All posts by Daniel Gogek

“Just 3 Stories … No Big Deal” – Taking a Deeper Look at Steve Jobs’ Advice in His 2005 Stanford Address

The Hidden Message in Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford AddressIn 2005, Steve Jobs spoke to the graduating class at Stanford University, and told three main stories about his life and work. (Click here to view the 2005 Stanford Address.)  His talk has inspired many. But were there hidden messages in it? Was there deeper wisdom than most of us think?  Absolutely.  Let’s see if you agree.

But first, why this is so urgent and important? It’s because millions of people from career-changers to career-starters have been fed the line, ‘just follow your passion.’ Aside from that advice being wildly ambiguous, it’s often dangerous and misleading.

And although many people have attributed the line to Steve Jobs and his 2005 talk, the truth is Jobs himself never said the words. Not. Even. Once.

There are in fact deeper messages Steve Jobs was trying to tell us, and your career will likely only be more successful if you absorb these deeper messages.

A first clue about the deeper message is that Jobs says at the outset that he’s going to share his secrets in the shape of three stories: “Today, I want to tell you 3 stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just 3 stories.” [at 0:47 in the talk]

Actually, giving us three stories was a big deal. Jobs believed almost religiously in the rule of 3’s – the principle from rhetoric that you should communicate something in three parts. (Remember his launch of the iPhone? He said he was about to announce “three revolutionary products … an MP3 player, a phone, and an internet communicator …”. The magician’s surprise turned out to be that the three things were all in one device, the new iPhones.)

Story 1 = Passion 1: A Passion for Your Area and Learning It Deeply

On the surface, Jobs first story is about how he dropped out of Reed College. But if you dig deeper, it’s really about how he allowed his curiosity to draw him to certain subjects, and how he developed from his early days the habit of deep learning that lasted a lifetime:

“I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting. [2:56] … I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example … . [3:21] I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif … about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful … artistically subtle … and I found it fascinating.” [3:49] [emphasis in bold added]

Notice that Jobs says he was following his “curiosity,” not ‘following his passion.’ There is a difference. Curiosity is very specific.

In other words, he went to classes to learn, not just cram for exams and get an A. The course on calligraphy was not just about fonts, it was about design, an area that came to dominate Jobs’ life – and lead him to many breakthroughs.

The words Jobs uses are a test for whether you have developed this same passion: interesting, curiosity, intuition, learn, beautiful, fascinating. Do you use words like these when you describe the area you’re in?

Key Message from Story 1: the first passion you need is a passion for the area you’re in, and a genuine desire to keep learning it.

Story 2 = Passion 2:  A Passion for the Processes in Your Area … especially the Collaborating and Learning from Failure

In all work, there is a process – or more accurately, processes.  Story 2, with all due respect, is often misquoted. The first key lesson in the story is in the first two lines:

“I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us … .” [5:42] [emphasis added]

The lesson is that he developed a passion and skill for collaborating. And not just collaborating in an average way. Jobs developed – from the age of 20 – a passion and habit for collaborating closely with highly talented people, experts who often had far more expertise than he did. That takes courage and confidence.

It’s that part of the process that Jobs continued to love and engage in throughout the rest of his career: he collaborated with all kinds of highly talented people, from the animators at Pixar to the designers at IDEO to his own Apple designers and programmers.

A further implicit message in this story is also found in that first quote: the better you get at what you do, the more you tend to have a passion for it.  It’s a virtuous cycle (the opposite of a vicious cycle).  Some psychologists call it a ‘cycle of accelerated returns.’  Others call it the 10-year rule, the idea that it usually takes about 10 years, through deliberate practice, to become really expert in a field.  Notice how Jobs’ and Apple’s first major success occurred after 10 years of collaborating:

“We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with 4,000 employees.” [5:50] [emphasis added]

The next part of Story 2 tells how Jobs came to value a part of the process you’ll  find in any field, especially today: learning from mistakes or failure. It’s the story of his 1985 dismissal from Apple:

“But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. [6:57] … And so I decided to start over. … it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” [7:11] [emphasis added]

To illustrate, then, the real message in this second story, consider what happens when someone doesn’t grasp the lesson. Take for example the Yoga aficionado who decides to ‘just follow her passion’ and open her own Yoga studio. If she doesn’t have or at least develop a basic passion for the process (finding clients, finding a partner, collaborating, doing the admin, doing the marketing, renting the studio, handling the finances, etc. etc.), it’s a sure bet she’ll struggle, if not fail.

Key Message from Story 2: you need passion for the process that makes up the work you do – and, in particular, collaborating and learning from failure.

