Match These Taglines With The Right Company

I’ve been watching the Weather Channel every morning with my son, Graham. A while back, I started writing down the taglines from the advertisements. The tagline is the catchy slogan that comes at the end of the commercial, after the company name. I started to notice that many taglines could work for lots of different companies. It’s not always easy to match the tagline with the right company! Try to match the number with the right letter:

  1. “Together all the way”
  2. “I can do this”
  3. “To help life go right”
  4. “What’s in your wallet”
  5. “Fine products made to last”
  6. “Show more of you”
  7. “Ready for the workday”
  8. “Experience an original”
  9. “Get yours”
  10. “Be good at life”
  • A. Cintas
  • B. Met Life
  • C. Otesla (a drug)
  • D. Cigna
  • E. State Farm
  • F. L. L. Bean
  • G. CNBC
  • H. Capital One
  • I. The Mattress Store
  • J. Met Life (yes, Met Life has two taglines on the list)

And here’s a creativity exercise for today: Create a tagline for you, that captures your personal brand.

Answers: 1D, 2J, 3E, 4H, 5F, 6C, 7A, 8I, 9G, 10B

The Path to Creativity

In Austin, Texas, “Voice and Exit” is a cool gathering of tech visionaries and experts in human flourishing. At 8:30 Friday night, I kicked off a series of 10-minute talks, in front of 300 hipsters, in a converted produce market in Austin’s East Side–surrounded by fair trade coffee tables, massage artists, virtual reality rooms, and hammocks. Here’s how I started the 10-minute talk. It’s the core message of my ZIG ZAG creativity advice book:

Creativity is not mysterious. Creativity is not a rare insight, that comes to you suddenly, once in a lifetime, to change the world. It’s just the opposite. Creativity is a way of life. It’s a process. The process starts with an idea. But it’s not a big insight–it’s a small idea. And that small idea can’t change the world by itself. In the creative life, you have small ideas every week, every day, even every hour. The key is to learn how to bring those ideas together, over time, and that’s the essence of the creative process. The latest creativity research shows the daily practices that exceptional creators use to keep having those small ideas, and how to bring them together in a creative process that consistently leads to successful creative outcomes.

For the whole talk, wait a couple of weeks and the video of my talk will be posted online. I’ll let you know!

Apple is Losing to Microsoft in Innovation and Design

I’ve been advocating for Microsoft for a few years now. Their vision has been ambitious and exciting: To create a single platform that adapts to all form-factor devices, from smartphones to tablets to desktop computers. The “tile” interface that Microsoft released in Windows 8 was the first new user interface design since the 1970s (when Xerox PARC created the “icons on a desktop” visual metaphor). Microsoft got panned for being TOO innovative! I think it’s because everyone is so used to Microsoft being an also-ran.

It’s taken three years, but the tech industry is finally waking up to the fact that Microsoft is pulling ahead of Apple. In the same three years, Apple hasn’t done much at all. It seems that all Apple can do is sell iPhones at ridiculous prices for their huge profit margins. And we know from tech history that this strategy always loses eventually.

MIT’s Technology Review  magazine is the latest tech insider to come on board with Microsoft, in this article titled “Microsoft is looking like the new Apple.” Here’s the start of the article:

This week, one giant technology company looked like an innovator, launching a sleek new suite of forward-looking hardware to help media professionals work more effectively. Another added a row of buttons to an existing computer. In the past, Apple would have been the former—for the moment, at least, that role has shifted to Microsoft.

“A row of buttons.” Ouch.

Avoid “Culture Fit” If You Want Innovation

Some companies have started to hire only people who “fit” into their “culture,” according to an article by Rachel Feintzeig in the Wall Street Journal. Innovation research shows that this is a horrible idea.

These companies have applicants do a “culture fit test” before they’re hired. For example, G Adventures has job candidates climb down into a play pit full of brightly colored plastic balls, and then play a “spin the wheel” game where they answer personal questions, in front of three current employees.

  • Salesforce.com has tried using “cultural ambassadors” to evaluate job finalists.
  • Zappos.com gives veto power to senior company veterans. They can reject a potential hire if they decide the candidate doesn’t fit in, even when the candidate is otherwise fully qualified.

The career website Beyond.com found “that human-resources staff, when considering recent college hires, ranked cultural fit above a candidate’s referrals, coursework and grades.” (If you’re not white and male, this probably isn’t a surprise. And you’re probably not excited by the idea of playing a spin the wheel game, with three white guys, in a pit full of balls.)

