Where Entrepreneurs Have Ideas

Where do successful entrepreneurs get their best creative ideas? Molly Reynolds* interviewed some entrepreneurs to find out. Here are my favorites :

  • John Goodman, John Goodman PR: Takes a three-hour walk and that’s “when I have my best creative ideas. My head de-clutters, and I start thinking clearly.”
  • Kat Quinzel, Cash Cow: “I get my best ideas when I’m making food. I think it’s because I tend to forget about everything else.”
  • Bian Li, The Hungry Lab: His ideas come while scuba diving.
  • Allen Klein, author/speaker: “my best ideas come from times when I’m walking my dog.”
  • Lisa Kipps-Brown, Glerin Business Resources: “I get my best ideas when mowing the grass with a push mower.”

These stories align with creativity research. Researchers have found that ideas are more likely to come when you take time off from your hard work. We call it incubation. It often happens when you’re doing something physical, like walking or cooking. (Warning! It only happens if you’ve worked hard and long before you take this time off.)

*Molly Reynolds, Kiplinger news service, “Inspiration points: Entrepreneurs reveal what sparks their creativity.” July 2017.

Writers’ Drafts: Who Needs Them?

Like all creativity, writing is a wandering and iterative process, where the creator doesn’t know where it’s going. A writer makes hundreds of creative decisions along the way–sometimes, a hundred in just one day. Which word to use; choosing a comma, period, or semicolon; moving a paragraph a few pages forward, or maybe up at the beginning. Then, the bigger changes. Realizing that your protagonist just isn’t carrying the story forward. Noticing that the words are telling you: Over here! Here’s where the story is. Here’s where you explore, where you need to go.

In the old days (before word processors) writers had to write by hand, edit by hand, type by hand, and then edit the typescript by hand and retype everything. Each full version of the manuscript was called a “draft.” Now that concept is obsolete, says writer Sarah Manguso.* When everything is on your computer as a file, you never have to print it out. You can edit a word here, a paragraph there. Delete an entire “page.” Rewrite the first two pages and leave everything else the same, to be explored a few days later. Here are some excerpts from her wonderful essay:

A novelist friend works on books one draft at a time, and she saves each draft. Another novelist friend works on the computer and keeps just one digital version. They are both successful and prolific.

I used to compose my work on paper, revise on the computer and save the initial drafts. Now that I compose on the computer, there’s only ever one extant version, and no drafts at all….Now that writing can take place digitally, [it] effectively removes the idea of the draft from the work process. There’s no need to finish a draft before you can go back to the first sentence and start revising it again. There are no drafts….After some duration of continuous work, the piece is done.

I think the concept of the draft is an anachronism from the time before laptops and word processing software.

What do you think? How do you write? If you generate drafts, what do they look like (printed? a computer file?) and how do you edit them toward the next draft?

*Sarah Manguso, August 6, “Paper Trail,” New York Times Sunday Book Review, p. 9.

Creative Collaboration at Apple Park

Jony Ive, the legendary designer of the iPhone, is now designing Apple’s new Cupertino headquarters, known as Apple Park. He worked closely with Steve Jobs before his passing, and now with CEO Tim Cook. As professional creatives, they know the importance of collaboration in creativity:

Ive and Cook place great importance on employers being physically together at work–ironic for a company that has created devices that enable people to work from a distance. Face-to-face communication is essential during the beginning of a project, when an idea is sprouting, they say. Once a model emerges from a series of conversations, it draws people in and gives focus. “For all of the beauty of technology and all the things we’ve helped facilitate over the years, nothing yet replaces human interaction,” says Cook, “and I don’t think it will ever happen.”

The thousands of employees at Apple Park ….will be seated in open space, not the small offices they’re used to….Whiteboards–synonymous with Silicon Valley brainstorming–are built into floor-to-ceiling sliding doors in the central area of each pod.

The space aligns with Apple’s iterative, improvisational creative process–one where the ideas and designs emerge from collaboration, not from the mind of a brilliant lone genius.

*Christina Passariello, August 2017, “The circle is now complete.” Wall Street Journal  Magazine, pp. 56-63.

The Creative Spark

Here’s a great new book by Agustin Fuentes, The Creative Spark. He starts with a pretty standard claim: that compared to all other animals, including our close primate relatives, creativity is what makes humans special. But what’s new here is that Fuentes says that it’s not just creativity–it’s creativity combined with social collaboration. I make a similar argument in my book, Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration–that collaboration drives all creativity.

Here are some of Fuentes’ statements:

Our humanness can be attributed to our ancestor’s collaborative creativity.

And:

The spark of creativity emerges from the way that our ancestors made social lives and social innovations central.

And:

Science is rooted in deep patterns of human creativity and collaboration.

This is great stuff!

Note: in the quotations I’ve drawn on paraphrases from a book review by David Barash, in the WSJ July 22-23 2017.

 

The One Device: A New Book about the iPhone

Brian Merchant’s new book, The One Device, has gotten a lot of media attention, including this review in the Wall Street Journal. It’s a compelling story–and an exhaustive one; maybe the book has too many details–but if you really really want to know everything about the iPhone, this is the book for you.

