Monday, February 25, 2008
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
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.
Monday, February 11, 2008
I've always struggled with labeling what I do "creativity" although even with my corporate customers it most certainly is creativity. I struggle because I know that many people will immediately dismiss creativity expertise as something that is touchy-feely (or "airy fairy" if you live in the great white north, that is, Canada). People who have looked into it know that creativity is more than just self-expression, and know that it also is problem solving and decision making. My simple mantra is: you can't have innovation without creative thinking!
Creativity to many managers, unfortunately, means "loss of control" and is therefore not a desirable thing. The term "deliberate creativity" is better because it implies some control, some structure, but it sort of takes the fun out of the word creativity doesn't it? And many people, who believe that creativity can't be controlled at all, will say there is no such thing as deliberate creativity!
The word Innovation on the other hand gives business people a warm fuzzy feeling. It means success, it means new markets, it means exciting new products, etc.
Okay, so call it Innovation when it comes to business, but what do you call it when it's about you, your own life, your own challenges? Since about half the world believes they are not creative (even though everyone has that capacity) I'll coin a new phrase and call it "Personal Innovation." Personal Innovation is creativity applied to the challenges of your life, and it implies action, which I like. Innovation of any kind is not in your head, it's an action you take, it's results.
So, Personal Innovation...you heard it here first people.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
I know a lot of professional creative people, that is, creativity and innovation practitioners, artists, facilitators, consultants, and marketing types. I've noticed something I want to comment on and I suspect this will be controversial. What I want to comment on is a lack of integrity among some creative professionals.
By integrity I mean simply someone who does what they say they will do.
Creative people sometimes get a pass on being reliable. The excuse that is made for them is that they "flaked out" or they were "keeping their options open," or simply made another choice. Making another choice or changing your mind is excusable, and sometimes a creative act in and of itself. On the other hand, there is no excuse for saying one thing and doing another because it is now to your advantage to do something different. I'm really tired of creative people who hide behind the creative stereotype while they know that what they are doing is just plain lying. Okay, maybe sometimes it's not lying outright, but more of an obfuscation, non-responsiveness to avoid difficult issues, or a painful delay in responding to someone. Call it bad manners, poor form -- it's really not right -- and I'm afraid the classic creative types are some of the worst offenders.
On a more positive note on this subject, I heard the story about George Clooney keeping his word and how powerful that was. Actors in Hollywood routinely break contracts when their star is rising and re-negotiate bigger deals. When Clooney found overnight fame on ER everyone expected he would break his contract. Instead, to everyone's surprise, he kept his word, saying simply that a deal was a deal. I understand that because of that he paved the way for many subsequent great deals -- here was a guy you could trust! He's made himself into a real player in Hollywood beyond his role as a leading man actor. Integrity is something you should hold onto because it's the right thing to do, and, when you do the right thing people notice and it becomes a positive spiral. It certainly enabled Clooney to be creative and make some interesting films that would probably otherwise not have been made, Three Kings, and Syriana for example.
Creative people should pay close attention to the promises they make, and should honor their word. Integrity is a powerful creative force all by itself. It creates confidence, good will, and better environments to create within. If you consider yourself a creative person, put aside the option to flake out and keep your word. Let's change the stereotype and make creativity about truth and honesty as well as imagination and self-expression.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Recession fears continue to dominate the headlines. I was somewhat heartened to read some recent research in the Harvard Business Review from the eminent innovation scholar Clayton Christensen (and colleagues Stephen P Kaufman and Willy Shih). It doesn't hurt that he has that Harvard glow does it? Give these guys credit, they have articulated something especially important in these uncertain times.
Essentially Christensen and colleagues looked at three classic financial evaluation tools to see if they hinder or assist companies in innovation (for more detail go to the actual article http://harvardbusinessonline.hbsp.harvard.edu, do a search on Christensen and you'll find the article Innovation Killers: How Financial Tools Destroy Your Capacity to Do New Things).
For many of us these tools are arcane but in big business they are essential and commonly used to determine investment of all kinds. The research shows that the tools don't account for the future and that managers won't be investing enough in innovation as a result (this is my simple synopsis of a fairly complex study.) The tools assume that current levels of investment in innovation are good enough to maintain the company and the companies worth. What a poor assumption!
For me the study adds credibility to the argument that companies should be investing more in innovation if a recession is in our future. Idea management systems, innovation process training, and research and development should be getting more attention and resources, not less.
It's intuitive to high innovators that sometimes breakthrough's require extraordinary measures, in other words, more money, to make something happen. Innovative managers often don't get the funds they need because these classic financial tools back up the numbers guys. Clayton is saying the tools aren't bad in and of themselves but they have a built in bias against innovation investment. Many top managers rely on these financial tools and make decisions not from an intuitive sense of the market, but instead "do it by the numbers." Evidence is all around us of how this can be deadly -- the US car industry and the US steel industry are two obvious examples. They did not invest heavily when the times called for it and they simply got out-innovated and destroyed in the process.
To my point -- managers who invest in innovation over and above what seems to be called for -- particularly when others are cutting back in a recession, are the managers that are positioning their organizations for a strategic long term competitive advantage.
When the going gets tough, the tough invest in innovation.