Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Creativity Gone Sour: Motrin, Mothers, and Twitter

Over the weekend I was monitoring Twitter friends and was surprised to discover a bit of a dust up with regard to the Motrin brand. Motrin, it appears, had put up an ad suggesting that mothers who wear those slings to carry their babies are slaves to fashion, and that it hurts their backs. Depending on how you interpret the ad it can also be perceived as calling mothers “tired and crazy”. It also subtly suggests that the sling is not really as much of a bonding experience as it’s purported to be. One would guess the original intention of the ad would be to suggest that Motrin is the answer to all the neck, back, and shoulder pain a mom would would get from using a sling. It was also intended to be a “viral video”. It was! And it was Not Good! A virtual firestorm of negative reaction went aflame on the web.

Motrin, to put it mildly, has really stepped in it (McNeil Consumer Healthcare owns the Motrin brand, McNeil is a division of Johnson & Johnson). Rumor has it that Amy Gates (aka “@crunchygoddess on Twitter) learned about it on Facebook, who told Jessica Gottleib (aka JessicaGottlieb) who took it to Twitter and tweeted — to a huge community of mothers, bloggers, and knucklehead social observers like myself. Then Katja Presnal (aka @KatjaPresnal) created a response video for YouTube. 20 hours later the Motrin brand website is offline…

From a creativity and innovation perspective there are two points about this event I’d like to make.

1. Creativity isn’t useful or innovative unless it solves a problem. Creativity in a vacuum by some ad executive — who think they know the market — can be worse than useless, it can be damaging. We’ve all seen some visually interesting ads and at the end of it said, that was cool — what brand was it? The Motrin ad goes a step further, it’s creative thinking that actually harms a brand. One of the rules of structured creative problem solving is that you really understand the problem. Clearly, those who developed this ad don’t understand the role of slings, and the emotional connection mothers have to them. Now, it may be that slings do indeed cause some pain. Good research might have uncovered this insight. However, that insight alone, even if true, is not quite enough. In good creative problem solving you would not only understand the basic problem, you’d make sure that whatever you create as a solution works for the problem owner, the target in marketing terms. Mom’s clearly were offended by the ad’s tone, assumptions, and suggestions. Motrin aimed for empathy and simply missed the target. With web technologies, like Twitter and other tools, lack of funding is no excuse for not market testing. It’s incredibly easy to show a spot to a panel via the web. Why they didn’t do this is a mystery (or if they did how they missed the negative response). Traditional focus groups would have worked for this testing — if properly designed. I don’t agree with Peter Shankman, a social media guru, on this (his post on this event is otherwise brilliant IMHO). A series of focus groups might have “iterated” the spot and found language that was truly empathetic (or not, the concept may have been unsalvagable). What Peter and I can agree on is web tools like Twitter would have quickly given creators much needed consumer feedback on their ad concept. There is something to be said for the wisdom of crowds in the social media universe.

2. Social Media are Power Tools for creative and innovative self expression. Social Media is coming of age in a fast and furious way. They are powerful and can work for you, or against you. Yes, this might seem obvious, but I believe there is a vast universe of people who are missing the social media boat. I’m personally a Greggey-come-lately to social media. I’ve been on Facebook, Plaxo, and Linked-In for sometime but for the most part have found them to be a waste of time. Don the Idea Guy got me involved with Twitter and I thought, at first, it was completely silly — who would care to know “what I’m doing right now”? Why “micro blog” when you can macro blog or email? I didn’t get it, but am beginning to see the light. The lightning speed at which an organized response to the Motrin ad was put together was amazing, and it can be directly attributed to Twitter. An alert was messaged “tweeted” out and before one could blink there was a video on YouTube with all the outraged responses (nicely done and oh-so-timely by Katja Presnal). Last night it was still possible to see the original ad on the Motrin site, today I can only find it on YouTube. In fact the Motrin brand web page itself has been taken down, I suspect, for re-tooling in light of this marketing fiasco. From ad release to brand web site shutdown — less than 20 hours. Lesson here: be careful with power tools!

It will be interesting to see how Motrin responds to this. How they respond will be make or break for the brand. For more on this story see Fast Company’s take.

For more very short snippets of creativity and innovation news and views, follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/greggfraley

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Reality Check, Simply Not Bull Shitake

I’ve been reading, or I should say digesting, Guy Kawasaki’s new book, Reality Check, the Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition. I’d suggest a deep red wine while reading, something to complement a meaty book, perhaps a Cotes du Rhone. It’s a book destined to become a classic vintage, a book about being an entrepreneur, written by an entrepreneur, for entrepreneurs. Its content is the nitty-gritty detail of what it takes to make a start up happen and work. It’s practical, it’s concise, it covers a lot of bases, and yeah, it’s irreverent. I think irreverent is true, but more accurately, the advice it gives is often not the classic BS (“Bull Shitake,” Guy’s term) you might hear at a business school. It’s not just irreverent, I’d say unconventional and out-of-the-box in a real life and helpful way. If you are even thinking of starting up a company, this isn’t just required reading — it’s required eating. Reality Check communicates a passion for the art of the start up; it’s compelling. As I said, you really need to digest this book not read it, so, get out the steak knives, Reality Check is medium rare, with a generous sauce of uncommon insight.

Reality Check is a guide for start up innovation. It’s targeting the nascent Steve Jobs or Guy Kawasaki’s out there more than a corporate brand manager, or Chief Innovation Officer. Another recent book on innovation, The Innovators Guide to Growth (IGTG) looks at innovation through a more corporate and academic lens. Reality Check is through the lens of the experienced serial entrepreneur. That said, Reality Check is exactly what a corporate brand manager needs to begin eating in order to acquire the stomach of a bona fide entrepreneur. If you are a corporate innovator, this is a helpful book to learn how to grow the intestinal fortitude to beat your competition to the innovative punch.

Getting into the meat of this book, let me just say that it’s darn comprehensive. It takes you through sections on planning, fund raising, innovating, marketing, selling, communicating, competing, hiring, firing, and even “beguiling”. Each chapter breaks a topic down quickly and pragmatically, no bull shitake. It does so with a nice dash of acerbic real-life humor, and with concrete real-world examples. What’s nice is if you don’t want to read all 461 pages, you can pick it up and read the great advice it gives for say, press releases (“DIY PR”). I was particularly enamored with the chapter on writing business plans (The Art of Executive Summary). It confirms what I always felt – investors only read the executive summary, and it doesn’t need to be 80 pages long; that summary though – it had better be kick ass. It ends with a visionary section that at times brought tears to my eyes. I’m heartened that he does a bit of “entrepreneur as idealist” philosophy throughout; it elevates this book from a “how to” to a “how to be.” Reality Check goes some distance towards eliminating the myth that the essential motivation of an entrepreneur is greed.

I’ve been part of three start ups in my checkered career, and I’ll tell you this, I wish like hell I’d had this book before I made my bones on those three ventures. I did alright, I’ve lived to write this review, but one of my most heart rending failures might have been prevented if I’d had this practical, pragmatic, insightful book in hand. Entrepreneurs and business leaders, you’d be well served to have this book for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Bon appetite – and that’s no bull shitake.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Creative Life of Studs Terkel, Three Things

I can’t let the moment go by without saying something about the recent death of Studs Terkel. Studs was 96 years young when he died October 31, 2008. I have one degree of separation from Studs — I have Chicago friends who actually know him. I’ve heard him speak, only a few years ago when he was “only” 91. His lunch keynote at the QRCA conference was as lively and relevant as any speaker you could wish for. If you are unaware of this man, read his bio here. I have a few comments to make about him related to creativity and innovation. Briefly, Studs was an award winning writer, broadcaster, actor, and a civil rights/civil liberties activist. He interviewed the likes of Muhammad Ali, Janis Joplin, and Martin Luther King.

What can we learn about creativity from Studs?

Be who you are: Studs was about as liberal as you can get and he made no bones about it. He was self-expressed on the radio and in writing and he did it his way. He did this in spite of being blacklisted during the McCarthy era — but he refused to be shut down. Don’t suppress the essence of who you are even if it’s very different, even if you are punished for it, it’s where your personal creativity lives. It also might be a great way to live a very long and interesting life!

