Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

Nothing Mediocre – Inspired by Steve Jobs

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I’m going to be mediocre today.” And yet too often we spend our days in mediocrity. We don’t push ourselves to have bold thoughts and take bold actions.

Steve Jobs’ life is a reminder to strive to banish the mediocre from our lives.

Steve Jobs died at only 56 years old. Imagine the other innovations he could have introduced had his life not been cut short by cancer. His gift was dreaming about how much richer, more fun, more exciting our lives could be if only we had…something no one had previously known to covet.

President Obama said, “There may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.” And as I read this morning’s papers, I was struck by all the tributes.  Bill Gates said, “The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had….I will miss Steve immensely.” Many noted that Jobs is the Thomas Edison of their (our) generation. A customer at Boston’s Boylston Street Apple store last night said, “I feel like he’s the current version of Leonardo da Vinci, because he makes the perfect combination of mechanics and beauty.” (Cheng-Cheng Yang as quoted in today’s Boston Globe). 

There is a sense, as conveyed at the end of the Globe article, Steve Jobs, Architect at Apple, Dies, that with Job’s death, Apple’s magic is gone.  “No one knows how Apple will fare without Mr. Jobs. But however successful the company’s future products, the delightful machines with the stamp of his genius, it’s unlikely that they’ll ever again seem quite so magical.”

Bob Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet Networking technology and professor at the University of Texas said, “Steve’s big contribution to the computer industry was to take it away from the nerds and give it to the people.”  This statement of Job’s significance is perhaps my favorite quotable quote. It conveys the magnitude of Job’s impact.

There was nothing mediocre about Steve Jobs. Let his legacy inspire all of us.

Einstein persevered

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

While I’m fairly certain that Albert Einstein was, in fact, that smart, he raises a good point.  In an era of non-stop 140-character tweets, beeping e-mail, pinging IM’s, and buzzing text messages, we’re being trained to have shorter attention spans and barely any patience.

This is reality — not news — as my 17-year old daughter noted.  While maybe not news, I still feel bombarded by the growing number of ways in which everyone is being trained to talk and think in short, quick bursts.   Millenials never knew anything different.  But many Gen Xers and Baby Boomers are being reprogrammed as technology evolves.   (Apple’s iPad is the latest example.  Steve Jobs launched his latest wonder reclining in a leather arm chair — but this new product makes it easier and faster to flit between book, e-mail and internet searches.)

But while we are moving more quickly, and our brains crave more frequent stimulation, we still, like Einstein, need to s-l-o-w down and tune out all those noisy distractions in order to focus on a problem, mull the possibilities and come up with that solution, that idea, that way of phrasing a message that will prove to have been worth the added time.

  • Don’t rush to ask for help on a problem because you couldn’t immediately figure out a solution and you’re distracted by the new e-mails piling up in your inbox. Persevere, and then if you’re still stuck, absolutely talk the problem through with someone else.
  • Don’t hit send immediately after replying to a valued client’s question just because the digital clock on your laptop is reminding you that seven minutes have gone by.  Breathe.  Read the e-mail aloud.  Then save it as a draft for sixty minutes.   Then read it again — but this time as if you were your client opening the e-mail.
  • Don’t let the barrage of text messages and IMs rush you when you’re drafting an important proposal.  Instead, draft the proposal and let it sit for 24 hours (really…24 hours!).   More than eighty percent of the time you will make worthwhile edits.

I wonder if Einstein’s solutions would have been as brilliant if he’d interrupted his thought process to tweet or respond to a text or search for another song on his iPod.

Start with what’s working well to fix what’s wrong

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

They’re on to something — actually they’re on to the same thing.

I read in the current issue of Fast Company an excerpt from a new book, Switch, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Fast Company columnists and authors of Made to Stick).  I was struck by the similarities between their ideas and those espoused in the 2008 book, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything.

At the risk of oversimplifying, changing something massive and pervasive (like malnutrition or disease in a third world nation or pervasive bad business habits), is possible when you look for what’s already working well.

For the Heaths in Switch, the insight is to “find a bright spot and clone it.” The authors of Influencer look for “high leverage behaviors.”

