Nelson Mandela: How His Singularity of Purpose Drove the Positive Change He Dreamed Of

Nelson Mandela in 2008 - courtesy of

Nelson Mandela

It is customary to salute Nelson Mandela as a great leader and statesman, which of course he was. Against all odds, he led South Africa from an unjust, apartheid past to a new state founded upon equality and democratic rights. We salute Mandela for the incredible moral strength he developed during 27 years in prison. And we salute him for the wisdom he found to forgive, let go of resentment, and stay focused on his life-long goal of achieving equality in his country.

Can we also think of Mandela as an innovator?

We can. If we define innovating as bringing about positive change that has value to society, then Mandela is actually at the top of the list. He innovated an entire country. Without the positive change he inspired, South Africa could easily have slipped into chaos, corruption and civil war.

From this point of view, Mandela was not just an innovator. He was one of the greatest innovators of all time, and most of us can only yearn to have even a fraction of the positive impact he had on the world.

So what can Mandela teach us about what it takes to innovate?

Let me share my take on three aspects of Mandela’s life that I believe helped shape his mind, develop his wisdom, and make him the leader and innovator he was.

  1. A Singularity of Purpose, a Dominant Core Value

The people who change the world or innovate are usually driven by a singularity of purpose that other people just never develop to the same level.

Edison was singleminded in his purpose to invent not just the lightbulb but a new society that used an electric grid and electric devices. Mahatma Gandhi was driven by a near-obsession with truth, a principle that guided all his actions and thinking.

What was Mandela’s singularlity of purpose?

Mandela wrote his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, with the assistance of writer Richard Stengel, who spent three years with Mandela in the process. In Mandela’s Way, his own book on Mandela, Stengel writes, “Nelson Mandela is a man of principle – exactly one. Equal rights for all, regardless of race, class, or gender. Pretty much everything else is a tactic.” The result was that Mandela was both an idealist and a pragmatist – a “thorough-going pragmatist who was willing to compromise, change, adapt, and refine his strategy as long as it got him to the promised land … [which] meant one thing: the overthrow of apartheid and the achievement of a non-racial democracy with one person, one vote. Full stop.”

2.    Diverse Knowledge

I believe the world still undervalues a simple but significant step Mandela took while in prison. If he had not taken this one step, history might have turned out very differently. It was even an easy step to take. He started a language course in Afrikaans. I sometimes call it the language course that changed the course of history.

By taking a course in Afrikaans, Mandela did two things. First he expanded his mind. All the research shows that the most creative people have developed not just deep knowledge in their particular field or discipline, but they also develop diverse knowledge. They are curious. They develop passions in other fields and learn other subjects. Einstein the scientist was also Einstein the violinist. By studying Afrikaans, Mandela expanded his mind by coming to see life and South Africa from the point of view of his captors.

Second, by learning Afrikaans, Mandela expanded his capacity to understand people differently. He no longer saw his captors as the enemy. They were human beings. He came to know them. They were men just like him. They had families. They had children. They had fears. A surprising bond developed between Mandela and the men who guarded him, all because he had expanded his mind – through a language course.

No one can ever say what might have happened in history but for some particular event. But I think it’s a safe bet Mandela would not have emerged from prison with the depth of wisdom and understanding he had if he had not made this extraordinary effort to speak the language of the people who held him captive.

3.    Emotional Wisdom

Emotional intelligence became a popular term beginning in the 1990s. It’s a good start. But it’s not the finish line. People like Mandela took emotional intelligence to the next level, a level we could call emotional wisdom.

For Mandela, this involved a disciplined approach to staying positive and tranforming his life’s negatives and setbacks back into positive ends. In Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela described it this way: “Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

It’s a remarkable attitude and skill, and it’s another reason Mandela became, on a grand scale, one of humanity’s remarkable innovators.





Teresa Amabile: The Science is Clear – Passion for Your Work Drives Creativity

Teresa Amabile, one of the world’s leading experts on creativity, has spent more than 35 years researching what makes people creative and innovative. And the answers may surprise you.

