Category Archives: Creativity

The Amazing Efficiency of Systematic Guessing

The Amazing Efficiency of Systematic Guessing

GUEST POST from Dennis Stauffer

Are you as personally efficient as you could be? Most of us aren’t, and that may be because we’re not as innovative as we could be. Being efficient—for people and for organizations—isn’t just about doing things more quickly and automatically. It’s about rapidly adapting to change and discovering new strategies.

Most organizations—and most innovators—are convinced that innovation takes extra time and resources. That’s certainly true at times, but also misleading. Because being innovative can also make you dramatically more efficient. Finding solutions, making improvements and inventing new ways of doing things can save countless hours and resources—and there’s a more immediate gain than those future benefits.

Let me explain it this way.

Imagine that your challenge is to figure out how to spell a simple ten letter word: INNOVATION. (And let’s pretend you don’t already know.) You can of course start guessing, but that will take a while—a long while. There are 26 letters in the English alphabet and ten in this word. So that’s 26 to the 10th power, or more than 141-trillion, possibilities! If you guess once per second—without repeating any—it will take you more than four-and-a-half million years to cover them all.

Suppose instead that you’re at a computer, one that won’t tell you how to spell innovation, but will tell you when you’ve guessed the right letter. In other words, you can do what skilled innovators do. You can continually check whether your ideas—your guesses—are working. Now, each letter will require at most 26 guesses, one for each letter in the alphabet. You can cover all possibilities in 26 times 10 or 260 attempts. At one attempt per second, that will take you less than four-and-a-half minutes. And you don’t need to know anything about how to spell the word when you start.

Of course, the challenges you face are probably more complex than spelling a ten-letter word, and it will probably take longer than a second to explore possible solutions. But as complexity grows, so does the relative efficiency of this kind of systematic guessing.

Suppose the word you want to spell has eleven letters—INNOVATIONS. Just trying to guess it will now take you 26 times longer. That’s more than a hundred million years! When you check each of your guesses, it only adds another 26 seconds. You’re still done in less than five minutes. A hundred-million years, vs. five minutes. That’s the astronomical gain in efficiency you achieve when you know how to systematically investigate what works.

It’s as though you’re facing a genie with a puzzle. You need to solve that puzzle to make your wishes come true, and the genie won’t tell you the answer. But the genie is willing to give you clues—in the form of consequences. So to solve the puzzle, you must attempt possible solutions that will generate consequences—feedback—that will tell you whether you’re on the right track. That’s what skilled innovators do—and anyone else who hopes to successfully handle uncertainty—which is all of us.

So, if someone tells you, you don’t have time to be innovative, tell them you don’t have time not to.

Here is a video version of this post:

The Innovator Mindset YouTube channel brings you weekly tips, tricks and insights into how to be more creative, innovative and personally effective.

Image Credit: Pexels

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Mental Orgasm – The Joy of Discovery

Mental Orgasm - The Joy of Discovery

GUEST POST from Dennis Stauffer

Recall a time when you made some discovery or figured something out for yourself. No one told you the answer. You didn’t look it up on your phone. You got there on your own. It might have been something recent, or you may have to go back, maybe even to your early childhood, to recall that moment of discovery. That thrill you felt. That excitement! It’s such pure joy that some researchers have described it as a mental orgasm.

Babies often experience this as they first learn about the world. It’s a moment scientists live for. A feeling that even the most jaded businessperson takes delight in. When something just works—and you made it happen. You solved the puzzle.

It was a frequent experience when we were babies, with a brain constantly driven to discover how the world worked. But it’s something we experience far less often as adults. From the moment you started school, you were gradually pulled away from personal discovery, and instead pushed to memorize things someone else discovered. Like how to solve a math problem, spell a word, or learn the periodic table. Those things are important, but not nearly as much fun as figuring things out for yourself.

So instead of moments of discovery, you’ve probably become conditioned to take pride in what you know. And that very pride can become an obstacle to making new discoveries. The more we identify with our knowledge, the more we want to defend it, making us resistant to understanding the world in new ways. It shouldn’t be hard to see how that might interfere with your ability to innovate, or adapt to changes in your life. The challenge we so often face is not just coming up with new ideas. It’s letting go of the ones we already have.

Innovators, and those who are most effective generally, are open to discovery. Instead of looking for reinforcement of what they already know, they seek experiences that will challenge their beliefs, always being open to revising those beliefs—open to discovery. An innovator mindset frees you to move beyond what you already know, to unleash your own brilliance. Giving you the mental agility needed to make discoveries again—and experience the kind of mental orgasm that creates.

Here is a video version of this post:

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Eddie Van Halen, Simultaneous Innovation and the AI Regulation Conundrum

Eddie Van Halen, Simultaneous Innovation and the AI Regulation Conundrum

GUEST POST from Pete Foley

It’s great to have an excuse to post an Eddie Van Halen video to the innovation community.  It’s of course fun just to watch Eddie, but I also have a deeper, innovation relevant reason for doing so.

Art & Science:  I’m a passionate believer in cross-pollination between art and science.  And I especially believe we can learn a great deal from artists and musicians like Eddie who have innovated consistently over a career.  Dig into their processes, and we see serial innovators like The Beatles, Picasso, Elton John, Bowie, George Martin, Freddie Mercury, William Gibson, Lady Gaga, Paul Simon and so many others apply techniques that are highly applicable to all innovation fields. Techniques such as analogy, conceptual blending, collaboration, reapplication, boundary stretching, risk taking, learning from failure and T-Shaped innovation all crop up fairly consistently.  And these creative approaches are typically also built upon deep expertise, passion, motivation, and an ability to connect with future consumer needs, and to tap into early adopters and passionate consumers.  For me at least, that’s a pretty good innovation toolkit for innovation in any field.  Now, to be fair, often their process is intuitive, and many truly prolific artists are lucky enough to automatically and intuitively ‘think that way’. But understanding and then stealing some of their techniques, either implicit or explicit, can be a great way to both jump-start our own innovative processes, and also to understand how innovation works. As Picasso said, ‘great artists steal’, but I’d argue that so do good innovators, at least within the bounds allowed by the patent literature!