Story 3 = Passion 3: A Passion for What Gives You Meaning, a Sense of Purpose or Progress and How You Help People

If you want to watch your life ignite, listen to this third story once a day for a month.  Story 3 is about the deepest kind of passion of all: developing a passion for what your life and work are really all about:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life… [9:39]. … And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. [12:05] … Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” [12:31] [emphasis added]

How you develop your passion in this third circle is deeply personal, but Jobs ably points to the three main things that invariably give both life and work meaning – working to achieve real progress in your field (“Don’t be trapped by dogma”), developing your own sense of purpose (listen to “your own inner voice”), and, ultimately, make your life about serving other people:

The Hidden Message in Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Address

So there you go. When you look at the 2005 speech from this perspective, the talk can serve as a powerful set of career guidelines. Ask yourself:

  1. Do you have a passion for the area you’re in, and in learning it more deeply?
  2. Do you have a passion for the process in the work, and in particular for genuine collaborating and learning from failure?
  3. Do you have the passion that comes from a sense of purpose, striving for progress, or helping people?

Jobs’ wise counsel to us is not at all some vague idea about just following a mythical, single passion. It’s about three key passions.

If you can make your way to the intersection of those three circles, that’s when you’ll almost certainly have a life and career that are both truly successful and meaningful.

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(Note: A version of this article can also be found on Linkedin.) 

Do You Buy into the Myth of the ‘Lone Genius?’ Here’s Why You Shouldn’t

Do you think Steve Jobs was a one-off, ‘lone genius.’  It’s tempting to believe that, and according to most tributes to him, he fit that so-called model. Surely only a lone genius could changing four different industries, as Jobs did, in one lifetime. The more romantic tributes suggest he did this virtually singlehandedly.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak - courtesy of Bloomberg.com

L to R: Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, founders of Apple Computer.

Jobs obviously had an extraordinary life and career, but we make a great mistake if we portray him as the lone genius.

The reality is that Steve Jobs collaborated obsessively. Most of his pursuits were joint pursuits with others. Apple itself began as a close collaboration with Steve Wozniak. Without that collaboration, you might never have heard of either Steve. Later, Jobs pioneered the iPod and iPhone in collaboration with many at Apple, particularly Jonathan Ives, Apple’s chief designer.

Look at Steve Jobs’s own words about collaboration: “Process makes you more efficient. But innovation comes from people meeting in the hallways or calling each other … it’s ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea.” (emphasis added)

So why do we perpetuate the myth of the ‘lone genius’? Because it’s romantic, and it sells copy, that’s why.

But it’s also wrong, and it’s also dangerous.

The evidence is in everywhere that great innovation comes from collaborating.

Keith Sawyer, one of the world’s leading experts on creativity, says that “we’re drawn to the image of the lone genius whose mystical moment of insight changed the world. But the lone genius is a myth; instead, it’s group genius that generates breakthrough innovation. When we collaborate, creativity unfolds across people; the sparks fly faster, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” His research shows that innovation results from a whole series of those sparks, not from just one or two lightbulb moments.

Bill Gates and Paul Allen - courtesy of Wired.com

L to R: Bill Gates and Paul Allen, founders of Microsoft.

The examples are everywhere too. McCartney collaborating with Lennon. Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Elton John with Bernie Taupin. Francis Crick and James D. Watson at Cambridge teaming up brilliantly to pursue and then decode the mysteries of DNA. The Wright brothers working literally as brothers trying idea after idea to ultimately achieve the first man-made flight. Thomas Edison and his team of some thirty collaborators and assistants in what many consider now America’s first innovation laboratory.

The list goes on and on.

Yet so does the myth.

Sir Ken Robinson, another world expert on creativity, argues that even in the cases where the creative person appears to be working alone, they are in fact interacting with others in all kinds of ways, maybe even unconsciously. “Even working alone,” he says, “there is an essential cultural dimension to creative work that is of profound importance”. All human lives are lived in “webs of significance,” and creativity is the process by which we form these webs. Sir Isaac Newton said it best when he acknowledged how he achieved what he achieved: he said the if he saw further than others, it was because he stood on the shoulders of giants.

A.G. Lafley, who led Proctor & Gamble (P&G) through the 2000s, helped resurrect P&G by making it one of the most innovative in the world. He says the biggest factor in the company’s new success was to shift innovation from an old-school R&D exercise into something truly collaborative. “Innovation is a team sport,” he said, and “diverse teams make breakthroughs,” not sole individuals. He therefore institutionalized within P&G a whole series of processes that required teams to pursue innovation.

One way he did this was to create a new innovation lab in Cincinatti now known as ‘Clay Street’ (a converted brewery, located on Clay Street). Here’s how Laffley puts it: “Clay Street is a methodology for bringing together people who haven’t workd together before to become a highly functioning team. All have great expertise. Some have very human egos. They learn how to submerge their egos, listen to each other, and build on each other’s ideas –quickly and without being critical of others and without the selfishness that the owner of an idea often exhibits.”

If it’s not clear by now, it should be: it’s time to bury the myth of the lone genius and grasp the urgent need to make innovation a team sport. If you’ve been raised in a culture that glorifies the individual, you may find this difficult.