In any book about innovation, the first thing that I look for is to see if the author debunks the “lone genius” myths that we’ve heard so many times. According to endless media reports, Steve Jobs is the classic lone genius. He’s a loner, he dropped out of college, he comes up with an inspired vision and insists that everyone follow through, without compromise.

There’s a bit of truth in every myth, I suppose. But basically, the idea that Steve Jobs is a brilliant, visionary, lone genius is exaggerated, if not completely wrong. The details in Merchant’s book debunk the lone genius myth. He provides details about the many people who came up with the small creative insights that made the iPhone happen. Often, these people worked without Job’s involvement, and sometimes without his knowledge.

None of Apple’s three products–the Mac, iPod, and iPhone–were original. (Although they were improvements to what existed at the time.) With the ten-year anniversary of the iPhone, I keep thinking of how everyone’s forgotten about the Palm Pilot. Five years before the iPhone, I was checking my email, surfing the Internet, and downloading and installing apps. When the iPhone came out, my first response was, big deal, what’s so new about this? My second response was, I HATE trying to type words on this f***ing touch screen keyboard. (Ten years later, I still can’t do it. Am I the only person with big thumbs?) But my skepticism of the iPhone turned out to be on the wrong side of history. Everybody else was happy to get rid of the stylus and learn how to make their thumb tips really small.

Merchant describes plenty of dead ends and iterations that weren’t planned but that emerged during the innovation process.

  • Jobs didn’t want the Mac to be compatible with other computers (such as IBM PCs with DOS). Does anyone remember when the Mac had its own word processor and spreadsheet programs?
  • In 1985, Apple offered to license their operating system to clone makers, just like Microsoft licensed its PC-DOS operating system. Apple failed, Microsoft won, and now, every computer runs Microsoft Windows.
  • The iPod struggled in the market, until Jobs was persuaded to make it compatible with Windows computers.
  • The iPhone didn’t take off until Jobs finally agreed to open the app store to non-Apple products.

And furthermore, as Dan Gallagher writes in the Wall Street Journal, Apple thought that the iPhone would primarily be used as a phone. (As in, making and receiving voice calls…remember those?)

Yes, Steve Jobs was a strong and stubborn individual who was committed to his ideas. That fits our cultural myths about the lone genius. But the most stereotypically genius of his ideas (stubbornly sticking with your vision) were usually the most wrong. What made Apple, and the iPhone, successful was that its innovation continued down an iterative, wandering path, and that Apple brought together great people into creative teams.

Patent Trolls: Good Riddance

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced a decision that might be the most important for innovation than anything else that happens this year. They ruled unanimously that patent trolls can’t file lawsuits anywhere they want. For years, anybody with a patent, that wanted to file a frivolous lawsuit against a big corporation, would take them to court in the Eastern District of Texas. Why? Because the judges there were perceived as more friendly to these “patent trolls” than anywhere else in the U.S.

About 40 percent of patent cases last year were filed in the tiny town of Marshall, Texas, which has only 25,000 residents. An amicus brief in the lawsuit said about Texas that “local practices and rules depart from national norms in ways attractive for incentivizing settlement for less than the cost of litigating the early stages of patent cases.” What that means is that the big companies often settle out of court, essentially paying extortion fees to the patent troll, simply to avoid the expense of defending themselves in Eastern Texas, knowing that the courts there usually side with the plaintiff. It’s called “venue shopping.” And with this decision, it stops.

Patent trolls block collaboration and innovation. Take a look at why, in my book Group Genius.

GROUP GENIUS: New and Improved!

A new version of the book Group Genius has just been published! I’ve updated every chapter and page, and I’ve written a new chapter on how social media drives collaborative creativity.

Group Genius, first published in 2007, showed that creativity is always collaborative–even when you’re alone. Back in 2007, it was pretty radical to claim that collaboration drives innovation. The accepted wisdom was that brilliant people came up with creative ideas all by themselves. Business leaders competed to hire the most creative professionals—offering free lunch, day care, and ping pong tables. They were convinced that they needed special geniuses to generate innovation. Most creativity advice books told people how to come up with better ideas.

Now, ten years later, the evidence for the creative power of collaboration is overwhelming. In 2015, a majority of executives say more collaboration leads to greater profits. In 2016, the Harvard Business Review reported that employee collaboration time was way up in the last two decades—from 50 percent to as much as 80 percent. In 2016, the New York Times wrote that “teams are now the fundamental unit of organization.” Today everyone agrees that collaboration is the key to innovation.

But there’s a problem: It turns out that it’s hard to collaborate successfully. Brainstorming is a good example: Numerous studies have shown that this popular technique is usually a waste of time. There’s so much ineffective collaboration and bad teamwork that there’s been a backlash. Susan Cain’s bestseller Quiet argues that when people spend time alone, they’re more effective, more creative, and more successful. She calls the increasing emphasis on teamwork “The New Groupthink.” The truth is that, despite the proliferation of advice in the business press, many companies don’t know how to foster creative collaboration.

