What’s Better Than Being Smart?

Accountability Be Accountable Creativity Thought leadership

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Key Point: The ability to shift perspective is better than being smart. That’s the view expressed by Astro Teller, the leader who runs Google’s moonshot business, X. Chris McQueen, another Googler and the guy who leads Google’s Innovation lab, heads many of Google’s transformation and ideation sessions out of the famous “Google Garage.” He deftly makes this “perception” point by telling a story he shared with a number of us fortunate enough to spend a day with him this past week. 

A friend of McQueen’s is a crazy gear head and wanted to share that enthusiasm with his newborn infant by immediately hanging a car themed mobile over the crib. Surely the little one would be excited to view these bright, shiny vehicles and quickly begin a shared paternal love for the automobile. Much to his friend’s chagrin, the baby just never seemed to show any interest in the colorful, beautiful mobile. One day, the dad bent down to make up the crib and happened to see what the mobile looked like from the baby’s perspective. He was shocked to observe that instead of ogling, cooing, inspiring cars, the toys looked like a bunch of intertwined, unattractive sticks. It was nothing like the view from the top of the crib, or even from the side. His friend realized that the mobile was essentially for him and not at all interesting from the baby’s point of view. Hmm.

This simple, yet impactful little story reminds us when we want to deliver something of meaning to others, we have to be sure that we are looking from the perspective of the receiver or user. Otherwise, the service or product we offer is more often about us than them. During his workshops, McQueen emphasizes the only real way to deeply understand and achieve this valued actionable viewpoint, is to connect the user and their needs through observation and data. Doing this well results in actionable insight from the users’ perspective. This is often easier said than done and usually requires iterative work, including fast prototyping and testing before we invest (regardless of how well intended or how strongly we believe in our interpretation).

While I’m sharing “McQueen Nuggets,” I thought I’d provide another represented in his San Francisco “pothole” story. Chris asked us how we would prioritize fixing ALL the potholes in San Francisco (or any other place for that matter). This is under the assumption that it is not practical, feasible or economical to fix all of them at once. The obvious thing is to fill in the big ones that could cause harm or damage to people and transport. However, the next logical place would be to repair the holes that experience the most traffic. This simple and helpful guide is a principle many organizations could benefit from: Map the journeys your most valuable customers take and fix every pothole where they frequently travel! 

Character Moves: 

  1. Remember that you can add to your IQ significantly by being a naive and open learner; continuously and consciously lifting and shifting your perception. See things from every angle other than just where you are standing. Pay extra attention to the view of others/users you really want to meaningfully serve. 
  1. Map the journey of these users, smooth over the potholes of their roads most travelled, and you will be a friction, fixing genius. It is focused attention and priority more than just throwing resources at problems. 
  1. Become a Googler in attitude and action… You and I too can think Google X: It’s simple, possible, and still hard. 

Googley in The Triangle,

Lorne 

One Millennial View: I think as Millennials, we thrive on user/customer generated feedback. We want to inquire about what “potholes” we can fix first. Thankfully, there’s always a great platform for this type of communication. But we also know the asphalt is always going to get torn up somehow, and need to be on the lookout. It’s a bumpy road out there, but if you learn how to navigate and adapt to the journey by asking those who frequent the commute, it’s a lot smoother.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Too Busy to Create

Be Respectful Creativity Productivity

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Key Point: Having a constructive way of thinking about the idea of being “too busy to be creative” is interesting to me. Frankly I’ve had a hard time getting my head around the idea of “too busy” being much more than wasteful blame or an excuse. People that get stuff done (GSD) are just busy. Often, I think people are talking about needing a break more than actually being too busy. We all need a breath… Some space… Some quiet… And it is more than fair to recognize that it’s so darn hard to get off the daily spinning wheel to do so, unless we are intentional about it.

For most of us, a large percentage of the available hours we have are full of obligations we willingly, even happily accept; just the normality of having commitments in work and life. And there is also this background whisper in the mind, “maybe I should call my kids more, visit my Mom more, connect with that friend I’ve haven’t heard from for a while, catch up with more emails, start that project, send out more recognitions…” All the other “should do’s.” So what about room for new ideas for the creativity required navigating all this “stuff“ more effectively? I thought I might listen to a little jazz to help me with an answer.

The following is from Dr. Charles Limb, a professor of head and neck surgery, and the Chief of the Division of Otology, Neurotology and Skull Base Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco…. “I started looking at jazz musicians playing the blues as a way to understand how the creative brain emerges from a neuroscience perspective. When musicians go to an improvisation, the brain switches, and the lateral prefrontal lobes responsible for conscious self-monitoring became less engaged.” His research notes the following when the improv isn’t clicking: “When you’re trying so hard to come up with ideas you can’t do it, you can’t force it… When the stakes are higher and the brain is actively over-thinking something, it can interfere with processes that have become routinized, causing behavior or performance to suffer.” So what helps when we want to a switch on a little more creativity and get into a flow? Well, how about a little QUIET?

