Category Archives: Creativity

Are You Hanging Your Chief Innovation Officer Out to Dry?

Are You Hanging Your Chief Innovation Officer Out to Dry?

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

Only 7 percent of companies are delivering on the growth triple play by unifying creativity, analytics, and purpose. They are driving average revenue growth of 2.3 times versus peers from 2018–19 (which increased to 2.7 times versus peers from 2019–20). McKinsey

Many innovation leaders are feeling “hung out to dry.” It’s not for the lack of desire to innovate for sure. The challenge is the current innovation processes themselves are not always conducive to actually innovating:

  1. the effort hits the balance sheet and potentially impacts profits
  2. organizational teams fear the unknown and not being involved so often does not support the effort
  3. some innovation leaders alienate team members by pushing too hard
  4. and the priorities of the day simply just get in the way of doing new things.

Innovation is not a buzzword, it is not easy or for the faint at heart. In a hyper-disruptive economy where technologies are impacting everything and changing at unfathomable speeds, keeping pace with trends will take a concentrated effort with very little tolerance for complacency.

Times of uncertainty bring times of doubt and fear on taking risks and making changes. However, the opposite is needed to continue growth in challenging economic times. Companies that infuse creativity and combine creativity with analytics and as McKinsey notes, PURPOSE, continue growth at a faster pace. These companies are creating new products that matter to their customers, they are innovating new campaigns and ways to engage customers as well as new ways to acquire new customers. Innovating methods, business models, and campaigns are just a few outcomes of driving creativity and an analytic savvy in your company’s culture.

Innovation does not have to be groundbreaking disruption (of course it can be! but does not have to be). Iterative changes to the benefit of future needs of customers can be a ground-breaking change for your company’s growth strategy. What is your company’s risk tolerance? What freedom to play with new ideas does your innovation team have or your new product development team encourage? How well aligned are creative process with sales, marketing and product teams?

Plazabridge Group has been involved with 100’s of projects over 15 years and we’ve seen success come to those that double down in the hardest times staying future focused. Segmenting out a future’s team that focuses on the future is important. The day-to-day business must keep going. There are a number of methodologies that work well but none will work at all without a few key changes to the organization to ensure ideas flow from ideation to commercialization.

In the The Wall Street Journal article: Why More Companies Are Putting the LEGO Group Bricks in the Office, Lego Serious Play (LSP) has been used by the U.S. Naval War College (Warfare Division), and spread across energy, transport and finance industries. Companies including Google, Ernst & Young, Microsoft, Visa, Lexus and Procter & Gamble have used it. Plazabridge Group uses LSP in our innovation future planning workshops for companies.

The key is not all play! The necessity to drive a stronger analytic savvy is critical to the effort. In the efforts to create, we must answer the questions: WHO CARES? and WHY? and WHAT WILL THEY CARE ABOUT IN THE FUTURE?

Here are a few tips to consider that may help make driving innovating just a bit easier on the organization:

  1. Build your innovation team’s sandbox and give them freedom to work within these constraints. Innovation is not permission to roam freely and haphazardly. Under a defined set of guidelines with a defined budget and set of resources the innovation team can be quite effective.
  2. Remove barriers to approvals under the above guidelines. Allow the innovation team to introduce to departments and company leaders new ways of thinking by hosting events or information sessions to the teams. By doing so it begins to remove fear of the unknown and the mystery around the effort. Open communications and systems can be a very positive outcome.
  3. Don’t be afraid to approach innovation from outside. There are a number of ways to do this, but you will need a strong leader inside to lead the way and manage the inside out and the outside in process.
  4. Recognize that new innovations do not always fit nicely in the current company structure, processes and culture. Consider spinning it out and investing in new ventures as their own entities.

At the end of the day, you need strong people with a tenacity to pursue outside the world of the unknown. This does not always feel comfortable to the organization. Just don’t leave the innovation team “hanging out to dry!”

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You Can’t Innovate Without This One Thing

You Can't Innovate Without This One Thing

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

It just landed on your desk. Or maybe you campaigned to get it. Or perhaps you just started doing it. How the title of “Innovation Leader” got to your desk doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that it’s there, along with a budget and loads of expectations.

Of course, now that you have the title and the budget, you need a team to do the work and deliver the results.

Who should you look for? The people that perform well in the current business, with its processes, structures, and (relative) predictability, often struggle to navigate the constant uncertainty and change of innovation. But just because someone struggles in the process and structure of the core business doesn’t mean they’ll thrive creating something new.

What are the qualities that make someone a successful innovator?

70 answers

A lot of people have a lot to say about the qualities and characteristics that make someone an innovator. When you combine the first four Google search results for “characteristics of an innovator” with the five most common innovation talent assessments, you end up with a list of 70 different (and sometimes conflicting) traits.

The complete list is at the end of this article, but here are the characteristics that appeared more than once:

  1. Curious
  2. Persistent
  3. Continuously reflective
  4. Creative
  5. Driven
  6. Experiments
  7. Imaginative
  8. Passionate

It’s a good list, but remember, there are 62 other characteristics to consider. And that assumes that the list is exhaustive.

+1 Answer

It’s not. Something is missing.

There is one characteristic shared by every successful innovator I’ve worked with and every successful leader of innovation. It’s rarely the first (or second or third) word used to describe them, but eventually, it emerges, always said quietly, after great reflection and with dawning realization.

Vulnerability.

Whether you rolled your eyes or pumped your fist at the word made famous by Brene Brown, you’ve no doubt heard it and formed an opinion about it.

Vulnerability is the “quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”  Without it, innovation is impossible.

Innovation requires the creation of something new that creates value. If something is new, some or all of it is unknown. If there are unknowns, there are risks. Where there are risks, there is the possibility of being wrong, which opens you up to attack or harm.

When you talk to people to understand their needs, vulnerability allows you to hear what they say (versus what you want them to say).

In brainstorming sessions, vulnerability enables you to speak up and suggest an idea for people to respond to, build on, or discard.