If you are over the age of twenty, you might have been taught a very conventional way of thinking. Chances are you went through an education system that equated intelligence with logic and reason, and likely gave the so-called soft subjects like art a much lower rank. Even if you studied creative fields like literature, you were no doubt evaluated on how well you ‘critically analyzed’ the works you read. If you studied law, you would have been trained to consider reason so superior to emotion that it relegated the term passion to the dungeon of society, equating passion with crime itself, as in the common legal expression, ‘it was a crime of passion.’

TERESA AMABILE, Speaking at TED - courtesy of

Teresa Amabile, speaking at TED: 35 years of research confirms the fuel of creativity is not talent, but passion.

It’s not hard to see why society, until recently, paid little attention to whether people actually feel passion for the work they do or whether they’re engaged by a sense of purpose.

Science now shows this has all been a giant mistake.

According to Amiable, the consistent conclusion is striking. It is passion for the work, or what psychologists call intrinsic motivation. “Without it,” Amabile says, “no amount of talent will yield great performance. For 35 years, we have been exploring how motivation affects creativity. In studies involving groups as diverse as children, college students, professional artists, and knowledge workers, we have found that people are more creative when they are more strongly intrinsically motivated — driven by interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and a sense of personal challenge in the work they are doing.”  1

Further, Amabile’s research has also confirmed that most human beings are creative. “Contrary to popular notions that creativity is the sole province of a few rare geniuses,” she says, “creativity appears across most levels of human ability.” 2 It follows that creative potential is everywhere. It’s a matter of bringing that potential out in people.

On the flip side, the research has also shown that the usual creativity killers do just that: they kill creativity. In particular, the “organizational impediments” that can kill intrinsic motivation and creativity are “political problems within an organization, extremely negative criticism of new ideas, and an emphasis on maintaining the status quo.” It’s not hard to understand how bureaucratic organizations become stale and even anti-innovation.

Amabile points to photographer Craig Tanner as an example of how the presence of passion and purpose can serve not just as a source of creativity, but can actually be transformative. Tanner, now an accomplished photographer, wrote of passion’s transformative power in this way in 2008: “Long-term, focused, practice powered by the energy of passion […] leads to amazing transformations. The bumbling beginner becomes the exalted expert. The trapped and depressed become the liberated and empowered.” 3

Perhaps most surprising of all, science now is merely affirming what humanity has known intuitively for a long time. The artists and spiritual teachers had it right a long time ago. One of the most inspiring examples ever written was penned over 2000 years ago, by the Indian spiritual teacher Patanjali. It’s virtually the same message science now confirms:

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds, your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties, and talents come alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”

Whether you call it passion or purpose or psychology’s term ‘intrinsic motivation,’ don’t expect much creativity or innovation without it.

The message is now crystal clear. If you really want to take innovating seriously, get a little less serious. Put aside logic and reason for a moment. Make sure you’re first inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project. Then go ahead, let your thoughts break all their bonds.



  1. Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer, “Talent, Passion and the Creativity Maze,” HBR Blog, February 27, 2012.
  2. Amabile, T.M. & Fisher, C.M. (2009). Stimulate creativity by fueling passion. In E. Locke (Ed.) Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior (2nd Edition). John Wiley & Sons: West Sussex, U.K., 481-497.
  3. Craig Tanner, “The Myth of Talent,” Blog: The Mindful Eye, October 24, 2008.

Can We Reinvent Capitalism? Sir Richard Branson Sure Thinks We Can

You might think that Sir Richard Branson, the multi-billionaire founder of the Virgin empire of companies, would be a staunch defender of the system of capitalism  that has been so kind to him.

But he isn’t.  He says, without qualification, that we need to reinvent capitalism, and as such he’s on the side of a growing group of  forward-thinkers who believe, especially after the 2008 financial crash, that we don’t reinvent capitalism fast, it may be too late.

Sir Richard Branson - photo courtesy of

Sir Richard Branson: “sadly, big business has lost its way … [the] option is to reinvent capitalism”.