Hal Gregersen writes in a recent HBR article, that cultivating quiet “increases your chances of encountering novel ideas and information and discerning weak signals.” When we’re constantly fixated on the verbal agenda—what to say next, what to write next, what to tweet next (perhaps what to play next)? —It’s tough to make room for truly different perspectives or radically new ideas. It’s hard to drop into deeper modes of listening and attention. And it’s in those deeper modes of attention that truly novel ideas are found.

Jazz certainly isn’t quiet. However, quieting the mind leads to better more creative jazz riffs amongst musicians and I believe the same applies in all parts of our lives.

Even incredibly busy people can cultivate periods of sustained quiet time. Here are four practical ideas the HBR article suggests.

Character Moves: 

“1. Punctuate meetings with five minutes of quiet time… It’s possible to hit reset by engaging in a silent practice of meditation or reflection.

2. Take a silent afternoon in nature. You need not be a rugged outdoors type to ditch the phone and go for a simple two-or-three-hour jaunt in nature.

3. Go on a media fast. Turn off your email for several hours or even a full day, or try “fasting” from news and entertainment.

4. Take the plunge and try a meditation retreat.”

 5. Invest in your breathing process. Connecting to my previous blog on Wim Hof, the science of having breathing intersecting with a little quiet, is as a powerful way to detox and open up the creativity channel.

 Quiet and all that jazz in The Triangle,

 Lorne

 One Millennial View: I create and write for a living, and recently I had to coach one of my editors how to write articles for the first time. One of my first pieces of advice dealt with how to tackle the end of a piece, the final sentence that can be difficult if you let it. I’ve learned to just write it… Get words on that page. Anything is better than nothing. Sometimes it’ll be great, sometimes it won’t, but just like a jazz song, the tune has to end. If you’re too busy overthinking it, the last riff will never sound good.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

I Love Purple Chicks!

Be Respectful Contribution Creativity Respect

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Key Point: Innovation and even disruptive ideas are often right in front of us; just not in plain sight. The trick is to find ways to set these ideas FREE. Too often, they’re hiding in the wonderful minds of ALL the people around us. 

What would you do if predatory hawks were continuously eating over half of your baby chicks, the essence of sustaining your life as a chicken farmer? That was the recent experience of African chicken farmers. Raptors had come to treat their farms like an “all you can eat” chicken buffet. So these Tanzanian farmers, somewhat at their wit’s end as what to do, sat with an open mind to hear what their tribal elders might suggest to solve this big time problem. And what did these sage folks come up with as a solution? Hide the chicks in plain site! Huh? Yup, they brilliantly recommended painting the chicks with a bio degradable purple dye, thereby confusing the birds of prey. 

Purple

 

So the deal is hawks cannot recognize anything purple as edible to them. They can literally land in front of a purple chick and see something moving, just not lunch. The strategy had been very successful for the farmers. From losing 80 percent of their chicks they are now saving 80 percent; a huge turnaround and literally life changing (for both the farmers and baby chickens). 

This story was told by Terry O’Reilly after a customer dinner our company hosted this week. Terry is widely known as an advertising guru and the host of the hugely popular CBC radio show, “Under the Influence.” His soon to be released book “This I Know,” is a guaranteed best seller. Terry’s message in the purple chicken story was to stress the importance of ensuring psychological safety in all organizations so people at any level can freely propose ANY idea. This needs to be coupled with modern organization leadership, encouraging and expecting employees to unleash their own “purple chicken” ideas. Then leaders need to be open to receiving those ideas and putting that creativity to work. It is unacceptable to open up and promote more creativity with no way of executing. Painting the chicks was a great idea AND the farmers had to get the paint and then do it! 

Terry’s closing question to the dinner audience was: Imagine if you were the person in your tribe with the unorthodox proposal of painting the chicks purple. Who would really listen? Would people be open or would you get ignored and/or thrown out of the tribe? How does your culture really support innovation as a way of life?

 Character Moves:

  1. When it comes to finding solutions the best ones can be right there in the most obvious places; hiding like purple chickens right out in the open. We just need to be present enough to find and receive them. How good is your organization in tapping into your entire employee community for innovative solutions? How do you know? What evidence do you have? How do you do it? Improve on it? 
  1. Most of us are living in a world where the metaphorical hawks are circling above and happy to eat us for lunch. We actually do need innovation to come from outside and to assign people to help with that task. However, the biggest opportunity is INSIDE and finding ways to have people at every level think and act like there is no box. What can you do to better set ideas free? How many of your personal ideas have been executed on? How many are still hidden and out of sight? 

Painting purple in the Triangle, 

Lorne 

One Millennial View: One of my favorite components of working in digital media is the ability to try, adapt, and try again. Thanks to low overhead, a failed idea or project doesn’t always cost much in digital. It can also be improved upon in real time… Look at your favorite podcasts, YouTube channels, and other digital productions. They’ve likely changed format, evolved, dropped some segments, adopted others, and responded to user feedback. As far as I’m concerned, that’s just chicken feathers turning purple over time, and fortunately no hawks get to gobble up the entire coop in the process. It’s gratifying when we know feathers can change colors.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Cognitive Diversity and Jumping Off the Log

Be Respectful Creativity Culture Respect

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Key Point: Harnessing cognitive diversity, unleashing creativity and acting on it in the workplace, is every bit as important and transformative as embracing breakthrough digital technology. And as I emphasized in our previous blog, networks and the subsequent connectivity alters everything. So in this context, advanced human networks in organizations need to burst out like festival fireworks. The best organizations are creating new conditions to do that. The following strategic “people tenants” are, in my opinion, vital to open up the gates of those human networks. 