When you run experiments, vulnerability ensures that you accurately record and report the data, even if the results aren’t what you hoped.

Most importantly, as a leader, vulnerability inspires trust, motivates your team, engages your stakeholders, and creates the environment and culture required to explore, learn, and innovate continuously.

n + 1 is the answer

Just as you do for every job in your company, recruit the people with the skills required to do the work and the mindset and personality to succeed in your business’ context and culture.

Once you find them, make sure they’re willing to be vulnerable and support and celebrate others’ vulnerability. Then, and only then, will you be the innovators your company needs.


Here’s the full list of characteristics:

  1. Action-oriented, gets the job done
  2. Adaptable
  3. Ambitious
  4. Analytical, high information capacity, digs through facts
  5. Associative Thinker, makes uncommon connections
  6. Breaks Boundaries, disruptive
  7. Business minded
  8. Collaborative
  9. Compelling Leader
  10. Competitive
  11. Consistent
  12. Continuously reflects (x3)
  13. Courageous
  14. Creative (x3)
  15. Curious (x4), asks questions, inquisitive, investigates
  16. Delivers results, seeks tangible outcomes
  17. Disciplined
  18. Divergent Thinker
  19. Driven (x3)
  20. Energetic
  21. Experiments (x2)
  22. Financially oriented
  23. Flexible, fluid
  24. Formally educated and trained
  25. Futuristic
  26. Giving, works to benefit others, wants to make the world better
  27. Goal-oriented
  28. Has a Growth mindset
  29. Highly confident
  30. Honest
  31. Imaginative (x2)
  32. Influential, lots of social capital
  33. Instinctual
  34. Intense
  35. Iterating between abstract and concrete thinking
  36. Learns through experiences
  37. Likes originality, seeks novelty
  38. Loyal
  39. Motivated by change, open to new experiences
  40. Networks, relates well to others
  41. Observes
  42. Opportunistic mindset, recognizes opportunities
  43. Opportunity focused
  44. Passionate (x2)
  45. Patient
  46. Persistent (x4)
  47. Persuasive
  48. Playful
  49. Pragmatic
  50. Proactive
  51. Prudent
  52. Rapidly recognizes patterns
  53. Resilient
  54. Resourceful
  55. Respects other innovators
  56. Seeks understanding
  57. Self-confident
  58. Socially intelligent
  59. Stamina
  60. Takes initiative
  61. Takes risks
  62. Team-oriented
  63. Thinks big picture
  64. Thrives in uncertainty
  65. Tough
  66. Tweaks solutions constantly
  67. Unattached exploration
  68. Visionary
  69. Wants to get things right
  70. Willing to Destroy

And the sources:

Image Credit: Pixabay

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People Drive the World-Technology as a Co-Pilot via Center of Human Compassion

People Drive the World-Technology as a Co-Pilot via Center of Human Compassion

GUEST POST from Teresa Spangler

People at the Center – Technology as a Co-Pilot

Are people at the center of your innovation and new product plans? Have we made people the center of all things digital? Are human’s and our environment the center of the new world entering the 4th Industrial Revolution? When innovation is during groundbreaking disruptive inventions or whether innovation is iterating into new products… what is placed at the center of your strategies? What are the reasons for these new inventions?

So much is at stake, as the world turns to being driven by AI, humanoids, rockets’ red glare searching for new lands to inhabit, games and more games feeding our brains with virtual excitement and stimulation, devices galore on our bodies, in our hands, in our homes helping us navigate our every move and in many ways directing us on how to think. The acceleration of digital permeating our lives is mind boggling. The news we are fed, seemingly unbiased, the product advertisements that sneak into our feeds, the connections via too many social and work-related networks that appear all too promising and friendly too is overwhelming. Technology is encompassing our lives!

The Power of Technology

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology for all the positive it contributes to the world. Technology is allowing individuals to create! To create and earn! To take control of their lives and build meaningful endeavors. The creation of TIME and SPACE to live how we to live has been a major outcome of

1. technology but also 2. the pandemic.

Let’s explore the creator economy which has experienced an explosion of late. As referenced in the Forbes articleThe Biggest Trends For 2022 In Creator Economy And Web3, by Maren Thomas Bannon, Today, the total size of the creator economy is estimated to be over $100 billion and 50 million people worldwide consider themselves creators. Creators will continue to bulge out of the global fabric as individuals seek to augment their incomes or escape the confines or rigged corporate cultures. Technology is enabling creators no doubt!

Technology is also allowing forward acting organizations to scale growth at unprecedented speeds. Let’s look at a recent survey conducted by Accenture

Curious about the effects of the pandemic, we completed a second round of research in early 2021 and discovered the following:

  1. Technology Leaders have moved even further ahead of the pack and have been growing at 5x the rate of Laggards on average in the past three years.
  2. Among the “Others” there is a group of organizations—18% of the entire sample—that has been able to break previous performance barriers—the Leapfroggers.

Let’s look at a recent survey conducted by Accenture

Curious about the effects of the pandemic, we completed a second round of research in early 2021 and discovered the following:

  1. Technology Leaders have moved even further ahead of the pack and have been growing at 5x the rate of Laggards on average in the past three years.
  2. Among the “Others” there is a group of organizations—18% of the entire sample—that has been able to break previous performance barriers—the Leapfroggers.

Of course, so much technology is doing good things for the world. 3-D printing is emerging at the center of homelessness. As reported in the #NYTIMES, this tiny village in Mexico is housing homeless people. The homes were built using an oversized 3-D printer.

Another example positive outcomes of technology is the emergence of over-the-counter hearing devices. Fortune Business Insights estimates the global hearing aids market is projected to grow from $6.67 billion in 2021 to $11.02 billion by 2028 at a CAGR of 7.4% in forecast period, 2021-2028.