Quantity matters: Studs would not be famous if he hadn’t done so much. His life is a record of creative persistence and productivity. Thousands of interviews, quite a few books, thousands of radio and TV broadcasts. If you look at any one thing he’s not that exceptional. If you look at his whole creative life you can’t help but be impressed. His most important work happened after he was 70 years old. Lesson: whatever your creative product is, produce a lot of it.

History provides perspective: One of the things about Studs that was impressive was that he simply knew things — a lot of things. His knowledge of historical events was no doubt enhanced by all the people in the news he interviewed and his own involvement. I heard him speak of the short memory of American’s who wanted to get rid of government programs. He gently reminded some young people that their parents and grandparents were rescued by programs like the WPA and the CCC during the great depression. If you want to be more creative, whatever it is you do, know the history because it informs the context of the present. Studs said this: “I’ve always felt, in all my books, that there’s a deep decency in the American people and a native intelligence—providing they have the facts, providing they have the information.” Amen brother. If you haven’t read any books by Studs, pick up Hard Times.

Keep your chin up: Studs was an optimist, always. Even after breaking his hip a few months ago he could joke about it, he said, “I was walking downstairs carrying a drink in one hand and a book in the other. Don’t try that after ninety.” He wrote books in order to bring hope into people’s hearts, and he did. He often ended his radio show by saying “take it easy, but take it.” Advice worth taking, thanks for all you did Studs.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Revisiting the Creativity & Innovation of The Beatles

I just returned from spending a couple days in Liverpool, the city of The Beatles. I stayed at the new Hard Days Night Hotel, sleeping below a huge air-brushed portrait of George Harrison. I’ll write more about the hotel, it was, to use a 60’s phrase, a trip. In the meantime, I have a lot of things to say about The Beatles, and their relationship to creativity and innovation. I spent an afternoon at The Beatles Story museum at Albert Dock, which had a great audio tour and memorabilia.

The anecdote that struck me was one told by their producer, George Martin. He recounted hearing the first tape of The Beatles and thinking it was awful. Brian Epstein, their manager, was insistent and George finally said, well, come down to London and let me evaluate them in person. He booked an hour of studio time but had low expectations. They arrived, were pleasant, polite, funny, and played with a lot of verve and energy. After they left Martin remarked to himself how charming and nice the boys had been, how much fun they had playing, and their “wit”. He noticed that after they were gone that he felt “diminished” by their absence. He noted to himself that if he felt this way, what might young people feel? That was the feeling he went with when he signed The Beatles. He remarked that he didn’t know at the time that The Beatles had been turned down by every record label in London, and if he had known, he wouldn’t have signed them.

There are several things about this anecdote that strike me for those seeking to innovate.

1.) Notice how you feel. Martin was self-aware enough to notice that he felt “diminished” by their absence. That was his clue to understanding how they affected their audiences. It takes real thoughtfulness to notice a subtle feeling like “diminished” doesn’t it? How many of us slow down often enough to notice what we are feeling about people and things? He was also impressed by their wit — their sense of fun was part of the reason he thought they had promise. Intuition

2.) New and different almost always seems wrong at first. The Beatles had a new take on pop and at first nobody, that is the experts, got it (one famous comment about The Beatles “guitar groups are on the way out”). They were ruled out by nearly all the experts. Martin was open enough to simply give them a chance and consider what was good about them. Positive evaluation allows for more possibility. Most disruptive innovations lack sophistication in some dimensions; they haven’t been all polished up and featured out. The raw chords of American R&B hadn’t been filtered and refined, it didn’t sound like “good” music to those used to something else.

3.) Persistence matters. Brian Epstein kept making his presentation, he believed in what he had and stayed after it. Most of us would have quit after the first two or three rejections.

4. Consumers know best. The fan base in Liverpool at the Cavern Club and the Casbah knew The Beatles were great two years before the experts did. They were ready for something new, ready for something fun, ready for something to lift their Liverpudlian blues. It’s old news really but it’s a lesson we often forget, consumers know best. If you want to innovate, see what people are doing, particularly those with noting to lose. Notice what those people enjoy, and you’ll find the best clues to market acceptance of virtually any product.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Fox “News” Getting Creative to Support John McCain

Sarah Palin took pains recently to point out, once again, that Barack Obama has a passing acquaintance with 60’s radical William Ayers. Apparently she does read the newspaper after all – she’s quoting the recent New York Times article. Actually, she says he “palling around with terrorists.” Fox “News”, in an effort to whip up something new and interesting to try to turn around the current polling trends, is paying non-stop homage to the attack. I’ve been watching Fox for about three hours and they are repeatedly bringing up the video of Sarah, posing questions to their audience, running the ticker under the screen, and bringing in experts from both sides (to be “fair and balanced”) to comment. It’s absolutely non-stop.

What’s not “fair and balanced” is covering this as if it were news. I thought news was, well, like something new. I have to give Fox credit for creativity. By making this the big news of the hour/day/next week, they reframe the election as a referendum on Barak Obama’s character (and neighbors!). It’s a very creative move — if the challenge at hand is too daunting, change the challenge.

The Ayers connection is an old chesnut. Sean Hannity has been playing it up (read sensationalizing) for months, maybe even over a year. Even Hannity with his radio and TV bully pulpits hasn’t really been able to make this guilt-by-association charge stick. Interested readers should read the Times article and learn that while Ayers and Obama have crossed paths, serving on charity boards together, they are not close (if you live in Hyde Park Chicago it’s hard not to cross paths with Ayers, he’s very involved). Nor does Obama support or believe in anything even close to the old radical Weather Underground philosophy. Obama has always chosen a different path – a community organizer is the opposite of a Weatherman radical; one tried to destroy the other creates. Obama’s record as a public servant is a long one. If character is really an issue let’s look at how he chose to not take a big paying downtown job to help people.

If we’re concerned with who a person pals around with, what about McCain and Charlie Keating? For those who don’t recall McCain was very involved in supporting and protecting the man who precipitated the late 80’s Savings and Loan crisis. 21,000 people lost their life savings when Lincoln Savings failed. He took some big contributions from Keating; they were “pals” in a way Ayers and Obama aren’t even close to being. I can’t think of a better example of bad judgment. Uh oh, I went swimming once at Keating’s house in Cincinnati! I guess that makes me a pal of a felon!

It’s a desperate move on the part of the McCain campaign to try to make Ayers and character an issue. Fox is doing their creative best to help, whipping froth constantly. John McCain doesn’t need Swift Boaters, he’s got Fox! And people still say that the media has a liberal bias…have they watched Fox? Or listened to almost any AM radio channel? Between Hannity and Rush Limbaugh we have two constant streams of right wing bias that go beyond Fox.

What I’m fascinated with is just how unceasingly Fox is flogging this non-story. It’s the most shocking example of real life wag-the-dog-spin I’ve ever seen.

I hope the American people are smart enough to know when they are being played like a raging bull. This red cape that Fox is flashing is a creative, but I hope transparent, attempt to turn around McCain’s flagging campaign.

How anyone could possibly think that there is anything fair and balanced about Fox is beyond me. This isn’t really news either is it? Anyone who gets news from several sources knows this. Still, since it’s the top rated news channel in the USA it’s highly influential, so it bears saying again: While Fox is highly creative, even entertaining, it’s not serious news, and it is not even close to fair and balanced. They are consistently bending the facts and reframing its coverage to benefit John McCain.

America, please do pay attention to the man behind the curtain, and don’t be too dazzled by the glittering rubies of all the Fox creative spin. Read the papers, read some books, look at all the facts, and make a fair and balanced choice this election.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Innovator’s Guide to Growth…a new bible for Innovation Managers

This post is part of the Post2Post Virtual Book Tour, my Innovise Guy pardner Doug Stevenson is also reviewing the book on The Innovise Guys Blog (the post-tour tour). He’s posting Wednesday, October 1.

I do a bit of reading. I try to have one business book and one fictional book going at all times. This last month my pair has been The Innovator’s Guide to Growth and Salmon Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. It has proved to be a month of intense learning about innovation – and India! The Innovator’s Guide to Growth, which I am reviewing here, I predict, will become as important a book in the business world as Rushdie’s Booker Prize winning novel is in fiction. Quite simply, IG2G is the new bible for innovation managers and leaders.

