Thinking In New Boxes October 12, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity.
Tags: alan iny, luc de brabandere, zig zag
Thinking in New Boxes is the title of a new book by Luc de Brabandere and Alan Iny of Boston Consulting Group. They write “Thinking outside the box is dead” and propose “thinking in new boxes processes” like: doubt everything; research; generate ideas; introduce reality; and implement and evaluate relentlessly.
In my 2013 book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity, with over 100 creativity techniques based in research, I make a similar point. In Chapter 4, on how to get yourself into the playful mindset where great ideas happen, I recommend “Find The Right Box” and I introduce a group of four practical techniques with this:
There’s a popular belief that creativity comes from the absence of constraints. People assume that if you’re not creative, it’s because you’re thinking inside the box—so all you need to do is to get rid of the box!
But research shows just the opposite: creativity is enhanced by constraints. They just have to be the right constraints. The techniques of this section show you how important it is to draw boundaries around the space in which you play. If you’re stumped for an idea, maybe you just need to play with different toys for a while; start a new game, with a different set of rules.
As the famous G. K. Chesterton put it: “Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.”
Ten Lessons for Design-Driven Success September 20, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity, Uncategorized.
Tags: alinea, Apple, dan pink, fab, fast company, Flipboard, genius bar, innovation by design, Warby Parker
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Check out Fast Company’s 10th annual issue devoted to “Innovation by Design”, showing how good design drives innovation. These are their ten key factors that drive the “new kind of creativity”, and each one is elaborated in one of the articles in this special issue:
- Design starts at the top. In innovative companies, the CEO is very close to the top designer. “Only the CEO can get the entire company to focus on something,” says Google designer Jon Wiley.
- Apple was the first to show the way. Max Chaifkin contributes an oral history of Apple’s design, arguing that Apple’s design strategy has been completely misunderstood.
- Good design often takes years, not quarters, to bring results. Sometimes a failed product, like Apple’s 2000 Cube, sows the seeds for later successes.
- There are many different ways to build a design and innovation culture. Google, for example, does not have a chief designer and doesn’t have any design “rules.” At other design powerhouses, there’s a lead designer in the C-suite. It depends.
- Sometimes innovation and design doesn’t seem to be the wisest financial design. It can cost a lot of money, and the revenue stream isn’t always obvious. Apple stores all have a Genius Bar and their services are free. What other retail chain devotes 20% of floor space to something they give away for free? And yet, Apple Stores have the highest sales per square foot of any retailer.
- Today’s consumers want good design more than ever. The examples of success are online bazaar Fab, and Samsung, and new brands including Nest and Warby Parker.
- Watch consumers to get new ideas and good design.
- Design has to be embedded and linked to every other aspect of the business. Manufacturing, marketing, finance. It can’t just be shape, color, or even just interaction design.
- You need both the big picture, and a mastery of the small details. Examples include Jawbone, Flipboard, and J. Crew.
- Treat every day like it’s the first day of your business. Jeff Bezos of Amazon uses the expression “day one” to emphasize that Amazon is still just at the beginning.
I particularly liked their timeline of key design moments from 2004 to 2013, starting on page 35. Remember when Chicago’s Millennium Park opened in July 2004? It seems like it’s been there forever! Remember when Dan Pink published A Whole New Mind in 2005? Read these prophetic words:
It’s no longer sufficient to create a product, a service, an experience, or a lifestyle that’s merely functional. Today it’s economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging.
This is a must-read issue! (October 2013)
25 Ways To Be More Creative September 8, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity.
Tags: Christina Desmarais, Inc. Magazine, zig zag, zigzag
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Inc. Magazine just published a review of my new book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity. Reporter Christina DesMarais selected her favorite 25 techniques, out of more than 100 I wrote about in the book. DesMarais writes:
The book is a gem, chock full of fascinating findings from research studies and a deep well of tactics that will get you thinking differently. Check out Sawyer’s book if you want to know more–he claims it offers more than 100 tips on how to be more creative.
This great book review definitely made my weekend!