These devices, until this year, were regulated to being sold by medical professionals at, for the majority of population in need, very high prices $2000 to $5000+ per hearing aid. Yes typically you need two. But recent innovations in ear buds and bluetooth are allowing other technology companies into the game! Take Bose for example, the FDA recently approved Bose SoundControl Hearing Aids to be purchased on their website for $895/pair. No need for a hearing professional. This significantly changes the playing field and opens the doors for so many that have put off purchases (of these not covered by insurance by the way) devices.

Entertainment & leisure travel is going to a whole new level with the help of technology. It’s wonderful that anyone with connectivity and travel the world and explore via Virtual Reality. Here are 52 places you can explore in the comfort of your home shared by NY Times. Many of us attended conferences and events over the past two years virtually. We’ll see an exponential growth in virtual reality experiences in the coming year.

So why am I talking about creating a Center for Human Compassion if so much good is really coming out of technology? Because many of the outcomes are also unrealized and not anticipated or at least publicized to prepare people. It is essential for companies, technologists, and product teams to consider the consequences of new technologies. Not as an afterthought but at the forethought, from inception of ideas we must ask what are the downsides? How will people be affected? What could happen?

The quote below is taken from the World Economic Forum report, Positive AI Economic Futures

machines will be able to do most tasks better than humans. Given these sorts of predictions, it is important to think about the possible consequences of AI for the future of work and to prepare for different scenarios. Continued progress in these technologies could have disruptive effects: from further exacerbating recent trends in inequality to denying more and more people their sense of purpose and fulfillment in life, given that work is much more than just a source of income.

WeForum brings 150 thought leaders together to share thoughts on how we create an AI world we want. For all of AI’s good, there are potentials for negative outcomes.

Let’s take the military’s fight again hobbyists and drones. In the recent article from WSJ, The Military’s New Challenge: Defeating Cheap Hobbyist Drones, how much energy was placed on Human Compassion if drone technologies, IoT and AI got in the wrong hands?

The U.S. is racing to combat an ostensibly modest foe: hobbyist drones that cost a few hundred dollars and can be rigged with explosives. @WSJ

I feel certain there was some consideration but not enough to draw out possible negative impacts and how to mitigate them before they could even start. Did we really put people at the center of what is possible with drone technologies? What do you think?

This is no easy task. We know what is good for us can turn to bad for us when in the wrong hands, or if it’s not moderated to healthy limits. How do we help facilitate a more compassionate relationship with technology and put people at the center?

Here are four strategies to ensure you are keeping people at the center of your innovation, new products and technology development efforts.

  1. Create a Center of Human Compassion, or People Centered Technology Consortium, or what ever you wish to brand your initiative. Select trusted advisors from external (customers, partners…) and a select group of internal stake holders to join your collaborative to gather input, feedback and push back!
  2. Discuss with your trusted group very early on. Gamify initiatives around gathering what ifs! Anticipating the worst you will plan better for the best! (leaving the hope out)
  3. Build a continuous feedback loop. It is important that insights and scenarios are revisited and rehashed over and over again.
  4. Join other consortiums and get involved with AI and tech for good initiatives. If you can’t find ones you feel are of value to you and your company, start one!

Mantra for the year: #lucky2022 but not without work and placing people front and center of plans will good fortune and luck come for the masses.

As always, reach out if you have ideas you’d like to share or questions you’d like to discuss!

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The Battle Against the Half-Life of Learning

The Battle Against the Half-Life of Learning

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Leading with learning in mind is a necessary skill to consistently innovate as a team. Continually learning and revisiting skill sets is crucial to combating the half-life of learning.

As leaders, it’s important to make time available to our employees to freshen up their skills and knowledge through programs and tools. It’s equally important to ask ourselves, “how am I helping to provide the right resources?”.

Below, we’ll discuss the following:

  • What is the half-life of learning?
  • How can we contribute as leaders?
  • Why should individual growth be the focus?

What is the half-life of learning?

Now, what is the half-life of learning? For one, it’s something that is not talked about frequently enough. It affects all of us, no matter what we specialize in and touch day-to-day. It lives within marketing campaigns, our bodies, the living things around us, our skill sets, and more.

Put succinctly, it’s the halfway point of one’s strength becoming ineffective. Regarding learning or knowledge, the half-life is the halfway point for a current skill set or facts to no longer be true or effective. 

Ernest Rutherford discovered the concept of a half-life within the context of science. He deduced that it takes a certain period of time for an element to decay halfway.

For example, we can ask, “what’s the half-life of caffeine in a group of 100 people?“ Caffeine’s half-life is about five fours. By the fifth hour, the caffeine’s effects have fully diminished within half (50/100) of the people. Within the half-life period of the next five hours, the effects expire on half of the remaining 50 people (25/100), and so on. Like any other element, its effects vary per person, but the half-life serves as a comprehensible range for its lifespan.

We can also practically apply this to work. Within marketing, how long can a campaign represent relevant and effective information? Within learning, how long are someone’s learned skills still relevant?

Say that you’ve been operating with skills you learned years ago. Since then, your competitive advantage with those learned skills has diminished. The World Economic Forum claims that “the half-life of a job skill is about five years (meaning that every five years, that skill is about half as valuable as it was before).”

How can we contribute as leaders?

Suppose you consciously support your employees in real learning, educating themselves, participating in important programs within their specialty, etc… In that case, they remain relevant in their field and are significantly more valuable in their role. It’s a no-brainer when spelled out. As leaders, we need to make this a priority and hold ourselves and others accountable for staying ahead rather than playing catch-up.

We lose information without practice and reinforcement. Putting this concept into practice is critical to working against the half-life of learning.

How are we approaching accountability in this realm? These organizations offer structuring opportunities for learning and upkeep accountability. At Voltage Control, we have programs designed to keep organizations on track and sustain change.

Maintaining a competitive advantage requires this continual learning. An environment for innovation can only be cultivated by staying ahead of the curve with knowledge and skills.

What are the best resources for knowledge? Knowledge can be taught with content. Find the relevant educational content, and commit to time with it regularly. Are there education programs that employees can attend? Who in the space is in the business of educating others? We should be absorbing information that’s new to us.

It’s also key to observe trends within certain fields. What is changing within their expertise in the next ten years, and is knowledge or experience required?

