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...