Tags: apwa, maritz, mccormick place, the collaborative
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I’m in Chicago to deliver a keynote tomorrow morning at McCormick Place, the huge convention center on the South Side of Chicago. My event is called “The Collaborative” and is organized by Maritz Travel. I arrived early today, and I discovered that there were several other conferences taking place at this cavernous facility, completely unrelated to my own business and research. But I like to practice what I preach, so I took this as an opportunity: In my new book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity, one of the creativity techniques that I recommend is to attend trade shows that are totally different from your own daily business. So I walked around and asked questions, and I learned all sorts of things that have no obvious benefit to me whatsoever…but paradoxically, these strange bits of information are the secret to creativity.
One show was already open today: It is the American Public Works Association (APWA) annual meeting. The attendees are cities and municipalities, and people that sell products to them. I walked through the vendor exhibition booth, and I saw huge snow removal vehicles, augurs for digging sewer lines, temporary construction barriers, and solid waste disposal technologies. This was very big equipment, and it was fascinating!
Another conference starting in a few days is Print Expo 2013. At the bar, I chatted with a guy who works for one of the largest “finishing” companies in the U.S., Standard of Andover Mass. I learned that “finishing” is anything that happens to paper after it’s already printed–cutting, folding, stamping. I learned so much about how the business has changed in the last ten years. The guys sitting on my other side at the bar were from the APWA conference; they were with a vendor from Minneapolis that sells treated lumber for bridge construction and salt storage. (Salt that’s used to melt icy roads in the winter.)
So what does this have to do with creativity? The research shows that great ideas always come from combining very different areas, professions, and disciplines. And in many cases, new insights come by analogy–when you adapt a solution from one field to a totally different field. Most likely, the things I learned today will never translate directly into a clear creative outcome. But the thing about creativity is, you never know…any one of these conversations, or the ones I might have next month, could spark a new insight that might not happen any other way. Never miss an opportunity to learn something new.
How to Educate Yourself for Creativity August 5, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity, Everyday life.
Tags: bret turner, dilettante, general education requirements, hamilton college
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At Hamilton College, first-year student Bret Turner asked a music professor, “Why is music important?” He got such a passionate response, he developed a long-term plan: He would talk to EVERY teacher on the campus, and ask them that same question. He just graduated May 2013, and he’d had the “why is your field important” conversation with 200 of the 223 professors at the college.
Why did he do it? He says “I have shallow interests”–he wanted to know a little about a lot. And after all, isn’t that the goal of a liberal arts education?
The reason why this is so great for creativity is that research shows that the most creative people are the ones that know a little bit about a lot of things. Sometimes I think of them as “professional dilettantes”. The trendy term for such people is “T-shaped thinkers”–the vertical bar of the “T” shape symbolizes that you need depth and expertise in one narrow thing, and the horizontal top bar indicates that you need shallow knowledge of lots of different things. If you have only specialized expertise, but you can’t talk to anyone outside of your area, you won’t realize your full creative potential.
So with Bret Turner, what about the vertical bar, the deep expertise? He ended up majoring in chemistry—but only after having his conversation with a really energetic chemistry professor. The most creative people do develop a strong expertise in a chosen field.
(Come to think of it, this creativity research provides a rationale for the course requirements of most U.S. universities–where you have to specialize in something by declaring a major and taking lots of courses and developing expertise; but you also have to take “general education” or “distribution” requirements, that provide the horizontal bar of the T.)
*I read Bret Turner’s story in the New York Times Education Life of Sunday, August 4, 2013.
Executing On Creativity July 30, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity.
Tags: accidental creative, event planning, making ideas happen, ottawa, PCMA, Scott Belsky, todd henry, zig zag
I’ve just finished delivering a ZIG ZAG workshop at the “Convene LIVE” annual event, hosted by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) in beautiful Ottawa, Canada. The theme of this year’s event was “Executing on Creativity.” In addition to my workshop today, Todd Henry delivered yesterday’s workshop on the theme of his 2011 book, The Accidental Creative.
I arrived a day early so I could watch Todd’s workshop; he does great stuff and I was eager to see him in action. His title was “Harnessing creativity: Concepts and processes that lead to everyday brilliance.” His session closely followed the messages from his book. For example, the second half of his session was about the “five elements of rhythm”:
- Focus (staying focused on business priorities, vision, and what’s important)
- Relationships (interacting with people who will help you get great ideas)
- Energy (how to sustain a high energy level)
- Stimuli (make sure you expose yourself constantly to new and interesting stimuli)
- Hours (time management)
My overall take-home from Todd’s talk: great advice about productivity, work effectiveness, and time management, but with a particular focus on creative professionals. Todd’s message reminded me of Scott Belsky (the author of Making Ideas Happen). I had a chance to watch Scott’s awesome keynote when he and I both gave keynotes at the Creativity World Forum in Belgium in 2011.