In the past I’ve written quite a lot about Picasso and The Beatles use of conceptual blending, Paul Simon’s analogies, reapplication and collaboration, Bowie’s innovative courage, and William Gibson’s ability to project s-curves.  Today, I’d like to to focus on some insights I see in the guitar innovations of Eddie.   

(a) Parallel or Simultaneous Innovation.  I suspect this is one of the most important yet under-appreciated concepts in innovation today. Virtually every innovation is built upon the shoulders of giants. Past innovations provide the foundation for future ones, to the point where once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, many innovations become inevitable. It still takes an agile and creative mind to come up with innovative ideas, but contemporary innovations often set the stage for the next leap forward. And this applies both to the innovative process, and also to a customers ability to understand and embrace it. The design of the first skyscraper was innovative, but it was made a lot more obvious by the construction of the Eiffel Tower. The ubiquitous mobile phone may now seem obvious, but it owes its existence to a very long list of enabling technologies that paved the way for it’s invention, from electricity to chips to Wi-Fi, etc.

The outcome of this ‘stage setting’ is that often even really big innovations occur simultaneously yet independently.  We’ve seen this play out with calculus (independently developed by Newton and Leibnitz), the atomic bomb, where Oppenheimer and company only just beat the Nazi’s, the theory of evolution, the invention of the thermometer, nylon and so many others.  We even see it in evolution, where scavenger birds vultures and condors superficially appear quite similar due to adaptations that allow them to eat carrion, but actually have quite different genetic lineages.  Similarly many marsupials look very similar to placental mammals that fill similar ecological niches, but typically evolved independently. Context has a huge impact on innovation, and similar contexts typical create parallel, and often similar innovations. As the world becomes more interconnected, and context becomes more homogenized, we are going to see more and more examples of simultaneous innovation.

Faster and More Competitive Innovation:  Today social media, search technology and the web mean that more people know more of the same ‘stuff’ more quickly than before.  This near instantaneous and democratized access to the latest knowledge sets the scene and context for a next generation of innovation that is faster and more competitive than we’ve ever seen.   More people have access to the pieces of the puzzle far more quickly than ever before; background information that acts as a precursor for the next innovative leap. Eddie had to go and watch Jimmy Paige live and in person to get his inspiration for ‘tapping’.  Today he, and a few million others would simply need to go onto YouTube.  He therefore discovered Paige’s hammer-on years after Paige started using them.  Today it would likely be days.  That acceleration of ‘innovation context’ has a couple of major implications: 

1.  If you think you’ve just come up with something new, it’s more than likely that several other people have too, or will do so very soon.   More than ever before you are more than likely in a race from the moment you have an idea! So snooze and you loose. Assume several others are working on the same idea.

2.  Regulating Innovation is becoming really, really difficult.  I think this is possibly the most profound implication.  For example, a very current and somewhat contentious topic today is if and how we should regulate AI.  And it’s a pretty big decision. We really don’t know how AI will evolve, but it is certainly moving very quickly, and comes with the potential for earthshaking pros and cons.  It is also almost inevitably subject to simultaneous invention.  So many people are working on it, and so much adjacent innovation is occurring, that it’s somewhat unlikely that any single group is going to get very far out in front.   The proverbial cat is out of the bag, and the race is on. The issue for regulation then becomes painfully obvious.   Unless we can somehow implement universal regulation, then any regulations simply slow down those who follow the rules.  This unfortunately opens the doors to bad actors taking the lead, and controlling potentially devastating technology.

So we are somewhat damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.  If we don’t regulate, then we run the risk of potentially dangerous technology getting out of control.  But if do regulate, we run the risk of enabling bad actors to own that dangerous technology.  We’ve of course been here before.  The race for the nuclear bomb between the Allies and the Nazi’s was a great example of simultaneous innovation with potentially catastrophic outcomes.   Imagine if we’d decided fission was simply too dangerous, and regulated it’s development to the point where the Nazi’s had got there first.  We’d likely be living in a very different world today!  Much like AI, it was a tough decision, as without regulation, there was a small but possible scenario where the outcome could have been devastating.    

Today we have a raft of rapidly evolving technologies that I’d both love to regulate, but am also profoundly worried about the unintended consequences of doing so.  AI of course, but also genetic engineering, gene manipulating medicines, even climate mediation and behavioral science!  With respect to the latter, the better we get at nudging behavior, and the more reach we have with those techniques, the more dangerous miss-use becomes.  

The core problem underlying all of this is that we are human.   Most people try to do the right thing, but there are always bad actors.  And even those trying to do the right thing all too often get it wrong.  And the more democratized access to cutting edge insight becomes, parallel innovation means the more contenders we have for mistakes and bad bad choices, intentional or unintentional. 

(b) Innovation versus Invention:  A less dramatic, but I think similarly interesting insight we can draw from Eddie lies in the difference between innovation and invention He certainly wasn’t the first guitarist to use the tapping technique.  That goes back centuries! At least as far as classical composer Paganini, and it was a required technique for playing the Chapman stick in the 1970’s, popularized by the great Tony Levin in King Crimson. It was also widely, albeit sparingly (and often obscurely) used by jazz guitarists in the 1950’s and 60’s. But Eddie was the first to feature it, and turn it into a meaningful innovation in of itself. Until him, nobody had packaged the technique in a way that it could be ‘marketed’ and ‘sold’ as a viable product. He found the killer application, made it his own, and made it a ‘thing’. I would therefore argue that he wasn’t the inventor, but he was the ‘innovator’.  This points to the value of innovation over invention.  If you don’t have the capability or the partners to turn an invention into something useful, its still just an idea.   Invention is a critical part of the broader innovation process, but in isolation it’s more curiosity than useful. Innovation is about reduction to practice and communication as well a great ideas

Art & science:  I love the arts.  I play guitar, paint, and photograph.  It’s a lot of fun, and provides a invaluable outlet from the stresses involved in business and innovation.  But as I suggested at the beginning, a lot of the boundaries we place between art and science, and by extension business, are artificial and counter-productive. Some of my most productive collaborations as a scientist have been with designers and artists. As a visual scientist, I’ve found that artists often intuitively have a command of attentional insights that our cutting edge science is still trying to understand.  It’s a lot of fun to watch Eddie Van Halen, but learning from great artists like him can, via analogy, also be surprisingly insightful and instructive.   