If you’re still buying the myth of the lone genius (who is more than likely also a lonely genius), here’s another example of what the research has shown to be true:

“Isolation is bad for you. It poses dangers as serious as cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, or lack of exercise, one research summary concluded. Conversely, the more good partnerships you have in your life, the more likely you are to say that you experienced the feeling of enjoyment much of the day yesterday, that you recently learned something interesting, and that you’ve been doing a lot of smiling and laughing – all key measures of your happiness. Even having one strong partnership markedly increases your well-being over those who have none.” 1

 

Notes:

  1. Rodd Wagner and Gale Muller, The Power of Two, (Gallup Press, 2009), p. 2.

Cal Newport: Don’t Listen to the “Just follow your passion” Salesmen – Focus on Mastering Your Craft

You don’t have to look far today to find career advice promoting the idea that you should ‘just follow your passion and the success will follow.’ Those who give the advice typically quote Steve Jobs’ keynote address to 23,000 Stanford graduates in 2005, when he said: “you’ve got to find what you love … the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle.”

According to the usual claim, Steve Jobs followed his passion in life and that’s how he became an accomplished innovator. The suggestion is that passion was his big secret. Entire books have even promoted this idea. 1

The claim is alluring – who doesn’t want a life with passion in it? – but the claim is also simplistic and even dangerous.

Take, for example, the story of Lisa. Nearing 40, Lisa quit her career in advertising and marketing, and decided to pursue her passion for Yoga by starting a Yoga business. She took out a home-equity loan, got certified in Yoga, started the business, and four years later she was virtually broke and on food stamps.

Or take the story of Jane. Jane is a young millenial who dropped out of college after her first year. Why? She wanted follow her passion for adventure. Her so-called innovative idea was to develop a non-profit that would promote her “vision of health, human potential and a life well-lived.” Her plan was to build one or more websites that would generate passive income to finance this non-profit. She began in earnest, but when her websites failed to generate any income, her plan cratered.

These are just two of the stories Cal Newport describes in his 2012 book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love.

In the book, Newport sets out example after example to debunk the “passion mindset” – the idea that Lisa and Jane bought into, and that is peddled so widely today.

Of particular interest are Newport’s findings regarding creating a true sense of mission and the quest to come up with genuine innovation.

Newport draws on the work of Stephen Johnson in Where Good Ideas Come From as he ably debunks the myth that innovation comes from a single flash of insight: “We like to think of innovation as striking us in a stunning eureka moment, where you all at once change the way people see the world, leaping far ahead of our current understanding. I’m arguing that in reality, innovation is more systematic. We grind away to expand the cutting edge, opening up new problems in the adjacent possible to tackle and therefore expand the cutting edge some more, opening up more new problems, and so on.”

The sobering message is that innovation requires serious, hard work, often years of work. Genuine innovation tends to happen at the cutting edge of any field, in what’s called the “adjacent possible” – that next step that’s just beyond the current area of knowledge and understanding.

Ironically, according to Newport, this is also the very mindset that can produce a true sense of mission in a field, a sense of mission that creates a genuine feeling of passion for your work. It seems, then, the peddlers of the ‘just follow your passion’ advice have things quite backwards. It’s after you put in the hard work and develop a genuine feeling of mission that you come to develop a genuine passion for your work.

That’s the sound, solid advice to follow. But it’s not as sexy, so don’t expect it to become popular any time soon.

Notes:

  1. Carmine Gallo, The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs.

How Pixar Transformed their Criticizers into Creators: The Magic of “Plussing”

Recall the last time you were at work and had what you thought was a brilliant idea. You thought it so good you went next door and ran it by a colleague.

“It’ll never work!”  the colleague says.

“You don’t think so?” you ask, trying to get your nay-saying colleague to be more open-minded.

“No way. It can’t be done that way,” the colleague says. Or maybe, “we tried that already – it didn’t work!” or “well, maybe, you’ll NEVER get approval, so forget it.”

And you do. You forget the idea, and move on to something else.

Sadly, people talk like that all the time in business and other organizations today. An idea that might have grown into something great gets shot down before it even got off the ground.

Pixar Animation Studios, the California company that has now produced fourteen feature films that have won 27 Academy Awards, found a way to avoid these traps. It’s a method that helps ensure creativity is nurtured not negated.

Pixar calls the technique “plussing,” and what’s fascinating is that science backs up why it works.

Plussing’ – What It Is 1

In an animated film, a single scene of just four seconds requires about 100 frames. A good animator can produce that in a week, or about twenty frames a day. Animators at Pixar are usually assigned one or two scenes at a time. Each day, an animator’s draft work is fed into a central computer where other colleagues and the director can review it.

The teams of animators then meet each morning to review their previous day’s work, and critique it.

The criticism at meetings like these can be brutal, and this is where ‘plussing’ has played a game-changing role at Pixar. Rather than randomly critique a sketch or shoot down an idea, the general rule is that you may only criticize an idea if you also add a constructive suggestion. Hence the name plussing.

Imagine for example that a team of animators is now working on Toy Story 4. The team is reviewing a draft scene where Woody is the main character. Let’s say it’s an action scene. Instead of hearing feedback like, “but that’s all wrong! … Woody shouldn’t look like that here …” , the practice is to say something more like: “okay … what if you could make Woody’s expression even more (e.g. brazen) … ”.

Pixar says the practice has been built on the core principles from improvisation, which are: accept all offers (accept the idea, don’t reject it), use “yes, and …” instead of “yes, but …”, and make your partner look good.

