50 Ways to Put Innovation on the To-Do List

Tuesday, 15 December 2009 13:39 by kpotvin

Via today’s SmartBrief on Leadership, I saw an inspiring blog post, 50 Ways to Foster a Culture of Innovation,” by Mitch Ditkoff of Idea Champions.  Here are some of my favorite tips:

#4. Always question authority, especially the authority of your own longstanding beliefs.

#8. Help people broaden their perspective by creating diverse teams and rotating employees into new projects -- especially ones they are fascinated by.

#12. Instead of seeing creativity training as a way to pour knowledge into people's heads, see it as a way to grind new glasses for people so they can see the world in a different way.

#30. Stimulate interaction between segments of the company that traditionally don't connect or collaborate with each other.

#41. Don't make innovation the responsibility of a few. Make innovation the responsibility of each and every employee with performance goals for each and every functional area.

But don’t stop here.  Read all 50 tips and be inspired to move innovation to the top of your to-do list in the New Year.

 

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News Splash Interview: Giving Back…While Juggling a Day Job

Wednesday, 2 December 2009 13:26 by kpotvin

 

At a recent Jersey Mike's Subs meeting, I talked with franchisee and area director Dan Burrell about a creative project he was working on that, as both a parent and a writer, just blew me away.  I asked him if he’d share details with us about this project “Teens Talk…Will You Listen?,” an original play produced in Ojai Valley (California) designed to get teens and parents talking.  Here Dan discusses how the project, created with the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation, came to be…while juggling his day job. 

News Splash (NS):  Tell us about the Teen Forum Night project. 

Dan:  The Teen Forum Night started with a challenge:  how do we get parents more involved and educated about what the Youth Foundation does for teens in Ojai?  My thought was that we would have to get the real truth out so the parents can really understand what issues face teens, and what is important to them. That would mean putting teens on stage, with material anonymously submitted from other kids, so the truth can be told but no teen would be responsible.  I also thought the parents should have a chance to ask questions they would have a hard time asking their own teens about, again anonymously.  Beginning this process, and moving through it, we never strayed far from my first vision, and in the end, we had an amazing, real, truthful presentation of actual teen concerns, without any teen having to take responsibility. The night accomplished so much, and I know from reactions that some relationships started changing right away.  

NS:  What were some of the questions asked by parents? 

Dan:  Why do you hate me?  Should I read your texts?  How can I support you in appreciating the arts?  Why do you have to smoke pot?  Why don't you confide in me like you do your friends?

NS:  How did you transform so much data into a cohesive and moving story?

Dan: We asked English teachers in the eight local high schools to give their kids an assignment:   “Dear Mom and Dad” letters.  We asked the kids to be honest, and tell their parents about who they are and what problems they are having themselves, with friends, or with their parents.  We collected over 400 responses, some one or two words, some fully written double sided letters, some poems, some free writes. These were molded into responses.  Remember two or three teens can think differently and answer questions differently, so there could sometimes be 4 to 5 different answers to the same question.

NS: What did you learn from this project?

Dan: I learned how amazing teens really are, that they can go as deep as adults. I learned that we, as adults, have a lot to learn from teens. I learned that teens understand us better than we understand them. I learned that every adult has been a teen, yet every teen has yet to be an adult, so why do we expect so much from them? I learned that teens want to be treated as individuals, and yelling and screaming and always trying to be right does nothing for your relationship with your teens.  I also learned that teens will come and contribute, and that bringing Jersey Mike's Subs to every meeting is perfect for attracting teens to be on time.  

NS:  How did you fit this creative project into your daily routine? 

Dan:  This project became my daily routine. Actually, because this was a 6 week project from start to finish, it made it easier that it came about so quickly.  It was worth the long days, and nights, and I received 20x more than I gave out. 

NS:  What inspires you?

Dan:  What inspires me?  Any opportunity to make a difference in someone else's life.  I love to see people laugh.  I love to see people treat each other with respect.  I love happy endings. That inspires me.

[Full Disclosure:  Jersey Mike’s is a client.]