Image credits: Unsplash

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AI and Human Creativity Solving Complex Problems Together

AI and Human Creativity Solving Complex Problems Together

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

A recent McKinsey Leading Off – Essentials for leaders and those they lead email newsletter, referred to an article “The organization of the future: Enabled by gen AI, driven by people” which stated that digitization, automation, and AI will reshape whole industries and every enterprise. The article elaborated further by saying that, in terms of magnitude, the challenge is akin to coping with the large-scale shift from agricultural work to manufacturing that occurred in the early 20th century in North America and Europe, and more recently in China. This shift was powered by the defining trait of our species, our human creativity, which is at the heart of all creative problem-solving endeavors, where innovation is the engine of growth, no matter, what the context.

Moving into Unchartered Job and Skills Territory

We don’t yet know what exact technological, or soft skills, new occupations, or jobs will be required in this fast-moving transformation, or how we might further advance generative AI, digitization, and automation.

We also don’t know how AI will impact the need for humans to tap even more into the defining trait of our species, our human creativity. To enable us to become more imaginative, curious, and creative in the way we solve some of the world’s greatest challenges and most complex and pressing problems, and transform them into innovative solutions.

We can be proactive by asking these two generative questions:

  • What if the true potential of AI lies in embracing its ability to augment human creativity and aid innovation, especially in enhancing creative problem solving, at all levels of civil society, instead of avoiding it? (Ideascale)
  • How might we develop AI as a creative thinking partner to effect profound change, and create innovative solutions that help us build a more equitable and sustainable planet for all humanity? (Hal Gregersen)

Because our human creativity is at the heart of creative problem-solving, and innovation is the engine of growth, competitiveness, and profound and positive change.

Developing a Co-Creative Thinking Partnership

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review “AI Can Help You Ask Better Questions – and Solve Bigger Problems” by Hal Gregersen and Nicola Morini Bianzino, they state:

“Artificial intelligence may be superhuman in some ways, but it also has considerable weaknesses. For starters, the technology is fundamentally backward-looking, trained on yesterday’s data – and the future might not look anything like the past. What’s more, inaccurate or otherwise flawed training data (for instance, data skewed by inherent biases) produces poor outcomes.”

The authors say that dealing with this issue requires people to manage this limitation if they are going to treat AI as a creative-thinking partner in solving complex problems, that enable people to live healthy and happy lives and to co-create an equitable and sustainable planet.

We can achieve this by focusing on specific areas where the human brain and machines might possibly complement one another to co-create the systemic changes the world badly needs through creative problem-solving.

  • A double-edged sword

This perspective is further complimented by a recent Boston Consulting Group article  “How people can create-and destroy value- with generative AI” where they found that the adoption of generative AI is, in fact, a double-edged sword.

In an experiment, participants using GPT-4 for creative product innovation outperformed the control group (those who completed the task without using GPT-4) by 40%. But for business problem solving, using GPT-4 resulted in performance that was 23% lower than that of the control group.

“Perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, current GenAI models tend to do better on the first type of task; it is easier for LLMs to come up with creative, novel, or useful ideas based on the vast amounts of data on which they have been trained. Where there’s more room for error is when LLMs are asked to weigh nuanced qualitative and quantitative data to answer a complex question. Given this shortcoming, we as researchers knew that GPT-4 was likely to mislead participants if they relied completely on the tool, and not also on their own judgment, to arrive at the solution to the business problem-solving task (this task had a “right” answer)”.

  • Taking the path of least resistance

In McKinsey’s Top Ten Reports This Quarter blog, seven out of the ten articles relate specifically to generative AI: technology trends, state of AI, future of work, future of AI, the new AI playbook, questions to ask about AI and healthcare and AI.

As it is the most dominant topic across the board globally, if we are not both vigilant and intentional, a myopic focus on this one significant technology will take us all down the path of least resistance – where our energy will move to where it is easiest to go.  Rather than being like a river, which takes the path of least resistance to its surrounding terrain, and not by taking a strategic and systemic perspective, we will always go, and end up, where we have always gone.

  • Living our lives forwards

According to the Boston Consulting Group article:

“The primary locus of human-driven value creation lies not in enhancing generative AI where it is already great, but in focusing on tasks beyond the frontier of the technology’s core competencies.”

This means that a whole lot of other variables need to be at play, and a newly emerging set of human skills, especially in creative problem solving, need to be developed to maximize the most value from generative AI, to generate the most imaginative, novel and value adding landing strips of the future.

Creative Problem Solving

In my previous blog posts “Imagination versus Knowledge” and “Why Successful Innovators Are Curious Like Cats” we shared that we are in the midst of a “Sputnik Moment” where we have the opportunity to advance our human creativity.

This human creativity is inside all of us, it involves the process of bringing something new into being, that is original, surprising useful, or desirable, in ways that add value to the quality of people’s lives, in ways they appreciate and cherish.

  • Taking a both/and approach

Our human creativity will be paralysed, if we focus our attention and intention only on the technology, and on the financial gains or potential profits we will get from it, and if we exclude the possibilities of a co-creative thinking partnership with the technology.

To deeply engage people in true creative problem solving – and involving them in impacting positively on our crucial relationships and connectedness, with one another and with the natural world, and the planet.

  • A marriage between creatives, technologists, and humanities

In a recent Fast Company video presentation, “Innovating Imagination: How Airbnb Is Using AI to Foster Creativity” Brian Chesky CEO of Airbnb, states that we need to consider and focus our attention and intention on discovering what is good for people.

To develop a “marriage between creatives, technologists, and the humanities” that brings the human out and doesn’t let technology overtake our human element.