Business leaders: do not pass go, do not collect 200 stock options, go immediately to Amazon and buy this book. I haven’t read such an eye opener since picking up Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm in the early 90’s.

Business books are often a slog to read. Even those with good content can be sleeping pill substitutes. IG2G is quite dense with information about how to “do” innovation – particularly disruptive innovation. However, it’s no sleeping aid, you are compelled to keep reading because it’s just so damn insightful, fresh, and filled with important advice on all aspects of the innovation puzzle.

I’ve been saying for some time that innovation is a holistic organizational activity; it’s not one thing it’s many intertwined factors. There is no silver bullet! Many business books address some aspect of it, call them silver-bullet-centric; virtually none are holistic in nature. IG2G is the exception, it’s womb-to-tomb about innovation management and process. It sorts out the complexity and removes the mystery for innovation leaders. It’s truly a guide – they didn’t use that word in the title just for the alliteration! Leaders take note: what they say in IG2G – the first chapter – “there is no silver bullet for companies interested in enhancing their organization’s ability to innovate.” IG2G is what managers really need, a full-process tool kit.

Speaking of titles, the subtitle of IG2G is “…putting disruptive innovation to work”. This is key because one of the great things about this book is how it clears up the concept of disruptive innovation. It presents a valuable and persuasive case as to why disruptive innovation is so essential for growth. Growth is the point of innovation after all isn’t it? In watching many organizations continue to extend product lines incrementally it’s clear that they are avoiding the risk of bigger, new-market type innovation. Innovation leaders often fall prey to what I call the Pete Rose trap, that is, settling for singles instead of swinging for the fences (note to international readers: forgive the baseball analogy, it means “not taking enough risk”). Falling for the Pete Rose trap means that organizations fail in the long run. IG2G gives leaders the tools they need to justify, plan, create, and execute a balanced innovation strategy that includes the all-important disruptive element. This book could save your company.

I love that the book is peppered with real world examples. For instance, it tells the story of Best Buy’s development of the Geek Squad service. It’s a great example of disruptive growth through acquisition and development. J&J, P&G, Dow Corning, and Intel are just a few of the many success stories cited to flesh out the books guidance. The team of author’s are Scott Anthony, Mark Johnson, Joseph Sinfield, and Elizabeth Altman. The men on the author team are all part of Innosight a premiere innovation consultancy that uses the concepts articulated in IG2G. Innosight owes a lot of its brilliance to Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, one of the founders, who has done much of the deep research that backs up this book. Indeed, he wrote the foreword to IG2G. Altman is a Motorola strategy executive and adds real world experience in innovation to this guidebook.

This is clearly a book written by experts who know all aspects of innovation. I was paying particularly close attention to what the author’s said about “how” to do the creation part of innovation. Ideation is something I specialize in so I was hoping to catch them out on something! Instead, I read advice on ideation that I’ve been preaching (to mostly deaf ears) for years. I keep saying that ideation takes time, that it can’t all be done in one big brainstorming session. It made me feel good to read that they suggest that a team take “several weeks developing and exploring opportunities.” Amen brothers! They further suggest that if you do an ideation session you should combine fresh groups of people. Good suggestion. I would go one better and suggest you bring in folks from outside the organization and I’ll bet they would agree.

They are also quite insightful when it comes to on-going innovation idea programs. They believe that reinforcement is critical. This is so right, I’ve seen this time and again, where organizations ask for ideas, get thousands, then ignore them.

The only downside to IG2G is simply that it is, like Midnight’s Children, not a glazed doughnut to consume. It’s as dense as a bourbon laced holiday fruit cake – plan on reading it slowly, studying it really, for the next quarter. Perhaps with a nice port…

Monday, September 22, 2008

USA Financial Crisis: The Danger of Unbridled Innovation

A simple point I want to make today, in light of all that went down last week: Innovation can be dangerous. We saw it when Enron collapsed – creativity without regard for legality. This time it’s much worse.

Back when the financial markets were deregulated a lot of folks, on both sides of the aisle, thought that it was a good thing. They thought it was innovation, and, it was. For years, it appeared to be a genius move, as new financial products were created, more competition was introduced, and folks got mortgages they wouldn’t have in earlier days. The people who architected and pushed for deregulation had a real vision of the upside, and indeed it came to pass.

The bad news is not enough lawmakers looked at the downside to deregulation. And, folks, it was there to be seen, many people saw it, it was ignored. The deregulation laws that got passed were simply not properly evaluated. And further blame should be put on those who, with more data, didn’t re-evaluate and make adjustments.

It’s textbook: When you implement a new innovation, before it goes online, you need to judge/critique the idea based on criteria. One criteria that wasn’t looked at properly was risk. More precisely, nobody knew the risk, or how to calculate the risk.

If this were a Vegas sportsbook, they wouldn’t make odds, they wouldn’t take the bet.

The unintended (but I would say predictable) consequences hit the fan when factors beyond our control de-stabilized the system, and now the taxpayers of the USA are bailing out the banking industry. What happened to capitalism? I always thought like, if you failed, you were SOL (“Situation Out of Luck”). I guess that’s only true for guys like me! I’m an entrepreneur and I’ve been part of several ventures that have fallen flat on their face, and no rich Uncle named Sam bailed me out. It was months and years of eating an apple for breakfast, bologna for dinner, and bartending or taxi driving all night to pay the rent.

If you got one of those easy mortgages and don’t have the income to manage them, I feel for you, but personally, I don’t want to pay it for you. And I don’t want to bail out the banks who loaned it to you either. Looks like I’m going to do both! I’m SOL! We’re SOL! We’re SOL because our leaders didn’t generate criteria and take a hard look at the downside to regulation.

So, enough with the rant, and back to the main point: Innovations of any kind need to be critically evaluated before being put into action. Everyone considering a new innovation of any kind, hey, here’s my suggestion: Do an Evaluation Matrix. Develop some precise and measurable criteria and evaluate your idea. If you don’t know what an evaluation matrix is, well, buy Jack’s Notebook and find out!

USA Financial Crisis: The Danger of Unbridled Innovation

A simple point I want to make today, in light of all that went down last week: Innovation can be dangerous. We saw it when Enron collapsed – creativity without regard for legality. This time it’s much worse.

Back when the financial markets were deregulated a lot of folks, on both sides of the aisle, thought that it was a good thing. They thought it was innovation, and, it was. For years, it appeared to be a genius move, as new financial products were created, more competition was introduced, and folks got mortgages they wouldn’t have in earlier days. The people who architected and pushed for deregulation had a real vision of the upside, and indeed it came to pass.

The bad news is not enough lawmakers looked at the downside to regulation. And, folks, it was there to be seen, many people saw it, it was ignored. The deregulation laws that got passed were simply not properly evaluated. And further blame should be put on those who, with more data, didn’t re-evaluate and make adjustments.

It’s textbook: When you implement a new innovation, before it goes online, you need to judge/critique the idea based on criteria. One criteria that wasn’t looked at properly was risk. More precisely, nobody knew the risk, or how to calculate the risk.

If this were a Vegas sportsbook, they wouldn’t make odds, they wouldn’t take the bet.

The unintended (but I would say predictable) consequences hit the fan when factors beyond our control de-stabilized the system, and now the taxpayers of the USA are bailing out the banking industry. What happened to capitalism? I always thought like, if you failed, you were SOL (“Situation Out of Luck”). I guess that’s only true for guys like me! I’m an entrepreneur and I’ve been part of several ventures that have fallen flat on their face, and no rich Uncle named Sam bailed me out. It was months and years of eating an apple for breakfast, bologna for dinner, and bartending or taxi driving all night to pay the rent.

If you got one of those easy mortgages and don’t have the income to manage them, I feel for you, but personally, I don’t want to pay it for you. And I don’t want to bail out the banks who loaned it to you either. Looks like I’m going to do both! I’m SOL! We’re SOL! We’re SOL because our leaders didn’t generate criteria and take a hard look at the downside to regulation.

So, enough with the rant, and back to the main point: Innovations of any kind need to be critically evaluated before being put into action. Everyone considering a new innovation of any kind, hey, here’s my suggestion: Do an Evaluation Matrix. Develop some precise and measurable criteria and evaluate your idea. If you don’t know what an evaluation matrix is, well, buy Jack’s Notebook and find out!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Stay Tuned For "The Medium At Large"

The irrepressible Julia Cameron is at it again. Does this woman define the word prolific or what? She's been cranking out a good book at least once or twice a year for ages, and now, with her eppervescent partner in crime, Emma Lively, she's just turned out a musical.