If you follow these principles, dialogue becomes more like a structured debate that’s both serious and yet constructive. It’s not an attempt to gloss over the hard stuff. Discussions still involve challenging problems, like possibly rejecting initial ideas, but this is done always with a view to replacing them with a better solution.

A key element achieved is respectful listening, and ongoing respect for the talents and abilities of the animator.

It’s a Kind of Structured Debate, and Structured Debate Trumps Brainstorming

Plussing is different from mere brainstorming, the term often used for meetings designed to generate ideas. The goal in brainstorming is typically just to come up with new ideas, sometimes as many as possible.

Pixar’s approach is closer to a structured debate. The goal is to critically review existing work, often rigorously, and to generate new ideas that build further and create something better.

Science backs up the idea that structured debate is far superior to simply brainstorming. A study 2 led by UC Berkeley professor Charlan Nemeth found that when a team used structured debate, it significantly outperformed a team instructed to merely ‘brainstorm.’ Nemeth concluded that “debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them.” What might be even more significant is that after the teams disbanded, the team that used structured debate continued to generate further ideas. It seems that the experience of a constructive debate lingers, and people continue to come up with new ideas.

Surprisingly Similar to the Approach Used in Mediation

If you’ve ever been in or observed a formal mediation, you’ll know that the process is in fact quite structured. Most mediators today will use the method of principled negotiation, the model developed by the Harvard Negotiation Project in the 1980s.

One of the core principles is to separate the people from the problem, and thus take the focus off personal issues to avoid negativity. In plussing, the basic rule to ‘accept all offers’ is similarly away to avoid the negatives easily triggered by rejecting ideas. Creative people often can feel that a rejection of their idea is a rejection of them.

Another core principle in mediation is to spend considerable time focusing on new options. That’s very similar to the core idea in plussing – namely that you must always propose a new constructive suggestion for any idea that you criticize.

Maintains Intrinsic Motivation, which Fosters Creativity

Extensive research in psychology now shows the best way to stimulate creativity at work is to make sure people remain intrinsically motivated – that is, driven by interest, enjoyment and satisfaction in the work itself. Harvard’s Teresa Amabile has spent more than 35 years researching this connection, and found it to true for all groups of people, from children to knowledge workers to professional artists.

The technique of plussing by design helps ensure intrinsic motivation, because it offsets the criticism with a focus on creative alternatives. The science supports the idea that this has contributed immensely to the high levels of creative output at Pixar.

How Do You Create a Culture of Plussing?

The mere knowledge that plussing is a wise practice does not make it easy to achieve. Anyone who has tried to change the culture of a team or organization will know just how difficult this can be.

Nonetheless, it can be done. Two key changes are essential: (1) Language and (2) Tools that Implement the New Behaviors.

(1) Language

One of the best ways to change a culture is to change the language used. While it’s true that our thoughts determine our words, it’s equally true that the words we use in turn determine our thoughts. The task is to eliminate the language that destroys creativity – language like “yes, but …” or “that’ll never work …” and replace these with language that shifts the focus to adding value – language like “yes, and …” or “what if …” or “how might we do this? …”. This is how Pixar’s practice of plussing began.

(2) Tools that Implement the New Behaviors

The language alone is not enough. It must become the language everyone uses, and the only way that happens is if there’s leadership from the top.

Pixar serves as a good model. The simple yet lasting change came from implementing the method of ‘plussing’ as required process during meetings. Once that new behavior is recognized as a required behavior, it can then evolve into a standard practice in the organization. But it must be required and practiced, first and foremost, by the leaders of the organization.

Notes:

  1. For two excellent reviews of ‘Plussing’ at Pixar, see David Berkus, “Why Fighting for Our Ideas Makes Them Better,” published on 99u: Insights on making ideas happen; and Peter Sims, Little Bets (New York: Free Press, 2011), pp. 69-75.
  2. See Nemeth, C. J., Personnaz, B., Personnaz, M. and Goncalo, J. A. (2004), The liberating role of conflict in group creativity: A study in two countries. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 34: 365–374. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.210

Yes, Innovation Could Save the Planet – An Interview with Matthew Heim

Just beneath his Ph.D. credentials, his long experience as a corporate turnaround consultant, and his current work as Executive VP of innovation firm Inno360, Matthew Heim carries a fiery passion for radically reinventing capitalism.

Matthew Heim

Matthew Heim

I interviewed Matthew this past week to get his insights on what it takes to innovate and on one of the next big trends in innovation – namely how organizations can now build their own customized online platforms to systematize their process of finding and collaborating with the right innovation partners. That in itself is a fascinating new option that enables you to tap into the massive, connected world of knowledge, talent, people, and ideas, also known as the “global brain.”

But what emerged in short order was a discussion not just on how to innovate, but why we are innovating in the first place. What’s it for?

I mentioned the recent Nasa study that concluded the utter collapse of human civilization will be “difficult to avoid” if we don’t change humanity’s current course.  I asked Matthew if innovation is the way we can change that course – or if the opposite is true: is innovation itself fueling an even more voracious global appetite for consumption?  Matthew was quick to respond.