Developing Creative Problem-Solving Skills

At ImagineNation, we teach, mentor, and coach clients in creative problem-solving, through developing their Generative Discovery skills.

This involves developing an open and active mind and heart, by becoming flexible, adaptive, and playful in the ways we engage and focus our human creativity in the four stages of creative problem-solving.

Including sensing, perceiving, and enabling people to deeply listen, inquire, question, and debate from the edges of temporarily hidden or emerging fields of the future.

To know how to emerge, diverge, and converge creative insights, collective breakthroughs, an ideation process, and cognitive and emotional agility shifts to:

  • Deepen our attending, observing, and discerning capabilities to consciously connect with, explore, and discover possibilities that create tension and cognitive dissonance to disrupt and challenge the status quo, and other conventional thinking and feeling processes.
  • Create cracks, openings, and creative thresholds by asking generative questions to push the boundaries, and challenge assumptions and mental and emotional models to pull people towards evoking, provoking, and generating boldly creative ideas.
  • Unleash possibilities, and opportunities for creative problem solving to contribute towards generating innovative solutions to complex problems, and pressing challenges, that may not have been previously imagined.

Experimenting with the generative discovery skill set enables us to juggle multiple theories, models, and strategies to create and plan in an emergent, and non-linear way through creative problem-solving.

As stated by Hal Gregersen:

“Partnering with the technology in this way can help people ask smarter questions, making them better problem solvers and breakthrough innovators.”

Succeeding in the Age of AI

We know that Generative AI will change much of what we do and how we do it, in ways that we cannot yet anticipate.

Success in the age of AI will largely depend on our ability to learn and change faster than we ever have before, in ways that preserve our well-being, connectedness, imagination, curiosity, human creativity, and our collective humanity through partnering with generative AI in the creative problem-solving process.

Find Out More About Our Work at ImagineNation™

Find out about our collective, learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, presented by Janet Sernack, is a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, which can be customised as a bespoke corporate learning program.

It is a blended and transformational change and learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of an ecosystem focus, human-centric approach, and emergent structure (Theory U) to innovation, and upskill people and teams and develop their future fitness, within your unique innovation context. Find out more about our products and tools.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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What Einstein Got Wrong

Defining Design

What Einstein Got Wrong - Defining Design

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”Albert Einstein (supposedly)

This is one of my favorite quotes because it’s an absolute gut punch.  You think you know something, probably because you’ve been saying and doing it for years.  Then someone comes along and asks you to explain it, and suddenly, you’re just standing there, mouth agape, gesturing, hoping that this wacky game of charades produces an answer.

This happened to me last Monday.

While preparing to teach a course titled “Design Innovation Lab,” I thought it would be a good idea to define “design” and “innovation.”  I already had a slide with the definition of “innovation” – something new that creates value – but when I had to make one for “design,” my stomach sank.

My first definition was “pretty pictures,” which is both wrong and slightly demeaning because designers do that and so much more.  My second definition, I know it when I see it, was worse.

So, I Googled the definition.

Then I asked ChatGPT.

Then I asked some designer friends.

No one had a simple definition of Design.

As the clock ticked closer to 6:00 pm, I defaulted to a definition from the International Council of Design:

“Design is a discipline of study and practice focused on the interaction between a person – a “user” – and the man-made environment, taking into account aesthetic, functional, contextual, cultural, and societal considerations.  As a formalized discipline, design is a modern construct.”

Before unveiling this definition to a classroom full of degreed designers pursuing their Master’s in Design, I asked them to define “design.”

It went as well as all my previous attempts.  Lots of thoughts and ideas.  Lots of “it’s this but not that.”  Lots of debate about whether it needs to have a purpose for it to be distinct from art.

Absolutely no simple explanations or punchy definitions.

So, when I unveiled the definition from the very official-sounding International Council of Design, we all just stared at it.

“Yes, but it’s not quite right.”

“It is all those things, but it’s more than just those things.”

“I guess it is a ‘modern construct’ when you think of it as a job, but we’ve done it forever.”

As we squinted and puzzled, what was missing slowly dawned on us. 

There was nothing human in this definition. There was no mention of feelings or empathy, life or nature, connection or community, aspirations or dreams.

In this definition, designers consider multiple aspects of an unnatural environment in creating something to be used. Designers are simply the step before mass production begins.

Who wants to do that?

Who wants to be a stop, however necessary, on a conveyor belt of sameness?

Yet that’s what we become when we strip the humanness out of our work.

Humans are messy, emotional, unpredictable, irrational, challenging, and infuriating.

We’re also interesting, creative, imaginative, hopeful, kind, curious, hard-working, and resilient.

When we try to strip away human messiness to create MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) target markets and customer personas, we strip away the human we’re creating for.

When we ignore unpredictable and irrational feedback on our ideas, we ignore the creative and imaginative answers that could improve our ideas.

When we give up on a challenge because it’s more difficult than expected and doesn’t produce immediate results, we give up hope, resiliency, and the opportunity to improve things.

I still don’t have a simple definition of design, but I know that one that doesn’t acknowledge all the aspects of a human beyond just being a “user” isn’t correct.

Even if you explain something simply, you may not understand it well enough.

Image Credit: Misterinnovation.com

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A New Innovation Sphere

A New Innovation Sphere

GUEST POST from Pete Foley

I’m obsessed with the newly opened Sphere in Las Vegas as an example of Innovation.   As I write this, U2 are preparing for their second show there, and Vegas is buzzing about the new innovation they are performing in.  That in of itself is quite something.  Vegas is a city that is nor short of entertainment and visual spectacle, so for an innovation to capture the collective imagination in this way it has to be genuinely Wow.  And that ‘Wow’ means there are opportunities for the innovation community to learn from it. 