The Medium At Large will debut in Chicago at the Village Players Performing Arts Center on October 17th and will run through November 16. If you live in the area you'd be crazy not to check it out. I'll stick my neck out here -- I wouldn't be surprised if this does so well in Chicago (okay, it's Oak Park technically) it will re-open in NYC. Can a movie be far behind? Call it intuition on my part but I feel this is the start of something big.

Rumor has it the musical is all about ghosts, romance, and general mischief, all set in NYC circa 1938. Julia is no stranger to the New York setting, I believe she helped out on making the movie New York, New York, and also Taxi Driver, two quintessential New York films. The main character of the new musical is Bruce, a medium, who will be played by Tony award winning actor, John Herrera.

Carl Occhipinti, Artistic Director of Village Players is directing the show, he says, "I'm drawn to the idea that we can break through the veil that separates the two (physical and spiritual worlds) and connect with someone we've lost."

If anyone can break through the veil, it would be Julia Cameron. If anyone could make it musical in the process -- it would be Emma Lively. This musical is well suited to their spiritual, creative, and fun oeuvre.

Julia Cameron is the best-selling author of The Artists Way and is well known for that empowering book on creative process. My personal favorite of her many books is her autobiography, Floor Sample. Floor Sample is an inside peek at what makes this interesting woman and prolific artist tick. Doug Stevenson and I (the Innovise Guys) had the pleasure of interviewing her just after the book was released, take a listen! Meanwhile, guys, put on a Fedora, ladies, get your hair bobbed. Bundle yourself into the Packard, and get yourself out to Oak Park to check out The Medium At Large.

Monday, September 8, 2008

My Starbucks Idea, A “C” At Best

I keep an eye on Starbucks — as readers of this blog are well aware. I do this not as an investor, but as a student of all things innovative, and as a bona fide coffee lover. Starbucks is a fascinating study because it’s a combination of good practices and not so good practices when it comes to innovation. Their recently slide into hard times and 600 shop closings indicates trouble in paradise; sadly, I see them as an on-going case study in innovative failure at this point. I don’t think they are listening to their consumers, the key to incremental innovation. Nor do I see them making any radical departures, or starting any new ventures, the key to disruptive innovation and growth. Howard Schultz is like a quarterback who’s suddenly been traded to another team. The plays he’s calling are sincere attempts to score, but they don’t fit the team. He may have some plays up his sleeve we don’t know about. If he doesn’t, I don’t see their stock price, or their growth rate improving any time soon.

As I mentioned in my June post on Starbucks (Starbucks is Dead), they put together a website for consumer suggestions called “My Starbucks Idea” (otherwise known as MSI). I saw the site as a hopeful sign that they were listening to consumers and making an effort to re-create the vaunted experience that made them great in the first place.

I’ve been watching the site for about three months now and I’d like to report what a great success it is, unfortunately, I can’t. It seems to be a sincere effort but it’s flawed and therefore it slides into mediocrity.

What’s good about it is a lot of consumers have jumped in and suggested thousands of ideas. Like any unfocused brainstorming session, the ideas range from the sublime to the silly. There is also lively discussion about various hot issues (like Wifi fees, food, and of course the various coffee drinks). This discussion is rich with consumer data, it’s a real asset for Starbucks — if they use it! The problems with the MSI site, in my opinion, are the following:

1. Very, very few of the ideas are actually being taken into action. The site has an Ideas Into Action blog. What I see reading the entries is a great deal of Starbucks spin – usually reasons why they can’t do an idea (and therefore can’t innovate). You read lots of PR-ish statements about new drinks or food items from Starbucks employees — which is not bad information — but it’s not about Ideas In Action. This blog should be about ideas that have been done, or, how to get an idea done, and could be more productively used in that fashion. What’s the use of a consumer site if you don’t move forward with the best ideas? I realize the percentage of ideas implemented will be very low, but there ought to be some winners, and consumers should know what they are.

2. Starbucks Is Not Really Listening. Some key issues, particularly Wifi and Bold Coffee All Day Long (Not Pikes Peak!) get consistent consumer feedback saying basically the same thing: Wifi should be free and there should be a Bold Coffee option all day long. This is Very Clear consumer feedback and I find it amazing that Starbucks would ignore it. In my many visits to various Starbucks sites, it’s clear they are ignoring it. Surely their qualitative research bears out both of these desires, I would be shocked if it didn’t. And yet, these unpopular decisions (charging for Wifi access, and, a weaker non-bold afternoon brew option) remain in place. This is, IMHO, a classic mistake. They are leaving the door open for competitors to provide what they don’t.

3. Poor Convergence Tools. The site makes it easy to enter a new idea, that’s good. The problem is there is no place to easily compare ideas with each other, no rank ordering, no easy way to sort through all the ideas. What it suggests is that Starbucks wants to leave the consumer out of the convergence process. I get that Starbucks needs to make final decisions, of course, but they are leaving a lot of consumer wisdom on the table by not providing better viewing, voting, sorting, and ranking tools.

I’m still hopeful that MSI can evolve into a more meaningful site for consumer-based ideation, but now, I’d have to give it a “C” grade and just barely that. The moderators and site managers are doing the best they can but I get the sense they are not really empowered to take the site to the next level. My suggestions:

1. Focus the ideation on more specific problems. These would be problems that Starbucks really wants solved, and are motivated enough to make real changes. Take control! So, get the ideas for the problems You Want To Solve, pick one, and put it into action. Then tell us about it.

2. Put the discussion of ideas into a separate area. Separate ideation from discussion. Then list ideas in categories so you can see them at a glance. It’s impossible to scan quickly through ideas on the MSI site.

3. Hire the best ideators and pay them. Use the site to find prolific ideators.

4. Improve the convergence tools, and use consumers for convergent activities.

5. Empower the MSI team to do more.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Why Is God Laughing? A Review.

I was recently gifted a copy of Deepak Chopra’s book, “Why Is God Laughing? The Path to Joy And Spiritual Optimism.” I don’t often read books related to spirituality, probably an over-reaction to being inundated with religious instruction as a youth. Frankly, I’m one of those people who believe the more you talk about spirituality the less likely you are actually spiritually connected. I must confess that in the past I had less than an open mind about all things new age, but that’s changed. Chopra’s book helped me make more connections between my expertise area of creativity, and something I am still mystified about, spirituality.

The fact that Mike Myers (yes, of SNL and Wayne’s World fame) wrote the foreward helped me get over myself and start reading.

In recent years I have become more and more convinced that the deepest root in the innovation tree is, in fact, spirtuality. I’ve tried time and again to find a way to say this in a way that people, particularly business people, understand. I see spirituality as the most important part of a person’s creative environment, the source from which all innovation flows. I cite the spirituality of Einstein and Elvis as examples of how that foundation can lead to creative greatness. Still, for most people, it’s a tenuous link.

Why Is God Laughing fills in a lot of cracks in the linkage between the soul and personal creativity. It’s written as a story. The main character is Mickey, a successful stand-up comic who has just lost his semi-estranged father. His father’s character, Larry, reaches back from the dead (I won’t say how here) and finds a way to show Mickey a path to spiritual optimism. In the process Mickey learns more about the nature of fear, the roles we play in life that aren’t who we really are, and how the ego gets in the way of leading a more joyful life. It’s a quick read — only a day or two for most people I suspect, and, it moves quickly and without a lot of new-age double-speak. It’s a light weight story, and it is nonetheless a powerful book.

For me, a key insight is how much fear gets in the way of how we live. I’ve always said that removal of fear, or at least recognition of it, is the first step in creative problem solving. If you are paralyzed with fear there will be no creativity, there will be no innovation. Chopra does a great job of showing how fear is a dead end and provides a way of looking at it that helps remove it from our thinking. Likewise, he does a fine job of showing how ego interferes with authenticity. The learning for me is that recognizing how your ego rules you is the first step in letting that go and the positive result is greater, and more authentic, self-expression.