“I think that if everybody’s income rises right now where you have everybody in China and everybody in India driving an SUV, that scares the heck out of me, that really scares the heck out of me” he said. “And we’re all headed in that direction. It’s the American dream, it’s the Canadian dream, it’s the Indian dream. It’s horrible.”

To say that the current path is unsustainable is an understatement, according to Matthew. What’s needed is a total shift in how we think, a shift in consciousness.

“We need to innovate in a different way. It’s not just product innovation, like finding greener technologies. It’s also about social innovation, i.e. applying innovation to the social realm, the social structure, giving people a say, enabling this bottom-up emergence of true ideation for what’s better for our society.”

“We have to get back to more simplistic types of innovation – so innovation is not always about the most powerful or the fastest. We have to address natural capitalism as a part of that.”

“We need to be going more toward bio-mimicry type of innovation – things that work in harmony with natural capital. We don’t address natural capital as a part of the overall capital structure” Matthew lamented. (‘Natural capital,’ a term made popular by the 1999 bestseller Natural Capitalism, refers to the full range of types of capital we actually use: the natural environment, human resources, social capital, and how they intertwine in ecosystems.) Instead of looking holistically at these, Matthew says “we look at monetary capital, we look at asset types of capital. Sometimes we look at human capital, but not to the extent that we should. We really need to be looking at natural capital.”

So how do we bring about this shift in consciousness? Matthew got a glimpse of the process when he taught young MBA students new ways of thinking:

“I used to teach at the world’s first green MBA program, and one of the things we instituted was that one of the first courses students would go through was systems thinking and critical thinking. We really started to ask questions about everything that we’ve been doing. And these kids would come out of the initial course and they looked like a ghost! You could just tell their awareness had shifted dramatically, where they just realized what they’ve been doing unconsciously because of the lack of awareness of what we’re doing.”

To teach innovation, then, Matthew says it’s a lot more than just teaching new skills. The first step is to teach three key ways of thinking:  Systems thinking, critical thinking, and lateral thinking.

Systems thinking requires looking at how everything is connected, how things fit together as a system, so that you don’t end up destroying one thing when you pursue another. Critical thinking gets you to challenge the assumptions. And lateral thinking, the method initially pioneered by Edward de Bono, is quintessentially about thinking in new ways and connecting new dots.

Ironically, this major change in consciousness is both what’s needed to do innovation better and to reinvent capitalism. So, yes, innovation just could be what saves the planet and gets us back on a path of sanity. Let’s hope so.

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Matthew Heim is currently Executive Vice-President of Inno360. He was previously the President of NineSigma, and is the author or co-author of five books, including the bestseller, A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing.

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Steven Johnson: Why Your Next Good Idea Will Likely Come from a Good Chat

Everyone knows the three things that matter in real estate: location, location, location. Steven Johnson, who wrote the bestseller Where Good Ideas Come From, explains in this TED talk how the three things that really matter for generating great ideas are these: collaboration, collaboration, collaboration.

His research and stories dispel a big myth about how great ideas are generated. The great ideas don’t suddenly appear in that so-called lightbulb moment. It’s seldom a single epiphany. Great ideas are built, and they are usually built through a process that involves iteration and sharing – or in other words, collaboration.

Louis Pasteur famously said that “chance favors the prepared mind.” The adage has helped build the myth that the lone individual toiling away can achieve a breakthrough just through relentless hard work. But Johnson sums up his research with a new take on the quote: it’s not that you shouldn’t be prepared, it’s just that “chance favors the connected mind.”

What does he mean? Johnson begins by showing that the great intellectual period we call the Enlightenment (the late 17th and 18th century) was not coincidence. It was not pure chance that the period produced so many great minds. This happened because the period produced so many connected minds, and the main reason, surprisingly, was the invention of the coffeehouse.  What “makes the coffeehouse important is the architecture of the space. It was a space where people would get together from different backgrounds, different fields of expertise, and share.”

The implication is profound, because we still have a lot of myths about where ideas come from, and, Johnson argues, we need to do away with many of our “conventional metaphors and language.” We need to get away from the basic assumption that an idea is a “single thing.”

That assumption can even get us into trouble. In one striking example, a group in the west had the ‘innovative’ idea of shipping $40,000 incubators to a mid-size village in Africa. The basic assumption was that this was a way to bring this western technology into Africa and save lives.

But the assumption was flawed. After a year, the incubators will have some sort of malfunction, and there’s no one there able to fix them. So they become $40,000 wasted.

What’s the solution? The local team in Africa started to think differently about the problem. They shared ideas. They saw that the local village was very adept at automobile repairs. So they wondered if you could build an incubator out of automobile parts. You can. And they did. They built one at a fraction of the cost, and they’re able to keep it operating because they have the spare parts to fix it when something breaks down. That’s the outcome of a team collaborating.

Part of the task, then, is to get rid of the myths and the old metaphors. Newton didn’t discover the laws of motion in a flash of insight when an apple fell on his head. As Newton said himself, if he saw further than others it was only because he stood on the shoulders of giants.