These practices block innovation. We know from creativity research that the most innovative teams have cognitive diversity. That means that each person has a different set of ideas, practices, and knowledge. This drives innovation, because the most creative ideas combine very different ideas. If everyone in the group has the same cognitive material inside their skull, they won’t make those “distant combinations” that result in breakthrough creativity.

If you want innovation, avoid culture fit!

Can Colleges Be More Innovative? (And if so, why?)

It seems that everyone is calling for colleges to be more innovative. You’ve probably heard something like this: “Colleges are resistant to innovation. How many institutions have remained unchanged for 500 years? Only the Catholic church and the college. A student from 400 years ago would be right at home on today’s campus.” et cetera… This lack of innovation seems strange, because colleges are filled with innovation: research professors generate breakthrough research, engineering professors invent new technologies, and medical professors invent new drugs and surgery procedures.

I just read a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education that reports on a provocative article in the Washington Monthly, an attack on colleges for their lack of innovation. The article also describes a panel at the Washington think tank “New America” with three award-winning college innovators. Here’s a summary of the conversation.

First, most of the lack of innovation isn’t really the college’s fault. If the incentives that colleges work with don’t change, then why should they change? Incentives like public rankings, student demand and application numbers, total tuition revenue.

Second, innovation implies that you have to be the first person to ever do something. But some of the most important changes happen when a college borrows and adapts something that’s already been proven elsewhere. The pressure to innovate often leads university administrators to do something new just because it’s new, when they could get more mileage out of borrowing, adapting, and tweaking (see “incentives”–they aren’t rewarded for borrowing something that already works).

Third, many are calling for innovations in how to provide more flexibility for students. But flexibility can lead to fraud and abuse. Colleges have many legal requirements and constraints that block changes.

Fourth, when institutions change, some students benefit but others suffer. That’s why so many university administrators are cautious–they want to protect and help their students. It’s easier to get fired for doing something new that visibly hurts a student, than it is to get fired for continuing to do the same thing.

Most of what colleges call “innovation” are incremental changes, not breakthrough reinventions of the institution: things like modifying a degree requirements, or adding a new computer technology to the classroom. So, what sort of innovation do we want from colleges? What sort do we think they really need?

Finally, be suspicious when politicians call for innovation in higher education. What they usually mean is, we’re going to cut your budget. And if you complain about it, you’re just not being innovative.

Creativity is not Localized in the Brain

If you’ve read the chapter on brain imaging in my book Explaining Creativity, you’ll know that the technology has limitations. Specifically: There’s no way to use this research to claim that creativity is located in a particular part of the brain. To their credit, the researchers who do this work would never say that. However, the media tend to hear about these cautious and limited findings, and publish articles with titles like “Now we know where creativity is!”

A new article in The Economist describes these limitations:

The technology has its critics. Many worry that dramatic conclusions are being drawn from small samples (the faff involved in fMRI makes large studies hard). Others fret about over-interpreting the tiny changes the technique picks up. A deliberately provocative paper published in 2009, for example, found apparent activity in the brain of a dead salmon.

The Economist article is about a new study that identifies a serious problem with fMRI methodology. The new study’s findings suggest that the statistics programs that interpret the fMRI results are “seriously flawed.” (And there’s a lot of statistics involved; take a look at my chapter for a quick summary.) The researchers used these fMRI algorithms to compare 499 subjects who were lying in the scanner while not thinking about anything in particular. With the standard fMRI statistical software, they divided this subject pool in half in 3 million different ways, and did comparisons each time. There shouldn’t have been any findings at all. But in fact, 70 percent of the 3 million comparisons resulted in false positives. That means, in 70 percent of these comparisons, there was a statistically significant finding of elevated brain activity, in half of the 499 subjects, in some part of the brain.

Because this study was just published, we can’t yet be sure what it really means. But my advice is: Be skeptical if you read an article claiming that creativity is located in a particular brain region. Creativity is a function of the entire brain, working together.

Be More Creative Every Day

Tips for creativity from entrepreneurs:

  • Practice doing something risky every day
  • Get to know travelers, people who like unusual music, people who play charades
  • Talk with children and try to answer the offbeat questions they ask
  • Try a new boardgame with your family
  • Make a holiday meal with your family, with each person preparing a different dish
  • Pretend to be a stranger in your own town
  • Break at least one rule every day

*Stephen R. C. Hicks, “What entrepreneurs can teach us all about life,” WSJ, May 6, 2016, p. R6.