I would encourage anyone who wants a fresh perspective on the connection of spirituality to creativity, innovation, and joyful living to read this subtly enlightening book.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ideation First Aid, 7 Ideas to Unblock Yourself

Professional creative people often find themselves needing a brilliant idea -- and simply not having one. We’ve all been there, a deadline is looming, you’ve tried this and that, and you know in your heart it’s not there, you don’t have something you can use. Anxiety, frustration, and fear creep into your being, and the harder you try, the worse things get.

Don’t push the panic button, reach for the ideation First Aid Kit and triage your challenge. Here are seven tools for coming up with an idea under pressure:

1. Think positive. Even if you’ve been stumped for days, even weeks, start telling yourself that you are going to have a great idea, and start believing it. Take a moment and imagine things working out perfectly and explore in your head, in your mind’s eye, what success might look like, how it might feel. Get into as much sensory detail as you can, how does it taste, smell, feel? Don’t know? Make it up! Your brain tends to follow the instructions you give it, even the non-intentional ones. So if you say to yourself “I am having a great idea about the Wesley account,” your brain will give it to you. If you say, “I’m stumped” your brain will stay that way. Brainwash yourself! Allow for all possibilities to emerge.

2. The next thing to do is relax. Do something physical. Shake the anxiety out of your body and shoulders, pretend you’re Elvis for a few minutes. Stretch, do some yoga, go for a short walk, take some deep breaths. If you have time, do something that gets you out of breath or makes you work hard physically. This will help get you “out of your head” and return you to a mental space that is more grounded. The key here is to still your mind.

3. Try looking at your challenge from a new angle. Pretend you are someone else – even a historical person like Frank Lloyd Wright, or Lincoln, or a fictional character like Miss Jane Marple. How would they look at this challenge, how might they address it? To break through to something fresh you have to think differently, so, why not use another persona to start getting imaginative. How would a child see it? Do anything you can to have “fresh eyes” – you’ll then have fresh thoughts. So, leave the past, your habits and assumptions behind and work at being in the present.

4. Seek out the overlooked facts in the situation. Something obvious that you are taking for granted might be re-examined and used as the basis for a fresh idea to solve your problem, to meet your challenge. Make a list of facts and feelings and include the obvious, the obscure, the irrelevant – you’ll get some ideas in the process.

5. Get out of the pattern of having an idea and then immediately critiquing it. You’ll never get into an imaginative flow that way. Instead, make a list of possible solutions and just keep writing up, or doodling/sketching new options, even listing the silly, stupid, obvious, and downright “bad” ideas. If you keep listing options/ideas, a new and fresh idea will eventually pop up, but you have to believe you can, you have to drop all negative thoughts, and just keep listing! Allow yourself to be truly spontaneous.

6. Make a forced connection. To get a fresh idea you can sometimes surprise or jog your mind into giving it up by using a forced connection or association. Look around your workspace or outside the window and pick an object at random. Then ask yourself what, say, an Oak Tree, has to do with your challenge. To help yourself make a connection, list words about the Oak Tree, like, strong, old, flexible, productive, kind, enduring, etc. Then use those “attribute” words as stimulus for ideas about your challenge. Be playful in exploring possible connections and let your mind go, suspend disbelief. Something unexpected and highly useful often arises from forced connections.

7. Final ideation first aid tip: Slow Down. You can’t be very creative when full of anxiety. Be thoughtful, deliberate, focused, and playful with your ideation -- without rushing. Rushing and hurry will put your mind right back into panic or urge mode and nobody works very well in that state of mind. As Napoleon once said to his valet: “Dress me slowly, I’m in a hurry.” When you rush you make mistakes that ultimately waste even more time. Grace under pressure is a hallmark of great leaders – and of great creative people.

Best of luck!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Starbucks - No Longer Innovative

In early June I posted under the title, Starbucks Is Dead. In that post I explored how, for me as a consumer, the experience had changed, and I was walking away from my favorite coffee. I expressed some hope that they would return to innovative greatness under the newly resumed leadership of Howard Schultz, the original founder. Well, things have taken a decided turn for the worse; Starbucks posted its first ever loss last week, and announced the closing of over 600 American stores, and nearly all its Australian ones. Don’t Aussies like coffee?

The closings might be a smart move in the long run. Schultz undoubtedly has gotten that advice from the bean counters (no pun intended). Starbucks has grown awful fast, and the stand-up joke about their locations holds some truth, that’s why it’s funny (”did you hear where the new Starbucks is gonna be…in Starbucks”). Former CEO Jim Donald was a bit growth crazy and has been quoted as saying his big mistake was not growing fast enough in the international market — because it would have balanced the USA slowdown. Perhaps, but for me that kind of thinking is exactly what slow-roasted their quality, their biggest asset.

What bothers me, and what I think bodes ill for them moving forward, is that Schultz says “the experience hasn’t changed.” He blames things on the recession which is having people pinch pennies and not buy expensive coffee. I’m sure his market research department is telling him this is true, and, I would say the research is missing something, is asking the wrong questions of consumers. Small indulgences are what people can afford when times are tough, so, blaming the recession doesn’t ring true to me. I suppose Schultz has to say that for the benefit of the street — admitting they’ve lost their way in providing a great coffee experience would send their stock even lower. Still, how about some transparency, how about returning to the style of game that got them to the level of success they enjoyed for so long. That style was all about really great coffee. Believe it or not, you can go into a Starbucks in the afternoon and not be able to get a fresh brewed cup of bold flavored coffee. It is sometimes a special order, which they will do, but hey guys, the reason people go to Starbucks is for Strong Coffee. If I wanted the middle of the road stuff I could go anywhere.

I also question all the closings. Why not get creative about making those shops more profitable? It would be innovative for them to create a new model for site profitability instead of slam dunking the marginal locations in the poop can. All those shuttered stores are a real black eye for their image as a corporate good guy. Even granting the impact of the recession on stores, I don’t believe they’ve done enough to create new profit centers. If they had been more creative in new product development, if they had worked harder at keeping the experience fresh, fun, and enjoyable, they wouldn’t be in the spot they are now.

Starbucks is not going to slash its way back to the top; the way they win is to re-invent the experience, re-create something surprising and cool. The market isn’t going to reward them with a better stock price until they do. Time to wake up and smell the coffee Starbucks — and make it a bold brew — time to start innovating fearlessly.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Visual Post for a Change

Okay, I'm not the greatest cartoonist. I try. Self expression means doing things you aren't so good at sometimes, just for the fun of it. So, by posting this drawing I'm giving you permission.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Greenpeace - Lost in the Fog

I was in Paris over the weekend for a family celebration. While there we made a side trip to the cities primary tourist attraction, the Eiffel Tower.  It was a Sunday morning and we went early to get in line to go up the tower.  My 12 year old step son had never been and was quite excited, and it was fun for Caroline and I, two jaded old-timers, to be with someone getting such a kick out of it.  

While we waited in line a funny thing happened -- Greenpeace activists somehow unfurled a huge yellow anti-nuke banner. For a few precious moments it time, it was perfectly positioned in the middle of a ring of stars newly posted to the tower celebrating France's leadership in the EU.  The French police shut down access to the tower, cleared the area, and removed the banner.  They were playing it safe and I don't blame them, it was the prudent thing to do. However, we were sure disappointed we couldn't go up, and the sideshow was small consolation.

Putting aside the inconvenience factor it had me thinking about creativity and Greenpeace.

Generally speaking, I support Greenpeace.  I've contributed dollars to them in the past.  I won't in the future -- and not because of this protest.  More because what they are doing is simply uncreative, and ineffective in terms of inspiring any innovative change.

It's easy to be against something isn't it?  Creativity requires that you do something positive, advocate real world solutions, not just be against things.  The thinking as to the practicality and safety of nuclear power is an open debate to be sure.  We've been having it for 30 years haven't we? Because of the efforts of many, nuclear power only makes a small contribution to the world's growing energy needs.  I'm no longer sure this is a good thing.  

We're going to run out of fossil fuels someday, that's a fact. That's why it's hard to imagine a future world without nuclear power.  If that's the case, what's the creative solution?  Probably something along the lines of safer nuclear power, better technology for waste handling, and simply very wise usage.  I believe we can solve those problems -- we really need to solve those problems.  Why can't Greenpeace advocate for those things instead of wasting everyone's time with pointless and ineffective demonstrations? 

