Ideas Need a Story to Survive

One of the biggest challenges that good ideas have is making the jump out of the original inventor’s head into the mind of the first person she shares it with. Explaining your idea in all of its richness and glory so that others will understand it is not an easy task, and a lot of good ideas will never successfully make the jump.

The next time you have a good idea that you want to share, try sharing it as a story. In the excellent book, The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall, we learn that people are programmed to be suckers for stories. We get sucked into stories of all kinds every day: sitcoms, movies, novels, commercials, even lunchtime gossip about who said what to whom in a meeting that morning.

In his book, Gotschall presents a simple formula for story: Character + Predicament + Attempted Extrication. For those of us who watch Mad Men, we know this formula is how Don Draper is always making his pitch for a new ad campaign to a client. But this is not how most of us think about pitching the ideas we have every day to our colleagues at work.

Your story about a character + predicament might be about a customer facing a challenge in their day, a factory facing a bottleneck, a company facing a changing market. They all need an “attempted extrication”, and that is your idea.

A story is not a guarantee that your idea is the right idea, but it will increase the likelihood that others will understand it and accept it well enough get a conversation started. Once that jump has happened, there is no telling what you will make happen.

This post originally appeared on the Synecticsworld website.

How does your business kill innovation?

If there is one common thread that weaves together my experience in the field of innovation, it is hearing on a weekly basis, how frustrated people are about how their organizations kill innovation.

Innovation murder doesn’t happen on purpose. Typically the perpetrators believe they are helping innovation, not hindering it. They are innocent in spirit, if not in action.

The two most common methods I see are:
1) Starvation, which happens when good ideas are put on hold until the organization is ready for them, (read: never); and
2) Strangulation, which occurs when good ideas are subjected to greater and greater levels of scrutiny that gradually squeezes all of the life out. Strangulation is often referred to by a more friendly name like “Stage Gate” or the “Innovation Funnel”.

No one has to be an innovation murderer, but it often requires an “innovation world” mindset of courage, belief and determination to break the cycle. Those aren’t always the qualities that an organization rewards in the short term, but they are required for those who want to create change.

This post originally appeared on the Synecticsworld website.

 

“If we’d had more time, we could’ve done a better job.”

When a team has not created a solution they are satisfied with, blaming the time constraint they were forced to work within is the easy way out, rather than blaming themselves for not making the most of the time they had together.

More time can make us lazy, less rigorous, less focused.  If our approach to solving a problem equates to stumbling around in the dark until we trip over a solution, then sure, more time is going to be a benefit.  We all have time constraints we work within and in reality it is the lack of a shared problem-solving methodology that makes many meetings look like an NBA game. Not much happens until the last two minutes. Somebody wins. Somebody loses.

Communication is often the same way. Doubling the time a speaker has will result in a doubling of the words used, but it will rarely double the message.  It often reduces the message as it becomes less crisp, less clear.

Let’s be rigorous in our actions and see what happens. Think about what we want to say and what we want to do and create a plan (ahead of time) to get the job done.  To paraphrase Seth Godin, start with the intent to finish.

We might be surprised what we are capable of doing, in a short amount of time!

This post originally appeared on the Synecticsworld website.

Trusting Your Gut As A Critical Ingredient For Creating Innovations

Call it a hunch. An Instinct. Intuition. Following these kinds of “gut feelings” often lie behind the creation of great companies and great products that we love.  Steve Jobs is often held up as a leader who deeply trusted his gut, going so far as to say, “You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

In this short article, The Neuroscience of Trusting Your Gut, the idea of the “hunch” is presented as a somatic marker, or physiological clue of what to do next. The example given in the article is one which most of us are familiar with. We find ourselves in a bad neighborhood, we see a suspicious looking person and our instincts tell us to run instead of spending time collecting other fact-based inputs. We unquestioningly trust our gut in this situation.