 

 

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Keep Moving Forward

Tuesday, 22 September 2009 12:17 by kpotvin

Last night, I caught the end of the animated flick, "Meet the Robinsons," with my son and noticed a quote from Walt Disney (the man) before the closing credits. Here it is:

"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long.  We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."

The movie celebrates imagination so the quote is a good fit.  Even better, it's an important reminder that while we should learn from the past, we need to "keep moving forward."  Stay curious.

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Borrowing Brilliance

Friday, 18 September 2009 09:11 by kpotvin

 

We’ve said it before:  Borrowing isn’t bad and we are happy that Author David Kord Murray agrees.  He just came out with a new book, “Borrowing Brilliance, The Six Steps to Business Innovation by Building on the Ideas of Others.”  You can hear him talk about it in a terrific interview by Reena Jana, Innovation Department Editor for BusinessWeek (also read her review).  Jana asks Murray, former head of innovation for Intuit, about “copying” ideas and Murray explains, “It’s about the fine line between plagiarism and innovation…In the book I talk about how you define a problem and then you go out and look for places with a similar problem and borrow ideas from there.”  He describes how Biologist Charles Darwin borrowed from geology, and later economics, to come up with his best ideas.  Another example is Google, which used libraries and researchers as models when developing its online search tool.There are so many sources of inspiration: nature, other industries, history.  Borrow from the best and add your own twist.  After all, isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery?  What do you think?

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News Splash Interview: Discovering Inspiration All Around You

Saturday, 5 September 2009 08:48 by kpotvin

 

Photo Credit: Constance Koons

This News Splash interview is with Patricia Fargnoli, former Poet Laureate of New Hampshire and author of six collections of poetry including her just-released book, Then, Something (Tupelo Press). I had the pleasure of working with Pat on a statewide initiative she created during her Poet Laureate tenure that celebrated children’s poetry.  As she talks about her creative process, I see many lessons for business people such as “letting go” to conjure innovation, discovering inspiration all around you, about the hard work of honing a good idea until it is ready for prime time, about the importance of feedback and more.  Read on and be inspired!   And, for anyone local, stop by and hear Pat read from her new book at the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, NH, on Thursday, Sept. 10, at 6:30pm as part of the Hyla Brook Reading Series.    

News Splash (NS):  When we worked together for the statewide Children's Poetry in the Libraries program, you were anything but a stereotypical lost-in-the-clouds artist.  You are an amazing project manager:  very strategic and organized while rallying a big volunteer work force.  Are these traits that help you approach your creative side as well?

Pat:  Thank you, Kyle.  That project was such a joy to work with you on!  One of the things that made it so much fun was that I got to use some long dormant skills of mine that I acquired in my first years as a social worker when I administered a YWCA program for young women in trouble with the law…and later when I worked as the supervisor of a team of technical workers at Aetna Insurance Company. 

But strangely…or perhaps not…I am utterly unorganized and “lost-in-the-clouds” when it comes to writing poetry.  I write best when I can let go of the need to control the words and the direction of the poem, and try to get into a kind of “loose-mind” state and just write.  I think, for any artist, there are three kinds of “work.”  One is the creative part where you try to access the deeper (perhaps subconscious or dreamlike) parts of yourself.  Or where you try to “see” a thing (a mountain, for instance, a deer, a city, etc.) in a way it's never been seen before and then give it a new language.  Or where you try to give a language to a feeling or thought that seems to be almost beyond words.

The second kind of “work” is revision when the conscious mind with all its knowledge of craft and technical skill steps in and begins shaping the piece, much the way the sculptor chisels the marble to find the shape within.  The third “work” is the business of poetry…knowing the potential markets, writing cover letters, networking, getting poems sent out. 
My “business skills” of course come most into play with the third “work”  but also with the second kind where one has to know the tools, believe in oneself and ones art, be motivated to work hard and stick to it.

NS:   I've always been fascinated by how many poets come from a business-type background.  You are a retired therapist, Dana Gioia was an executive at General Foods, Wallace Stevens was at Aetna, T.S. Eliot spent several years at Lloyd's Bank of London.  Why do you think this is?