I say ineffective because the protest did not make television news in the UK.  Not sure if it hit local news in France, it may have, but certainly this was not a Big Story, more a blip on the radar screen.

In my opinion Greenpeace is lost in the fog.  Lost in negativity and not contributing to solutions in the real world.  

I tried to post a comment on their blog (see: Culture Jamming the Eiffel Tower) and two hours after posting my comment it has still not appeared.  I guess Greenpeace isn't very tolerant of any views that diverge from their own. That isn't very creative either is it?  Perhaps this is another way Greenpeace does "culture jamming!"

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Creativity Fun-damentals

I just returned from a long weekend in Paris.  I was there doing a keynote at the CREA Universite conference on creativity "fun-damentals."  I've written a book about creative process but it's clear to me that before a process can be highly effective one must practice the fundamentals.  

What are creativity fundamentals?  Simple things really, here is my list from the talk I gave at the conference:
  1. Writing things down in a notebook.
  2. Keeping lists of ideas.
  3. Regular review of your ideas to add onto lists, rule out some, take action on some.
  4. Always seeking new stimuli, to be in constant learning mode.
  5. An open mind that practices deferral of judgment as a way of life.
  6. To be an instigator of fun in all you do.
  7. To take risks and learn from failure.
  8. To have some way to remind yourself of  all the above.
Kudos to Crea Universite and Crea France for putting on a wonderful conference. To quote Joni Mitchell, I felt like "a free man in Paris, unfettered and alive."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tim Russert, Creative Voice of Reason

Just became aware of the untimely death of newsman Tim Russert.  He fell victim to a heart attack this past Friday, June 13. What a shame, what a loss for journalism and all fair-minded Americans.  He was a voice of reason in the journalistic scene and was respected by both sides in the USA.  Simply because he was honest, well informed, tough, fair, and he asked great questions.

Two lessons to learn from his sudden death of a heart attack.

One, competency in one area does not mean you aren't blind in another.  Tim was clearly overweight and at risk, and he knew it. The wise person would have modified his behavior instead of depending on drugs to prevent disease.  Tim was a wise man, but this was his blind spot.  If you have a friend, or if you yourself are obese, learn from Tim, and make a resolution to eat wisely and exercise.

The second lesson is one about creativity.  Tim was effective as a news person because he combined the creative principle of deep challenge exploration with the personal attribute of integrity. It is indeed a powerful combination.  This was Tim Russert's winning formula, and we can all learn from his example.
Tim, your voice of informed reason, your creativity as a journalist, will be sorely missed.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Starbucks is Dead

Okay, maybe a bit of an overstatement.  I say it because my "experience" of Starbucks has gone from a "highlight of my day" to one of avoidance.  Why do I see Starbucks as dead? Because when I go its dirty, crowded, and often staffed by dizzyheads who don't leave enough room for milk.  And, this hurts the most to say, the coffee itself has slipped.  I still find good cups at Starbucks, but not always.

Visionary founder Howard Schultz is back at the helm because results have suffered.  Awareness is the start of a return to greatness.  Apple came back from the doldrums, maybe Starbucks can as well.  

I'll never forget my first Starbucks.  They opened their first Chicago location on Wacker drive and I stumbled into it while waiting to make a sales call at Morton Salt.  I dosed my Americano and took my first sip and was instantly addicted -- this was clearly the best cup of coffee I'd ever had.  I've had thousands since then, I was a true believer.  

Until things started going pear-shaped.

Innovation for a company like Starbucks is incredibly challenging. It's like trying to make love in a straight jacket.  How to keep things fresh and new, how to keep old customers happy while bringing in new ones, etc.  How not to have locations stepping on each others customers.  The key is continuously looking at, and implementing, fresh ideas while maintaining focus on the core business. 

When I heard the suits had changed things from fresh ground to pre-packaged I knew they'd lost it.  Suits are great for keeping the books, not so great when it comes to creating a real cool experience for customers.  

In researching this blog entry I stumbled on My Starbucks Idea -- a site for consumers to post ideas for Starbucks consideration.  In just a few days participating I've noticed real ideation, real dialogue on the site.  It's a good signal.  The heart stopped but it's beating again.  If they want to continue the recovery they'll not only listen, they'll take action on the ideas that have been posted.  

Lots of action!  

Good luck Howard!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New Orleans: Disaster -- and Opportunity

I recently spoke at the APDF conference in New Orleans and had the opportunity to see the Katrina devastation up close and personal.  It's still a real mess.  Entire neighborhoods wrecked, and worse, government regulations, corruption scandals, massive neglect, and general disincentives that are preventing people from rebuilding or investing. The most eerie thing was seeing the fronts of houses marked with spray paint.  When the national guard searched for bodies they made coded markings indicating how many dead were inside each house.  As I rolled by in a bus I saw people sitting on their porches in front of these marks.

As an American I am frankly ashamed at how we have let down the people and the city of New Orleans. Last night I watched the news and saw our module land successfully on Mars -- a great achievement -- and I despair that our priorities are not aligned properly. Surely a country with the technology we have can build a system to protect New Orleans.  Surely the people of America have more love in their hearts than is being shown in New Orleans.    

Is it worth rebuilding and protecting? New Orleans is the Venice of the USA, it's as American as jazz.  If we let New Orleans sink we are washing our cultural heritage into the Gulf of Mexico.

It was not all bleakness and despair, there were some young Americans showing a lot of heart and soul in the continuing recovery effort.  I spent an afternoon volunteering with Hands On New Orleans, and listened to a bright young woman from Minnesota named Marlo Grabner give us our painting and building tasks at a newly reopened day care center.  All the Hands On folks were under thirty as were the additional volunteers from AmeriCorps NCCC.  Most of them were from the Midwest or the northeast.  I thank these young people for the work they do.  If only there were about 5000 more of them...

This is a blog about creativity and innovation and I'll make those points more directly now. In any disaster there is a creative opportunity. Founder of the H Agency, a strategic design agency, Winnie Hart, also spoke at APDF.  She says that Katrina was the best thing that happened to her company and herself personally.  Wow!  She talked about how they have diversified, become more value oriented towards their clients, and became more focused in their target markets.  Probably best of all she says she lost the fear of losing her business and now she operates it without fear.  Her story is a powerful one we can all learn from.  

Not everyone has the resources to do what Winnie did, some people need help.  The scope of the problem in New Orleans is such that it requires much more hands on creativity, much more deliberate innovation.  We need government and business aligned in order to create opportunities from this disaster. Write your congressman, call your candidate, get your church or organization involved.  It's not too late to make Katrina a success story.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New Habits Means More Creativity and Innovation

It's great when you find out something you've been preaching for years is, like, actually true.  What I'm blogging about is the idea that new habits, new stimulus, is a great way to enhance your creative capacity.  Usually I talk about it in connection with the concept of Tolerance for Ambiguity. I advise people to not only tolerate ambiguity but to invite it into their life by always trying new things that "stretch" how you view the world and how you think.  I say that this opens doors for ideas to enter your consciousness.  I have evidence that what I say is true of course, and, it...

turns out I'm not the only one saying this.

A great article was just published in the New York Times that gets into the brain physiology that backs up what I advise.  Janet Rae-Dupree has the byline and she interviews authors Dawna Markova and business colleague and fellow author M.J. Ryan.  Markova wrote "The Open Mind" and Ryan wrote "This Year I Will..." -- both of which are going on my Amazon order list today (so much to read, so little time...).  Markova/Ryan make some incisive remarks about USA education, standardized testing, and new habits.  

Turns out new habits help you lose weight -- something I didn't know, but I'm betting my new habit of drinking porter style beer doesn't count.  Still, I can try.

The article closes with a wonderful quote by Markova "You cannot have innovation unless you are willing and able to move through the unknown and go from curiosity to wonder."  Well said Ms. Markova, let me add, AND "take your wonderment, generate some ideas, and get into action."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Cineworld Cinema = Uncreative Customer Service

Quick blog on a topic I often have the urge to rant about, customer service.  According to the experts if you want to benefit from positive word of mouth your business has to provide Wow! customer service. Average doesn't cut it, and bad service actually generates negative word of mouth.  