What are the best resources for skills? They’ve learned through experience with others. The more we can encourage collaboration amongst individuals, the better our team. We develop skills by learning from those with more or different experiences, so it’s important to have confidence in your team’s structure and provide room for growth within the company, as well as to educate individuals about the half-life of learning so that they’re invested in their growth.

Setting aside time specifically for continuing education in both knowledge and skills is vital.

Where are we headed?

As innovators, not only do we need to be ready to address change. We need to expect it and get well ahead of it.

Within the workplace, demand does not match supply long-term. In 2020, the World Economic Forum claimed, “This lack of attention to upscaling will lead to an urgent disparity between workers and jobs. In the future, nine out of 10 jobs will require digital skills, yet today 44% of Europeans age 16 to 43 lack even basic digital abilities. In Europe, the impending skills gap will lead to 1.67 million unfilled vacancies for ICT professionals by 2025.”

The world around us is constantly evolving.

The half-life of learning is something to be embraced. It’s an opportunity to recognize that everyone’s skills fade and that innovation will always play a role in our lives. It’s a matter of whether we choose to continue learning or accept our past experience as the extent of it. Learning and management play equal roles in the workplace. To impact our work, leaders need to allow employees the time and resources to develop and learn information relevant to business goals.

Why should individual growth be the focus?

Keeping this half-life of learning in mind is crucial from a hiring perspective. Degrees from decades ago have little to nothing to do with the knowledge that’s relevant now. Thinking long-term, it’s also important to consider how roles need to evolve with time. Automation is likely to greatly impact needed skill sets in the current decade. For example, McKinsey claims, “6 of 10 current occupations have more than 30% of technically automatable activities.” They claim that while job opportunities will still exist, a significant portion of the population will need to learn new skill sets to remain relevant.

People need to feel that there’s room for groove within their rules and that their responsibilities can develop as they do. How are we allowing employees to explore their interests and strengths? Are we using them to our advantage within the organization? Are we allowing them the flexibility to understand their strengths and value?

Article originally published on VoltageControl.com

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Why Stupid Questions Are Important to Innovation

Why Stupid Questions Are Important to Innovation

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

16 year-old girl Gracie Cunningham created a firestorm recently when she posted a video to TikTok asking “is math real?” More specifically, she wanted to know why ancient mathematicians came up with algebraic concepts such as “y=mx+b.” “What would you need it for?” she asked, when they didn’t even have plumbing.

The video went viral on twitter, gathering millions of views and the social media universe immediately pounced, with many ridiculing how stupid it was. Mathematicians and scientists, however, felt otherwise and remarked how profound her questions were. Cornell’s Steve Strogatz even sent her a thoughtful answer to her question.

We often overlook the value of simple questions, because we think intelligence has something to do with ability to recite rote facts. Yet intellect is not about knowing all the answers, but in asking better questions. That’s how we expand knowledge and gain deeper understanding. In fact, the most profound answers often come from seemingly silly questions.

What Would It Be Like to Ride on a Bolt of Lightning?

Over a century ago, a teenage boy not unlike Gracie Cunningham asked a question that was seemingly just as silly as hers. He wanted to know what it would be like to ride on a bolt of lightning shining a lantern forward. Yet much like Gracie’s, his question belied a deceptive profundity. You see, a generation earlier, the great physicist James Clerk Maxwell published his famous equations which established that the speed of light was constant.

To understand why the question was so important, think about riding on a train that’s traveling at 40 miles an hour and tossing a ball forward at 40 miles an hour. To you, the ball appears to be traveling at 40 miles an hour, but to someone standing still outside the train the ball would appear to be going 80 miles an hour (40+40).

So now you can see the problem with riding on a bolt of lightning with a lantern. According to the principle by which the ball on the train appears to be traveling at 80 miles an hour, the light from the lantern should be traveling at twice the speed of light. But according to Maxwell’s equations, the speed of light is fixed.

It took Albert Einstein 10 years to work it all out, but in 1905, he published his theory of special relativity, which stated that, while the speed of light is indeed constant, time and space are relative. As crazy as that sounds, you only need to take a drive in your car to prove it’s true. GPS satellites are calibrated according to Einstein’s equations, so if you get to where you want to go you have, in a certain sense, proved the special theory of relativity.

A bit later Einstein asked another seemingly silly question about what it would be like to travel in an elevator in space, which led him to his general theory of relativity.

Who Shaves the Barber’s Beard?

Around the time young Albert Einstein was thinking about riding on a bolt of lightning, others were pondering an obscure paradox about a barber, which went something like this:

If the barber shaves every man who does not shave himself, who shaves the barber?

If he shaves himself, he violates the statement and if he doesn’t shave himself, he also violates the statement.

Again, like Gracie’s question, the barber’s paradox seems a bit silly and childish. In reality it is a more colloquial version of Russell’s paradox about sets that are members of themselves, which shook the foundations of mathematics a century ago. Statements, such as 2+2=4, are supposed to be either true or false. If contradictions could exist, it would represent a massive hole at the center of logic.

Eventually, the crisis came to a head and David Hilbert, the greatest mathematician of the age, created a program of questions that, if answered in the affirmative, would resolve the dilemma. To everyone’s surprise, in short order, a young scholar named Kurt Gödel would publish his incompleteness theorems, which showed that a logical system could be either complete or consistent, but not both.

Put more simply, Gödel proved that every logical system would always crash. It was only a matter of time. Logic would remain broken forever. However, there was a silver lining to it all. A few years later, Alan Turing would build on Gödel’s work in his paper on computability, which itself would usher in the new era of modern computing.

Why Can’t Our Immune System Kill Cancer Cells?

The idea that our immune system could attack cancer cells doesn’t seem that silly on the surface. After all, it not only regularly kills other pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses and, in some cases, such as with autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, even attacks our own cells. Why would it ignore tumors?