Pat:
  Hmmm.  These days far more poets come from academic jobs, primarily as teachers in the colleges and MFA programs.  In general, poets from the business world have to work harder and be luckier to be successful.  The hard fact is that being a poet doesn't pay and all poets need a “day job.”  Those with corporate jobs in general are better off financially than those who teach.  I have, recently, seen a fair number of poets emerge from the medical professions. William Carlos Williams was a doctor, Courtney Davis has edited an anthology of poems by nurses, C. Dale Young, the editor of the New England Review, is a doctor.  I guess the bottom line is that poets can spring from anywhere and work at any job at all to sustain themselves.  But regardless, all of us share a love of the language and the desire to express our vision of the world.

NS:  Why is poetry important? 

Pat:  Because it constantly redefines reality and expands our understanding of the worlds...both those we live in and those beyond us.  Because it translates the unsayable into language.  Because it connects us to the creative spirit in the universe.  Because it informs us about and connects us to our common humanity...in all its beauty, flaws and frailty.  Because it is a source of joy.

NS:  Tell me about your creative process.

Pat: I read a great deal of poetry by other poets, not only for enjoyment (though that is key) but because it both inspires my own, and teaches me techniques and strategies I didn't know before.  Often I read poems to start my writing day.  Then I either sit down with a pad, or sit before the computer, and begin with whatever is on my mind or happening right outside my window, or right in front of me (once I wrote a poem about a bug that was sitting on my computer).

I usually just try to keep writing without worrying very much about whether it's a poem or not (nevermind a good one).  A friend calls this the “garbage page.”  Later I type it up or print it out and start cutting and shaping.  After that, I put it away a few days, then revise some more and when I've got the poem as far as I can take it, I'll show someone (usually people in one of my workshops) and ask for feedback.  Then more revision.  Often a poem will take months, even years before I feel it's done.

But there are other ways poems come into being too.  Perhaps I'll see a bunch of words or a magazine article or something that intrigues me.  Or some event will happen and I'll rush home and write about it;  or I'll be driving and see something I don't want to lose and so I'll write it down on a napkin or something on the steering wheel (which I don't recommend).

NS:  Do you have any tips for business people who want to more fully tap into their creative side?

Pat: The famous German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, in his poem, “Archaic Torso of Apollo” says that once you have seen the power of art “you must change your life.”   I agree.  Making a space for poetry in my life has totally changed my life and given me a wealth of friendships and immeasurable happiness.  It is indeed possible to combine a business life and a creative life.  One simply needs to shift priorities enough to create the space/time for making art in one's life.  There is a wonderful book/workbook called The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron that lays out a complete plan for making that happen.  I was once in a workshop group with 30 artists and we worked with that book together. It was life-changing, and I highly recommend it.

NS:  What inspires you?

Pat:  Mountains, ponds, deer, foxes, the color blue, things of the spirit, all things mysterious, the questions for which I have no answers.

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When Is The Last Time You Surprised Your Customers?

Friday, 31 July 2009 13:49 by kpotvin

Earlier this week, I posted a story from The New York Times about new research showing that Americans appreciate free stuff, like a surprise cup of coffee.

Well, yesterday, I got surprise brownies (last post about brownies for awhile, I promise) and they made my day.  The package came from one of my favorite places:  Dancing Deer Baking Company as a thank you for filling out a survey for them.  Now I am a long-time admirer and customer of Dancing Deer.  Not only do they offer delicious all-natural goodies but they know how to build a brand.  I love their products, philanthropy and personality so when the recent survey came across my desk, I was happy to oblige for no other reason than that I want to see them prosper.

They didn’t have to do a thing as follow up.  In fact, I forgot I even filled out the survey.  Yet they used this simple gesture to solidify a relationship with a good customer.  Thanks Sarah Nichols and all The Deers for a sweet treat!

What are surprising ways that you can share the love with your customers? 

