Creativity

On How To Solve It

I recently finished reading How To Solve It – A New Aspect Of Mathematical Method – by George Polya.

Below are key excerpts from this book that I found particularly insightful:

A great discovery solves a great problem but there is a grain of discovery in the solution of any problem. Your problem may be modest; but if it challenges your curiosity and brings into play your inventive faculties, and if you solve it by your own means, you may experience the tension and enjoy the triumph of discovery. Such experiences at a susceptible age may create a taste for mental work and leave their imprint on mind and character for a lifetime.

Studying the methods of solving problems, we perceive another face of mathematics. Yes, mathematics has two faces; it is the rigorous science of Euclid but it is also something else. Mathematics presented in the Euclidean way appears as a systematic, deductive science; but mathematics in the making appears as an experimental, inductive science. Both aspects are as old as the science of mathematics itself. But the second aspect is new in one respect; mathematics “in statu nascendi,’ in the process of being invented, has never before been presented in quite this manner to the student, or to the teacher himself, or to the general public.

Trying to find the solution, we may repeatedly change our point of view, our way of looking at the problem. We have to shift our position again and again. Our conception of the problem is likely to be rather incomplete when we start the work; our outlook is different when we have made some progress; it is again different when we have almost obtained the solution.

Where should I start? Start from the statement of the problem. What can I dot Visualize the problem as a whole as clearly and as vividly as you can. Do not concern yourself with details for the moment. What can I gain by doing so? You should understand the problem, familiarize yourself with it, impress its purpose on your mind. The attention bestowed on the problem may also stimulate your memory and prepare for the recollection of relevant points.

It would be a mistake to think that solving problems is a purely “intellectual affair”; determination and emotions play an important role. Lukewarm determination and sleepy consent to do a little something may be enough for a routine problem in the classroom. But, to solve a serious scientific problem, will power is needed that can outlast years of toil and bitter disappointments.

If you cannot solve the proposed problem do not let this failure afflict you too much but try to find consolation with some easier success, try to solve first some related problem; then you may find courage to attack your original problem again. Do not forget that human superiority consists in going around an obstacle that cannot be overcome directly, in devising some suitable auxiliary problem when the original one appears insoluble.

The future mathematician should be a clever problem-solver:; but to be a clever problem-solver is not enough. due time, he should solve significant mathematical problems; and first he should find out for which kind of problems his native gift is particularly suited.

In closing:

Going around an obstacle is what we do in solving any kind of problem: the experiment has a sort of symbolic value. The hen acted like people who solve their problem muddling: through, trying again and again, and succeeding eventually by some lucky accident without much insight into the reasons for their success. The dog who scratched and jumped and barked before turning around solved his problem about as well as we did ours about the two containers. Imagining a scale that shows the waterline in our containers was a sort of almost useless scratching, showing only that what we seek lies deeper under the surface. We also tried to work forwards first, and came to the idea of turning round afterwards. The dog who, after brief inspection of the situation, turned round and dashed off gives, rightly or wrongly, the impression of superior insight. No, we should not even blame the hen for her clumsiness. There is a certain difficulty in turning round, in going away from the goal, in proceeding without looking continually at the aim, in not following the direct path to the desired end. There is an obvious analogy between her difficulties and our difficulties.

A highly recommended read in the area of problem solving.

On The Right To Write

I recently finished reading The Right to Write – An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life – by Julia Cameron. As best summarized by the author: ” What this book will do, if I have done it well enough, is t talk to you about writing for the sake of writing, for the sheer unadulterated joy of putting words to the page. In other words, this is less a ” “how to” book than a “why” book. Why should we write? We should write because it is human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It makes it directly and specifically our own. We should write because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance as well. We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living. Writing is sensual, experiential, grounding. We should write because writing is good for the soul. We should write because writing yields us a body of work, a felt path through the world we live in.”

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

As a result, most of us try to write too carefully. We try to do it “right.” We try to sound smart. We try, period. Writing goes much better when we don’t work at it so much. When we give ourselves permission to just hang out on the page. For me, writing is like a good pair of pajamas—comfortable. In our culture, writing is more often costumed up in a military outfit. We want our sentences to march in neat little rows, like well-behaved boarding-school children.

If we eliminate the word “writer,” if we just go back to writing as an act of listening and naming what we hear, some of the rules disappear. There is an organic shape, a form-coming-into-form that is inherent in the thing we are observing, listening to, and trying to put on the page. It has rules of its own that it will reveal to us if we listen with attention. Shape does not need to be imposed. Shape is part of with attention. Shape does not need to be imposed. Shape is part of what we are listening to. When we just let ourselves write, we get it “right.”

Not writing is the lonely thing. Not writing creates self-obsession. Self-obsession blocks connection with others. Self-obsession blocks connection with the self Writing is like looking at an inner compass. We check in and we get our bearings. Ah-ha! I am feeling, thinking. remembering. . . . When we know accurately what it is that we are doing, we tend to be more open, accurate, and affectionate in our dealings: I can miss David, but I can’t blame David anymore. I am the one who didn’t write enough yesterday.

People who write out of “discipline” are taking a substantial risk. They are setting up a situation against which they may one day strongly rebel. Writing from discipline invites extremism: “I have to do this or I’m a failure.” Writing from discipline creates a potential for emotional blackmail: “If I don’t write I’ve got no character.” People who write from discipline also take the risk of trying to write from the least open and imaginative part of themselves, the part of them that punches a time clock instead of taking flights of fancy. “Commitment” is a word I prefer to the word “discipline.” It is more proactive, more heart-centered, and ultimately more festive and productive. This is not mere semantics. If we are to be involved with writing for the long haul, we want to be comfortable in relationship to it. If we are relating to our writing as a “should” instead of as a desired good, we run the jeopardy of experiencing our writing connection like a thankless marriage: we’re there, but we don’t want to be. We’re thinking of what we’re missing.

We are all works in progress. We are all rough drafts. None of us is finished, final, “done.” How much healthier and happier if we ignore that mafioso’s advice to me and we put “it”—all of “it”—in writing: the flaws, foibles, frills, fantasies, and frailties that make us human. When we connect these dots, we connect.

I like writing to be more portable and flexible. I like writing to be something that fits into cracks and crannies. I don’t like it to dominate my life. I like it to fill my life. There is a big difference. When writing dominates a life, relationships suffer—and, not coincidentally, so does the writing. When writing is about being shut off” from the world in a room sequestered with our own important thoughts, we lose the flow of life, the flow of new ideas and input that can shape. improve, and inform that thought. It is a matter of balance. Yes, we need time and space to write, but we do not perhaps need as much time and as much space as we might think. Rather than being a private affair cordoned off” from life as the rest of the world lives it, writing might profitably be seen as an activity best embedded in life, not divorced from it—of course such a view of writing smacks of heresy.

The root of the word “integration” is the smaller word “integer,” which means “whole.” Too often, racing through life, we become the “hole,” not the “whole.” We become an unexamined maw into which our encounters and experiences rush unassimilated, leaving us both full and unsatisfied because nothing has been digested and taken in. In order to “integrate” our experiences, we must take them into account against the broader canvas of our life. We must slow down and recognize when currents of change, like movements in a symphony, are moving through us.

In those, and most professions, we assume that an interest in pursuing the career implies a probable proclivity for it and a reasonable chance for success. Not so with writing. The truth is, when you want a writing career and are willing to do the work to get it, the odds work with you, not against you. This is simple metaphysical law. As Goethe advised us, “Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it—for action has magic grace and power in it.”

“Scrutinize second,” I laid down a rule for myself “Write first and freely.”

1. Write daily, even if only Morning Pages. 2. Use tools like Media Deprivation and Blasting Through Blocks to give you a jump-start 3. Watch your telephone consumption. 4. Watch your note production. 5. Set a clock for one half hour’s writing time. Pray for the willingness to write—and then write.

“Thou art truly human.” To be truly human, we all have the right to make art. We all have the right to write.

A highly recommended read in the areas of communication and writing.

On This Is Water

I recently finished reading This Is Water – Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life – by David Foster Wallace. The content of this book was delivered as a commencement speech on 2005 and was highly recommended by Shane Parrish from Farnam Street.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

They’re probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us here, but the fact is that religious dogmatists’ problem is exactly the same as the story’s atheist’s—arrogance, Wind certainty. a closed-mindedness that’s like an imprisonment so complete that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.

This is not a matter of virtue—it’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hardwired default setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.

Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education, at least in my own case, is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract thinking instead of simply paying attention to what’s going on in front of me. Instead of paying attention to what’s going on inside me.

“Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has nothing to do with grades or degrees and everything to do with simple awareness—awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: “This is water.”

Which means vet another cliche is true: Your education really is the job of a lifetime, and it commences—now.

A highly recommended quick read filled with inspiration.

 

On The Design of Everyday Things

I recently finished reading The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. As Tim Brown – CEO of IDEO best put it in talking about this book: “Part operating manual for designers and part manifesto on the power of designing for people. The Design of Everyday Things is even more relevant today than it was when first published.”

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found to be particularly insightful:

Two of the most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding. Discoverability: Is it possible to even figure out what actions are possible and where and how to perform them? Understanding: What does it all mean? How is the product supposed to be used? What do all the different controls and settings mean?

Design is concerned with how things work, how they are controlled, and the nature of the interaction between people and technology. When done well, the results are brilliant, pleasurable products. When done badly, the products are unusable, leading to great frustration and irritation. Or they might be usable, but force us to behave the way the product wishes rather than as we wish.

My work with that committee :hanged my view of design. Today, I realize that design presents a fascinating interplay of technology and psychology that the designers must understand both.

Affordances are the possible interactions between people and the environment. Some affordances are perceivable, others are not. Perceived affordances often act as signifiers, but they can be ambiguous. Signifiers signal things, in particular what actions are possible and how they should be done. Signifiers must be perceivable, else they fail to function.

Emotion is highly underrated. In fact, the emotional system is a powerful information processing system that works in tandem with cognition. Cognition attempts to make sense of the world: emotion assigns value. It is the emotional system that determines whether a situation is safe or threatening, whether something that is happening is good or bad, desirable or not. Cognition provides understanding: emotion provides value judgments. A human without a working emotional system has difficulty making choices. A human without a cognitive system is dysfunctional.

Do not blame people when they fail to use your products properly. Take people’s difficulties as signifiers of where the product can be improved. Eliminate all error messages from electronic or computer systems. Instead, provide help and guidance. Make it possible to correct problems directly from help and guidance messages. Allow people to continue with their task: Don’t impede progress—help make it smooth and continuous. Never make people Start over. Assume that what people have done is partially correct, so if it is inappropriate, provide the guidance that allows them to correct the problem and be on their way. Think positively, for yourself and for the people you interact with.

In an earlier book, Things That Make Us Smart, I argued that it is this combination of technology and people that creates superpowerful beings. Technology does not make us smarter. People do not make technology smart. It is the combination of the two. the person plus the artifact, that is smart. Together, with our tools. we are a powerful combination. On the other hand, if we are suddenly without these external devices, then we don’t do very well. In many ways, we do become less smart.

Given the mismatch between human competencies and technological requirements, errors are inevitable. Therefore, the best designs take that fact as given and seek to minimize the opportunities for errors while also mitigating the consequences. Assume that every possible mishap will happen, so protect against them. Make actions reversible; make errors less costly. Here are key design principles: Put the knowledge required to operate the technology in the world. Don’t require that all the knowledge must be in the head. Allow for efficient operation when people have learned all the requirements. when they are experts who can perform without the knowledge in the world, but make it possible for non-experts to use the knowledge in the world. This will also help experts who need to perform a rare, infrequently performed operation or return to the technology after a prolonged absence. Use the power of natural and artificial constraints: physical, logical. semantic, and cultural. Exploit the power of forcing functions and natural mappings. Bridge the two gulfs, the Gulf of Execution and the Gulf of Evaluation. Make things visible, both for execution and evaluation. On the execution side, provide feedforward information: make the options readily available. On the evaluation side, provide feedback: make the results of each action apparent. Make it possible to determine the system’s status readily, easily, accurately, and in a form consistent with the person’s goals, plans, and expectations.

Designers often start by Questioning the problem given to them: they expand the scope of the problem, diverging to examine all the fundamental issues that underlie it. Then they converge upon a single problem statement. During the solution phase of their studies, they first expand the space of possible solutions, the divergence phase. Finally, they converge upon a proposed solution.

With massive change, a number of fundamental principles stay the same. Human beings have always been social beings. Social interaction and the ability to keep in touch with people across the world, across time, will stay with us. The design principles of this book will not change, for the principles of discoverability, of feedback, and of the power of affordances and signifiers, mapping, and conceptual models will always hold. Even fully autonomous, automatic machines will follow these principles for their interactions. Our technologies may change, but the fundamental principles of interaction are permanent.

A must read for anyone involved in designing products!

 

 

If You Want To Write

I have recently finished reading If You Want To Write – A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit – by Brenda Ueland. I chose to read my book in my efforts to further develop my communication skills, more specifically my writing.

Below are key excerpts from the book, that I found to be particularly inspiring:

I HAVE BEEN WRITING FOR MANY YEARS, and have learned some things, not only from my own long hard work but from a writing class I ran for three years. The class consisted of all kinds of people: prosperous and poor. Stenographers, housewives, salesmen, cultivated people and servant girls who had never been to high school, timid and bold people, slow and quick ones. This is what I learned: everybody is talented, original and has something important to say. And it may comfort you to know that the people you might suspect of not having talent are actually those who write very easily and glibly, without inhibition or pain, skipping gaily through a novel in a week or so. Yet they are also the ones who did not seem to improve much, to go forward. You cannot get much out of them. They give up working and drop out. But they, too, are talented underneath. I am sure of this. It is just that they did not break through the shell of easy glibness to what is true and alive underneath – for most people must break through a shell of timidity and strain.

In my view, it is fine to work for money, to work to have things enjoyed by people, even very limited ones; but the mistake is feeling that the work, the effort, the search is not the important and exciting thing. One cannot strive to write a cheap, popular story without learning more about cheapness. But enough; I may very well be getting to raving.

NOW I AM GOING TO TRY TO TELL YOU WHAT THE creative power is, how you can detect it in yourself and separate it from your nervous doubts and checks, and how you can distinguish it from mere memory. For memory and you can distinguish it from mere memory, tor memory cu you have learned) can smother creativity very easily. When we hear the word “inspiration” we imagine something that emerges like a bolt of lightning, that with a rapt flashing of the eyes, tossed hair, and feverish excitement a poet or artist begins furiously painting or writing. At least I used to think sadly that that was what inspiration must be, and never experienced a thing that was one bit like it.

I LIKE THE GREAT RUSSIAN WRITERS BEST OF ALL – Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Dostoyevsky. I think this is because they seemed to feel that truthful writing is more important fancy words and sophisticated skills. Personally, I don’t like writing where the package is fancier and more important than the contents. Perhaps that is 5 why the Russians translate so well, because the important thing to them is what they felt, saw, and thought. Life is more important to them than literature.

Chekhov wrote this letter to his brother: “You have only one defect…your extraordinary lack of education…Educated people in my opinion must satisfy the following conditions: 1. They respect a man’s personality, and therefore are always tolerant, gentle, polite, yielding. They do not make a riot about a little hammer or a lost rubber; living with others they do not make a favor of it, and when leaving do not say. ‘It is impossible to live with you!’ They excuse noise, cold. over-roasted meat, and witticisms, and the presence of other people in their house. 2. They are compassionate, and not only with beggars and cats, for they grieve in their soul for what the naked eye does not see…They do not sleep for nights so as to help their parents pay for their brothers’ studies, to buy clothes for their mother.. 3. They respect other people’s property and therefore they pay their debts. 4. They are pure in heart and fear a lie as they fear fire. They do not lie, even in trifles. A lie is humiliating to the listener, and t debases the speaker before his own eyes. They do not show off; they behave in public just as they behave at home; they do not throw dust in the eyes of humbler people, and do not make up soul-to-soul conversations when they are not asked. Out of respect for other people’s ears they are often silent. 5. They do not belittle themselves to arouse the compassion of others. They do not play on the strings of other people’s souls so that they shall sigh over and fondle them. They do not say: ‘People do not understand me! Because all this produces a cheap effect; it is vulgar, musty, false. 6. They are not vain-glorious. They do not care about such false diamonds as acquaintanceship with celebrities, shaking hands with the drunks, the raptures of a well-met fellow at the salon, popularity in public houses…Doing a farthing’s worth, they do not walk about with their briefcases as if they had done a hundred rubles’ worth, and do not boast of having been admitted where others are not admitted.