Yet as Charles Graeber explains in his recent book, The Breakthrough, for decades most of the medical world dismissed the notion. Yes, there had been a few scattered cases in which cancer patients who had a severe infection had seen their tumors disappear, but every time they tried to design an actual cancer therapy based on immune response it failed miserably.

The mystery was eventually solved by a scientist named Jim Allison who, in 1995, had an epiphany. Maybe, he thought, that the problem wasn’t that our immune system can’t identify and attack cancer cells, but rather that the immune response is impeded somehow. He figured if he could block that process, it would revolutionize cancer care.

Today, cancer immunotherapy is considered to be the 4th pillar of cancer treatment and nobody questions whether our immune system can be deployed to fight cancer. Jim Allison won the Nobel Prize for his work in 2018.

The Power of a Question

Answers are easy. They resolve matters. Questions are harder. They point out gaps in our knowledge and inadequacies in our understanding. They make us uncomfortable. That’s why we are so apt to dismiss them altogether. So we can go about our business unhindered.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that young Gracie Cunningham’s TikTok garnered such strong reactions. It’s much easier to dismiss questions as silly than to take them on. That’s why Einstein was reduced to working in a patent office rather than at a university, why so many dismissed Russell’s paradox as meaningless and why Jim Allison had doors shut in his face for three years before he found a company willing to invest in his idea.

Yet what should also be obvious by now is that there is enormous value in raising questions that challenge things that we think we already know. Before questions were raised, it seemed obvious that time and space are absolute, that logical statements are either true or false and that our immune system can’t fight cancer.

The truth is that great innovators are not necessarily smarter, harder working or more ambitious than anyone else, but rather those who are constantly looking for new questions to ask and new problems to solve.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Pixabay

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Can You Ever Be a Truly Independent Thinker?

Can You Ever Be a Truly Independent Thinker?

GUEST POST from Tom Stafford, University of Sheffield

‘It’s important to me that I make my own decisions, but I often wonder how much they are actually influenced by cultural and societal norms, by advertising, the media and those around me. We all feel the need to fit in, but does this prevent us from making decisions for ourselves? In short, can I ever be a truly free thinker?’ Richard, Yorkshire.

There’s good news and bad news on this one. In his poem Invictus, William Ernest Henley wrote: “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

While being the lone “captain of your soul” is a reassuring idea, the truth is rather more nuanced. The reality is that we are social beings driven by a profound need to fit in – and as a consequence, we are all hugely influenced by cultural norms.

But to get to the specifics of your question, advertising, at least, may not influence you as much as you imagine. Both advertisers and the critics of advertising like us to think that ads can make us dance any way they want, especially now everything is digital and personalised ad targeting is possible in a way it never was before.


This article is part of Life’s Big Questions

The Conversation’s new series, co-published with BBC Future, seeks to answer our readers’ nagging questions about life, love, death and the universe. We work with professional researchers who have dedicated their lives to uncovering new perspectives on the questions that shape our lives.


In reality, there is no precise science of advertising. Most new products fail, despite the advertising they receive. And even when sales go up, nobody is exactly sure of the role advertising played. As the marketing pioneer John Wanamaker said:

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.

You’d expect advertisers to exaggerate the effectiveness of advertising, and scholars of advertising have typically made more modest claims. Even these, though, may be overestimates. Recent studies have claimed that both online and offline, the methods commonly used to study advertising effectiveness vastly exaggerate the power of advertising to change our beliefs and behaviour.

This has led some to claim that not just half, but perhaps nearly all advertising money is wasted, at least online.

When the ads don’t work…
Shutterstock

There are similar results outside of commerce. One review of field experiments in political campaigning argued “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero”. Zero!

In other words, although we like to blame the media for how people vote, it is surprisingly hard to find solid evidence of when and how people are swayed by the media. One professor of political science, Kenneth Newton, went so far as to claim “It’s Not the Media, Stupid”.

But although advertising is a weak force, and although hard evidence on how the media influences specific choices is elusive, every one of us is undoubtedly influenced by the culture in which we live.

Followers of fashion

Fashions exist both for superficial things, such as buying clothes and opting for a particular hairstyle, but also for more profound behaviour like murder and even suicide. Indeed, we all borrow so much from those we grow up around, and those around us now, that it seems impossible to put a clear line between our individual selves and the selves society forges for us.

Two examples: I don’t have any facial tattoos, and I don’t want any. If I wanted a facial tattoo my family would think I’d gone mad. But if I was born in some cultures, where these tattoos were common and conveyed high status, such as traditional Māori culture, people would think I was unusual if I didn’t want facial tattoos.

Similarly, if I had been born a Viking, I can assume that my highest ambition would have been to die in battle, axe or sword in hand. In their belief system, after all, that was surest way to Valhalla and a glorious afterlife. Instead, I am a liberal academic whose highest ambition is to die peacefully in bed, a long way away from any bloodshed. Promises of Valhalla have no influence over me.

Vikings had different beliefs to most modern liberal academics.
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Ultimately, I’d argue that all of our desires are patterned by the culture we happen to be born in.

But it gets worse. Even if we could somehow free ourselves from cultural expectations, other forces impinge on our thoughts. Your genes can affect your personality and so they must also, indirectly, have a knock-on effect on your beliefs.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, famously talked about the influence of parents and upbringing on behaviour, and he probably wasn’t 100% wrong. Even just psychologically, how can you ever think freely, separate from the twin influences of prior experience and other people?

From this perspective, all of our behaviours and our desires are profoundly influenced by outside forces. But does this mean they aren’t also our own?

The answer to this dilemma, I think, is not to free yourself from outside influences. This is impossible. Instead, you should see yourself and your ideas as the intersection of all the forces that come to play on you.

Some of these are shared – like our culture – and some are unique to you – your unique experience, your unique history and biology. Being a free thinker, from this perspective, means working out exactly what makes sense to you, from where you are now.

You can’t – and shouldn’t – ignore outside influences, but the good news is that these influences are not some kind of overwhelming force. All the evidence is compatible with the view that each of us, choice by choice, belief by belief, can make reasonable decisions for ourselves, not unshackled from the influences of others and the past, but free to chart our own unique paths forward into the future.