“Sadly,” he said in 2011, “big business has lost its way … [it’s become] driven by a short-term focus on profits [and] taking care of the planet and its people often falls to the bottom of the list of priorities … we are on a rapid path to destroy the very natural resources that keep us alive.” He said the one option still open to us is to “reinvent capitalism to truly be a force for good in the world.” 1

On the side of winner-take-all hardball capitalism, an HBR article from 2004 captured the philosophy well. The article, “Hardball: Five Killer Strategies for Trouncing the Competition,” outlined and touted the so-called strategies of the winning companies. The article asserted that winners in business play rough and don’t apologize for it” and “sometimes you must hurt your rivals.” The authors said that in the dog-eat-dog world the real winners disdain the “squishy issues” such as “leadership, corporate culture, customer care … and the like.” (It would be interesting to explore if the authors have revised their views following the 2008 crisis.)

Fortunately, in last few years, there is a growing chorus of calls to rethink and transform capitalism. Gary Hamel, a leading business thinker who focuses on innovation in management, said in 2012 that if you “crack open the head of an average manager … you’ll find a way of thinking that puts the institution in front of, or on top of, the individual … most large enterprises reside on the “institution first, employee second” side of the spectrum. … we need to flip this …”.

By definition, if capitalism is to be reinvented, what is required is a massive rethinking of capitalism itself. Capitalism itself needs to be innovated.

If the new brand of capitalism is to succeed in putting people first, design thinking is already making a profound contribution. This is because the methodology created in design thinking starts with – and stays focused on – real human needs.

A great example and guide, which you can download for free, is available at, the organization founded by IDEO and supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The thorough, 200-page “Human-Centered Design Toolkit,” designed initially for projects in the developing world, has been used by organizations such as  Acumen Fund, AyurVAID, Heifer International, ICRW, IDE, Micro Drip, and VisionSpring. The methodology, if followed more widely, would singlehandedly bring about a new kind of capitalism.

The guide sets out the design-thinking process under the three stages of “Hear,” “Create” and “Deliver” (which also, coincidentally, creates the acronym HCD).  “The reason this process is called ‘human-centered’,” the Toolkit says, “is because it starts with the people we are designing for. The HCD process begins by examining the needs, dreams, and behaviors of the people we want to affect with our solutions. We seek to listen to and understand what they want.”

That’s clearly a far cry from a philosophy that sees capitalism as just a matter of making money and trouncing the competition.

Which philosophy do you stand for?

You can download the Toolkit for free by going to and following the directions for the download. Even better, you can join the org and connect with others who are all on the side of the forward thinkers, aiming to reinvent capitalism.



  1. Richard Branson, “Why We Must Reinvent Capitalism,” Time Magazine (December 8, 2011).

Tim Brown: Using Visual Thinking Is How Your Brain Naturally Simplifies Things

If you’re like most of us, when you look for a Table of Contents in a book, you’ll expect to find a series of Chapter headings and sub-titles. So it might come as a shock when you see that the Table of Contents in Tim Brown’s 2009 bestseller Change by Design is a two-page mind map (see picture).  You might dismiss this as just a gimmick or a cutesy way to illustrate the book.  If that’s your reaction, you’ve probably been conditioned to think mostly in words, and if so, you could be failing to use a big portion of your brain – typically referred to as your “right brain.”

The VISUAL Table of Contents from Change by Design, by Tim Brown

The VISUAL Table of Contents from Change by Design, by Tim Brown

Actually, science has now shown that 50% of the brain is dedicated to processing visual information (much, but not all, of it concentrated in the brain’s right hemisphere). The upshot is that you can be failing to use that part of your brain if you’re ignoring the many ways to think and communicate visually. It could even be the case that for the brain to function optimally, we need to think visually, use visual tools, and communicate in pictures when appropriate. So why is it still so difficult to buy into the idea that a Table of Contents could be portrayed visually?

Traditional Table of Contents from Change by Design, by Tim Brown

Traditional Table of Contents from Change by Design, by Tim Brown

Chalk that up to an education system that for the most part, until recently, shunned visual thinking as a serious method.

The tables are turning, to use a good, visual metaphor.

Much research now shows that the brain works best when both the left side (logic, words, reason) and the right side (visuals, the mind’s eye, feeling) have been developed and work well together.

Some of history’s greatest minds must have understood this intuitively. Einstein, a scientist and mathematician, claimed that his first love was actually music and said he couldn’t live without the joy of playing the violin daily. Thomas Jefferson, hailed for his way with words and the beauty of the Declaration of Independence, was also an avid artist who sketched and designed frequently.

