Creative Fakery

May 14, 2009

In all the methodology of creativity and reinvention, rarely mentioned is a simple and effective technique that is commonly used, but no one ever talks about.  Faking it.

Go ahead,  take a moment to recoil in horror. Huff and puff about blasphemy. Innovation is “serious” business and to suggest that “faking it” is a tool amounts to trivializing the entire movement. Etcetera. Etcetera.  Then get over it.

Faking it is an essential part of any creativity, innovation or reinvention effort. It’s a mind tool based on the concept that to be something, you have to think like that something. Actors do it all the time and even have a name for it: Method acting, in which they become the character they’re playing.

Another way of looking at it is to, as psychologist Carol Dweck tells Forbes.Com innovation writer Terry Waghorn, act as if — adopt a mindset of the kind of person you have to be to perform a task, or achieve a goal.

Why does this work? Well, let’s break it down.

When you’re innovating – a product, a business model, a marketing campaign – you’re also reinventing to an extent. Your view of that product or business model has to change, and the deepest way to do that is to adopt a different persona – to become someone else.

In any creative act, you as a person, have to change. At the same time, overall change isn’t a single event: Transformation is an ongoing process because the result is never clearly known. With each step in the transformation journey, you learn a little bit more about where you’re going to be in future.

The only way to cope with this fuzziness is to form a mental view of the kind of person who can handle such a journey, and then adopt it.

If you want to be more creative, then start asking as creative people act. Start using the methods they use to jumpstart their creativity. Eventually, they’ll become habitual and you will be that creative person.

Similarly if you’re reinventing yourself, or your organization, imagine what the new reinvented entity will be like, and start acting like it. Your entire viewpoint will change, and eventually will be come so ingrained it will be reality.

So to be it, think it.

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Killing Your Babies

April 11, 2009

A review of my wife’s new novel Underground (June Hutton, Cormorant Books) called it “taut”, “lean” and “elegant”.

It was, but having been involved in its creation, I can assure you it wasn’t always so. Like many ideas, it was originally confused, a little bloated, and unfocused. It took many rewrites and a lot of “killing her babies” before it became taut and lean.

And it’s a good lesson on how ideas can result in creative and successful business strategies.

First, let’s identify a few things. Ideas are bits of information that, when put together, form insights. In Underground‘s case, it was the juxtaposition of a symbol (the raised, closed fist of defiance) in very disparate areas.

Creativity is putting those insights into concrete models. And that can be a long process that involves much reshaping to make an idea useable. With Underground, it meant years of rewriting, in which she had to kill some beloved babies  — favorite scenes, beautiful writing, and characters she loved — because they didn’t fit the overall theme or purpose.

Probably the most difficult period came after she thought she had finished it. Then, after reviewing it, she had to strip it down to its absolute basic story and literally rebuild it, carefully adding layer after layer that eventually made it not only taut and lean, but also elegant.

Ideation is the fun part of creativity. There’s nothing as exciting as generating ideas, which is why so many of us like to do it. But we can’t fall in love with those ideas because shaping and refining them is hard, and sometimes brutal, work — the “99 per cent perspiration” that Edison referred to.

Killing your babies in the creative sense is ridding a concept of its superfluous and wrongheaded aspects, no matter how much you may like them. Unlike the ideation process, this requires a much more ruthless mindset.

Like in writing, innovation strategists have to apply extreme focus and evaluative strength if development and commercialization is to be successful. They may have to take an idea and — after careful evaluation for purpose, likelihood of success, and development capability – toss much of it in the trash.

Then, once the idea is pure and unencumbered, they must carefully add layer after layer to it so that it will work.


Recession Biting? Reinvent!

April 7, 2009

Although all the noise so far has been about large organizations collapsing like houses of cards, the economic downturn is now also affecting entrepreneurial and small businesses.

Yes, this can hurt. But small businesses have advantages in troubled times. They’re more resilient than large organizations that carry massive superstructures.  They’re more agile, and so can creatively move faster away from declining areas of business and into opportunity spaces.

As a reinvention coach, I see examples of this resilience and agility regularly. In fact, I saw it long before the recession became a daily headline. Entrepreneurial businesses, especially in the early years, are always in recession mode.

Every day in a small business is a challenge, which is why creative entrepreneurs are reinventing constantly.

But that’s not always as easy as it sounds. To reinvent, you have put aside all the standard advice, the grand strategic plans, the five and ten year BHAGS (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), and concentrate on the immediate.