My workshop today was four hours, giving me plenty of time to engage the audience with hands-on activities from all eight steps of the creative process (each step has one chapter in Zig Zag):
- ASK: Find and formulate the problem
- LEARN: Acquire knowledge relevant to the problem
- LOOK: Gather a broad range of potentially related information
- PLAY: Take time off for incubation
- THINK: Generate a large variety of ideas
- FUSE: Combine ideas in unexpected ways
- CHOOSE: Select the best ideas
- MAKE: Externalize your ideas
Here are some photos of the attendees, using the “Affinity Diagram” technique to develop creative solutions for planning their next meeting.
And I learned a lot about event planning! Thanks to Kelly Peacy of PCMA for doing such a great job organizing the event.
Tips to Maximize Creativity at Work July 23, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity.
Tags: evangelia chrysikou, group genius, zig zag
These tips, from Scientific American Mind, are all also found in the book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity:
- Become an expert. You need a solid knowledge base. (Zig Zag Chapter 2: LEARN)
- Observe. Carefully study how people use what they currently have, and what problems they face. (Zig Zag Chapter 3: LOOK)
- Know your audience. Walk in the shoes of the intended consumer. (Again, LOOK)
- Step out of your comfort zone. Seek activities outside your field of expertise. (LOOK again)
- Be willing to work alone. Balance group time with alone time.
- Talk to outsiders about your work. This helps with novel perspectives. (Research on how to balance solitary and group time is in my book Group Genius)
- Have fun. A good mood helps! (Zig Zag Chapter 4: PLAY)
- Take a nap or let your mind wander. Sleep and daydreaming can get you past the impasse. (Again, PLAY)
- Take a break. Occupy your mind with a different task. (PLAY again!)
- Challenge yourself. Disrupt your daily routine. Go beyond your initial idea and look for more. Try to improve on other people’s answers. (Zig Zag Chapters 5 and 6, THINK and FUSE)
This is a wonderful set of advice, prepared by Professor Evangelia G. Chrysikou of the University of Kansas.
The Music of Business May 23, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity, Genius Groups.
Tags: AC/DC, Academy of Rock, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Peter Cook, Prince
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I just spoke with Peter Cook, the author of the new book The Music of Business and the creator of the executive workshop “The Academy of Rock.” The core theme of Peter’s book is that rock music can provide valuable lessons for managers. Peter has the perfect background to write this book; he’s a musician, he’s been a band manager, he’s managed R&D teams in pharmaceutical companies, and he’s been running these workshops for years. Although I’m primarily a jazz pianist, in my 20s I played for a total of about five years in two different rock bands in Boston–an all-original early 1980s band called Video Free Europe, and then a Grateful Dead cover band called Slipknot–so I really enjoyed Peter’s book.
So Peter, tell me about your Academy of Rock executive workshops. What kind of experience do the participants have?
The Academy of Rock is the high-visibility “brand” of my business. The core is mixing music with business. My design follows the Honey-Mumford learning cycle…I take concepts from academia, get people to try them out in a personal experience, and then reflect on the experience and identify the take-aways. With music, they have a much more powerful and engaging experience in a short time. Adding music is engaging, and people get the message faster. Music also helps you retain the take-home message better. A BBC 4 reporter described what I do as “sexing up” business, which sounds just fine to me.
Sometimes I bring a band with me to perform on stage along with my keynote remarks. I like to use the blues, because the basic structure is easy for non-musicians to understand. Jazz is a bit too complex. I’ve used some big-name musicians in my seminars—for example, Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist.
I like to get people up on stage, but I always ask for volunteers. If there are musicians in the audience who volunteer, I have instruments available and I have them play. For the non musicians, I have a lot of percussion instruments that just about anyone can play…triangles, even “found objects” like water hoses from cars. I always bring a box full of rock musician clothing, and a bunch of long-hair wigs, to help with the role-playing element of the experience and make them feel that they are in a rock band.
Some audiences are very shy. So sometimes I take the instruments out into the audience, so they can play without actually getting up on stage.