The myth that Darwin discovered the theory of natural selection in a single eureka moment has also been dispelled. The scholar Howard Gruber painstakingly went through Darwin’s notes and showed that he had worked out the theory “months and months and months before he had his alleged epiphany.”

Another implication is that we need to think differently about how we design workspaces. Johnson says that “if we’re trying to build organizations that are more innovative, we have to build spaces” that foster real collaboration.

We also need to rethink intellectual property, Johnson argues: “we often talk about the value of protecting intellectual property, you know, building barricades, having secretive R&D labs, patenting everything.” But the research suggests intellectual property should focus just as much on fostering collaboration: “there’s a case to be made that we should spend at least as much time, if not more, valuing the premise of connecting ideas and not just protecting them.”

To sum up, there are three key points to take away from this talk:

  1. Where do great ideas come from? Iteration, and iteration happens in collaboration.
  2. How can we build organizations that innovate? Design workspaces that foster collaboration.
  3. And how should we approach our intellectual property? Yes, some ideas need to be protected. But sharing is what likely gets you to the best ideas, so find the right balance that takes full advantage of connecting ideas and collaborating.

Or here’s another way to sum up these three takeaways: collaboration, collaboration and collaboration.

Guy Kawasaki: The First Step Is to Simplify the Goal that Gives You Meaning

Guy Kawasaki, former ‘chief evangelist’ at Apple, recently gave a colorful talk at TEDxBerkeley called The Art of Innovation.

Occasionally, Guy uses such colorful metaphors, particularly in the titles, that a humble translation may help. So here are few thoughts on Guy’s message and how to remember the key points:

1.  ‘Make meaning.’

This is number one because it’s the starting point. You need to be pursuing a real purpose, not just trying to make money. Paradoxically, the innovators who pursued a clear purpose … all made good money. And even when they didn’t, their life had meaning.

2.  ‘Make mantra.’

Translation: Guy says you should reduce your mission to 3 or 4 words – make it a mantra. He says his is “empower people.” eBay’s is “democratize commerce.” But don’t write out a long, boring mission statement and think that’s enough. The reason to have a short mantra is to make sure you really believe in your mission.

3.  ‘Jump to the next curve.’

Easier said than done. It means don’t just try to tinker. Incremental innovation is not really innovation.

“True innovation occurs when you jump to the next curve — or better yet, invent the next curve.”

4. Great products are DICEE: Deep, Intelligent, Complete, Empowering and Elegant.

The key word here, really, is intelligent. According to Guy, “intelligent means the company understood your pain and what you needed.” Translation: to innovate, have deep empathy and spend the time thinking about what your customer or client really needs.

5.  ‘Don’t worry; be crappy.’

Translation: This is an update of ‘Real artists ship,’ the phrase Steve Jobs popularized at Apple. It means don’t get nervous at deadline time: finish and deliver.

Note of course that it comes after you have already gotten your purpose right (point number 1). If your purpose is clear, it’s okay to ship even if there are a few glitches.

6. “Let a hundred flowers blossom.”

Translation: You might set out to innovate “x” and it turns out it’s better used for “y.” Let it become a product used for “y.” Let the ideas evolve. Life, and innovation, are organic. Be flexible.

7. Don’t be afraid to polarize people.

Translation: don’t try to make everyone happy. Pick your group. Make them happy. Don’t worry if you make the other side unhappy. Actually, that’s a good sign.

8. ‘Churn, baby, churn.’

This is the flip side of ‘Real artists ship’ and ‘Don’t worry, be crappy.’

If you did ship and it’s not quite right, then get to work. This is the feedback process, and the feedback process is constant today. 24/7 if you listen to it. Appreciate the feedback. Correct course if you must. Then ship a better product. Keep improving.

9. ‘Niche thyself.’

Translation: a modern version of ‘Know thyself.’ It means focus on what makes you or your product unique.

It’s also the corollary of point 7 (you can’t make everyone happy). Since you can’t make everyone happy, make the people you serve very happy.

10. ‘Perfect your pitch.’

According to conductor Ben Zander, most people have pretty good pitch; it just hasn’t been developed yet.

The same is true in the art of preparing a pitch or presentation. Most people got corporatized into preparing dull powerpoint presentations.

Guy says there are three musts: First, personalize. Demonstrate why you care. Second, sell dreams not products. Explain how what you’re selling can change lives. Third, see Guy’s 10-20-30 rule. It’s right on.

And of course, since Guy promised 10 main points, he offers an 11th. This one may be the most important:

11 . ‘Don’t let the bozos grind you down.’

If you’re honest, admit it: there are bozos in your life. If you let them, they can grind you down. Guy explains who the real bozos are. Whoever they are in your life, if you let them grind you down, forget about innovating.

*

These are eleven great points. Many thanks to Guy for presenting them in such living color.

Mariana Mazzucato: How Your Government Could Balance Its Budget AND Support Innovation (Yes, It’s True)

So Why Doesn’t the Private Sector Appreciate This?