There’s a way to do this reinventing, which is really a matter of solving several problems. But instead of trying to solve them all at once as most entrepreneurs do, you break down the overall problem to a series of smaller problems, and tackle them one at a time.

As with any creative problem-solving method, you have to first define that single problem. Then you narrow your focus to conquering only it. If you let nothing else intrude in your thinking, you will be successful.

In a sense it’s much like taking a journey. You don’t think about the five miles you have to cover; you think about the first mile, in particularly, the first quarter-mile. Then the next one. Then the one after that, etc. While you might know your destination, you take your eyes off the horizon and work only on what’s right in front of you.

Because this is also a method of reinvention, my company Knowpreneur, is co-sponsoring a North American tour by the consulting company Silver Lining Limited. Silver Lining’s dynamic and creative young leader, Carissa Reiniger will show entrepreneurs in free seminars how to create quarterly targets that will produce quick results in the first year.

silverliningknowpreneur-tour-logo1


The touring seminars are being held in Staples stores in major cities. The tour is crossing Canada first and lands in my own back yard, Vancouver, April 22, where it will be offered from 6-9 pm at Staples, 1322 West Broadway, Vancouver.

Then it’s moving down to major cities in the US.

More information on the tour and the methodology can be found at Silver Lining’s website


Make Me Mess Up

March 28, 2009

Many years ago, while living in Amsterdam, I had the misfortune to work in an egg factory. Yes, that’s right. An egg factory.

In this place, a production line mechanically separated the yokes from the whites for further use in baking, cosmetics manufacture and who knows what else. But the mechanics didn’t always work, and sometimes the eggs and whites mixed.

My job was to sit on the line with an icecream scoop and flick these mixtures into a separate container. It was monumentally boring work, and after about an hour in this nightmarish and surreal situation, I would start experimenting with different flicking methods.

This usually resulted in gooey egg mixture covering myself, the floor and, often, the poor North African woman who was backing me up. Sometimes it even hit the bucket in which it was supposed to land.

This happened because it was impossible to maintain my attention for much longer than an hour or so (or my job – I only lasted two days). Apparently, I was incapable of being a good machine.

I thought of this while reading about new brain research that discovered increased brain activity occurs in humans just prior to their making mistakes in tasks that require attention.

Scientists hope that the research will help them determine when a person involved in a task is in a state that is conducive to making a mistake. The person could then be trained to self-regulate out of that state and so avoid the mistake.

Oh joy. I suppose this is important if you’re an air traffic controller, but for the rest of us, this sounds very much like industrializing brain activity to better keep us on some task.

And this is the antithesis of the creativity that’s needed in the 21st Century idea economy.

Other brain research shows that you need distractions from conscious methodical activity in order to find Aha moments. That’s because creative problem solving is facilitated when unconscious thought kicks in.

And unconscious thought is what creates those insights that we call Aha or Eureka moments. So, while these scientists research how to make us better machines, I think I’ll go with the opposite viewpoint.

Make me mess up. It produces more of what I need.


Intelligent Innovation

March 21, 2009

As organizations recognize the need to be more innovative in the creative economy of the 21st century, an ideological debate over methodology continues to rage.

Most creativity and innovation training falls into two camps – the systematic  “thinker” approach, and the right-brain-first approach of the “intuitives”.

Despite the growing adoption of whole-brain thinking, the two camps are still strong. As a result, many creative campaigns founder amidst warring over approaches.

But there’s another approach that might resolve this issue. Studies into learning have shown that people process information in several ways. Almost 20 years ago, Howard Gardner of Harvard, postulated that people can have one or a combination of seven types of intelligence.

These are:

  • Visual-Spatial people think in terms of physical space and are very aware of their environment. They visualize and daydream. Think architects.
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic people have a keen awareness of movement and use their bodies to interact with their environment. Think dancers.
  • Musical people are sensitive to sound and rhythm and put everything into rhythmic patterns. Think musicians and rhetoriticians.
  • Interpersonal people process information by interacting with others. They’re empathetic and agile. Think sales people.
  • Intrapersonal people have strong understanding of themselves. They are in tune with their own emotions so are often introspective. Think those who say “I feel in my gut.”
  • Linguistic people use words and understand the nuances that words can convey. Think poets or storytellers.
  • Logical-Mathematical people are reasoners. They conceptualize, recognize patterns and can quickly understand relationships. Think mathematicians and engineers.

Clearly, these different intelligences can also provide a good framework for creativity, which is really a form of information processing. In that way, multiple intelligences frameworks would be similar to deBono’s Six Thinking Hats approach.