For those of you who might have missed it, The Sphere is an approximately 20,000 seat auditorium with razor sharp cutting edge multisensory capabilities that include a 16K resolution wraparound interior LED screen, speakers with beamforming and wave field synthesis technology, and 4D haptic physical effects built into the seats. The exterior of the 366 foot high building features 580,000 sq ft of LED displays which have transformed the already ostentatious Las Vegas skyline. Images including a giant eye, moon, earth, smiley face, Halloween pumpkin and various underwater scenes and geometric animations light up the sky, together with advertisements that are rumored to cost almost $500,000 per day.  Together with giant drone displays and giant LED displays on adjacent casinos mean that Bladerunner has truly come to Vegas. But these descriptions simply don’t do it justice, you really, really have to see it. 

Las Vegas U2 Residency at the Sphere

Master of Attention – Leveraging Visual Science to the Full:  The outside is a brilliant example of visual marketing that leverages just about every insight possible for grabbing attention. It’s scale is simply ‘Wow!’, and you can see it from the mountains surrounding Vegas, or from the plane as you come into land.   The content it displays on its outside is brilliantly designed to capture attention. It has the fundamental visual cues of movement, color, luminescence, contrast and scale, but these are all turned up to 11, maybe even 12.  This alone pretty much compels attention, even in a city whose skyline is already replete with all of these.  When designing for visual attention, I often invoke the ‘Times Square analogy’.  When trying to grab attention in a visually crowded context, signal to noise is your friend, and a simple, ‘less is more’ design can stand out against a background context of intense, complex visual noise.  But the Sphere has instead leapt s-curves, and has instead leveraged new technology to be brighter, bigger, more colorful and create an order of magnitude more movement than its surroundings.  It visually shouts above the surrounding visual noise, and has created genuine separation, at least for now. 

But it also leverages many other elements that we know command attention.  It uses faces, eyes, and natural cues that tap into our unconscious cognitive attentional architecture.  The giant eye, giant pumpkin and giant smiley face tap these attentional mechanisms, but in a playful way.  The orange and black of the pumpkin or the yellow and black of the smiley face tap into implicit biomimetic ‘danger’ clues, but in a way that resolves instantly to turn attention from avoid to approach.  The giant jellyfish and whales floating above the strip tap into our attentional priority mechanisms for natural cues.  And of course, it all fits the surprisingly obvious cognitive structure that creates ‘Wow!’.  A giant smiley emoji floating above the Vegas skyline is initially surprising, but also pretty obvious once you realize it is the sphere! 

And this is of course a dynamic display, that once it captures your attention, then advertises the upcoming U2 show or other paid advertising.  As I mentioned before, that advertising does not come cheap, but it does come with pretty much guaranteed engagement.  You really do need to see it for yourself if you can, but I’ve also captured some video here:

The Real Innovation Magic: The outside of The Sphere is stunning, but the inside goes even further, and provides a new and disruptive technology platform that opens the door for all sorts of creativity and innovation in entertainment and beyond. The potential to leverage the super-additive power of multi-sensory combinations to command attention and emotion is staggering.

The opening act was U2, and the show has received mostly positive but also mixed reviews. Everyone raves about the staggering visual effects, the sound quality, and the spectacle. But others do point out that the band itself gets somewhat lost, and/or is overshadowed by the new technology.

But this is just the beginning.   The technology platform is truly disruptive innovation that will open the door for all sorts of innovation and creativity. It fundamentally challenges the ‘givens’ of what a concert is. The U2 show is still based on and marketed as the band being the ‘star’ of the show. But the Sphere is an unprecedented immersive multimedia experience that can and likely will change that completely, making the venue the star itself. The potential for great musicians, visual and multisensory artist to create unprecedented customer experience is enormous.  Artists from Gaga to Muse, or their successors must be salivating at the potential to bring until now impossible visions to life, and deliver multi-sensory experience to audiences on a scale not previously imagined. Disruptive innovation often emerges at the interface of previous expertise, and the potential for hybrid sensory experiences that the Sphere offer are unprecedented. Imagine visuals created and inspired by the Webb telescope accompanied by an orchestra that sonically surrounds the audience in ways they’ve never experienced or perhaps imagined. And of course, new technology will challenge new creative’s to leverage it in ways we haven’t yet imagined.  Cawsie Jijina, the engineer who designed the Sphere maybe says it best:

You have the best audio there possibly can be today. You have the best visual there can possible be today. Now you just have to wait and let some artist meet some batshit crazy engineer and techie and create something totally new.” 

This technology platform will stimulate emergent blends of creative innovation that will challenge our expectations of what a show is.  It will likely require both creative’s and audiences to give up on some pre-conceptions. But I love to see a new technology emerge in front of my eyes. We ain’t seen nothing yet. 

Las Vegas Sphere Halloween

Image credits: Pete Foley

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Your Innovation is Dictated by Who You Are & What You Do

Your Innovation is Dictated by Who You Are & What You Do

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Using only three words, how would you describe your company?

Better yet, what three words would your customers use to describe your company?

These three words capture your company’s identity. They answer, “who we are” and “what business we’re in.”  They capture a shared understanding of where customers allow you to play and how you take action to win. 

Everything consistent with this identity is normal, safe, and comfortable.

Everything inconsistent with this identity is weird, risky, and scary.

Your identity is killing innovation.

Innovation is something new that creates value.

Identity is carefully constructed, enduring, and fiercely protected and reinforced.

When innovation and identity conflict, innovation usually loses.

Whether the innovation is incremental, adjacent, or radical doesn’t matter. If it conflicts with the company’s identity, it will join the 99.9% of innovations that are canceled before they ever launch.

Your identity can supercharge innovation.

When innovation and identity guide and reinforce each other, it doesn’t matter if the innovation is incremental, adjacent, or radical.  It can win.

Identity-based Innovation changes your perspective. 

We typically think about innovation as falling into three types based on the scope of change to the business model:

  1. Incremental innovations that make existing offerings better, faster, and cheaper for existing customers and use our existing business model
  2. Adjacent innovations are new offerings in new categories, appeal to new customers, require new processes and activities to create or use new revenue models
  3. Radical innovations that change everything – offerings, customers, processes and activities, and revenue models

These types make sense IF we’re perfectly logical and rational beings capable of dispassionately evaluating data and making decisions.  SPOILER ALERT: We’re not.  We decide with our hearts (emotions, values, fears, and desires) and justify those decisions with our heads (logic and data).