After all, the captain of a ship doesn’t sail while ignoring the wind – sometimes they go with it, sometimes against it, but they always account for it. Similarly, we think and make our choices in the context of all our circumstances, not by ignoring them.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image Credits: Pixabay, Shutterstock (via theconversation)

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Five Keys to Leading Creative Teams Successfully

Five Keys to Leading Creative Teams Successfully

GUEST POST from David Burkus

Creativity is a team sport.

It’s been that way for a long time. But the level of teamwork required to solve problems and find innovation has increased over the last decade and even century. Most of the simple problems of the world have been solved, and the ones that remain are too often too complex to be solved by any lone, individual genius.

But not all teams fair equally when it comes to creative tasks, because many team leaders are better prepared to lead teams where the work is simple and easy to define. When reaching team goals is ambiguous and requires more creative thinking it also requires a different type of leadership.

In this article, we’ll outline those differences. We’ll cover five ways to lead creative teams.

1. Show Them the Constraints

The first way to lead creative teams is to show them the constraints. It may sound a little counterintuitive—after all aren’t we supposed to “think outside the box”? But one of the first things creative teams need is an understanding of the constraints of the problem—of the box their answer needs to fit inside. Research suggests creativity is more activated when people understand the constraints of the problem. Constraints aide in the convergent thinking of sifting through ideas that needs to accompany the divergent thinking of generating lots of ideas. You need both. But you need constraints first so that people know ahead of time how to judge the ideas they generate.

2. Support Their Ideas

The second way to lead creative teams is to support their ideas. Nothing stops the creative flow of ideas on a team more than hearing “That’ll never work” or “That’s not how we do things around here.” Leaders need to champion the ideas their team puts forward, at least until the idea generation phase is complete. When people think their leadership isn’t going to consider their ideas, they stop sharing them. Leaders need to not only support ideas when the team is discussing them, but also support ideas when it comes to selling them up the chain of approval needed to implement the idea. Without that support, people just stop trying.

3. Teach Them to Fight Right

The third way to lead creative teams is to teach them to fight right. We like to think of creative teams as fun and cohesive. But the opposite is true. There’s a lot of friction on a creative team. And research suggests that the most creative teams leverage task-focused conflict to generate more and better ideas. But those teams also know how to keep it task-focused and keep it from devolving into personality fights and hurt feelings. And often that requires leaders who can demonstrate and teach their people to fight for their ideas, but not fight their teammates.

4. Test What You Can

The fourth way to lead creative teams is to test what you can. Ideally, teams are going to generate a lot of different ideas. And it’s a bad idea to chase consensus and settle on an idea too soon. Instead, the most creative teams test out multiple different ideas to learn more from what worked and didn’t work, and then combine those lessons into a new and better idea. But too often, leaders facilitate a brainstorming session, circle the idea they like best, and that’s the end of it. Instead, the best leaders test as much as they can as often as they can.

5. Celebrate Their Failures

The final way to lead creative teams is to celebrate their failures. If you’re testing a lot of ideas, your team will fail. But if they fail small on a test, they’ll reduce the chances of failing big later. In addition, failures carry all sorts of lessons that can be learned to better understand the problem and generate even better ideas. That doesn’t happen unless the team understands that failure is part of the process, which is why the best leaders celebrate the risks that team members took and the learning moments their failures generated.

In fact, that’s why all five of these methods shouldn’t be looked at as a linear process. Creativity is an iterative process of ideation, testing, failure, learning, ideation, and more testing and failure. The best leaders know the goal isn’t to get it done, but to keep getting better. And that goes for the creative process, but also the team culture. The goal is to keep getting better until everyone can do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pexels

Originally published at https://davidburkus.com on May 24, 2022.

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Innovating Through Adversity and Constraints

Innovating Through Adversity and Constraints

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

It’s been almost two and a half years since most of us shifted to working virtually and remotely, which, in turn, seriously disrupted most of our business-as-usual behaviors and learning habits. Interestingly, this also disrupted our habitual unconscious safety and comfort zones, and, in many cases, disconnected our overall sense of security. For some of us, our ability to make sense of ourselves and our futures, has been impacted, impacting our abilities to find new ways of being creative and innovating through the range of constraints and adverse situations.

Looking inward

Some of us have also had our confidence to survive and thrive in a world severely impacted, and many of us have felt exploited, exhausted, and depleted by our employers. According to Lynda Gratton, in a recent article in MIT Sloane Magazine “Making Sense of the Future” many of us are looking inward — working through the impact of our changing habits, networks, and skills, and begin to imagine other life trajectories and possible selves.

Looking outward

Again, according to Lynda Gratton, some of us are now also looking outward to analyze how talent markets are changing and what competitors are doing, which is creating momentum and a force for change, but also frustration and anxiety, given institutional lag and inertia.

The larger-than-life, terrible, and confronting conflict in Ukraine has also inflated, for some of us, a deeper sense of helplessness and exhaustion, and amplified our concerns and fears for a sustainable future.

The momentum for change is growing 

Yet some people have successfully responded to worries and concerns about the inertia holding our companies back, and have adapted to working, learning, and coaching online. Using this moment in time to help de-escalate our reactivity to what’s been going on to deeply connect, explore, discover, listen, and respond creatively to what is really important, to ourselves, our people, teams and our organizations.

To help shift the tension between today and tomorrow, through regenerating and replenishing ourselves and our teams, by shifting the dialogue towards renewing and innovating through constraints and adversity in uncertain and unstable times.

Innovating through constraints at ImagineNation™

Innovating through constraints enabled the collective at ImagineNation™ to design and deliver a bespoke, intense, and immersive learning journey for an executive team aiming at igniting and mobilizing their collective genius to step up to face their fears, adapt, take smart risks and innovate in uncertain and disruptive times!