I recently bought tickets online to go see Iron Man.  I was foaming at the mouth to see this film and was really looking forward to it.  I showed up at the Cineworld in High Wycombe and, oops, there was a fire in the theatre (nobody hurt) and I was prevented from even getting within 100 yards.  Things happen, I was glad everyone was safe, and so went elsewhere to see the film same day.  Iron Man was a gas, really good fun.

Three days later I drop by the cinema to get a refund.  I present my email confirmation and the cashier informs me that, well, they can refund the ticket price, but not the transaction fee.  I would have to call the corporate help line for that.  I didn't make a fuss, I took the partial refund. 

Later, while eating sushi, I realize that I now hate Cineworld for not giving me a full refund.  It would take too much time and energy to chase down the transaction fee, so, not really an option for me.  However, dropping the equivalent of about 3 US dollars into a sewer pipe never makes me happy, in fact, it makes me mad.  As a former movie theater manager I came up with a few ways I could have been made truly happy, and on the spot: a couple free tickets/passes, a coupon for free concessions, an invite to a sneak preview, maybe put on a compensation show late some night for everybody who was inconvenienced by the fire, etc.  But no, they tell me to call corporate.  My transaction fee?  My tough luck to have booked on a day they had a fire.

Creativity in business doesn't always have to be rocket science does it?  It can be really easy and incremental.  It can be as simple as a free bag of  popcorn.  A small bit of creativity on the part of Cineworld would have made me a happy customer returning again and again to their theatre. Instead it becomes a last resort, and, I take time to let the world know how I feel about Cineworld.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Future Trend, Rejection of Anti-Psychotic Drugs

News reports of the vast numbers of children, particularly in the USA, who are receiving anti-psychotic drugs is alarming.  The number of kids taking these drugs has doubled in the last five years.  

I'm not a medical expert but clearly something is wrong here.  I believe the reason for the increase in these prescriptions is a combination of not enough parental attention, the need to control naturally energetic children, and a drug industry that is only too ready to provide a solution.  I'm sure these drugs have there place, but the numbers are so starkly wacky that this screams inappropriate prescribing.  

Kids have lots of energy, but what they need is exercise, attention, and avenues for self-expression.  Their excess energy that could be "controlled" in much healthier, more creative ways. 

I find it ironic and sad that the arts are being erased from many public school curricula and you even hear reports of schools eliminating outside activity in the playground because of crime and liability issues.  So, we silence the music, silence the recess bells of play, and provide a pill that fogs the mind... it's beyond sad, this really makes me angry.

I am not a futurist, but I am a social observer so I'm going to make a prediction based on my observations.  The chickens will someday come home to roost.  These drugged children will grow up and will become anti-doctor, and anti-prescription drugs, and in a very angry and active way.  

Friday, May 2, 2008

Jack Huber, Character in Jack's Notebook, Comes ALIVE in Twitter!

It's weird and otherworldly.  It's kinda now, kinda wow, and definitely ground-breaking in the industry.  What's happening is the main character in my business parable has decided to have a real-time existence in Twitter.  Call it Flash Fiction, call it a miracle, call it a reason to live, but those who accept his invitation -- his name is Jack Huber -- will be getting 140 character or less messages from a fictional character who is concerned with creativity, problem solving, photography, and his girl friend Molly Dunne.  
Just thought everyone should know, it took me by surprise.  Don the Idea Guy gave me this idea because, well, that's what he does.
If you want to get Jack's Messages, let me know and I'll ask him.  Can't guarantee anything, he has a mind of his own...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Time Has Come for a National Innovation Foundation

As another recession is getting started and the USA watches more manufacturing go overseas one wonders when we'll do something to get off our bums and be more competitive and retain jobs.  

Well, somebody is at least thinking about it.  A think tank issued a press release today recommending that a National Innovation Foundation should be created, and funded, in order to help the USA compete and drive growth.  See the release here:

I'm glad that the ITIF (see www.itif.org) came out with this suggestion, although it strikes me as a bit obvious.  One wonders why this wasn't done 15 years ago.  The Bush administration, in it's infinite wisdom on support of small business, is trying to eliminate the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a government entity trying to assist companies in modernizing their operations.  Congress has kicked around a couple of ideas, such as the America Competes Act, but without funding where could that go and what could it achieve?

Susan Collins, Republican senator from Maine, is working now to create an innovation foundation.  

I would hope that whoever is elected would support this important initiative.

Are you listening Barack, John, and Hillary? 

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Last Night at the Lobster

If you want to read a wonderfully tasty, short, and elegant piece of creative fiction, go immediately to Amazon and order Stewart O'Nan's "Last Night at the Lobster."  About every five years or so I read something so well done, so heart felt, that I can't put it down.  This is it, I only wish it had gone on another 100 pages, it totals about 145.  Sometimes the best things are fundamental, and this book proves it.  A simple premise -- a restaurant manager walks through his last day at the Red Lobster, a place he manages with passion and grace.  Corporate is closing him down and the book is infused with melancholy, and yet, it's hopeful as well.  The co-workers and customers aren't characters, they are people you know. Creative writing can be inspirational when it's this good and therefore good for your entire creative self.  Do yourself a favor and read this succulent novella and nourish yourself.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

AC Clarke, Sci Fi Writer, Creative Visionary

A brief post to honor and celebrate the life of the late, great, and highly creative, Sir Arthur C. Clarke.  Clarke died yesterday, March 19, 2008 at the age of 90.  
He is best known for his science fiction writing, specifically the short story, The Sentinel, that led to the seminal film "2001:A Space Odyssey." It is not widely known that Clarke was something of an inventor/technologist having articulated the idea that geostationary satellites would be ideal telecommunications relays -- in 1945. To say that this was a good idea -- as it lead to them actually being used in that fashion and also set up the conduit used by cable television services like HBO to distribute content all over the world. Another prediction he made is the building of a space elevator, which he believed will make space shuttles obsolete. Clarke wrote about 34 novels, over 12 short story collections numerous non-fiction articles, and worked on several notable television programs.

"The only way to find the limits of the possible is by going beyond them to the impossible."

Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Gordon Ramsay, Creative Hero

Just watched another episode of Gordon Ramsay's television show, Kitchen Nightmares. It's a show where celebrity chef Gordon visits a restaurant in trouble and puts things in order. I get a huge kick out of this show! It's entertaining, and, a real example of creative problem solving.

For those who are unfamiliar with Gordon, he's quite a character. A huge success as a restaurateur in the UK, he was once a promising soccer (football) player whose career ended early due to injuries. After years of kitchen dues paying he became a great chef. It's quite a story. He's quite blunt at times, and uses bad language frequently. I suspect he's accentuating these traits at times to make the show more entertaining, and I also suspect that it's not so far afield from who he really is. Gordon Ramsay is incredibly creative, not just as a chef, for which he is well known, but also as a business person and a creative problem solver. If you are not a "foodie" and don't watch shows related to cooking and such, I would ask you to defer judgement and watch Kitchen Nightmares, it is a wonderful and entertaining example of practical creativity at work.

Each show is really a case study in using creativity to turn a failing business around. The show I just saw is the episode focused around a restaurant in Tuckahoe, New York State, the Olde Stone Mill. The owner, Dean Marrazzo had renovated and converted -- with his own hands -- an actual mill and made it into his dream restaurant. Of course, he sunk every last dime he had into it, and bet his families future on it. Real life drama! Due to a number of challenges within the restaurant he was on the brink of disaster when Gordon showed up on his motorcycle to help turn things around.

Gordon first meets the people at the restaurant and then goes into assessment mode, in creative process parlance, he does a lot of fact finding. He tastes the food, looks around the restaurant, asks questions, even researches the local area to get a sense of market conditions. Well, the food was crap for one, but the bigger problem was that the Olde Stone Mill, essentially, was burdened by the owners ego and fear. Reality shows often bore me but even though you have to suspect staging in Kitchen Nightmares, the tension, anxiety, fear, and desperation was well communicated -- it would have been hard to fake! My hat's off to Mr. Marrazzo for having the guts to bring in Gordon Ramsay. Clearly, it wasn't easy for him!