But today we are apt to say of a man: “Oh. you must not pay any attention to his personality; it is his ideas that are the important thing.” But I think – as did Socrates and Michelangelo and many others – that the ideas of a meager and dishonest personality are corrupt somewhere. And most importantly, if someone has good ideas but is not good himself, there will be no infection; nobody will be affected, enkindled or changed by his ideas.

As I read it now I am surprised and elated at myself: If you also keep a diary, you will be both pleased with yourself and surprised. We all see and feel things sparklingly, but usually it is dulled or lost before it gets on paper.

But this is the point: everybody in the world has the same conviction of inner importance, of fire, of the god within. The tragedy is that either they stifle their fire by not believing in it and using it, or they try to prove to the world and themselves that they have it, not inwardly and greatly, but externally and egotistically, by money or power or more publicity. Therefore you should all work to hone your skills because it is impossible that you have no creative gift. In addition, the only way to make it live and increase it is to use it. Third, you cannot be sure that it is not a great gift.

But if (as I wish) everybody writes and respects and loves, then we would have a nation of intelligent, eager. impassioned readers; and generous and grateful ones, not impassioned readers; and generous and grateful ones, not mere critical, logy, sedentary passengers, observers of writing, whose attitude is: “All right: entertain me now.”

To sum up – if you want to write:

1. Know that you have talent, are original and have something important to say.

2. Know that it is good to work. Work with love and think of liking it when you do it. It is easy and interesting. It is a privilege. There is nothing hard about it but your anxious vanity and fear of failure.

3. Write freely, recklessly, in first drafts.

4. Tackle anything you want to – novels, plays, anything. Only remember Blake’s admonition: “Better to strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.”

5. Don’t be afraid of writing bad stories. To discover what is wrong with a story write two new ones and then go back to it.

6. Don’t fret or be ashamed of what you have written in the past. How I always suffered from this! How I would regurgitate out of my memory (and still do) some nauseous little lumps of things I had written! But don’t do this. Go on to the next. And fight against this tendency, which is much of it due not to splendid modesty, but a lack of self-respect. We are too ready (women especially) not to stand by what we have said or done. Often it is a way of forestalling criticism, saying hurriedly: “I know it is awful!” before anyone else does. Very bad and cowardly. It is so conceited and timid to be ashamed of one’s mistakes. Of course they are mistakes. Go on to the next.

7. Try to discover your true, honest, untheoretical self.

8. Don’t think of yourself as an intestinal tract and tangle of nerves in the skull that will not work unless you drink coffee. Think of yourself as incandescent power, illuminated perhaps and forever talked to by God and his messengers. Remember how wonderful you are, what a miracle! Think if Tiffany’s made a mosquito, how wonderful we would think it was!

9. If you are never satisfied with what you write, that is a good sign. It means your vision can see so far that it is hard to come up to it. Again I say, the only unfortunate people are the glib ones, immediately satisfied with their work. To them the ocean is only knee-deep.

10. When discouraged, remember what van Gogh said: “If you hear a voice within you saying: you are no painter, then paint by all means, lad, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working.”

11. Don’t he afraid of yourself when you write. Don’t check-rein yourself If you are afraid of being sentimental, say, for heavens sake, be as sentimental as you can or feel like being! Then you will probably pass through to the other side and slough off sentimentality because you understand it at last and really don’t care about it.

12. Don’t always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. “I will not Reason & Compare” said Blake; “my business is to Create.” Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable.

A recommended read on writing and self-expression.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball

I recently finished reading Orbiting the Giant Hairball – A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace – by Gordon MacKenzie. As the title indicates this is a book about the importance of maintaining our creative genius and not falling into the trap corporate normalcy.

Below are key excerpts from the book:

On our creative genius:

Why would anyone want to suppress genius? Well, it is not intentional. It is not a plot. Genius is an innocent casualty in society’s efforts to train children away from natural-born foolishness.

Our creative genius is the fountainhead of originality. It fires our compulsion to evolve. It inspires us to challenge norms. Creative genius is about flying to new heights on untested wings. It is about the danger of crashing. It is amorphous, magical, unmeasurable and unpredictable…But we need our genius to bail ourselves out of the messes we continually get ourselves into. So, individually, we must override the cartel, set aside our herd longing for security through sameness and seek the help of our natural genius. Yours and mine.

On orbiting the hairball:

Orbiting is responsible creativity: vigorously exploring and operating beyond the Hairball of the corporate mind-set, beyond “accepted models, patterns, or standards” — all the while remaining connected to the spirit of the corporate mission. To find Orbit around a corporate Hairball is to find a place of balance where you benefit from the physical, intellectual and philosophical resources of the organization without becoming entombed in the bureaucracy of the institution…Through this measured assertion of your own uniqueness, it is possible to establish a dynamic relationship with the Hairball — to Orbit around the institutional mass. If you do this, you make an asset of the gravity in that it becomes a force that keeps you from flying out into the overwhelming nothingness of deep space. But if you allow that same gravity to suck you into the bureaucratic Hairball, you will find yourself in a different kind of nothingness. The nothingness of a normalcy made stagnant by a compulsion to cling to past successes. The nothingness of the Hairball.

On starting within a new organization:

When you come into an organization, you bring with you an arcane potency, which stems, in part from your uniqueness. That, in turn. is rooted in a complex mosaic of personal history that is original, unfathomable, inimitable. There has never been anyone quite like you, and there never will be. Consequently, you can contribute something to an endeavor that nobody else can. There is a power in your uniqueness — an inexplicable, unmeasurable power.  But if you are hypnotized by an organization’s culture, you become separated from your personal magic and cannot tap it to help achieve the goals of the organization. In losing connection with your one-of-a-kind magic, you are reduced to nothing more than part of the headcount. Deep inside the Hairball.

On the downside of exclusive focus on productivity:

Too many enterprises seem self-destructively locked into a debilitating reality of 100 percent perspiration and zero percent inspiration. A healthier alternative is the Orbit of trust that allows time — without immediate, concrete evidence of productivity — for the miracle of creativity to occur.

On the importance of courage:

Ah! Courage, courage, courage. Courage to cross boundaries. Courage to admit idiocy. Courage to acknowledge impasse. Courage to Courage to acknowledge impasse. Courage to acknowledge impasse. Courage to successfully to the consequences of exploring beyond authorities’ successfully to the consequences of exploring beyond authorities’ sometimes-beneficial, sometimes-detrimental boundaries. And, if we are to grow, explore we must.

On living midfully:

Somewhere between the ridiculous extremes of vegetating and suicide is the right place for each of us. I’ve got a feeling that right place is different for you and for me. A different place for different times of our lives and different parts of our lives. Generally, though, my suggestion is, if you want to live more fully, start somewhere my suggestion is, it you want to live mope fully, start somewhere mindfully, ever so mindfully, toward the free end.

On the importance of letting go:

To be fully free to create, we must first find the courage and willingness to let go: Let go of the strategies that have worked for us in the past…Let go of our biases, the foundation of our illusions…Let go of our grievances, the root source of our victimhood.. Let go of our so-often-denied fear of being found unlovable. You will find it is not a one-shot deal, this letting go. You must do it again and again and again. It’s kind of like breathing. You can’t breathe just once. Try it: Breathe just once. You’ll pass out. If you stop letting go, your creative spirit will pass out. Now when I say let go, I do not mean reject. Because when you let go of something, it will still be there for you when you need it. But because you have stopped clinging, you will have freed yourself up to tap into other possibilities — possibilities that can help you deal with this world of accelerating change.

A thought provoking read!

On The Bright IDEA BOX

This week, I have the pleasure and privilege to review Jag Randhawa’s book: The Bright Idea Box – A Proven System to Drive Employee Engagement and Innovation. Jag had approached me about his new book, having previously read Blue Ocean Strategy. Given that this book is about employee engagement and innovation, two topics I am very passionate and intimately involved with I was very much looking forward to reading and reviewing this book.

As the title indicates this is a book about innovation. Jag begins by making it clear that it is the employees within the organization that drive innovation:

It is never an idea, technology, market forces, or access to capital that makes a company innovative. What differentiates an innovative company from an average company is the people working inside the company.

Subsequently, their engagement level correlates to the level of innovation:

Researchers have long argued that a strong correlation exists between employee engagement and innovation. A highly engaged workforce can transform an average company to an innovative company, while a disengaged workforce can kill a great company.