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Metaphors for Business

Wednesday, 22 July 2009 10:15 by kpotvin

Here are two recent examples of how using seemingly unrelated subjects like bike riding or card playing can effectively convey valuable business lessons.First, read this interview with Annie Duke, professional poker player recently seen on The Celebrity Apprentice.  She speaks with USA Today management reporter Del Jones about parallels between playing poker and conducting business.  Think bluffing, negotiation, perceptions, risk and more.

Second, best-selling author Seth Godin writes about business lessons learned from riding a bike.  He says, “It’s very difficult to improve your performance on the downhills.”  He uses this as an effective metaphor for why tough times (difficult circumstances, the unexpected, poor economy) often provide the most significant opportunities.

Trying to convey a business lesson or philosophy to employees, customers or others?  Use a metaphor.

 

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If Life Doesn’t Give You Enough Sugar, Think Creatively

Saturday, 11 July 2009 13:06 by kpotvin

Today was a good day for making brownies. We were expecting guests this weekend and I also wanted to bring a meal to a neighbor.  Plus I had a brand new brownie recipe I wanted to try.  I was half-way through the recipe when I realized I didn’t have enough sugar.  Now I am the type to always have a stocked pantry so how I ended up without a replacement package is a mystery.  Still, I was ½ a cup short.  A store run was out of the question and, while I did consider asking a neighbor for the proverbial cup of sugar, I dismissed that idea too.  I searched the cabinet for a solution.  Substitute brown sugar?  Throw in some chocolate chips to sweeten the mix?  Then I spotted a box of individual sugar packages left over from a holiday party.  I ripped open the tiny packages – maybe 30 – and added them to my measuring cup.  Success!

The unexpected happens in business too.  Despite good planning you overlook one element needed to complete a project.  Sometimes circumstances change and you have to adjust your direction.  Or maybe your budget got slashed…but you still must deliver a new product.  That’s when you need to be adaptable.   Think about your desired end result, look at your options and brainstorm new ways to get there.  Life may not always give you enough sugar, but if you think creatively, there’s always a way to make delicious brownies.

P.S.  My son said they are the best brownies I ever made.  Here’s the recipe - scroll down for Firehouse Brownies.

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News Splash Interview: How To Write A Book When You Have A Full Time Job

Wednesday, 17 June 2009 11:38 by kpotvin
 

 

This News Splash interview is with Tim McIntyre, Vice President, Communications, Domino’s Pizza, and co-author with Dave Melton of “Hire The American Dream, How to Build Your Minimum-Wage Workforce into a High-Performance, Customer-Focused Team.” Not only is Tim an exceptional writer but he is also one of the best PR professionals and corporate spokespeople out there.  By the way, I’ve seen Dave Melton’s teams in action and they are phenomenal – learn his secrets by reading “Hire the American Dream” – it’s relevant for anyone who manages teams.

News Splash (NS):  Tell us about “Hire the American Dream.”

Tim: Dave Melton [Domino’s Franchisee] has built a culture in his four Manhattan Domino’s stores seldom found in the quick serve industry. This is an industry where 150% turnover is typical and managers are replaced yearly in many restaurants. In Dave’s case, his average employee stays 8 years and managers average 6 years. When there has been turnover of managers, it was because the manager went on to become a store owner like Dave. Dave creates this culture by sharing his business philosophy and successes, and reinforcing that everyone wins when the store succeeds. This is a how-to book which shows that anyone can build this type of culture.

NS:  Dave asked you several times to help him write this book and you turned him down at first.  How come?

Tim: An editor from John Wiley & Sons saw an article about Dave in The New York Times and called him to say, “I think you have a book here for managers of entry-level, minimum wage employees.”  Dave came to me, said he had a book deal and asked me if I wanted to help write it.  I turned him down. I have a day job and it’s a pretty busy one. Besides, Dave lives in New York City – swing a pizza bag and you’ll hit a writer. I thought he could easily find a writing partner there. Dave approached me a second and then a third time, and said, “You know who I am. You know Domino’s. Let’s do this together.” I proposed the idea to my boss, Lynn Liddle, and Dave Brandon, Domino’s CEO, and said that if I participate, we will have an accurate portrayal of Domino’s Pizza and be involved in the final outcome. It can also help with recruiting and franchising as well as improve internal operations. I also outlined how I’d do it along with my job. They gave their full support.