In business, however, trusting the gut can often much more difficult. I frequently see clients I work with struggle with the decision of pursuing something they believe to be the right path in their gut vs. what they think they should do. One of my very favorite examples of this was a wonderfully visionary leader who I remember holding (and caressing) a piece of paper that had Option A on it while she made the logical case for choosing Option B. Luckily, I was fresh off of spending a week learning about somatics  at Strozzi Institute, and quickly picked up on this clue. After it was brought to her attention, she acknowledged the conflict she felt and we worked through the concerns she felt about Option A that had unconsciously held her back from choosing it. Ultimately, she followed Option A to great success, partially because it was such a new and exciting path to pick.

It is so easy for us to suppress our gut instincts in favor of logical though in business that sometimes we are not even aware of doing so. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that, unless you are at a certain level (CEO?) in an organization, following your gut alone can be a punishable offense. Without the right supporting data or research, it can be impossible to get funding or investment dollars to explore a new line of business. And while there is good reason for businesses to be so pragmatic, knowing how to conduct research in the pursuit of discovering new products requires very specific expertise. So instead, many tend to err on the side of the safe and predictable. Things that we can easily, and logically, explain having done if we need to. Things that we know how to accomplish, even if they are not very exciting.

In reality, the gut is a repository of experience that we build over time, intertwining our emotions and reason. “You don’t just remember facts, whether the outcome was good or bad, but you remember whether what we felt was good or bad,” says Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California and head of the Brain and Creativity Institute in the attached article. “That tandem of fact and associated emotion is critical: what we construct as wisdom over time is actually the result of cultivating that knowledge of how our emotions behaved and what we learn from them.”

If you are up for a challenge in 2014, I’d suggest trying to listen to your gut more often when pursing new, innovative work. Not to follow it down blind alleys with reckless abandon, but as a helpful check to gauge the wisdom of the decisions you make. If you feel a sense of excitement surrounding an idea that the numbers don’t support, take some time to investigate it more fully to understand what makes it so appealing. Likewise, if you feel disappointment or loss when discarding an option that you were considering, take a moment and look deeper into that feeling. What exactly is it that is hiding inside the idea that you are leaving behind? In either case it’s likely your subconscious was trying its best to give you a clue to your next move.

One of my favorite tricks for checking in with my gut is to flip a coin when making a difficult decision, then check in to see if I feel reaffirmed or disappointed with the result of the coin flip. It is a surprisingly simple and helpful tool.

Function. Balance. Flexibility. – What Business Can Learn From Stanford Football in 2014

Although we Stanford alums had a bit of a setback in the Rose Bowl this year, we still have a football team of which we can be very proud. Part of what I believe makes this team so appealing to Stanford alums is not only that it wins, but also that it wins with an interesting mix of power and intellect. Part of what has made Stanford so successful in recent years is the ability to harness both of these traits in its unique approach to strength and fitness training, as described in The New York Times.

This is a fascinating article in which Shannon Turley, Stanford’s Kissick Family Director of Football Sports Performance, shares his perspective on the kind of training that builds high-performing college football and NFL players. Surprisingly, Turley points to factors such as ankle mobility as a key to success on the field, instead of traditional measures like bench press or 40 yard dash times. And given the very low rate of serious injury on a team that is known as one of the most physical in college football, it would seem like he is on the right track. 

There are a lot of parallels between what Stanford is looking for in its football players and what CEOs are looking for in their employees. In the most recent IBM Global CEO Study, CEOs identified flexibility as one of the core traits that they seek in new employees. As noted in the report, “CEOs are increasingly focused on finding employees with the ability to constantly reinvent themselves. These employees are comfortable with change; they learn as they go, often from others’ experiences.” Although I’ve also heard CEOs and other senior leaders use words such as agile and resilient to describe what they are looking for, I think they are all describing the same thing. They want people who can be successful in any circumstance, and who are able to change direction quickly as the world changes around them.

As more companies look for these kind of employees and skill sets to secure their future, they would be remiss if they did not have a Shannon Turley of their own on staff. While it is easy to agree that having a flexible, resilient workforce is a benefit for an organization, actually building one can be difficult. And, just like a winning football team, a winning organization requires someone who is solely focused on building its “players” to achieve their very best.

Who do you know that is doing a great job at this? Or has made a commitment to do so in 2014?