The main premise of the book is to provide a framework for a bottom up employee driven innovation program:

This book offers a framework to create such a program, in which employees submit ideas to create operational efficiencies, improve business processes, increase customer satisfaction, and grow the business. This book mirrors the program I created at my work after years of reading, researching, and trial-and-error learning…This book is not meant to persuade anyone why he or she needs innovation, but rather to show how to get started on this journey.

Tying this back to employee engagement:

Creating such a program has an amazing effect on employee engagement. Let’s assume for a moment that you get absolutely no good ideas out of this program; then, you will still benefit from increased employee engagement. Establishing this program creates a new sense of worth among the employees, which, by itself, will increase their engagement. They will feel that you value their input— that they are intellectual human beings and their work makes a difference to their company’s bottom line. They will feel they are an integral part of the organization and not a dumb or easily replaceable component . Employee engagement increases trust between management and employees. Every job is important in an organization, and every job can be done better. You need to communicate that to employees. Ask them to look for ways to improve functions, processes, and products. If you feel there is any particular role that is not important or could not be improved, you are not thinking hard enough. Sometimes the problem lies in the definition of the role, and at other times, it is the person in that role. Take appropriate actions to make sure you address the actual problem.

The word innovation has been overused as of late, so Jag ensures he defines it and characterizes it for us:

The essence of innovation is to add value for customers. Inventions that wow people, but don’t add value, rarely survive for long, and they often end up costing more money than they add to the bottom line. For an invention to become innovation , it must add value for customers. The value can come through lowered cost, new features, aesthetics, convenience, ease of use, enhanced experience, or meeting emotional needs. Sometimes the value comes in the form of helping customers make more money , attain goals, or safeguard valuables.

Innovation = Invention + Execution + Adoption

Why is innovation so hard? And why do numerous companies don’t do well/fail in it?

Most companies fail to innovate because they are not receptive to the idea that enhancing existing products is innovative. The grass always looks greener on the other side . They cling to the notion of developing new products, which often end up costing companies more money than the new revenues they generate. This belief is further engrained in their minds by the notion that innovative ideas emerge in full form with “success” written all over them. In reality, this notion could not be farther from the truth.

What are the main areas of innovation that a company can focus on:

These areas of focus for innovation can be broadly classified into four business domains: • Revenue Generation • Cost Reduction • Business Process  • Business Model

REVENUE GENERATION The revenue-generating domain of innovation pertains to ideas that contribute to top-line growth. This focus is the most obvious for many organizations, and under this focus, creating new products is the most prevalent strategy.

COST REDUCTION As the name suggests, this domain encompasses ideas that help lower the operational costs of a business. Wal-Mart and Southwest relentlessly focus on providing value to customers through lowered cost. Therefore, ideas that help lower operational costs are given precedence over all other types of ideas.

BUSINESS PROCESS Process innovation is perhaps the most overlooked and underappreciated domain of innovation. In my view, business processes are perhaps the most important domain to innovate— especially customer facing processes.

BUSINESS MODEL Business model innovations address the “how” part of the value proposition of a business. A business model is the overarching process of an organization and explains how it transforms the input of labor, knowledge, material, means of distribution, and other resources into a product or service that customers feel is worth the money they pay for it. Business models also address how an organization acquires and serves its customers, and, at times, how it charges its customers in exchange for the value it delivers. Business model innovations entail changing one or more input resources in ways that deliver value to customers. Most business model innovations tend to be large, strategic initiatives, and you may not see many ideas in the business model innovations category from your employees.

What are the essential ingredients within a company for innovation?

As we discussed in Chapter Two, innovation has three critical components: invention, execution, and adoption. All three pieces must come together for any idea to see the light of day. All ideas face capital, intellectual, technical, and political challenges. These challenges can be overcome only if management creates the focus and employees align their efforts toward that focus and find creative solutions to make the products successful. This alignment and focus can be driven by strong management directives and processes, or it can come from employees as a passion to do great things, be part of something bigger, and make contributions toward a greater cause . The successful companies leverage both to drive continuous innovation.

Is it enough to have top-down innovation or bottom-up innovation?

A good organization is a mix of both top-down and bottom-up innovation. Top-down innovations are very important for dreaming big. Without top-down innovation, we would have never set foot on the moon, built the personal computer , or promoted personalized healthcare. It is the job of visionary leaders to push boundaries and constantly disrupt the market with new and innovative ways to add value for customers. However, leaders cannot be involved in every activity that goes on inside an organization . As the company grows, the only way to succeed is through delegation. The question then becomes: Are the delegates engaged at the same level as the leaders? Is their intent, energy, and focus aligned toward the same vision? Do they feel like part of that vision? Do they see themselves as an important piece of the puzzle in bringing that vision to reality? Creating a bottom-up innovation program can also be instrumental in bridging the gap between strategic intent and execution. When employees are more engaged, they provide superior service to customers and come up with ideas from a very diverse perspective that often gets missed in a top-down view.

Jag makes a very valid observation – and a key differentiator for this book – in that although attention has traditionally focused on product innovation it can and should also apply to services:

As I started my journey of innovation, I found that Service Industries have been largely neglected by most innovation experts and authors. A lot of books have been written on product innovation that teach how to develop new products, how to create prototypes, how to test markets, and how to build demand for novel products, but very limited literature exists on how to innovate in the Service Industry.

Subsequently, the framework for rolling out an employee-driven innovation program is introduced:

In the following chapters, I’ll introduce the Six-Step M.A.S.T.E.R. Innovation Program. Here are the steps: STEP 1: Mobilize STEP 2: Amass STEP 3: Support STEP 4: Triage STEP 5: Execute STEP 6: Recognize

On Mobilizing:

The first step in creating the Bright Idea Box program is to define and document the program’s vision and purpose. A clearly defined purpose statement will help ensure the entire workforce is marching in the same direction. The purpose statement should be a working document that captures the program’s essence, how it works, and the types of ideas you are seeking. It should be a three-part document outlining the purpose, objectives, and guidelines…This purpose statement is the overarching and simplified vision of the program that serves as a guiding beacon for employees who are thinking of new ideas, as well as those responsible for supporting and ensuring that valid ideas get implemented in a timely manner…The second part of the document should outline the area of focus and the program’s business objectives. The program’s objectives should be closely aligned with business goals and values…The last section of the purpose document should outline the guidelines for participating in the program. In this section, you can include what and who is outside the scope of this program.

On Amassing:

For this reason, at the heart of this program is an easy to use and easy to access Idea-Capturing System, which is available to all employees to capture ideas when they are fresh in their minds.

Idea Questions: 1. Name: What is the name for the idea? 2. Description: What is a brief description of the idea, including what problem it addresses and how it solves it? 3. Benefits: What value or benefits will the idea deliver to the customer or company? 4. Cost-Benefit Rationale: How much will it cost to try or implement the idea? Does the cost justify the benefits?This information is like a mini-business case for the idea. For an idea to be accepted and implemented, the employee must provide answers to all of these questions .

On Supporting:

The most important thing employees need is support and encouragement from management, and a little bit of freedom to contemplate and develop ideas. Creating an environment where management encourages employees to submit and develop ideas is the most important investment you need to make. You need to create an environment where employees feel comfortable bringing out the issues inside the company , flaws in the business processes , and weaknesses in your products.

On Triaging:

The next step in building the bottom-up employee innovation program is to create effective means for screening and prioritizing ideas…The best way to accomplish this is to form an Idea Screening Committee that meets on a regular basis to review newly submitted ideas and discuss changes to existing ideas.

On Executing:

Once an idea has been approved and financed, it must be implemented in a timely manner. Without a clearly visible process and a push from the top, an idea can easily vanish into the vast depths of corporate bureaucracy. As part of designing the program, you need to decide how you are going to test and implement ideas. You need to flush out who is responsible for implementing the ideas and what type of commitment you need from the impacted parties…There is no faster way to kill the innovation program than by not implementing good ideas.

On Recognizing:

The final step in developing the program is deciding how to recognize employees for their ideas and efforts. Recognition is the lifeline of the Bright Idea Box. Setting the right kinds of rewards is critical to the program’s longevity and ensuring that employees stay motivated to submit new ideas . Recognition is an opportunity to encourage desired behaviors and reward employees for thinking and acting in ways that add value for customers and the company.

What are some key leadership principles to help develop employees into innovators?

Below are the four leadership principles that play a vital role in developing and transforming employees into innovators. DRIVERS OF HIGHER ENGAGEMENT 1. Ownership: Give people responsibility and ownership. 2. Personal Growth: Grow people on a personal level so they can grow professionally. 3. Solution Mindset: Foster a Solution Mindset that promotes progress. 4. Partnership: Treat employees like partners so they will act like partners.