A strong innovation team would probably have several dominant intelligences represented. When they work together, these different types of intelligences can be immensely productive for idea production and evaluation.

But they have to understand that everyone might have a different way of viewing the world, and thus a different way of forming ideas.

Tony Wanless, Knowpreneur


The Movie Pitch Method

March 15, 2009

Movie pitches are High Concept taglines thrown at producers by scriptwriters and other movie developers looking for funding. They’re meant to put an idea into some concrete form that’s understandable by the recipient.

This can result in some pretty awful high concepts that sometimes generate much laughter. But the best of them are quite good. For example:

“Jaws in space!” (Alien)

“A bus with a bomb!” (Speed)

“Snakes on a plane!” (Need we say more?)

“A serial killer who bases murders on the seven deadly sins!” (Se7en)

“Human adopted by elves seeks his roots” (Elf)

Over at Venture Hacks, they suggested this technique to technology entrepreneurs to catch investors’ attention instead of the often boring elevator pitch. This turned up:

“Friendster for dogs” (Dogster)

“Flickr for video” (YouTube)

“We network networks” (Cisco)

“Massively Multiplayer Online Learning” (Grockit)

“The entrepreneurs behind the entrepreneurs” (Sequoia)

I have used this method when creating marketing strategies, and have found it can be effective at getting people off the deadly “here’s how my product works” track so loved by product developers. Instead, it generates marketing concepts that will excite potential buyers.

So it seems to me this could also be a good method when a team is trying to solve a problem, or generate ideas for innovation. Certainly it would be a lot more fun than some of the more ponderous processes that are commonly used.

Basically, the movie pitch method uses juxtaposition thinking. It jams one concept with another, unrelated, concept to arrive at a completely different concept.

For example, let’s say you’re trying to come up with an innovative business model that might power you to some kind of Blue Ocean strategy (in which you create uncontested market space). How about:

“The Dell Computer of Training” (Supply Chain + Sales Channels)

“The Cirque du Soleil of Process Consulting” ( Entertainment + Knowledge)

“The Minivan of Media” (Multifunctionalism + Information Distribution)

Not all of these movie pitch results are going to be winners. (Looking at my examples, some might say that none of them will be. I’ll soldier on anyway).

But if you increasingly focus on your particular problem, and generate several of these pitches, there’s bound to be a couple that will lead to some breakthrough thinking.


Cartooning For Creative Problem Solving

March 9, 2009

Since I’m always looking for useful creativity methods, I had an Aha! moment during a recent visit to a video game studio.

For those of you who aren’t in the film or video game business, storyboards are really single-panel cartoons, much like the comics, that outline the “story” a film maker or video game designer wants to tell.

Usually, it’s a visual reference that the director, designers, cast and crew can use when planning each shot. So it’s a project management tool similar to a Work Breakdown Structure.

I think storyboarding, if adapted, might be a method to put in your bag of tricks, especially for group situations. What if we take that utilitarian aspect out of storyboarding and use it to jump-start creativity?

To me this would be a great way to get a team that’s trying to find a solution to a problem out of the thinking rut. Also, it’s visual, which always helps in our linear, word oriented world – which is often my problem with traditional storytelling.

And it’s something to focus on (the story) that parallels the problem you’re trying to solve. So it’s a version of DeBono’s Lateral Thinking methodology.

Here’s my suggestion for a storyboarding session.

  • Have the team tell a story that parallels your problem in comic form. The drawing (probably on a whiteboard or flip board, although there is software for it) can be very crude, i.e. stick figures.
  • Like all stories, the storyboard should outline the problem, sketch out the main characters, and have them arrive at some solution – good or bad.
  • Put the first storyboard aside, because it will involve very templated thinking: Everyone will simply shape the story from familiar material.
  • Use a form of questioning to become increasingly more creative. Go for comedy or tragedy. Ask “what if”. What if the character was like this? What if the character did this? What if the character wasn’t limited by this? What if the character could use magic, could fly, had X-ray vision, or multiple lives, etc?
  • Draw a simple storyboard for each option. See where it leads you.
  • Compare each one to the original story or problem statement to see how they might correlate. For example, if the storyboard has the character using magic to solve the problem, figure out how you can do find your own kind of magic.

At the end of this session, which will be a heck of a lot more fun than simple brainstorming, you should have some interesting options.

You’ll also have a much more energized group because they will have tapped a creative wellspring within themselves that wasn’t so “serious”.