The next time you use your smartphone, think of this: every feature that makes it ‘smart’ was initially created by the government. It’s true: taxpayers funded the research and development. The internet, GPS, the touch-screen display, even the voice-activated Siri – all of these were innovations created from US state-funded programs.

Google itself began thanks to a grant from the government: the US National Science Foundation financed the design of the Google search algorithm.

These are just a few of the many examples marshalled by economist Mariana Mazzucato in her thought-provoking 2013 book, The Entrepreneurial State, and in her TED talk at TEDGlobal 2013 (above).

The New Republic named Mazzucato one of the ‘most important innovation thinkers’ today.

Her book and work are a grand attempt to debunk the myth that the State is just a bloated bureaucracy and that all the praise should go to a so-called heroic, risk-taking private sector. She has examined case after case where the groundbreaking innovation came about thanks to the state, not the private sector. Private companies came in only after the hard work was done.

To continue the smartphone example, she shows how the major innovations were in fact “all government-funded. … the Internet was funded by DARPA, the U.S. Department of Defense [the ‘Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’]. GPS was funded by the military’s Navstar program. Even Siri was actually funded by DARPA. The touchscreen display was funded by two public grants by the CIA and the NSF”.

The main upshot is that we have created a false understanding of the role of the state in innovation.  The “narrative that we’ve always been told is the state is important for the basics, but not really providing that sort of high-risk, revolutionary thinking out of the box.” So the popular narrative, particularly at election time, is that government is wasteful, inefficient, and certainly not an innovator.

But that government-bashing has a huge cost. In fact, “in all these sectors, from funding the Internet to doing the spending … the envisioning, the strategic vision … it was actually coming within the state.”

So Mazzucato argues that we need to change the narrative. We need to “really think again this juxtaposition, because it actually has massive, massive implications beyond innovation policy.”

We are paying a huge price for this false narrative, because “what we actually need are public-private partnerships.” The huge risk is that “by constantly depicting the state part as necessary but actually … dangerous kind of Leviathan … we’ve actually really stunted the possibility to build these public-private partnerships.”

The further price we’re paying is that the government bashing is hurting the state itself and only helps the rich get richer.

Mazzucato says this is “the biggest implication, and this has huge implications beyond innovation. If the state is more than just a market fixer, if it actually is a market shaper, and in doing that has had to take on this massive risk … where’s the reward for the state of having taken on these massive risks”?

She argues that we’ve messed up the risk-reward equation. Instead of ensuring a proper return on investment back to state coffers, the rewards go to the private companies who cash in on the initial innovations, reap the profits, and then unleash their tax gurus to find ways to pay zero tax.

There’s a smarter way, Mazzucato argues. The smart governments are learning to think different. Countries like Finland are not just funding new research, but they are making sure to take equity positions that will share in eventual rewards. In a word, they’re mastering how to think like an innovator, in the true entrepreneurial sense of the word.

Imagine, she says, if “the U.S. government thought about this” and had created an innovation fund where “even just .05 percent of the profits from what the Internet produced had come back to that innovation fund.” There “would be so much more money to spend today.”

Indeed, the US government might not be in quite so much debt. Such a strategy just might even have helped the US achieve balanced budgets during the last two decades.

As Mazzucato says, there are a lot of self-fulfilling prophecies going on here. By failing to pursue policies like these, the US government is in a dismal financial state, and this has only helped create more government-bashing that in turn leads to policies that further rob the state of funds. A classic vicious circle if there ever was one.

Daniel Gogek

Steve Jobs: “Real Artists Ship” – Here’s What He Meant

“Real artists ship.”
— Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, early years - courtesy of Bloomberg.com

Steve Jobs: ‘Real artists ship.’

According to the folklore at Apple, this was a favourite saying meaning you have to have the guts to actually deliver when it’s time to deliver.

In one instance in particular, Steve Jobs used the mantra to call the bluff of a reluctant engineer who didn’t think his code was ready.

Jobs laid down the law.

Seth Godin argues in his books that the real problem is fear.  It’s a lot safer to try to pretend that just a few more days will enable reaching perfection, but that’s just illusion. The real problem is fear.  And the solution is courage. That recalcitrant engineer, the argument runs, was simply prone to that overly-cautious lizard brain.

So in comes the ‘real artists ship’ mantra. It’s a call to arms, a suggestion that you should just fight back, suck it up, or ‘feel the fear and do it anyway,’ as one saying goes. Just do it. Give the send order. Hit the publish button. What the hell, go for it, even if the creative idea is only half-baked. The next adage you hear is that it’s okay to fail – in fact, fail early and fail often.

These just-do-it interpretations miss a key part of the quote – ‘real artists’ are first and foremost just that: real artists. And that means they actually do a few crucial things long before they ship.

If you focus on these other crucial things, you may find that the problem is not at all fear. It’s the absence of passion and purpose. It’s the absence of the drive and confidence that go hand in hand with passion and purpose.