Ownership—Ownership instills a feeling of pride. Nothing motivates people to do more than pride. People work a lot harder for pride and often go to extremes to prove themselves. How can you take advantage of this human condition? Make employees the boss. Give them responsibility.

Personal Growth—Growth is the fuel of the soul. Without growth, even the masters can lose interest.

Solution Mindset—A solution mindset is a problem-solving approach that recommends that, no matter what the problem is, your first response should always be how to solve or get around the problem…A solution mindset, on the other hand, encourages progress. The goal is to keep moving forward. No matter what the problem is, focus on how to get around it and make progress…A solution mindset, on the other hand, encourages progress. The goal is to keep moving forward. No matter what the problem is, focus on how to get around it and make progress…To foster a solution mindset, tell employees that you are not interested in who or what caused the problem. You are only interested in hearing how we plan to go beyond the problem.

When launching the innovation program it’s important to sell it to all stakeholders:

To launch the Bright Idea Box program, you need to appeal to the rational and emotional brains of three distinct stakeholders. First, the top management, the executive leadership team in the company. Second, the middle management layers, and third, the front-line employees. I recommend that you create distinct sales pitches for each group to address their functional needs.

What are skills that we can all work on to further enable our innovative thinking abilities?

I have compiled a short list of skills that you can share with employees when you roll out the program . This is by no mean a comprehensive list of skills or techniques, but rather a starting point and enough to jump-start employees’ innovative thinking abilities. It is a short list that employees can easily understand and put to use immediately.

CURIOSITY Curiosity is perhaps the most imperative trait of all innovators. Being curious about what is on the other side and why things are the way they are is a great tool for making breakthrough discoveries.

LISTENING Customers are always telling us what they want, but employees on the other end are often not listening. There is no incentive for them to put up with customer complaints all day.

MINING Every frustration presents an opportunity. Instead of getting frustrated and blaming others for incompetence, mine your frustrations to look for ways to solve the problem…1. Not stopping at the first obstacle 2. Keeping a positive attitude 3. Always learning 4. Collaborate— share and ask for help 5. Solution finding rather than complaining.

BORROWING We like to believe that our problems are unique, but more often they are not. Often the problems we are wrestling with have been solved by others in different industries and in different products. Steve

NETWORKING The most innovative ideas often lie at the intersection of two different paths. We get some of the best ideas when we network with people from different disciplines .

WRITING Ideas often come when we are not looking. This is because of how our brain works. Our cognitive brain, which is responsible for decision making, has a limited capacity to process information, but our intuitive brain, which works in the background, can process a lot more information and make new associations that trigger aha moments…ideas. The second limitation of our cognitive brain is its ability to convert short-term memory into long-term memory. Often we get ideas, but they get lost in the rush of a million other things to do and remember. For this reason, recording problems and thoughts is essential to generating ideas.

PROBLEM SOLVING…ASKING “WHY” FIVE TIMES…REVERSING THE CHALLENGE…PROTOTYPING…

Getting a flywheel started takes a lot of energy— you push, and you push, and you push. Then with every turn, it becomes easier and easier to turn the wheel . And finally, it starts to generate its own momentum and what once took an enormous amount of energy becomes almost self-sustaining. It is the same for starting a bottom-up innovation program . It is a cultural shift and you will need to make a really strong push in the beginning and keep pushing until it gains momentum. With time, the recognition and the buzz created by this program will create a desire among employees to submit ideas. Pretty soon, you will have ideas pouring in at a speed faster than you can handle. The key is not to stop pushing.

What sets this book apart is its high degree of practicality – Jag has thought through and included the material not only to introduce the framework itself but how to operationalize it successfully – which is typically the harder part.

A recommended read in the area of innovation and employee engagement.

Wired For Story

In line with my plan to improve my communication skills, I recently finished reading Wired For Story – The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence – by Lisa Cron. As the title indicates this is book about storytelling. More specifically, Lisa unveils how writers can leverage cognitive secrets of the brain to better engage their readership through powerful stories. Below is a summary of the main points of the book. On the importance of stories:

Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution—more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to. Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it—a feat no other species can lay claim to, opposable thumbs or not. Story is what makes us human, not just metaphorically but literally. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it. In other words, we’re wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world.

What’s the role the writer can play?

Writers can change the way people think simply by giving them a glimpse of life through their characters’ eyes. They can transport readers to places they’ve never been, catapult them into situations they’ve only dreamed of, and reveal subtle universal truths that just might alter their entire perception of reality. In ways large and small, writers help people make it through the night. And that’s not too shabby. But there’s a catch. For a story to captivate a reader, it must continually meet his or her hardwired expectations. This is no doubt what prompted Jorge Luis Borges to note, “Art is fire plus algebra.” Let me explain. Fire is absolutely crucial to writing; it’s the very first ingredient of every story. Passion is what drives us to write, filling us with the exhilarating sense that we have something to say, something that will make a difference.

What’s the “algebra” part then?

But to write a story capable of instantly engaging readers, passion alone isn’t enough. Writers often mistakenly believe that all they need to craft a successful story is the fire—the burning desire, the creative spark, the killer idea that startles you awake in the middle of the night. They dive into their story with gusto, not realizing that every word they write is most likely doomed to failure because they forgot to factor in the second half of the equation: the algebra…It’s only by stopping to analyze what we’re unconsciously responding to when we read a story—what has actually snagged our brain’s mention—that we can then write a story that will grab the reader’s brain. This is true whether you’re writing a literary novel, hard-boiled mystery, or supernatural teen romance. Although readers have their own personal taste when it comes to the type of novel they’re drawn to, unless that story meets their hardwired expectations, it stays on the shelf.

How can we learn the “algebra” component of the equation? This is where this book comes into play:

To make sure that doesn’t happen to your story, this book is organized into twelve chapters, each zeroing in on an aspect of how the brain works, its corresponding revelation about story, and the nuts and bolts of how to actualize it in your work. Each chapter ends with a checklist you can apply to your work at any stage: before you begin writing, at the end of every writing day, at the end of a scene or a chapter, or at 2:00 a.m. when you wake up in a cold sweat, convinced that your story may be the worst thing anyone has written, ever. (It’s not; trust me.) Do this, and I guarantee your work will stay on track and have an excellent chance of making people who aren’t even related to you want to read it.

BUT, there is a caveat:

The only caveat is that you have to be as honest about your story as you would be about a novel you pick up in a bookstore, or a movie you begin watching with one finger still poised on the remote. The idea is to pinpoint where each trouble spot lies and then remedy it before it spreads like a weed, undermining your entire narrative. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds, because there’s nothing more exhilarating than watching your work improve until your readers are so engrossed in it that they forget that it’s a story at all.

So What are the secrets?

Secret #1: How to Hook the Reader: From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next. Secret

#2: How to Zero in on Your Point…To hold the brain’s attention, everything in a story must he there on a need-to-know basis.

Secret #3: I’ll Feel What He’s Feeling…All story is emotion based – if we’re not feeling, we’re not reading.

Secret #4: What does your Protagonist Really Want?…A protagonist without a clear goal has nothing to figure out and nowhere to go.

Secret #5: Digging Up Your Protagonist’s Inner Issue…You must know precisely when, and why, your protagonist’s worldview was knocked out of alignment.

Secret #6: The story is in the specifics…Anything conceptual, abstract, or general must be made tangible in the protagonist’s specific struggle.

Secret #7: Courting Conflict. The Agent Of Change…Story is about change, which results only from unavoidable conflict.

Secret #8: Cause of Effect…A story follows a cause-and-effect trajectory from start to finish.

Secret #9: What Can Go Wrong And Then Some…A story’s job is to put the protagonist through tests that, even in her wildest dreams, she doesn’t think she can pass.

Secret #10: The Road from Setup to Payoff…Readers are always on the lookout for patterns; to your reader, everything is either a setup, a payoff. or the road in between.

Secret #11: Meanwhile Back at the Ranch…Foreshadowing, flashbacks, and subplots must instantly give readers insight into what’s happening in the main storyline, even if the meaning shifts as the story unfolds.

Secret #12: The Writer’s Brain On Story…There’s no writing; there’s only rewriting.

Other highlights from the book, include:

So, What Is a Story? “What happens” is the plot. “Someone” is the protagonist. The “goal” is what’s known as the story question. And “how he or she changes” is what the story itself is actually about.