“All children draw,” Tim Brown writes. “But somewhere in the course of becoming logical, verbally oriented adults, they unlearn this elemental skill.”

A growing chorus of experts are showing that training the right side of the brain is not just for the sake of the art itself. It’s the art that makes the whole brain better. Brown explains how it works for him: “When I use drawing to express an idea, I get different results than if I try to express it with words, and I usually get to them more quickly.”

The process of thinking visually can also help you tap into a part of yourself you might otherwise have missed if you only think in words. That’s the message of Sir Ken Robinson in his latest book, Finding Your Element, the sequel to his bestseller The Element, which is about discovering your unique talents and passions, and building your career around them. “To find your Element,” he says, “you may need to see yourself differently.” The key word there, actually, is “see.” It’s a visual process.

Mind Map of the book Finding Your Element, by Sir Ken Robinson

Mind Map of the book Finding Your Element, by Sir Ken Robinson

Robinson himself has become an advocate of mind mapping, the visual technique illustrated above by Tim Brown. “To create a mind map, you begin by putting the core idea or them in the center of the page and draw a circle around it. You then draw branching lines fro the center circle that represent related thoughts and ideas. You can have as many of these branching lines as you like and each of them may divide into two or more other lines of thought.” As an example, Sir Ken himself offers a kind of visual table of contents – “a mind map of the structure and main themes of this book” (see picture).

It’s an old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. In today’s world where people have little time to read even five hundred words, the new motto may become that a sketch is worth a thousand words, and it only takes a few seconds to bang out a quick sketch.




Seth Godin: Don’t Let Irrational Fear Block Your Creativity

A long line of research shows that deep in the middle of our brains is the part that’s been around since human beings began to have brains. It’s the limbic system, and since it’s so similar to the basic brain of a lizard, it’s sometimes called your ‘lizard brain.’

Lizard - courtesy of

We all have an inner brain that’s much like a lizard’s. 

It operates your bodily functions, and it also gives you your basic emotions like fear.

Fear can be a life-saving emotion, when it serves its purpose. But it can also be irrational.  If ever there was a source where negative thinking comes from, this is it. It’s the reason people fear change, get nervous, shun risk, and hate things.

According to author and entrepreneur Seth Godin, it might also be what right now is killing your creative powers and potential.

“When you were a kid, beautiful art – questions, curiosity, and spontaneity poured out of you,” Seth Godin writes in his bestseller, Lynchpin. But then the lizard brain got trained to obey rules, toe the line, and fit in. This ‘obedient’ lizard brain evolved into what Godin calls “the resistance.” And today, once the resistance takes over, “the art each of us is capable of creating is relentlessly whittled away.”

The resistance is more than just the usual notion of resistance to change. It’s your own internal resistance to change, the habits of conformity that started in school. In fact, “the resistance loves school,” Godin writes, “… if school is about obedience, then you can be soothed by thinking that more obedience is better works.”

Through your education’s “well-organized, but toxic rules at school, the resistance gained in strength,” he says. The rules may have created order but killed creativity: “Do you think it’s an accident that the powers that be wanted the disobedient and creative part of your brain to sit down and shut up?”

The resistance thus got trained, but unlike the resistance training you can do in a gym, this kind was not good for you. This training  builds up a person’s resistance to change, and it can kill creativity – your creativity.

The problem can also be the lizard brain of those around you. “You work with people who are totally at the mercy of the resistance,” Godin argues. This is why good, new ideas often get shot down so fast. “The resistance is so tenacious that it encourages you to speak up and drag down anyone around you with the temerity to dream.”

So how about you? What’s your lizard brain doing? Is it trying to drag down someone around you with the temerity to dream? Or are you that person with the temerity to dream, and is your own resistance standing in the way?

Design, Imagination, Creativity and Innovation – How they all Fit Together

Imagination and Creativity Illustrated: Mark Twain at his Writing Desk

Imagination and Creativity Illustrated: Mark Twain at his Writing Desk

These four words today are used often. They’re used interchangeably and some say they’re overused. But they’re also here to stay. So it would be good to get to know them better. Here’s a quick look at how leading experts have defined them.