Some of the constraints we collaboratively and creatively mastered included adapting to differing:

  • Geographies, we are based in Melbourne, Australia, and our client was based in Canada, which made managing time zone schedules challenging, including some very early 4.30 am starts for us –  Making flexibility and adaptiveness crucial to our success.  
  • Technologies, balancing Zoom-based online webinars and workshops, with Google chat rooms and jamboards, completing one on one coaching sessions, and assigning, completing, and presenting group action learning assignments – Reinforcing the need for constant iteration and pivoting to ensure the delivery of outcomes, as promised.
  • Communicating, including air freighting hard copy reflection packs, scheduling, and partnering virtually, all within a remote and fractured working environment –Ensuring that clarity and consistency would lead to the successful delivery of the outcomes, as promised.

Shifting the dialogue

Demonstrating that we can all be resilient and creative when we live in times of great uncertainty and instability through investing in reskilling people and teams to become more purposeful, human, and customer-centric.

We can all break the inertia by challenging our business-as-usual thinking and shifting the dialogue towards exploring our inner challenges and navigating the outer challenges of our current environment.

If we commit to doing this with more consciousness, hope, optimism, and control, to follow a direction rather than a specific destination by:

  • Perceiving this moment in time as an “unfreezing opportunity” and an opening to shift out of inertia and complacency, to re-generate and re-invent ourselves and our teams?
  • Knowing how to connect, explore, discover, generate and catalyze creative ideas to rapidly and safely unlearn, relearn, collaborate and innovate through constraints and adversity?
  • Committing to letting go of our “old baggage” and ways of making sense of our new reality, by experimenting with smart risk-taking, and making gamification accessible in an environment that is unpredictable?

Re-generating and re-inventing in uncertain and unstable times

In fact, many of us successfully adapted to online working, learning, and coaching environments by de-escalating any feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

To bravely focus on regenerating and reinventing ourselves and our teams and using this moment in time to be curious, shift the dialogue, explore possibilities, harness collective intelligence and ask some catalytic questions:

  • What if we intentionally disrupted our current way of thinking?
  • How might we think differently to shift our perception and perceive our worlds with “fresh eyes”? What might be possible?
  • What if we shift the dialogue to engage people in innovating through constraints?
  • How might we shift the dialogue to activate and mobilize people towards taking intelligent risks through constraints?
  • How might thinking differently empower, enable and equip ourselves and our teams to navigate the current environment with more hope and optimism?
  • What if re-consider and perceive these constraints differently?
  • How might we support people to ignite their creativity?
  • How might we equip people to be creative and develop better ideas?
  • How might we resource people to force more change and innovation?
  • How might we discover new ways of creating value for people in ways that they appreciate and cherish?

Grappling with the future is paradoxical

Finally, Lynda Gratton suggests that we need to:

“Acknowledge that this is not straightforward. Right now, many leaders are stuck between two sources of tension: the tension of enlightenment, where they can begin to imagine what is possible, and the tension of denial, where they are concerned that more flexible working arrangements will negatively affect performance. They grapple with whether the change will be necessary or possible. These are legitimate tensions that are only exacerbated by the sense of exhaustion many people feel”.

If we perceive these constraints as catalysts for setting a clear focus and direction, it might force us to experiment with creative ways of acting and doing things differently.

It might also force us to make tougher decisions around our inner and outer priorities, by exploring and discovering more balanced, creative, and inventive ways of constantly iterating and pivoting whatever resources are available to get the important jobs done.

An opportunity to learn more

Find out about our learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deep personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, starting Tuesday, May 4, 2022.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Bring Newness to Corporate Learning with Gamification

Bring Newness to Corporate Learning with Gamification

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

I was first introduced to gamification upon meeting Mario Herger, in 2012, when he was a Senior Innovation Strategist at SAP Labs LLC, in Israel, as a participant in his two-day gamification workshop for Checkpoint Security Software. It was an exciting and exhilarating journey into the playful and innovative world of gamification pioneers such as Farmville, Angry Birds, and BetterWorks. Creatively exploiting the convergence of trends catalyzed by the expansion of the internet, and by the fast pace of exponential technology development making gamification accessible to everyone.

Propelled further by people’s increasing desire to socialize and share ideas and knowledge across the globe. Coupled with their desire to learn and connect in a high-tech world, to be met in ways that also satisfied their aspirational, motivational, and recreational needs, as well as being playful and fun.

The whole notion of making gamification accessible to corporate learning simmered in my mind, for the next ten years, and this is what I have since discovered.

Evolution of the gamification market

In 2012 Gartner predicted that – Gamification combined with other technologies and trends, gamification would cause major discontinuities in innovation, employee performance management, education, personal development, and customer engagement. Further claiming that by 2014, 80% of organizations will have gamified at least one area of their business.

It seems their prediction did not eventuate.

In their Gamification 2020 report, Gartner then predicted that gamification, combined with other emerging trends and technologies, will have a significant impact on:

  • Innovation
  • The design of employee performance
  • The globalization of higher education
  • The emergence of customer engagement platforms
  • Gamification of personal development.

It seems this prediction is now an idea whose time has come!

According to Mordor Intelligence – The global gamification market was valued at USD 10.19 million in 2020 and is expected to reach USD 38.42 million by 2026 and grow at a CAGR of 25.10% over the forecast period (2021 – 2026). The exponential growth in the number of smartphones and mobile devices has directly created a vast base for the gamification market.

This growth is also supported by the increasing recognition of making gamification accessible as a methodology to redesign human behavior, in order to induce innovation, productivity, or engagement.

Purpose of gamification

The initial purpose of gamification was to add game mechanics into non-game environments, such as a website, online communities, learning management systems, or business intranets to increase engagement and participation.

The initial goal of gamification was to engage with consumers, employees, and partners to inspire collaboration, sharing, and interaction.

Gamification and corporate learning

The last two years of the coronavirus pandemic caused many industries to deal with their audiences remotely and combined with an urgent need for having the right technologies and tools to:

  • Reach out to, and connect with, both their employees and customers, in new ways

Acknowledging the range of constraints and restrictions occurring globally we have an opportunity to couple these with the challenges, disconnectedness, isolation, and limitations of our remote and hybrid workplaces.