  1. Commitment to cognitive diversity.

I really appreciate the way Facebook embraces diversity. Regina Dugan is a senior executive leading one of Facebook’s most important “big idea” projects. According to a recent Fast Company article, she’s learned that assembling a diverse group of perspectives is essential to the creative process. I totally agree with her following comment:

“The ultimate goal is cognitive diversity, and cognitive diversity is correlated with identity diversity. That means it’s not just about [getting] women in tech. It’s about broad voices, broad representation. But we can’t step away from the idea that in the workplace, diversity also looks like identity diversity. You have to get to the place where you aren’t made comfortable by the fact that everyone is the same, but rather feel inspired by how different we are. We get better problem-solving that way.”

  1. Confidence to create and always ask “what if?”

Imagine an organization where everyone regardless of job description viewed themselves as creators, scientists, artists, and everything in between. Everyday, people would come to “work” bringing a confident “what if?” mindset, zipping past the daily challenges of resistance, self doubt and procrastination with a compelling need to create and continuously reimagine. When we are in the act of moving and building, we flow and generate energy. And when we create, fear and resistance tends to fall away. 

  1. Getting S!#% done by actually jumping.

There’s an old riddle that says, “Three frogs are sitting on a log. One decides to jump off. How many frogs are left?” The correct answer is “three.” One frog decided to jump, but the implication is that the frog never acted on jumping. Winning organizations are not your typical frog. What if the culture of an enterprise expects solid judgment through mindfulness, and values and rewards the jump (regardless of the landing)?

I want to advance our organization through creating and promoting breakthrough collaborative, networked human systems, embracing cognitive diversity, confident creativity and the courage to act. This generates flow and when people and an organization find this movement toward a greater purpose, something magical happens.

Character Moves:

  1. Evaluate yourself and your team on the three elements above. Do you bring your unique cognitive diversity, respectfully seek it in others, confidently create through relentless “what if?” and do you dare to jump off that log?  

Jumping off in the Triangle 

Lorne 

One Millennial View: I seem to hear reason after reason why it’s best to live in a state of discomfort, where cognitive diversity and “what if’s” also exist. It’s not as “safe” or easy, but the worst skydiving story I’ve ever heard is one where someone decided not to jump and safely landed back in the plane. 

– Garrett

Putting Yourself Out There

Accountability Creativity Organizational leadership

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Key Point: Do not expect people are going to just discover you. You have to let people know how you can add value and declare what you want to achieve career-wise. I remember when I was a young director at a Fortune 50 company. We had 60,000 associates and probably 1,500 directors, company wide. I worked for a small but growing division that had its head office in Seattle. The BIG corporate office was in Denver. One day when I was in Denver for a meeting, I decided just to stop in and introduce myself to the CEO/Chairman. I knew the likelihood of him having a moment to say hello based on the hectic schedule he had, was unlikely. Sure enough he wasn’t in his office but I ended up having a great visit with his executive assistant, and she made a point of letting the CEO know I came by. Three years later I was working for this CEO/Chairman. I’m not suggesting that going to visit him had any direct bearing on me eventually working for him. But you have to “assume the position” you want. Have the courage, confidence, and conviction to put yourself out there!

The other day, a young woman who works in another department, wrote me a note expressing an interest in further developing her career, ideally in my group. I had a vague idea who she was but knew little of her passion or interest. I politely responded knowing any opening was unlikely. As a coincidence I bumped into her in the lobby of our corporate offices a few days later, recognized her name and struck up a conversation. I was impressed with her commitment and passion. I’m going to kick ideas around she might find interesting. If she hadn’t put herself “out there,” I would never have considered her.

Responding to job advertisements by simply sending in a resume, including digital opportunities on sites like LinkedIn, are also unlikely to be sufficient for finding the next step. You need to rise above the noise and make yourself visible. This includes having influential contacts to sponsor you and/or other ways to become attractive on the radar screen. It is only then that you have a chance to match your skills/attributes to the opportunity. Get visible!

Character Move:

  1. Be intentional. Declare what you want and set a path to make yourself visible to others that can help you in a positive way.
  2. Recognize that YOU have to be the best salesperson for YOU. If you don’t believe in yourself, why would anyone else? Be a platinum sales person matching your attributes to what is needed.
  3. Know the difference between sponsors and mentors. Sponsors actively work to promote you. Mentors give you insight and advice. You need both, but a sponsor is often the key to moving ahead career-wise. (One company I worked for knew the executive VP of marketing was a career maker. Everyone wanted to have his sponsorship).
  4. Do not be discouraged if you don’t get an immediate hit from doing the above. Get yourself out there. Keep improving, and positively self-promote your interest in helping others. One day your value and passion will exactly intersect with the needs of someone else looking just for YOU.

Putting yourself out and into the Triangle,

Lorne