So, why not use an innovation-typing scheme that reflects our humanity and reality?

That’s where Identity-based Innovation categories come in:

  1. Identity-enhancing innovations reinforce and strengthen people’s comfort and certainty in who they are and what they do relative to the organization.  “Organizational members all ‘know’ what actions are acceptable based on a shared understanding of what the organization represents, and this knowledge becomes codified u a set of heuristics about which innovative activities should be pursued and which should be dismissed.”
  2. Identity-stretching innovations enable and stretch people’s understanding of who they are and what they do in an additive, not threatening, way to their current identities.
  3. Identity-challenging innovations are threats and tend to occur in one of two contexts:
    • Extreme technological change that “results in the obsolescence of a product market or the convergence of multiple product markets.” (challenges “who we are”)
    • Competitors or new entrants that launch new offerings or change the basis of competition (challenges “what we do”)

By looking at your innovations through the lens of identity (and, therefore, people’s decision-making hearts), you can more easily identify the ones that will be supported and those that will be axed.

It also changes your results.

“Ok, nerd,” you’re probably thinking.  “Thanks for dragging me into your innovation portfolio geek-out.”

Fair, but let me illustrate the power of this perspective using some examples from P&G.

OfferingBusiness-Model TypesIdentity-based Categories
Charmin Smooth TearIncremental
Made Charmin easier to tear
Identity-enhancing
Reinforced Charmin’s premium experience
SwifferAdjacent
New durable product in an existing category (floor cleaning)
Identity-enhancing
Reinforced P&G’s identity as a provider of best-in-class cleaning products
Tide Dry CleanersRadical
Moved P&G into services and uses a franchise model
Identity-stretching
Dry cleaning service is consistent with P&G’s identity but stretches into providing services vs. just products

Do you see what happened on that third line?  A Radical Innovation was identity-stretching (not challenging), and it’s in the 0.1% of corporate innovations that launched!  It’s in 22 states!

The Bottom Line

If you look at innovation in the same way you always have, through the lens of changes to your business model, you’ll get the same innovation results you always have.

If you look at innovation differently, through the lens of how it affects personal and organizational identity, you’ll get different results.  You may even get radical results.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Why Successful Innovators Are Curious Like Cats

Why Successful Innovators Are Curious Like Cats

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

In our previous blog, we shared how consciousness, imagination, and curiosity are the fundamental precursors to creativity, invention, and innovation. Where consciousness encapsulates our states and qualities of mind, our capacity for imagination and curiosity are the necessary states of mind that stimulate creativity, all of which propel successful innovators to bring the new to the world differently.

Yet, according to a recent article by the Singularity Hub “OpenAI’s GPT-4 Scores in the Top 1% of Creative Thinking”:

“Of all the forms of human intellect that one might expect artificial intelligence to emulate, few people would likely place creativity at the top of their list. Creativity is wonderfully mysterious—and frustratingly fleeting. It defines us as human beings—and seemingly defies the cold logic that lies behind the silicon curtain of machines.”

We have a “Sputnik moment” to further our creative abilities

Revealing that their recent study into the striking originality of AI is an indication, that AI-based creativity – along with examples of both its promise and peril – is likely just beginning.

“The creative abilities now realized by AI may provide a “Sputnik moment” for educators and others interested in furthering human creative abilities, including those who see creativity as an essential condition of individual, social, and economic growth”.

  • What if we, as humans, could compete with, and perhaps even complement, AI-based creativity and become successful innovators?
  • How might we spark our imagination and curiosity to gain new knowledge that reduces ignorance and sustains our relevance to benefit all of humanity?

How does this link to cats – successful innovators are like cats!

As an animal lover, and the second servant to two sublime household pet cats, I have always wondered why our cats are so curious, always exploring and getting into everything, and yet are also well known for having at least nine lives.

This, in many ways, is a similar experience of many successful innovators, who apply their capacity for imagination and curiosity to explore and navigate the edges of the system and wander into wonder into surprising states of boundarylessness.

In a LinkedIn blog, David Miller shares that:

“Leonardo Da Vinci taught us that curiosity is the basis for creativity and innovation. The more relentless our curiosity, the more likely we will be innovative and creative, and possibly one step closer to perfection. If we want to build innovative organizations, we should start by creating curious organizations which nurture and enhance the curiosity of people”.

  • Exploration and discovery

According to a post in Quora, “Why are cats so curious” the common saying that “curiosity killed the cat,” is not entirely accurate and states that:

“Cats are naturally curious animals, who also have a strong survival instinct that helps them avoid dangerous situations. Humans, on the other hand, have evolved to have a powerful curiosity that drives them to explore and discover new things”.

  • Imagination and curiosity

Suggesting that intentionally applying our imagination and curiosity, potentially enables us humans to become successful innovators, who can both survive and thrive, in today’s globally hyperconnected, constantly uncertain and continuously changing VUCA/BANI world, in ways that benefit all of humanity.

Where we have an opportunity to focus and harness our imagination and curiosity toward becoming successful innovators who cultivate and exploit their curiosity as a radical force.

Curiosity as a radical force for unforeseen bonuses

According to the author, Philip Ball in his book Curiosity – How Science Became Interested in Everything curiosity is a radical force, introduced in the mid-sixteenth century, fuelled within scientists and philosophers with a compulsion to understand why and how.

Enabling curiosity to become the engine that drives both knowledge and power, reduces ignorance and has become a source of “unforeseen practical bonuses” in all of the sciences, and innovations, since then.

Curiosity and creativity spur innovation

Curiosity is derived from the Latin “cura” which means to care. In a sense, this potentially makes successful innovators and innovative entrepreneurs “curators” of curiosities and strangeness.

