Currently, my favorite exercise to open a session involves utilizing the OuiSi photo cards. OuiSi (meaning yes-yes in French and Spanish and pronounced “we see” in English) is a box of 210 3″x3″ cardboard tiles, each with an image. I spread the pictures out across a table or two, then ask participants to find two cards that connect. No two cards are the same (this isn’t “Go Fish” matching) — so people need to think to find abstract connections.
For example, a dropped ice cream cone and a wind-damaged umbrella may connect because both are ruined. A pile of rubber bands and a jar of confetti may connect because both are multi-colored. A knot and a nail may connect as both are fasteners to hold things together. Licorice may connect with a half-eaten donut as both are food — or a pole as both are straight — or a ruined umbrella as both are red — or with train tracks that are both straight with patterns.
OuiSi comes with instructions for many ways to use the cards, but finding simple connections — then sharing your choices with another participant — has worked well to get conversations and creative juices flowing. Maybe I love it because its essence is making connections out of seemingly unconnected things — and isn’t that what leadership dots are all about?
(If you’re looking for a unique holiday gift, consider OuiSi. I have the original set, but there is also a nature set and art gallery version. http://www.ouisi.co.)
It’s a natural pairing: eating chips while watching television, or snacking while playing computer games — but if you’re a gamer wearing a headset, those crunches can be annoying. Doritos recognized that the sound of their chips was a barrier to a key snack audience, so they set about to address it…
…but not by making “quieter” chips (as that would take away some of Doritos’ appeal), but rather by utilizing technology and creating a special crunch-cancelling software! “Doritos Silent” utilized AI to filter out the crunch sounds heard in headphones, allowing gamers to snack without annoying others.
The next time you have a problem, consider multiple ways to address it. We often turn to the obvious, but be like Doritos and look outside the bag for an innovative solution.
The Superintendent watched a basketball game in March and learned about Shaka Smart’s EGBs (dot #4039) — and it became the seed that started the planning for the School District’s opening session for staff. Over the course of several months, multiple brainstorming sessions, and a host of iterations, EGBs, and energy were coupled with a Positive Potato theme and became a series of intentional exercises, props, and metaphors to kick off the new academic year.
Some examples: the leadership team went on a scavenger hunt to places with an “energy” theme such as a solar farm, a radio station, an energy drink store, and an electric vehicle charging station. Staff members rode buses to the session and had “hot potatoes” to foster interaction and silliness along the way. People participated in the classic science experiment to power light bulbs by hooking potatoes together to generate energy.
I loved hearing the story of how the event evolved. My two takeaways: 1) The best ideas happen over time. The Superintendent first mentioned the EGB idea months, not weeks, before it happened. This allowed time to engage others, refine ideas, and make the event special. 2) Themes only work when there is purpose behind them. Having a Positive Potato message could have been cheesy, but the District was able to tie it to generating an attitude and mindset for the year and consciously link the concepts to meaningful lessons the Superintendent wanted to convey.
The School District generated energy by evolving a theme around energy in a brilliant example of intentionally connecting the dots. Take a lesson from their playbook and look ahead a few months on your calendar. What event will be better if you start ruminating on the idea now? Like potatoes, ideas take a long time to become fully baked.
A Facebook post shared a library check-out that allowed the patron to select “Pirate” as the language for the receipt. The New Castle Colorado Library added a twist of whimsy to an otherwise mundane function and made someone smile because of it.
How can you follow their lead and add some humor to your forms or receipts? You may not opt for Pirate but the options are limitless as to how you can stand out from the crowd. Avast Ye Hearties — don’t be a Scallywag — put some creativity into your next message.
I recently stayed in a hotel and most of the space on the nightstand was taken up with a landline phone. I can remember the days when hotels charged for local calls and gouged people for long-distance dialing, yet now I wonder why they incur the ongoing expense of having a phone in the room at all.
It got me thinking of all the other changes that have become standard in the industry — air conditioning and cable television, of course (but at one time they were an advertised luxury), refrigerators and coffee makers in the room, white comforters instead of dark florals, keycards instead of keys, and free breakfast bars, just to name a few.
We took the exercise a step further and imagined what would be next in the hotel amenities war — or what we would want there to be. Some of the answers from our group: a showerhead with a hose, a dog bed and/or dog that you could borrow, a Bluetooth speaker, an umbrella, and smart controls for everything in the room.
It’s a good exercise to push your imagination and consider “what could be” for hotels, your organization, your house, or any aspect of your life. Like with any brainstorming, it may take a few moments to get warmed up but once you get going, the ideas abound.
It only took one hotel chain to start offering new benefits and the others were compelled to follow. Maybe your idea could be the one to launch a revolution in your field.
At the end of his 500-page book The Innovators, Walter Isaacson sums up “some lessons from the journey.” The principles he outlines are relevant to innovation in most organizations, not just those that were pioneers in the digital age.