Here’s where the research comes in. My research has shown that only certain kinds of collaboration work in the real world—improvisations that are guided and planned, but in a way that doesn’t kill the power of improvisation to generate unexpected insights. Fortunately, today’s research tells us how. For example, I show that improvised innovation is more likely to work when a group experiences group flow—the group equivalent of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s famous “flow” state, when we perform at our peak and lose track of time. Most teams never experience group flow; knowing the research will help you attain this peak experience. And I show how to build brainstorming groups that realize their full creative potential.

Today’s Internet tools make collaboration easier than ever: Slack, Google Plus+, WebEx, Basecamp…the list grows longer every month. Critical business functions have migrated into the cloud, allowing everyone to work together more efficiently and access the same data. Social media like Facebook, Instagram, Vine, and Pinterest expand our social networks and bring us together in groups that include millions. More than ever before, we need to understand how to harness these tools to foster creative collaboration.

While doing research for this second edition, I bought so many books about collaboration that I had to buy another bookshelf. Just last month, another book about collaboration appeared, with almost exactly the same argument: The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone. But while reading these books, I discovered that some of the most exciting research on group creativity goes unnoticed. That’s why I’ve written this second edition—to share the surprising insights of the science of collaboration. In this new edition, I bring together research on face-to-face collaboration, everyday conversation, and even jazz, theater, and basketball teams, as well as the latest science of Internet-based collaboration. This research shows how we can use social media and business productivity apps to bring us together in ways that build on our deeply human need for collaboration.

Take a look at the new book: http://www.groupgenius.net

A Writer Is…

William Stafford, on “Writing,” has this to say:

A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.

This quotation appears in a book by Carol Burke and Molly Best Tinsley called The Creative Process, filled with exercises for writers they’ve taken from their own workshop for writers. They go on to write:

The perfect stanza or paragraph does not leap fully formed from the writer’s brain; rather it is the result of much experimentation–tightening and expansion, rewording and reordering, through draft after draft. (p. 6)

The writer might put it this way: I don’t know what I’ve got to say until it’s down on paper, but I can’t start getting it down on paper until I know what I’m going to say. (p. 7)

Keep Creativity Alive in Children

I just stumbled on a fascinating essay about creativity in schools. It could have been written yesterday! Read to the end to find out who the famous author is, and what year it was written:

How can we keep creativity alive in children?

Creative children are likely to be unusual children. They get bored with the idea of Jack’s always going up the hill with Jill. They do not accept things as they are; they do not easily settle down to their lessons as they are given to them.

The good teacher may be genuinely searching for creativity in her pupils. But she is continually defeated in her efforts by the demands of her supervisor, the politics of the local school system, the lack of space, the lack of materials, the lack of assistance, the size of the class. Given these obstacles, she is unprepared to cope with the child who uses his creativity to defeat her. The child who constructs questions that will arouse the boys to raucous laughter, whose raised hand she must therefore distrust; the child who invents secret clubs and ciphers and signals and ceremonies that turn the classroom into something strange and unpredictable.

We fail to see obstructiveness as an aspect of creativity. The teacher cannot risk disrupting the precarious balance of her overcrowded classroom. The best teacher has little time or energy for any kind of creativity, and none for the disruptive sort. But we can remedy these things quite easily and inexpensively. We can build enough schools. We can hire clerks and janitors and guards to take much of the burdensome load off the teacher’s back. We can pay our teachers well enough to keep as teachers all those who really want to teach.

We want people who are original, creative, spontaneous, innovative. But we want them to be produced by teachers whom we condemn in a hundred ways to be overworked and uninspired, unrespected and underpaid. We would like the children of America to be creative, to learn about creativity, while we make the best change they have to learn, to respond to teaching, as uncreative as possible. There is only one sure way to develop creativity in all the different kinds of children in schools. We must cherish the creativity of all those who have elected to become teachers because they want to teach.

If we are to give more than lip service to creativity in children, we must actively support the creativity of the teacher. We must come to recognize fully the creativity of good teaching.

Year: 1962

Author: Anthropologist Margaret Mead, author of the famous book Coming of Age in Samoa (1928)

This article was published as “Where education fits in” in Think magazine, Nov-Dec 1962, pp. 16-21.

Teaching is an Art (John Dewey)

I’m re-reading John Dewey’s 1934 book Art as experience in connection with an article I’m writing. This passage, near the end (p. 347), jumped out at me:

It is by way of communication that art becomes the incomparable organ of instruction, but the way is so remote from that usually associated with the idea of education, it is a way that lifts art so far above what we are accustomed to think of as instruction, that we are repelled by any suggestion of teaching and learning in connection with art. But our revolt is in fact a reflection upon education that proceeds by methods so literal as to exclude the imagination and one not touching the desires and emotions of men.

In the first 346 pages of his book, Dewey argues that art is an experience that a person has while interacting with an artwork. It is not the object, the work of art; it’s the interactive experience. Great teaching is interactive and improvisational, and when it’s effective, the interaction has the characteristics that Dewey calls “aesthetic experience.”