What Is This Story About? 1. Whose story is it? 2. What’s happening here? 3. What’s at stake?

Don’t Bury Your Story in an Empty Plot…A Story Is About How the Plot Affects the Protagonist

Knowing what the focus of your story is allows you to do for your story what your cognitive unconscious does for you: filter out everything extraneous, everything that doesn’t matter. You can use it to test each proposed twist, turn, and character reaction for story relevance.

That’s what readers come for. Their unspoken hardwired question is. If something like this happens to me, what would it feel like? How should I best react? Your protagonist might even be showing them how not to react, which is a pretty handy answer as well.

Adding External Problems Adds Drama Only If They’re Something the Protagonist Must Confront to Overcome Her Issue That’s why, when writing your protagonist’s bio, the goal is to pinpoint two things: the event in his past that knocked his worldview out of alignment, triggering the internal issue that keeps him from achieving his goal; and the inception of his desire for the goal itself. Sometimes they’re one and the same.

Six Places Where the “Specific” Often Goes Missing: 1. The specific reason a character does something…2. The specific thing a metaphor is meant to illuminate…3. The specific memory that a situation invokes in the protagonist…4. The specific reaction a character has to a significant event…5. The specific possibilities that run through the protagonist’s mind as she struggles to make sense of what’s happening…6. The specific rationale behind a character’s change of heart.

Unless They Convey Necessary Information, Sensory Details Clog a Story’s Arteries.

There are three main reasons for any sensory detail to be in a story: 1. It’s part of a cause-and-effect trajectory that relates to the plot—Lucy drinks the shake, she passes out. 2. It gives us insight into the character—Lucy’s an unapologetic hedonist headed for trouble. 3. It’s a metaphor—Lucy’s flavor choice represents how she sees the world. And that, my friends, is what makes stories so deeply satisfying. We get to try on trouble, pretty much risk-free.

Withholding Information Very Often Robs the Story of What Really Hooks Readers

The Importance of the Highway between Setup and Payoff: Three Rules of the Road…Rule One: There must actually be a road…Rule Two: The reader must be able to see the road unfold…Rule Three: The intended payoff must not be patently impossible.

On a concluding note:

Here’s a secret: when you’ve tapped into what it is we’re wired to respond to in a story, what we’re hungry for from the very first sentence, it is your truth we hear. As neuroscientist David Eagleman says, “When you put together large numbers of pieces and parts, the whole can become something larger than the sum…The concept of emergent properties means that something new can be introduced that is not inherent in any of the parts.” What emerges is your vision, seen through the eyes of your readers, experienced by your readers. So what are you waiting for? Write! Although they may not know it yet, your public is eager to find out what happens next.

A must read book on story-telling and writing. For another recommendation within this subject area, I suggest Storycatcher, and The Story Factor.

The Innovator’s Solution

It is hard to read any business article, blog, journal or magazine without coming across the word innovation. And while the profile of this topic has risen to prominence in the last few years, it is one that has been thoroughly studied particularly by professor Clayton M. Christensen. He is considered by many as “the architect of and the world’s foremost authority on disruptive innovation.” A few years ago, I read his seminal book in that area – The Innovator’s Dilemma, and recently I finished reading his second – The Innovator’s Solution which he co-authored with Michael E. Raynor.

Below are the key lessons from it that I wanted to share with you.

On the premise of the book:

If I wanted to start a company that could become significant and successful and ultimately topple the firms that now lead an industry, how could I do it? If indeed there are predictable reasons why businesses stumble, we might then help managers avoid those causes of failure and help them make decisions that predictably lead to successful growth. This is The Innovator’s Solution.

This is a book about how to create new growth in business. Growth is important because companies create shareholder value through profitable growth. Yet there is powerful evidence that once a company’s core business has matured, the pursuit of new platforms for growth entails daunting risk. Roughly one company in ten is able to sustain the kind of growth that translates into an above-average increase in shareholder returns over more than a few years. Too often the very attempt to grow causes the entire corporation to crash. Consequently, most executives are in a no-win situation: equity markets demand that they grow, but it’s hard to know how to grow. Pursuing growth the wrong way can be worse than no growth at all.

Can innovation be made predictable? Can it be turned into a process?

What can make the process of innovation more predictable? It does not entail learning to predict what individuals might do. Rather, it comes from understanding the forces that act upon the individuals involved in building businesses—forces that powerfully influence what managers choose and cannot choose to do. Rarely does an idea for a new-growth business emerge fully formed from an innovative employee’s head. No matter how well articulated a concept or insight might be, it must be shaped and modified, often significantly, as it gets fleshed out into a business plan that can win funding from the corporation. Along the way, it encounters a number of highly predictable forces. Managers as individuals might indeed be idiosyncratic and unpredictable, but they all face forces that are similar in their mechanism of action, their timing, and their impact on the character of the product and business plan that the company ultimately attempts to implement. Understanding and managing these forces can make innovation more predictable.

We often admire the intuition that successful entrepreneurs seem to have for building growth businesses. When they exercise their intuition about what actions will lead to the desired results, they really are employing theories that give them a sense of the right thing to do in various circumstances. These theories were not there at birth; They were learned through a set of experiences and mentors earlier in life. If some people have learned the theories that we call intuition, then it is our hope that these theories also can be taught to others. This is our aspiration for this book. We hope to help managers who are trying to create new-growth businesses use the best research we have been able to assemble to learn how to match their actions to the circumstances in order to get the results they need. As our readers use these ways of thinking over and over, we hope that the thought processes inherent in these theories can become part of their intuition as well.

On the difference between sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation and the associate strategies associated with each:

We must emphasize that we do not argue against the aggressive pursuit of sustaining innovation…Almost always a host of similar companies enters an industry in its early years, and getting ahead of that crowd—moving up the sustaining-innovation trajectory more decisively than the others—is critical to the successful exploitation of the disruptive opportunity. But this is the source of the dilemma: Sustaining innovations are so important and attractive, relative to disruptive ones, that the very best sustaining companies systematically ignore disruptive threats and opportunities until the game is over. Sustaining innovation essentially entails making a better mousetrap. Starting a new company with a sustaining innovation isn’t necessarily a bad idea: Focused companies sometimes can develop new products more rapidly than larger firms because of the conflicts and distractions that broad scope often creates. The theory of disruption suggests, however, that once they have developed and established the viability of their superior product, entrepreneurs who have entered on a sustaining trajectory should turn around and sell out to one of the industry leaders behind them. If executed successfully, getting ahead of the leaders on the sustaining curve and then selling out quickly can be a straightforward way to make an attractive financial return…A sustaining-technology strategy is not a viable way to build new-growth businesses, however. If you create and attempt to sell a better product into an established market to capture established competitors’ best customers, the competitors will be motivated to fight rather than to flee. This advice holds even when the entrant is a huge corporation with ostensibly deeper pockets than the incumbent.

On where disruptive innovation occurs:

Because new-market disruptions compete against nonconsumption, the incumbent leaders feel no pain and little threat until the disruption is in its final stages. In fact, when the disruptors begin pulling customers out of the low-end of the original value network, it actually feels good to the leading firms, because as they move up-market in their own world, for a time they are replacing the low-margin revenues that disruptors steal, with higher-margin revenues from sustaining innovations.

We call disruptions that take root at the low-end of the original or mainstream value network low-end disruptions…New-market disruptions induce incumbents to ignore the attackers, and low-end disruptions motivate the incumbents to flee the attack.

And why do executives of existing companies segment markets counterproductively?

There are at least four reasons or countervailing forces in established companies that cause managers to target innovations at attribute-based market segments that are not aligned with the way that customers live their lives. The first two reasons—the fear of focus and the demand for crisp quantification—reside in companies’ resource allocation processes. The third reason is that the structure of many retail channels is attribute focused, and the fourth is that advertising economics influence companies to target products at customers rather than circumstances.

How can this be resolved?

Identifying disruptive footholds means connecting with specific jobs that people—your future customers—are trying to get done in their lives. The problem is that in an attempt to build convincing business cases for new products, managers are compelled to quantify the opportunities they perceive, and the data available to do this are typically cast in terms of product attributes or the demographic and psychographic profiles of a given population of potential consumers. This mismatch between the true needs of consumers and the data that shape most product development efforts leads most companies to aim their innovations at nonexistent targets. The importance of identifying these jobs to be done goes beyond simply finding a foothold. Only by staying connected with a given job as improvements are made, and by creating a purpose brand so that customers know what to hire, can a disruptive product stay on its growth trajectory.

