creativity

flashback friday: book review: “dangerous ideas” by Alf Rehn

[I originally posted this on May 16, 2012. This book came up in a conversation I had earlier this week and it’s one I really enjoyed.]

Innovation and creativity are all the buzz. You can’t escape the flash flood of blogs and articles telling you how to be more creative. I had gotten pretty jaded and had started thinking that maybe we should worry less about being Innovative (with a capital “I”) and worry more about just making better stuff and providing better service.

I want to believe that the true masters of creativity and  innovation do NOT start the day with a big whoop and a cheer of “Let’s innovate today!” Rather, they just relentlessly ask how they can improve things and look beyond the walls of their own fields and ideas. They ignore how it’s “supposed” to be done and instead do it right.

That’s where this book comes in. The subtitle is “When Provocative Thinking Becomes Your Most Valuable Asset” and Alf delights in being provocative and contrarian. He works hard to keep us thinking creatively about creative thinking.

I found it a straightforward and good read. It flows well and moves right along, which is a bit of a rarity amongst business books with substance. And it does have substance. Some of the high points:

  • He shows how people typically approach creativity from very uncreative ways. And why that shouldn’t surprise us.
  • Alf takes on the Belief around the cult of innovation that prevents us from innovating and he shows how our brains are hardwired to avoid innovative thinking. He goes on to point out that our discomfort with being different causes us to back off and prevents truly creative thoughts.
  • Creativity is hard freakin’ work. It’s unpleasant. It’s difficult. It involves wrestling with the unknown and untried. No wonder people resist.
  • When innovation is more hindrance than blessing (blasphemy?).
  • How and why copying other ideas plays a big role in actual innovation. What, you say, copying is not creative! Well, you may be wrong (hint: Steve Jobs did not actually invent the MP3 player).
  • Why we only think we want a bunch of creative people in the company.
  • The fun of conflict and value of opposition when trying to think creatively.
  • Diversity and creativity and why efforts at diversity generally come up lacking real diversity.
  • “The World’s Shortest Course of Creativity”. Yes, he does actually provide ideas and exercises to help you be more creative. It shouldn’t surprise you that they are probably not quite what you’re expecting.
  • The importance of shutting off creativity and actually producing something. Analytical types suffer “paralysis of analysis” and creatives can get caught in a similar whirlpool of thinking, thinking, and thinking some more without actually doing. That doesn’t help.

All in all, a very good take on creativity and innovation and one that I have enthusiastically already recommended to others. A little hard to track down in the States (the internet is your friend), but well worth the effort.

innovation can’t be done on cue

All the business articles and blogs are telling us we need to be more innovative and just how to do it with the righteousness of tabloids touting the latest celebrity diet. Innovation as a buzzword is all the rage.

So we start innovation task forces and committees and add “innovation” to job descriptions and mission statements and company values and we INNOVATE! Except we don’t.

It all falls apart because we treat innovation like it’s a task on a to-do list or a product we can purchase. Innovation is not a project to be managed. Innovation not an outcome. Think about it this way: no one wants a diet – they want to be thin and fit. Likewise, no one really wants innovation – we just want a competitive advantage.

The most innovative and creative people I know have several things in common:

They are intensely curious about many, many different things. They read and explore ideas constantly.

They are able to bring seemingly unrelated ideas together across several different fields. Experts get stuck with the “known” of their narrow world. Innovators are almost never described as experts – they aren’t attached to the status quo in any one field so they are never stuck rehashing the solutions. They are free to incorporate solutions from everywhere.

They love to make the complicated simple.

They are a little weird and a little odd. They think differently and ask questions no one else asks. They wonder why things are the way they are and why things couldn’t be different.

They take time to think. Inspiration doesn’t happen according to schedule . It generally strikes when we’re working on something completely different, in the shower, while on a run, sitting on a park bench, or doodling in a boring meeting.

They don’t care about your opinion. If they did, they’d get stuck trying to fit in with societal groupthink. Instead, they go their own way and hope you’re smart enough to join them. This is very important because innovative ideas rarely get past a committee. Instead, it really seems to come from people and companies who don’t have to account to others for wanting to change the status quo. Either because they were in charge like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg or because they’ve been given license to play like at 3M, Google, or various skunkworks groups that operate protected from company norms, or because they have no vested interest in the status quo to begin with.

They NEVER, EVER, NOT EVEN ONCE set out to innovate. They think different and want to find better solutions.

Forget innovation. Focus on creating great new products and services and improving the existing ones. That’s where innovation lives.

innovation paradox

There is a huge paradox when it comes to change and innovation. Those have the most knowledge and perspective and who should be leading the charge and often the least likely to raise the innovation banner.