Design – and Design Thinking

Tim Brown, David Kelley and Tom Kelley from design firm IDEO have been leaders in the movement that transformed “design” as artistic work into “design thinking” as a process. Here is how they describe design thinking:

“Design thinking is a way of finding human needs and creating new solutions using the tools and mindsets of design practitioners.” “Being human-centered is at the core of our innovation process. Deep empathy for people makes our observations powerful sources of inspiration.” Design thinking is thus “a methodology … [it is] our process for creativity and innovation.” 1

To produce design-driven innovation, IDEO developed their methodology into a 4-step process: 1. Inspiration – which is primarily the step of “connecting with the needs, desires, and motivations of real people [to help] inspire and provoke fresh ideas”; 2. Synthesis – which is the challenge of “sense-making” – reframing the problem and observations to identify the possible solutions; 3. Ideation and Experimentation – the step of testing, experimenting and finalizing; and 4. Implementation.


In his book Out of Our Minds, Sir Ken Robinson broke the whole process down into three parts: imagination, creativity and innovation.  Here’s how he described imagination:

“Imagination is the source of our creativity”.  Indeed, “every uniquely human achievement in every field” is the “product of the human imagination.” It’s “the ability to bring to mind things that are not present to our senses. We can imagine things that exist or things that do not exist at all.” It is the “primary gift of human consciousness.” In imagination “we can anticipate many possible futures.” The imagination “liberates us from our immediate present circumstances and holds the constant possibility of transforming the present.” 2

Imagination and creativity “are not the same thing,” Robinson stresses. “Creativity is a step further on from imagination,” and this leads to …


Creativity is a step further on from imagination, because it involves a lot more than just being imaginative. It is:

“the process of having original ideas that have value.” Being creative “involves doing something. It would be odd to describe someone as creative who never did anything. … Creativity involves putting your imagination to work. In a sense, creativity is applied imagination.” 3

Creativity is thus a process, and Robinson says the three key words in the definition are process, original, and value. The process, simply put, is about generating ideas and then sifting the ones that are original and have value from those that don’t.

How does this differ from innovation? “Innovation is applied creativity,” he says, which leads to …


According to Robinson:

“Innovation is the process of putting new ideas into practice. … By definition, innovation is always about introducing something new, or improved, or both and it is usually assumed to be a positive thing.” 4

Peter Drucker, in The Discipline of Innovation defined innovation in similarly broad terms:

“What all successful entrepreneurs have in common is … a commitment to the systematic practice of innovation.” It is the “specific function of entrepreneurship, whether in an existing business, a public service institution or a new venture” Innovation is thus “the effort to create purposeful, focused change in an enterprise’s economic or social potential.” 5

In both definitions, innovation clearly is not just new products or inventions: it’s bringing about purposeful, focused change that has value in practice, in any sphere of society.

Putting It All Together

Putting all the above together, what the above definitions have in common is that innovation is a process.

Whether you call it design thinking or some other term, it’s the process of transforming ideas from your imagination into a creative output or solution that has value and thus amounts to an innovation.

What’s the upshot? The simple upshot is that everyone already has  the first two: You already have an imagination. And you already have a process (it’s whatever you do routinely each day).

The question is whether you are tapping your imagination to  actually become creative, and whether you’re using that creativity to produce new solutions that have value. In other words, whether you learned … to think like an innovator. It’s a choice we all make, as individuals, and as a society, every day.





  1. Tom Kelley and David Kelley, Creative Confidence (New York: Random House, 2013), pp. 21-25
  2. Sir Ken Robinson, Out of Our Minds (UK: Capstone Publishing, 2011), pp. 141-42.
  3. Out of Our Minds, p. 142.
  4. Out of Our Minds, p. 142.
  5. Peter F. Drucker, “The Discipline of Innovation” (Harvard Business Review).

How to Create an Innovation Team

“Apple is an incredibly collaborative company,” Steve Jobs said. He may have been making an understatement.

Recently, I met with the CEO of a medium-sized nonprofit in the immigration services sector. His organization provides assistance to new immigrants in the country to help them get settled and adjust to a new life. The organization’s five-year stategic plan was coming to an end, and the CEO wanted to build a new strategy to grow the operations and deal with change like potential budget cuts.