Synthesizing both books, it boils down to:

  1. Move beyond the obsession with “TBU — true but useless” information that points to solutions that are impossible to implement.   Instead, find the “bright spot” (Heath brothers) or “high-leverage behaviors” (Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzler).   Find examples of well-nourished and healthy people — or clusters of people with good business habits — and identify what they’re doing right.
  2. Identify the influencers, those already trusted and, with their cooperation, share and reinforce the solution.
  3. Make it easy for others to replicate the bright spot or high-leverage behaviors.  Create opportunities to practice the new behaviors and introduce them to enough people so that soon the greatest numbers of people are nourished, healthy and, in business, profitable.

A business application of these like-minded theories might be helping a professional service firm solve the problem of over-servicing clients.   The typical response is to cull data, slice and dice the data, and then hold internal meetings to tackle the problem.  But the account teams that are already getting paid fairly for their level of service, already know that the secret to their success lies in building a trusted relationship in which tough conversations about compensation can take place without jeopardizing the entire relationship.  Explore their client service strategies (reporting, invoicing and relationship-building) and identify what they’re doing that could be “cloned.”

Another business example might be an organization with a stifling culture of deadly dull meetings dominated by pointless PowerPoint slides.   Find the bright spot — the manager who leads meetings that are engaging, action-oriented,  and with clear take-aways that his employees are inspired to execute.   Then make that the norm — not a culture of dueling PowerPoint data decks.  Create opportunities for the exception to influence the “rule” that needs to be changed.

As an eternal optimist who believes we can change the world, these authors are on to something huge!

Switch goes on sale February 16th and if the book is as good as the excerpt it will be another must-read from Dan Heath and Chip Heath.

Salad, sushi and a steady diet of magazines…

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

“Feed me!”   It’s almost as if my brain screams to be nourished with a steady diet of magazines.   Look around my office and home and there’s always a nearby pile of current issues of Time, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Fortune, Vanity Fair, More, Home and, recently even People Magazine.

I have my favorite columns such as “Made to Stick” in Fast Company.  I typically start by reading Time’s “Verbatim” before checking out my favorite columnists.  While I love Newsweek’s “Perspectives,” I hate their new layout which barely distinguishes between advertising and editorial.  I find BusinessWeek’s shorter-format stories make it easier to digest the business news I want to know.   I confess that I only read one or two of the Vanity Fair stories each month but I most often love the cover and photography.  I nurture the mature woman dimension of my personality with More magazine and love the articles that talk about being better, smarter, more beautiful and more confident at this stage of life than we were in our twenties.

As I flip through the pages I make note of stories I want to share with family, friends and clients.  (I usually start off reading hard copy  and often go online to forward electronic versions of my favorite articles.)  I get ideas.  I become curious about things I’d like to explore in greater depth.  I tuck away in my brain thoughts about leadership, managers, communication or creativity that I hope I can retrieve as I’m developing my next workshop.  And I tear out reminders about technology, clothing or make-up I think I’d like to buy.

There are those moments when I feel too-stuffed (aka busy, stressed or exhausted) to read another word, but most often I love feasting on my magazine diet.  As I nourish my body with salad and sushi, Time and Fast Company nurture my mind.

Tip of the Day: Looking for “a big idea” is the best way not to find one.

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

How many times have you been invited to attend a brainstorm session with the same group of people who were in the last brainstorm session together (and the one before that…), and someone sitting at the head of the table says, “Okay guys, we really need to come up with a big idea today.  Any thoughts?”   No one dares to throw out an idea for fear it’s not big enough.  

Brainstorm sessions are doomed to fail without three things: 1) a facilitator — who isn’t necessarily the person with the problem; 2) clear definition of the problem you’re trying to solve and a sense of what the outcomes will be at the end of the brainstorm session; and 3) a series of exercises designed to introduce fresh perspectives and open up the possibilities.     

Great brainstorm sessions help you make random connections but there’s nothing random about the process.  At the end of a lively hour you will mostly likely have many ideas — not just one “big idea.”