While many of us are seeking more freedom, fun, play, and adventure, yet, we are still mostly bound to our laptops, TVs, and kitchens, and locked up within the boundaries of our homes, local neighborhoods, and hometowns.

  • Expanding knowledge, mindsets, behaviors, and skills

At the same time, this period has also created incredible opportunities for expanding our knowledge, and developing new mindsets, behaviors, and skills!

In different ways to help teams and organizations adapt, innovate, and grow through gamification, which increases our adaptability to flow and flourish and drive transformation, within a constantly, exponentially changing, and disruptive workplace.

Benefits of a gamified approach

Companies that have focused on making gamification accessible within their learning programs are reaping the rewards, as recent studies revealed:

  • The use of mobile applications gamified individually or as a complement to an LMS or e-learning platform has been shown to improve employee productivity by 50% and commitment by 60%.
  • That 97% of employees over the age of 45 believe that gamification would help improve work.
  • That 85% of employees are willing to spend more time on training programs with gamified dynamics.

Gamification is finally at an inflection point

The shift from face-to-face and live events to online created an opening for improving the quality of coaching, learning, and training experiences in ways that align with the client’s or organization needs and strategic business goals.

Keeping people and teams connected, engaged, and motivated in the virtual and hybrid workplace for extended periods of time is a key factor in business success.

Atrivity is a platform that empowers employees and channels to learn, develop, and perform better through games have identified eight trends influencing the growth and adoption of gamification including:

  • Gamification for Digital Events are here to stay, people are time and resource-poor, and will more likely attend a digital event rather than invest time and resources in travelling.
  • Gamification for Millennials and gen-Z is their new normal, being a generation who have grown up with, and become habitually attuned to Facebook and Instagram.
  • The start of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality is speeding up and offers new creative approaches.
  • Remote onboarding becomes standard as we all adapt to a globalized and diversified work environment.
  • Gamification helps to reduce hospital strains with emerging telehealth innovations.
  • Customization of, and access to contents allows us to visit museums, galleries, libraries virtually
  • Knowledge evaluation metrics have become common proactive through the use of app-based dashboards and scorecards that provide gamified reward and recognition processes
  • Gamification is an Enterprise “must-have” tactic to attract and retain talent.

Corporate learning is also finally at an inflection point

Innovative new organizations like Roundtable Learning focus on co-creating one-of-a-kind training programs that utilize innovative technologies, reflect the client’s brand, and show measurable business results by enhancing traditional corporate learning practices and embracing more interactive, engaging programs.

This is what ImagineNation™ is collaborating with Binnakle Serious Games to bring newness, creativity and play, experimentation, and learning in gamified ways to enable people and teams to innovate, by making gamification accessible to everyone!

We have integrated technology and co-created a range of blended learning solutions:

  • Digital and gamified learning experiences for groups and teams.
  • Playful and experiential learning activities that deliver deep learning outcomes.
  • Co-creation of customized or bespoke blended learning programs that deliver what they promise.

Making corporate learning accessible, affordable, and scalable

Our aim is to make corporate learning agile, by making gamification accessible, and scalable to everybody, across all time zones, modalities, geographies, and technologies.

Where people have time and space to unlearn, relearn, reskill and upskill by engaging in and interacting with both technology and people:

  • Understand and learn new innovative processes, concepts, principles, and techniques and feel that their new skills are valued.
  • Retreat, reflect and explore, discover and navigate new ways of being, thinking, and acting individually and collectively.
  • Question, challenge the status quo and experiment with new ideas, explore effective collaborative analytical, imaginative, aligned problem-solving and decision-making strategies.
  • Safely fail without punishment, make and learn from mistakes, to iterate and pivot creative ideas and innovative solutions that really matter.

To meet our client’s short- and long-term learning needs in terms of innovation focus or topic depth and breadth. Through enhancing teaming, teamwork, and collaboration, by offering products and tools that make gamification accessible to suit all peoples learning styles, time constraints, diverse technologies, and cost needs.

Who was I to know that it would take another ten years for making gamification accessible enough to reach a tipping point!

An opportunity to learn more

Find out about our learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deep personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, starting Tuesday, May 4, 2022.

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 context.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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How to Balance a Culture of Conformity with Creativity in Medicine

How to Balance a Culture of Conformity with Creativity in Medicine

GUEST POST from Arlen Meyers, M.D.

Medicine, by its nature, is a culture of conformity. We are trained to do no harm, be risk averse, and conform to the standard of care. We follow “best practices” i.e. what everyone else is doing, and are encouraged to follow evidence based guidelines. Medical students are chosen by their ability to score highly on standardized tests and check off the requisite boxes in their application. They know what to say in interviews…over and over again. Physicians have to pass standardized tests to get a license and be board certified to practice and maintain certification.

Now that medicine has become corporatized and more and more doctors in grey flannel suits are working for the man, things have worsened.

Successful innovation and entrepreneurship, on the other hand, encourages a culture of creativity. Now that students, trainees and clinicians are getting more and more interested in physician entrepreneurship and the business of medicine, how do we encourage and balance the two cultures?

  1. Encourage cognitive diversity, not just demographic diversity, in decision making
  2. Don’t penalize failure. Showcase it instead.
  3. Create ambidextrous organizational departments and units that can plan for not just the now, but the next and new as well.
  4. Use evidence based techniques for ideation and creative problem solving. Here are 3 to get you started.
  5. Recruit, hire, develop and promote for creativity
  6. Create psychologically safe spaces to say things
  7. Forget brainstorming
  8. Hire leaderpreneurs who can drive cultural change
  9. Know the difference between good rebels and bad rebels
  10. Don’t confuse disruptive doctors with disruptive doctors
  11. Learn to resolve the conflict between the ethics of medicine and the ethics of business

Sometimes thinking outside of the box will get you in trouble. Other times, not doing so will box you in. You decide.

Image credit: Pixabay

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