In your book, you say that rock is “an industry that encourages repetition” (p. 46). You start your book talking about the band AC/DC, which you say always sounds the same. But isn’t this the opposite of innovation? Why is this a good model for innovative business? There’ve been a lot of books that have used jazz improvisation as a model for business and leadership, emphasizing the emergent and improvisational aspects of jazz. So is the repetition and stability of rock a better model for business? Is jazz too improvisational?
AC/DC has rehearsed everything. They are non-adaptive. They succeed because they’ve developed a strong brand, and the fans want to hear the same thing over and over. They performed the same songs for forty years. The most successful business model in the rock business is when bands keep playing the same songs—the Rolling Stones, AC/DC–and people like that. But music industry insiders have told me that AC/DC wouldn’t last 40 years if they started now. You could do that in the 1970s, because there weren’t that many media channels.
But some bands change constantly. The example I use in the book is Prince; he is a “boundary crosser” (p. 139). Prince’s band is an example of an adaptive organization, and he’s managed to keep his audience even through his many changes. But there’s a very real possibility that you will lose your fan base, or some of them.
So is the message, don’t be too innovative? I am reminded of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system. It’s very innovative and it’s won design awards, but the existing Microsoft Windows customers mostly don’t like it.
So how do you change and yet keep your audience? Do you warn them in advance? Do you simply lead, and wait for them to follow? I think the best strategy is scaffolding…bring the audience along, keep things in it that they can build on, that are familiar.
Some rock bands are more improvisational. You use the example of Deep Purple in your book, and I see that you’re now wearing a Deep Purple t-shirt.
Yes, they are noted for improvising, not just doing their set pieces. Particularly when they started. You can see videos online of Ritchie Blackmore directing the rest of the band, in a very didactic way. Extremely strong leadership style. Deep Purple are exceptional, especially when compared with a band like Black Sabbath. The creative tension between the members of Deep Purple drove great creativity, but the band eventually broke up due to this same creative tension.
So how do you manage creative tension and keep everyone together?
Creative leadership involves enabling and facilitating, allowing mistakes, transforming the problem, giving it space.
I spent a lot of time doing R&D at a pharmaceutical company, leading teams of maverick scientists. Leading more than managing, getting them facing in the general direction of what we wanted to do. Small startups can afford to be more jazz-like, they are focused more on breakthrough innovation. They’re doing front end, leading-edge stuff, and the jazz metaphor is very appropriate to that.
Richard Branson, on the other hand, says big industries can’t do anything clever. I’m not sure I agree, but I think the rock thing is appropriate for things that have reached a certain size. R&D might be more appropriate for a jazz approach. But manufacturing is not the place to do a lot of improvisation. They’re looking for order, control, certainty. And the rock thing works better there.
What are the key take-home lessons of your book?
First, I think organizations are over-structured right now. Creativity is vital and yet scarce resource. All organizations need to improvise and dance a bit more.
Second, I focus on the end-product rather than the input. You need to be able to commercialize the creativity. A lot of organizations are really bad at preserving the novelty that they’ve produced. Turning creativity into innovation is as important as creativity itself.
Third, leaders, in the current age, can’t run organizations with command and control. You need to lead with emotional intelligence, consult and listen carefully (also to markets). Everyone needs to get better at using their ears.
Peter Cook, thank you so much for your time, and for your fascinating book The Music of Business.
Burt Bacharach’s Creativity Technique May 21, 2013Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity.
Tags: burt bacharach, incubation, spencer bailey, zig zag
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Burt Bacharach said this in an interview with Spencer Bailey in the New York Times:
When I’m stuck with musicians in the studio and don’t know what’s wrong, I will break and go into a stall in the men’s room. I will sit on the toilet seat. Nobody talks to me there, and I get no advice from any musician. I work it through in my head, and four out of four times, I come out a winner.
I give very similar advice in my book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity. I call this technique “Incubate” and in addition to the toilet seat, here are some common places that people have sudden inspiration (page 114):
- In the tub
- On the treadmill
- Mowing the lawn
- Sorting the recycling
- Waiting in the doctor’s office
- Listening to talk show radio
- Listening to a boring lecture
- Sitting through a boring meeting
- Commuting to and from work
I really should have added Burt Bacharach’s technique to the list!