The people with a vested interest in the status quo (whether intellectual, emotional, financial, etc.) will argue the loudest and longest against change. Oddly enough, it’s the professional organizations, trade magazines ,  leaders in the field, etc. who seem to scream the most against the innovations that could actually improve the field. Rather than pushing for improvement, they have a vested interest and deep understanding for how things are and a very limited appreciation for how things could be. Or soon will be.

The problem for them (and any of us resisting change) is that no matter how loud of tantrums they throw, no matter how much they try to legislate, regulate, and block change, the rest of the world goes about its business and soon leaves them behind, arguing amongst themselves.

Denial is not a change strategy. We can find ways to get ahead of and benefit from the change or we can get drug along behind. Our choice.

short book review: Dangerous Ideas by Alf Rehn

Innovation and creativity are all the buzz. You can’t escape the flash flood of blogs and articles telling you how to be more creative. I had gotten pretty jaded and had started thinking that maybe we should worry less about being Innovative (with a capital “I”) and worry more about just making better stuff and providing better service.

I want to believe that the true masters of creativity and  innovation do NOT start the day with a big whoop and a cheer of “Let’s innovate today!” Rather, they just relentlessly ask how they can improve things and look beyond the walls of their own fields and ideas. They ignore how it’s “supposed” to be done and instead do it right.

That’s where this book comes in. The subtitle is “When Provocative Thinking Becomes Your Most Valuable Asset” and Alf delights in being provocative and contrarian. He works hard to keep us thinking creatively about creative thinking.

I found it a straightforward and good read. It flows well and moves right along, which is a bit of a rarity amongst business books with substance. And it does have substance. Some of the high points:

  • He shows how people typically approach creativity from very uncreative ways. And why that shouldn’t surprise us.
  • Alf takes on the Belief around the cult of innovation that prevents us from innovating and he shows how our brains are hardwired to avoid innovative thinking. He goes on to point out that our discomfort with being different causes us to back off and prevents truly creative thoughts.
  • Creativity is hard freakin’ work. It’s unpleasant. It’s difficult. It involves wrestling with the unknown and untried. No wonder people resist.
  • When innovation is more hindrance than blessing (blasphemy?).
  • How and why copying other ideas plays a big role in actual innovation. What, you say, copying is not creative! Well, you may be wrong (hint: Steve Jobs did not actually invent the MP3 player).
  • Why we only think we want a bunch of creative people in the company.
  • The fun of conflict and value of opposition when trying to think creatively.
  • Diversity and creativity and why efforts at diversity generally come up lacking real diversity.
  • “The World’s Shortest Course of Creativity”. Yes, he does actually provide ideas and exercises to help you be more creative. It shouldn’t surprise you that they are probably not quite what you’re expecting.
  • The importance of shutting off creativity and actually producing something. Analytical types suffer “paralysis of analysis” and creatives can get caught in a similar whirlpool of thinking, thinking, and thinking some more without actually doing. That doesn’t help.

All in all, a very good take on creativity and innovation and one that I have enthusiastically already recommended to others. A little hard to track down in the States (the internet is your friend), but well worth the effort.

innovation leads to failure leads to innovation

People tell you that you should be creative and innovate to get ahead of the competition. What they don’t tell you is that creativity and innovation lead to failure. That’s right failure.

Whenever we try something different it is probably not going to work, particularly the first (few) times. It will fail. True innovation comes from learning from that failure and tweaking and experimenting and playing with it until it works.

When developing training programs, the bulk of the work is done in the back office. But the magic happens in front of a group of participants. I rarely have an insight on how to improve wording or flow when sitting at my desk. Some of my biggest breakthroughs have been from failing in the field – forgetting what I was going to say, getting ahead of myself and presenting the sequence out of order, or getting a question that I didn’t anticipate. Getting it wrong, recovering, and seeing how it can be even better leads to huge gains.

Thomas Leonard, considered by many to be the father of personal coaching, used to intentionally overload systems and processes to see what would break first. Then he’d correct that and overload it again. This allowed him to quickly understand what worked, what didn’t, and to create airtight processes.

In the mid 1980’s Suzuki developed a groundbreaking sportbike – the GSX-R. To make the engine lighter than many thought was possible, the engineers would shave weight from a part, test, and shave more weight until it failed. Doing this over and over with each component taught them the lightest reliable weight each part could be.

The problem is that we usually try something new and when it doesn’t work we deem it failure and give up. But each failure holds a lesson that we can use for improvement.

If we’re willing to learn.