Good Ideas vs Bad Ideas

An Innovation Team can sort the good ideas from the bad

“Do you have an innovation team?” I asked.

“No,” he answered.

I explained that he should set one up – a team of key people, from management, staff and his board, to henceforth manage innovation. He liked the idea immediately, to his credit.

For the CEO, it was a new concept. He said he had never previously received advice to set up an innovation team. Quite the contrary, the organization’s existing strategic plan was the usual, outdated, stale corporate speak full of platitudes, vague strategic objectives, a wordy mission statement, and little substance.

Surprisingly, many organizations still follow these old models and methods. They see innovation as something only the big companies do. They are wrong.

If your organization is serious about dealing with change today, or aiming to grow its business, here is a simple three-step plan:

Step 1: The first step to is to set up the innovation team. This particular organization wanted to target the twin goals of developing new funding sources as well as expanding the services it provides. It will need to innovate in both areas.

Step 2: The next step is to put the right people on the innovation team. This is an art in itself. If there is one core principle to follow it is that you want to have a diversity of talent on the team. Creativity flourishes when there is a diversity of talents, skills and viewpoints.

Step 3: The third step is to train the team members to properly understand the innovation process and develop innovation skills.

By setting up a proper process to organize and manage innovation, you elevate it to one of the organization’s priorities. Innovating becomes part of the ongoing operations. New ideas are managed, turned into projects, and executed. It’s no longer just a matter of collecting good ideas and hoping someone acts on them.


Inspiration vs Perspiration: Have We Misread Edison?

Thomas Edison is often quoted as saying “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” The person uttering the remark typically is trying to remind you that innovating depends much less on being inspired, and much more – ninety-nine times more – on slugging it out and putting in the hours.

Inspiration or Perspiration: Are They the Same Thing?

Inspiration vs Perspiration: Did Edison have it wrong?

But is this really true?  A common trait of all the great innovators is that inspiration was much more than just a tiny 1% of their life. Quite the contrary, inspiration drove everything they did. Their inspiration was the fuel that kept them going. It drove their ‘perspiration.’ Steve Jobs said so himself in 2005 in his  Commencement Address at Stanford. Referring to moments in his life when the going got tough, he said “I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love.” It was passion – or inspiration, or whatever you want to call it – that fueled the hard work.

So what should we make of the usual Edison ‘inspiration versus perspiration’ quote? If you look at the origin of the two words, that they actually come from the same root – spirare in latin, meaning “to breathe.”  Spirare is also the root of “spirit,” as in your spirit or things from the realm of the spiritual.  Inspiration, thus, is “in” + spirare, meaning to breathe in – or the idea that spirit itself is breathing new ideas into you. Perspiration is “per” + spirare, which literally means to “breathe through.” In this sense, both words are connected to the idea of spirit, the spirit within you.

Another word that describes your desire to innovate or change is aspiration. When you aspire to do or become something, that idea also is from the latin spirare. Aspiration is made from “a” + spirare,  and is thus also linked to the idea of spirit. When you aspire to do or become something, it’s akin to being inspired: something has resonated with your spirit.

Even the word respiration comes from the latin spirare, and indeed the act of breathing itself has long been considered an action linked to spirit. This is why meditation involves breathing exercises: your breathing is thought to be directly connected to your spirit.

In this light, when we are inspired by a particular project or purpose, should we really think of the ‘perspiration’ as somehow unconnected to being inspired? Jobs was right: it’s the being inspired that leads you to put in the long hours, the perspiration.

That same lesson is found in the lives of virtually every accomplished innovator. Yes they put in the hard work, but it was work they were inspired to do in the first place. It was the inspiration that kept them going.

We surely, then, need to revisit how we use the famous Edison quote: it’s actually the inspiration that makes the perspiration possible.


(Next post on Friday … till then, D.G.)


Carol Dweck: You First Need a Growth Mindset – Here’s What that Means

Is it really possible to learn to be more creative or more innovative? If the work you’re now doing requires you to be more creative and come up with new ideas that have real value, do you find yourself wondering if you have what it takes?