Richard Freyman, in an article on curiosity, in the FS blog, states that curiosity has to:

“Do with people wondering what makes something do something. And then to discover, if you try to get answers, that they are related to each other – that thing that makes the wind make the waves, that the motion of water is like the motion of air is like the motion of sand. The fact that things have common features. It turns out more and more universal. What we are looking for is how everything works. What makes everything work”.

Someone who evokes and cares for what exists now and for what could exist possibly exists in the future by:

  • Demonstrating the mental acuity, fitness, and readiness to find the peculiar and the unusual in what surrounds them, and an ability to break up familiarities and seek new associations and unlikely connections,
  • Disregarding convention and traditional hierarchies, and allowing their minds to wander into spaces that are unknown, invisible, and intangible,
  • Harnessing their attention and patience to evoke, provoke, incubate, and generate deep and bold questions that they listen to, to result in profound* insights.

What can successful innovators learn from cats?

A recent blog post, Why Are Cats So Curious? The Science Behind Cat Curiosity, explains that a cat’s insatiable curiosity develops as a result of its survival instinct. Cats have mental acuity and fitness, because like successful innovators, they are:

  • Incredibly intelligent, and have the ability to learn from experience and remember it for years.
  • Opportunistic creatures, and are always on the lookout for a chance to explore their environments.
  • Attentive and observant, and have a heightened sense of awareness and constantly observe their surroundings, and listen deeply, to attend to, and discover any new, or missing objects or movements in their environment.
  • Always on the move, and are driven by their need for constant exploration and mental stimulation.
  • Protective in investigating any potential threats to their own and others close to them.

How to cultivate your curiosity like Leonardo De Vinci

The creative brain balances intense focus with relaxed states like daydreaming and the time and space for mind wondering and wandering. Doing this activates both our imagination and curiosity and guides any problem-solving efforts with emergent, divergent, and convergent breakthrough ideas and illuminating insights.

  1. Active minds, and are always asking powerful questions and searching for answers in their minds, through mind wandering and mind wondering in expectation and anticipation of new ideas and increased knowledge related to their questions.

They are grounded, mindful, and attentive in observing and recognizing ideas when they emerge.

Be a successful innovator like Da Vinci ask bold and difficult questions, listen deeply, and use the answers to develop your knowledge, and to inform your creative ideas for invention and innovation:

  • How can I see this situation with fresh eyes?
  1. Open minds, and come from not knowing, are always searching, sensing, and discovering new worlds and possibilities that are normally not visible, in that they are often hidden behind or below the surface of normal life.

They are open to sensing, perceiving, and illuminating possibilities to crystalize new ideas.

Be a successful innovator, like Da Vinci, and keep notebooks and a daily journal by retreating, reflecting, and recording your time mind wandering and wondering in your search for insights and answers to things you don’t yet understand.

  • What might I be assuming about……?
  1. Flexibility, adaptability, provocation and playfulness, and challenging routines, seek excitement, new adventures, and a variety of things that attract attention, increase knowledge and play, and search for a more meaningful life.

They seek learning as a fun way of expanding and applying both knowledge and imagination, as a mechanism for co-creating ideas, staying relevant, and being informed and innovating in ways that illuminate people’s hearts and minds towards effecting positive change.

Be a successful innovator, like Da Vinci and ask provocative and disruptive questions, such as: “Why do shells exist on top of mountains, why is lightning visible immediately, but the sound of thunder takes longer to travel? How does a bird sustain itself up in the air”?

  • What am I missing? What matters most?

Increasing our knowledge for the benefit of humanity

Like cats, and like Albert Einstein, we can apply our imagination and curiosity and become successful innovators who explore and navigate the edges of the system, wander into wonder and surprising states of boundarylessness, in ways that benefit all of humanity, and make cultivating and harness your imagination and curiosity a daily habit:

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.” – Life Magazine 1955

Find out about our collective, learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, presented by Janet Sernack, is a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, starting October 3, 2023.

It is a blended and transformational change and learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of an ecosystem focus, human-centric approach, and emergent structure (Theory U) to innovation, and upskill people and teams and develop their future fitness, within your unique innovation context. Find out more about our products and tools.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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An Innovation Lesson From The Rolling Stones

An Innovation Lesson From The Rolling Stones

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

If you’re like most people, you’ve faced disappointment. Maybe the love of your life didn’t return your affection, you didn’t get into your dream college, or you were passed over for promotion.  It hurts.  And sometimes, that hurt lingers for a long time.

Until one day, something happens, and you realize your disappointment was a gift.  You meet the true love of your life while attending college at your fallback school, and years later, when you get passed over for promotion, the two of you quit your jobs, pursue your dreams, and live happily ever after. Or something like that.

We all experience disappointment.  We also all get to choose whether we stay there, lamenting the loss of what coulda shoulda woulda been, or we can persevere, putting one foot in front of the other and playing The Rolling Stones on repeat:

“You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes, well, you might just find

You get what you need”

That’s life.

That’s also innovation.

As innovators, especially leaders of innovators, we rarely get what we want.  But we always get what we need (whether we like it or not)

We want to know. 
We need to be comfortable not knowing.

Most of us want to know the answer because if we know the answer, there is no risk. There is no chance of being wrong, embarrassed, judged, or punished.  But if there is no risk, there is no growth, expansion, or discovery.

Innovation is something new that creates value. If you know everything, you can’t innovate.

As innovators, we need to be comfortable not knowing.  When we admit to ourselves that we don’t know something, we open our minds to new information, new perspectives, and new opportunities. When we say we don’t know, we give others permission to be curious, learn, and create. 

We want the creative genius and billion-dollar idea. 
We need the team and the steady stream of big ideas.

We want to believe that one person blessed with sufficient time, money, and genius can change the world.  Some people like to believe they are that person, and most of us think we can hire that person, and when we do find that person and give them the resources they need, they will give us the billion-dollar idea that transforms our company, disrupts the industry, and change the world.

Innovation isn’t magic.  Innovation is team work.