So Gordon springs into action. He finds a local supplier of meat that is really excellent and having surveyed the area -- overloaded with Italian food -- decides that Olde Stone Mill should reopen as a steak house. It's a bold move, but an informed and creative one (it would be nice to know what else he considered, I'd love to have more detail on how this guy thinks). He works with the chef and gets the kitchen in order. Then he turns his attention to the real problem which is the owners inability to get out of his own way. He confronts him in a very direct way, which in my view is another very creative act. The two men had a brutally honest interaction and it showed both of them to be vulnerable, as Gordon confessed that he'd lost a restaurant himself and knew what failure was like as well as success. The confrontation led to the breakthrough the restaurant needed to change, survive, and thrive.

Many people think creativity is all about being nice, and forget that creativity is problem solving. And problems sometimes need to be confronted. Without making this owner face his fears and over-controlling ego the Olde Stone Mill was doomed. Sometimes, often really, creativity and innovation happen in a cauldron of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Gordon Ramsay is one of those people, apparently, who are not afraid to break a few plates in the process of making their creative point. What we can learn from my new creative hero is when you have a creative answer, don't be afraid to confront a problem head on, stick to your guns (or your egg beater), make your point, and push for the change you seek.

The happy ending of the show has Dean the owner saved from himself and the restaurant back on track as a steak house. Gordon and Dean hug before he rides off on his bike into the sunset. Nothing like success to mend the fences of confrontation!

For more on Gordon and Kitchen Nightmares, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitchen_Nightmares. If you are anywhere near Tuckahoe, stop into the Olde Stone Mill for a steak -- they are still in business a year later, and apparently doing well http://www.theoldestonemill.com/ -- if you can believe the New York Times.

Monday, February 25, 2008

International Creativity and Innovation Summit -- ACA Singapore

Roving reporter hat on, I sit in a brilliant white bathrobe in the King Copthorne hotel in Singapore, up early, filing this missive about the ACA International Conference 2008, themed Creativity Across Cultures, "Sowing the Creative Seed".

Imagine those newsroom sounds...do do do do....

ACA is the American Creativity Association and you might wonder why an American group is having their annual meeting here in this red dot of an island nation at the tip of the Malaysia peninsula. Until this event, Austin, Texas was their meeting place of choice. The simple answer is they made a gutsy decision to be truly international, and they are aided and abetted in that effort by Singapore Management University (SMU). After 19 years in the USA I believe this signals that the ACA has taken their game to a new level in furthering their mission of promoting personal and professional creativity, innovation, and problem solving. Kudos to the ACA, they walk the talk of applied creativity and innovation, and they are now walking and talking internationally. No other creativity organization is credibly doing the same, I credit the ACA with showing leadership.

Kudo's to the illustrious thinker Kirpal Singh of SMU who had the idea to bring the conference to his homeland over three years ago. It's a testament to ACA that they were creative enough to let that idea live long enough to see the light of day, apparently they really practice the principle of deferred judgement! In one fell swoop Kirpal has helped establish himself and SMU as creativity and innovation thought leaders in this island nation, and perhaps in the entire region.

There is an impressive array of speakers here. Tony Buzan presented twice yesterday and delighted his audience with a sparkling wit and with fresh research on the interplay of memory and creative thinking. Zainul Abidin Rasheed, a Senior Minister with the Singapore Foreign Affairs office made some intelligent and germane remarks about the role of creativity in furthering the economic interests of a nation that has been a tremendous adaptor of new technologies, but not a great inventor of new ones.

I'm speaking Tuesday afternoon on the Fun-damentals of Daily Creative Behavior, sharing my time slot with Kirpal. I'm honored -- should be interesting.

Attendees come from all around the globe, I personally met people from these countries: Russia (Siberia), Iran, New Zealand, Australia, Nigeria, Israel, the USA, Canada, UK, India, Singapore, and a sizable contingent of folks from China. I'm sure I've missed a few but it is delightful to see people of all colors learning more about creativity and innovation together. The CSTC (Creative Leadership Form) held a short meeting here at the ACA and members got some face time with CSTC organizer Ralph Kerle of Australia. For more on the CSTC see:http://www.thecreativeleadershipforum.com/

The mood here is buoyant and it's floating a lot of optimism and, well, creativity! Buzan had the whole group of over 200 memorize in a matter of moments the names and order of the planets going away from the sun by the use of a highly visual story. He talked about the universal language of all humans which is images, imagination, and association.

Tony LeSorti, an American innovation consultant, gave a terrific summary of current innovation best practice. Particularly revealing were his points on the effective behaviors of organizations with a high level of innovation, citing Teresa Amabile of Harvard and Stan Gryskiewicz. I have to wonder what was in the mind of a Viet Nam Veteran returning to the region where he lead soldiers through the jungle as a young man. My guess, he was delighted to be here make a contribution in such a positive way.

Pavan Choudary with the School of Wisdom in India did a session which was very insightful on how to cope with those who lack integrity. His answer for the innocent is to use creative thinking.

My favorite session so far was fairly low key but dramatic in terms of what it revealed about thinking. Sue Woolfe, a published novelist and professor at Sydney University in Australia, talked about the relationship of writing, creativity, and neuroscience. Essentially she advocates a type of writing where one is in a state of "loose construing". She cited the neurological research to back up her theory, but better than that, she had us all writing and creating compelling characters in a very short time period. For me it was a further demonstration of the power of story, and the importance of getting into a relaxed flow when doing any type of creative thinking.

Much more to come before this meeting ends on Friday, it's a pretty amazing array of thought leaders and experts they've assembled from around the globe. It feels like a community.

If you're a corporate innovation manager, or an innovation consultant/practitioner, you would be well served to keep tabs on this conference and attend next year, http://www.amcreativityassoc.org, and if you get to Singapore, you have to try the Chili Crab -- to die for!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Creative Barcelona, Eyes Up, Hands Down

Just returned from a long weekend in Barcelona. To say that I was blown away by the audacious innovation exhibited there would be an understatement. Specifically, I’m referring to the Gaudi architecture, although the whole city is bursting with beauty. Of course I’d heard of Gaudi before the trip and seen pictures in books and such, but seeing the real thing was an eye opener. His unfinished masterpiece the Sacrada Familia church is breathtaking. Impressive also is the vision of the city to continue building something that won’t be finished until 2030. Travel is one of those not-so-secret keys to enhanced creativity isn’t it? You learn to see with new eyes as a result.

Gaudi’s work is deeply inspirational and it supports my belief that innovation is often underscored by a deep spirituality (see my article on Elvis and Einstein http://www.greggfraley.com/elviseroseinstein.html ) and a relationship with nature. It also supports the notion that expertise is not an inhibitor to innovation. There was a flurry of press not long ago, which essentially said that being an expert would close your eyes to new ideas within your own area. I understand that but have always thought that new combinations often result from knowing thoroughly what you can combine. In reading up on Antoni Gaudi I learn that he studied materials and building crafts from a very early age and he never stopped. The reason he could build La Pedrera (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casa_Mil%C3%A0 ), this amazing apartment building, is because he technically knew how to break the existing rules and get away with it. An imaginative architect without Gaudi’s deep knowledge of materials could have never pulled that off.

Gaudi was impressive. Just as impressive was the level of highly professional crooks that roam the streets! My travel partner, who will remain nameless here, had her purse stolen right off the chair she was sitting on. I’ll use the word audacious again and break a long-standing rule not to overuse that word. These guys were good. We were sitting at a bar eating some lovely tapas and were engaged in a great conversation about the soul of business with a British venture capitalist sitting next to us. Her purse was actually under her coat! Enough of it must have been visible to clue them in unfortunately. Suddenly she shouted, “they’ve nicked my purse” and we looked to the doorway and they were already in the wind. While it’s shocking and inconvenient you can’t help but admire the creativity and expertise. The theft required good fact-finding skills, assessment of risk, intuition about value, quick decision making (convergence) and courage. Our bar neighbors commented later that three men were hovering behind us for a few minutes, then, using the classic technique of a distraction, bumped both the neighbor and lightly grazed my partner. At that moment the coat was lifted and the purse snatched. We were too busy talking to notice but my partner became aware fairly quickly, just not fast enough to prevent or catch these bums.

Barcelona is beautiful, dangerous, and a highly creative city in two directions. Go visit to be enchanted by its beauty but for goodness sake keep your bag in front of you and strapped on.