On extracting growth from nonconsumption (new-market disruption pattern):

1. The target customers are trying to get a job done, but because they lack the money or skill, a simple, inexpensive solution has been beyond reach.

2. These customers will compare the disruptive product to having nothing at all. As a result, they are delighted to buy it even though it may not be as good as other products available at high prices to current users with deeper expertise in the original value network. The performance hurdle required to delight such new-market customers is quite modest.

3. The technology that enables the disruption might be quite sophisticated, but disruptors deploy it to make the purchase and use of the product simple, convenient, and foolproof. It is the “foolproofedness” that creates new growth by enabling people with less money and training to begin consuming.

4. The disruptive innovation creates a whole new value network. The new consumers typically purchase the product through new channels and use the product in new venues.

On what makes competing against nonconsumption so hard for existing companies?

In a very insightful stream of research, Harvard Business School Professor Clark Gilbert has helped us understand the fundamental mechanism that causes the established competitors in an industry to consistently cram the disruptive technology into the mainstream market. With that understanding, Gilbert also provides guidance to established company executives on how to avoid this trap, and capture the growth created by disruption instead. Gilbert’s work, fortunately, not only defines an innovator’s dilemma but suggests a way out. The solution is twofold: First, get top-level commitment by framing an innovation as a threat during the resource allocation process. Later, shift responsibility for the project to an autonomous organization that can frame it as an opportunity.

On determining the right scope for the business:

When the functionality and reliability of a product are not good enough to meet customers’ needs, then the companies that will enjoy significant competitive advantage are those whose product architectures are proprietary and that are integrated across the performance-limiting interfaces in the value chain. When functionality and reliability become more than adequate, so that speed and responsiveness are the dimensions of competition that are not now good enough, then the opposite is true. A population of non-integrated, specialized companies whose rules of interaction are defined by modular architectures and industry standards holds the upper hand. At the beginning of a wave of new-market disruption, the companies that initially will be the most successful will be integrated firms whose architectures are proprietary because the product isn’t yet good enough. After a few years of success in performance improvement, those disruptive pioneers themselves become susceptible to hybrid disruption by a faster and more flexible population of non-integrated companies whose focus gives them lower overhead costs.

On how to avoid commoditization:

1. The low-cost strategy of modular product assemblers is only viable as long as they are competing against higher-cost opponents. This means that as soon as they drive the high-cost suppliers of proprietary products out of a tier of the market, they must move up-market to take them on again in order to continue to earn attractive profits.

2. Because the mechanisms that constrain or determine how rapidly they can move up-market are the performance-defining subsystems, these elements become not good enough and are flipped to the left side of the disruption diagram.

3. Competition among subsystem suppliers causes their engineers to devise designs that are increasingly proprietary and interdependent. They must do this as they strive to enable their customers to deliver better performance in their end-use products than the customers could if they used competitors’ subsystems.

4. The leading providers of these subsystems therefore find themselves selling differentiated, proprietary products with attractive profitability.

5. This creation of a profitable, proprietary product is the beginning, of course, of the next cycle of commoditization and de-commoditization.

A reminder that integrated companies possess a strategic advantage in their ability to respond to changes of value across the value chain:

To the extent that an integrated company such as IBM can flexibly couple and decouple its operations, rather than irrevocably sell off operations, it has greater potential to thrive profitably for an extended period than does a nonintegrated firm such as Compaq. This is because the processes of commoditization and de-commoditization are continuously at work, causing the place where the money will be to shift across the value chain over time.

The concept of core competency, which is often used to determine which part of the value chain to keep in-house, is misguiding:

Core competence, as it is used by many managers, is a dangerously inward-looking notion. Competitiveness is far more about doing what customers value than doing what you think you’re good at. And staying competitive as the basis of competition shifts necessarily requires a willingness and ability to learn new things rather than clinging hopefully to the sources of past glory. The challenge for incumbent companies is to rebuild their ships while at sea, rather than dismantling themselves plank by plank while someone else builds a new. faster boat with what they cast overboard as detritus.

To successfully build and manage growth businesses you need the right people, processes and values:

Executives who are building new-growth businesses therefore need to do more than assign managers who have been to the right schools of experience to the problem. They must ensure that responsibility for making the venture successful is given to an organization whose processes will facilitate what needs to be done and whose values can prioritize those activities. The theory is that the requirements of an innovation need to fit with the host organization’s processes and values, or the innovation will not succeed.

On managing the strategy development process:

In every company there are two simultaneous processes through which strategy comes to be defined. Figure 8-1 suggests that both of these strategy-making processes—deliberate and emergent—are always operating in every company. The deliberate strategy-making process is conscious and analytical. It is often based on rigorous analysis of data on market growth, segment size, customer needs, competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, and technology trajectories. Strategy in this process typically is formulated in a project with a discrete beginning and end, and then implemented “top down.”…Emergent strategy, which as depicted in figure 8-1 bubbles up from within the organization, is the cumulative effect of day-to-day prioritization and investment decisions made by middle managers, engineers, salespeople, and financial staff. These tend to be tactical, day-to-day operating decisions that are made by people who are not in a visionary, futuristic, or strategic state of mind…When the efficacy of a strategy that was developed through an emergent process is recognized, it is possible to formalize it, improve it, and exploit it, thus transforming an emergent strategy into a deliberate one. Emergent processes should dominate in circumstances in which the future is hard to read and in which it is not clear what the right strategy should be. This is almost always the case during the early phases of a company’s life. However, the need for emergent strategy arises whenever a change in circumstances portends that the formula that worked in the past may not be as effective in the future. On the other hand, the deliberate strategy process should be dominant once a winning strategy has become clear, because in those circumstances effective execution often spells the difference between success and failure.

On the execution of the strategy, three points of leverage:

1. Carefully control the initial cost structure of a new-growth business, because this quickly will determine the values that will drive the critical resource allocation decisions in that business.

2. Actively accelerate the process by which a viable strategy emerges by ensuring that business plans are designed to test and confirm critical assumptions using tools such as discovery-driven planning.

3. Personally and repeatedly intervene, business by business, exercising judgment about whether the circumstance is such that the business needs to follow an emergent or deliberate strategy-making process. CEOs must not leave the choice about strategy process to policy, habit, or culture.

General rules of thumbs relating to the financial management of growth businesses:

  • Launch new-growth businesses regularly when the core is still healthy —when it can still be patient for growth—not when financial results signal the need.
  • Keep dividing business units so that as the corporation becomes increasingly large, decisions to launch growth ventures continue to be made within organizational units that can be patient for growth because they are small enough to benefit from investing in small opportunities.
  • Minimize the use of profit from established businesses to subsidize losses in new-growth businesses. Be impatient for profit: There is nothing like profitability to ensure that a high-potential business can continue to garner the funding it needs, even when the corporation’s core businesses turn sour.

On a concluding note:

Many successful companies have disrupted once. A few, including IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson, Kodak, Cisco, and Intuit, have disrupted several times. Sony did it repeatedly between 1955 and 1982, before its engine of disruption got shut down. To our knowledge, no company has been able to build an engine of disruptive growth and keep it running and running. That reality has made this a risky book for us to write: Few business books say “Do this; no one’s ever done it before.” But there is little choice. Creating and sustaining successful growth has, historically speaking, vexed some great managers. Given the existence of principles but no precedent, we have simply done our best to suggest how successful growth can be created and sustained. We have offered an integrated body of theory derived from the successes and the failures of hundreds of different companies, each of which has illuminated a different aspect of the innovator’s dilemma. And so we now pass the baton to you, in the hope that you will find our efforts to be a valuable foundation upon which to build your own innovator’s solution.

I highly recommend this book, as a follow-on to Clayton’s earlier work.

 

On Impro

Earlier this year, famed author Dan Pink posted an article titled: Rebirth of a Salesman–Six Books on the Art and Science of Sales. One of the books on that list that I had not read yet and that caught my attention was: Impro – Improvisation And The Theatre – by Keith Johnstone. In his commentary, Dan wrote:

A work of drama theory? Yes – and that’s why you should read it. Smart sellers, like good improv actors, know how to hear offers. 

So I decided to order this book, read it, and share with you some of my key learnings. Keith starts by explaining the tenets of his teaching philosophy. First, on the importance of focusing on improving the overall team performance:

Normal schooling is intensely competitive, and the students are supposed to try and outdo each other. If I explain to a group that they’re to work for the other members, that each individual is to be interested in the progress of the other members, they’re amazed, yet obviously if a group supports its own members strongly, it’ll be a better group to work in.