We need other people to help us see what we can’t and do what we struggle to do.  The idea-person needs the optimizer to bring her idea to life, and the optimizer needs the idea-person so he has a starting point.  We need lots of ideas because most won’t work, but we don’t know which ones those are, so we prototype, experiment, assess, and refine our way to the ones that will succeed.   

We want to be special.
We need to be equal.

We want to work on the latest and most cutting-edge technology and discuss it using terms that no one outside of Innovation understands. We want our work to be on stage, oohed and aahed over on analyst calls, and talked about with envy and reverence in every meeting. We want to be the cool kids, strutting around our super hip offices in our hoodies and flip-flops or calling into the meeting from Burning Man. 

Innovation isn’t about you.  It’s about serving others.

As innovators, we create value by solving problems.  But we can’t do it alone.  We need experienced operators who can quickly spot design flaws and propose modifications.  We need accountants and attorneys who instantly see risks and help you navigate around them.  We need people to help us bring our ideas to life, but that won’t happen if we act like we’re different or better.  Just as we work in service to our customers, we must also work in service to our colleagues by working with them, listening, compromising, and offering help.

What about you?
What do you want?
What are you learning you need?

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Curiosity and Collaboration in the Escape Room Adventure Playground

Curiosity and Collaboration in the Escape Room Adventure Playground

GUEST POST from Leo Chan

When’s the last time you felt curious? When’s the last time you fully immersed yourself in curiosity?

For me, it was this past weekend, during my escape room experience at Escape Games Canada

It’s only my second time with escape rooms. My first wasn’t positive. I actually really disliked it.

In reflection, I believe it was because I was too in my head and didn’t lean into curiousity enough back then. I didn’t know what to do. I stood around, confused and overwhelmed. So I watched my team while I stood there helpless.

This time, I was ready to jump in. I chose to let my curiosity lead. 

We were led into a very small room and after an intro sequence, the mission begun. During the intro, I looked around the room curiously. I noticed a small lantern-like light with an electrical symbol. Adjacent to it was an empty cavern with a power socket.

When the mission started, everyone stood wondering what to do.

💡The immediate next step was intuitive for me. I grabbed the lantern-like light, unplugged it and put into the adjacent power socket.

The door opened and we were onto the next part of the mission. “Cool! What’s next?” I thought.

The entire escape room experience was a fun exercise of curiousity and I found it delightful. I went into each room with lots of curiosity, wondering “What if I…? What happens if…?” I pushed buttons, pulled things, rotated, twisted objects, examined items, looked for patterns. It was thoroughly enjoyable.

Research shows when you satisfy your curiosity, your brain rewards you with a flood of dopamine. That’s why curious people are happy people.

Each new step of the escape room was another opportunity to exercise more curiousity. What would happen next? What would we be required to do? 

In addition to this curiousity extravaganza, I also loved that this escape room required real collaboration.

In one room, I noticed there were two joysticks and a button on one side of the room. On the other side of the room, there was a viewfinder (like a periscope).

I was curious about this and thought the two were linked together so I told my wife, “hey, go over to the viewfinder and tell me if anything changes when I move these joysticks around.” 

My curiosity was right. She said “Yes! It moves what I’m seeing!” We then proceeded to work together to figure out the puzzle.

In another room, we had to work together as a trio to solve a puzzle. We each stood in three parts of the room, interacting with the material and dialoging about what we were seeing and then using that as an input to the piece we were responsible for. Our collaboration leveraged our diverse perspectives and experiences. Some people needed to use math (thank goodness that wasn’t me), memorization, cartography, pattern recognition and other skills.

We couldn’t have achieved our mission without collaborating, it was literally impossible. We leaned into our diverse perspectives and experiences; it was wonderful!

As we left the escape room, I couldn’t help but thinking that I went through an immersive, innovation masterclass because the experience highlighted two very important innovation mindsets: curiosity & collaboration.

🌱Mindset #1: Curiosity is essential for innovation. It leads you to see new things, go down new paths and try new things. Walt Disney once said: 

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and trying new things, because we are curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” 

The problem with curiosity is that it’s become a buzzword. We tell people to “just be curious.” We’ve fallen prey to the belief that people are either curious or not curious. And the sad reality is, many adults have lost their curiosity. They’ve lost their child-like wonder. What if you could reinvigorate curiousity? What if you could learn how to be curious once again? It’s possible. 

🌱Mindset #2: Collaboration drives innovation. True collaboration allows us to see new perspectives, gain insights and reach unexpected outcomes. Walter Isaacson, author of The Innovators says this: 

Innovation comes from teams more than lightbulb moments of lone geniuses.

Collaboration is more mindset than skillset and most of us think we’re better collaborators than we really are. If you’ve experienced working in functional silos, a lack of communication, a lack of knowing what’s going on in other teams, you’ve experienced a lack of collaboration. A lack of collaboration roots in a lack of belief in the true power of collaboration. In order to move the needle on collaboration, you need to shift people’s mindsets on collaboration.

At the end of the escape room experience, my wife asked, “How did you know what to do? (It was her first ever escape room experience). I exclaimed, “It’s easy! I was curious!”

🪄Curiosity is powerful. In a 2019 research study, researchers discovered that a single-unit increase in curiosity on a seven-point scale was associated with 34% greater creativity.

🚀 Right now, I want you reflect on the following two prompts:

  1. How will you stimulate your curiosity todayIs there a topic you’ve been curious to learn more about? Maybe it’s a topic, hobby or interest of yours. Some popular topics these days include: Generative AI & ChatGPT. Once you’ve identified an area of curiosity, go and learn about it. Explore it and enjoy the process. I’m giving you permission right now to go and do this. After you’re done, come back and share your experiences with me!
  2. Who could you collaborate with on something you’re working on? It doesn’t matter if it’s a small or big thing. Invite them into your work and get their perspective. You’ll gain fresh insights and new ideas from them. Pro tip: Find someone you NORMALLY wouldn’t ask. Be surprised by what they share with you.

🌱Both curiosity and the collaborative mindset can be taught and nurtured. If you want to know how and bring this to your team, please reach out! I’d be happy to help.

Image credit: Leo Chan

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