His most overriding observation is that creativity is a collaborative process. Contrary to myths and movies, there is rarely one individual who has that “Eureka!” moment, rather teamwork is responsible for most modern inventions. Nor is there one moment that causes a breakthrough. Innovation occurs when someone builds on the ideas of others and moves knowledge one step further. Teams who represent varied backgrounds and areas of expertise are the most innovative and best at doing this and overcoming barriers. Powerful results are also achieved when teams have a pair of leaders with complementary styles — a visionary and someone to execute those plans. It’s not enough to have a great idea; you need someone who can handle the details to produce and market it for the idea to become a true innovation.
Take the lessons from Isaacson’s comprehensive study and consider them for your own organization. How can you constitute teams that are diverse and have a foundation of psychological safety so that they productively challenge each other? Can you empower leadership teams with complementary skills? What systems do you have to share knowledge and encourage collaboration?
Innovation is the currency of the future. Learn from those who created the digital age to create your own breakthroughs.
The Innovators: How a group of hackers, geniuses, and geeks created the digital revolution by Walter Isaacson, 2014
I’m reading a fascinating book, The Innovators, by Walter Isaacson. In addition to describing the evolution of the digital revolution, the book focuses on the innovators themselves and the societal impacts that led to (or detracted from) the development of technology.
Today’s nugget was about the Alto computer — an early prototype of what came to be the personal computer. It was developed at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), specifically designed for innovation apart from the bureaucracy of headquarters in New York. The brilliant scientists and engineers at PARC did exactly what they were assembled to do, but Xerox corporate managers were not ready to embrace change at the rate it was occurring.
At a corporate conference, there was a display of Altos for attendees to have hands-on experience with the amazing new machines. The all-male executives were uninterested in experimenting with the Alto, but their accompanying wives embraced the machines and began playing with them as intended. “The men thought it was beneath them to know how to type. It was something secretaries did. So they didn’t take the Alto seriously, thinking that only women would like it,” said PARC director Bob Taylor. Because of this narrow mindset, Xerox failed to capitalize on the inventions of its scientists and fumbled the opportunity to be a financial and global leader in the billion-dollar personal computer industry.
Think about your comfort with change. Are you like the Xerox leaders who say they want change — even fund an expensive research park specifically to promote it — but then revert to old habits and fail to take risks when change is presented? Or are you like the male executives who see only one application for something and are unable to consider new possibilities and audiences? Or (hopefully) are you like the wives who could see potential and were anxious to experiment and learn?
As Isaacson points out, being an innovator goes beyond just having good ideas. Push through the discomfort of change to truly embrace innovation in all of its glorious, messy forms.
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson, 2014
People think of donating pasta, peanut butter, or cereal to food banks but an often overlooked category of donations is spices. The Boston Food Bank is out to change that and has partnered with the public library as a donation spot to make it easier.
The Food Bank points out that spices add a cultural element to food and allow families to continue their traditions around cooking certain dishes. They also afford an opportunity to experiment by adding flavor to the food and can address a variety of tastes.
The next time you’re out grocery shopping, throw a container or two of seasonings into your cart to give at your next donation. You can help spice up someone’s life in a small but meaningful way.
McDonald’s is heavily promoting its Grimace Birthday Meal with a catchy campaign featuring the purple Grimace monster that allegedly is Ronald McDonald’s best friend. He’s celebrating his birthday all month and invites people to enjoy his special meal.
But the “special meal” is the same fries they always offer, with the same entrée, and the same vanilla shake just with a dash of purple berry flavoring. It’s 100% gimmick but it seems to be working.
Grimace is totally made up, the birthday is arbitrary, and he was introduced 52 years ago so it’s not even a milestone — but someone thought that this could be a summer promotion to generate interest and mix things up. People love new, and they love nostalgia, and Grimace’s purple shake provides both.
Can you take a marketing lesson from the golden arches and concoct something new for your organization? Maybe your mascot has a birthday. Perhaps you celebrate one of the zillion holidays that have been designated. Or maybe you make a fuss about a countdown (e.g. celebrating 12 more days of summer). Think about how the world of made-up and reality can intersect to your benefit. Purple birthday shake, anyone?
I am childless, so it was with great irony that I shared a list of local activities for kids with a mom of four. She knew I had such a list because each summer I host “Aunt Camp” for my niece but it still struck me as an unlikely request. When I laughed about it, she said “You think outside the box a bit better than me.”
The funny thing is that I have never felt that way about myself. Yes, I am an innovator and have led many change efforts in my day but most of the out-of-the-box aspect of that work comes from surrounding myself with others who have bold and crazy ideas and by creating a safe space that frees them to share those thoughts. My contribution is being able to pitch those ideas at the right time, breaking through barriers, and creating conditions for “out-of-the-boxness” to thrive. Like with the list of summer activities for kids, I’m also an expert curator who saves ideas in an ongoing and organized way so I have ideas to build on and don’t have to start from scratch when I’m trying to stimulate a new thought.
I’ve written about Patrick Lencioni’s new book Working Genius before (dot #3726) and this is another scenario that validates his premise. You don’t need to master all phases of the process. Keeping a box (or 20) of ideas can help others use them as stepping stones to begin their own out-of-the-box thinking. Both have their place in achieving creative outcomes.