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


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.