THE GROWTH MINDSET: SKILLS CAN BE IMPROVEDIt’s easy to have bought into the myth that ‘only the creatives are creative’ or that ‘innovative people are born, not made.’ If you’ve bought into those myths, it’s time to cleanse them from your mind. They are both myths, and continuing to believe them could be the biggest mistake you can make today.

Research is steadily showing that both creativity and being innovative are skills, not innate gifts. As skills, they are teachable and learnable.

The first step to becoming more innovative and more creative is to make sure you have developed what psychologist Carol Dweck has called a “growth mindset.” Above all, make sure you haven’t developed a “fixed mindset.”

A growth mindset is the attitude that most things are learnable, and that your level of mastery in whatever you’re doing is not fixed – it can grow. You can grow it.

(If you’ve developed a fixed mindset – and it’s very easy to do – you’ve bought into the idea that your skills or intelligence are pretty much set in stone. This can lead to various negative habits, like not even trying to improve. And be careful: if you’re smart, you’re just as prone. Smart people who have a fixed mindset can be the worst. They can become arrogant and over-confident, thinking their ‘being smart’ is an innate gift; instead, what they should do is open their mind and work on taking their skills to the next level.)

In their inspiring and helpful book, Creative Confidence, David Kelley and Tom Kelley from Ideo and the Stanford d School confirm that the most important first step is to develop this “growth state of mind.” There’s a paradox to master here as well, they explain. “The belief that your innovation skills and capabilities are not set in stone is a prerequisite for achieving creative confidence.” In other words, it’s a classic if you think you can, you can, and if you think you can’t, you’ll be right also. By first developing the firm belief that you can develop and improve your abilities to innovate, you’ll take the right steps and you will develop and improve your abilities to innovate. Now that’s inspiring.



(Next post on Wednesday … till then, D.G.)


Toronto Wants to Trigger Innovation: A City-wide Experiment in Design Thinking and Ideation

Toronto Star, January 1, 2014: 2014 the Year of the Idea

2014: The Year of the Idea

In what could be considered an open, city-wide exercise in design thinking, the Toronto Star has teamed up with the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute and urban innovation nonprofit Evergreen CityWorks to try to make 2014 a year where Torontonians re-engage and reinvent their city.

The initiative, called the “Year of the Idea,” is suitably ambitious and aims to get Torontonians to actively take part in the effort to reinvent.

On January 4, the Toronto Star’s editorial board and columnist Christopher Hume laid out in stark terms the case for dramatic new thinking. Traffic alone has “grown exponentially” and resulted in “ever-worsening gridlock.” Infrastructure is “crumbling,” and “the entire civic infrastructure – sewers, roads, sidewalks, power grid – is undermaintained and increasingly inadequate.”Toronto Gridlock - courtesy of

Income inequality and poverty have produced a “growing gap between rich and poor.” The city’s public life has morphed into “recessionary politics, polarized politics and a leadership vacuum.” The result has been a “loss of optimism,”“a lack of confidence” and “failure of trust in civic leadership.”

At the same time, everyone has vivid memories of a Toronto once admired as “the city that works” and a city that newcomers flocked to because Torontonians had made it “one of the most inviting places on the planet.”

Those memories fuel hope of what Toronto could once again be. So the initiative’s plan of action is very clear: what is needed “is a fresh injection of inspiration, and that comes through bold ideas and shrewd innovation.” Christopher Hume writes that we need to “rediscover the power of an idea to change the way we live.”Toronto - Giant Pothole

The ambitious but simple plan is to “go back to basics and remind ourselves how imagination, dreams and ideas can transform not just the city, but the world.” The aim is to get Torontonians to “reimagine Toronto and regain control of our civic destiny.”

“We must learn how to tackle them [all these problems] one by one” Hume writes, and to do that, he says, “we need new approaches, proposals and suggestions, new ways of thinking and new ideas.”

It’s a great call to action. In slightly different terms, it’s a call to get every Torontonian to think … like an innovator.

If you have experience in innovation though, you’ll be the first to understand that the challenge is daunting: the task of generating these new ideas, putting aside politics, getting people to collaborate, and then actually implementing the agreed innovative solutions, is arguably even more challenging than the very problems themselves.


(Next post on Monday … till then, D.G.)