So here’s another way to think about the ‘real artists ship’ mantra: Sure, you want to ship. You’re yearning to create what you’re yearning to create. But first ask if you’re doing what a ‘real artist’ does in the first place. The real artist does these three things:

Passion and Purpose Are the Drivers

Real Artists are first and foremost REALNotice that Jobs didn’t say ‘responsible companies ship on time.’ He wasn’t talking about mechanical operations. He was referring to how he and Apple had developed a purpose so clear it created an energy and drive that overpowered the stresses that come from doubt or fear. The lizard brain is puny compared to the power of purpose that forms in the higher parts of the brain.

Real Artists Collaborate

Even artists who appear to work alone collaborate in countless ways. Notice that Jobs himself in the example above was collaborating with the engineer. They both would have shipped nothing without that collaboration.

If you feel the tug of fear about finishing a creative project you’ve started, maybe the fear is a signal.  Maybe you need to first collaborate with a kindred spirit or colleague. Discuss it. Brainstorm. The encouraging words of a good mentor are in short supply these days, yet they’ve never been in greater demand.

Real Artists are True to Their Values, Calling

It’s hard to imagine Shakespeare feeling paralyzed by fear and saying to himself, ‘okay, Will, just feel the fear and do it anyway.’ He was pursuing what his heart called him to do. As he wrote in Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true.” It was an expression of his own beliefs; like all writers, he placed his own ideas in the mouths of his characters.

So if you ever feel the tug of doubt about a creative project, maybe it’s a sign that the project is not aligned with your own values, your own true self. That’s okay, it may be a sign it’s the wrong project. It might be a sign to switch to that other project that really is in line with your true inner values and calling.

In Praise of ‘Old’ Ideas – like Justice, Service and Empathy

One of the biggest myths of innovation is that it’s all about ‘new ideas.’ “We’re stuck … we need new ideas here!” you’ll often hear someone say.

Yes, clearly new ideas are a core part of innovating. But we need to dispel the myth that they’re the sole part of innovating. Ironically, ‘old’ ideas may actually be more important in creating change.

Abraham Lincoln - courtesy of Wikipedia.org

Abraham Lincoln, 16th US President, 1861-65

Abraham Lincoln, perhaps surprisingly, illustrates this brilliantly.

Lincoln was an innovator in the sense that he helped create a new America, a United States that no longer permitted slavery. He transformed America from a country that treated slaves as assets on a plantation’s balance sheet to a nation where every human being would be free regardless of the color of their skin.

How did he do it? Did he simply champion this ‘new’ idea or go around calling for more new ideas? Not at all. He skillfully built his case for change upon some of the oldest ideas in the country: freedom, equality and justice.

You can see this beautifully in his most famous words of the period, the Gettysberg address. In this brief, eloquent plea for change, Lincoln invokes the ideals of the founding fathers – ideals they hoped would never change: a country “conceived in liberty” and built on the belief that “all men are created equal.”

Thomas J Watson, Jr., who spearheaded IBM in the 1960s, applied the same wisdom to make IBM at once both firmly grounded and innovative. He believed this so strongly he wrote a book called A Business and Its Beliefs. In the book, he captured the basic idea perfectly:

“any great organization … owes its resiliency … to the power of what we call beliefs and the appeal these beliefs have for its people. … the single most imporant factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs. And finally … if an organization is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except those beliefs as it moves through corporate life … . 1

In other words, it’s the old ideas, the core beliefs that don’t change, that actually produce the purpose that drives change and new ideas. That’s the philosophy that has kept IBM at the top of its field to this day.

Once again, it’s that kind of dedication to an ‘old’ idea that drives the search for the new ideas.

Take the idea of true customer service. It too is an old idea, as old as business itself. Unfortunately, it’s not always embraced in a world only looking for ‘new’ ideas.

Today, sadly, too few businesses really take it seriously.

Steve Jobs did, and the results showed. In fact, he took customer service to a level of near-obsession. It was all for the customer: if the customer isn’t a fan, you haven’t done your job. His mission was to provide the customer with an “insanely great experience,” not just customer service.

In the last several years, the world of Design Thinking is, fortunately, helping to bring back the ‘old’ idea of empathy. “Deep empathy for people makes our observations powerful sources of inspiration,” say Tom Kelley and David Kelley from IDEO. “We aim to understand why people do what they do … our first-person experiences help us form personal connections with people for whome we’re innovating … all to build empathy. An empathic approach fuels our process by ensuring we never forget we’re designing for real people.” 2

Unfortunately, not enough companies have yet embraced the ‘old’ idea of empathy. Often the fetish remains solely on short-term profit, and the result at best is to pretend to be innovating rather than actually doing it.

So the next time someone says “we need new ideas here!”, stop and ask, “Wait a second. What about the time-tested, old ideas we believe in? Do we really have any? What are the deeply-held beliefs that we’re not prepared to change here?

In other words, to think like an innovator, to bring about the real change you truly want, first ask yourself if you have deep beliefs that you would never change. When you find them, don’t be shy. Embrace them, and let them drive the search for the change you do want.

Notes:

  1. Thomas J. Watson, Jr., A Business and Its Beliefs, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963), pp. 5-6.
  2. Tom Kelley and David Kelley, Creative Confidence (New York: Random House, 2013), p. 21.