Second, on the responsibilities of the teacher and his/her role in removing the fear of failure:

The first thing I do when I meet a group of new students is (probably) to sit on the floor. I play low status, and I’ll explain that if the students fail they’re to blame me. Then they laugh, and relax, and I explain that really it’s obvious that they should blame me, since I’m supposed to be the expert; and if I give them the wrong material. they’ll fail; and if I give them the right material, then they’ll succeed. I play low status physically but my actual status is going up, since only a very confident and experienced person would put the blame for failure on himself. At this point they almost certainly start sliding off their chairs, because they don’t want to be higher than me. I have already changed the group profoundly, because failure is suddenly not so frightening any more. They’ll want to test me, of course; but I really will apologise to them when they fail, and ask them to be patient with me, and explain that I’m not perfect. My methods are very effective, and other things being equal, most students will succeed, but they won’t try to win any more. The normal teacher-student relationship is dissolved.

Third, on the importance of maintaining eye contact with all the students:

When I was teaching young children, I trained myself to share my eye contacts out among the group. I find this crucial in establishing a ‘fair’ relationship with them. I’ve seen many teachers who concentrate their eye contacts on only a few students, and this does affect the feeling in a group. Certain students are disciples, but others feel separated, or experience themselves as less interesting, or as ‘failures’.

And last but not least, on the importance of providing constructive positive feedback:

I’ve also trained myself to make positive comments, and to be as direct as possible. I say ‘Good’ instead of’That’s enough’. I’ve actually heard teachers say ‘Well, let’s see who fails at this one’, when introducing an exercise. Some teachers get reassurance when their students fail. We must have all encountered the teacher who gives a self-satisfied smile when a student makes a mistake. Such an attitude is not conducive to a good, warm feeling in the group.

Following the introductory section, Keith, begins addressing the four areas of improvisation: status, spontaneity, narrative skills, and masks and trance. STATUS On the role of the teacher in establishing safety and enabling his/her students to stretch beyond their comfort zone – in this case the ‘preferred status’:

If you wish to teach status interactions, it’s necessary to understand that however willing the student is consciously, there may be very strong subconscious resistances. Making the student safe, and getting him to have confidence in you, are essential. You then have to work together with the student, as if you were both trying to alter the behaviour of some third person. It’s also important that the student who succeeds at playing a status he feels to be alien should be instantly rewarded, praised and admired. It’s no use just giving the exercises and expecting them to work. You have to understand where the resistance is, and devise ways of getting it to crumble. Many teachers don’t recognise that there’s a problem because they only exploit the ‘preferred’ status. In a bad drama school it’s possible to play your ‘preferred’ status all the time, since they cast you to type, exploiting what you can do, instead of widening your range.

On status, as the central element of any exchange:

Although this short essay is no more than an introduction, by now it will be clear to you that status transactions aren’t only of interest to the improviser. Once you understand that every sound and posture implies a status, then you perceive the world quite differently, and the change is probably permanent. In my view, really accomplished actors, directors, and playwrights are people with an intuitive understanding of the status transactions that govern human relationships. This ability to perceive the underlying motives of casual behaviour can also be taught.

SPONTANEITY Keith believes that we all start out with more spontaneity as children, but our education system plays a big role in reversing that:

1) Most children can operate in a creative way until they’re eleven or twelve, when suddenly they lose their spontaneity and produce imitations of’adult art’…Many teachers think of children as immature adults. It might lead to better and more ‘respectful’ teaching, if we thought of adults as atrophied children. Many ‘well adjusted’ adults are bitter, uncreative frightened, unimaginative, and rather hostile people. Instead of assuming they were born that way, or that that’s what being an adult entails, we might consider them as people damaged by their education and upbringing. 2) Imagination is as effortless as perception, unless we think it might be ‘wrong’, which is what our education encourages us to believe. Then we experience ourselves as ‘imagining’, as ‘thinking up an idea’, but what we’re really doing is faking up the sort of imagination we think we ought to have. 3) At school any spontaneous act was likely to get me into trouble. I learned never to act on impulse, and that whatever came into my mind first should be rejected in favour of better ideas. I learned that my imagination wasn’t ‘good’ enough. I learned that the first idea was unsatisfactory because it was (1) psychotic; (2) obscene; (3) unoriginal.The truth is that the best ideas are often psychotic, obscene and unoriginal. My best known play—a one-actor called Moby Dick—is about a servant who keeps his master’s one remaining sperm in a goldfish bowl. It escapes, grows to monstrous size, and has to be hunted down on the high seas. This is certainly a rather obscene idea to many people, and if I hadn’t thrown away everything that my teachers taught me, I could never have written it. These teachers, who were so sure of the rules, didn’t produce anything themselves at all. I was one of a number of playwrights who emerged in the late 1950s, and it was remarkable that only one of us had been to a university—that was John Arden—and he’d studied architecture. 4) Students need a ‘guru’ who ‘gives permission’ to allow forbidden thoughts into their consciousness. A ‘guru’ doesn’t necessarily teach at all. Some remain speechless for years, others communicate very cryptically. All reassure by example. They are people who have been into the forbidden areas and who have survived unscathed. I react playfully with my students, while showing them that there are just as many dead nuns or chocolate scorpions inside my head as there are in anybody’s, yet I interact very smoothly and sanely. It’s no good telling the student that he isn’t to be held responsible for the content of his imagination, he needs a teacher who is living proof that the monsters are not real, and that the imagination will not destroy you. Otherwise the student will have to go on pretending to be dull. 5) Reading about spontaneity won’t make you more spontaneous, but it may at least stop you heading off in the opposite direction; and if you play the exercises with your friends in a good spirit, then soon all your thinking will be transformed. Rousseau began an essay on education by saying that if we did the opposite of what our own teachers did we’d be on the right track, and this still holds good. The Stages I try to take students through involve the realisation (i) that we struggle against our imaginations, especially when we try to be imaginative; (2) that we are not responsible for the content of our imaginations; and (3) that we are not, as we are taught to think, our ‘personalities’, but that the imagination is our true self.

NARRATIVE SKILLS One technique for generating stories, that resonated with me, is to think of them as events that interrupted an established routine:

An improviser can study status transactions, and advancing, and ‘reincorporating’, and can learn to free-associate, and to generate narrative spontaneously, and yet still find it difficult to compose stories. This is really for aesthetic reasons, or conceptual reasons. He shouldn’t really think of making up stories, but of interrupting routines. If I say ‘Make up a story’, then most people are paralysed. If I say ‘describe a routine and then interrupt it’, people see no problem.

In concluding the narrative skills section, Keith offers advice on the necessity to distract the student’s initial focus away from the content so as to release their imagination:

You have to trick students into believing that content isn’t important and that it looks after itself, or they never get anywhere. It’s the same kind of trick you use when you tell them that they are not their imaginations, that their imaginations have nothing to do with them and that they’re in no way responsible for what their ‘mind’ gives them. In the end they learn how to abandon control while at the same time they exercise control. They begin to understand that everything is just a shell. You have to misdirect people to absolve them of responsibility. Then, much later, they become strong enough to resume the responsibility themselves. By that time they have a more truthful concept of what they are.

MASKS AND TRANCE On masks and trance, Keith summarizes the role these two tools can play not only in acting but also as therapy but cautions on the importance of having a teacher who’s role is to keep the student safe during his regression:

If you were to use Mask work literally as ‘therapy’, and to try and psychoanalyse the content of scenes, then I’ve no doubt you could produce some amazing conflicts, and really screw everyone up. Mask work, or any spontaneous acting, can be therapeutic because of the intense abreactions involved; but the teacher’s job is to keep the student safe, and to protect him so that he can regress. This is the opposite of the Freudian view that people regress in search of greater security. In acting class, students only regress when they feel protected by a high-status teacher. When the students begin Mask work, and ‘characters’ inhabit them for the first time, it’s normal for everything to be extremely grotesque…. But when you give the student permission to explore this material he very soon uncovers layers of unsuspected gentleness and tenderness. It is no longer sexual feelings and violence that are deeply repressed in this culture now, whatever it may have been like in fin-de-siecle Vienna. We repress our benevolence and tenderness.

This book, while primarily written as a practical guide of techniques for improvisation, has numerous lessons that extend into other areas such as psychology and influence.