This scenario is hardly unique to Lotus.  It’s all too common in the corporate world.  Yet, at a time when innovation is needed more than ever, multi-faceted individuals need to be appreciated for what they bring to the table.  The result will be the building of a culture that is intellectually diverse and able to tackle the unique problems of the day.

So, what can managers and hiring personnel do to make sure they don’t slip into the Lotus trap? 

For that we turn to Margaret Lobenstine, author of: The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One.   (The  following in PDF format is here):

DON’T MISS Such Potentially Valuable Employees:
• Don’t automatically rule out resumes that show a “checkered work history”
especially if the references are all positive
• Be careful about the questions used in interviews. For example, the familiar
question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” rarely brings out the best in
Renaissance Soul candidates. They are far more likely to get good ideas for next
steps as they move along rather than having a set plan for themselves that goes
that far into the future. While this flexible quality may produce a stilted answer in
the interview, it may be your company’s key to staying alive in an ever-changing
work environment.

PLACE Renaissance Souls Where They Can Be The Greatest Asset:
• in the brainstorming, product creating, ground-breaking areas of your business;
• as inter-departmental team leaders
• where creative trouble-shooting is needed

Think About STAFFING PATTERNS For Such Employees:
• Consider using Renaissance Souls as mentors for employees who need help
developing their ability to see the big picture, to problem-solve, to innovate
• Pair Renaissance Soul employees with detail-oriented, follow-through staff and
get the best from both!

Focus In On WAYS TO KEEP Valuable Renaissance Souls:
• Pay more attention to the language used in work assignments. Instead of
implying a singularity of focus “Find out the cause of this problem and fix it!” try
framing things in terms of multiples: “What combination of things do you think may
be causing this problem and what solutions can be applied?”
• Allow as much flexibility as possible in terms of when and where the
Renaissance Souls work; in the long run, they are far more likely to be workaholics
than shirkers if given free rein to follow their own rhythms
• Often times Renaissance Souls will be more interested in a horizontal move that
offers them a chance to learn a new area of the business than in a vertical one,
where they are essentially doing the same type of work, only with greater
responsibility. Create ways to make such horizontal moves as respected and
rewarding as vertical ones.
• Encourage asking Renaissance Souls to explore a variety of relevant
journals/periodicals/web sites and funnel relevant info to the right people in the
• Give help in areas of typical weakness for such employees: distractibility,
tendency to take longer than expected on projects that they find interesting
because they get too interested

What other practices would you recommend for making sure you’re hiring and retaining innovative people?

Posted in Authenticity, Creative Environments, culture of innovation, innovation, Renaissance Souls, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Slumdog Inspired Innovation Talk

Posted by Plish on February 28, 2009


A recent discussion in the “Front End of Innovation” group over at LinkedIn was inspired by the movie “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Mr. Amit Dharia, chimed in with some wonderful observations that I’d like to share with you.

The name “slumdog” was inspired from the phrase “underdog”.

True innovators prefer to be underdogs. Underdogs, stay below radar until ready to ambush to kill. Unlike “noise makers” they can stay in shadows for long and keep quiet. Both confidentiality and element of surprise is required.

The second feature of film is “focused opportuntinism” – whatever a path you have to take, be open minded and take it. Zigzag better than linear path. If a path needs to be changed, change it quickly.

The third feature is resourcefulness. Innovation needs not only creative mind and hopeful heart but also resourcefulness. Great innovations and great ideas need less money. Surprisingly, people who come to USA from underdeveloped countries do very well in IT and technologies where less resources are required. Lesser you have, mind works extra hard to fulfill the gaps.

The most important lesson is innovation cannot be born in structured environment. Innovation needs dramatically surprising and unconventional thinking.

Slumdog is also about pride with humility. Those of us who have seen slums of India, can bear witness to the fact that the heavenly hopes can only grow in human made hells. Wild flowers grow in jungles and not in well trimmed backyards.

 What do you think of Mr. Dharia’s observations?

Posted in culture of innovation, Disruptive Innovation, idea generation, innovation, Nature of Creativity, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Nurturing an Innovation Driven Culture

Posted by Plish on February 10, 2009

(Courtesy of paulachang.com)

(Courtesy of paulachang.com)


The folks over at “The Heart of Innovation” (Ideachampions.com) have come up with an excellent post delineating 50 ways organizations can keep that innovative edge.  (There is also an article in the Jan 2008 issue of Leadership Excellence that talks about forming a culture of innovation.)

Some of the 50 are nuances of others, but in general the list is very helpful and hits on important topics that I agree with wholeheartedly.  These guidelines can be used to flesh out the GROW! acronym.

Some of my favorites?

2. Wherever you can, whenever you can, always drive fear out of the workplace. Fear is “Public Enemy #1” of an innovative culture.

14. Embrace and celebrate failure. 50 to 70 per cent of all new product innovations fail at even the most successful companies. The main difference between companies who succeed at innovation and those who don’t isn’t their rate of success — it’s the fact that successful companies have a LOT of ideas, pilots, and product innovations in the pipeline.

39. Avoid extreme time pressures.

 I would also add a corollary to #14:

51.  Don’t make a project upon which your business depends be the Flagship Project for innovation at your company.  You’ll be sure to violate one or more of the preceding 50 rules if you do.

I would also clarify point 25: “Select and install idea management software for your intranet.”

Idea management software, while nice to have, is by no means required.  If you’ve got an intranet and certain directories available to everyone, you can set up your own idea depository/database and make it as interactive as you want.

Do you have any you’d add to their list?

Posted in Authenticity, Best Practices, Creative Environments, Creativity Leadership, culture of innovation, innovation, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

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