NS:  How did you find time to write a book while working full time?

Tim: We had 12 weeks to turn in 60,000 words. We started in June 2008 and the full manuscript was due the day after Labor Day. I did a lot of writing at night, on weekends, on airplanes and on vacation. Dave provided me with a constant stream of ideas and insights into his business philosophies, how he manages people and how he’s built a culture for his stores. It was a matter of taking those gems and turning them into a manuscript. I came in to the office by 7 am before it opened, at lunch I’d pick up the project and then again at the end of the day. I had a supportive boss and family. I have the benefit of having older kids so I didn’t have to attend events like Little League games. I literally looked at the calendar and found chunks of time for writing. I never want to do that again. If I have another book in me, I’d write most of it before approaching a publisher. Then I would spend that time polishing instead of writing.

NS:  What did you learn about publishing during the process that could help others interested in writing a business book?

Tim: First, publishers like Wiley are looking for books that others can learn from. They like lesson books, not biographies. We always had to keep in mind: Will this help anyone? Is this useable stuff? That’s why we focused so much on offering practical tips on exactly what to do and how to do it. That was also the driving force behind the profiles of people who started as minimum wage employees but are now incredibly successful. For instance, Emir Lopez from East Harlem who worked for Dave had an opportunity to “escape” from his upbringing but he chose to go back and bring Domino’s to the neighborhood he grew up in. He saw opportunity that others didn’t – he knew the neighborhood and that people were hungry for a company to provide the same services that other communities enjoy. He was the first to bring food delivery to the neighborhood and the store has thrived. Our goal was to write a book with value on every page and tell inspiring stories like this.

I also learned the importance of Chapter 1. When someone is in a bookstore with their latte, they look at the front cover, the back cover, and then flip to Chapter 1. We wrote and rewrote that chapter four times because we were constantly pushed by Wiley on that first piece. It makes or breaks the sale.

NS:  There is nothing like a trip to gain perspective.  You just got back from an amazing trip to Machu Picchu.  Any epiphanies?

Tim:  Four days hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was the most physically exhausting – and the most exhilarating – thing I’ve ever done. On day two, we walked (and walked!) up and over “Dead Woman’s Pass,” more than 13,000 feet above sea level, carrying packs on our backs. It felt like cinder blocks had been attached to our hiking boots. The air is thin and the trail is steep. At the same time, we were reveling in the incredible beauty of Peru and were marveling at the technological advances of the Inca people; it distracted us from the physical struggle of the trek. Traveling like this opens you up to the world, to new points of view and to different perspectives on history.  But if there was an epiphany, it was this:  you can overcome challenges if you’ve got the passion, the will and the tools to do so…whether those challenges are hiking the Inca Trail, writing a book in three months or something even more meaningful. You really can do things you didn’t think were possible.  All you have to do is try.

 

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Lesson from Times Square: No Sacred Cows

Friday, 12 June 2009 08:37 by kpotvin

I was curious to see the new set up in Times Square now that parts are closed to traffic, creating a pedestrian mall in the crossroads of the world.  Strolling through the other night, it was filled with tourists and natives alike, many resting on the lawn chairs placed on this empty stretch of Broadway.  Talk about bold.  Mayor Bloomberg’s solution to tackling congestion (traffic and crowds) in Midtown is out of the box and reminds us that when you are problem solving, nothing should be sacred.  Can you imagine the first meeting when someone suggested closing Times Square to traffic?  I’m sure it seemed quite complicated and possibly laughable.  And yet, why not?  Take a chance on fresh thinking.  Consider everything, even ideas that question those sacred cows in your organization. While the cabbies I spoke with weren’t happy with the new configuration, pedestrians certainly were.  Time will tell if this experiment becomes a permanent addition to one of my favorite cities. I think it will.  Remember, if you can make change there, you can make it anywhere.

 

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